On this day in history : 31st May 1578 – Martin Frobisher sets sail from Harwich to Frobisher Bay, Canada….where he is to discover ‘gold’…. Over the following years he brings back over 1500 tons – before it is realised it’s worthless….

Sir Martin Frobisher – Public domain

Frobisher was an English seaman and a privateer – in all he made three voyages to the New World with the original intention of looking for the ‘North-West Passage’…. It was on his second voyage that he found what he thought to be gold and using three ships he carried 200 tons of it back to England…. Indeed it seems he wasn’t the only one to believe he had the real thing – for his ‘gold’ was valued at £5.20 (nearly £225K in today’s terms) per ton…. It comes as no surprise that he was so excited by the prospect of all this wealth – that on his third trip to Canada he returned with a further 1,350 tons….

Only all that glitters is not necessarily gold…. After years of smelting it was realised that this was not the precious metal they had all thought it to be – but instead it was practically worthless Iron Pyrite – otherwise known as ‘Fool’s Gold’….

In the end Frobisher’s fool’s gold was used for road metalling – which is quite possibly where the saying ‘the streets of London are paved with gold’ comes from…. As for Frobisher – he managed to redeem himself…. He, in his capacity of privateer, took a fleet to Spain and plundered a whole load of Spanish ships – bringing so much wealth back to England that Queen Elizabeth I gave him a Knighthood….

Fool’s Gold – Image credit : Tudor Barker via Flickr

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