A Royal Relic
By: Patrick Difford
I had been planning this trip for months. I was to meet my friend Chris for four straight days of detecting in the maritime provinces of Canada at the end of April 2009. It originally started as a week of detecting, but I had to change my plans at the last minute due to work obligations. I made the four-hour drive to Chris's house, arriving there at 7:30 a.m. I stopped long enough for Chris to go over the game plan for the day, and then we were out the door.
Our first stop was an old favorite which we have hunted before. The difference on this spring day was that it had recently been plowed for the first time in over two years. The last couple times we'd hunted this area I had struck out, but Chris always seemed to come out with something. Several Revolutionary War Royal Provincials buttons had been found here, along with assorted buckles and a trade axe. So, I was psyched to hunt this field, given the newly plowed conditions.
When we arrived at the field Chris went immediately to the "iron patch," and I proceeded to hunt all around the patch. Chris had admonished me on more than one occasion for avoiding the patch, but I prefer the quieter tones. Besides, the iron patch had, in my opinion, been hit hard, while the areas around it remained relatively unhunted. I started gridding a large area and was "rewarded" with mostly trash finds. About an hour into the hunt Chris called over to tell me that he had found another Royal Provincials pewter button. I was a bit envious as I was really hoping for an RP button on this trip, but I kept my head down and continued detecting.
After another hour and no more decent finds, we decided to call this site finished. As we were leaving the field Chris mentioned that he'd found a tombac button as well. I asked him to throw it on the ground so that I could get a reading off my detector. Sure enough, I was getting no tone whatsoever on the tombac. I have been hunting with a Fisher F-75 since last year and have had great success with the machine, but there was no way I could detect the tombac. I then checked the levels on the F-75 and noticed that I had inadvertently notched out nickel... which effectively notched out tombac and pewter buttons! While I was crushed, Chris was laughing and already looking forward to razzing me on the forums. I was just trying to imagine all the pewter buttons I might have walked over without getting any signal at all. I changed the settings on my machine, and off we went to site #2.
Site #2 was an unhunted site. There was nothing particularly significant about it, however, and we only chose it as a filler site while we thought of the next place to detect. Typically we like to search sites dating to the 1700s, as opposed to those of the 1800s. Chris had just researched it on his 1840s map and noted that there was a house there in 1840, but not in 1935. We proceeded to the area and were happy to see that it was a plowed field. Although located at the end of a lonely country road, it definitely had promise. It was a good area, near a sizable body of water, so we set about obtaining permission. After knocking on a few doors we received permission and off we went.
We separated on the field to search for the actual site. When I started finding pottery and glass shards, I knew that it was found. I called Chris over, and we started the hunt. He gravitated right to the center of the iron patch, and I began working just to the outside. After searching for about an hour without turning up too much, we started to surmise that we had been beaten to the punch, even though the owner had never advised that someone had already detected there. Eventually, I found two toe plates, a piece of a keg spigot, and a crusty copper token. Chris was finding about the same, so we were close to giving up.
We continued hunting, and suddenly there it was- that signal I'd been waiting for. Every pass gave me a consistent reading, and I thought, "This has to be a large silver coin." I pinpointed the target and saw that it was pretty big, so my hopes for a silver coin were dashed. Now I was thinking, "Harness buckle." The target was only a couple of inches down, so I flipped over the soil and saw a bent oval object. Truthfully, my first thought was, "Belt plate!" but that was just too much to hope for. I picked it up and knocked away some of the dirt. Even though the item was bent, I could see that it was a perfect oval and that there were the remains of three points of connection on the back. I still did not think that it was a belt plate but decided to have some fun with Chris.
I called over to get his attention and yelled, "Belt plate!" He didn't hear me the first time, so I held the object at chest level, where a soldier would wear a belt plate, and repeated, "Belt plate!" He walked over to where I was and held out his hand. Even before I passed it to him he stated, "Nope, it's too big." I showed him the back and the three points of connection, he flipped it over and proceeded to brush some dirt off of the face of the target. I won't quote Chris exactly, but with a couple of choice expletives he proclaimed that I had just found a Royal Artille
I asked how he could be sure, and he pointed out the cannons in the center of the plate. I started to see the design of the Royal Artillery crest and was suddenly transported to cloud nine! Never in my life did I think I would be fortunate enough to find a belt plate, let alone a marked officer's belt plate! On the bottom of the plate I could clearly read Royal Artillery in a banner. On the top of the plate I could now see a flaming mortar with the words Second Battn on either side. An officer of the Royal Artillery, Second Battalion had once worn this very plate! I have since spoken to an expert in this field of collecting, and he has dated the plate c. 1790-1810.
The belt plate was found on the first of four days of detecting. Many more great finds were made during that trip, including Spanish silver, French colonial silver, and military buttons, but the belt plate made all fade in comparison. It is now proudly displayed in a nice shadow box, along with a Royal Artillery button that I found in the same general area a year earlier. I have been detecting for four years now, and this is my all-time favorite find. It's going to be a tough one to beat!