Hidden Treasures in South Africa

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Hidden Treasures in South Africa

pirate-ship-fantasyjpgMany romantic tales are current of treasures lost and found in Southern Africa during the past five centuries. Some are based on fact and others on less reliable information. It is certain that notorious 16th- and 17th-century pirates careened their ships on islands off the coasts of East Africa and Madagascar, and stories about pirate hoards hidden by these desperadoes still circulate. Many ships carrying valuable cargoes, including treasure, have been wrecked off the coast of Southern and East Africa. Records reveal that from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century the Portuguese alone lost about 130 ships on the route to India, most of them on the treacherous African coast. High losses were also sustained by other maritime nations.

In the period when the Dutch East India Company ruled the Cape, looting and salvaging of cargo from wrecked ships was prohibited. When vessels foundered or were driven ashore in Table Bay, the population were warned by the beating of drums not to succumb to the temptation of picking up flotsam and jetsam. A gallows was usually erected on the beach after shipwrecks as a grim reminder to would-be treasure seekers of the fate that awaited them if they were caught. Today, application must be made to the Department of Customs for a permit to search for articles of value in abandoned wrecks. Safes from wrecks may not be opened unless a customs officer is present. Any finds are liable to customs duty, and a royalty of 15 % of the value must be paid to the government. Ownership of many wrecks, moreover, is vested in companies or individuals who have bought the wreck from the insurance underwriters.

It has been estimated that the cargoes of 350 ships known to have sunk or been wrecked in Table Bay alone are worth a few billion today. The bulk of these cargoes was undoubtedly perishable commodities, but substantial quantities of treasure in the form of coinage and metal ingots have been recovered during the centuries.

The Bantu tribes of Southern Africa did not often accumulate treasure in the generally accepted sense of the word. They usually considered livestock, and sometimes wives, to be the most important forms of tangible wealth. Since the settlement of Southern Africa by Whites, however, a number of Bantu rulers are reputed to have owned substantial fortunes in ivory, coin or diamonds.

One of the earliest recorded shipwrecks of a treasure-laden vessel on South African shores was that of the Sao Thome, lost on the Tongaland coast in 15 89 with, in the words of contemporary historians, `riches and merchandise almost beyond computation’. In 1593 the Santo Alberto was beached near the Umtata River mouth in Tembuland. Most of the treasure of these two vessels is believed still to be lying on the sea-bed. The exact location of both wrecks has not been established beyond doubt, but beads, coins and jewelry have been washed ashore from time to time. Little over a century later, the Dutch East Indiaman Meresteyn was wrecked on Jutten Island in Saldanha Bay in April 1702. She is known to have carried considerable treasure but no manifests of her cargo are available. The money chests she carried came to rest in iq. fathoms of turbulent water. From time to time some of the treasure has been washed ashore on the island or brought to the surface by penguins and found in their burrows; but salvage attempts proved fruitless until the early 19705, when two young men salvaged ceramics and other valuables from the wreck.

In 1697 the Dutch vessel De Gouden Buys anchored to the north of St. Helena Bay after a long and ghastly voyage from Holland. All but a dozen of the crew were ill with scurvy and other ailments. They anchored because they were short of water and food and too weak to cover the last 160 km to Table Bay. Seven men landed from the stricken vessel to fetch help from the settlement at the Cape. Five died of hunger. When the Dutch authorities heard of the plight of De Gouden Buys they sent all their small vessels up the west coast to where she was anchored.

When De Gouden Buys left Enkhuizen she had nearly 200 souls on board; now there was only one man stir alive and he died soon after the rescue ships arrived: De Gouden Buys had drifted ashore and became a. total loss, but as she had not broken up, her cargo and money-chests were distributed among the smaller craft. On the way to Table Bay one of these small craft, the yacht Dageraad, struck the reef off Robber Island and broke up immediately., Some of the specie’ she carried was saved, but the diarist of the Dutch. East India Company at the Cape recorded: `Brokers chests washed ashore, but the money is still under the sea.’ Cannon from De Gouden Buys were dug up ors the Namaqualand coast a few years ago.

