The Lost Treasure of the Gilt Dragon: Part I
While researching a different shipwreck, I came across a news article in the Sunday Times from 1945 which claimed that treasure from the wreck of the Gilt Dragon was buried somewhere on the Western Australian coast by her crew. Intrigued by the legend, I did further research and set off to try and find this legendary treasure…
The Gilt Dragon
The Gilt Dragon was a trade ship of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. It would sail from the Netherlands around the coast of Africa and towards Indonesia to the VOC headquarters in Batavia.
For part of the year, these trade ships would use strong winds to take them closer to the west coast of Australia before turning north towards Indonesia. Taking this alternate route would save them a few months on the journey, however it was much more dangerous. The waters along the west coast are treacherous. There are many shallow reefs which a lot of ships have wrecked against including the Gilt Dragon which wrecked in 1656.
After the wreck the crew made it to shore taking some of the ship's treasure with them, then sent a few men in a small boat to sail to Indonesia, report the wreck and mount a rescue while the rest stayed behind. Miraculously, these men made it to Batavia and reported the wreck. They recorded its location at 30º 40' S. They only recorded latitude because the technique to record longitude wasn't developed until the next century.
A rescue expedition was launched but when they reached the coast later that year, the crew and the ship's treasures were nowhere to be found and to this day no one is entirely sure what happened to them.
The ship itself however was eventually found off the coast of Ledge Point in 1963.
Over the years relics and clues left behind by the crew have being found and the story of their fate has been pieced together.
The story goes that after the wreck, the crew stayed on the coast for some time hoping for rescue to arrive but quickly ran out of fresh food and water. They buried some of the treasure on the shore and marked its location with a circle of standing planks. They then ventured off in search of fresh water taking the rest of the treasure with them. When they could no longer carry it they buried it too and marked its location with a circle of stones. They then continued on trying to survive the wilderness but their fate and the true location of their treasure was lost to history.
The Dutchman's Map
While researching the legend, I came across the story of a Dutchman and a lost map which apparently marked the location of the treasure on the shore.
In the 1960s this ill Dutchman was helped by a WA man named Frank Moore. Feeling indebted to Moore, the Dutchman revealed to him that he was a descendant of one of the survivors of the Gilt Dragon wreck and showed Moore a map which marked the location of the treasure the crew buried on the shore. The Dutchman then destroyed the map and died soon after.
Although the original map was destroyed, Moore remembered it vividly. The marked location was a crescent shaped cove along the west coast. He was convinced this was Dynamite Bay in Green Head and spent years searching for the treasure there but never found anything.
As I set off on my own expedition I passed Dynamite Bay to see the cove Moore spent his days digging away. I wasn't going to stay here however. If the treasure was buried here, I'm sure Moore would have found it. I had my own theory.
South of Dynamite Bay is another cove called North Head. Not only is it also a crescent shaped cove, it's also closer to the coordinates given by the crew when they reached Batavia to report the wreck. What if after the wreck at Ledge Point, the crew ventured North along the coast hoping a passing ship would spot them before camping at North Head and after staying there a while, they buried some of the treasure before venturing off? What if North Head was the location marked on the Dutchman's lost map?
I arrived at North Head. The track getting here was thin and overgrown with bush but opened to the coast before ending at the cove. I hopped out of the Jeep and explored the area.
On top the hills overlooking the cove are two WWII bunkers used as a coastal watch station and later as a radar station during the war. The tall hill overlooking the cove would be ideal for castaway sailors to build a signal fire and would offer some protection from the strong coastal winds if they camped at its base. Maybe this was the place the Dragon's crew came to, maybe it wasn't. The only way to know was to explore further and hope to find clues... or even the treasure itself.
I grabbed my metal detector and walked the beach hoping to find some answers. The weather was nice, the wind was low and the water calm. After some time I found some relics left behind from the war, a couple bullets and bullet casings but unfortunately no treasure or Gilt Dragon relics.
I packed the detector away as the sun was getting low and climbed the hill to explore the WWII bunkers. They've been damaged over the years and marked by graffiti but they still spark imagination as to the soldiers who called this place home during the war. Holding the bullets and casings in my hand I wondered who the soldiers were who left them behind? What were they like?
I moved away from the bunkers and came to the summit of the hill to watch the sunset on the horizon before returning to the Jeep to set up camp. Maybe the Gilt Dragon crew never came here or maybe they did but they just didn't bury their treasure. The only way to find out is to keep exploring.