Historic Tasmanian Shipwreck Treasure Stories
The Wreck of the Colonial ship "Hope".
A Short History of Bruny Island's Buried Treasure Mystery
It was a dark and stormy night April the 29th 1827 when the colonial trading ship Hope was shipwrecked on the beach which now bears its name at South Arm near the mouth of the Derwent River, Hobart Town Tasmania. With the shipwreck of the Hope one of Australia's greatest treasure mysteries began. SInce that time in history many people have visited Bruny Island searching for the treasure. Below is an exact reprint of the the shipwreck of the Hope from the contempory newspaper "The Colonial Times". As well as accurately describing the event this news piece gives a good feel for the horror of a shipwreck in the early 19th Century.
From the Hobart Colonial Times May 1827
The Loss of the Hope
We have the painful duty to report the loss of the barque Hope, which vessel was wrecked on Sunday morning last, on the long Sandy Beach, between Betsy and Iron-pot Islands. It appears she was on her way from Sydney hither, with about 100 tons of freight, and the following passengers: Ensign Barcley, 40th Regiment; Mrs. Bisbee and Mr. Bisbee (wife and brother of Mr. Bisbee of Hobart Town who came as passengers in the ship Elizabeth from England to Sydney); also Mrs. Westbrook mother of Dr. Westbrook. Of this place, another passenger per the Elizabeth, and three others, among whom is Mr. Edmund Johnson, nephew of Mr. Joseph Johnson of the Green Ponds.
The Hope made the Heads on Saturday afternoon; and took on board, off Cape Raoul, the pilot, Mr. Mansfield, the same evening, shortly before dusk. The Hope at this time was being towed in by two of the ship’s boats; but the pilot having taken charge of the vessel, told Captain Cunningham, that he could safely bring her up the river, without the assistance of the boats; from which, in consequence, she parted.
The Captain, however, wished the vessel might be towed in; but the Pilot observed, that his long experince in the river Derwent would enable him to bring her up in safety otherwise. The Captain was perfectly aware of sufficient room being afforded in the Derwent for any vessel to be brought up with almost any wind, and therefore acquiesced with the Pilot’s wishes; and, leaving the charge of the vessel in his hands, retired to rest, where he remained until awakened by the vessel running on shore.
The wind light and variable, and the vessel proceeded up the river but slowly. The night was rather dark and rainy; and about 4 o’clock on the morning of Sunday; about two hours before day break, she, by some means, we can scarcely conceive how, ran ashore, on the long sandy beach, in Shoal Bay, as above stated.
Although the night was rather dark, the wind was not violent, but the surf was running tremendously high. On the lead line being thrown, she was discovered to be in seven feet of water, while her proper draught was fifteen. The moment she struck, the consternation and terror became general; and the scene is described as truly terrific.
The Captain raving at the pilot like a man distracted, the latter standing in mute dismay--- females just left their beds--- sailors not knowing which way to turn, to relieve the creaking vessel, which was expected to go to pieces every moment, as she already leaked like a sieve--- the heavy surf rolling over her, adding horror to the scene--- while the dismal half hour guns of distress seemed to signal the death knell of all on board. Daylight at length appeared and discovered to the sufferers their truly perilous situation.
About 10 o’clock of the Sunday morning, two whale-boats, of Mr. Lucus’s fishing party, which had been laying off Bruny Island, came up to the wreck. They had heard the proceeding evening the signal-gun nfor the Pilot, which drew their attention and induced them to bend their steps thitherward.
They immediately lent their aid, with the ship’s jolly boat, in getting out the ship’s bower and kedge anchors; but the attempt proved fruitless, for one of the whaleboats (the property of Mr. Kelly), was stove, having her head absolutely dashed off, and the crew narrowly escaped with their lives. Captain Cunningham then jumped into the jolly boat alone, which parted from the other boat, and nearly fell a sacrifice to his eager promptitude, to save the vessel. Finding every other hope lost, to all the lives they could became their chief object.
The venerable Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Bisbee were safely conveyed on shore, after a state of most dreadful suspense for four hours. All this time, the rolling of the vessel almost precluded anyone from keeping their feet, while the state of the two females was most dreadful; overcome with weakness and terror, and fatigue, they could not stand without support, which was kindly afforded by a Mr. John Elliot and some other Gentlemen passengers. With the Ladies, Mr. Clarkson, charterer of the Hope, came up to Hobart Town by the whale-boat in the course of Sunday, bringing the fatal news to Town, leaving the other persons on board. Immediately on learning the fate of the Hope, the Agent (Mr. Behune), dispatched the sloop Recovery, a small craft, in order to bring away a portion of her cargo, in which she succeeded, having returned the following evening with as many tons of goods as could be thrown on board from the wreck.
