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Norwegian Historical Shipwreck Assosiation
The SAMSON treasure

 

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Rekonstruert bilde etter konstruksjons tegningene

Merchant, consul and shipowner

The shipowner, who had SAMSON built, was called Daniel Isaachsen. He was born in Kristiansand in 1744 as a son of Isaac Danielsen Smed and he died in 1813.

Sometimes, he used his family's old name, Willoch, as his middle name. The Willoch family of to-day descend directly from Daniel Isaachsen.

He lived in Kristiansand where he was a Batavian consul and ran a large commercial house. Furthermore, he had several ships engaged in the Danish/Norwegian West Indies trade. Towards the end of the 18th century trade became more and more lucrative and more and larger ships were needed. He applied to the Ministry of Trade for permission to build a so-called "defence ship" for the West Indies trade.

SAMSON is born

His application was approved on his agreeing to have the ship built according to drawings made by Captain Henrik von Gerner (1742-87) of the Royal Dockyard in Copenhagen. Gerner was one of the most competent naval architects of that time. In 1772, he was appointed factory manager at the Royal Dockyard in Copenhagen by the Danish-Norwegian navy. There he designed a long series of the best warships and defence vessels at that time.

The constructional drawings for SAMSON were sent to Daniel Isaachsen dated the 10 March and the 5 July 1780. Already on the 23 November of that year, the ship glided out from the building berth.

Built "of the best materials and as strongly built as any other ship in Norway". According to bill of measurement, the ship was of 95 commercelast burden and armed with 12 six pounds cannons. Master shipbuilder Thomas Natvig and his journeyman Andreas Aanonsen confirmed "so help them God and His holy words" that the brig-rigged ship SAMSON was built according to above-mentioned drawings.

Captain of a merchantman Randulff

Isaachsen had employed his brother-in-law as a captain, and he was to take SAMSON out for its maiden trip to Madeira, St. Thomas, St. Jan and St. Croix.

Randulff was born in 1733 as a son of a large farmer and acting bailiff in Lofoten and Vesterå len, Herman Pedersen Randulff, and he died in Calmar in Sweden in 1797. He came to Kristiansand and married Hartvine Christensen, a sister of Isaachsen's wife and a daughter of the alderman in town. As Daniel Isaachsen's brother-in-law and as a captain of high standing, Randulff quickly got into the fashionable set in the town. He was employed early by his brother-in-law as a captain of his largest ships, and therefore it was nothing new to Randulff when he stood out from Kristiansand on board a beautiful new ship bound for the West Indies.

SAMSON is put into permanent service in the West Indies trade

Years went by with changing success in the West Indies trade. On the 6 June 1785 he put out again bound for St. Croix. The cargo consisted of 20,000 bricks, pinewood planks, boarding, birchwood and mattocks, carpenter's axes, ship augers and hammers for the negro slaves on the islands. On the 17 August, he reaches St. Croix. It is in the middle of the worst hurricane period and on the 25 August it blows up for one of the most vigorous hurricanes in history. SAMSON and all the other ships in the port are swept far onto the shore and suffer heavy damages. Because of repairs and lack of return cargo, SAMSON stays at St. Croix right until the 1 august 1786. On that day, he appears before the court and confirms that he has loaded 366 vats, 4 barrels of sugar, 10 kegs of rum and one lot lignum vitae. He arrives at Copenhagen on the 25 October 1786.

After having been in port in Copenhagen for unloading and loading, Randulff weighs anchor for his home town Kristiansand. In the hold, there are some molasses barrels, tea, tar, soap, playing cards, butter, lignum vitae and various other goods and a large quantity of beverages (rum). In addition to a crew of 12 men, he also had two women aboard as passengers.

The disastrous encounter with the skerries of Homborsund

At noon on the 11 December 1786, they sight the Norwegian coast for the first time. It is high wind and heavy sea. They hoist the flag for a pilot, but without success. During the day, the storm is growing worse and at 7 o'clock p.m., they can just discern surfs to leeward in the darkness. They try to go about, but it is no use and they find themselves right in the middle of the surfs. With an enormous strength, SAMSON is thrown into the shallows. The ship strikes the ground violently and heels drastically sideways while the seas flood the ship. In despair, they fire off a gunshut for help, but the crack of the cannon drowns in the noise from the surfs and the wind.

Severely damaged, SAMSON is thrown off the skerry again but has now lost all its steerage way. They are turned round by the sea and flung in towards some shallows near an islet. Mercilessly the natural forces ravage the ship. It makes no difference that the ship is one of the strongest in Norway or that it is called SAMSON.

Solid oak ship timbers are shattered in an inferno of sound and spindrift while Randulff cries out orders to cut away the main mast "to lighten the ship a bit with the intention to save their lives, since they had nearly lost all hope for rescue as they saw no other resort." Immediately they cut off shrouds and stays for the main mast and get away so far as the mast falls overboard. Now, the ship comes loose a bit and is still thrown towards the shore. Everybody looks for rescue as they crawl around on the tilting deck on search for something to cling to. Some cry out for help whereas others invoke the Lord in despair.

