Grosvenor Treasure

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Chester is full of things associated with the Grosvenors by name, such as the Grosvenor Bridge and Grosvenor Park. Some of these are businesses, which they were once involved in, such as the Grosvenor Hotel or streets named after them (such as Grosvenor Street). Others are businesses who have never had any actual connextions with the Grosvenor family and use the name because of its associations. The wooden frigate East Indiaman Grosvenor seems to have had no direct link with the Grosvenors although it does have a rather obscure link via the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Arthur Conan-Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, seems to have had a thing about the Grosvenors, perhaps because in his day they were the richest family in the country and therefore a byword for wealth. His story "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" is based upon what now appears through DNA evidence to have been a real race-horse switch involving Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, in his story "The adventure of the Noble Batchelor" his "Lord Robert Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, second son of the Duke of Balmoral" lives at "Grosvenor Mansions", he mentions the word Grosvenor in several other Holme's stories and one of the untold stories to which he refers is "the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van". Conan-Doyle has another peculiar connection in that the author himself was involved in attempts to recover the treasure cargo of the ship "Grosvenor" an East Indiaman, wrecked on 4 August 1782 on the Pondoland coast of South Africa, north of the mouth of the Umzimvubu River, and later said to contain parts of the fabled "Peacock Throne".

No doubt by Conanal Doyle's time the word "Grosvenor" was associated with fabulous wealth and as such the ship became a magnet to draw the money of investors in pursuit of a share in the supposed treasures to be found in its wreck. In truth, though the wreck did contain some treasure, this was probably nothing of the fabled throne and may well have been part of a scam to draw in the money of investors.

The Peacock Throne

The Peacock Throne was a famous jewelled throne that was the seat of the Mughal emperors of India. It was commissioned in the early 17th century by emperor Shah Jahan (Persian: شاه جهان; "King of the World") and was located in the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences, or Ministers' Room) in the Red Fort of Delhi. Shah Jahan commissioned many monuments, the best known of which is the Taj Mahal in Agra, which entombs his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The new throne was not initially given the name by which it became known. It was simply known as the "Jeweled Throne" or "Ornamented Throne" (Takht-Murassa). It received its name from later historians because of the peacock statues featured on it.

The Peakcock Throne as portrayed by an Indian artist. various descriptions of the throne exist with the peacock often described as being on the back-rest of the throne with their feathers outspread. In this illustration they are shown on the canopy with their tail feathers folded.

According to descriptions, this famous couch was supported by tall golden legs encrusted with thousands of precious stones of exceptional size and beauty. It included emeralds, pearls, rubies and sapphires. The back of the throne was composed of pure gold and included peacocks with fanned tails, the feathers made up entirely of gleaming jewels, pearls and diamonds. Twelve pillars supported the baldachin, whose gold ground was barely visible beneath the thick incrustation of precious stones. It eventually disappeared, but an empty marble platform in Delhi keeps alive the mystique of this most expensive and beautiful throne ever made. Even the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in its description of the Diwan-i-Khas, says: "Over the marble pedestal in its centre stood the famous Peacock Throne...". Unfortunately, the pedestal is actually a replacement as the original was destroyed in 1857, and it is the wrong size for a six by four foot throne.

During the invasion of 1739, Nader Shah, the emperor of Iran, defeated the Indians on 24th February at the Battle of Karnal then entered Delhi (68 miles to the south - 0n 20th March) and looted the Peacock Throne. Among the known precious stones that Nader Shah looted were the Akbar Shah, Great Mughal, Great Table, Koh-i-Noor, and Shah diamonds, as well as the Samarian spinel and the Timur ruby. These stones were either part of the Peacock Throne or were in possession of the Mughal emperors. The Akbar Shah Diamond was said to form one of the eyes of a peacock, as did the Koh-i-Noor. The Shah diamond was described by 17th-century French gem merchant and traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier as being on the side of the throne.

Following the capture of the throne its history becomes a little uncertain. According to one version, when Nadir Shah was assassinated by his own officers on 19 June 1747, the throne disappeared, most probably being dismantled or destroyed for its valuables, in the ensuing chaos. It was replaced by the Sun Throne which does not feature any peacocks. Over time, the Sun Throne was erroneously referred to as the Peacock Throne, a term that was later appropriated by the West as a metonym for the Persian monarchy.

