The Treasure
The legend of gold aboard the Birkenhead

The wreck of the Birkenhead is not only famous for the bravery of its young soldiers and for the fact that no woman or children were lost but also because legend has it that she was carrying 240000 in gold (about 3 tons) as part of a military pay-packet. According to a source from the British Archives this large consignment of gold was secretly stored in the powder-room of the ship. 

The first attempt at salvage occurred early in 1854, when a team of divers led by A.H. Adams worked on the wreck and found papers and engraved silverware belonging to Colonel Seton, which were returned to his family. In addition many other items were found, but unfortunately no record of them was kept. 

Towards the end of the century the government gave permission to a Mr Bandmann at the Cape to dive for the 240 000 in gold reputed to be on board, but it was made clear than any relics belonging to the officers or men were to be handed over to their relatives, and any treasure found was to be split up in the proportion of one-third to the government and two-thirds to the salvor. Again this salvage attempt ended in failure. 

Various divers continued to search her remains. One of these was the well-known Cape personality Tromp van Diggelen, who began diving operations in June 1958. His team reported that the bow and most of the midships section were badly broken up and overgrown, and that the large paddle-wheels still stood upright on the sea-bed. However they only managed to recover some anchors and a variety of copper and brass fittings. Since then many amateur and professional divers have continued to recover items from the wreck but still no gold had been reported. 

Then, in January 1985, a diving company, the 'Depth Recovery Unit' announced in the press that they had identified the stern section in 30 m of water and in early 1986 they began excavating the wreck. This expensive salvage operation, aimed at the gold and backed up by extensive press coverage, had little success. Led by Dr. Allan Kayle they salvaged a few hundred gold coins in the mid and late eighties but it was felt that these coins were obviously personal belongings and did not make out part of the legendary treasure. The motherload thus still eludes all.

SALVAGE OPERATION 
by 'DEPTH RECOVERY UNIT'

The first coin found by Pierre Joubert
 on the 1st of March 1986.


Birkenhead Paddlewheel


First gold coins found by the "Depth Recovery Unit".

 

Jimmy Herbert posing with the first few gold coins found by Konrad Stutterheim and Pierre Joubert on the 1st of March 1986.  They were diving from the ship Causeway Adventurer for the salvage company, "Depth Recovery Unit"