In 1913, above Sirius Cove on Sydney Harbour, a new zoo was under construction….Taronga Park Zoo.

Constructing the zoo above Sirius Cove

One of the many labourers was Herman Thiel.  Thiel was German born, but had been in Australia since 1877, when he was only a child. The details of his life were sketchy, but he said he had been placed in a Queensland orphanage  at about eight  years of age. He was illiterate until he taught himself to read as an adult.

Thiel was paid for his labour at the zoo site  in gold sovereigns, which he paid into the Government Bank in Mosman.  However, a few days before  war was declared in 1914 he panicked. He had never bothered to become an Australian citizen, so technically he was an enemy alien.  Terrified that his savings might be impounded he withdrew the sovereigns and buried them in a pickle bottle  at Sirius Cove.

Thiel returned  to the spot in 1924 after working as a miner in  Queensland, He dug up the bottle and removed a half sovereign ‘for luck’, then  reburied it.  Now that  seems a very odd thing to do, and it was something he would bitterly regret.  His explanation was that a bank manager would be suspicious of where the sovereigns had come from. Also, as a German national Thiel had been required to report to police stations throughout  the war and  he remained wary of officialdom.

The Sirius Cove sovereigns.

The pickle jar of gold sovereigns.

When he came back again twelve months later he found another  casual job at Taronga Zoo.   Upset by his treatment as an alien, he intended to return to Germany, but when he walked down to the site of his buried treasure at Sirius Cove he simply couldn’t find the bottle.  He had befriended the head keeper of the zoo,  a very decent fellow called Charlie Camp. Thiel trusted Mr Camp, and told him  about his fruitless search.

Charlie Camp, who helped Herman Thiel claim the gold sovereigns

Mr Camp was full of sympathy and helped in the search. However, the sovereigns could not be found and  eventually Theil had to give up.

In 1929 he  was at Southampton enroute  to Germany  when he received word (probably from Charlie Camp) that the bottle had been located by a boy scout called Jack Spain. Back he came to Sydney to claim the sovereigns.  Fortunately Charlie Camp testified that the money belonged to Thiel.

At one point the Coroner, Jack Spain, Mr Thiel and solicitors for the various parties  made a field trip to  Sirius Cove.

The court's field trip to Sirius Cove.

In the following photo, Charlie Camp is at far left. Next to him  is Herman Thiel and at far right is Thiel’s solicitor Mr. Badham.


Charlie Camp, Herman Theil and Theil's Solicitor.

Waiting outside the court.

Thiel had marked on a map the location at Sirius Cove where he remembered burying the bottle.  Meanwhile Jack Spain pointed out the spot where he had found it….. only yards from Thiel’s cross.

Mr Thiel then found another  convincing  piece of evidence; the old pick he had used to re-bury the sovereigns in 1924. I think the moral of this story should be, ‘Use a bank passbook to keep your fortune safe, not a pick.’


Herman Thiel, claimant of the Sirius Cove gold sovereigns.

Oh course poor old Thiel had incurred some heavy costs by now, There was his solicitor’s fee plus thirty quid in government expenses, not to mention travelling back from Southampton etc. His precious savings were dwindling away.

The man did himself no favours by being reluctant to offer a reward to Jack Spain. In fact he was so fed up the drawn out  process that he said he wished the boy had never handed in the sovereigns.

After some pointed comments  about Australian fair play, Thiel said he would  give  a reward of £10. Coroner  May then adjourned the court to in his words, ‘…allow a Britisher to explain what was the decent thing to do’.  May thought the amount should be a third of the value of the sovereigns, but £50  was agreed on.  The Coroner wound up the inquest with some harsh words for Mr Thiel. Actually, there seemed to be some lingering anti-German feeling on the part of  May and the Crown Solicitor. Both remarked that under the Versailles Peace Treaty, the money really belonged to the Australian Government.

The Coroner said he did not think Thiel came out of the inquiry creditably. He was satisfied he was giving £50 to Spain against his wishes.   (Tweed Daily Dec, 11 1930)

It was decided that as the claimant had been in Australia almost all his life and that the amount was now so small, the government would not take any of the money. How magnanimous! After continually refusing to accept notes for the remains of his cache, Thiel was paid in gold.

At the end of the inquiry someone suggested he  give half a sovereign to Jack Spain as a memento, but he pretended not to hear.

Young Jack was by then an apprentice carpenter. He went straight back to work after the inquest and his proud mother reported that he intended to spend the reward on to0ls for his trade. He was definitely the hero of the whole affair and a great ambassador for the scouting movement.







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