On This Day
1641 – The Merchant Royal, carrying a treasure of over 100,000 pounds of gold (worth over £1 billion today), is lost at sea off Land’s End.
Merchant Royal also known as Royal Merchant, was a 17th-century English merchant ship lost at sea off Land’s End, in Cornwall County, in rough weather on 23 September 1641. On board were at least 100,000 pounds of gold (over 1.5 billion USD in today’s money), 400 bars of Mexican silver (another 1 million) and nearly 500,000 pieces of eight and other coins, making it one of the most valuable wrecks of all times.
The Merchant Royal spent three years trading with Spanish colonies in the West Indies from 1637 to 1640. England was at peace with Spain at this time. The Merchant Royal and her sister-ship, the Dover Merchant, called into Cadiz on their way home to London. By all accounts she was leaking badly after her long voyage.
When a Spanish ship in Cadiz at the same time caught fire just before she was due to carry treasure to convert into pay for Spain’s 30,000 soldiers in Flanders, the Merchant Royal’s Captain Limbrey saw his chance to make a little more cash for his owners. He volunteered to carry the treasure to Antwerp on his way home.
The Merchant Royal went on leaking after she and her sister-ship left Cadiz and, when the pumps broke down, she sank off Land’s End in rough weather on 23 September 1641.
Eighteen men drowned in the sinking. Captain Limbrey and 40 of his crew got away in boats and were picked up by Dover Merchant. It is not likely that the treasure was taken aboard the Dover Merchant.
Sept. 30, Lond[on].
I suppose you have understood of the loss of the Royal Merchant coming into our road, which is the greatest that was ever sustained in one ship, being worth 400,000l. at least. The merchants of Antwerp will be the greatest losers, for she had in her belonging to them 300,000l. in bullion; if so be the Infante Cardinal lose not upon it Flanders for want of money to pay the soldiers. – ‘Charles I – volume 484: September 1641’, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1641–3 (1887), pp. 114–129
Search for the wreck
See also: Black Swan Project
The Odyssey Marine Exploration company has tried for several years to locate the wreck but has been unsuccessful thus far.
In 2007 the team announced the Black Swan Project, the name given by Odyssey Marine Exploration for its discovery and recovery of an estimated US$500 million (£363 million) worth of silver and gold coins, from a shipwreck, was originally rumored in the press to be from the Merchant Royal. The Odyssey team is still uncertain as to the identity of the wreck, but now believe it may be the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel sunk in 1804.
The team continued to search for the ship on the 2009 Discovery Channel television show, Treasure Quest, but were unsuccessful once again.
Born On This Day
1863 – Mary Church Terrell, American author and activist (d. 1954)
Mary Church Terrell (September 23, 1863 – July 24, 1954) was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, and became known as a national activist for civil rights and suffrage. She taught in the Latin Department at the M Street school (now known as Paul Laurence Dunbar High School)—the first African American public high school in the nation—in Washington, DC. In 1896, she was the first African-American woman in the United States to be appointed to the school board of a major city, serving in the District of Columbia until 1906. Terrell was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909) and the Colored Women’s League of Washington (1894). She helped found the National Association of Colored Women (1896) and served as its first national president, and she was a founding member of the National Association of College Women (1910).
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