National Treasure: Was Charlotte Ever Found in Real Life?

Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Gates and a group of treasure hunters find Charlotte, an English merchant ship that went missing in the early 19th century, in the 2004 action-adventure film ‘National Treasure.’ Benjamin discovers a clue that serves as the next step to finding the Templar/Freemason treasure from the ship. In reality, Charlotte has been puzzling historians and mystery solvers alike for decades because of its strange disappearance. Different accounts state varying explanations regarding its fate. Having said that, there is one thing that we know for sure: no treasure hunter like Ben was able to track it down in the Arctic region!

Charlotte Remains an Unsolved Mystery

Differing from the depiction in ‘National Treasure,’ Charlotte hasn’t been found in real life more than two centuries after its disappearance. The merchant ship was built in 1784, only to be used as a carrier of convicts to New South Wales, Australia. She came back to Britain after picking up a cargo of teas from China for the East Indian Company. After the return, she was turned into a West Indiaman used in the London-Jamaican trade. During these years, her ownership changed multiple times. It is widely believed that she went missing off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in 1818.

If Charlotte really sank, her remains were never discovered. However, what makes her fate a mystery is that despite the belief that the ship went missing in 1818, she continued to be listed on Lloyd’s Register until 1821, as per Rowan Hackman’s ‘Ships of the East India Company.’ Lloyd’s Register of Shipping listed seagoing, self-propelled merchant ships of 100 gross tons or more annually to provide a record of available marine vessels. A particular ship was removed from the list after it got sunk, wrecked, or scrapped, specifically if its owner hadn’t withdrawn it from the register first. In an ideal scenario, the 1821 records indicate that Charlotte didn’t sink in 1818.

However, in the early 19th century, Lloyd’s Register was not reportedly completely errorless. Unverified data from the previous year allegedly used to be added to new editions of the register. If that’s what happened in the case of Charlotte, the records do not prove that it didn’t go missing in 1818. Since there are no official records that state that the ship was decommissioned and scrapped by its owner at the time, the possibility of it getting sunk off the coast of Newfoundland cannot be ruled out.

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