Get ready, Cornwall … your gold rush is about to begin. Cornwall Live reports that a fishing vessel working off the coast of Land’s End dragged up an anchor estimated to be 400 years old … and it could be from the legendary Merchant Royal, better known as the El Dorado of the Seas because of the massive trove of gold and silver it sank with. With an estimated value today of almost $2 billion, any clue will send droves of treasure hunters diving into the rough waters off the southernmost tip of the west coast of England. Hold that thought … I’ll be back in a few weeks.
Just kidding. If the name Merchant Royal sounds familiar, you’re either up on your shipwreck history or Wikileaks. Wait, what? We’ll get to Wikileaks after we bring everyone else up to speed on the alleged treasure. The Merchant Royal (or Royal Merchant) was a 17th-century English merchant ship that spent three years (1637-1640) trading with Spanish colonies in the West Indies. On its way back, the Merchant Royal stopped in Cadiz on the southwestern coast of Spain where a Spanish ship, loaded with treasure to pay a government debt in Belgium, was on fire. (Nothing suspicious there, right?) The captain offered to take the load to Antwerp for a fee and it was gladly accepted since England and Spain were actually on speaking terms for a change.
That load of change changed the change quickly. Weighed down with an estimated horde of at least 100,000 pounds of gold (over $1.5 billion US today), 400 bars of Mexican silver ($1 million today) and nearly 500,000 pieces of eight and other coins (pieces of eight or gold doubloons are worth about $16 each today – you do the math), the Merchant Royal, already leaking, sank somewhere off the coast of Cornwall in rough weather on September 23, 1641. Eighteen men drowned but the captain and 40 crew members were saved by a sister ship. Historians doubt that they had any of the treasure with them. Thus began one of the greatest unsuccessful treasure hunts in history.
In 2007, the US company Odyssey Marine Exploration announced that its Black Swan project had found and recovered an estimated $500 million worth of silver and gold coins from a shipwreck that was believed at the time to be the Merchant Royal. However, it was later determined to be from a Spanish ship, possibly the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes which sank in 1804, which meant Spain wanted it back. Odyssey said no and the matter ended up in an Atlanta court where Odyssey expected the US government to back it.
Enter the headache of the US government … WikiLeaks.
Wikileaks released over 250,000 documents which included secret classified cables between the Spanish cultural minister and the American ambassador to Spain which showed they were working on a behind-the-scenes deal to exchange the treasure for a 1897 Pissarro painting, valued at least $20 million and held in a Spanish museum, to a California family that claimed it was illegally taken by Nazis. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department supported Spain’s claim and Odyssey had to turn the treasure over.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. What about the anchor?
“The giant anchor was trawled by the fishing vessel Spirited Lady earlier this week, and is estimated to date back to a period between 1600-1800. The anchor's size and age have led some to speculate that it may have once belonged to the Merchant Royal.”
Cornwall Live showed pictures of the massive anchor (see it here) and hinted that it could be from the Merchant Royal, which means the crew might know where the rest of the shipwreck of “the El Dorado of the seas” and its treasure are located. Needless to say, they won’t reveal the location.
Got anything, Wikileaks?