Legend of the Esperanza

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Legend of the Esperanza


These articles chronicle the legend of the wreck of the pirate ship Esperanza, whose treasure was said to be buried on Palmyra. By all accounts the story and most details of it were kept by a Captain William Foster.  Each of these sources adds a few different details, and while some contradict each other, they generally tell the same story.  Below is a rough chronology built around the most reasonable data from the sources.  

January 1, 1816:
The Spanish ship Esperanza leaves Callao Harbor in Peru for the Spanish West Indies after looting Incan temples

January 5, 1816: 
The Esperanza sails through a storm, suffering a broken mast and a serious leak

January 6, 1816: A pirate vessel attacks the Esperanza, and the attacking ship loses the ensuing battle, but before sinking her crew joins the treasure laden pirate ship and they sails for Spanish friendly Macao

February 13, 1816: The ship encounters a storm and finds itself crashed on reefs 1 mile east of Palmyra with a broken mast

February 17, 1816: The pirates repair their ship enough to beach on one of Palmyra's small islands

March 4, 1816: The survivors build a smaller ship, and 80 of the remaining 90 sailors leave to get help

June 4, 1817: Once the new ship is finished, six of the 10 leave

June 17, 1817: A storm washes four of the six overboard, but the two remaining men are picked up by an American whaler

June 19, 1817: One of the two dies before they reach the mainland, and James Hines becomes the only survivor

June 26, 1817: Hines is taken to the Mission City (San Francisco) hospital for recovery

July 25, 1817: Before dieing in the hospital, Hines tells his story to his attendant, a man named Connor

1883: A Chilean Irish Sailor born in Derry, named Connor, hired by F.D. Walker to work aboard his ship, tells the tale of the Esperanza tale as it was told to him and dies not long after

April 6, 1905: Captain William R Foster shares personal documents and stories of the Esperanza with Honolulu Star Bulletin

Little genuine evidence remains to support the tale described above, besides the original newspaper articles and some vague references in other publications.  Several articles mention a map made by FD Walker detailing the treasures location on Palmyra, but no physical record exists to coorborate that.

Based on the descriptions, the ship likely wrecked on or near Barren Island, and the sailors buried their treasure on Eastern Island.  Both of these islets were largely untouched by the military occupation in World War 2, so its possible evidence of the Esperanza's tale could be on them.

Several trips were made in the 1910's and 1920's by two of the atoll's owners (Judge Cooper and the Fullard-Leos), to look for the treasure, but nothing came of it. If the buried remains of the Esperanza's stolen loot is still there, it's likely covered by the rubble, wreckage, and regrowth from 200 years of coconut farming, military occupation and visiting sailors.  We may never know what happened to it, but it makes for a great mystery.

Collection Items

Pirates' Buried Bullion May Be Found on Palmyra
Detailed account of the legend surround possible buried treasure on Palmyra, from a Spanish galleon. Article's subheading reads: An old sailor's account of a cargo of gold and silver and a shipwreck in the Pacific.

Priceless Treasures of the Incas may be Buried on Island in Palmyras
In depth article discussing the legend of the pirate ship Esperanza, and the origins of the story. Covers details rarely found in other sources of the legend, including a direct connection between the evidence and original papers describing it, and…

Navy's Interest Recalls Tales of Palmyra Treasure
Describes the legend and confirmed details of the wreck of the Esperanza and its survivors. Also gives a general history of Palmyra, mentioning some of the scientific expeditions.

Honolulu Man Knows Where Much Silver has been Buried
Describes in detail the story of the pirate ship Esperanza, wrecked on the reefs outside Palmyra in 1816, along with its survivors. Has a detailed map of Palmyra from the time and a basic history. Same article as posted in the archive at the link…

Rumors of Buried Treasure in South Sea Island Revive
Brief article about the then upcoming voyage of the Luka to Palmyra, carrying its owner at the time Judge Cooper who would be visiting for the first time. Feature 2 great images of the crew and the ship, and mentions the carrying of supplies to…

Tales of Vast Buried Treasure
This brief article gives a very good, concise account of the Esperanza legend, and offers plausible dates for the events it describes. It also posits the Esperanza as the ship which survived the battle fought with another vessel, something other…

Judge Cooper off for Pirates' Treasure Isle of Palmyra
This shorter but detailed article covers some interesting topics of Palmyra's history up to that point, including the possible treasure buried there, the disputes over ownership, and a mention of a possible Jack London story based on Palmyra.


The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn
According to several sources from the early 1900’s, this story, written by Jack London for the Saturday Evening Post, was inspired by elements of Palmyra’s pirate legends. The first likely comes from the story of the Esperanza, where a Spanish…

Civil Docket for court case William A. Warren v. Unidentified Wrecked Vessel
In 1996, entrepreneur, lounge singer, and amateur treasure hunter Bill Warren filed for salvage rights to a speculative shipwreck off the coast of Palmyra he believed contained the recovered treasure of the pirate vessel Esperanza, which sank near…

Many Perish Seeking Lost Loot of Pirates
A detailed account of the Legend of the Esperanza. Much of the information is the same as what's found in other articles, but there are a few slight variations.

Music and Millions in his Swan Song
A short but wonderful piece dictating a conversation between an old sea captain called Captain Blanchard, and an unnamed reporter at the Honolulu Advertiser. Blanchard was a colorful character, and well know in the maritime community around…
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