On this day in history : 23rd September 1641 – The Merchant Royal is lost at sea off of Land’s End – full of treasure! It is one of the most valuable wrecks of all time….

During a voyage across the Atlantic, with a cargo of silver and gold, bound for Europe from the New World, the Merchant Royal sprung a leak and Captain John Limbrey put in to Cadiz for repairs…. Whilst there a fire broke out on a neighbouring ship – also laden with gold, silver and jewels, on its way to Antwerp…. It was agreed that Captain Limbrey would add the cargo from the stricken vessel to his own and for a price make delivery on its behalf….

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Example of a merchant ship from the 17th Century – Wenceslaus Hollar, graphic artist – Public domain

So, the Merchant Royal set off in tandem with her sister ship, the Dover Merchant…. As they approached the English Channel, in very rough stormy weather, the Merchant Royal’s pumps broke and the ship stared to take on water…. The crew launched the ship’s lifeboat, urging the Captain to go with them – but he refused, determined to stay with the treasure…. However, he soon had a change of heart and fired a canon to call the Dover Merchant for assistance – to which she responded and he was rescued….

The Merchant Royal went down some 30 miles or so off of Land’s End, near to the Isles of Scilly – with its cargo of 100,000lb of gold – which equates to over £1bn in today’s prices…. There were also 400 bars of Mexican silver, 500,000 pieces of eight (Spanish dollars) and countless jewels…. The wreck has never been found….

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Pieces of Eight (Spanish dollars) – Image credit : Numismatica Pliego CC BY-SA 3.0

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