23 September 2016
Merchant Royal was lost at sea on 23 September 1641
On this day in history, 1641: The 17th-century English merchant ship Merchant Royal is lost at sea off Land's End, Cornwall in rough weather. On board were at least £100,000 of gold, 400 bars of Mexican silver and nearly 500,000 pieces of eight and other coins, making it one of the most valuable wrecks of all time.
Having spent three years trading with Spanish colonies in the West Indies from 1637 to 1640, the Merchant Royal and her sister-ship, the Dover Merchant, called into the Spanish port of Cadiz on their way home to London. The Merchant Royal was leaking badly.
While in Cadiz a Spanish ship 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 volunteered to carry the treasure to Antwerp on his way home.
The Merchant Royal went on leaking after leaving Cadiz and, when the pumps broke down, she sank off Land's End in rough weather on 23 September 1641.
Captain Limbrey and 40 of his crew got away in boats and were picked up by Dover Merchant, but 18 men drowned in the sinking. It is unlikely that the treasure was taken aboard the Dover Merchant and despite attempts by the Odyssey Marine Exploration to locate the wreck, it has never been found.
Pictured: The Odyssey Explorer is Odyssey Marine Exploration's platform to search for and recover sunken treasure. By Tim Green from Bradford (RFA Argus and Odyssey Explorer, uploaded by FAEP) (CC BY 2.0).