On 27 May 1698 Het Huis to Crayenstein, a fast new ship outbound from Holland, was wrecked at Oudekraal, 5 km from the present Cape Town suburb of Camps Bay. In salvage operations the Dutch re-covered sixteen of the nineteen money-chests carried by the ship. In the 18605 Henry Adams recovered a 2270-kg brass cannon and three silver ingots (sold for 13000) from the wreck. Skin-divers have since made underwater films of the wreck but have not discovered any trace of the three missing money-chests: Four Spanish doubloons and the lid of a treasure chest were found by a White digger on Possession island early this century. It has been suggested that these were part of the treasure of the notorious pirates Captain William Kidd, who operated off Southern Africa in the 160o’s. He is believed to have careened his ship on one or more of the lonely islands off the west coast. His treasure, if he had one, has never been found. At the end of the 17th century the Dutch seized the brigantine Amy, a fast ship with 16 guns which had been careened and refitted at Saldanha Bay. The Dutch suspected that Captain George Dew and his crew were pirates, but no treasure was found in the ship. If there was any treasure, it may well be buried somewhere along the coastline at Saldanha Bay.

treasure Considerable treasure in money-chests was carried on the Rotterdam, which was wrecked in Table Bay in 1722. Some ducatoons and cannon were recovered a few years later, but the wreck appears to have beers completely covered by sand since then. In 1728 the Dutch vessel Middenrak was wrecked near the Salt River mouth in Table Bay. Only a fraction of the coinage she was carrying was ever recovered, some by an Englishman, John Lethbridge, who twice visited the Cape at the beginning of the eighteenth century and who successfully salvaged specie, coins and other articles from wrecks for the Dutch East India Company. On 21 July 1781, six Dutch East Indiamen were lying at anchor in Saldanha Bay when they were surprised by five British sail of the line. The Dutch fired their ships but the British managed to capture five. The sixth, the Middelburg, blew up. According to legend, the Middelburg was carrying a valuable cargo, including substantial treasure. Various attempts were made during the centuries to recover her cargo and treasure, but only chinaware, tin ingots and a small amount of cash were found. The chinaware fetched good prices at Christie’s auction sales in London.

In Aug. 1782 the square-rigged English ship Grosvenor was wrecked off the Pondoland coast with the loss of rs lives. The vessel broke in half. There were soon rumours about the enormous treasure she was supposed to have been carrying when she was lost. The Grosvenor’s cargo manifest was probably destroyed in the fire at Fort St. George, Madras, a few years later, and precise details are lacking. Research has shown that the vessel left Bengal with a cargo valued at 1600 coo. This, however, consisted of perishables. Many of the passengers had with them hoards of diamonds as well as their life savings in coinage of the day. The best explanation of the discovery of more than a thousand uncut non-South African diamonds at the mouth of the Kei River in 1927 is that these were secreted there by one of the survivors of the Grosvenor while on the march to Cape Town.

Another vessel wrecked at almost the same spot was the Portuguese Sao Joao, which left India for Lisbon in the middle of the sixteenth century with the richest cargo ever shipped until that time. One hundred people on board lost their lives when the vessel was wrecked, but Soo reached the shore. The survivors marched along the coast to Delagoa Bay, but only seven Portuguese and fourteen slaves lived to tell the tale of the shipwreck and their subsequent privations. Other Portuguese wrecks in the 17th century in the vicinity of the Kei River are the galleons Sa”o Joa”o Baptists and Sacramento and the Nossa Senhora da Atalya. In the Doddington, a British East Indiaman, was wrecked at Bird Island, 58 km from Port Elizabeth. The ship’s money-chests, which contained considerable amounts of money and jewelry, were never recovered, but members of the crew were found to have helped themselves to some of her treasure before the ship broke up.

Another ship that was reputed to have carried a valuable treasure when she was wrecked on 26 Feb. 1852 is the Birkenhead. This iron paddle-wheel frigate struck a rock near Danger Point. Various efforts were made to retrieve the treasure and a chest of money said to have been lost in the surf as the survivors came ashore, but none were successful.

