Treasure hunting on Cocos Island
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03 Oct 2015 12:11 PM  

 Alan Hassell:

THE LURE OF PIRATE TREASURE 
 
By Alan Hassell ? Copyright 09/04/98
 
All rights reserved.
 
Queenscilff is a seaside holiday resort situated near the head of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia. One of the attractions it offers the public is the lure of Pirate treasure. According to local legend, the pirate Benito Bonito, entered Port Phillip Bay sometime in 1821 and concealed in a cave a treasure known as the Lost Loot of Lima. After doing so, he ventured out of the heads to continue his evil trade.
Waiting for him outside was a British Man-O-War, which gave chase and eventually stormed Bonito's ship. Following a DrumHead trial, Bonito was allegedly hanged at sea. The only crew member to escape was a cabin boy who had a map tattooed on his arm. Such is the attraction of this treasure; many expeditions and syndicates have sought the treasure spending thousands of dollars in the process, without recovering a single Spanish piece of eight.
The 'Loot of Lima' is one of the most sought after treasures and probably one of the most documented. Researchers, Historians, and authors all agree on one point that the so-called treasure is buried on a tiny island in the Pacific known as Coco's Island. Coco's Island lies in Latitude 5 32' 57'' North, Longitude 87 2' 10'' West, about 550 miles due west of Panama City. It is sometimes confused with Coco's Keeling Islands.
It became the perfect hideout and haunt of pirates dating the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Off the main shipping lanes, but still close enough to the rich Spanish colonies situated along the Coastline, it was strategically well situated to the pirates needs. Coco's offered safe anchorage and a plentiful supply of fresh water and coconuts from which the pirates brewed alcoholic beverages. Deposits of loot on Coco's are associated with notorious names such as William Dampier, Edward Davis, Benito Bonito, Captain Thompson and some stories have it that even Captain Kidd buried his loot there too.
During a Trans Atlantic voyage a man named William Thompson, became friendly with another seaman John Keeting. One night, Thompson confided to Keeting and told the following story. In 1890, he had been at anchor in the British Brig 'Mary Dear' in the Port of Callao. Chile and Peru were at war; the Chilean army was about to attack the City of Lima.
The Spanish has accumulated great wealth and riches at Lima. The largest collection being held in the Cathedral of Lima. Amongst the collection of gold and silver artefacts, mostly encrusted with precious stones, was a life-size effigy of the Virgin Mary holding the divine child, reputedly made of solid gold and encrusted with jewels.
The Spanish had gathered their riches together and transported them to Callao only to find the only ship in the harbour was the 'Mary Dear.' Thompson was trusted by the Spanish because of prior dealing with them in the past. He was commissioned to cruise off the coast for several weeks.
Should Lima survive, he was to return the treasure to the Spanish Authorities in Panama. The treasure was loaded onto the 'Mary Dear' together with six soldiers and two priests to guard it during the coming voyage. Thompson and his crew were overwhelmed at the value of the cargo they had stored in the holds of their ship and this immense fortune proved to be too great a temptation for him. Once they left port for the open sea, they waited until the guards and priest were asleep, then took the advantage of murdering them all and disposed of their bodies over the side of the ship.
Thompson then set sail for Coco's Island and anchored in Chatham Bay. Two Bays, Chatham and Wafer Bay offer safe anchorage in the North of the island and both offer fresh water springs. There is also a smaller inlet in the South of the island called Bay of Hope where a landing could have easily been made.
Thompson unloaded the 'Mary Dear' and his treasure in a cave in Chatham Bay goes one story, but in another he made an inventory which reads as follows. 'We have buried at a depth of four feet in the red earth: alter trimmings of cloth of gold with baldachin, monstances, chalices, comprising 1,244 stones; 1 chest; two reliquaries weighing 120 pounds, with 624 topazes, carnelian's and emeralds, 12 diamonds; 1 chest; 3 reliquaries of cast metal weighing 160 pounds, with 860 rubies and various stones, 19 diamonds; 1 chest; 4,000 doubloons of Spain marked 8, 5,000 crowns of Mexico, 124 swords, 64 dirks, 120 shoulder belts, 28 rondaches (small shields); 1 chest; 8 caskets of cedar wood and silver with 3,840 cut stones, rings, platens and 4,265 uncut stones; 28 feet to the north-east at a depth of eight feet in the yellow sand; 7 chests with 22 candelabra in gold and silver, weighing 250 pounds, and 164 rubies, 12 armspans west; at a depth of 12 feet in the red earth.
The seven foot Virgin of gold with the child of Jesus and her crown and pectoral of 780 pounds, rolled in her gold chasuble on which are 1.684 jewels. Three of these are four-inch emeralds on the pectoral and six are six-inch topazes on the crown. The seven crosses are of diamonds.''Having hidden his treasures and shared out several chests of gold with his crew.
He left the island and was sighted by the Spanish Frigate 'Espsigle' which engaged and captured them. The Spanish on finding some of the 'Loot of Lima' on board hanged the crew sparing only Thompson and another man on condition they disclose the hiding place.
Returning to the island they were able to break away from the Spanish guards and took cover in the dense overgrowth. After they spent a week searching for them, the Spaniards finally gave up and sailed away. Some time later a passing whaling ship called into the island for water and found Thompson and the other man who died shortly after from a fever. Thompsons mate's name in some reports was Benito Bonito, in others it was a man named chapelle.