But to return to the ship. On Sunday night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, the rudder gave way, and the upper part of her stern was driven in. At this critical hour of the night, it was every moment feared that the stern post would give way or be driven in also; in which case the vessel must soon afterwards have foundered, and every soul on board perished as the surf was still running mountains high. The other passengers who did not come up on Sunday safely arrived in Town on Tuesday- till which period all hands were employed at the pumps, in imminent peril, every moment in danger of being washed overboard. When some Gentlemen who left the wreck on Tuesday, who had visited it on Monday, the sea was gaining on the vessel every hour, her main mast had been cut away, and all hopes of saving her were given up. Some casks of spirits, which were on board, were ascertained to have been damaged by the salt water; and the tea and sugar, which also formed part of her cargo, must inevitably be destroyed. We understand, that among the persons who had merchandise on board is Mr. James Lord, owner of the Marquis of Lausdown.---- We are not aware whether the vessel is insured or not.
The government brig Prince Leopold, in coming from Maria Island with the remainder of the wreck of the Apollo, saw the Hope off the Heads on Saturday, and safely arrived in the Harbour the same evening. Monday she discharged her lading, and on Tuesday was immediately sent to the relief of the wrecked Hope.
(end Colonial Times report)
You will have noticed that, whilst the history of the shipwreck is covered in some detail there is no mention of a treasure being on board or of a treasure being lost or a treasure on Bruny Island. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that oral histories report that the treasure was the Hobart garrison's ( 40th Regiment of Foot) quarterly pay and military would have numerous reasons for keeping the loss of the garrison's pay a secret. Certainly there is no referance to the pay's loss in histories from that time. To find out more we have to fast forward from 1827 to the 1850's when a mysterious Irishman turns up on the beach of Bruny Island at Dennes Point, directly across Storm Bay from where the Hope was wrecked. Fortunately for Bruny Island history Harry O'May recorded the recollections of Bruny Islands long lived resident Darcy Denne in his book "Shipwrecks of Tasmania". Darcy Denne lived well into his 90's and actually met and came to know quite well the mysterious Irishman named McKinnon.
Below is an extract from Captain Harry O'May's book, a part of the chapter about the Hope and her treasure.
“It was said to be the pay money for the garrison stationed in Hobart Town. At the time of the wreck the treasure disappeared. The two soldiers were suspected of securing it and secretly hiding it in the sand dunes with the intention of retrieving it later. This was never possible as the men were transferred to India where one of them died. The other returned to England where he received his discharge. Probably he had no means of returning to Hobart Town. However, this man told his story to an Irish farmer named McKinnon and convinced him that the buried treasure was still to be found where he and his mate had planted it. McKinnon sold his farm and with a rough plan of the locality supplied by the ex-soldier came out to Hobart Town. There he purchased tools and stores, obtained a miner’s right and engaged Donald McKay, owner of the passage boat Mary May, to land him and his gear, not on Hope Beach, but on Kelly’s Point on Bruni Island. Hope Beach and Kelly’s Point are on opposite sides of the entrance to the Derwent and approximately three miles of open water separates them.
On the arrival of the Mary May at Kelly’s Point, Mr. Harry Denne came down to the jetty and assisted in the landing of the gear. This included a large and very heavy box which cost the three men considerable effort to place on the wharf.
After the boat had gone on her way Mr. Denne questioned the stranger but received only evasive answers. He became a man of mystery to the Dennes who watched him as he tramped aimlessly about the shore. Next morning he was still there but the heavy metal box was gone from the jetty. During the day he was asked why he was prying around and he answered, “I am searching for hone stones.” (Stones used for sharpening cutting tools.)
The Dennes decided this was a very unsatisfactory answer and that it was time to communicate with the police. The Brown’s River trooper was instructed to investigate the case. When the trooper asked why the stranger was prospecting on private property he was also told of the search for honing stones. The trooper then asked, “What is in the big box?” and was told it contained snake-bite cure. When it was opened two small phials of some liquid were found in the box.
The trooper had no excuse for arresting the man who continued his prospecting for some time and then disappeared.
