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Ref  HM6   Ring from the shipwreck Royal Charter

Such an understated ring with such an evocative history. The 15 carat gold ring of Australian manufacture is ornamented with sinuous vine leaves and grapes in typically mid-19th century Australian colonial style. It is stamped with a maker's mark WL, for the Melbourne jeweller, William Lamborn. The ring is from the wreck of the Royal Charter which sank off the Welsh coast in 1859. A Victorian version of the Titanic, the demise of the Royal Charter was unexpected. This 2719 ton, 200 horsepower marvel of 19th century shipping was fireproof, watertight, and iron-hulled. It was the fastest ship on the Australia - UK  route. On this particular voyage it was a ship carrying fabulous wealth. Amongst the passengers were many miners returning from the Australian goldfields. In its hold were boxes of gold, each labelled with the owner's name, which had been carried to the ship in Melbourne with a police escort. The contents of the boxes were worth £322,440, today that would equate to millions of pounds. More gold was being carried by the passengers themselves, in their luggage or sewn into their clothes.

On the night of October 25, 1859 the west coast of Britain was struck by a Force 12 hurricane that sank 133 ships. The loss of Royal Charter was the most devestating. Of more than 450 passengers and crew aboard, only 40 survived the disaster and all were men. Every woman and child perished in the the storm. The ship's treasure of gold nuggets and jewellery sank to the seafloor and those passengers wearing bullion belts were dragged down by the weight of their gold. Such a dramatic event, the shipwreck of a ship full of gold with huge loss of life, attracted attention around the world. Charles Dickens came to investigate the aftermath and included the event in The Uncommercial Traveller. As a result of the shipwreck, Captain Fitzroy of the Meterological Office introduced the first gale warning system to prevent similar tragedies.

The ring's provenance is Ex. Lot 15, Christie's Maritime sale, 7th October, 1993. The ring is size M [US 6]. It is half an inch wide from North to South front centre, tapering to 1/8 of an inch wide at reverse. As it was never worn and lay in the sea for over a century, it is as crisp and immaculate as the day it was made. Items of Australian colonial jewellery are extremely limited in number compared to the prodigious output from British jewellers in the 19th century. They don't come to the market often, especially rings. This Australian ring, with such a poignant history, is exceptionally rare.

sold

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19th century advertisement for passage on the Royal Charter.

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Loss of the Royal Charter [National Maritime Museum]

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Christie's 1993 sale catalogue - included with the ring.

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