Suddenly, they are thrown towards the shore by a huge wave so that the spritsail yard just reaches the bluff. They all crawl away for their lives towards the bowsprit to try to reach the spritsail yard, and their rescue, before it is too late. One by one and at the risk of their lives, they manage, "except for the cook who had to flee up in the front top mast where he remained". The day after, he was rescued, severely exhausted but alive.

The captain's protest

On Wednesday the 13 December 1786, an extraordinary sitting of the maritime and the foreigner's court is held in Anders Madsen's house on the Hombor island at Homborsund. The captain explains the course of events which is confirmed by the crew and "as they hoped to be saved they were telling the truth and stretching up their fingers". And they attach great importance to it that it was not due to any mistake on the part of the crew nor of the captain, "but it was only because of the heavy storm, the sea, the current and the weather which, in their opinion, no human power could foresee."

"Then, captain Niels Randulff stood forward again and lodged a general and most emphatic protest against the storm, the sea, the current and the weather for all of this unfortunate accident and the damage which he had, consequently, done to the ship, the fittings and the cargo. And he claimed full and complete damages with the insurer, or whom may else be responsible, for himself and the ship's crew, the shipowner, the charterers and for all persons concerned. Thus, he requested this to be a legal captain's protest and protest proceedings described by what was accorded by the court.

The salvaging is organized

In the days after, the crew and the captain work together with salvors from Homborsund to save all objects which the sea tears off from the wreck as time goes on. Almost nothing of the very vessel is to be saved, but at last, they manage to save part of the cargo. On the 3 January 1787, a public sale is held of the wreck with all its cargo and fittings eventhough it was on bottom of the sea. The shipowner and the captain had made a price of 500 rix-dollar which turned out to be too high. After a while, it was reduced to 250 rix-dollar but, nevertheless, they did not sell the wreck. The inhabitants in Homborsund thought that the chance for saving anything of any value was so little that this was not a bargain.

After some weeks, the captain and his crew leave the settlement whereas the salvors led by salvage foreman Nicolai Holst continue with the same strength. Not until the month of November do they consider themselves to have finished the salvaging. Totally, they have now saved 29 tar barrels, 30 barrels and one anker of molasses, 13 casks, 1 keg and 1 hogshead of beverages, 3 half-barrels of butter, 1 jar of oil, 1 box with a lady's hat, 1 box of tea, 1 trunk belonging to Mr. Nyrop, some shreds of linen, 3 planks of foreign wood and some firkins of soft soap. Most of the goods are sold by auction, but this only yields a few pence compared to the loss of the ship.

Back to our time.

Years passed by as slowly but surely SAMSON's shipwreck and resting-place were forgotten.

In 1972, we read for the first time about the ship in a local district history book. In short sentences, it was mentioned that a ship named SAMSON should have been shipwrecked at Homborsund. The ship should have been loaded with general cargo. We put in train a thorough investigation to find as many documents as possible about the vessel and the shipwreck. As the years went by, the number of documents increased. On the basis of that, it was possible to imagine clearly what had taken place on that fatal December evening in 1786. The exact position had not been specified anywhere and, thus, it was necessary with thorough preliminary works and studies of wind and direction of current before we could establish were the wreck ought to lie.

The first dive

Almost 200 years after SAMSON's fatal shipwreck, or more exactly on the 12 August 1984, the sun shone over the southern country idyll, Homborsund. The sea lay mirror-like, also at the skerries outside Homborya. We made ourselves ready to make the first dive at the place where we thought it most likely that the ship should lie. After only about 5 minutes under water, we found the first remainders of the ship. During the dive, we got proved that the sea and the shipworms had played havoc with the wreck during the 200 years it had been lying at the bottom, but there was no doubt, it was SAMSON we had found. All details and objects indicated that.

Cooperation with Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum (the Norwegian maritime museum).

Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum was notified of the find immediately. After a while the museum also made a registration dive for the wreck to chart the extent and the concentration of finds. Because of our close and long cooperation with the museum, we got a licence for further examination of the wreck. The finds, which were done, were just like we had expected, except that a great deal of silver coins started to turn up. That was not an everyday occurrence.

The dream of all divers comes true.

The 18 July 1988 was another rather exceptionally fine and calm day. As we slid down into the depth for a routine dive for the wreck, we had, in a way, expected to find some coins. The dive went normally and towards the end of the dive we found approx 10 silver coins. We were finishing the dive when we got a bit of a shock. Having the whole of the visual field in your diving mask covered by silver coins gives special effect!! In front of us lay thousands of silver coins. We grasped some black-oxidized silver coins and rubbed some of them carefully with our gloves. The black coating was detached gradually and the monograms of long since passed away monarchs appeared. 2 skilling, 12 skilling, 8 skilling, 24 skilling; there were lots of different, exiting coins. Part of them carried Kongsberg's sign. "Finally", we thought, "finally, it was our turn".

During the following days, the coins were raised after a licence had been obtained from Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum.

On the 5 May 1989, the divers received their part of the find. The distribution was 20% for the state and 80% for the divers.

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