It is almost certain that the American iron barque Dorothea, which drifted ashore at Cape Vidal near Lake St. Lucia on the wildest and most remote part of the Zululand coast in 1898, was a genuine treasure-ship. Nobody has cleared up the mystery of the gold, valued at the time at Rim, which she was supposed to have been carrying in her hold. It is believed that the gold was stolen from the Rand mines and shipped at Delagoa Bay one jump ahead of the police, who were trailing the gold thieves. The gold, amounting to 120 000 o0, is said to have been in twelve boxes and three leather bags at the foot of the foremast, covered with zs cm of cement. Various efforts to salvage the gold have failed, some with loss of life. An unknown quantity of gold sovereigns is reputed to have been lost when the British cruiser H.M.S. Sybil was wrecked io km south of Lambert’s Bay during the Second Anglo-Boer War. The wrecks of scores of ships litter the desolate coast of South-West Africa. Part of an old wooden sailing vessel was discovered several hundred metres inland a few years ago but, before it could be properly searched it was again covered by shifting desert sands.

Lobengula, chief of the Matabele, is reputed to have hidden a hoard worth millions, consisting of ivory, gold and diamonds, before being defeated by Rhodes’s forces in Rhodesia. In the late 1800’s he was continually pestered by White concession hunters. Valuable gifts were pressed on him almost daily and payments were made in gold. The Chartered Company alone paid him one hundred gold sovereigns every month and these payments reached a total of Rig 000 before he died. He had inherited an enormous store of ivory from his father and had added to it greatly between 1870 and 1893, the years of his own rule. Hundreds of his men worked on the Kimberley diamond-mines. Security measures were lax in those days and many thefts went undetected. It has been said that every Matabele returning from the mines was expected to bring home a diamond for the king. Lobengula bought a safe which he is reputed to have filled with uncut diamonds. When he saw that a clash with the Whites was inevitable, he buried his treasure.

There are various legends concerning his hoard but it is generally accepted that early in 1893 about a dozen wagons loaded with the king’s treasure left Bulawayo, guarded by an impi of 1200 men. Certain men who had worked on the mines were selected to bury the treasure. They used dynamite to blast excavations and filled in the holes with rock to resemble bedrock, after which the top-soil was replaced. When the men who had buried the treasure returned to the impi, Lobengula’s secretary, John Jacobs, a

Coloured man of the Abelungu tribe of the Eastern Cape, ordered the warriors to massacre them. Of those who had been present and knew the exact site of the cache only Lobengula’s brother and Jacobs were left alive. There is some evidence to indicate that Lobengula himself sent a large force to meet the impi at Kasungula with orders to kill everyone except Jacobs and his brother. Soon afterwards Jacobs shot Lobengula’s brother and consequently became the only man alive to know the spot where the treasure had been buried. When Bulawayo was burnt to the ground after Lobengula’s defeat, a search for treasure began at once. But a small silver elephant was all that was found among the ashes. It is said that Cecil Rhodes expected to pay for the entire campaign against the Matabele out of Lobengula’s treasure.

lobengulaLobengula died, perhaps of smallpox, shortly afterwards. When, in 1943, his tomb was eventually discovered on the banks of the Manyanda River, the cave in which he had been buried had been plundered and everything of value had been removed. Jacobs surrendered after Lobengula’s death and was sent over the border into the Transvaal. In 1908 he was found at Balovale, in Northern Rhodesia, in the company of three White men. He told a government official, J. H. Venning, that Lobengula’s treasure was buried in Angola and that he had not pointed out the site to his three companions because he had overheard them plotting to kill him once they had located the treasure. Jacobs said the treasure consisted of two safes filled with gold sovereigns, two boxes of raw gold, one box of raw diamonds and great quantities of ivory, which had been carried in thirteen wagons. Jacobs was fined and deported back to South Africa. He went after the treasure again in 1916 and in 1919, but was caught each time and deported.

