Jim Duncan

Having dealt with the mystery and perhaps myth of "VIGO" it seems pertinent to look at the other privy mark of the times - "LIMA". There are some obvious thoughts that come to mind, and Spanish silver is the first, from Lima, which lies on the Pacific coast of Peru, 13km inland from its port, Callao. When I first became aware of 'Lima', back in the '60s, the story was that Admiral George Anson circumnavigated the world, and during the course of this voyage he captured a load of Spanish silver.

So this exercise started out with a Google search for Anson. And the results were very specific. He sailed from England with a squadron of six ships - Centurion (his flagship), Gloucester, Severn, Pearl, Wager, the sloop Tryal and two store ships, Anna and Industry. There were a number of losses along the way - in fact he ended up with only 335 men out of 961, and just his flagship Centurion. But there were some rewards. The greatest of these was the capture of a 'Manilla galleon' - a Spanish ship full of silver on its way to the Philippines from South America. This was the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga which was seized off Cape Espiritu Santo. (There is more than one of these capes in the Pacific, so I can get no closer). She was carrying 1,313,843 pieces of eight reales, and was taken in June 1743. Wikipedia then says he "took his prize to Macao, sold her cargo to the Chinese" and sailed for England. First problem. Was it the ship or the ship AND cargo he sold? If he sold his silver to the Chinese, he couldn't have brought it back to England. But one has to wonder what he did bring back - porcelains, silks, spices, gold, what? He certainly had enough money! (Take care with Wikipedia!)

I referred to some numismatic books, in the hope of elusive truth. Brooke says "..the treasure of £500,000 specie brought back by Anson on his return in 1744…". Craig says "… a windfall, the loot taken in Anson's voyage around the world…", and, again, as in the Vigo story, Craig uses an odd date - he says 1748 (the coins are dated 1745 and 1746). I tried the Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002 ed, where I got "…managed to capture a Spanish treasure galleon near the Philippines. He sold this prize for £400,000 in Canton, China, the Centurion being the first British warship to enter Chinese waters.." This might help identify the particular Cape Espiritu Santo. But we are no more certain of what happened to the silver. Even Spink says "…some of the treasure seized by Admiral Anson during his circumnavigation of the world, 1740-4, and by other privateers…"

Peter Seaby on the other hand, has a different story. He says "In 1745 a great treasure of silver coin had been seized in the North Atlantic by two British privateers, the Duke and the Prince Frederick, from two French treasure ships that had come from Peru. This booty was transported in forty-five wagon loads from the port of Bristol to the mint in London. As the booty principally consisted of 'piece of eight' bearing the Lima mintmark it was requested that coins taken from these prizes might bear the name 'Lima' to celebrate the exploit."

That is twice the idea of "privateers" has arisen - Seaby and Spink. The Oxford Dictionary defines a "privateer" as 'an armed ship owned by private individuals, holding a government commission and authorised for use in war'. So I contacted the Coin Department at the British Museum where Dr Barrie Cook was kind enough to confirm that Peter Seaby is right, absolutely, and quotes an article from Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin, March 1970, by Harry Apling, "The Lima Coinage of George II". He says that Apling sets out to correct the "widespread but inaccurate" view that the silver was from Anson's voyage, using contemporary documents in the Gentlemen's Magazine, and internal Mint documents. He even said that Apling said the mistaken reference first appeared in a book by Thomas Snelling on English coinage published in 1762! (View of the Silver Coin & Coinage of England) Anson certainly did capture treasure, but he apparently spent it in China. Captains Morecock and Talbot captured the "Lima" treasure, in the Atlantic, not the Pacific, Ocean.

Dr Cook also commented that there was a medal struck to commemorate the event, in 1745, and there we have it in Eimer -
594 Capture of the French Treasure Ships Marquis d'Antin and Louis Erasmé, 1745.
Obv: Five ships engaged in battle, identified ND D LE PF MA. Ex. IULI X. MDCCXLV.
 Rev: Two infant fames, each displaying an oval frame with uniformed busts of IAC. TALBOT. and IOHA MORECOCK. Below a procession of horse-drawn treasure wagons, marked 44 and 45. Ex. VENIEBUNT LONDO. OCTO.I.ET.II. MDCCLXV. Diameter 38mm, by J Kirk (in silver and bronze)
James Talbot and John Morecock, captains of the Prince Frederick and the Duke, captured, in the North Atlantic, treasure valued at £800,000, which was conveyed to the Tower in forty-five wagons on 1 and 2 October. The Notre Dame was the only French ship to escape.