The Wreck of the Grosvenor

According to another version, the Peacock throne was stolen in Khorasan (east of Iran) during the battles with the Kurds in 1747. Traces of it were lost. Supporters of this version believe that the imperial throne of the Great Mughals was dismantled and sold in parts. According to yet another version, employees of the British East India Company transported it to the island of Ceylon, planning to transfer it to England.

Trouble at Sea

In view of what was happening in the region at the time, this does not seem like a very wise plan to have adopted. The Capture of Trincomalee on 11 January 1782 was the second major engagement between Great Britain and the Dutch East India Company in the East Indies after outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. After capturing Negapatam, the major Dutch outpost in India, a British force assaulted the Dutch-controlled port of Trincomalee on the eastern coast of Ceylon, and successfully stormed Fort Fredrick and Fort Ostenburg to gain control of the city and the port. In gaining control of the port, they also captured the vessels in the port at the time. British Admiral Edward Hughes garrisoned the two local forts with companies of sepoys and a few artillerymen, embarked the troops and sailed for Madras. Upon his arrival there on 8 February, he learned that a French fleet had arrived in the area. This fleet, led by the Bailli de Suffren, went on to dispute British control over the seas off the Indian coast. In August 1781, Suffren took advantage of Hughes' absence from Trincomalee to recapture it. Hughes and Suffren fought the Battle of Trincomalee shortly after, on 3 September. It was the fourth in a series of battles fought between the two fleets off the coast of the Indian subcontinent during the American Revolutionary War. The Dutch regained control of Ceylon and most other British-captured outposts (notably excepting Negapatam) with the 1784 Treaty of Paris, in exchange for promises to not interfere with British commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean.

The original Grosvenor was built for John Hallett and later rebuilt into the ship which was wrecked after being sold to David Mitchell. A David Mitchell appears as the purser in 1762 and may be the same person, who made sufficient money to become a ship owner.

Enter the Grosvenor

The East India Company’s Grosvenor was a three-masted, square-rigged, frigate-built vessel. She carried 26 guns. It was built by Wells of Deptford and set off on her maiden voyage to India in 1770. The trip back from India was always intended to be her final long-haul voyage as she was close to retirement. The Grosvenor had left Madras in March 1782 under the command of Captain John Coxon, at first falling in with Admiral Hughes' fleet. It may have been an uneasy spectator at the Battle of Providien on 12th April. John Coxon, had not, like most ship's captains, risen through the ranks starting as a midshipman, but rather had in part purchased his command: he clearly had a flair for commerce, but his navigational expertise was much less certain. He was Purser on the Pacific, an EastIndiaman, and made two voyages to India in 1764 and 1765. Then, at the age of 28 years, he joined the Grosvenor as 4th Mate. This ship had the same name but was the predecessor of the wrecked ship. He made voyages to India and China on the old Grosvenor in 1767/8. The new Grosvenor was launched in 1770 and appears to have been in part a major refit of the earlier ship. At 35 years old, John Coxon was promoted to 1st mate on the new Grosvenor. He was the 1st mate for the voyages of the new Grosvenor in 1770/1 and 1774/5 to India and China. The ship was now owned by David Mitchell, who may have been the purser on an earlier voyage and made enough money to purchase her from former owner John Hallet, who owned a number of vessels.

Being the skipper of an East Indiaman had it's benefits, but these came at a price. To gain command a person had to pay up to £10,000 to the owners depending on the age of the vessel: it is not known how much Coxon paid, but he appears to have been on good terms with the owner and even left him a small legacy in his will. This was Coxon's second trip to India as skipper and usually that was enough for a captain to make his fortune and retire. The captain and the other officers were allowed a free tonnage allowance in the cargo which varied according to rank. In the case of the Captain this "privilege" was 38 tons, which represented a considerable amount of high value cargo. Shipping was not the only way to turn a profit, the local officers of the East India Company were notably corrupt and could return to England as wealthy "Nabobs". However the climate took its toll - almost four out of five of those who went out to India seeking fortune never returned, but instead were carried off by disease. Excessive consumption of drink was another occupational hazard, with several bottles of claret a day being the accepted norm. Once they had made their money, the survivors were often very keen to return to England.