But after a lapse of 18 months he turned up again. It was learned later that in the meantime he had returned to Ireland and secured from the soldier another map with more minute instructions. On his return to Hobart Town, McKinnon arranged with Captain Bill Whisby of the ketch Ann Allen to convey him to Bligh’s Point which is about a mile further up the Channel. He told Whisby for what he was hunting and this time he gave all the gullies in the vicinity a thorough combing before he abandoned the search. When all his money was gone he returned to Hobart Town and worked as a laborer.”
How much treasure was there?
There are numerous variations on the story of the Hope, which has become quite a legend over the years. Some versions have the hope carrying a treasure of up to thirty thousand pounds. In reality, assuming the Hope was carrying the quarterly pay for the garrision, my research of historic records proves that the figure would be about 5,000 pounds sterling, which was what the garrison needed every three months. Of course this would all have been in coins of various denominations from copper farthings through to gold sovereigns.
The history of Tasmania is interwoven with the history of ships, shipwrecks and the sea. Through the hey days of Pacific whaling Hobart Town was the world centre of the whaling industry. Fortunes were made and lost by those early whalers who risked life and limb as they pursued the giant whales in flimsy wooden rowing boats.
Being an island, until very recently, Tasmania's only link to the world was by ships that rode in on the trade winds of the Indian Ocean, the Roaring 40's. Mostly these winds were a blessing, a reliable energy source to propel ships to their destination. But history also shows us that all too often the same winds became the enemy turning ships into shipwrecks, throwing passengers and crew onto the rocks of the reefs and islands that surround Tasmania.
Tasmania's only link to mainland Australia was via the treacherous waters of Bass Strait where, apart from the natural perils of the sea, there also lurked human perils, pirates who were either convict escapees or brutalized ex-convicts who had no interest in returning to the civilized world, preferring to make the wilds of the Bass Strait Islands their home.
In the histories below are legends of shipwreck treasures associated with both these dangers. These histories are as accurate as I can make them but comments, feed back and information that will help me improve the historic accuracy of these Tasmanian shipwreck stories are always welcome.
Anyone with additional knowledge of the history of the Bruny Island treasure story is particularly invited to contact me.
As Bruny Island forms part of the entrance to the Derwent River and old Hobart Town we will start off with Tasmania's most famous shipwreck treasure legend; the Bruny Island Treasure.
The Shipwreck of the Brittomart: A Tasmanian Treasure Ship.
In the early part of the 19th century Hobart Town was the whaling and sealing capital of the world. From the Derwent River whaling ships sailed out across the Pacific and into the Great Southern Ocean hunting whales and returning to Hobart laden with valuable oil, whale bone and seal fur. The Colony’s whale based economy was booming and fortunes were being made rapidly however these were the days before gold had been discovered in Australia and the one big problem that faced the whalers, traders, merchants and almost every other strata of colonial society was the shortage of specie, of cash money, coinage. Some enterprising individuals set up their own mints making trading tokens of specific values but these were usually only made of copper and of small value, inadequate for buying and selling hundreds of tons of whale oil. Silver and gold coins were scarce to such an extent that silver Spanish dollars were the official currency for a period of time. These were the “holey dollars” which had a hole punched out of the centre to create two separate coins of different values. Even so cash was still very short and whalers and publicans and other traders were not interested in promissory notes or tokens or even punched Spanish dollars.
To solve this problem a number of the banks, which were at this time setting up around the colonies, imported large amounts of silver and gold coinage from Britain. Of course the only way coins could be carried to the Colonies was by ship and, legend has it, such a cargo was being carried by the 250 ton sailing barque Britomart when she disappeared on route to Hobart from Melbourne in December 1839.
According to the stories that circulated at the time of the Britomart’s disappearance part of her cargo was a large iron safe containing one hundred and fifty thousand pounds in coin, a huge sum of money and a fact that appears to have become known to a certain group of desperados living on the Bass Strait Islands, the Bass Strait sealers.
In those days the big money had gone out of sealing, the stocks had been depleted by years of wholesale slaughter, however it was still possible to eke a living killing the few seals that remained in Bass Strait; their skins, furs and the oil from their bodies was still a commodity in demand enough to provide the sealers with a supply of liquor and the other necessities, which, with the seal’s flesh, were enough to sustain a man who wanted little more than to live as far away from the authorities and civilised world as he could.