After his rescue from Coco's island, Thompson returned to the sea as a seaman, where he met Keating. Keating claimed Thompson gave him documents, maps and other information to recover the treasure concealed on the island. Since 1860 Coco's Island has been known chiefly as a treasure-hunting site.
It appears that the 'Loot of Lima' as it is called lies not in Queenscilff as claimed by local residents, but on an island many miles away. Sir Captain John Williams who salvaged the Niagra became involved in Benito's treasure when he was commissioned to dive at the scene in hope of recovering the virgin's effigy. During an interview I conducted with him, he stated the individuals involved were a weird bunch. He agreed to accept the deal on condition he was paid in advance.
He was told that there was an underwater cave with a ledge inside with the statue of the Virgin Mary resting there. Everything was as it was described to his diver's except there was no virgin to be found. After which he was accused of cheating the syndicate he had done the work for.
Historians believe a shadowy figure of a man known as Benito Bonito did exist, although they believe this name was used to disguise his real identity. It is agreed that the true identity of Benito Bonito was Captain Bennett Grahame, a British naval officer who had served with none other than Lord Nelson. In 1818 Grahame was sent to the Pacific in command of H.M.S. Devonshire to survey the coast between Cape Horn and Panama.
Grahame soon tired of his mundane task and instead turned to piracy, his crew was given the option to join him or be put ashore in Panama. Those that would not join him were instead taken to Coco's island where after being put ashore were slaughtered by Grahame and his crew. Thus he became know as Benito Bonito of the Bloody Sword. Treasure hunters, searching for the treasure years later uncovered a number of skeletons; these remains are believed to be members of Grahame's crew.
Apart from plundering richly laden Spanish vessels carrying cargoes of gold and silver Bonito also came ashore at a spot near Acapulco, Mexico where he seized a rich cargo of gold. According to reports he took it to Coco's island and buried it in Wafer Bay. One story tells of an occasion when Bonito spotted five Spanish ships, 3 of them being men-o-war and the other galleons laden with gold and silver. Bonito successfully engaged the Spanish in a running duel capturing the Latin ships. During the battle, 'Devonshire was extensively damaged and Bonito decided to load his treasure on a Spanish ship,'Relampago', which he sailed to Coco's and buried his treasure in a tunnel some 35 feet long.
Bonito's activities were common knowledge and complaints had been made to the British Admiralty, which despatched a warship to deal with him. However Bonito engaged the man-o-war and defeated it. Eventually he was cornered in the Bay of Buena Ventura after his ship had been sunk. Bonito and his crew were taken to England where they were tried convicted and hanged.
Several crew members were transported to Tasmania for life. Amongst them, a young girl named Mary Welch or Welsh told a dramatic story. She claimed Bonito's real name was Grahame who had picked her up in Panama several years earlier. It was Mary who started the Queenscilff version of the treasure tale.
She claimed the pirates came ashore at Queenscilff, buried the treasure in a cave and dynamited the entrance. Shortly after passing through the heads, they were spotted by a warship, which gave chase. After a running battle they were captured but Bonito blew his brains out on the deck rather than face the gallows.
The amazing part of her story is that after she married and secured her release instead of hunting for the treasure in the Queenscilff area, she sailed off to San Francisco where she raised an expedition to go to Coco's Island. The maps and documents she had in her possession proved worthless, many historians believe her tale to be nothing more than a fabrication of the imagination. Kenneth W. Byron wrote a book entitled, 'Lost treasures in Australia and New Zealand.' In it he describes investigations made by Harry Riesberg, who visited the Cathedral at Lima.
He found that at no time was there a war between Chile and Peru. He was astounded when a priest pointed to a life-size effigy of the Virgin Mary, and also discovered that at no time had the Cathedral been plundered. The British Admiralty has no records regarding the capture of Benito Bonito, his trial, execution or even the transportation of prisoners to Tasmania. Treasure and the thought of instant wealth and riches are sufficient excuse for wealthy individuals to indulge themselves in making a quick profit, especially if the story, documentation and maps appear to be authentic and credible. Anyone owning such information in those hard times where some individuals begged for a living were assured of living well at the expense of others.
Today, people are still being taken in by individuals with a good treasure tale; the only difference is that we now know these people as con-artists. The Coco's Islands has attracted many famous individuals to its shores seeking the Lost Loot of Lima. Little has ever been recorded as being found one individual lived on the island for many years with little to show for his efforts. It was reported at one time that the United States Army went in with heavy equipment including bulldozers and found nothing. Writers on the other hand find the tale a fascinating one in which they will always find a ready market for the tale they wrote about the so-called treasure.
However, time, effort and money often spent gathering the information outweighs any remittance they might recover from such a venture. Treasure tales, are at the end of the day, fairy tales for big boys who never grew up. The only difference between men and boys, is the price of their toys ?
Happy Hunting  [wise]
 