Major J. G. W. Leipoldt interviewed him several times before he died in the Bantu refuge at Germiston on 28 June 1937. With various partners Leipoldt organised expeditions to Angola in search of the treasure in 1920, 1921, 1924, 1925 and 1928. After talking to Jacobs he made his last and greatest effort to find the treasure in 1930. He had to give up the search when the rains set in and he barely escaped with his life. In his diary Leipoldt states that, according to Jacobs, the treasure consisted of about four tons of gold, two buckets of diamonds and loads of ivory. The British South Africa Company regarded itself as the heir to Lobengula and made it clear that they would claim a large share in any treasure which might be recovered. De Beers, the Kimberley diamond company, have also staked a claim to diamonds stolen from its mines.

Tales of treasure troves of raw diamonds in South West Africa are very numerous. One of the most persistent is that of the so-called ‘Bushman’s Paradise’ or ‘Hottentot’s Paradise’, where children played with diamonds. The place was described in a diary attributed to Johann Lange, only survivor of a sailing: ship lost between Luderitz and Walvis Bay. He was found by wandering Bushmen and taken to the `Paradise’, where they are said to have killed him to prevent him from revealing their secret. Another version attributes the discovery of the ‘Bushman’s. Paradise’ to a German soldier, Heinrich Kramer, who was also killed by a Bushman’s arrow. Eight known expeditions to find the legendary `Paradise’ ended in failure.

There are also many stories of caches of rough diamonds stolen from the diamond-diggings in the Northern Cape and the diamond areas on the coast of S.W.A. by dishonest employees of the diamond companies, and hidden in rocks, caves and other hiding-places. As late as the 19605 two men landed. an aircraft on a lonely beach in S.W.A. in an attempt to retrieve ajar containing diamonds which had been cached there.

cullinan_diamondThe Cullinan Diamond, the largest ever found in the world, weighed z lb 6 oz (623, g). It was obviously part of a much larger octohedral stone. It was rumoured that the missing larger half was in the possession of Bantu living in the vicinity of the Premier Mine near Pretoria, but no one has ever been able to prove its existence or whereabouts.

Various hoards of gold and other valuables were buried and lost during the Second Anglo-Boer War: Much of this is supposed to have consisted of bullion from the mines, removed at the last minute by the Boer authorities before the occupation of Johannesburg and Pretoria, but the existence of such gold has never been proved. More than 18000 was found on a farm in the Pretoria district in 1904. Two workmen excavating the foundations of the Union Buildings on Meintjes Kop, Pretoria, in 1911 found two boxes containing bar gold, which almost certainly belonged to some company. They handed over their find to the authorities and were each paid a reward of ri000, which was half the value of the find and a fortune in those days. In 1949 two Bantu were charged with theft at Harrismith in the Orange Free State. They had found a hoard of Kruger gold pounds and one of them said in evidence that he had counted 16 000 coins. They were allowed to keep the money. A cooking-pot filled with Kruger and British gold pounds was turned up by a plough in the Louis Trichardt district in 195 1. There is a legend, disproved by Gen. J. C. Smuts and others, that in 1900, as the

British were advancing on Johannesburg, gold bars then valued at more than R250 000 were buried in the grounds of the Fort. Nothing has been found. There have also been numerous unsuccessful searches for a wagon-load of gold alleged to have been buried at the roadside during the British advance on Johannesburg. The wheel of the wagon on which the gold was being transported is said to have broken. To prevent the gold from falling into the hands of the British, the guards are said to have buried it near the fort on the Pretoria road at Buccleugh.

At Hattingspruit in Natal there is a koppie with a house which was once a British military headquarters. People saw bags of money going from the bank at Dundee to the house, where the troops were paid. One night, just before pay-day, the Boer forces attacked Hattingspruit and the British cleared out. Before they left, however, a Bantu saw British officers taking bags of money up the koppie. He was unable to observe the hiding-place, and since the end of the war every stone and rock on the koppie has been turned over many times. Dynamite has also been used without success. It seems fairly certain that in 1911 an iron box full of Kruger gold was dug up by Bantu on the banks of the Wilge River. War veterans claimed that there was more than one box, but searches have proved fruitless. British troops are supposed to have buried thousands of sovereigns in paraffin-tins along the railway line between Warrenton and Mafeking during the Second Anglo-Boer War. An eccentric character nicknamed `Wild’ Steyn, who lived with his son in the forest near Potchefstroom, amassed a considerable fortune by dealing in cattle before the Second Anglo-Boer War. When he heard that the British were approaching, he filled several large sweet bottles with about 5000 Kruger pounds, wrapped them in an ox-skin, and buried them near a thorn-tree. He was captured and interned. When he was released, he returned to the woods but was unable to find the spot where he had buried his money. He spent the rest of his life searching for it, sleeping in a hammock with his shotgun close at hand.

