Silver-gilt tankard

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Essential information

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National Maritime Museum, Second floor, Nelson Navy Nation gallery

Captain William Pierrepont knew how to drink in style. He created this tankard after capturing two Spanish frigates loaded with bullion from Mexico.

This silver-guilt tankard is set with eleven Spanish gold pieces dating between 1723 and 1799. The coins were part of the treasure taken by Pierrepont when he was commander of the Naiad. Between them theThetis and Santa Brigida were carrying treasure with a value of £600,000 [over £20 million in modern terms].

On 15 October 1799, Pierrerpont was cruising in the bay of Biscay when he sighted the two Spanish frigates. He at once gave chase, and early next morning was joined by another ship - the Ethalion. Two further British ships arrived on the scene after day broke. The two Spaniards then separated and took different courses. The Ethalion pursued the Thetis, passing the Santa Brigida and firing into her. At 11.30, the Ethalion brought the Thetis to action, and after a running fight of an hour captured her. The Santa Brigida doubled Cape Finisterre, closely pursued by the Triton. The latter struck a reef, but was quickly got off, and at 07.00 brought the Spaniard to action. At the same time the Alcmene, steering so as to cut off the Santa Brigida from the shore, engaged her on the other side. After a furious resistance, the Santa Brigida hauled down her flag in defeat.

The Spanish frigates and their captors arrived at Plymouth on the 21 and 22 October. The treasure was removed to London, though the captors got their own share of the plunder (distributed according to rank: Captains, £40,730 18s. each; Lieutenants, £5091 7s. 3d; warrant-officers, £2468 10s. 9d; Midshipmen, £791 17s.; seamen and Marines, £182 4s 9d).

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