A Very British Scandal: The real-life treasure hunt off Tobermory by Duke of Argyll

Lavish new BBC1 drama A Very British Scandal shines a light on the explosive divorce between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll – with his hunt for Spanish gold from a sunken ship off the coast of Mull also covered.

For many years, the Duke tried to locate and raise the supposed Spanish Armada pay ship which anchored off Tobermory in 1588 for repairs and supplies.

It was a search that captivated the heads of the Campbell family, whose recent seat of Inverary Castle also features in the show, for many generations.

The ship, thought to be Almirante di Florencia or the San Juan de Sicilia, blew up in November that year, with its destruction officially linked to a gunpowder accident, although it is also said its demise was ordered by chieftain Lachlan Mór Maclean of Duart who bartered with the captain to use his soldiers for clan business.

Valuable items such as money, jewels and munition were believed to be on board. In 1955, the treasure aboard the ship was estimated to be worth over $9million.

In 1608 Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll claimed salvage rights on the wreck site and in 1645 he sponsored a salvage operation which recovered around 6 cannon.

In 1665 Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll sponsored a diving bell operation that recovered ‘two brass cannons’ and a ‘great iron gun’.

Almost 20 years later, Sir William Sacheverell, Governor of the Isle of Man, is said to have ‘recovered much of the lost bullion’ although it has never been clear what exactly was brought up from the sea bed.

'A Very British Scandal' depicts the much-publicised divorce between Ian Douglas Campbell (played by Paul Bettany) and Margaret Campbell (played by Claire Foy). CREDIT - Blueprint Pictures/Alan Peebles

The fascination with the missing treasure has long endured and in 1950, Campbell contracted Navy divers and ships to search the sea floor

at Tobermory Bay for the treasure. However, no items were found.

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Campbell, whose divorce from his wife in 1963 became the stuff of sensation given the testimony of her multiple sexual partners, abandoned the search in 1955.

Royal Navy frogman Lionel 'Buster' Crabb preparing for a dive in Tobermory Bay, where treasure is believed to lie in a 300 year-old shipwreck, on April 11 1950. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

However, his successors continued to search for the remains of the ship.

The last attempt was made in 2014, after the current duke, Torquhil Campbell, the grandson of the 11th Duke, contracted divers to search for the treasure.

The 2014 search was his fourth attempt to locate the treasure trove, after searches were held in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

However, the 2014 hunt was abandoned given an an issue with the diving contractor.

A number of Spanish artefacts of the era were found in the location of the wreck but no full search was completed.

Before the 2014 dive was halted, treasure hunter and company director Matthew French told The Scotsman that rumours of the Florencia containing a £30million fortune were reported but unconfirmed.

Mr French said: “I can’t remember how many attempts there have been on this wreck, I think it’s 50 or 60 over the years, dating back to the 16th century. We think it is still worth pursuing”.

“It’s unfinished business. We hope there is something worth recovering for the owner. The duke is quite hopeful but he knows no more than we do, There is nothing in his records to indicate anything that we don’t already know".

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