Dargaville's Noel Hilliam lives and breathes shipwrecks, so was thrilled when a descendent of an officer involved in an historic Baylys Beach wreck got in touch.

French tourist Camille Amet's great great grandfather was aboard the L'Alcmene when it wrecked on Baylys Beach in 1851. He survived, but 17 others off the French vessel en route from Tasmania, were not so lucky.

Ms Amet was in Dargaville last week and spent an emotional morning with Dargaville shipwreck explorer and historian Mr Hilliam, visiting the site where the ship went down.

"She was very moved being there - where her great great grandfather trod in the water and on the sand. She felt something, she said," said Mr Hilliam.


Mr Hilliam said the ship was one of 110 officially recorded shipwrecks off the coast of Baylys Beach, though he reckoned he had discovered another 57 that were not officially recorded. The historian re-discovered the wreck of L'Alcmene during a 1977 search for a missing swimmer.

"I've been on it for over 50 years. This particular ship was a ship for the French Navy. I've got the bulk of the main story - it's a jigsaw puzzle, like all shipwrecks. There were over 400 relics on board."

L'Alcmene was bound for Whangaroa but had been lost for four days and was about 100km off course when it was struck by a hurricane that drove the ship towards the shore.

The 230 on board - including sailors and one female passenger, a Swedish countess - left the ship as it beached, climbing along the main mast. Arriving on the beach, Officer Achille Amet - Ms Amet's ancestor - wrapped a towel around the shoulders of the countess. This towel was later returned to the Amet family, becoming a treasured heirloom, Ms Amet said. The wreck can only be reached by diving.

"I gave [Ms Amet] a piece of the ship's timber and a bronze bolt to pass on to her father - it was her father who directed her to come out," Mr Hilliam said.