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 "Treasure" to China 
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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 4:15 pm
Posts: 9
Location: Maidenhead, UK
Post "Treasure" to China
I wonder if anyone can shed some insight on this:

Whilst sudying the details of the voyages of HMS Seahorse (Capt George Farmer) during the period Nov 1773 to Jun 1777 (when the object of my interest, Henry Young Darracott, served as a young midshipman, alongside another, slighty younger lad named Horatio Nelson) I came across this entry in the captain's log for 17 July 1776, when the ship was moored in the Hooghly River, near Calcutta: "....took on board 50 chests said to be of Treasure...". More were loaded the next day. This cargo was then offloaded at Canton on the 26 October following. Does anyone know what this might have been for? I can only assume at the moment that it was something to do with the opium trade and the political contortions that went with it.

Many thanks.

Thu Jan 26, 2012 9:30 pm

Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2008 9:57 am
Posts: 114
Location: London England
Post Re: "Treasure" to China

I am no expert on the East, but as no-one has offered any answer to your question, here is an opinion.
1, Imports from China - particularly tea for which there was an accelerating demand (but not opium - we sold that to them not bought it from them) - were luxury goods and extremely profitable
2. But the Chinese - unlike most other countries - had highly developed metallurgy, ceramic and fabric industries; products which comprised the bulk of normal British exports. Who, with silks and porcelain in abundance, would want hairy woollens from Bradford and pots from Stoke on Trent? Thus British exports were difficult to sell to the Chinese. Indeed it has been established that in the 1780s the value of British goods sold to China through the port of Canton (the only authorized trading point) was only two thirds of the value of goods purchased from China, and that the difference was filled by shipping in coin and bullion - mostly silver – from British India.
3. British warships frequently transported coin and 'treasure' around on behalf of British merchants. Generally this represented the profits of selling British exports overseas. Not however in China where it was the reverse. Under Admiralty regulations, captains were permitted to carry this money or freight' (as it was called) and were entitled to receive between 1% and 2% of the total value depending on distance. It was a popular duty.
4. It is highly likely that your ship was carrying the cash the merchants needed to buy Chinese products and fill the trading gap..
5. What is puzzling is the vagueness of the description. With such money, the captain's clerk would normally have had to confirm the exact amount being carried in case of loss etc. And, of course the captain would need to know the amount in order to claim his %age


Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:09 pm

Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 4:15 pm
Posts: 9
Location: Maidenhead, UK
Post Re: "Treasure" to China
Thank you for your observations, Brian. I much appreciate the insight.

In case you're interested, here's the actual wording in the captain's log:

"Wed 17 July Ditto weather. Received on board 50 Chests said to be of Treasure and a Quantity of Bosuns Gunners & Carpenters Stores. AM Employed getting the provisions on board and Killed a Bullock Weight 120 lbs. Sent the Condemned Bread to Calcutta.
Thurs 18 July Mod. breezes with rain at times. Completed our Provisions to Six months. Received on board the remainder of the Treasure. Killed 2 Bullocks 240 lbs. Ships Draught of Water F’d. 14’ 7”; A’f. 14’8”."


"Sat 26 Oct Light breezes and Clear, Westerly. PM fired 7 Guns being the anniversary of His Majesty’s Coronation. Carpenter caulking the main Deck. People working up […] Received 63 lbs fresh Beef & a load of wood by a Chinese Boat. AM Cleaned and scraped between Decks. A large Chinese Boat came on board for the Treasure. Employed clearing the After hold.
Sun 27 Oct Light airs. Sultry Weather. Completed Clearing the After hold to get the Treasure out at [...] Struck it into the Boat being in all 97 Chests marked [here a little drawing to depict some mark/insignia]. ½ past 5 the Boat put off. At 8 AM Unhung the Rudder & got it up alongside."

I will try to attach a little photo of the mark that Capt. Farmer had drawn in his log - I've not done this before so I hope it works!

File comment: Capt Farmer's drawing of mark on treasure chests.
Treasure chest symbol.JPG
Treasure chest symbol.JPG [ 47.69 KiB | Viewed 3376 times ]
Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:39 pm
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Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2003 2:32 pm
Posts: 2960
Location: Hawaii
Post Re: "Treasure" to China
Could it have been some sort of diplomatic favor? Maybe the ship was the most secure and fastest way to transport the "treasure" for some sort of transaction?

I have the honour to be, &c.

Sat Mar 24, 2012 10:09 pm
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