MEMORY LANE: Treasure hunters with the Midas touch

The discovery of Spanish coins at Hartlepool in Victorian times caused a 'frenzy' of excitement.
The discovery of Spanish coins at Hartlepool in Victorian times caused a 'frenzy' of excitement.

Thousands of treasure seekers descended on Hartlepool in Victorian times after a haul of valuable coins was unearthed on the beach.

A group of workmen stumbled across dozens of Spanish dollars - then worth hundreds of pounds - while enjoying a stroll along the shore, opposite Carr House Farm, on March 10, 1867.

A packed Fish Sands 60 years ago - with hundreds of Hartlepool folk enjoying time at the beach. But, back in 1867, even more people packed the sands to go treasure hunting.

A packed Fish Sands 60 years ago - with hundreds of Hartlepool folk enjoying time at the beach. But, back in 1867, even more people packed the sands to go treasure hunting.

“The discovery made national headlines,” said historian Bill Hawkins. “That sort of money was an absolute fortune at the time - and the coins would be worth well over £200,000 today.”

Severe weather and heavy seas had caused sand to be washed from the beach between West Hartlepool and Seaton Carew that weekend - leaving the area covered in peat and pebbles.

It was while stopping to examine the “extensive peat” that the workmen discovered several coins embedded in it. After rubbing at the black coins, they realised they were dollars.

“Curiosity caused the men to dig over the peat with their sticks and, after discovering a few coins, they renewed their search and found a large number,” reported the Illustrated Times.

The discovery made national headlines. That sort of money was an absolute fortune at the time - and the coins would be worth well over £200,000 today.

Bill Hawkins, historian

“But the tide was approaching, and they had to desist. A report soon spread about the town of the extraordinary discovery and, when the tide receded, hundreds went down to the sands.

“During the whole of the night people were working with lamps, and some of them got as many as 90 of these coins - which are worth about four shillings and sixpence each.

“Altogether several hundred coins have been found, but no estimate can be formed of the exact number - as people who find them decline to acknowledge the number they get.”

In addition to the silver Spanish dollars - which dated from 1720 to 1804 - treasure-seekers also dug up several gold coins, as well as a gold crucifix and some gold rings.

“Apparently, just 24 hours after the first dollar was discovered, the scene on the beach was incredible. It was literally swarming with thousands and thousands of people,” said Bill.

“These treasure-seekers came armed with all sorts of tools for digging, from spades to picks and shovels, and some even stripped their fireplaces of coal-rakes to search for a fortune.”

Investigations into the treasure trove revealed that several decades earlier, in 1829, a London-based vessel called The Duck had been wrecked between Seaton and Hartlepool.

The wreck was eventually purchased by Sheraton and Co and, when broken up, workmen discovered hundreds of Spanish dollars concealed within the timbers.

“Apparently the vessel had originally been used as a slaver in a Spanish port, but was captured by the English,” said Bill.

“It appears that when the ship was wrecked in 1829 hundreds of coins were washed onto the beach. Only when storms removed the sand were the coins exposed for all to see - and find.”