NEVER MIND THE NAZI GOLD TRAIN -
WHERE'S THE COCOS GOLD?
I crossed the Pacific four times during 1960-1962, and one sunny dawn, when I was at the wheel on the bridge, on the horizon I saw Cocos Island, a place which had fascinated me since I'd read Ralph Hammond's children's novel, Cocos Gold, in 1950. Cocos Island lies about 550 miles due west of Panama City in Latitude 5 32' 57'' North, Longitude 87 2' 10'' West, and is not to be confused with the Cocos Keeling Islands. It is an awful place. With its oppressive heat, peaks and pinnacles, and its uninhabitable jungles, this is not the idyllic Pacific island of the imagination. Yet, as a place to bury treasure, it is perfect. This is the location which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. There are many accounts of secret caches of treasure on Cocos, and from the various documents I have studied, I offer the following digest.
|This is all Robert Louis Stevens' fault. |
But at least it gave us
Robert Newton, parrots on shoulders
and the overwhelming desire to say "Aaar!"
As Spain’s grip on her colonies began to wane, in 1820 a revolt against ‘the Motherland’ by Peru was imminent. José de San Martín, recognized as the military strategist behind much of the South American struggle for independence, had a bold plan to defeat the Viceroyalty of Peru, the last stronghold of Spanish power on the continent. With careful planning and meticulous attention to the smallest detail, he was successful. As instructed by San Martin, the city of Lima’s Catholic clergy saw the need to protect the fabulous treasures which had been built up during the centuries since the Spaniards first invaded. This would involve moving the booty far away for safekeeping. For this purpose, a British ship was chosen. Captain William Thompson of the brig Mary Dear was entrusted with one of the most fabulous treasures ever to grace a vessel’s holds. His mission was to sail with this precious cargo to Mexico. It included two life-sized statues from Lima’s cathedral of the Blessed Virgin holding the Divine Child, each cast in pure gold; 273 jewelled swords and candlesticks, and an enormous hoard of silver and gold artefacts worth some $60,000,000.
|Jose de la Serna (San Martin)|
But the ‘Loot of Lima’ was too much for Thompson. As happens to many men faced with the immense temptation of gold, all reason, compassion and humanity departed him. Once the Mary Dear had left port, Thompson and his crew set about murdering the ship’s passengers. Instead of Mexico, he headed west to Cocos Island, burying the loot in a hidden cave. Now a wanted man, Thompson joined forces with a notorious pirate, Benito Bonito, who had treasure of his own to hide. Later, the British Navy caught up with Thompson, but although his crew were captured, he escaped. Fearful of being caught, Thompson would not go back to Cocos. In 1844 he met a stranger called Keating, and one drunken night revealed the secret of his treasure on Cocos. Keating set about organising an expedition, but Thompson died before the departure. Keating then set
sail with a Captain Bogue, But when they landed on
Cocos, although they did uncover treasure, greed and the lust which had driven
Thompson before now overtook Captain Bogue and Keating. Their crew mutinied and
made off with some loot, whilst Bogue and Keating’s tiny boat, overloaded with
treasure, capsized. Bogue drowned and, after drifting in the ocean for some
time. Keating was eventually picked up by a passing vessel and was taken to
Newfoundland, where he died.
|Rascally Captain William|
Before his death, Captain Thompson left some instructions for the possible location of the treasure. He had written, concerning a bay known as Chatham Bay:
"Once there follow the coast line of the bay till you find a creek, where, at high water mark, you go up the bed of a stream which flows inland. Now you step out 70 paces, west by south, and against the skyline you will see a gap in the hills. From any other point, the gap is invisible. Turn north, and walk to a stream. You will now see a rock with a smooth face, rising sheer like a cliff. At the height of a man's shoulder, above the ground, you will see a hole large enough for you to insert your thumb. Thrust in an iron bar, twist it round in the cavity, and behind you will find a door which opens on the treasure."
Another version, dictated by Thompson on his death bed, is:
"Disembark in the Bay of Hope between two islets, in water 5 fathoms deep. Walk 350 paces along the course of the stream then turn north-northeast for 850 yards, stake, setting sun stake draws the silhouette of an eagle with wings spread. At the extremity of sun and shadow, cave marked with a cross. There lies the treasure."
Keating’s Quartermaster, a poor man named Nicholas Fitzgerald was bequeathed Cocos’s secrets by Keating, but sadly was never financially able to mount an expedition. Fitzgerald's wife wrote a letter containing Keating’s instructions. It is preserved at the Nautical and Travellers' Club in Sydney, registered under No. 18, 755. It gives these instructions:
"At two cable's lengths, south of the last watering-place, on three points. The cave is the one which is to be found under the second point. Christie, Ned and Anton have tried but none of the three has returned. Ned on his fourth dive found the entrance at 12 fathoms but did not emerge from his fifth dive. There are no octopuses but there are sharks. A path must be opened up to the cave from the west. I believe there has been a fall of rock at the entrance.”