The trip out had been eventful. The Grosvenor left Portsmouth on 3 June 1780 and sailed west into the Atlantic with the tradewinds on a route towards Brazil. Poor weather forced Coxon to steer his vessel all the way to Brazil and to Rio de Janeiro to wait out the storm. While there, several of the ships crew deserted the ship. From Madras, the Grosvenor was scheduled to continue to Bengal where the officers had hoped to sell their personal trade goods, but instead Coxon was instructed to participate in the transport of supplies, particularly grain, to provision English troops engaged in the war against Hyder Ali. Eventually Coxon managed to get permission for the officers to proceed to Bengal and sell their trade goods. She finally dropped anchor there around 8 December 1781, almost eleven months after arriving in India. By this time both Coxon and his officers were keen to get back to England and berths were sold to paying passengers in an attempt to make as much profit as possible. The voyage would be a difficult one, as the War with the Dutch meant that they would be unable to make use of South African ports for re-provisioning. In addition, she would not be sailing in company: survivors recalled that only two sails were spotted during the voyage.

Leaving Trincomalee

The Grosvenor had set sail from Trincomalee in Ceylon on June 13th for Portsmouth. The passengers included businessmen, colonial office representatives, 3 women and 6 children and she carried a cargo of general merchandise plus coins and diamonds about £80,000 in value. This sum would be worth far more today, but it was not a colossal amount by "treasure-ship" standards at that time. Two of the passengers were notable: William Hosea was the British Resident at Murshidabad, and travelled with his wife, Mary, and their two children. He was apparently carrying a quantity of jewels, including some diamonds which he had purchased to make his wealth portable. Hosea supposedly paid a huge fare (about a quarter of a million in modern money) to travel on the ship and load both his domestic goods and a cargo of the dye Indigo. Another passenger was (at least according to some accounts) the barrister Charles Newman, who had been sent to India by Warren Hastings to investigate claims of corruption in the East India Company and was returning with his evidence. Hastings was himself accused of corruption and impeached in 1787, but after a long trial he was acquitted in 1795. Hastings has a slight connection with the Grosvenors in that he leased Somerset House from them during the trial. To add a further level of plot twist William Hosea had intrigued in a plot against the same Governor General Warren Hastings.

Observation could not be taken for many days due to foul weather and the ships charts were defective. To make matters even worse, the most capable navigator or board, the First Mate, Alexander Logie, was now suffering from dysentery. The Grosvenor’s captain thought he was three hundred miles from land, and the commanding officer of the watch, Thomas Beale, took no notice of shouts from the men up aloft that they could see lights ahead, lights which later turned out to be bush fires on the coast of Pondoland in South Africa, about 135 miles south of where the city of Durban now stands.

To summarise the situation, in the summer of 1782 the British were fighting both the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War and the American War of Independence. The French were still involved on the side of the Americans. With the loss of their colonies in the Americas the Britich were just starting to develop their empire in India. The "Empire" was largely a commercial concern and while voyages could make vast profits they also involved considerable risk even in times of peace. On board the Grosvenor were passengers involved in various intrigues and apparently a considerable quanity of loot, and the captain was more or less lost.


When land was finally sighted it was already too late. The quartermaster Mixon, after some hesitation, alerted the captain, who instantly came on deck. He attempted to "club haul" the ship, a desperate manoeuvre using a lee anchor which almost invariably failed, and did so on this occasion. At 4.30 a.m. on 4th August, 1782, in a rising gale, the Grosvenor ran headlong on to the rocks. She heeled over and began to float off, but was held firmly by the jagged reef that had destroyed her. In the darkness, the crew still firmly believed that as they were a long way from land, and that they had struck an uncharted island or reef. With a change in the wind direction, the captain felt that they could refloat the Grosvenor and run her aground in some more convenient place. Coxon ordered the mainmast to be cut away to lighten the ship, and her foremast soon followed, but she still remained beached and gradually the passengers and crew came to the desperate conclusion that the ship was beyond rescue. The ship carried a yawl and a jolly boat, both of which were hoisted out, but both of which were dashed on the rocks. The captain offered a large reward to anyone brave enough to swim ashore with a line. Two Italian seamen rose to the challenge, and a line was fixed from the shore to the mizzen-mast. Some men did escape along this line, although 15 fell from the line and drowned in the attempt, and a platform or raft, intended to rescue the women and children, collapsed. What happened next seems to have been down to luck. The wind changed and the aft starboard quarter, with most of the passengers clinging to it, floated off the rocks. Some of the seamen attached a hawser to it and manoeuvred it into a sheltered inlet.

