South Africa West Coast

Merestein Treasure Buys Saldanha Property

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Article received from: "The Cape Odyssey"

In 1702 the Merestein (or Meresteijn), a Dutch pinnace of some 826 tons under the command of Captain Jan Subbing, arrived in Saldanha Bay. The Merestein was built in 1693 at the Amsterdam yard for the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company.

The ship was on an outward-bound journey from Holland with a large cargo of Spanish and Dutch coins, which were to serve as pay for troops and staff at the Cape. In a strong southwesterly wind she was wrecked on the southeast corner of Jutten Island on 3rd April 1702. The ship sank almost immediately, and during the storm a hundred and one lives were lost.

Most of the coins were salvaged in 1971. A bronze canon and a cargo of 125 kg lead bars were also recovered. Commander Wicht, who in 1975 owned the Merestein Restaurant, was most keen to obtain this salvaged 'booty' for display in his restaurant. At that stage the restaurant already housed old guns, crockery and Dutch pipes.

Wicht recognised that the coins were in excellent condition. They were made of hand-beaten silver with an embossed stamp. Many of them dated from the time of Queen Isabella of Spain.

Mr GS Chowles was the professional diver who carried out the salvage operation. Commander Wicht desperate to get his hands on the coins, offered Mr Chowles a house in payment for the coins. In 1975 the deal was concluded - Commander Wicht obtained his coins and Mr Chowles his house!

Webmaster's Note: My appreciation to Mr Gabriel Athiros, editor of "The Cape Odyssey", for permission to publish this article on "The Cape Odyssey" is a must for everyone who enjoys reading and learning about the colourful and fascinating history of the Cape.

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