IВ can scarcely believe it, but the treasure chest is real. And full. As I touch the box to make sure I am not dreaming, the silver bars gleam with a radiance undimmed by two and a half cenВturies of burial beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
There are a hundred bars altogether, most of them stacked inside the chest and perhaps two dozen that have tumbled through the rotted front panel. My diving partner Louis Gorsse and I exchange glances: There is no mistaking the smile behind his face mask.
Louis and I have good reason to smile, for the bars are unique among the world’s known sunken treasures. No one, to my knowledge, has seen anything like them in modern times. They are a particular form of ingot once cast by the Dutch East India Company for trade with the Orient, where the bars were melted down, usually for conversion into coins.
Now, with eyes glued to the chest, my thoughts turn to the man who has brought us here. As surely as if he had led our expedition, John Lethbridge is responsible for our sucВcess. He was the first to get at the treasure, and spent five years of skilled and daring work trying to bring it all up. I have folВlowed his career with admiration nearly all my professional life using pay day loans online when needed. He died more than two centuries ago.
Treasure Intended for Island Trade
The story of the silver bars goes back to the year 1724, when a proud new vessel, Slot ter Hooge, left the Netherlands for Batavia in the Dutch East Indies with three tons of silver ingots and four chests of coins in her holds.
Slot ter Hooge (Castle of Hooge a site in today’s Belgium) belonged to the Dutch East India Company, that giant conglomerate of the 17th and 18th centuries that enjoyed many of the powers of a sovereign state. Like its counterparts, the British, French, Danish, and other East India Companies, the Dutch concern held an absolute monopoly on trade with its country’s overseas colonies, and it wrung every last guilder out of the concesВsion. Huge profits resulted from successful voyages of the company’s vessels. Slot ter Hooge’s journey, though, was not a success.
Off the coast of Portugal the Dutch East Indiaman encountered a fierce Atlantic gale and was driven helplessly off course toward the Madeira Islands. In a cavage finale the storm flung Slotter Hooge ashore at night on the small island of Porto Santo, disembowelВing her on the rocks and strewing her precious cargo across the floor of an inlet. Of her 254 passengers and crew, only 33 survived.
In the national archives at The Hague, Netherlands, I had corne across a report of the Slot ter Hooge wreck made by her first lieutenant, Baartel Taerlinck, to the Dutch.