Little Bits of History

Lost at Sea

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 23, 2012

Royal Merchant off the coast of Cornwall

September 23, 1641: An English merchant ship is lost. The ship was called the Merchant Royal and also known as the Royal Merchant. Her crew had been trading with the Spanish colonies in the West Indies from 1637-1640. During these years Spain and England were at peace. Her last port of call before returning home was at Cadiz, Spain. She stopped there and was to then return to London with her cargo. She was in the company of her sister ship, the Dover Merchant. It was said at the time that the Merchant Royal was leaking prior to her last voyage, a not uncommon event.

While in Cadiz, a Spanish ship caught fire and the captain of the Royal offered to transport goods from the burned vessel. It was agreed and he took aboard the pay for Spain’s 30,000 soldiers stationed at Flanders. The captain was to drop the funds off at Antwerp. Aboard the leaky ship were at least 100,000 pounds of gold (said to be worth USD $1 billion today), along with 400 bars of Mexican silver (said to be worth another $1 million today), and another 500,000 pieces of eight (Spanish dollars of the time) and more coinage.

The two British ships left Cadiz with the Royal heavily laden with this precious cargo. The ship was leaking but manageable. Captain Limbrey was able to sail effectively until rough weather kicked up. To add to their misery, the pumps aboard ship quit working. Then, off Land’s End, Cornwall, the ship sank. It was one of the most valuable wrecks of all time. The captain and forty of his crew got away and were picked up by the Dover. Eighteen more men were lost at sea. It is unlikely that any of the heavy treasure made its way to the other ship.

There have been many attempts to locate the wreck and recover the valuable cargo. Odyssey Marine Exploration is an American company involved in deep water shipwreck recovery. One of their projects, Black Swan Project, found a wreck in May 2007. They recovered 17 tons, mainly silver with some gold coins, but it was not (as speculated) from this sunken ship. Rather, the coins are believed to  be from the frigate Nuesta Señora de las Mercedes which blew up and sank on October 5, 1804. The coins are said to be worth $500 million USD. After a several years long battle, US courts have demanded that Odyssey return the coins to Spain, even though it flies in the face of legal precedent.

Clearly, the political influences in this case overshadowed the law. – Melinda MacConnel, discussing the legal findings in the above case

Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise. – Christopher Columbus

I must go deeper and even stronger into my treasure mine and stint nothing of time, toil, or torture. – Zane Grey

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. – Joseph Campbell

Also on this day:

I Shot the Sheriff – In 1980, Bob Marley played his last concert.
No Crash – In 1999, Qantas suffered its worst incident of the century.
40-40 Club – In 1988, Jose Canseco began the 40-40 Club.

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