15 bids on the Dead Man’s Chest?

AN ACTUAL Dead Man’s Chest will be going under the hammer at a Cotswolds antiques auction – a large trunk belonging to a British naval captain who met his end at the point of a Maltese sailor's knife.

Thomas Greaves was born in Belfast, and joined the Royal Navy in 1816 when he was just 14 years old.

In 1827 he was promoted to lieutenant and served aboard HMS Adventure, where he surveyed the Patagonian coastline and traded commodities for artefacts with the tribes of the Tierra del Fuego.

As lieutenant commander he surveyed the Mediterranean aboard HMS Mastiff and HMS Beacon.

In 1846 he was promoted to captain, and took charge of HMS Volage and HMS Ceylon.

And in 1853, at the age of 51, he was handed a new command – superintendent of ports at Malta.

But in 1856, tragedy struck.

He had ordered a boat belonging to Giuseppe Meli to be hauled up for 15 days for overcharging a passenger.

While hauled up, the planks of the boat dried rendering the vessel unseaworthy, and Meli's livelihood was ruined.

Seeking revenge he stabbed Captain Greaves in the abdomen, perforating his small bowel.

Greaves was treated by two local doctors who, unable to assess the depth of the wound, dressed it and sent him home.

At his residence he was visited by an English doctor and an army surgeon.

He died at his residence in Floriana on August 28 – three days after the attack.

Meli was arrested for murder, but during his trial his lawyer convinced the court that it was the negligent treatment administered to him by the doctors – rather than the knife – that killed Captain Greaves.

With the jury finding him guilty of severe bodily harm, the court sentenced Meli to nine years' hard labour.

The oak iron-bound trunk was made by E & W Seagrove, naval outfitters of Portsea, near Portsmouth.

It bears a brass plaque to the lid engraved Cpt Greaves RN.

Philip Allwood, who will conduct the auction of the trunk at Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester on Friday, February 22, said: "These sea chests are very popular with upcyclers who like to pop a glass top on them and use them as a decorative coffee table.

"They make quite a talking point – and this one benefits from a fascinating and well-documented backstory."

It carries an estimate of £100 to £150.

A full auction catalogue is available online at mooreallen.co.uk