Oil painting of the Grosvenor by George Carter. Carter travelled to India and on his outward voyage he met John Hynes, a survivor of a notorious shipwreck. In 1791 Carter published a version of his account of the incident as A Narrative of the Loss of the Grosvenor, Eastindiaman, with his own engravings, describing himself on the title page as "George Carter, Historical Portrait Painter".

She carried 138 people. Some 123 of them, including a handful of passengers, men, women and children, managed to scramble ashore, although the precise accounts of the numbers vary. Captain Coxon, together with the Second Mate, William Shaw, and Third Mate, Thomas Beale, mustered the passengers and crew on the shore, retrieving what supplies they could from the wreckage of the ship. According to Shaw's apprentice, William Habberley (one of the ultimate survivors of the disaster), Pondo tribesmen soon arrived on the scene, but offered no assistance, being more concerned to recover nails and other iron from the wreck. Coxon and his officers knew that they were a considerable distance from the nearest European settlements, the Dutch Cape Colony to the south and Portuguese colony of Delagoa Bay to the north. In the first few days ashore, there was evidently some further interaction with the Pondo, one of whom apparently pointed to the north-east. One of the seamen, Joshua Glover, walked away with the Pondo (Habberley claimed he was "disturbed in his mind," but he and another of the seamen, John Bryan, were among the few ultimate survivors, later found to be living happily among the Pondo). Coxon decided to press south towards the Cape, insisting that they could reach it on foot within ten to seventeen days. This was a serious miscalculation, because the distance to the Cape was 800 miles overland, rather than the 250 that he believed (Delagoa Bay was closer).

The crew were without significant provisions or weapons, and their attempted trek to the Dutch settlements "250 miles" to the south ended in death from starvation, exposure and the spears of hostile tribes. None of the passengers or crew spoke any language in common with the local inhabitants. Despite some local tribes providing assistance, only five (some say six) tough sailors got through to reach a frontier farm near what is now New London on the 29th November (118 days after the wreck) to bring news of the disaster.


The English East India Company, when the first survivors reached London, immediately instituted an inquiry as to the cause of the wreck, and the fate of those that had set out on the walk. One of those who gave evidence was William Hubberly, servant to the second mate William Shaw. At the time of the wreck Hubberly was in his early twenties, and was quite probably illiterate, yet after being cross-examined by the hydrographer of the East India Company, Alexander Dalrymple, who conducted the investigation into the wreck, he was described as having an “iron memory”. Dalrymple was to write up a report of the loss which featured in later frauds surrounding the foundering.

The Dutch settlers had sent a relief expedition to find survivors of the Grosvenor, even though Holland was at war with Britain in 1782, but none was found. News of the loss of the ship took a few months to reach London and the reports were sensationalised, with writers speculating in particular on the possible fate of the female survivors, who were assumed to have been captured by the indigenous inhabitants of the region. For years the press indulged in lurid speculation as stories circulated that a Lydia Logie, the widow of the First Mate, had been captured by tribesmen and still lived among them, bearing children to an African prince. Another expedition in 1790, this time to find three women survivors rumoured to be living in a native village also failed, although there were stories of finding communities of "mixed descent". All they are really known to have found were five cannons, a few pieces of iron ballast and some porcelain. A few years after the wreck there was a fire at Fort St. George, Madras which probably destroyed the Grosvenor's cargo manifest. Thereafter the door was wide open to claims that almost anything could have been onboard.

By age of comics the Grosvenor (a three-masted frigate) had been completely transformed into a different ship (a two-masted ketch or schooner) in a different ocean.

The earliest fictional work associated with the wreck appears to be "Hannah Hewit; or, the Female Crusoe" (1792) by Charles Dibdin. This is a highly fictionalised account in which Coxon has become Coxson and in which the heroine is an entirely made-up character.

The Treasure Hunters

The "Wreck of the Grosvenor" (1877) was a nautical novel by William Clark Russell first published in 3 volumes by Sampson Low. According to John Sutherland, it was "the most popular mid-Victorian melodrama of adventure and heroism at sea." It was Russell's best-selling and best-known novel, though at the time of its first appearance it is often erroneously said to have been published anonymously, and remained popular and widely read in illustrated editions well into the first half of the 20th century. The novel was published nearly a century after the actual Wreck of the Grosvenor, in 1782. It is simply coincidence that the ship in the novel has the same name and the plot is otherwise unrelated to historic events, except that Russel chose to name the captain of his fictional ship Coxon.

