The Golconda.

This should be a good post to christen the new Research page.

It all started when I read Julia Lovell’s Opium War in 2012, In honesty my main interest was in the first conflict, so once I finished that part, roughly halfway through, I put it aside until I developed more of an urgent interest in the second. When I finish it I’ll review it for you all, but the point of this little rant is to show you a mad coincidence that lead to a fascinating story.
While reading about the siege of Canton I was fascinated by the Sanyuanli incident where a company of British soldiers were surrounded and pinned down in a Paddy field by thousands of Chinese peasant militia. Lovell was a bit vague but after some digging I found out that these troops were first of all, not European, but actually the 37th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry, my brief investigation ended there, and I forgot about the subject until March 2014.

One of my other interests is Marine salvage/archeology, now don’t get me wrong I’m not spending my spare time diving wrecks or anything but who isn’t interested in treasure hunting? By chance I stumbled onto a really cool TV series uploaded to YouTube that had aired on the BBC in 2000, narrated by the ever villainous Ian McShane. It was called Journey’s to the Bottom of the Sea, I wasn’t originally going to watch the one called Priceless Cargo, but curiosity got the better of me and I watched with interest as salvager Steve Sargison attempted to raise Japanese Gold from a WW2 wreck. In the episode my attention had been caught when Sargison, who was originally searching for a Spanish treasure ship, ran into the wreck of a completely different vessel off the Cays of the Penagatan Atoll in the Philippines. It was the wreck of a EIC ship called Golconda, this was established by finds of belt buckles, musket balls, musket butt plates and trigger guards, the belt buckle identified the unit as one of the Madras regiments of the East India Company. These mixed with a musket butt plate with an inscribed GR (Grenadiers) identified the unit as the 37th MNI. I don’t remember whether I connected the two at the time or not, but I remember finding it interesting enough that I logged it away in some closet in the back of my mind.
Last year on a whim I began looking into their story again via the Victorian Wars Forum, but I didn’t find out much, five months later I restarted the investigation through the same site, in the scant hope of discovering something, and suddenly floods of info began pouring in, with hitherto forgotten stories, records and titbits. Then the story of Captain Duff, who suddenly went from company captain to battalion commander after a shipwreck drowned their Lt Colonel, intrigued me.

The story of a sunken EIC ship carrying Sepoy’s rang a very faint bell and following the chimes I began searching for references relating to transports that the 37th used on the voyage to China. I struck gold, and found a name, Golconda.
Then bam! I remembered the video, but it had been so long ago that I couldn’t remember the name of the Sepoy ship in it. I promptly searched for the series online. With a palpitating heart and nervous fingers ready to search again or give up on the idea, I tried to remember which episode of the series I had seen the Sepoy wreck on, my first try failed, in my mind I could remember the wide companionable face of a moustachioed man that slightly resembled an 80’s TV character, this was the face of Sargison, whose name I’d forgotten but I knew was diving for Japanese WW2 treasure, this face was my only lead but after a while I found his name and began searching through the video, dubiously I pressed the link and slid the slider along until I saw an image of a pistol being brought up from the water, I pressed play and suppressed a whoop of triumph as the gravely voice of McShane enunciated the words 37th Madras Native Infantry, and their ship, Golconda.

What was so fun was all the contemporary documents considered the ship lost at sea at an unspecified date, and Surgisson and his experts knew the basics but never mentioned the details, names, numbers, events etc, and I got to piece them together. Now I know that the final resting place of the Golconda, and the 3-450 men sailing on her, is actually below the crystal waters of the Sulu sea, just off the tiny Philippine Atoll of the Panagatan cay west of Malay, and I also know a few of their names.
All the real credit of course goes to Sargison and the experts that found the wreck and ID’d the find’s, but after stumbling over the story of doomed Colonel Isaac of the 37th MNI and his men, presumed lost forever, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had discovered something as well.

The Pin marks the sapphire dot of the Panagatan Cay were the Golconda was found.
The Pin marks the sapphire dot of the Panagatan Cay were the Golconda was found.

Check out the videos here, they are good, and maybe one day someone will go back and unravel the secrets of what happened to the Golconda and its men.

There’s still some research to do but I hope that gives you a taster of an adventure to come, the story of the 37th Madras Native infantry and the Opium War.

Thanks for reading.
See you again for another Adventure in Historyland


10 Replies to “The Golconda.”

  1. outstanding find – well done for piecing together the story, the basis i feel for perhaps a historical novel based around a true story. in any case fascinating – ill be reviewing u tube links on treasure and wreck mysteries. nice work

  2. Interesting article! My 5x great Uncle, Daniel Fallon Collett, was on the ship when it went down. In my notes for him I have put “Drowned in a typhoon on board the ship Golconda in the China Sea. The Golconda sailed from Madras on August 20th 1840 with around 350 men (including four British officers, five Indian officers and two British NCOs) plus a crew estimated at 150. After stopping in Singapore for two days, she set sail for China and is believed to have perished during a typhoon on September 24th 1840.”, but unfortunately I din’t note my source!

