Treasure Trove: shipwrecked coral coins
By Eleri Harris - ABC
One of the Royal Australian Mint's most treasured items is a curious formation of coral, indented with old, foreign coins.
The coins are Dutch cobs, the coral once grew on wreck of the Vergulde Draek or 'Gilt Dragon', one of the oldest recorded wrecks on the infamous Western Australian coast.
The Gilt Dragon met its end in 1656 and, of the 78,600 guilders-worth of silver coin it was carrying, a few have become part of Australia's National Coin Collection and are on permanent display in the Royal Australian Mint's Gallery.
Among the coins recovered are two eight reale coins, which are more commonly known as 'pieces of eight', the much sought after coins of pirate lore.
The 'Gilt Dragon' was a 260-tonne, 42-metre 'jacht', a light, fast sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy.
On board was a crew of 193 and eight chests of silver coin to be used in the purchase of spices.
On its second voyage to the spice-trading headquarters of the United (Dutch) East Indies Company at Batavia (Jakarta), it sailed too far east and struck a reef on 28 April 1656, just 5.6 kilometres off the Western Australian coastline.
While 118 went to a watery grave, the remaining 75 crew managed to get to shore in two small boats, including Captain Pieter Albertsz.
He decided to send seven men in the one remaining seaworthy boat to seek help from Batavia, some 1400 nautical miles to the north.
Although they managed to reach their destination and raise the alarm, all of the subsequent rescue missions failed to find any trace of Albertsz and 68 other castaways.