Earl of Mansfield

Seafaring bounty goes up for sale

From This Is Bristol

Mementoes of one of the most dramatic battles in Bristol's naval history go under the hammer tomorrow.

In 1745 two of the city's ships plundered 2,381,000 ounces of Spanish silver worth £800,000 from two armed French treasure ships in the North Atlantic. And while most of it was turned into coins, some was melted down and turned into ornaments for the rich and famous.

Two of these, candelabra bearing the crest of William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield, go under the hammer at Woolley and Wallis's sale in Salisbury tomorrow with an estimate of £8,000 to £12,000.

Murray was one of the main supporters of Britain's War of Austrian succession, the conflict that gave the privateer captains James Talbot and John Morecock the right to seize the treasure. Bristol was a major port for privateers – privately owned ships authorised to attack and capture enemy vessels in times of war.

And it was on July 10, 1745 that Talbot and Morecock, captaining the Prince Frederick and Duke, sighted the Louis Erasmé, Marquis d'Antin and Notre Dame sailing back to France with their hoard from Callao, the port for Lima, Peru.

One of the enemy ships surrendered after its captain had been killed by a pistol shot, another did so after prolonged fighting and the Notre Dame escaped. The masts of the two captured ships had been shot away, and it took three weeks to tow them to back Bristol with their heavy cargoes of treasure.

In early October, the fortune – weighing 78 tons – was paraded overland on 45 wagons to the royal mint at the Tower of London. More than 2.6 million silver dollars – pieces of eight – formed the bulk of the booty, along with gold doubloons and pistoles, gold bars – plus 800 tons of cocoa, which in itself was highly prized.

There was great rejoicing over the capture, and a medal was struck in honour of Talbot and Morecock.

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