Frobisher's Black "Gold"
Photograph by Jonathan Dore; © 2002 Jonathan Dore
The curious story of a load of stones
Martin Frobisher was born in Altofts, Yorkshire in 1535. He first came to fame as the captain of a voyage which discovered what was for a time thought to be the entrance to a passage to Cathay in the coast of Baffin Island in 1576. After an altercation with the local Inuit, whom Frobisher deeply distrusted, Frobisher sailed back to England, bringing with him an Inuk hostage (who later died) and a piece of what he called "black earth" -- a black, unusually heavy stone found in outcroppings in the area. As an afterthought, the stone was assayed, and proclaimed (falsely, or in error) to contain a considerable quantity of gold. Frobisher returned in 1577 with more ships, and in 1587 with a fleet of fifteen vessels meant both to gather more ore and colonize the land that Queen Elizabeth had dubbed, somewhat wryly, Meta Incognita.
Unfortunately for Frobisher, further assays of the black "ore" proved decisively that its gold content, if any, was exceedingly small. Some of the black rock washed up on the coast of Ireland after the wreck of one of his ships, and a goodly pile of the rest of it was frugally re-used in building a wall in Dartford, Kent -- a wall which still stands today.
You can read the full story of the black stones in Robert Ruby's excellent new book Unknown Shore: The Lost History of England's Arctic Colony (click here to read my review of this book, which includes an interview with the author).
A second page of images shows the wall as it looks today in the modern town of Dartford -- many thanks to Jonathan Dore, a regular contributor to the Arctic Book Review, for taking these images and giving permission for their use.