    1. Great to hear from you! What was you’re 5th Great Uncle doing aboard, was he a soldier, sailor or civilian? I’d love to know more about him.
      My main sources are these books if you are interested. I lose my sources all the time.
      Here’s the other.
      Thanks again because this has helped allot, in finding out how many sailors were aboard, and how long they stopped at Singapore before the tragedy.

      All the best.

      1. Hi Josh,

        Many thanks for the links. I’ve not yet found out why Daniel was on the Golconda or what he did for a living. The Collett family were from Bombay and I’ve never come across any other connection with Madras. I think I originally discovered his death from Chancery Records J4 5847 affidavit no. 1312 which was deciding what to do with his share of his inheritance from his fathers will.

        If I find out anything more I will definitely let you know.


  3. I was one of the divers working with Steve sargison on the wreck, Steve passed away unfortunately a couple of years ago due to illness, please contact me if you require more details?

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that. Thanks for the offer, it was very exciting making this connection and if I ever need more help regarding this I’ll be sure to get in touch. Please let me know if you hear of anything happening regarding the Golconda. I take it I was right in identifying this wreck as Golconda and got the position right?


  4. Josh, it is now 2018 and I don’t know if this site is still active but I was fascinated to stumble across your blog here with your piece on the Golconda. My great-great grandfather, Duncan Macpherson, was a surgeon with the 37 MNI and was with them during the Opium War where he was wounded by the explosion of a Chinese mine. Very shortly after the war he wrote a book called “The War in China” that was well-received and went into three editions. You can find it digitized online. Here is an extract from the book that will interest you:

    (*Extract from DM”s book, The War in China, p. 57-58: “All hope of the ill-fated ‘Golconda’ was now at an end. With reference to this subject it was remarked, in a Bengal journal—‘the last account that we are ever likely to hear of the unfortunate Golconda is now given. She was seen in the China Seas, all well, on the 18th September, 1840. Soon afterwards came on the terrific gale, in which she is supposed to have perished, with one half the officers and men of the 37th Regiment Madras Native Infantry. This vessel was unseaworthy, and was know to be such before she was engaged. No conscientious man would have risked the lives of others in her.’ It will be recollected, that it was on the 22nd September that the Thetis was dismasted and so nearly lost. On that date, too, it is supposed the Golconda must have foundered. This is an awful warning of the results of engaging inferior class vessels for transport service.”

    Your post about the divers finding the ship fascinated me as it is the missing piece of the puzzle.



    1. Mike, the site is still active and going along at my haphazard pace. I’m extremely grateful for your thoughts, and with the Golconda 37th project currently on a back burner, I’m supremely excited about your relative and the source he provided. Thanks so much.


      1. Hi Josh. It is now October 2021. I thought I would get an alert if there was a reply to my original post on your blog site but apparently I was wrong and hence never saw you reply–until now. Just shows what a techno-ignoramus I am. Anyway, hope you are well and surviving these wretched years of COVID. I thought I would add one additional detail to my comments above. The memory of the sinking of the Golconda obviously stayed with my great-great grandfather for the rest of his life–as well it should as he lost half his regiment when the ship sank and, but for chance, he could well have been on board himself. He later went on to obtain a modicum of fame during the Crimean War when he was appointed Inspector General of Hospitals to the Turkish Contingent–a 20,000 man Turkish army with British officers. It was during this period he became friends with Florence Nightingale and also found time to do archaeological digs in and around the ancient town of Kertch on the eastern tip of the Crimean peninsula (and later wrote a well-received volume about it called Antiquities of Kertch). After the war he returned to Madras where he was appointed Inspector General of Hospitals for the Madras Presidency. In this capacity he carried out a tour of inspection of all the medical facilities within the Presidency, including Burma, Singapore and the Andaman Islands. In his private journal (in my possession) he makes the following reference for June 3, 1861, when he is leaving Callagauk Island on board a steamer called the Settang. The island is just off the Myanamar coast.

        “Get under weigh in the Settang on 3rd June and encounter before we are many hours out the severest gale I have ever seen next to that which swallowed up the Golcondah with 500 troops on board when proceeding with us to the First China War in 1840. The little Sittang behaved nobly. Only 100 horse power and 140 tons burden she held her nose to the teeth of the storm in right good style and without shipping a drop. Well for us she did so for close on our lee was an extensive sand bank on which the wind was doing its best to drive us. Captain Rowe, our skillful skipper, managed the craft famously. The storm lasted 12 hours in force and we carried away the greater part of one of our paddle boxes. One great obstruction was a heavy lighter at stern which, during the strength of the gale, impeded our movements and threatened to break loose.”

        Best regards, Mike

  5. So interesting to discover the wreck is found. My ancestor was Captain of The Golconda, John Bonner Neeve of the 47th Madras Indian Army. I discovered his fate from British Newspaper Archives, published in Jun 1841 entitled ‘Probable Loss of The Ship Golconda’. It mentions Golconda was the head-quarter of the regiment. The 1100 strong regiment were on Thetis, Minerva and Sophia and Golconda. ‘There is no doubt she foundered in a typhoon which occurred about the time that she must have been in the China Seas……in this frightful calamity’
    John was married with a young son.

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