The Dominion Post

Treasure hunter sails south to find shipwreck gold

- 0800 287 322 familynoti­ces@stuff.co.nz Mike White

Treasure hunter Bill Day set sail from Bluff yesterday afternoon on his fifth expedition to find the General Grant shipwreck and its cargo of gold.

The General Grant struck the Auckland Islands in 1866 and sank with at least 73kg of gold.

Only 10 of the 83 crew and passengers survived the disaster and life as castaways, before they were rescued 18 months later.

Since then, at least 30 attempts have been made to try to locate the wreck and salvage its gold, but no trace has been found, despite detailed survivor accounts.

Day, a Wānaka businessma­n, has made four previous voyages to find the General Grant, considered the greatest shipwreck mystery in the South Pacific.

He and seven crew and divers left yesterday to sail 460km south to the Auckland Islands for what Day swore was his last attempt to find the wreck.

After years of studying historical accounts of the disaster, nautical charts, and records of other searchers, Day said he had some new ideas about where the wreck might be, though he accepted it could have been buried by a collapsed cliff.

The crew will also be using a pulse magnetomet­er, which can locate any remaining metal, from things such as anchors, chains or bollards.

Day, 64, said he could be diving by Saturday – but the Auckland Islands weather was notoriousl­y bad.

He is using two vessels from his marine contractin­g company, Seaworks, for the trip: the 39m SeaSurveyo­r and the smaller SeaStar, which was largely designed for the General Grant search.

Accompanyi­ng Day on the sixweek expedition is good friend and fellow diver Dr Simon Mitchell, professor of anaesthesi­ology at Auckland University and one of the world’s leading experts on decompress­ion sickness, or ‘‘the bends’’.

Many of the passengers on the General Grant were miners returning to England from Australia’s gold fields, most dying clutching their precious loot when the 180-foot square-rigged sailing ship went down in a small cave on the exposed coast.

Day believed there was more gold in the ship’s holds than the 73kg on its manifest.

But, if they discovered the wreck, they wouldn’t be disturbing it or taking any of the gold.

They would document the site, and then return to New Zealand and discuss possible archaeolog­ical salvage of material, with the Department of Conservati­on and Heritage New Zealand.

‘‘There’ll be a lot of taking photograph­s – not a lot of scrabbling around,’’ he said.

More than anything, Day, who made his first attempt to find the wreck in 1986, insisted he was driven by the mission of ‘‘knocking the bastard off’’ and finally discoverin­g where the General Grant sank.

‘‘I think it’s fair to say this is my obsession.

‘‘It’s eluded me four times – not to mention everyone else who’s had a go – and I just want to solve the riddle.’’

 ?? STUFF ?? Bill Day has spent 35 years searching for the wreck of the General Grant at the Auckland Islands.
STUFF Bill Day has spent 35 years searching for the wreck of the General Grant at the Auckland Islands.

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