A Boer spy, De Villiers, who was captured and shot by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War, is known to have buried between 25oo and 2000 gold pounds on a farm between Calvinia and Clanwilliam. It is probable that this hoard was discovered.

Thefts from the mines explain many chance discoveries of gold bars and amalgam (a compound of gold and mercury) in and round Johannesburg. A Bantu dug up a lump of amalgam worth 12600 in a back garden on the Rose Deep Mine shortly before the Second World War. A schoolboy found a bar of gold worth 1910 under a stone on the old Geldenhuys Mine site.


Henry Fynn

Three generations have searched in vain for R2o 000 in gold which a farmer is believed to have buried on his farm in the Malmesbury district. Frederick Bailey Deeming, who was once employed as a mine manager at Klerksdorp, is believed to have buried io 000 gold sovereigns about 6 km outside the town. Deeming told the jail superintendent at Swanston (Australia) about the hoard on the day he was executed for murdering his second wife. In 1834 Henry Francis Fynn, son of a Cape Town hotel proprietor, was given fifty ivory tusks by the Zulu king, Dingaan. Fearing for his life, Fynn fled Zululand and buried his ivory on the bank of a river. He returned as years later but was unable to locate the spot where he had buried the tusks.

In the case of Rex v. Swartz, heard at Johannesburg in 1904, it came to light that P. J. J. Swartz and a comrade, S. P. van Niekerk, had come upon a human skeleton when straying from a Boer commando in the Eastern Transvaal, east of Leydsdorp and south of the Murchison Range, during the Second Anglo Boer War. Close to the skeleton they found a considerable store of diamonds and gold. They took bearings of the spot, hoping to return, but Swartz was later wounded, captured and sent to Ceylon as prisoner of war. On his release he organised an expedition to the spot, consisting of five persons, including himself and Van Niekerk. After crossing the Blyde River, Swartz announced that they were nearing the spot. The next day Swartz and Van Niekerk went off on their own, ostensibly to search for water. Those who stayed behind heard shots shortly afterwards; Swartz returned at dusk, stating that he had become separated from Van Niekerk and could not find him again. Swartz later went off on his own again, and did not return. The rest of the party returned to Leydsdorp. A second party left Leydsdorp on a July 1903, again accompanied by Swartz. This party, like the first, also soon lost its guide, as Swartz again went off on his own and did not return to his companions. The police, about the same time, found portions of a human skeleton near holes which had been dug by Swartz and Van Niekerk. The skeleton was identified as that of Van Niekerk; it appeared that he had been shot. Swartz was brought to trial, convicted of murder, and hanged. A few small diamonds of little value were found in a spot described by Swartz, but the bulk of the treasure was not recovered and probably never will be.

The Tharfield Treasure 

Bowker Miles, an 1820  was a  man of great respectability’ who claimed descent from the Bourchier Earls of Essex, he was the leader of ‘Bowker’s party’ among the Settlers. He married Anna Mitford of Mitford Castle and had 9 sons and 2 daughters. Sir Rufane Donkin appointed him one of the heemraden (magistrates) of Albany. He established the first Settler school, a farm school on Tharfield. All the family silver was buried at Tharfield during the Sixth Frontier War of 1834, and this so-called ‘Tharfield treasure’ has never been recovered. Miles Bowker was buried in the family graveyard at Tharfield.