This excellent reference seems to confirm that a mistake was made in 1762 which has been perpetuated ever since! Although there is no mention of 'Lima'.

I was able to obtain a copy of Mr Aplin's paper, and include some of it here as confirmation. The two ships (a third ship, the Prince George, had capsized with heavy loss of life at the beginning of the voyage) were part of a London-owned group of privateers known as the "Royal Family", and were cruising the North Atlantic when they discovered three ships which they approached. A lively set-to ensued in which one French captain was killed with a pistol shot. This ship surrendered, as, eventually, did the other, but the third escaped. English marksmanship being what it was, they had to tow the two French ships back as their masts had been shot away!

There is even a listing of the booty recovered, and the number of men killed or wounded.

The Louis Erasmus carried  
Dollars 1,277,726
  Pistoles, value in dollars 221,229
  Gold bars, value in dollars 30,000
  Wrought plate, value in dollars                10,000
The Marquis d'Antin had  
  Dollars 1,387,589
  Doubloons, value in dollars 79,464
  Gold bars, value in dollars 2,000
  Wrought plate, value in dollars                1,000

(Pistoles and Doubloons were, of course, gold coins.) But there was also 800 tons of cocoa, which in itself must have been worth a good deal. There were also a number of dignitaries - a marquis of France, a governor of Peru, and a number of friars.

The Gentlemen's Magazine reported on Wednesday 16 September, 1745, that 'the proprietors of the two privateers waited on the King and offered £700,000 - their share of the prizes - to be immediately employ'd for his majesty's service, which was accepted and the money is to be repaid by Parliament.'

The silver, having been transported to The Mint, was subject to an application from the Bank of England that the word LIMA be placed under the King's head, and William Chetwynd, the Mint Master, signed a document to this effect on 11 December, 1745. Howard Linecar rediscovered this document in 1966 in Royal Mint archives. This seems to discount Anson's contribution.

Where had the silver originated? Prisoners brought aboard the Duke said the ships had come from Callao, Peru.

So what of Anson and his ship-load? Mr Apling says Anson stayed away from Lima as he did not want his presence known there, but the ship did go into Paita, 600-odd miles north of Lima, and plundered it. This was reported by the ship's chaplain. Apling also reports without explanation that Anson's silver was of Mexican origin; and he was unable to find reason or evidence why the Bank might have asked for LIMA on the coins. What did happen to Anson's silver?

The coins which bear the 'LIMA' privy mark are gold 5, 1 and ½ Guinea pieces; plus silver Crowns of 1746, Half Crowns of 1745, 1746/5 and 1746, Shillings of 1745, 1746/5 and 1746, and Sixpences of 1745 and 1746. All from the reign of George II.


We have also discovered the means of apportioning Prize Money (at least in the time of the Napoleonic wars). Vigo and Lima were both during the time of the War of the Spanish Succession - a little earlier - but this may well have applied then too. Two eighths of the prize money went to the captain - which could set a man up for life! One eighth went to the admiral who signed the ship's written orders - but if the order came from the Admiralty this eighth also went to the captain. One eighth was divided among the wardroom officers (lieutenants, sailing master, surgeon, captain of marines if any). One eighth was divided among the principal warrant officers, lieutenant of marines, chaplain and flag secretary if any. One eighth was divided among the junior warrant and petty officers, their mates, sergeants of marines, and midshipmen. And the final two eighths were divided among the crew, with able and specialist seamen receiving larger shares than ordinary seamen, landsmen and boys. No wonder some senior seafarers were able to do very well when they came ashore. Some captains even had their own Prize agents - Admiral Lord Nelson had Alexander Davison to fight ashore on his behalf! And while this disbursement of money is not directly of numismatic interest, it does illustrate how the money went around.

British Museum, Coins & Medals Dept, Dr Barrie Cook. (also illustration).
G C Brooke, English Coins, 1966 ed.
Sir John Craig, The Mint, 1953.
Martyn Downer, Nelson's Purse, 2004.
Christopher Eimer, British Commemorative Medals, 1987. (also illustration).
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002. (under 'Anson').
Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin, March 1970. (copy courtesy John Roberts-Lewis).
Peter Seaby, The Story of British Coinage, 1990.
Spink, Coins of England and the United Kingdom, 1999 ed.
Wikipedia. (Anson and Prize Money).