These were the Bass Strait sealers, usually ex-convicts or even escaped convicts; tough, lawless men who had been brutalised by the penal system and wanted nothing to do with the growing colonies. They were men who did whatever it took to survive and took what they needed. It was into their domain of scattered reefs and islands that the Britomart was lured.
False Lights and “Wrecking”
The occupation of “wrecking” was an old one back in Britain. Along the coasts of Cornwell and other shires where the rocky coast was steep and wild the poor fishermen and villagers had, for hundreds of years, supplemented their meagre living by salvaging what the waves washed ashore from shipwrecks. They had certain legal rights of salvage from shipwrecks and even from the bodies of dead sailors washed ashore. Then at some point in time some enterprising salvor realised that, rather than waiting for the occasional, accidental shipwreck to occur it would be much more efficient, on dark and stormy nights, to actually organise the shipwreck by placing false navigation lights at certain points along the coast to lure ships onto a reef or headland. This way all could be ready to claim the salvage immediately it hit the beach and also to ensure that there were no live sailors to tell of the false lights. It is likely that amongst the Bass Strait sealers there lived men who had occupied themselves thus before being exiled to Australia.
Small wonder when the sealers heard of the Britomart and her supposed cargo of coins that some of the more enterprising and unscrupulous made plans to lure the unsuspecting ship onto rocks where she would be easy picking and so it seems it happened.
When the Britomart failed to arrive in Hobart Town by its due date in January 1840 people began to worry; anxiety and suspicion increased when other ships arriving from Melbourne reported that there had been no bad weather in Bass Strait.
The Government cutter Vansittart was dispatched to search amongst the Bass Strait islands for news of wreckage but returned reporting no trace of the missing Britomart. A few weeks later a schooner, the Sir John Franklin, on its way from Melbourne to Hobart, sheltered behind Preservation Island, one of the Bass Strait group. Whilst anchored there the ship’s master, Captain Gill, landed to visit one of the sealers, a Scotsman named Monroe, who lived near the anchorage with two Aboriginal women. When Gill entered the Scotsman’s shack he noticed Munroe throw a cushion over something in the corner. Gill asked if he had seen any sign of the Brittomart but the sealer’s answers seemed evasive;
The Lost Treasure of the shipwrecked Tasmanian Whaling Ship “George”.
It seems that every tropical island worthy of the name has an associated legend of buried treasure and Lord Howe Island is no exception to the rule, somewhere buried on its steep jungle covered slopes lies a chest containing a whaler’s treasure worth millions of dollars.
The atory begins in the year 1830 when the Hobart based whaling brig the George sailed out of Hobart Town heading for the rich sperm whale fisheries between Australia and New Zealand; but first a bit of background on the wreck of the George.
The Derwent River Whale Hunters Club was a group of wealthy seafaring men brought together by Bruny Island’s James Kelly. The Whale Hunters Club ran a fleet of whaling ships out of Hobart Town. The George was purchased to replace a ship recently lost.
One of their members had sailed to London, bought the George and then employed a Captain Robert Rattenbury to sail the 84 feet long brig out from London via Mauritius to Hobart Town where they converted what had previously been a trading brig into a whaler. The Derwent River Whaling Club retained the good Captain Rattenbury as the brig’s master. Rattenbury had been involved in the Atlantic whaling industry but was keen to try the rich new whaling grounds between Australia and New Zealand. He was accompanied to Van Deiman’s Land by Mrs Rattenbury, their two children and two servants, arriving on the 26th of September 1930.
Three months later, the refit completed, the George, Captain Rattenbury, his son and cabin boy John and a crew of 20 men set sail for the sperm whale fisheries known then as the “Middle Grounds”. They had all the latest whaling gear; harpoons, lances, razor sharp flenshing knives, huge iron pots for rendering down the blubber, thousands of yards of rope for attaching to the harpoons so the speared whale was not lost when it died or dived for the deeps. Equipping the brig with the whaling gear had cost the Whaling Club a small fortune, nearly six thousand pounds sterling but they expected to see that returned with profits in just one trip, such was the wealth found in whales.
The crew were eager to get to the whales and also looking forward to earning big money. Every crewman received an agreed percentage of the ship’s profits at the end of the trip. The trip was expected to last up to 18 months and profits to be in excess of ten thousand pounds sterling (with luck).
The George had only been at sea a week when the lookout spotted their first whale.
An excited call from the man on lookout announced the target.
“Whale ahoy! To the starboard bow, half a league off!”
