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South African Coin Hoards

Pierre H. Nortje (June 2024)


Coin and treasure hoards in old-world countries like England are not rare occurrences and have been recorded as far back as the 1600s. However, with the advent of the hobby of metal detecting in the second part of the previous century, hoards are being discovered at an even more accelerating rate than in the past. The coins found date as far back as Celtic & Roman times, as shown by a metal detectorist recently finding a hoard of Celtic gold staters in Buckinghamshire dating back 2173 years

The so-called Cunetio Hoard consisting of 54 951 Roman bronze coins found in England in 1976

However, coin hoards in South Africa are an infrequent occurrence and over the years not many have been recorded. What is disturbing is that in those few instances where coins have been unearthed buried together, very little is known about the hoard with the details vague. The coins themselves are seldom described.


Here are a few examples as noted by Eric Rosenthal in his booklet From Barter to Barclays (1968: 10): -

“In 1898 a number of old coins, many of French origin, dating from about 1805, were found while some labourers were preparing a sewer in Cape Town. Further afield, on the banks of the Great Fish River near Cradock, fifteen Netherlands Guilders were picked up, the dates ranging from 1687 to 1785. Many similar instances could be recounted. A very fine haul was made at Riversdale in the early 1930s when a farmer came upon a pot full of old coins in the veld.”

In this paper, the author will document instances of known coin hoards in South Africa where some information is recorded about the coins themselves. Please note that these exclude shipwreck coin finds, and only hoards found inland.

The Kruger Millions

A hoard of gold coins is reputed to have been taken from the ZAR Mint in Pretoria and hidden in the Eastern Transvaal (currently Mpumalanga province) by the Boers in 1900 to avoid it being captured by the advancing British during the Anglo-Boer War. Rumours and legends about the hoard started soon after the war ended in 1902 and continue up till this day, but no concrete evidence about finding any of the coins exists.


However, buried ZAR gold has been found throughout the years, but who buried them is not known e.g. two cases containing gold bars were unearthed in 1911 when the foundations of the Union buildings were being dug at Meintjieskop in Pretoria (Lawrence Green: 1980: 232). Four thousand pounds worth of gold were found and the two men who discovered it received half of the treasure being £1000 each.

Eric Rosenthal (1951:71) writes of a much larger hoard of 16 000 Kruger Ponde that was found in 1949 by a farmworker named Samuel M’taung. It was discovered in a hole near a bridge on the farm Botmansbank near Frankfort in the Free State. The finder was charged with theft but was found innocent by Justice de Beer.


A few years later, a local historian, Mr. F.A. Steytler, speculated on the origin of the hoard “After the fall of Bloemfontein in the Boer War, Vrede (a town 76km from Frankfurt) became the temporary capital of the Republic. Mr C Barends, who was there at the time, recalled that a large sum of Transvaal gold was sent to the Orange Free State government and was lost when Vrede was evacuated. It seems that Samuel M’taung found it.” 


The town of Frankfort (currently named Namahadi) was completely burned down by English troops during the Anglo-Boer War. The war was disastrous for the town; according to one contemporary source, there was ′, not a house or tree′ remaining after the destruction. The following picture shows the destroyed Dutch-Reformed Church building (1901).

Treasure inside a Crocodile

One of the strangest coin hoards found in South Africa is recorded by Rosenthal (1951: 52) who tells the story of three hunters that shot a crocodile on 20 August 1913 on the farm Coopersdal near Komatipoort in the Eastern Transvaal. When the natives cut the reptile open, they found 25 gold sovereigns in its stomach, three of them were ponde of the ZAR and the remainder from the reigns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. The most recent date was 1909.


What was very interesting about the coins was that they lost about 18% of their weight and were highly polished due to the crocodile’s digestive system.


The picture on the right shows a crocodile shot in the Eastern Transvaal in 1910. Source: The Heritage Portal

Highwaymen’s Loot

Rosenthal also tells a story of how a native boy in 1935 led ploughing oxen on the farm Goedverwagting near Chrissiesmeer, also situated in the old Eastern Transvaal. He came upon two gold sovereigns, and soon after four more gold coins were found. This set off a treasure hunt by local farmworkers who found a large but undisclosed sum of coins.

The owners of the farm, the brothers Grobler, were informed of the hoard and demanded the coins be handed over to them. They were given 28 Kruger ponde and 16 half-crowns from the reign of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. A subsequent police investigation revealed that locals have spent large amounts of cash in the adjacent towns and £421 in cash was collected. Of this, £44 was in gold, £200 in “current” silver and almost £6 in “old” silver. There was also £171 in paper money.”

The origin of the hoard was then found to be a highway robbery that took place 23 years earlier in October 1912 when a gang of robbers held up one of the last mail coaches plying in the Transvaal. The driver was overpowered and the gang made off with a few large boxes, the one containing £2500 in gold and £100 in silver, while the other had eight bags of the National Bank which held £50 in silver.


Only one robber was caught but refused to say where the gang had buried the boxes. On his release from jail, a family member had dug up the hoard and reburied it but was unable to retrieve it due to blindness.

Picture right: Sir Arthur Weir Mason who presided over the case

Source: Wikipedia

Durban Treasure

In November 1919, a group of municipal workmen was lowering the level of Mitchell Crescent near the Greyville racecourse.  One of their spades struck what one eye-witness described as “a seam of gold sovereigns”. Within a few minutes, the spot was filled with a frenzied crowd digging for treasure. By the time the police arrived, the cache had been cleaned out. A police investigation followed and “only” 75 gold sovereigns were recovered from some of the labourers. The coins all dated to the Victorian era so they must have been buried for at least 20 years; however, the original owner was never found.  

