Many Perish Seeking Lost Loot of Pirates

Dublin Core


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.



Buffalo Times




Fair Use





Text Item Type Metadata


Treasures of the Incas lie buried within the boundaries of the “city and county of Honolulu.” Gold, silver, precious stones, filched a century ago from the Inca temples in Peru, are hidden somewhere under the coral sand of an islet in the Palmyra group, a thousand miles south of the Honolulu city hall on the farthest boundary of this municipality.

So runs the legend of the waterfront, told and retold in the cabins of island boats, in lonely trading posts of the South Seas. Piracy, shipwreck and death are in the story, which has just been partly confirmed by papers in the possession of Capt. William R. Foster, harbormaster of Honolulu.

For 20 years, Capt. Foster has kept the secret of the strange sailor who left in his care a packet of letters and never returned from the voyage to the perilous Solomon Islands, where his ship was lost.

In January, 1816, the Spanish pirate craft Esperanza sailed from Callao with gold bullion valued at a million and a half pesos and silver bullion of approximately the same worth, looted from temples in the interior by the pirate crew and a gang of paid native assistants. They sailed for the West Indies, where the loot was to be divided. Only one man survived that voyage.

Esperanza Sunk by Pirates

Four days out of Callao a storm descended: the Esperanza sprung a leak; a mast was broken. The storm lifted, but a new peril appeared. Another pirate ship, with black flag at the masthead, bore down upon them. Outgunned and crippled, on the evening of the fifth day out of Callao, the Esperanza surrendered. The treasure was transferred, the Esperanza scuttled, and the second pirate ship sailed for Macao, Portuguese China.

On the 43rd day after the fight the vessel struck a reef, a part fo the Palmyra Group. The mainmast broke with the shock, and it was impossible to continue the voyage.

The treasure was removed, divided, and buried on a reef in the low lying Palmyra group. In the hope of reaching mainland, the pirates built a small vessel from the wreckage of their craft, and 80 of them embarked, taking a small quantity of gold and leaving ten men on the island. The 80 who sailed were never seen again.

A year later the 10 survivors decided to make an attempt to get away from the island. They built a small vessel and drew lots for the six who were to sail. Thirteen days after the six left the island a storm arose, their mast was blown away and four men were washed overboard. With provisions exhausted the two survivors were picked up by an American whaler. A few days later one of them died. The other, James Hines, lingered until the whales arrived at San Francisco. Thirty days after he entered a hospital at Mission City, he died.

Tells of the Buried Treasure

To an attendant, just before his death, he gave the latitude and longitude of the treasure island, and described the spot where the gold lay buried.

It was his story that fell into the hands of the sailor who was lost in the Solomons, and that was given by him to Capt. Foster. And there the tale of facts ends, and mystery begins. What became of the four who remained on the lonely island no one knows. More than likely they ended their days there, or wearied of the lonely life and sailed to their destruction in some frail canoe.

Others have known of the treasure tale. Judge Cooper of Honolulu, who bought the island in 1911, is said to have prospected for it without success. Two men and a woman from Honolulu lived on the Palmyra islet a year, fishing and cutting copra. But the treasure, if treasure there were, still remains in its forgotten hiding place where giant land crabs scuttle over the coral sand and the cocoanut palms touch the phosphorescent water with their hanging fronds.

And always there will be seekers, answering through hardship and peril of shipwreck and tropical storms, the lure of pirate gold and the spell of the Southern sea.


“Many Perish Seeking Lost Loot of Pirates,” Palmyra Archive, accessed August 12, 2020,