Captain Rattenbury, standing beside his first mate on the poop deck, had been studying a chart. He turned to Mr. Kingston who was at the wheel:
“Did you see it, was it a sperm?”
“Aye sir, looked a big bull, 60 barrels in it I’d be guessin’; he should spout again over there,” the experienced first mate answered, using his bearded chin to indicate a direction to his right. There was the hint of a satisfied look on his weather worn face, it was a good omen to come upon a big whale so soon out of port.
“Good, it seems like our luck looks good then. Do you wish to go with the boats or stay aboard?” the captain asked.
“I’ll go sir, it’s a big fish, perhaps your young John would like to come out for this ‘n, the conditions are calm enough ‘n he c’d use the experience.”
“Yes, you’re right, you tell him. I’ll take the wheel and bring the George along, take two boats.”
“Aye aye sir,” Mr. Kingston nodded to his Captain, stepped away from the heavy, wooden spoked wheel and left the poop.
On the main deck two of the brig’s whaleboats were being swung out on the davits ready for lowering into the calm morning ocean. There was only a slight breath of a breeze, not enough to even ripple the glassy surface.
About 200 yards away the huge sea mammal broke the surface again and blew a spout of water and warm mist into the cool morning air before slowly, smoothly sliding beneath the surface again.
Mr. Kingston signalled for the selected crewmen to climb into the boats and then gestured to Jake.
“The capt’n says for you t’ come along th’s morning boy, you up f’r it?”
“Yes sir,” the youngster replied eagerly as he climbed on board one of the boats dangling from the davits to take a seat beside the oar the mate had indicated.
The boats were lowered to the water and, hoisting their little lateen sails to aid the oarsmen, immediately took off in the direction of the last spout. Mr. Kingston’s boat led with Mr. Kingston on the steering oar scanning the surface of the sea for any sign of movement or bubbles that might indicate the direction the giant whale had taken. He saw a swirl in the water and a trail of tiny bubbles about 50 yards ahead, to the little boat’s starboard side, he leaned on the 18 foot long steering oar to change their heading and called to his men to row harder, the second boat followed.
“Put you’re backs into it boys, he’ll be up again soon.”
The giant marine mammals could stay underwater for extended periods of time but when they surfaced, to re-oxygenate their blood they had to fill and empty their huge lungs several times to absorb the maximum amount of oxygen before diving to the depths where they hunted for giant squid and where they were well beyond the reach of the hunters. This pattern of repetitious breathing gave the men in the boats a chance to anticipate where the whale would rise again and to be there, ready to throw the long, steel tipped harpoon. But it was a vast ocean and it took an expert eye to be able to predict where in that featureless vastness the whale would rise.
“Get ready with the harpoon Mr. Bowman,” Kingston called to the man on the bow oar who immediately peaked his oar and moved to stand at the bow, taking up the 9 foot long barbed harpoon and bracing his left leg firmly against the “thigh-board”, a specially designed arrangement in the bow with a cut out plank to fit the thigh, where he could balance so as to put all his weight into the spear’s throw.
As if to an unheard cue the sperm whale rose about 20 feet to the right of the bow and in the same moment the harpoon flashed through the air and buried itself deep beneath the shiny dark skin of the whale; the razor sharp tip penetrating nearly two feet into the enormous body, lodging and held by the cruel barbs behind its point.
The whale shuddered with the unexpected pain and made to dive to the deeps and safety, not knowing it was now attached by a strong, 600-yard length of specially designed rope to the boat and to the hunters.
Now the oar-man beside Mr. Kingston also peaked his oar to feed out the neatly coiled rope from tub beside him while another man attached blocks of buoyant timber to the rope to increase the drag and thereby tire the whale as it dragged both boat and rope through the water.
The big bull whale was making a powerful vertical dive and took the entire length of rope which the harpooner fed out through the runnel at the bow, back through the centre of the boat to its end which was tied to a heavy cross beam in the stern; the boat’s bow dipped steeply as the rope went taunt and the stern lifted clean out of the water as the little vessel and its crew threatened to follow the whale into the deep. The men, as one, all peaked their oars and slid back to the stern while the harpooner slid a long knife from his belt and made ready to cut the rope on the signal from the first mate. For a moment the boat twisted in the air until the added tension on the rope caused the imbedded harpoon to tear painfully into the whale’s flesh, to lessen the pain the whale altered the angle of its dive and as the rope went slack the men slid back to their positions by the oars as the harpooner pulled in the slack rope. Now was the most dangerous time, while the whale was still strong, healthy and enraged. If it was determined and could ignore the pain, the ocean giant could easily pull the tiny boat under; or it could turn and attack the craft directly either with its huge jaws lined with ivory teeth as thick as a man’s wrist or simply by coming up under the craft at speed, ramming with its huge blunt head. There were many ways that the whales could defeat or even kill their attackers but they seldom did for they were totally unaccustomed to being hunted.
