Monday, December 12

Whose Silver?

1739 wasn’t a very good year for the Dutch East India Company. That was the year in which they lost the Rooswijk, which sank in the English Channel during a fierce storm. The vessel, laden with silver bullion, was bound for Batavia (modern Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies, where the silver was to be converted into Javanese currency. Both the silver and the entire 250-member crew were lost when the ship sank more than a quarter century ago.

Last year, an English sports diver located the wreck, and the Dutch government was contacted. Archaeologists went to work, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of silver was salvaged from the ocean floor. The discovery was only recently made public, after the bullion was officially handed over to Holland’s Finance Minister, Joop Wijn, at a ceremony in Plymouth Harbor aboard a frigate of the Royal Dutch Navy, the De Ruyter.

I think that one need ask, however, whether or not the Dutch are the rightful owners of this treasure. Were they back in 1739? The silver had all been mined in Spanish-ruled Mexico. It had been carried by Spanish vessels from Mexico to Cadiz. In Spain, it was sold to the Dutch and shipped to Holland, where it was melted down and converted into silver bars bearing the imprint of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company.

Now I love Holland as much as the next homosexual, but it seems to me that the people of Mexico are the rightful owners of the silver, considering that it was taken illegally from Mexico by Spanish conquistadors. While, admittedly, the Dutch East India Company paid for the silver back in 1739, they purchased stolen property, wealth that had been looted from the New World.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the Mexican government protests. I hope that they do.

Pictured is Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), who lead the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which began in 1519.

1 Comments:

Anonymous John said...

The sad thing is that this silver, which is valuable, will sell as a rare salvage collectible selling for many times the worth of the silver, and the descendants of the original owners of the silver will get nothing. I hope the silver can be returned to Mexico but unfortunately it won't happen.

6:03 PM  

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