By 1877, almost a hundred years after the wreck, the Grosvenor had developed a semi-legendary status and no-doubt fact had already started to become confused with fiction. The main theme of these legends had little to do with treasure, but was mostly concerned with female shipwreck survivors who "fell among savages", leaving their fate to the repressed imaginations of the Victorians.


Then, in 1880, an expedition sailed to the site of the actual Grosvenor wreck, spurred on by reports of gold coins being picked up in the area by a Captain Bungay, and possibly by the success of Russell's wholy unrelated novel. The name of the ship would have certainly helped, as by now the Grosvenors were renowned for their fabulous wealth.

The Grosvenor’s hull was still on the rocks, and, using dynamite to help them, the salvage team, led by a man named Sidney Turner and a Lieutenant Beddoes of the Durban Volunteer Artillery, recovered some gold and silver coins and a few other valuables. The explosives were used to blast away at a rock spur running down the beach in the hope that this was the place where the crew had hidden any recovered treasure. Nothing was found although the effect of the wholesale demolition of the ridge would change the local topography and confuse later searchers. They also found nine cannons lying among the rocks, and local "Kaffirs" told them of a box of treasure rumoured to have been buried on the coast by the survivors of the wreck. By the beginning of 1885 a local chief Mqikela, who had grown disaffected with the British government and wanted to develop his own harbour, concluded an agreement with Turner, in which Turner was granted 20,000 acres of land, including the coastline on which the Grosvenor had foundered. In return for this Turner was to select a suitable site for a harbour and undertake the necessary construction work. The site chosen for this new venture was at the mouth of the Mkweni River, close to the site of the Grosvenor wreck. Turner named it Port Grosvenor. As port captain and harbourmaster, Turner collected customs dues and managed the harbour and pilotage. Turner was obliged by his financial circumstances to resign himself to this situation as he, by 1884, had a family of seven children and a wife to support. Despite objections from the Cape Government the port was officially opened. The Cape Government, despite having no jurisdiction in the area, later declared Turner's concession illegal under tribal law, and he forfeited the land, his home and his position. The family moved to Port St Johns and Port Grosvenor, from its closure in 1886, faded into obscurity.

Occasional treasure hunters tried for the wreck using some unconventional methods. According to some stories Alfred Raleigh of Durban, persuaded a man said to have "second sight" to visit the wreck with him in around 1883. Raleigh has been described as an "erterprising Natal fraudster" who had somehow acquired a "treasure chart". The man went into a trance and saw 22 boxes of gold, but they were never found. Other versions of a very similar tale have Alfred becoming Robert Raliegh and employing a "mesmerist" (William Whittaker) to hypnotise a young medium to find the ship. The first major expedition to try to find these new treasures was in 1905, but the wreck had now disappeared in the sands. A dredger was hired, but when a diver was drowned the search was abandoned.

Conan Doyle

Conan-Doyle was certainly aware of Clark-Russel's book:

  • "Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves."

Thus writes Dr. Watson (according to Arthur Conan Doyle) in "The Five Orange Pips" first published in The Strand Magazine in November 1891. In his "Through the Magic Door" (1906) Conan Doyle wrote that:

  • "Clark Russell deserves a whole shelf for himself, but anyhow one could not miss out The Wreck of the Grosvenor."

The Grosvenor Bullion Syndicate Ltd (1921-1923) was set up by Martin Luther Webster and David Webster to retrieve the treasure from the sunken Grosvenor, with the help and assistance of Conan Doyle. The Websters had, by means they never explained, come into possession of Coxon's log, which by rights should have been at the bottom of the sea, and this was used to urge on investors by reports of chests of precious stones "stored in the strong-room beneath my cabin". He himself invested in at least 1000 of the 700,000 one-shilling shares in the company. "Too Much for the Spirits" is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Daily Express No. 6669 on 30 august 1921. It was written in response to a letter from another sherholder suggesting that Doyle should himself recruit "spirits" to find the wreck's treasure and reads:

