GOLDEN GRAPE

Schooner – (LARN) – Chesil Beach, near Wyke. Seven of the twenty man crew were drowned near the Smallmouth Ferry. The manifest listed 12 butts of Sherry, 400 jars of Olives, 2000 barrels of Raisons and 240 pieces of silver & gold (pistoles and pieces of eight). When the Excise officials examined the wrecked the bullion had mysteriously vanished!! Dor. Mag: 1974 No. 48. Some of the treasure was recovered by the crew but this was reported to have been stolen by force by “countrymen” possibly 400 in number. A report stated the wreck was at the southern end of East Fleet where “a place called New Works was quite close”

Golden Grape (1641) by F J Pope

FROM – S&D NOTES & QUERIES Vol XVI p241.
Copied from The Island & Royal Manor of Portland Historic Sources by K V Saunders

A WRECK ON THE CHESIL BEACH IN 1641. – In a bundle of examinations taken in the High Court of Admiralty is a fairly thick paper book, – found, I should add, by an expert searcher of Admiralty Records, Miss E H. Fairbrother,- which supplies an item in the history of the Dorset Coast, and should not, I think, remain without notice. The book consists of a copy of the evidence taken on Commission relating to the salvage of the cargo of a ship called THE GOLDEN GRAPE, which while on a voyage from Cadiz to Dover was wrecked in West Bay. Her master says that she carried a crew of 20 men and was laden in Spanish ports with more than 2000 barrels of raisins, 400 jars of oil, 12 butts of “Sherryes Sackes”, 240 pieces of silk, silver plate and bullion, bags of Spanish coin both gold and silver (pistoles and pieces of eight), and other goods. The master further states that “on 11th December last (1641) by extremity of fowle weather the shipp was forced on shore uppon the beech in the Weste bay of Portland Island where she was broken to pieces, seven men and boyes drowned and the greatest parte of the goods moneys plate and loading lost save onely such as were salved by some of the company of the said shipp and by other people of the countrey who by force and violence tooke and carryed the same away.”

The point where THE GOLDEN GRAPE struck was evidently near the southern end of the East Fleet for both Wyke Regis and Bridge are mentioned as near by. A place called New Works was quite close. The ship did not entirely break up for three or four days, and during this time many hundreds of persons from Wyke, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, Portland, Fleet, Portisham, Abbotsbury, Langton Herring, and Chickerell worked to get all they could from the wreck, Heavy seas frequently interfered with their efforts, and some complain that they were knocked down by the waves and bruised, so they were unable to get anything.

The Commission to take evidence sat from 10th January, 1642, to the 28th March following, and examined nearly 400 persons mostly inhabitants of the places previously mentioned. The first arrivals on the beach contented themselves with staving in barrels and filling linen bags and pockets with raisins or, stripping off their waistcoats, used the sleeves as bags. But soon bands of men appeared from the various villages, boats were plying across the Fleet, and carts, ploughs and horses were in readiness on the mainland to carry away the goods. Transport was costly. A boat’s crew who brought jars of oil were rewarded with two jars apiece, worth six or eight shillings, and a cart to Portisham cost two bushels of wheat and eighteen pence in money. Some gangs or men took away a score or two of barrels of raisins or the same number of jars of oil, but they were lucky if they did not have to share their booty with a stronger gang before they could gain a place of safety. Officers of the Vice Admiral tried to prevent the unauthorized removal of cargo but they must have been few in number and their authority was perhaps weakened by the presence also of servants of Sir John Strangways who claimed certain rights on this part of the coast.

The ship’s crew had naturally the first chance at seizing the bags of money and a number of them were brought across the Fleet in a boat of Andrew Grey, an alehouse keeper of Wyke, who saw the ship strike and was one of the first on the scene. Each sailor had his bag or bags of coin, and a sick sailor was brought to Grey’s house on horseback with his bag hanging from the horse’s neck. The country people, however, were not without their share for, besides the bags to be got from the ship, handfuls of coin might be picked up on the beach. A boy dragging a bag too heavy for him to lift was relieved of his burden by a passer-by.

There can have been few houses in the neighbouring villages without some of the plunder. Raisins and oil predominated but there were also oranges, lemons, olives, silk, wool and all sorts of small articles, also round shot, cross bar shot; the small cannon called ‘murderers’, and ropes and sails. All the deponents, who acknowledged having goods in their possession, expressed their willingness to hand them over to the Vice Admiral, but some demanded and no doubt all expected compensation. The principal efforts of the authorities were directed towards the recovery of the money, plate and bullion, and the constables of Weymouth had searched many houses with this object. The prospects of any general restitution could not have been hopeful. Many who had been seen with bags of coin asserted that much had beon stolen from them, and members of the ship’s company had come to Weymouth with their pockets full of money and spending it freely. Most of the plate and bullion had been placed in the hands of the Vice Admiral, and at least some of the money, and in the cellars of Weymouth merchants were stored a considerable quantity of raisins and oil. Seven pieces of ordnance had also been brought to Weymouth by the officers of the port. For the remainder of the cargo there could have been little hope. A few stray coins, articles of very small value, a few score of barrels of damaged raisins and leaking oil jars are the most that could have been expected from the villages. Some of the raisins had been sold and taken to Blandford, Sturminster Newton, Sherborne, Cerne, Taunton, and others were concealed, one such hiding place having been discovered at Foxholes. The fate of the butts of wine was not revealed. No one admitted having seen one of them and though there was a scramble for plunder, no case of drunkenness,. was recorded, there was no complaint as to the treatment of the shipwrecked men, and the conduct of the crowd on the beach was certainly better than that recorded of some of their successors under similar circumstances in the 18th century.

F. J. POPE

Extract from Rene Gerryts’ article called ‘Country Life’ in the Dorset Evening Echo dated Friday, November, 6th 1987.

1641 – The Golden Grape on from Cadiz to Dover went down. She was forced onto the shore at East Fleet by foul weather and seven men and boys drowned. She was carrying Spanish port, sherry, 2000 barrels of raisins, 400 jars of oil, silver plate, silk, pistols and bullion.

Despite the violent sea villagers lost no time in plundering the wreck, stuffing raisins into every available pocket, carrying off barrels of oil, port and sherry.

The authorities searched many homes to try and recover the cargo and more than 400 locals were brought in for questioning.


Day of Loss: 11

Month of Loss: 12

Year of Loss: 1641


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