Insurance Trivia: The Lutine Bell
Did You Know?
On the evening of October 9, 1799, the British warship, the HMS Lutine, was caught in a storm off the coast of the West Frisian Islands. Dragged by a powerful tide onto the sandbanks off the Dutch coast, the ship, almost the entirety of its crew, and all its gold and silver sank to the bottom of the North Sea. The loss occurred during the War of the Second Coalition (we’ll be honest — that’s a new one for us too), during which a team of monarchies, led by Britain, tried to contain an expanding France.
The cargo had been insured by Lloyd’s of London, and though the company suffered huge losses as a result of the shipwreck, it paid the claim in full — and in just two weeks.
Several attempts to recover the valuable cargo were made, but none succeeded, save for when the ship’s bell was salvaged in 1899 (ding ding ding!). For decades, the Lutine Bell was rung to mark when missing ships arrived safely — or when ships were lost.
- Because the gold was lost in Dutch waters during a war, ownership of the gold became a contested point, with the British government, Dutch government, and Lloyd’s all sending agents to begin salvage operations.
- Petitions to King William the 1st, the King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, tried to claim the booty for Holland. Spurred by their attempts, Lloyd’s approached the British government for help defending their rights to the wreck. Through diplomacy and petitions, Lloyd’s was eventually successful, though no gold has ever been recovered.
- Lloyd’s records were destroyed by fire in the mid-19th century, so the actual amount of lost gold and silver remains unknown.
- Marine insurance was the first kind of insurance, and it dates to the ancient Greeks and Romans. But the modern insurance market can be traced to Edward Lloyd’s coffee houses in London, which became hubs for the information about maritime shipping, merchandise, and commerce.
What’s the latest?
There are an estimated 3 million shipwrecks spread across the planet’s ocean floors. That’s a lot of lost treasure, though not all of these ships were transporting crates of gold and jewels. But shifting undersea conditions make excavation tricky (remember the Titanic?).
- There are recent discoveries, however — like the SS Central America, which sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857, purportedly carrying $86 million in gold.¹
- Lloyd’s of London still rings the Lutine Bell, which is housed in their London underwriting room, on ceremonial occasions, as well as great tragedies.²
Rumor has it that there’s still gold off the coast of The Netherlands, so if you want to go digging, or if you just plan to go sailing on the North Sea, get yourself some travel insurance and get out there! And don’t forget to store your policy details in your Marble wallet, so you don’t end up in a situation where your records burn and you don’t know how many gold and silver doubloons you have.
- ¹ https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-05-05/shipwreck-hunter-recovers-gold-from-atlantic-site
- ² https://londonist.com/london/history/lutine-bell