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03 Oct 2015 12:12 PM  

 

British expedition to Pacific 'treasure island' where pirates buried their plunder

A British explorer is heading to a deserted Pacific “treasure island” where nineteenth century pirates are said to have stashed a multi million pound hoard of gold, silver and jewellery stolen from the Spanish.

     
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British expedition to Pacific 'treasure island' where pirates buried their plunder
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...led by Shuan Whitehead will explore in their hunt for the 'Treasure of Lima' 
 
 
 
 
 
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It eluded Franklin Roosevelt, Sir Malcolm Campbell and Errol Flynn, but now an explorer from Melton Mowbray could be on the trail of a multi-million-pound hoard of gold, silver and jewellery stolen by pirates and buried on a treasure island.

Shaun Whitehead is leading an archaeological expedition to Cocos Island, the supposed hiding place of the “Treasure of Lima” – one of the world’s most fabled missing treasures.

The haul – said to be worth £160 million – was stolen by a British trader, Captain William Thompson, in 1820 after he was entrusted to transport it from Peru to Mexico.

He is said to have been stashed his plunder on the Pacific island, from where it has never been recovered.

An original inventory showed 113 gold religious statues, one a life-size Virgin Mary, 200 chests of jewels, 273 swords with jewelled hilts, 1,000 diamonds, solid gold crowns, 150 chalices and hundreds of gold and silver bars.

The site, credited by some as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is uninhabited and around 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, of which it is a part.

It has also been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site for its unspoilt environment and variety of wildlife and it has taken around 18 months of negotiations with the authorities to secure permission to go there on an exploratory mission.

Although there have been no official expeditions to the island for more than a quarter of a century, Mr Whitehead will join an impressive a line of notable adventurers and explorers who been attracted by the lure of the “Lima loot”.

They include Roosevelt, the American president from 1933 to 1945, who travelled there with friends in 1910, Campbell, the racing driver, who went there in the 1920s, and Flynn in the 1940s.

Another explorer, August Gissler, a German, spent 19 years living on the island hunting the treasure but returned with just six gold coins.

However, Mr Whitehead’s team is equipped with technology that has never before been used on the island. He has also established the most likely spots around the island on which to focus his efforts.

Mr Whitehead, who has previously led a project to explore uncharted shafts inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, said: “Given the amount of treasure, it would have been too heavy to carry far from sea level and stories suggest the use of caves. We can also rule out where others have looked, dug up and detected – like on the beaches.