The big bull whale towed them for a little over ten minutes before it was forced to surface, exhausted, for a breathe of air. This time it rose with the rope to show where it would be, with the oarsmen stroking hard to bring the boat and its weapons close enough to inflict more damage or to make the kill.
The harpooner had changed places with Mr. Kingston, it being the officer’s duty to carry out the next stage of the hunt, to weaken the whale to the point when they could complete the kill. Mr. Kingston stood at the boat’s bow with a long, needle pointed lance lifted high above his head, aiming carefully he threw it with great force into the surfacing whale’s body, trying to reach the great beast’s heart. Of course he knew that there was only a very small chance that he would hit the mark on the first throw and he did not. The whale spasmed and thrashed at the water with its huge tail, sending a surge of water which threatened to swamp the boat as the mate tugged at the rope attached to the end of the lance and pulled it free of the whale before it again sought the safety of the deep.
Again the whale ran, towing the little boat at speed behind it, and again it surfaced, sooner this time, and again Mr. Kingston aimed the lance at a vital organ in the whale’s vast body. A lung, a kidney, the liver, the first mate knew the whale’s anatomy well and each time he threw the lance he aimed for a specific target, which ever presented the easiest throw.
Again and again he struck, each wound leaving a trail of foaming blood in the water; each wound weakening the mighty whale.
As a well trained whaling team the oarsmen backed off each time the lance was thrown, as the mate slid the lance out of whale, as the whale made to dive again and disappeared under the water.
And so it went on for more than three hours, each wound inflicted saw the animal more and more weakened until, at last, surrounded by bloody foam in a reddened sea, with a final flurry of thrashing flippers and tail the mighty whale died.
While this protracted process of killing was occurring the second whaleboat had been tailing the other as back up, in case someone fell over board or the boat was smashed or overturned. But as soon as the whale was dead the second boat came in and lashed a length of rope around the dead beast’s tail. At the same time Captain Rattenbury had also been following the action, bringing the George around so as to be as close as possible to the whale when it died for if too much time was taken in securing the carcass to the ship the valuable prize might be lost, sinking, slipping beneath the sea and beyond their reach, food for crabs on the ocean floor.
So it was that soon the dead whale was securely lashed to the side of the ship and its head was attached by rope to the main windlass and held suspended above the water while the tail was held, roped to the davits that normally held the whaleboats.
It was Captain Rattenbury’s job to remove the giant head so that it could be hoisted on deck and the precious sperm oil baled from the back of the decapitated head into barrels for storage in the hold.
It was a long a tedious job, with Rattenbury suspended in a chair from a yardarm, out over the ocean, using a long handled, razor sharp “spade” to slice through flesh and sinew. Finally the severed head was lowered onto the deck and men with buckets began the baling.
It was well into the night before the final slabs of blubber had been slid into the rendering pots. The men tended the little fires beneath the pots carefully; if the oil got too hot it burned and was spoiled and reduced considerably in value. Whilst the blubber was being rendered down the rest of the crew was busy removing the flesh from the whale’s bones and then laying them out on deck where over the next few days the sun would dry them out before they could be stowed below deck. It was an eerie sight, the red glow of the fires on the blood and oil soaked decks that were littered with bone, flesh and skin, all that red reflected off the calm sea on which they floated, beneath a clear, star filled sky.
By dawn most of the oil had been put into barrels and stowed below deck. The second and third mates were supervising the swabbing of the decks while Mr. Kingston rested below, before his turn came to relieve Captain Rattenbury at the wheel. The whale had given up 68 barrels.
The first mate had been correct in his interpretation of the omens and their good luck continued. They sighted pods of sperm whales almost every day. After less than three months the holds were full and the crew exhausted. As they were much closer to Sydney than Hobart Captain Rattenbury decided to head there, sell their cargo, reprovision and then return to the hunting grounds. If they could duplicate their first three months he would return to Hobart 6 months early and his ten percent of the profits would certainly ensure his family would be more than comfortable in their new home.
