On September 30, 1641 the Merchant Royal sank, just off the coast of Cornwall, England. There has been no trace of it since.
England was at war with half of Europe, but remained friendly with Spain. Captain John Limbrey was hired on charter for a period of 21 months by a group of prominent English owners. He had two ships Merchant Royal and her sister-ship, the Dover Merchant. On his own, he extended his commission for a further 24 months.
When he decided to leave for England he found his ship had sprung a leak. He docked in Cadiz, a port in Spain for repairs. A fire broke out on a neighbouring vessel which was carrying a cargo of gold and silver to Antwerp to pay for Spanish troops. Limbrey readily agreed to carry the cargo in Merchant Royal. And, together with the Dover Merchant they set sail.
The 17th century English ship, Merchant Royal now carried cargo of more than 37,000 pounds of gold, around 500,000 quantities of silver and 400 Mexican silver coins. The value would translate to around two billion dollars today. This was meant to pay soldiers fighting for Spain in Antwerp.
On September 23, close to the English Channel, bad weather struck. The pumps that controlled the leaks broke down and water started seeping in. The ship crew tried hard to pump out the water but in vain.
The crew launched the ship’s longboat and called for Limbrey to join them. The ship began to sink, but Limbrey was adamant on staying with his treasure.
He fired the ship’s cannon to alert Dover Merchant and escaped. He was the last man to leave the ship alive. Limbrey and 40 men were saved, but 18 of them lost their lives. Merchant Royal sank about 30 miles off Land’s End, near Cornwall, England along with her cargo of Spanish treasure.
Till today, the treasure has not been found. It continues to remain a mystery.
In 2007, an operation by Odyssey Marine Exploration set out to find the lost treasure. They did not find the remains of Merchant Royal, but instead, found treasure from the Spanish ship — Our Lady of Mercy.