Cocos Island Mystery, Costa Rica


600 km west of the Costa Rican coast lies uninhabited Cocos Island. It is famous for being a “bank” where pirates stored their “deposits” for many years. The island’s treasures are cautiously estimated by professional treasure hunters at 10 to 60 million dollars (although they say the figure of 1 billion!). That’s why up to 1,000 tourists come here every year, most of whom are not planning to leave their money here, but to find someone else’s.

Spanish navigator Juan Cabezas, who discovered the island in 1526, presented the discovered land to his king. But he did not like the gift. Lost in the ocean, the island, lying off the trade routes, was of no interest to the Spanish crown. On the other hand, the pirates greatly valued its uninhabited nature and convenient geographical location. All the “gentlemen of fortune” who cruised along the west coast of Central America invariably stopped at Cocos.

Here they replenished their supplies of fresh water, rested, and repaired their vessels damaged in storms and battles. Here the pirates divided their spoils, after which they each headed for their “safe deposit box”. According to legends (no visit book was kept on the island, of course) Cocos was visited by such “stars” as Henry Morgan, Edward Davis, William Dampier. So if any island can claim the loud title of “Treasure Island”, it is Cocos in the first place.

However, every treasure hunter digging a shovel into the island’s soil dreams of finding not the stash of an individual sea vagabond, but the treasure of Lima or the treasure of the Bloody Sword.

In 1820, Peru waged its struggle for independence from the Spanish crown. General San Martin’s troops were marching on Lima. The governor of the city, preparing to surrender, took the Peruvian treasury to the port of Callao and sent an official who was to load the valuables onto the first ship flying the Spanish flag and take them to Panama, still Spanish. But the American Captain Thompson’s Mery Dear was the first to enter the harbor.

Fearing that there would be no other opportunity to complete the assignment, the official arranged with the captain to save “important government documents. The boxes were lowered into the hold, and guards came aboard. At night Thompson and a trusted sailor carefully opened the bulkhead and, peering into one of the crates, discovered what “valuable documents” they were to transport. The temptation was too great. The guards were cut, the anchor rope was cut, and the “Dear Mary” left the harbor quietly under cover of night.

But what to do with the treasure next? The realization of so many treasures is not an easy task. In addition, one must not forget that the first Spanish ship to Callao will be in pursuit, and that the burdened Mary is not so active anymore, nor can she count on her swiftness. The wisest thing to do would be to hide the treasure for a while. Thompson glanced at the map – Cocos, of course!

After four days, the “Dear Mary” approached the island. For three more days the sailors carried the gold ashore and hid it in several equipped caches. When everything was ready and Thompson gave the command to raise anchor, a Spanish frigate approached the island. The Spanish captain, who arrived in Callao twenty-four hours after Thompson’s escape, miscalculated the American’s actions and headed directly for Cocos. Thompson tried to flee – the Spaniard gave a board volley. The American sailors were hanged, but the captain and the navigator, left to live – who else will tell where Lima’s treasure is hidden? But Thompson and the navigator remained silent, knowing that silence meant life for them.

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The prisoners were shackled and taken to Panama. The navigator died on the way, and Thompson was left as the only keeper of the secret. In 1821 Panama became independent, Thompson was set free and began to look for companions who had the means to organize an expedition to Cocos. They were the English captain Kitting and Bowg. It was decided not to involve the crew. On the way Thompson died, leaving his companions a map with his notes on it.

On the island, Kitting and Bogue quickly found the “golden” cave. The original goal was only to find the cache, nothing more, but when they saw the pile of treasure, they could not resist the temptation and began to “go hunting” daily, carrying the jewels in their pockets. The crew got suspicious (they weren’t sailing here to shoot mountain goats!). The captain’s cabin was searched. When the sailors arrived from another “hunt,” Kitting and Bogue presented the “evidence” they had found and demanded a division.

During the night, Kitting and Bogue fled the ship. They were searched for two weeks, but were not found. The ship left without them. A month later, a whaler came to Cocos to replenish the fresh water supply. On the island, the sailors found a thin, bearded man. It was Kitting. He told them that he had been abandoned on the island by the mutinous crew. Not a word was said about Bogue. Kitting only brought a handful of gems with him, but he had enough of them for seven whole years – until the end of his life.

In 1853, a married couple from Australia, John and Mary Welch, showed up in San Francisco. The lady turned out to be the owner of a very bright biography, which she did not hide at all. According to her, in her youth she was a friend of the pirate Benito Bonito, known as the Bloody Sword.

According to her story, Benito Bonito’s real name was Alexander Graham, and he was an officer in the Royal Navy. Commanding the brig Devonshire, Graham took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. The officer showed wonders of courage, but all honors (albeit posthumous) went to Admiral Nelson.

A seed of resentment sprouted when Graham learned of the departure from the port of Acapulco of a Spanish ship laden with gold from Mexican mines. Having assembled the crew on deck, the captain announced his intention to replace the Union Jack on the mast with the Jolly Roger. The sailors responded to the captain with an enthusiastic shriek. Several dissenters were put ashore in the nearest port. It was then that Graham, who had taken the pseudonym Benito Bonito, brought aboard the 18-year-old beauty Mary.

