The Lost Silver Treasure of the East Indiaman Joanna South Africa - 1682 A tale of sunken treasure, 300 years in the making.
The 550 ton East Indiaman Joanna was already a veteran of five voyages to India. On the morning of February 24, 1682, Joanna was making ready to sail on her sixth... and final voyage. She had a compliment of 110 crew and 36 guns and was laying to at The Downs, waiting to catch the east wind.
Bound for Surat (the mint that produced our famous Taj Mahal Sunken Treasure silver rupees) and Bengal, India, with Captain Robert Brown in command, Joanna got underway on the afternoon of the 24th in the company of four other EIC vessels, Williamson, Nathaniel, Sampson and Welfare. Joanna not only carried lead, copper and other European-made trade goods for the colonists, but she also carried 70 chests of silver pieces of eight!
Three months into her voyage, eight days of foul weather had prevented Captain Brown and his navigator from getting an accurate idea of Joanna’s location. Believing Joanna was well south of any land, and in water too deep to sound, he ordered the helmsman to head east... It was June 8, 1682.
One of the crew sighted land to the northwest, but it was lost in the early morning gloom and darkness. Brown continued to guide his ship east, waiting for sunrise to hopefully let him get his bearings. But about 4 AM, just scant hours before sunrise, he and his crew heard a sickening sound... a gentle thump and scrape. He ordered the helm hard to starboard and sails adjusted to get his ship headed back into deeper water, but it was too late! Joanna was going aground!
Pumps were manned and masts were cut away in a last ditch effort to lighten Joanna and keep her from keeling over. But soon water was flooding the gun deck! As dawn approached, the crew spotted another ship in the distance, close to the rocky shore, but she was able to claw her way clear of the rocks, and was unable to render assistance.
Joanna had come to her final resting place on an outer reef, off of Die Dam, east of Quoin Point... literally within miles of the southern-most point of Africa to the east.
Land was in sight, but there were inner reefs with crashing waves. The two boats were launched with Captain Brown and some of the crew aboard, the remaining crew hobbled together rafts from masts and other materials on board.
“On the night of the 8th of June 1682 the English Indiaman Joanna, from the Downs bound to Bengal, was wrecked twelve miles to the westward of Cape Agulhas,” recalls George McCall Theal in History of South Africa Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company, 1652 to 1795. “One hundred and four of her crew saved themselves on a raft, the remainder were drowned. Those who reached the shore found themselves destitute of provisions, and were beginning to suffer from hunger when some Hotten tots made their appearance who conducted them to the kraal [traditional African village enclosed by a fence, also used to hold livestock] of Captain Klaas. There they were supplied by this hospitable native with abundance of milk and meat as long as they remained, and were provided with food for the journey and guides to conduct them to the Cape (about 80 miles to the northwest). The master of the Joanna, who was too infirm to walk any farther, stayed behind as the guest of Klaas until a wagon could be sent for him. The shipwrecked seamen met with equal kindness from the Company’s officers. They were comfortably lodged and furnished with provisions until they could get away. The Joanna had a large amount of specie [coins] on board, and as the wreck could be reached with a boat in calm weather a party of men was sent from the Cape to try to recover it. They succeeded only in getting coin to the value of a little over two thousand four hundred pounds sterling, but a considerable quantity of cargo and wreckage which was washed ashore was also secured.”
Joanna was the first British East Indiaman to meet her fate off the South African coast. And she was soon forgotten... for three centuries.
Charles Shapiro was a corn farmer in South Africa in the early 1970s. In 1972 he learned to SCUBA dive and a few years later made a trip to Cape Town to visit a diving buddy, Gavin Clackworthy, who took Shapiro and another friend to the site the VOC Indiaman, Reygersdahl that had sank in 1747. Charles found his first “piece of eight,” an almost perfect silver “pillar dollar.” The treasure bug had now bitten Charles.
Over the next few years, Shapiro made numerous trips to the archives in Europe, searching for shipwrecks off the South African coast. And that is where he came across the records of Joanna. He formed a six man diving crew that included Clackworthy, Erik Lombard, Bert Kutzer, Andre Hartman and Tommy Botha.
In 1982, three years before Mel Fisher and his crew hit the Atocha motherlode, and exactly 300 years after Joanna’s story and treasure faded from history, Charles and his team discovered the long lost East Indiaman! Among 44 iron cannon scattered on the ocean bottom, they recovered over 23,000 cob coins and a few hundred pounds of silver disc ingots. Not only was Joanna the first EIC shipwreck off South Africa, it was also the first time silver ingots had been discovered in South African waters.
Most of the coins recovered were Mexico City 4 and 8 real cobs of Charles II, that included rare dates of 1679-81.
The coins in our Lost Silver Treasure of the East Indiaman Joanna began their journey into history at the mint in Mexico City. They were brought over to Europe on a Spanish galleon that probably landed at the Bay of Cadiz, and within a year, through the amazing world of trade, found their way on board a British East India Company ship headed to India. It was minted during the height of the Golden Age of Piracy (1650-1730) and is a living testament to when the East India companies ruled the land and sea and forged the world we live in today!
Historical Notes by Robert: The British East India Company (EIC) was chartered in 1600 with the blessings of England’s Queen Elizabeth I. She even invested in it using her share of Spanish silver captured off Peru by her favorite pirate, Sir Francis Drake, while he was circumnavigating the world (1577-1580). The first East India Company ships left England in 1601 and returned with spices and pepper. By the later 1600s, English trade with the Indies was burgeoning.
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was formed in 1602, but it wasn’t until 1652 that the VOC established the first permanent settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in order to provide safe harbor and provisions for VOC ships trading with the East. This colony was soon teaming with Germans, Scandinavians and even French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in King Louis XIV’s France.
British East India Company ships would often stop by St. Helena, literally in the middle of nowhere off the southern Atlantic coast of Africa, as it was an important supply stop-over for ships traveling to the East. Napoleon was even exiled there from 1815 until his death in 1821. Conservation experiments that were conducted there from 1791 to 1833 helped establish the roots of today’s environmental conservation strategies.
All of these details and more are included in our multi-page Certificate of Authenticities.