Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices is the name of a new exhibition recently opened at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The stunning range of 300 exhibits cover the exploration and trade in the 'Age of Spices'. Since I was a child I have heard of the 'spice islands' but had no idea where they were. These small islands grew the richest products in the world in the 16th century. Banda, Ambon and Ternate are now part of the Moluccas in Indonesia, and the five small islands of Ternate were the only place where cloves were grown at that time. Sailors could smell the cloves from 10 miles away out at sea. Traders used to travel overland and by sea to obtain the spices.
Since the time of Magellan, ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to buy the cloves, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon that could not be found anywhere else. The Spanish and Portuguese were the main traders for 100 years. In 1592 the English pirate Raleigh captured a Portuguese ship and took it to England. The cargo was worth half a million pounds which was equal to half of England's Treasury in this one small ship. In 1605 Dutch warships went to capture the Portuguese ports and drove the Portuguese out. For the next 100 years the Dutch had the monopoly and their trade produced the great wealth of Holland. All of these fascinating facts and more were shared at an enjoyable symposium on the first day of a very interesting program of public talks that run through out the exhibition. Treasure Ships is on until the end of August before heading to the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth.