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Cardiff’s Lost Fortune | John F. Wake

The following narrative has altered names, locations and dates to protect the search for the lost fortune. Nevertheless, the tale as told is ostensibly true.

Back in the 1870s, a new steamer entered Cardiff Docks by the name of the Weasel. It was owned by a railway company, then sub-let to another, then once again to a London agent. He again sublet to another agent to use. The Weasel was a fast ship that could also carry a few passengers. But in Cardiff Docks she was loaded with coal, on the instruction of a French agent.
The Captain of the ship did not stay aboard but frequented and stayed a couple of overnights at the Angel Hotel. He was an affable man who spent his money quite openly and was known as a man who would buy many drinks for others.

Whilst the Captain was in the finer hostelries of Cardiff, he met up with a Spaniard, who very quickly joined him on the Weasel as a Subrecargo (Spanish for man taking charge of commercial affairs). Strange things were going on at the ship. The ship’s pantry, the Captain’s cabin were being filled with very expensive provisions and a large quantity of expensive bottled alcohol, including fine wines, port and whiskies. When the ship left port its Cardiff pilot stated afterwards to friends that things were very unusual on board. The crew were happy and extraordinary in their attitude to life.

The ship then veered off course, did not go to France with its cargo of coal, but steamed down along the southern Spainto a tiny port. The subrecargo got off and the name of the ship was changed. She was painted too. The coal was kept on board and used, as if it was bunker coal, to drive the ship as it travelled between port and port. The name of the ship was changed often too. The ship was now travelling around the world and to all intents and purposes, stolen! The ship reached New Zealand where it was finally seized, and the captain and crew arrested. The owners back in the UK claimed their ship back. It was an act of piracy and the crew were jailed.

The Weasel made it from the UK to New Zealand. Photo credit: David Dibert

During the following year the ship, and its story, was told often back in Cardiff but then, as with all stories, especially prior to any form of media, it was forgotten.

Fast forward many years. A very rich man and a very well-known man in Cardiff was in receipt of a communication by letter from a prisoner in Spain. The letters which were not easy to comprehend seemed to say that a prisoner wanted help to recover a huge fortune secreted in Cardiff. The letter was shown to the Chief Constable who immediately dissed it as deception. The top Magistrate in Cardiff though took a different view. Communications were sent to Spain. After some requests for money for his information met with negative answers the Spaniard said this:

He was many years ago a trusted confidant of a Spanish hereditary noble (similar to many Royals in England). He was given a large amount of a physical fortune in boxes which he was to hide somewhere in England for temporary safekeeping, get it away from Spain! He got to London and decided to steal the fortune himself. He made his way to Bristol and then to Cardiff. Here he was, in the centre of Cardiff, with a fortune. He got it into the Angel hotel and kept it in his room. He then had a communication from a friend in Spain who told him that he was discovered as a thief, and a team were coming over to get him. He decided to hide the vast fortune by burying it. He hired himself a horse and cart and made his way to a wood on the northern side of Cardiff and securely buried the trunk. (or just the treasures within – not clear in the research).

Whilst he had been staying at the Angel he had met a Captain of a ship and with negotiation joined the ship as a subrecargo en route to France. They decided to appropriate the ship and made their way down to a port in the south of Spain (see above).

Subsequently, letters were received by the Cardiff businessman proving the story. Official letters rubber stamped by the prison authorities and the nobleman. It was noted during the months that followed, that three men who were digging, had been observed in various parts of a wood (named) in the north of Cardiff. The men could not speak English well and were said to be of Spanish extraction. It is believed nothing was found then. The Cardiff businessman was sent a half map, which had been zigzagged, with one side missing. Also a rough drawn sketch of a building with a straight line coming away from it into a wood.

Over the years the whole story melted in obscurity. The other half of the maps were not found, nor the exact location. The Spanish prisoner died, and the location of the fortune died with him. The wooded place mentioned in the research is unlikely ever to be built upon.

In the 150 years or so that have passed, urbanisation has encroached nearby, but stopped well clear of the wood. And that is the way it appears it will stay. So, if the story is worthy of credence – which it appears to be – out there somewhere, a fortune lies buried.

There is another comprehensive story relative to this ship. It involves a call at Cardiff but not any mention of a fortune. There are similarities, though, which are being looked into.

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Cardiff’s Lost Fortune | John F. Wake

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