Treasure and Salvage

Updated: Mar 1

Bryher holds many treasures for many people. Each have their own collections of coloured shells, pottery and sea glass. Treasure and Salvage have long been part of Scilly’s history. The wrecking of the Minnehaha in 1910, was one of Bryhers largest recoveries of salvage. Items included cigarettes, pencils, clocks, sewing machines, a grand piano and boxes of jewelry. Most of the salvaged goods were returned to St Mary’s, however an American organ appeared in the chapel not long after the wreck.

There are rules of salvage still, an age old, unwritten law known to islanders, that is passed down from generation to generation. Many useful and therefore valuable objects are still washed up after great storms during the winter and early spring.

When we first moved over to Bryher, being moorland folk and not aware of coastal rules, we would come across piles of planks and wooden posts, plastic tubs, rope and net, and marvel at this treasure landed on the shore. It wasn’t until we had used it to build a treehouse in the garden, and an island email sent and a gruff word at the pub was muttered, that we realised the error of our ways. The rule follows; if your found treasure is already above the high tide line, then it is NOT your treasure and has already been claimed by someone quicker to seek out such finds than you!

Apart from the treasures washed in, the shoreline holds many other treasures for the eye to gaze upon.

The retreating tide, turquoise water fading fast, calmly disappears, to leave behind tiny treasures of shells and stones and mermaids tears .

I swim today off Green bay, sheltered from the chilling wind. The air and sun warm my face and the sea is a brilliant green as the tide ebbs. Golden sunbeams dance through the water onto my skin, encasing my arms like bracelets. As the sun dips behind a passing cloud warmth is lost and the sea turns to liquid pewter. Along the midline, a dazzling ribbon of silver light splits my world in two. The free and enchanting underwater world and the comforting, known, skyward world.

A flock of about forty oyster catchers doze and sun themselves on the shoreline, snowy white underbellies, jet black backs and pointy, stick-like orange beaks. Plenty of grey gulls to keep me company. I am reluctant to leave, it’s just beautiful in there today.

A good friend, wonderful poet and regular visitor to Bryher wrote a poem that captured my heart…as an aspiring mermaid and a treasure hunter of mermaids tears. I hope you enjoy……

” Mermaids are such timid creatures, so in our lives they rarely feature. Yet hidden from the human eye, alone on sandy beaches lie. On rounded rock at waters edge, mermaids have time to rue their pledge. In exchange for freedom of the deep, on dry land they may never sleep. Much they miss the whispering trees, the scent of flowers on the breeze. As oftimes humans wish to be, able to explore the turquoise sea. So mermaids tears fall to the strand, glistening brightly on the sand. Like sharp shards of coloured glass, rounded by every wave to pass. Above the shore on spikes of green, are moisture drops of rainbow sheen. The summer sun shows their glory, but fairy tears are another story!

With thanks to Clem Davies

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