Sand Bars

I’m very proud that this website now offers more free content – in print, audio and video – than at any time in our sixteen-year history. But we also provide some premium content especially for those who’ve signed up to be Mark Steyn Club members, and I’m delighted to say Tales for Our Time has become one of our most popular features over the last two years – and that this latest audio adventure is proving an especial favorite. Gareth Roberts, a First Weekend Founding Member from the UK, writes:

I am finding this story most gripping. It’s true there have been no explosions or gun battles, but the contemporary fear of Germany and the prospect of our yacht bumping into the German navy is quite enough to keep me engaged. Over the years many people have wondered whether Britain could or should have kept out of WW1, and this story provides a reminder that the tensions between the two countries had been building up for a long time.

Well, German navy-wise, Gareth, our little yacht, the Dulcibella, has been well and truly bumped into. So welcome to Part Fifteen of The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers …with the Kaiser’s lads all around, and, in tonight’s episode, some buried treasure added to the plot:

‘Isn’t there the wreck of a treasure-ship somewhere farther west?’ I asked. ‘We heard of it at Wangeroog’ (my first inaccuracy). ‘They said a company was exploiting it.’

‘Quite right,’ said the Commander, without a sign of embarrassment. ‘I don’t wonder you heard of it. It’s one of the few things folk have to talk about in these parts… She was a French frigate, the Corinne, bound from Hamburg to Havre in 1811, when Napoleon held Hamburg as tight as Paris. She carried a million and a half in gold bars, and was insured in Hamburg; foundered in four fathoms, broke up, and there lies the treasure.’

‘Never been raised?’

‘No. The underwriters failed and went bankrupt, and the wreck came into the hands of your English Lloyd’s. It remained their property till ’75, but they never got at the bullion. In fact, for fifty years it was never scratched at, and its very position grew doubtful, for the sand swallowed every stick. The rights passed through various hands, and in ’86 were held by an enterprising Swedish company, which brought modern appliances, dived, dredged, and dug, fished up a lot of timber and bric-à-brac, and then broke. Since then, two Hamburg firms have tackled the job and lost their capital. Scores of lives have been spent over it, all told, and probably a million of money. Still there are the bars, somewhere… ‘

‘Will they ever get those bars?’

‘Ah! that’s the point,’ said von Brüning, with a mysterious twinkle. ‘It’s an undertaking of immense difficulty; for the wreck is wholly disintegrated, and the gold, being the heaviest part of it, has, of course, sunk the deepest. Dredging is useless after a certain point; and the divers have to make excavations in the sand, and shore them up as best they can. Every gale nullifies half their labour, and weather like this of the last fortnight plays the mischief with the work… I hope they’ll get it,’ said the Commander. ‘The fact is, I hold a few shares myself.’

There was no such real French frigate called the Corinne: That’s an invention of Childers’, but, as with all good writers, the author’s fancy has the ring of plausibility; among other French frigates of that time – 1811 – were the Diane, the Pénélope, and the Clorinde, pictured above at top right. Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part Fifteen of The Riddle of the Sands simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

The wreck of the Corinne is marked on the map below, just off Memmert at the left-hand side. Carruthers, Davies and their German “friends” are more or less due east over on the right-hand side, at Bensersiel on the German mainland near Esens:

If you’ve a friend who’s a fan of classic fiction and you want to give him or her a birthday present with a difference, we hope you’ll consider a one-year gift membership in The Mark Steyn Club. The lucky recipient will enjoy full access to our back catalogue of audio adventures and video poems – Conrad and Conan Doyle, Kipling and Kafka, and all the rest. For more details, see here.

Our nightly audio adventure goes on, so do join me back here tomorrow for The Riddle of the Sands Part Sixteen.