  • "Sir, — Mr. Stuart Cumberland's good natured banter does not really touch the spot. There is no mystery at all about the Grosvenor, and her position is known to an inch. Her deck has already been explored. The problem lies in the skill needed by submarine workers in such uneasy waters. These human and mechanical difficulties are for our own wits to solve, otherwise the human race would lose all initiative and become mere automata upon the earth. As to using an apport medium to fetch out the cargo, apport mediumship is a rare and fitful phenomenon in process of examination and definition. In thirty-six years I have only personally examined two cases, though others have been more fortunate. These higher forces are neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and psychic research is engaged in defining their limitations. To make some great demand upon them and make that a test of their existence is as if in the days of the first short flutters of aeroplasms a critic had said: "Well, if you claim to fly, why don't you fly over the Atlantic. We need fuller knowledge, wider experience, and more complete control, all of which will come in lime, though its advent will not be hastened by the jokes of Mr. Stuart Cumberland."
Drawing to which Conan Doyle refers. This was apparently sent to him from Durban in 1905 and he first published it in 1917. If the recovery attempt was a clever fraud then it must be one of the very few real crimes associated with the fictional Sherlock Holmes.

The Grosvenor Bullion Syndicate’s prospectus even listed items like 720 gold bars and 19 boxes of precious stones, claiming that "old manuscripts" had been found in the India Office in London about these treasures. It was all pure fantasy. Despite spending all of the investor's money the Websters were only able to show a small piece of wood for their efforts - and it was not even the oak which the ship would have been built from. Doyle later wrote in his memoirs "Memories and Adventures" (1924) that he had become aware of the story of the Grosvenor treasure while in South Africa. Doyle served as a volunteer doctor in the Langman Field Hospital at Bloemfontein between March and June 1900, during the Second Boer War in South Africa (1899–1902). He also mentions the wreck in "Some personalia about Sherlock Holmes" an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Strand Magazine in December 1917:

  • "Buried treasures are naturally among the problems which have come to Mr. Holmes. One genuine case was accompanied by the diagram here reproduced. It refers to an Indianian which was wrecked upon the South African coast in the year 1782. If I were a younger man I should be seriously inclined to go personally and look into that matter. The ship contained a remarkable treasure, including, I believe, the old crown regalia of Delhi. It is surmised that they buried these near the coast and that this chart is a note of the spot. Each Indiaman in those days had its own semaphore code, and it is conjectured that the three marks upon the left are signals from a three-armed semaphore. Some record of their meaning might perhaps even now be found in the old papers of the India Office. The circle upon the right gives the compass bearings. The larger semicircle may be the curved edge of a reef or of a rock. The figures above are the indications how to reach the X which marks the treasure. Possibly they may give the bearings as 186 feet from the 4 upon the semicircle. The scene of the wreck is a lonely part of the country, but I shall be surprised if sooner or later someone does not seriously set to work to solve the mystery."

Conan Doyle may have been sent the drawing due to his connections with spiritualism, as the drawing seems to have been in the hands of the "mesmerist" Whittaker whose hypnotised medium interpreted the letters "NBG" as "nine bags of gold" and "SWK" as "kegs with silver" (read backwards). The "Uncollected Sherlock Holmes" (by Richard Lancelyn Green) states that Doyle was sent the drawing in 1905 by an R. Pearson of Durban, who considered that the author of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" (1903) might be interested in the puzzle. Pearson adds the unlikley information that upon the message arriving in London the Admiralty burned down, destroying the key to the code. Doyle seems to have been involved with the "Grosvenor Recovery Syndicate" a short-lived venture which existed between 1905 and 1911.

A cigarette card which relates the story. By this time the treasure had become legendary.

Note that at this point there is still no mention of the Peacock Throne - just "crown regalia". The involvement of the throne appears to date from 1921, when one C. B. A. C. Chase mentions it in an article in the periodical "Overseas". The plan of the Sydicate seems absurd - they would tunnel from the shore to a point beneath the wreck and then detonate a quantity of explosives which would cause the treasure to fall into the tunnel, from which it could be recovered. Work on the tunnel was started but the company supposedly ran out of money short of the wreck. A reporter from the "Rand Daily Mail" visited the site and sent back the news that the "tunnel" was little more than a hole in the ground. Comparing the funds raised and the extent of work done on site, it is easy to imagine that the operators of any dubious Syndicate could have found ways to divert money into their own pockets.

