ON ONE OF MY FIRST trips to Dover, my friend Eddie Huzzey put me in touch with Colin Whyte, one of the BSAC Folkestone 501 divers who had discovered the wreck-site in 1985.
They had gone out to dive an unknown steamship, and subsequently brought up some of the marble cargo.
Eventually the marbles were taken to the Canterbury Archaeological Thrust for identification, and declared to the Receiver of Wreck. Research finally led to the story of Van Lennep and the Castor.
On later dives, the divers recovered some china plates bearing the KNSM monogram, proving the identity of the ship.
Research of Van Lennep’s correspondence, preserved in Leiden Museum, revealed a letter containing a detailed listing of the antiquities.
The two crates recovered from the wreck were, it seemed, the less important items to him, because another crate containing a complete statue was described by the collector as “stunning!” This and another case still awaits discovery.
While steaming out to the dive-site, my thoughts were with Van Lennep and the two remaining cases. I was also considering the possibility that the consignment bound for Leiden Museum had not been the only one, and that there could be more down there.
I grew nervous with anticipation.
When I landed on the wreck, which lies in about 30m, I could see Tony Goodfellow through the rotting decking inside a hold.
It seemed that we had hooked into the stern section of the wreck, which was still standing about 6m tall.
As the hull is deteriorating, I could easily penetrate the stern, and Tony showed me boxes full of knicker bottles (the ones with ball stoppers in) that were lying around.
The wreck-site was covered with a light silt, and if I stopped visibility was immediately reduced to zero. I backed out, and continued my dive towards the bow.
Around midships, I noticed the twin-cylinder compound engine which, surrounded as it was by fish, was a beautiful sight. A little further on I saw the remains of the bridge, and a set of boulders in front of it making a nice frame through which to take a shot.