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article imageKidd's treasure found off Sainte Marie Island

By Paul Wallis     May 8, 2015 in World
New York - A 50kg bar of silver has been found underwater by Barry Clifford, an American explorer. The very large bar rests among “a lot of other metal”, according to Clifford.The bar was found off the island of Sainte Marie, near Madagascar.
The location of the find is a positive, in this case. Madagascar was at one time a literal “pirate kingdom”, outside the law, and a good base for pirates in the Indian Ocean.
This story of hidden treasure has some definite historical credibility, if you know the saga of Captain Kidd. The treasure has long been the source of myths and above all, disinformation. Kidd was originally hired in London as a privateer, after chasing a French privateer away from the Massachusetts coast. Kidd was empowered to capture French ships in the name of the King. Kidd, who wanted to be a Royal Navy captain, saw this as a way of securing his commission. The problem was that he was supposed to catch these ships in the Indian Ocean, and bring them back to Boston, within a specified time, 14 months.
He chose a ship called Adventure Galley, a 3 master, as his privateer vessel. He started out with a debt of £30,000 as a bond on his good behavior and the ship he commanded. To get out of debt and actually make any money, he had to capture French ships and get a good bounty for them. He hired 70 men in London, only to have them stolen away by a Royal Navy press gang. When he finally got an order to have the men returned, he got different men, rejects from the press gangs, not exactly great assets.
At New York, he discovered that the crew would get 60 percent of the prize money, rather than the 22.5 percent in his original charter. His financial position eroding and his New York recruits as substandard as his London crew, he sailed the 9,000 slow miles to the Indian Ocean and instantly got in to a row with a Royal Navy commodore about replacing his old sails. He didn’t get them. His next act was to antagonize an East India Company ship near the port of Johanna, Mozambique, which threatened to open fire on him.
In March of 1697, after three months of no prizes, plague struck his crew, killing 50 of them. He replaced them with 30 men historians call actual pirates. Desperately, and with a by now mutinous crew getting more restive, he attacked a fleet of ships flying the flag of the Great Mogul of India, escorted by Dutch ships. Worse, an East Indiaman, heavily armed, also decided to attack Kidd’s ship.
Eighteen months after he set out, he was no better off. He’d captured no prizes except one French fishing boat in the Channel when he left London. He finally captured a small Moorish barque carrying coffee, then got in to a fight with Portuguese ships, nominal neutrals, and came of the worse, with 11 casualties and sails in a shambles.
A deadly interlude came when he had to stop his crew attacking an English ship. Kidd killed an argumentative crewman with a wooden bucket in a fit of temper. In November, the Adventure Galley captured a “French” ship carrying Moorish cargo, with a bit of help from the Dutch crew, who shared in the prize.
Kidd’s most successful exploits came in outright piracy, capturing an English captained ship carrying Armenian treasure which unwisely pretended to be French when Kidd approached flying French colors. Kidd took the ship at face value, and seized it. This was a very rich ship called the Quedah Merchant, carrying gold, silver, jewels, silks, and guns. He stopped off at Saint Mary’s Island (Sainte Marie) to refit his ship.
Meanwhile, the crew took their 60 percent. Kidd was left with 1,200 ounces of gold, 2,400 ounces of silver, jewels, silks and more. He was now rich, but 97 of his crew joined a pirate called Culliford, who’d stolen Kidd’s ship Blessed William some years before. Kidd had wanted revenge against Culliford, but his crew informed him before leaving that they’d "rather fire two shots at him" than one at his rival. The time of piracy was now well and truly over for Kidd at this point.
Kidd and Culliford eventually came to some arrangement, but Kidd was now a dead man in London. Tales of his piracy were being used against the major figures who’d hired him including Lord Bellomont, and Kidd was the natural scapegoat. Before he went home, he definitely distributed a significant amount of his treasure in safe places, including friends’ homes and Gardiner Island in Long Island Sound. It didn’t look good, when the stories did the rounds. Nor did sending jewels to the Lord Bellomont’s daughter.
The sorry tale ends with Kidd being arrested in New York in 1699. An interesting inventory which tallied to rather less than the actual amount of loot seized in his raids was used as evidence against him. He was also eventually charged with the murder of the mutinous crewman in 1701 and hanged on May 23 of that year.
For the full story of Kidd and other pirates, see [i]Pirates and Rebels, A History of the Golden Age of Piracy[/i], by Frank Sherry, Harper Perennial, 1986.It really is quite an incredible book, and includes the story of the greatest pirate attack of all time, which took millions of dollars' worth of treasure.
Kidd’s “buried” treasure may well have been dumped at sea, impossible to find unless you knew where to look. Kidd may well have decided to leave some insurance behind, and seems to have been very wary of his reception on his return. The various “deposits” elsewhere were real enough. Barry Clifford may have found the remaining treasure. If so, the mystery of the strangely variable missing loot may have been solved at last, 300 years later.
Ironically, the numbers never seem to add up for Kidd, even now. The BBC reported a 50kg bar, the Guardian reports a 55kg bar.
More about Captain Kidd, Adventure galley, piracy in the indian ocean, Quedah Merchant
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