On this day in history : 9th October 1799 – The sinking of HMS Lutine…. Later its bell is salvaged and presented to shipping insurers Lloyds of London – where it is rung to mark the loss of a ship – or indeed the safe return….

A frigate similar to HMS Lutine – Public domain

Lutine was a French frigate and was launched in 1779…. As one of the sixteen ships handed over to Britain on the 18th of December 1793, following the end of the Siege of Toulon, it was then to serve in the Royal Navy….

Carrying a cargo of gold Lutine sank in a violent storm at Vlieland, in the West Frisian Islands off the cost of the northern Netherlands…. All but one of the 240 onboard perished….

HMS Lutine in distress – Unknown author – Public domain

The shifting sandbanks of the region were always going to make it nigh on impossible to conduct a truly successful salvage operation – most of the cargo has never been recovered…. It is estimated around £1.2m (the equivalent in today’s terms being £119m) in bullion and coins went down with the ship – an exact figure cannot be determined as a later fire at Lloyd’s destroyed all records…. The gold had been destined to provide the banks in Hamburg with funds to try and prevent a stock market crash….

The gold was insured by Lloyds of London, who paid the claim out in full – which meant the lost cargo now belonged to them…. On the 29th of October 1799 instructions were issued to attempt to recover the gold and in December 1799 salvage operations began…. With the shifting sands the ship was rapidly filling with silt…. Over the years various salvage attempts have yielded small recoveries but only amounting to a fraction of what lies down there….

The ship’s bell was recovered on the 17th of July 1858 – it was found tangled in chains between the rudder and ship’s wheel…. It weighs 106lb and is 18in in diameter – engraved upon it is ‘ST. JEAN – 1779’ – nobody knows why this name does not correspond to the Lutine…. The bell was installed in The Royal Exchange in 1859, hanging from the rostrum in the underwriting room at Lloyds…. It was rung every time news of an overdue ship was received; one toll for a loss and two for a safe arrival into port…. The last time it was rung for a ship’s loss was in 1979 – and the return of an overdue ship in 1989…. The bell has developed a crack and so ‘ringing the news’ for shipping has now ceased…. Nowadays it only tolls for the passing of a member of the Royal family – as it was for when Princess Diana died and the death of the Queen Mother…. And of course, most recently on the 15th of September 2022 – when a single ring of the bell marked the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and then finished with two rings to acclaim the new King Charles III….

Lloyds of London Image Portfolio Feb2011

When Lloyds moved in 1929 the Lutine Bell was installed in the new premises in Leadenhall Street and then in 1958 it was relocated to Lloyds’ headquarters in Lime Street…. Since 1986 it has been situated in the most recent Lime Street headquarters….

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