In Sydney the George’s cargo was sold for a considerable sum, most sources agree on the figure of 5,000 gold sovereigns or, alternatively five thousand pounds sterling in coins of various denominations.
The 5,000 figure works out as reasonable as sperm oil (from the head) was fetching around 100 pounds (sterling) per ton, whale bone around 200 pounds per ton and dark oil (from the blubber) around 30 pounds per ton. As the George was registered to carry 185 ton only a third of its carrying capacity would need to be sold to generate a sum of 5,000 pounds (20 pounds per annum was a very good wage for a skilled working man in those days).
After the sale of the cargo the George returned to again hunt whales in the “sperm fisheries” between New Zealand and Australia.
At some stage brig was forced to call at Lord Howe Island for stocks of wood and fresh water (a relatively common practice). While some of the crew went ashore in boats to fill the water casks the George coasted along the southeast side of Lord Howe Island.
(Mr. Kingston, the first mate, advised the Captain not to anchor as they were uncertain if the islands were inhabited or not. The previous year Mr. Kingston had nearly lost his ship in the nearby New Hebrides where they had been ambushed by a tribe of cannibals. They had battled fiercely whilst trying to get the anchor up and were only survived through the luck of a favourable breeze rising just as the anchor lifted and they were able to outrun the natives. While in Sydney Captain Rattenbury had heard news that the crew of another whaler, the Betsy, had been massacred in the Solomon Islands, only two of a crew of forty three escaped to tell the tale.)
It was still early in the morning, calm conditions with only a gentle breeze from the East; Rattenbury was giving his son a turn on the wheel when suddenly a thick fog rolled down from Lord Howe’s two towering mountains, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird. The “white out” was total and made worse by the fact that the breeze dropped away leaving the brig completely at the mercy of the tidal currents, which run strongly around Lord Howe Island. In these conditions the George hit a submerged rock, which is now known as George Rock, and was badly holed. Fortunately Captain Rattenbury managed to run the ship ashore in a nearby bay and no lives were lost. That bay is now called George’s Bay.
George’s Bay is surrounded by rocky cliffs and very exposed with no shelter or fresh water so the crew used the brig’s whale boats to move themselves and all the gear they salvaged from the George around to the bay where the other men were still filling the water casks, unaware of their ship being wrecked. They set up camp there and waited to be rescued by another ship calling in for fresh water. They waited very quietly for about three weeks as they still thought there might be cannibals living on the Island.
The Captain and his first mate buried the treasure trove in a secret location in the jungle behind the beach and left it there when a New South Wales Colonial Government brig called the Mary Elizabeth and a whaling barque called the Nelson rescued them.
(It is not unreasonable to believe that the money was buried and left there as it was a very large sum and many ship’s captain or crew might be tempted to slice a few throats if they knew of its existence. It is an understatement to say that in those days the reputation of whalers was not shining.)
The story continues that Rattenbury eventually made his way back to Hobart where he secured another ship from the “Whaling Club” and returned to Lord Howe. Unfortunately when he arrived back at the spot where he had buried the treasure chest he found that a landslide had occurred and entirely covered the place where the treasure had been buried; further more the landslide had altered the terrain to such an extent that, even after much searching, the treasure could not be found.
No further information exists on what happened to Captain Rattenbury and his family. One wonders if the gentlemen of the Whaling Club forgave him and gave him another chance on one of their ships or if he was forced to leave Hobart and seek employment somewhere that there was no knowledge of his tragic misadventure.
There is also no report that the treasure was ever found and local lore maintains that the chest of coins still lies where Rattenbury buried it in 1831.
At current values the cache would be worth in excess of $3,000,000. This assuming that there are 5,000 pre-1830 gold sovereigns or a mixture of coins to that value. In good condition such coins would be worth many times their face value to collectors. For example a good condition 1820 British penny would be worth over $300.
It should also be remembered that such a treasure trove, by law, belongs to the rightful owners (The Derwent Whaling Club) or if the rightful owners no longer exist it becomes the property of the Crown. The Crown may choose to reward the finder in such way as it sees fit. Any person finding a treasure trove is obliged by Law to report the find to the relevant Authority.
As mentioned in the historic account above the shipwreck of the Hope occurred on a beach on the north side of the entrance to the mouth of the Derwent River directly opposite Bruny Island and the historic Kelly's Point (now known as Dennes Point); below is a Google Earth map of that location, marked by a gold star on the map just off Hope Beach.
