At the beginning of the 19th century, Spain began a war in which it gradually lost control over its colonies in South America. The leaders of the revolution, Simón Bolívar and José Francisco de San Martín, had the objective of entering the great city of Lima. Officials and settlers there had seized large amounts of gold and precious stones, especially the Catholic clergy, who had accumulated many valuables. One of those pieces is said to have been a life-size solid gold statue of the Virgin Mary with Child .
In October 1820 Lima, under the command of Viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela, was not safe from war: by land General San Martín and by sea Lord Cochrane (nicknamed by the French “the wolf of the seas”) launched an offensive which would end with the taking of the port of El Callao, which the Spanish considered impregnable. Desperate to preserve his treasures fearing the looting of the city by revolutionary troops, the viceroy made the decision to send the treasures to Mexico for safekeeping . The only way to save them was to risk the sea. At that time, the most powerful ship the Spanish had in Callao, and the only one capable of crossing the ocean to Spain, was the frigate La Esmeralda , but it had fallen into the hands of Lord Cochrane.
A Scotsman and a Treasure
All was not lost. A brig named Mary Dear under the command of a Scotsman, Captain William Thompson, was preparing to set sail. Pezuela hired Thompson, his crew, and his ship. For two days, all the most precious things that the city contained, gold ducats, jewels, precious stones, works of art, books and archives, gold and silver tableware, gold candlesticks and cult objects from the cathedral were loaded into the Mary Dear; a total of 24 trunks closed to lime and song. Along with them came a group of Spanish officers, which made Thompson suspect that something very valuable was in those chests. He was not a pirate, but one night he got carried away and yielding to the pleas of his crew, the Spanish were thrown overboard : the crew of the Mary Dear had just become pirates and as such decided to hide the treasure of Lima . Where? in the already famous Isla del Coco; there they would stay until they were sure they could spend it safely.
the island of pirates
In 1526, Juan Cabezas de Grado, an Asturian navigator, discovered a small islet located 532 km off the coast of present-day Costa Rica during a Pacific expedition. Known as Cocos Island , it turned out to be a most interesting place for pirates, corsairs and buccaneers. There was an abundance of wood, food and freshwater springs, but above all it was outside the usual shipping lanes. Many were those who chose that jungle island to hide the product of their looting: Henry Morgan hid there the riches captured in Panama, Captain Edwar Davis hid what was stolen in the Nicaraguan city of León as well as the shipments of several Spanish ships, intercepted on his trips from Lima to Panama, en route to Spain. William Dampierre, close friend of Lionel Wafer, buccaneer surgeon and naturalist, have left us descriptions of those days in Cocos, when Davis and his men buried their treasures and lived on the island.
That was the place where Thomson decided to hide the stolen treasure. However, arriving at the port without the cargo or the passengers was not going to be easy at all, much less with the Spanish ships hot on their heels. In addition, they knew that at that time the crime of piracy was punishable by death. It is at this point that the legend takes two paths: in one, after having put the treasure in safety in Coco, Thompson set fire to his brig and simulated a shipwreck . He and his crew got into the rowboats and headed for shore. But due to those twists of fate, the corpses of the assassinated Spanish officers had come to the surface and recovered; his ruse failed. They were captured and tried for piracy . The other story is that the Spanish did not trust Thompson and sent after him a corsair ship, the Peruvian (others say it was the Espí frigate) that captured them off the coast of Panama. Be that as it may, it all ended the same: the entire crew was executed except for Thompson and his first officer, James Alexander Forbes; it would save his life if they revealed the location of the treasure. However, once on Cocos Island they managed to escape. They were never seen again and the Lima Treasure disappeared from history.
Fact or legend?
From this moment the story becomes even more legendary: it is believed that Thompson returned to Newfoundland with the help of a whaling ship and Forbes settled in California, where he became a successful businessman, but never returned to the island. . Legend has it that on his deathbed Thompson decided to reveal to his friend John Keating the exact place where they hid the more than 60 million euros that, today, would be worth the Lima Treasure : “Get off the ship in the Bahía de la Esperanza , between the two small islands, in waters of a depth of 9 meters. Walk 350 paces to the creek bank and then turn north/northeast for 850 yards. Drive a stake. The stake with the setting sun will draw the silhouette of an Eagle with outstretched wings. At the extremity between sun and shadow, you will find a cave marked with a cross. There is the treasure.” Of course, this is one of the various instructions that have been left for history. Keating is said to have told the secret to a quartermaster, Nicholas Fitzgerald, who was so poor that he was never able to organize an expedition to Cocos. Fitzgerald’s letter with Keating’s instructions is in a display case at the Nautical and Traveler Club in Sydney, Australia, registered under number 18755.
Legend or reality? Who knows. The truth is that, 200 years later, many have gone to Cocos Island in search of the treasure of Lima and have returned empty-handed .