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Photos: Victoria man finds 500-year-old British coin

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An extremely old — and extremely rare — British coin discovered by a Victoria man last month is being cited as further evidence that James Cook may not have been the first European to discover Canada's western coast.

Last month, 59-year-old Bruce Campbell took his metal detector for a stroll along the Gorge waterway. He came home with a good haul, including a nickel from 1891, a Canadian penny from 1917 and a coin he couldn't identify.

"It was about three inches down in the mud and all covered in dirt," he said. "I couldn't tell if it was a coin or a medallion."

Campbell posted pictures of the mystery coin to a popular metal detecting forum online, asking anyone who recognized it to "chime in."

It didn't take long until someone identified it as a rare English shilling, issued between 1551 and 1553 under Edward VI.

"I was astonished," Campbell said. "Only ten of these shillings have been found in England, so to find one on the West Coast is kind of a big deal."

The coin is certainly a big deal for Samuel Bawlf, a former provincial cabinet minister turned historian and author of The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake. For years, Bawlf has argued Drake explored the B.C. coast on a secret mission in 1579, claiming it for the British 200 years before the arrival of Capt. James Cook.

Bawlf said Campbell's coin is the third such item discovered on Vancouver Island, including a Tudor coin found on Quadra Island two decades ago and another dug up from an Oak Bay garden in 1930.

"Those items had to get here somehow and it stands to reason that if Drake explored and claimed the B.C. coast for Queen Elizabeth, he would have given out coins to the natives he met as proof he had been here," he said.

Bawlf has thoroughly examined documents of Drake's voyage to California, and said coins like Campbell's help corroborate his theory that the admiral ventured much further north than we believe.

With the coin in his hand, Campbell is a convert.

"I think it's quite plausible," he said. "With such an amazing coastline to follow, it's hard to say he wouldn't have kept going."

Whether or not the shilling helps rewrite history, Campbell is just glad to have it in his collection. The rare coin is valued at between $500 and $1,000, but he's not planning to sell it.

"It'll be pretty hard to top it," he said of the find. "I don't expect I'll find the Crown jewels or anything like that."

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