John Bock and others

In 1927 a small-time prospector and German settler named Johnan Sebastian Bock found 1,038 diamonds near the mouth of the Kei river (not on the beach near the wreck) and was sent to prison for his pains. He reported his find and despite the evidence of experts that the diamonds were not typically South African – in other words they almost certainly came from India via the wreck – he was given three years for having placed stones where they were not normally found. The argument at the time being that he was trying to "salt" the site to attract investment in some recovery scheme, or attract other prospectors who he would sub-licence. Certainly none of the other prospectors ever found a diamond. As for his diamonds, they were confiscated. Whether these were am attempt at misdrection, or from the pockets of a passenger of the Grosvenor who brought them ashore and died on the march to Cape Town will never be known. The local farming community was stunned and angered by John's arrest. They knew that John was not a rich man and could never have bought the diamonds that he was accused of salting the land with. He was in their view an honest 73 year old man and did not need the money.

The inter-war years saw many other schemes, and new elements added to the legend. Dredgers, divers, breakwaters, cranes and modern scuba equipment have been used in an attempt to recover the legendary treasures. Even the local tribes had their own versions. In one such version the throne was removed by the Xhosa people and later captured by the Zulu, who hid it in a cave. For some reason they chose to secure it to the roof of the cave and when returning to collect it, the securing ropes broke and all were killed - removing all knowledge of the location of the cave (how would anyone know this?).

1938 saw the formation of the Grosvenor Treasure Recovery Company and the new "fact" that the wreck also contained the treasure of Hyder Ali, adding a further £3 million to what was supposedly up for grabs. Ali had died of ill-health in December 1782, some months after the loss of the ship in August, and there is nothing to suggest that any treasure of his had been, at the relevant time, captured by the English.

Professor Kirby

In 1945 Professor Percival Robson Kirby (1887-1970) of the University of Witwatersrand flatly stated in an article that the Grosvenor was not a treasure ship. He even discovered that a forged document had been placed in a book in the British Museum to whip up public interest. This was a letter on cream paper, supposedly written by Captain Coxon to the directors of the East India Company "correcting" a part of the account of treasure on board the ship from 270 to 720 bars of gold. This was placed inside a copy of the report on the wreck held at the museum, as written by Alexander Dalrymple. The most transparent evidence that the letter is a fraudulent document is the place and date which it gives: at Cape Town on the 29th August 1782. In fact, on that date Coxon was still struggling along the coast near the Mthatha River at the southern border of remote Pondoland and very soon to disappear (presumably he died) over 500 miles from Cape Town. In 1951 Professor Kirby wrote "A Source Book on the Wreck of the Grosvenor", which should have finished off the myth for ever. But it is still being told, Peacock Throne and all. Even in the 1960's a "treasure map" inscribed on a copper sheet came to light and was determined to be yet another fraud.


Of places around the world South Africa seems to have more legends of lost treasure than many, with various tribes, the British and the Boers (amost others) having been rumoured to have hidden hoards of gold, diamonds and ivory and numerous wrecks are said to contain even more. On top of this are stories of lost mines and mineral deposits. The tale of the "Grosvenor Treasure" appears to have grown in the telling, fueled by greed and by the reputation of the Grosvenors for wealth. In truth the ship has no association with the family other than sharing a name in common and both having a connection with Arthur Conan Doyle. Just why Conan Doyle "fell for" and bought shares in what seems with hindsight to be an obvious scam is unclear, but the case provides an interesting instance of the fictional Sherlock Holmes being associated with a real "crime".

Sources and Links

Related Pages

  • Grosvenors: the family has nothing to connect it with the ship other than rumour;
  • Baldwin: events in Chester at the end of the American Revolutionary War;
  • John Fletcher: more on Chester in the 1780's;
  • Royal Treasure: Richard II's treasure does have links to Chester;
  • Middleton: Early days of the East India Company;


Printed Books

  • Portrait of a Pioneer: The Letters of Sidney Turner from South Africa, 1864-1901;
  • The True Story of the Grosvenor: East Indiaman Wrecked on the Coast of Pondoland, South Africa, on 4 August 1782;
  • A Source Book on the Wreck of the Grosvenor East Indiaman;
  • Treasure-seekers: A Chronicle of Fortunes Lost and Hidden and the Efforts Made to Salvage Them;
  • The Caliban Shore: The Fate of the Grosvenor Castaways;