The shipwreck of the Hope marked a turning point in the history of Bruny Island and Hobart Town as it prompted a number of changes to the government's policies to navigation around the mouth of the Derwent River including the construction of a navigation light on Iron Pot Island.
The history of the Hope has become interwoven with the history of Bruny Island, in fact the treasure has become known as the "Bruny Island Treasure" and mention of it pops up in most history books concerned with Bruny Island's history.
The map below shows the mouth of the Derwent River and Hope Beach on South Arm. The gold star shows approximately where the Hope was shipwrecked.
The map above shows North Bruny Island and South Arm across the mouth of the Derwent River. According to Harry O'May the treasure was carried across the expanse of water shown of the map to Dennes Point on Bruny Island
Peter Degraves and the History of the Hope
An Interesting Historic Aside.
The Hope was originally owned by founder of Cascades Brewery Peter Degraves. Peter Degraves purchased the Hope in about 1820. It appears from historic material that, to help finance the expedition, Degraves aggressively sold pre-paid passages to Hobart Town, mostly to families of Wesleyans who were intending to help bring Christian ways to the wilds of Tasmania. However Degraves overloaded the Hope with both passengers and cargo so that the Hope was seized by British Customs officers before she could leave British waters. Degraves was imprisoned and the Hope languished in Ramsgate Harbor from 1821 to 1823 until Peter Degraves was released from prison to complete his voyage to Hobart Town in the Hope but without the Wesleyans who sailed to Hobart in another ship after trying unsuccessfully to get their fare money back from Degraves.
Peter Degraves arrived in Tasmania set up his sawmill but shortly ended up in Jail again, this time in Hobart, for another five years before building Cascades Brewery next to his sawmill on the slopes of Mount Wellington. Ultimately Peter Degraves became Tasmania's richest man. The Degraves family controled Cascades Brewery until the middle of the 20th century.
Google Earth Map of Preservation Island.
Preservation Island is the small island between Cape Barren Island And Clarke Island. The bay on the bottom west side of Preseravtion Island is where Munroe had his home. It is likely that the Brittomart was seeking shelter in the waters between Preservation Island, Clarke Island and Cape Barren Island
Captain Gill returned to his schooner certain that Munroe was hiding something. The next day Gill landed with some of his crew and searched the area where he found that Munroe was using a piece of the Britomart’s deckhouse for a pigsty. When he confronted Munroe the Scotsman refused to answer his questions but when Gill questioned the two Aboriginal women they showed him parts of the Britomart’s boats and the carcases of about thirty sheep on a beach on the other side of the island. Under pressure Munroe admitted having the sea chest of Britomart’s master, Captain Gluss, which he claimed had been given to him by another sealer named Drew. The sea chest and the papers within showed no sign of water damage or immersion. Captain Gill delivered all these to the authorities in Hobart Town.
A few weeks later Captain Tregartha of the brig Henry arrived in Hobart reporting that a number of the Bass Strait sealers were in Launceston “flush with money” spending up big.
Local rumour began to circulate that the Britomart had been lured onto the rocks with false lights, the crew and passengers slaughtered and robbed but that the sealers had been unable to remove the heavy iron safe before the ship broke up and slid off the rocks into deeper water.
In his book “Vanished Fleets” A.J. Villiers that in the early 1920’s a man he knew, who was descended from a Bass Strait sealer and claimed to have inherited the location of the Britomart from his grandfather, launched an attempt to find the wreck and salvage the safe but his directions were faulty and he never found the wreck or the safe.
To this day the wreck of the Britomart has never been found though according to local legends the safe is still intact within the wooden hull, still intact and holding a fortune in gold and silver coins.
Image of Monroe's home on Preservation Island.
This painting was done about the time of the loss of the Brittomart as part of a study of the Bass Strait Islands
But What About The Treasure?
For a complete history of the ship Hope, from its time plying the Atlantic from England to the West Indies up to its final demise on the shores of Storm Bay please buy my book Heroes and Villains.
Heroes and Villains is 238 pages of the fascinating history of the two men who brought the Hope to Tasmania to found Australia's oldest brewery and Australia's oldest theater in Hobart Town. It is a well illustrated and extensively researched book that follows the Hope's owner, Major Hugh Macintosh, through the battlefields of India where he twice saved the future Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley before becoming a general in the Persian Army where he advised the Crown Prince on military matters.
The book also has a complete chapter on the Hope and another on the lost Bruny Island Treasure legend only $29 including postage.