World Coins

Gold coins from legendary 1859 shipwreck to be sold

A memorial stands near Moelfre, England, for the victims of the wreck of steam clipper Royal Charter, which sank during a hurricane in October 1859.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Keith Williamson

Shipwrecks are fascinating for numismatists, no doubt about it.

And when the ship that sunk carried a fortune in gold, it takes that interest level up a notch.

On Oct. 26, 1859, the steam clipper Royal Charter was on the last leg of its voyage back to England from Melbourne, filled up with Australian gold, when it was wiped out by an unexpected hurricane off the English coast near Moelfre — killing 459 passengers and crew members on board, according to the BBC.

Now, by way of a Halls auction on March 22, coins recovered from its wreckage by a diver in the 1970s are finally hitting the market, according to Valued around £4,000, the collection includes six sovereigns, a single half sovereign, eternity and signet rings, and a nugget pin.

The diver's widow is the seller.

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“We are very fortunate and privileged to be able to sell these rare items, which were found by someone who actually dived on the wreck of the Royal Charter,” Derek Ainsworth, a consultant at Halls, was quoted as saying to “It’s such a tragic story as many of the passengers were so close to home having made their fortune in the gold fields of Australia.”

The ship was full of miners who had spent a significant amount of time in Australia gathering the gold.

So how much gold was on board?

The ship’s hold was filled with boxes containing £322,440 worth of gold items, which would equate to several million dollars’ or pounds’ worth today.

The gold certainly didn’t help the victims of the wreck, as many of them were wearing gold belts, carrying gold-stuffed luggage, and wearing garments with gold sewn inside. The metal weighed down many who plunged into the sea.

The Royal Charter was only four years old at the time of the wreck, and was considered one of the fastest ships in the world. 

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