Shillings and Kangaroos …

In January we had the nine days wonder of something that looked to be a drawing of a kangaroo turn up in a pre 1600 liturgical manuscript from Portugal and now we’ve had the minor drama of an Edward VI shilling being pulled from the mud of Victoria bay in British Columbia.

None of this is really remarkable.

During the sixteenth century European expansion sailors went everywhere, and sometimes they weren’t even very sure where they went. And quite often when they did know, they kept it secret for reasons of possible commercial advantage.

It would be quite reasonable to expect that a ship sailing up the west coast of the Americas would pitch up in the islands and bays between where Vancouver and Seattle are now looking for shelter from a storm.

It’s also not impossible that some unlucky sailor dropped a shilling – a day’s pay for a tradesman, a soldier or an actor in the mud.

Of course it doesn’t mean that the unlucky sailor was one of Francis Drake’s men as has been claimed. Coins were basically lumps of silver of known weight and hence value, meaning that they were readily exchangeable on the basis of the amount of silver in them.

This probably meant that in ports, especially where there was shortage of coined money, such as during the early days of the Spanish colonisation of Mexico, the pool of circulating coins could well be a mix of common coins from half a dozen different seafaring countries.

Now there’s some suggestions that some other English coins of the same period have turned up in roughly the same area, so perhaps it was an English ship, but a single coin does not prove anything – all it means is that by the 1550’s European ships were already penetrating that far north …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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