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Singular Discovery of Spanish Coins
Needy villagers find buried treasure; PLUS Mr Inbetween, Criminal, The Wager
In March 1867, a great storm washed away much of the beach at Carr House Sands, between Hartlepool and Seaton Carew in the North East of England. From beneath the sand and pebbles, the storm revealed a “submerged forest” and thick layers of peat covering a stretch around a mile long.
One afternoon, a group of workers inspected the peat, prodding it with their walking sticks. There, embedded in the peat, they found several blackened discs, around one and a half inches in diameter. When the men rubbed away the dirt, they saw gleams of silver. The discs were Spanish dollars, the famous treasure chest coins known as “pieces of eight”.
The men began to dig into the peat and found more and more coins. The tide was coming in, forcing them to pause their search. But word quickly spread through the neighbourhood, and before the sun had risen, hundreds of local people had descended upon the beach with lamps, shovels, and pickaxes.
Almost all the treasure hunters found what they were looking for — silver “Carolus” coins, dated from 1720 to 1804 and minted for Charles III and Charles IV of Spain. Each was worth around 4s 6d, equivalent to around £21 in 2023. Some of the prospectors found as many as 90 coins, worth the equivalent of almost £2,000. They also found gold coins, gold rings, and a gold crucifix. This was genuine buried treasure.
But where had the treasure come from? The answer involved a previous storm almost 40 years before. In October 1829, a great gale created an unusually high tide that flooded much of Seaton Carew and drove seven ships onto the sands. All would be refloated except one, the Duck, which was “lying quite upon her broadside”, “breaking up”, and “a complete wreck”. Thankfully, all hands were saved, but the ship was never recovered.
The Duck, registered in London and commanded by Captain Meek, was a former American sailing ship out of Boston that was captured as a prize by the British during the War of 1812. In the following year, she was captured by a French frigate before being released in 1814. It was reported that a purchaser of the wreck removed a large quantity of coins before she broke up in 1829, leaving the remainder to the waves. How exactly she came to carry a cargo full of Spanish loot remains a mystery. Some said the Duck might have taken the loot from a Spanish privateer. Others said the coins might not have come from the Duck at all, and might have come from an unknown Spanish wreck.
“The fact, however, remains that the beach between West Hartlepool and Seaton Carew has become ‘diggings’ of a most attractive character,” reported the Illustrated Police News, “the whole army of unemployed labour in the vicinity having rushed to the scene of unexpected wealth to work free "claims", much after the Australian or Californian fashion. The sieve, the spade, and the rake are busily at work, but on Monday the produce seemed to decline seriously, a dollar to a ton or so of stones and clay being about the average. The dollars have suffered little, if anything, by their long detention in the bed of the sea and are scarcely less fresh than our own money of the early part of the present reign. The extraordinary loot is the talk and sensation of the neighbourhood.”
This reporter suggested the fortunate find was a gift from the sea during difficult economic times: “As to the ‘rightful owner’ of these waifs and strays, or this flotsam and jetsam, it is not expected there will be any dispute. Supposing the claim to rest with the Crown, the Crown will be glad to hear that at a time when money was much wanted by the poor of West Hartlepool, these Spanish dollars have been rendered up by the sea as a voluntary contribution towards the relief of distress."
The headline in the Illustrated Police News, by the way, was “Singular Discovery of Spanish Coins Near West Hartlepool”, making it apt for inclusion in this newsletter. Another reason the story caught my eye is because it occurred on the North East coast, not far from where I live. Treasure hunters regularly trawl my local beaches, but not for Spanish coins. Their loot is sea glass — gleaming beads of coloured glass. Formerly just dumped remnants from the largest bottleworks in Britain, they’ve been weathered and shaped for over a century into tiny treasures by the North Sea. ◆
Mr Inbetween (TV, Disney+)
I don’t often recommend TV shows here because most great ones are so well-known and easily accessible that they can’t really be considered “discoveries”. But here’s a great show, up there with The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and all the rest, that you’ve possibly never heard of. It’s an Australian show made by an American network, and it seems to have gotten lost somewhere on the long journey between those two places. Here in the UK, it’s hidden beneath a big pile of Marvel and Star Wars on Disney+. It’s a dark comedy about a hitman, but it’s very different (and superior) to the better-known Barry.
Creator and writer Scott Ryan plays Ray Shoesmith, a likeable family guy with a shit-eating grin who just happens to kill people for a living. Ray is great at his job, but not so good at balancing it with his home life. The show's brilliance comes from the fact that Ray, a character who does terrible things, is so relatable. The writing, acting, and direction are all superb. It’s so lean and sharp; there’s not a wasted line or moment. Situations quickly escalate from comic setups to violent confrontations. (Think the “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos, except they’re eating dimmies instead of sauce packets.)
Each episode is only 25 minutes long, yet packs in more than many feature films. The first season has just six episodes, meaning you can binge-watch it in an evening or two. And the third (and final) season has a proper ending — something many shows fail to land. If you like Pulp Fiction, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Breaking Bad… you’ll love Mr Inbetween. (If you don’t like violence, strong language, and explorations of dark themes you might not…) There’s too much TV right now, but Mr Inbetween is one show that needs to be on your watchlist.
Criminal: “Shipwrecked” with David Grann (Podcast)
In a previous edition, I mentioned The Wager, the latest non-fiction blockbuster by David Grann. The book has since been released in the UK, I’ve read it, and it’s just as good as anticipated. This edition of one of my favourite podcasts features one of my favourite writers telling the tale from his book of the 1740s shipwreck that became a mutinous battle for survival. This is effectively a (very) abridged audio version of the full story so, to avoid spoilers, you should probably read the book* before listening to the podcast. I’ve added it to the Singular Discoveries Amazon bookshelf.*
More fun next time. Please do share and subscribe.◆
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Main sources: Illustrated Police News, 23/03/1867; Home News, 26/03/1867; Hull Packet, 27/10/1829; Lloyd’s List, 23/10/1829.
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