Greyville racecourse in the old days with Mitchell Crescent in the background where the treasure was found.

Source: Facts about Durban (Blog) 29 June 2010.

The Pondoland Hoard


The author has written extensively on this hoard in a two-part paper available on the Western Cape Numismatic Society website.

To summarize:


In October 1897, G.F. Hill from the British Museum wrote an article in The Classical Review (Vol. 11, No. 7 pp. 365-367) regarding an astonishing find made approximately four years earlier of ancient bronze Greek and Roman coins at Fort Grosvenor in Pondoland... “The site of what had once been a Bantu hut was being excavated in search of treasure, when, some ten feet below the surface, the diggers came upon a calabash which crumbled away in their hands”.


Hill wrote that the coins ended up in the collection of Mr. Thomas Cook, a businessman from East Pondoland. Three of the coins were from the Ptolemaic Empire, an ancient Greek state based in Egypt from 305 BC until the death of Cleopatra in 30 AD. Hill identified these three coins as dating from 305 to 204 BC. Bridging the centuries were Roman coins that date from a much later era, specifically the period following the monetary reform of Emperor Diocletian in 296 AD until the end of the reign of Maximinus II in 313 AD. Thus, there is at least a 500-year gap between the Greek and Roman coins found in the same clay pot.

The coin on the left hails from the reign of Ptolemy II (284 - 246 BC) and on the right is a Roman Follis of Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305). The last mentioned is the same coin type as the one described by Hill. He also describes coins from the reigns of Maximinus I (286 – 305), Constantius I (293 -305 AD) Galeria Valeria (308-311 AD) and Maximinus II (310 to 313 AD).

The author speculates (but has no concrete proof) that the coins were originally in possession of a passenger on the Grosvenor that ran aground on the Pondoland coast on 4 August 1782.

The Foundation Stone Hoard of the Nuwe Kerk, Cape Town 1833.

Fifty-seven years ago, in 1967, die Nuwe Kerk, a church building of the Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town, was demolished. An engraved silver plaque on the foundation stone proclaimed in Latin that it had been laid by the British Governor at the Cape of Good Hope, Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole on 20 April 1833 during the reign of King William IV.


When the foundation stone was removed during the demolition, a collection of 20 coins was found with other contemporary articles such as a newspaper. The late Dr. Frank Mitchell who examined this hoard, speculated “… that all the coins so carefully placed under the stone were pieces which were familiar, and presumably in circulation, in Cape Town at the time.

The hoard included 9 pieces from Great Britain, 8 from the Netherlands and 3 from other countries. The picture on the right was published in 1986 in Numismatic Essays – a publication by members of the South African Numismatic Society. It shows some of the coins found in the hoard.

In a similar vein: The ceremony at which the foundation stone of the new National Bank Building and the Mint in Pretoria was laid occurred on 6 July 1892. Pretoriana No.72, Dec. 1975 reports that a leaden casket containing some documents, newspapers, a £1 banknote, a gold £1 and £½ and a silver 5-shilling, was concealed behind the cornerstone. President Kruger’s speech during the ceremony referred to the coins by saying “… die muntstukke van hierdie Republiek wat tot hede uitgegee is” (…the coins of this Republic issued to date). From this statement, we can surmise that the other Z.A.R. denominations from the penny up to the half-crown, were not yet available in the Republic.

The foundation stone (cornerstone) was later incorporated into the General Post Office building. (Author’s note: This is one of a few examples of a hoard that we knew existed, but are not sure what happened to it. Possibly, when the coins were discovered when the original stone was moved, the items were donated to the National Museum in Pretoria).

More recent hoards

Very little has been written of recent coin hoards found in South Africa. The author has been the editor of Treasure Talk, the newsletter for South African metal detecting enthusiasts for many years, but has not heard, with one exception, of any significant coin hoards ever being found.

The one exception is a find by metal detectorist Bobby Chamberlain of Port Elizabeth a few years ago. Here is the story:-

Like Cape Town in the old days, Port Elizabeth had a huge problem with drifting sands. In order to remove the threat of these moving dunes to the young town of Port Elizabeth, plans were devised in the last 1800’s to stabilise them. At first, a steam train was used to dump the town’s garbage on the dunes and one will still find areas where pieces of old bottles, plates and other objects can be found.  At the beginning of the 1900s, the area was stabilised by planting Australian wattles such as Rooikrans and Port Jackson and Eucalyptus trees to start a commercial forest.


The main sand bypass system, known as Driftsands, covered the area between Schoenmakerskop and Summerstrand. Here are two pictures taken 50 years apart of the area.


Picture left: Aerial photo from 1930 showing Noordhoek dunes going right across Cape Recife. Picture right:  Aerial photo from 1971 showing how the dunes had receded. Source:

This area provides a rich picking area for local metal detectorists and many wonderful finds have been made here, including military items of interest like badges, buttons and bullets dating back to Victorian times. The author has been told by Lukas van der Merwe, a local historian and owner of one of the biggest private museums in South Africa, that no less than 23 gold coins have been found on the site but are usually scattered and found in different locations in the area.


However, when Bobby Chamberlain received a good signal in his earphones in October 2020, he would never have dreamt what he would unearth a couple of centimetres under the soil …

Bobby with eight gold coins from the Victorian era found in the same hole being seven sovereigns and one half-sovereign.

Our readers are encouraged to visit Lukas van der Merwe’s treasure-hunting museum on his farm Mount Ingwe near Patensie in the Eastern Cape. Here is a short video of this fascinating museum.

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