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The RMS Douro Story

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It was the evening of April 1st 1882. The Douro had left Lisbon the previous day, on the final leg of its journey from Brazil to England. it was a clear night with a bright moon. As usual the champagne had been flowing freely, and after an evening of fun and enjoyment, the passengers were retiring to their cabins. The ship was a couple of hours behind schedule, but Captain Kemp was confident of making up the lost time. There was a stiff breeze blowing from the south-west and he ordered the auxiliary sail to be set to give an extra knot or two of speed. At ten-thirty pm, Mr Charles Stoher, a wealthy merchant from Manchester, England, decided to take a stroll on the deck before bed. He had joined the ship at Rio de Janeiro on the final stage of a round the world trip. Looking out to sea, he spotted a light on the Douro's starboard bow.




 

Gold coins salvaged from the Douro


Minutes later the Yrurac Bat, a Spanish steamer on route from Corunna in Spain to Cuba, ploughed into the side of the Douro in the area of the main mast. The passengers, most of whom had been asleep in their bunks, ran this way and that, not knowing which lifeboat station to report to. The crew struggled for some time to lower a lifeboat which had jammed. In spite of the confusion all around them, the Douro's officers behaved with exemplary discipline and courage. The rule of `women and children first’ was strictly adhered to, and of those who drowned, the only woman amongst them was Lady Beecher’s maid who, in a state of hysterical panic, refused to get into the lifeboat. Five male passengers also drowned. Seven of the ship’s crew, the Captain, four of the Senior Officers and the 1st and 2nd Engineer went down with the ship, which sank quickly within thirty minutes of the impact. The Yrurac Bat also sank rapidly, with heavy loss of life, bringing the death toll to 59. Fortunately for those passengers and crew from both ships that had managed to get safely into lifeboats, a third steamer, the Hidalgo from Hull, had witnessed the collision and was standing by to lend assistance. The Hidalgo took the survivors into the Northern Spanish port of Corunna before continuing with its voyage. A Court of Enquiry was held by the Board of Trade which found the Douro entirely responsible for the collision. This was of little comfort to bereaved relatives but gradually the memory of the Douro faded. It was almost exactly one hundred years later that Douro was discovered again.

As well as carrying a typical South American cargo of coffee, the Douro had on board a shipment of gold coins, gold dust, gold bars and diamonds. We didn’t find the diamonds but the remainder of the high value cargo was deposited with the Receiver of Wreck under the ancient law of salvage at sea, to be held for a year and a day, so that any owners which the salvors had been unable to trace could come forward and claim their property.

At the end of that time a selection of the gold coins, together with the flasks of gold dust, and some of the ship’s artefacts were sold at a public auction by Spinks, the coin specialists in association with Christie’s of London. The auction was a great success and raised over £1,500,000. Most of the coins were in superb condition and some of the rarest sovereigns fetched over £2,000 each. The gold sovereigns show the young head of Queen Victoria on its face and a crowned shield within a wreath on the reverse. Dating from the mid-nineteenth century, all the coins are in superb condition representing a unique piece of maritime history.