Doddington (East Indiaman)

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Career (Great Britain) British East India Company flag.svg
Fate: Wrecked, 17 July 1755 in Algoa Bay
General characteristics
Class & type: East Indiaman
Displacement: 499 tons
Propulsion: Sail
Armament: 26 guns

The Doddington was an East Indiaman of the British East India Company that was wrecked at Bird Island in Algoa Bay near present day Port Elizabeth on 17 July 1755.[1][2] The ship was carrying a hoard of gold belonging to Clive of India, that was controversially looted in modern times by treasure hunters, resulting in recent changes to international maritime treaties to better protect underwater cultural heritage.


The Doddington sailed from Dover on 22 April 1755 under way to Fort St George in India under the command of Captain James Sampson in the company of the Stretham (carrying Clive of India), Pelham, Edgecote and Houghton. The ships were separated en route to Porto Praya, but re-united again at the port where they all stopped to take on provisions. On 27 May 1755, the three ships departed the Cape Verde islands together, but were once again separated after the master of the Doddington took a more southerly route than the other ships. After seven weeks, the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope. After sailing Eastwards for a day, the ship was on a heading of East-North-East, when she struck a rock at 1 am in Algoa Bay.

Doddington (East Indiaman) is located in Eastern Cape
Doddington wreck site
Doddington wreck site
Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth
Eastern Cape, South Africa

Of the original crew and passengers of 270, only 23 initially survived while the other 247 passengers and crew died with the ship. The castaways subsisted for seven months on fish, birds and eggs on a nearby island, which they named Bird Island.[Note 1] One of their number, a carpenter, was able to help them make them a sloop, the Happy Deliverance on which they were finally able to get off the island on 16 February 1756.[1][3] The sloop was seaworthy enough to take the survivors on an eventful journey up the east coast of Africa via St Lucia and Delagoa Bay,[1][4] where the survivors sold her before travelling on to India in another ship.


The ship was carrying a consignment of gold and silver, known as "Clive of India's Gold", which was controversially looted in recent times by Port Elizabeth treasure hunters.[5][6] A third of the 1,200 gold coins were eventually returned to South Africa after a four-year legal wrangle in London. The high profile court case highlighted various shortcomings in both South African and international maritime law.[7] The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation monitored the case closely, as it set an important precedent for the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage that it subsequently published.[8]

Cultural ripple[edit]

In September 1867, at the Theatre Royal, The Dramatic Club of Port Elizabeth staged a locally written play "Treasure at Woody Cape", dealing with the legend of the Doddington's treasure.[9]


  1. ^ The island group had previously been named Inhéus Châos (low or flat islands) by Vasco da Gama


  1. ^ a b c Bannister, Saxe (1830). Humane Policy, Or, Justice to the Aborigines of New Settlements. T. & G. Underwood. p. xxxiii. 
  2. ^ Mr Webb (1758). A Journal of the Proceedings of the Doddington East Indiaman. 
  3. ^ Redding, Cyrus (1833). "Chapter V". A History of Shipwrecks, and Disasters at Sea, from the Most Authentic Sources. Whittaker, Treacher & Co. 
  4. ^ Kennedy, Reginald Frank (1955). Shipwrecks on and Off the Coasts of Southern Africa: A Catalogue and Index. Johannesburg Public Library. 
  5. ^ Geoffrey and David Allen (1978). Clive's Lost Treasure. Robin Garton. ISBN 0-906030-07-2. 
  6. ^ Shaw, John (28 August 2000). "Clive of India's gold comes up for sale after legal settlement". The Independent. 
  7. ^ Hoffman, Barbara T. (2006). "Chapter 42". Art and Cultural Heritage: The Case of the Doddington Coins. Cambridge University Press. p. 313. ISBN 0-521-85764-3. 
  8. ^ Macgregor, Karen (18 February 2001). "Stolen gold back in South Africa". The Independent. 
  9. ^ "The History". Port Elizabeth Opera House. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • L. H. Van Meurs (1985). Legal Aspects of Marine Archaeological Research. Institute of Marine Law, University of Cape Town. 
  • James P. Delgado (1997). Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology. British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-2129-0. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°50.06′S 26°17.40′E / 33.83433°S 26.29000°E / -33.83433; 26.29000 (Dodington)