“If it is there, it will be in a natural cave which was hidden by one of the many landslides that occur on the island.

"It is not a case of following a map and “X” marking the spot. It is about using a bit of logic to establish the likelihood of some areas where it could be.”

The team’s research will concentrate on the areas around three of the island’s four bays, which have been most used by visitors.

The team plan to use a small, unmanned helicopter, fitted with specialist cameras, to fly above the nine mile square island, which will enable them to make a computer-generated 3D map of the landscape.

They will then use a snakelike robot that can be dragged across the parts of island and, using ground penetrating radar, detect voids and cavities up to a depth of around 60ft. This data will be added to the 3D map to identify any likely concealed caves.

After this, a team will use a specialist “keyhole” drill, which can reach more than 100ft, to dig down into the cave. A probe camera can be sent down through the 1in diameter.

The 10-day expedition will also involve extensive archaeological, geological and ecological research and Mr Whitehead is at pains to stress they are not simply going there on a treasure hunt.

The team, of around 15, involves researchers from the University of Costa Rica and the Senckenberg Insitute – a natural history research organisation based in Germany.

“This is a scientific survey, including archaeological, geological and biodiversity aspects,” Mr Whitehead said.

“Unlike previous trips we are not going to dig vast holes or do anything destructive at all. The real treasure of the island is its natural beauty. Anything else we find there is simply a bonus.”

The island, which is said to have been the inspiration for Jurassic Park, the book and film about an island on which dinosaurs are recreated, is home to hundreds of unusual species.

Dr Ina Knobloch, a German biologist who has visited the island on three previous occasions, is part of the team taking part, said: “We have a very good relationship with the authorities and they trust us that this is not a simple treasure hunt.”

Dr Knobloch is also an author and has written a book about Cocos called "The Secret of Treasure Island". She is planning to set up a museum dedicated to the island, in Puntarenas on the Costa Rican mainland.

Mr Whitehead, based in Melton Mowbray, Leics, is an engineer who has set up a company which supplies specialist electronic exploration equipment.

The group are funding the expedition themselves, although they are hoping a television company may help to cover costs. They plan to travel after the end of the current rainy season, which finishes in November.

The treasure could be worth at least £160 million. If any of it is found, the team plans to pass it on to the Costa Rican authorities, which would be expected to pay a fee for its salvage.

The treasure had been amassed by the Spanish authorities in Lima, in what is now Peru, but facing a revolt, the city’s viceroy, José de la Serna, entrusted the riches to Captain Thompson for transport to Mexico, also a Spanish colony, and it was transferred to his ship, the Mary Dear.

After leaving the port of Callao, near Lima, Thompson and his crew killed the Viceroy’s six men and sailed to Cocos, where they buried the treasure.

Shortly afterwards, they were apprehended by a Spanish warship. All of the crew – bar Thompson and his first mate – were executed for piracy.

The two said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives, but after landing on Cocos, they escaped into the forest.

They are said to have been picked up by a passing ship a year later, but without the treasure.

Several early expeditions were mounted on the basis of claims by a man named John Keating, who was supposed to have befriended Thompson.

On one trip, Keating was said to have retrieved some gold and jewels from the treasure and also to have killed a fellow treasure hunter and left his body with the hoard.

The Costa Rican authorities want to discourage treasure hunting on the island. They have permitted the latest expedition because of the scientific survey work involved.

The document granting permission states that if any treasure is found, the team must immediately halt and notify the authorities.

The Treasure of Lima is not the only haul said to be hidden on the island.

A further 350 tons of gold raided from Spanish ships by nineteenth century British sailor, Captain Bennett Graham, is also said to be there, while a Portuguese pirate, Benito “Bloody Sword” Bonito, also operating in the nineteenth century, is said to have hidden gains there too.

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04 Oct 2015 12:27 AM  
I suppose it would eclipse Lincoln on a October Monday morning!!
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04 Oct 2015 07:59 AM  
perhaps ........but not York car boot Steve ! where your presence is legend !!
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06 Oct 2015 09:00 PM  
Got two lovely minty smoking signs there the other week Lummo. LET THE SEARCH CONTINUE !!
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