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Three years after a freak accident, diver discovers history

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The 1793 coin was particularly satisfying to discover because, for nearly three years, Steven McPhee was unable to dive.

In 2017 he broke his neck in an accident which also left him with temporary nerve damage as a result of a pinched spinal cord.

A year ago, he finally felt ready to dive again.

“To look at me you wouldn’t know that anything had happened to me,” he said. “Getting back into the water was great. I was told being in the water is good exercise because there are no vibrations.”

He found the coin in Soncy Bay off Pitts Bay Road, hidden by only 20ft of water and a bit of sand.

“I dug a little trench with my hands,” Mr McPhee said. “Ten inches down into the sand was a coin. I said, ’Oh wow’, because I could see it was in good condition.”

On closer inspection he could see the date 1793 underneath an image of a ship. On the other side of the coin was the head of King George III.

“I have found coins before in this spot but they were from the 1800s and much more worn,” he said.

Mr McPhee carefully used toothpaste and a toothbrush to remove the small bit of black crud that was on it.

At the Bermuda Archives he learnt that in the 1790s, Bermuda had commissioned a ton of coins to be minted in England.

“There were 72,000 made,” he said. “Not all went into circulation. They had to get special permission to put King George III’s head on it. The engraver who did that is also carved into the coin. It is nice that it has the date on it. That really puts it at a certain time period.

“You find a lot of things in the ocean and wonder how they got there.”

Similar coins have sold on eBay for $3,900; Mr McPhee is keeping his.

“I will just put it with my other finds,” said the commercial diver whose collection includes 1,500 bottles, several coins and other objects.

He started diving at 21 when a friend took him off Darrell’s Island. What fascinated him were all the antique bottles on the seabed, just a few feet from shore.

“They were bottles from the 1800s,” said Mr McPhee, the author of A Guide to Collecting Old Bermuda Bottle and oldbermudabottles.blogspot.com, which has more than 40,000 subscribers.

“We just kept diving there. When you dive there is nothing better than bringing something back that is kind of old. Rather than dive on shipwrecks I would go along the different coastlines and in the bays and always look for bottles. You find them because that is where everyone used to throw everything into the water, mostly in front of their house, within throwing distance from land.”

A bell was so covered in coral he was unsure what it was, until he cleaned it. He then discovered it had once been part of the Dorothea, an iron full-rigged ship built in Hamburg, Germany in 1870 and sold to Finland in 1902.

“In January 1913, Dorothea was found floating in Bermuda waters,” said Mr McPhee, 59. “It was spotted by the steamship Bermudian. All three masts were broken and it had obviously been in a storm.”

There was no one on board and all moveable objects on the deck were gone, probably washed away.

Because the lost ship posed a danger to marine traffic, a derelict destroyer was sent to sink it but was unsuccessful due to lumber in the cargo hold.

The ship was towed into the island where the Court of the Admiralty unsuccessfully tried to reunite it with its owners.

“William Meyer in St George’s bought it for the lumber,” said Mr McPhee, who thinks the crew drowned during a winter storm.

At his second home near Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, where he got stuck in March by Covid-19, he hasn’t had as much success as he has had here, finding treasure.

Although the Central American country is known as a diving Mecca the Pacific Ocean is a lot different than the Atlantic.

“The sand at the bottom is a darker colour,” he said. “It doesn’t look as nice as Bermuda. Bermuda’s reefs are so much more alive with growth. The reefs where I was didn’t have a lot on them. There were a lot of sharks. You don’t see the parrot fish and sergeant majors the way you do in Bermuda.”

Steve McPhee’s coin had the head of King George III printed on one side (Photograph supplied)
Steve McPhee looking for bottles on the ocean floor (Photograph supplied)
Steve McPhee’s coin was in near perfect condition (Photograph supplied)
Steve McPhee stopped diving after he broke his neck in 2017 (Photograph supplied)

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Published October 13, 2020 at 8:34 am (Updated October 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm)

Three years after a freak accident, diver discovers history

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