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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)

The Treasure Ship

The Treasure Ship.

The Kent would have been a rich prize for an enterprising pirate had any of those gentry been cruising the Southern Ocean. She was regularly engaged in the highly profitable trade between London and Melbourne in the great gold rush days of Victoria, and on every trip she carried gold to England. On one voyage Captain Clayton had nearly half-a-million in gold bars on board. It was stowed beneath his cabin, in the run, in a specially constructed gold room. This sea-safe was locked and the deck-hatch caulked
(From a painting by Captain Clayton.) The ship “Kent” clearing the icebergs in 56 degrees south latitude.

(From a painting by Captain Clayton.)
The ship “Kent” clearing the icebergs in 56 degrees south latitude.

down until London docks were reached; then the gold was taken up to the bank in waggons, under armed escort. Besides these shipments, the passengers carried a good deal of gold themselves; many of them were lucky diggers returning to their homes.

The American cruisers had their eyes on that treasure-lading of the Kent on one historic occasion, just after the Civil War began. It was in 1861, when the Trent affair nearly brought Britain to war with the United States. The U.S. Government had a warship cruising at the mouth of the English Channel to intercept the Kent or any other gold-ship from Australia in the event of war being declared. This Captain Clayton learned from his owner when he reached London.

On a voyage to London from Melbourne in 1862, Clayton had 270 passengers; the crew numbered 50. The ship carried about £400,000 worth of gold. She was too deeply laden for safety, and shortly before a hurricane struck the ship off Cape Horn the Captain decided to jettison some of the cargo. The falling glass gave him warning. “I knew,” Clayton told me, in narrating the events of that voyage, “that if the gale struck us we would be gone unless I lightened the ship.” He jettisoned about £4,000 worth of cargo, and then in the height of the hurricane sperm-oil was continuously poured on the sea. The captain's act of judgment in sacrificing cargo undoubtedly saved the ship and her precious freighting of lives and treasure.