In the Caracas Museum lies the breath taking inventory left by Fitzgerald at Coiba:
"We have buried at a depth of four feet in the red earth: 1 chest; altar trimmings of cloth of gold, with baldachins, monstrances, chalices, comprising 1,244 stones. 1 chest; 2 gold reliquaries weighing 120 pounds, with 624 topazes, cornelians 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. 1 chest; 8 caskets of cedar-wood and silver, with 3,840 cut stones, rings, patents and 4,265 uncut stones. 28 feet to the northeast, at a depth of 8 feet in the yellow sand; 7 chests: with 22 candelabra in gold and silver weighing 250 pounds, and 164 rubies a foot. 12 armspans west, at a depth of 10 feet in the red earth; the seven-foot Virgin of gold, with the Child Jesus and her crown and pectoral of 780 pounds, rolled in her gold chasuble on which are 1,684 jewels. Three of these are 4-inch emeralds on the pectoral and 6 are 6-inch topazes on the crown. The seven crosses are of diamonds.”
The hoard’s location is thought to be within 100 yards of 5 degrees, 30 minutes, 17 seconds latitude north and 87 degrees, 0 minutes, 40 seconds longitude west, south of the Bay of Hope, north-northeast of Meule Island, possibly in a cave that is accessible at low tide. One version states that the Loot of Lima is buried in 4 different caches all within 100 yards of each other in an area an eighth of a mile inland near Chatham Bay. Keating's wife claimed the Loot of Lima was cached in a bay hidden from the open sea with a small crescent-shaped beach with black roots on either side. A German hermit who lived on Cocos, Heinz Hemmeter, thought the treasure was lying in a pool at the bottom of a waterfall.
The Lima cathedral treasure has been estimated to be worth well over $60,000,000. However, also part of the cargo of the Mary Dear was the State Treasury, which cannot safely be estimated. Numerous expeditions have attempted to recover this immense wealth but all have failed. Mud slides, rock slides, all manner of geological movements on Cocos have probably obliterated the locations so meticulously catalogued by the pirates. Benito Bonito, famed for his violence as ‘Benito of the Bloody Sword’, is said to have also buried more plunder on the island. In 1819 at Acapulco he intercepted a rich mule train loaded with treasure which he loaded into his ship, the Relampago. Benito’s additional Cocos hoard is listed at around $25,000,000. 300,000 pounds weight of silver bars, plate and coin was hidden in a mountain cave. Using gunpowder, he blew away the face of the cliff. The silver is said to be buried on the north side of Wafer Bay.
Another Bonito location holds 733 gold bars, 4 by 3 inches in size and 2 inches thick, numerous articles of jewelled church ornaments, 273 gold-hilted swords inlaid with jewels, plus various other valuable items. Bonito was a busy man. A third hiding place is said to conceal iron kettles filled with gold coin.
Cocos attracted other pirate hoarders. Captain Edward Davis, with his vessel the Bachelor's Delight, was a successful pirate along the western coast of the Americas. He is reputed to have visited Cocos at least twice to bury plunder at Chatham Bay in 1684 and 1702. In addition to 300,000 pounds of silver bar and plate the documents tell us that he “'put away 733 bars of gold, 7 kegs of gold coin and a quantity of church jewels and ornaments…”
Sir Francis Drake was a regular visitor to the island and has also been suspected of storing loot there. In 1845 in a cave overlooking Wafer Bay a British adventurer discovered a chest containing Spanish gold coins, and in l931, a Belgian treasure hunter unearthed a 2 foot gold Madonna which was sold in New York for $11,000. Sailors visiting the island in 1793 noted a peculiar carving on a large rock in Chatham Bay which read: “Look Y. as you goe for ye S. Coco" with four branched crosses, and there is also a carving on a stone of a sombrero which has become known as ‘Bonito’s Hat’. In 1939 a bar of gold was excavated from a stream close to a waterfall on the island. It sold for $35,000. Other stories, their provenance and accuracy questionable, include the discovery by soldiers in the 1880s of over $100,000 in coinage from around the world alongside 300 silver ingots in a cave.
|Another hopeful hermit, a German named Gussler, spent years on the island and gave up|
after only finding six gold coins.
When the soldiers used explosives to blast out the roots of a cedar tree on the shore of Wafer Bay, the explosion revealed a cave containing gold ornaments placed there by one of Bonito’s men, Evan Jones, whose letters were found in a nearby box. There are even legends suggesting that Captain William Kidd buried loot on Cocos.
One final, fascinating and persistent legend centres on the island’s highest point, Mount Iglesias. It is here that the last remnants of the treasure of the Incas could have been brought, hidden in a network of caves and still guarded by the last descendants of the Inca race who remain hidden from all visitors.