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.

Items in the Legend of the Esperanza Collection

Newspaper Article: Pirates' Buried Bullion May Be Found on Palmyra

In the year of 1816 the Spanish Ship Esperanza sailed from Peru with a valuable cargo of bullion and other merchandise. The value of the silver alone was above one million and a half pesos, with gold of about the same amount. The vessel was bound…

Newspaper Article: Priceless Treasures of the Incas may be Buried on Island in Palmyras


Buried on one of the islands of the Palmyra group, visited a year ago by a party of Honolulu men, there may be untold wealth—gold, silver and precious stones,…

Newspaper Article: Navy's Interest Recalls Tales of Palmyra Treasure

A treasure island, rich perhaps in pirates' gold looted from the Incas almost 125 years ago, figures today as an active legal problem in the Honolulu federal court. The island, or rather group of islets, known as Palmyra, situated 960 nautical miles…

Newspaper Article: Honolulu Man Knows Where Much Silver has been Buried

By Captain F.D. Walker
In the year of 1816 the Spanish Ship Esperanza sailed from Peru with a valuable cargo of bullion and other merchandise. The value of the silver alone was above one million and a half pesos, with gold of about the same amount.…

Newspaper Article: Rumors of Buried Treasure in South Sea Island Revive

Photo Caption:
Upper - Showing officers and “crew” of Luka. Reading from left to right, they are: J.F. Rock, Judge Henry E. Cooper, Montague Cooke and Capt. George E. Piltz. Lower - Schooner Luka preparing to start on voyage to…

Newspaper Article: Tales of Vast Buried Treasure

Tells of a Vast Buried Treasure: Hidden on Palmyra Island by Spaniards

Buried somewhere beneath the sands of Palmyra Island, off the coast of South America, is a fortune awaiting the man who wants to go after it. Captain F. D. Walker, a retired…

Newspaper Article: Judge Cooper off for Pirates' Treasure Isle of Palmyra

When Judge Henry E. Cooper comes back from his cruise in the South Seas with Capt. F.C. Miller perhaps he will have on board the schooner the millions in gold and silver which are supposed to be buried on the island of Palmyra, which the Judge has…

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…

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