Treasures the Cape

Van Riebeeck’s ambitions upon settling at the Cape in 1652 were also stimulated by hopes of finding payable deposits in the realm of Monomotapa, for whose treasure-laden city of Davagul he made an unsuccessful search in 1660. Early maps sited it near present-day Pretoria. When in 1669 a group of miners and assayers were sent out to the Cape from the Netherlands to prospect for gold and other minerals, they not only searched the Table Valley, but penetrated as far inland as the sites of Paarl and Riebeek-Kasteel. Fresh efforts were made in 2685, when further parties prospected the southern area of the Cape Peninsula and the vicinity of Stellenbosch, sinking pits up to q.s metres in depth. Some of their samples of `pure gold’ are believed to have been manganese.

Hopes revived n 1781 with rumours that Lt. William Paterson had discovered rich deposits near the mouth of the Orange River. Evidence exists that his companion, Sebastiaan Valentyn van Reenen, brought back a specimen from which a few grains of gold were actually recovered, but the locality was not recorded, and a later expedition was no more successful. After the British occupation of the Cape Sir John Barrow in 180r and 1802 reported that gold had been found near,the Orange River. Still more important was a note on his snap in the vicinity of why was either the Magaliesberg or the WitwatersranJ# `High mountains, supposed to contain gold mines’. Dr. Heinrich Lichtenstein, the German traveller, in 1804 brought back specimens of gold from the Warm Bokkeveldin the Western Cape, which were placed in the royal collection of minerals in Berlin.

The legend of the Grosvenor treasure originated in 1880, when a few gold and silver coins were washed up on the beach near the scene of the wreck. The Natal Mercantile Advertiser of 23 Feb. 1880 referred to this with the remark `it shows there must have been large quantities of bullion on board’. According to some documents these were – in addition to personal treasure to the value of R36m – 162 378 gold coins, 19 chests of precious stones, 720 gold bars and z 450 silver bars, a treasure according to present valuations worth 13q.m. A number of attempts have already been made to salvage this legendary treasure, but up to now without success. As recently as 1963 a Belgian-South African company with a share capital of R9oo 000 was formed with the intention of sinking a vertical shaft on land and from the bottom of this shaft digging a horizontal shaft to the bay where the wreck rests. The sand can then be pumped out and divers can salvage the treasure from the wreck. Percival R. Kirby, who produced the most authoritative work on the Grosvenor, is very sceptical about the existence of the suspected treasure. In his book The true story of the Grosvenor East Indiaman (1960) he states: `Undoubtedly the Grosvenor was a richly laden vessel …. but the visions of bullion (if by that is meant hundreds of bars of gold and silver), and of scores of chests of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and the like . . . are but idle dreams’

Kruger Millions

kruger-millionsEver since 1900 there have been rumours concerning a so-called hidden Kruger fortune supposed to be buried somewhere in the Transvaal. In the course of years numerous statements have been made by persons who declared that they could prove the existence of the ‘Kruger millions’. Many fruitless excavations have been made to find them. On the strength of abundant documentary evidence, to be found mainly in the Leyds archive in Pretoria, it can be affirmed that there never existed a hidden treasure which belonged either to President Kruger personally or to the government of the Transvaal Republic. The documents relating to the estate of S. J. P. Kruger (No. SS58> Office of the Master of the Supreme Court, Pretoria), prove that at the time of his departure from Pretoria on 29 May 1900 the President did not have a large sum of money in his possession. The exact amount of his personal assets during the last four years of his life is known, and was divided among his heirs at his death. Nor could the `Kruger millions’ have been money belonging to the State. A detailed account has been given by the officials concerned of all the minted money, un-stamped gold coins, and bullion removed from Pretoria at the departure of the Republican government.

In order to continue the war, the Government was soon compelled to sell the un-minted gold because it could not be used as currency. Therefore the Executive Council (at a meeting at Nelspruit where President Kruger was present) on 28 Aug. 1900 sanctioned a contract whereby the Government sold to the German firm of Wilcken & Ackermann of Lourenço Marques all gold bullion, totalling 64 rqz ounces, at £3.ro per standard ounce, payable in British or Transvaal gold currency. The gold was delivered on the Portuguese border, and the firm transhipped it in thirty boxes, which arrived on board the Bundesrath in Hamburg toward the end of Oct. 1900. Complete accounts for the minted money received for this gold, as rendered by the Treasurer-General up to 1902, are to be seen in the Transvaal Archives in Pretoria.

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