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For almost two weeks, the pirates were guarding the Spanish ship, and they waited. A short fight ended in a boarding battle. Filled with gold, the Devonshire set sail for Cocos, where they buried the loot. The next voyage was also successful. The amount of gold in the cache doubled, and Bloody Sword’s fame grew.

But all good things must come to an end. One day off the Costa Rican coast the Devonshire was met by two British frigates. There was a fight, the brig was captured, Benito Bonito and the captured sailors were hanged. Mary was taken to London, where an English court sentenced the pirate’s friend to 15 years’ hard labor and sent her “to mend her ways” in Australia, where she became Mrs. Welch.

Anticipating questions, Mary Welch replied that she certainly remembered perfectly well the place where the pirates unloaded the treasure ashore, moreover, she had a map personally handed to her by Graham before the decisive battle, and she simply longed to visit the island so dear to her heart.

The story is a blatant copy of a tabloid novel, but 150(!) tons of gold (that’s how much was in Benito’s cache, according to Mary Welch), made several American businessmen believe in it. A joint-stock company was urgently organized, and in 1854 a steamship left San Francisco, on which the shareholders and Mary Welch set out for the treasure of the Bloody Sword.

Upon arrival on the island, however, Mary stated that the coastline had changed a great deal over the past 20-odd years and she could only point out the pirates’ landing spot approximately. Neither was the map helpful. Neither the “tall cedar” nor the “three isolated palm trees” could be found. Having used up all their provisions, the stockholders returned to San Francisco, and the treasure of the Bloody Sword remained on the island.

The 1854 expedition ushered in an era of treasure hunting in the island’s history. In just 150 years, over 300 organized expeditions searched for treasure on Cocos! The number of singles numbered in the thousands. Some came here for a few months, some stayed for years. August Gissler searched for treasure for 20 years, but found only one gold doubloon minted in 1788. In 1908, he left the island on a ship carrying another batch of treasure seekers to Cocos.

Many left fortunes here, many left their lives. Fever, poisonous snakes and insects, bloody squabbles – the island, whose population according to official figures of 0 people, amazes the visitor with the size of its cemetery.

Since 1978, unauthorized excavations on the island have been banned. Now every treasure hunter must buy a license. Along with the permit he will be offered to buy (quite inexpensive) a map of Cocos with markings of where the treasures of Morgan, Thompson and Bloody Sword are buried. However, all the tourist diggers leave here empty-handed. At least that’s what they say.

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Cocos Island Mystery, Costa Rica

Cocos Island is a small island in the vast ocean, but its name has become a household name for generations of treasure hunters. Exactly 200 years on this piece of land, began a search for treasure, which to the pirate “cache” can only be attributed conditionally, because it was not pirates who buried it, but its owners acted as pirates.

And they hid it so well that for two centuries nothing has ever been found on a very small island, although the existence of the treasure as such is indisputable – official documents have survived. But could it be that all this wealth lies elsewhere? Or the treasure was secretly looted by earlier treasure hunters? Let’s try to understand everything in more detail.

The history of the island

This tangled story began in 1820 in Lima, the capital of Peru, one of Spain’s colonial provinces in the Americas. The city was being approached by rebel forces – South America was then undergoing a very bloody process of independence from the Spanish crown and the division into separate states. Lima was crowded with refugees with huge valuables on their hands. The situation was also aggravated by the fact that the church treasury, which included truly enormous sums of money from the church tax, had not had time to be removed from Lima.

The most valuable “item” in that treasury was a statue of the Virgin and Child Christ, cast in gold. Not wanting to give all that treasure to the rebels, the rulers of the city decided to take it to Spain on the first ship that turned out to be the English schooner “Dear Mary”, commanded by Captain Scott Thompson. No Spanish ships were in the harbor at the time, otherwise this whole story would not have happened.

Cocos Island Mystery, Costa Rica - Photo 2

History of the Island

After loading the tens of tons of treasure aboard his schooner, Captain Thompson set sail from Lima. It happened on the night of September 7, 1820. The Spaniards made sure that, in addition to the monks, a detachment of Spanish soldiers, whose job it was to guard the precious cargo from any surprises, boarded the ship to escort the treasure.

The Spanish administration in Lima was reassured, believing that the schooner was sailing to the Philippines, where they were to be stationed before being sent directly to Spain, but a few months later the crew of the Dear Mary, led by the captain, reappeared in Peru, brought back by one of the whaling schooners. According to the sailors’ confused accounts, the Dear Mary was caught in a storm in the Pacific Ocean and sank with all her treasures, Spanish guards, and monks. The shipwrecked men were adrift in a broken dinghy for a long time in the ocean until they were seen by another ship and brought aboard. The story was true on many counts, and the Spaniards were quick to believe it.

Who was the discoverer of the island?

The first band of adventurous treasure hunters set out for the island in the late 1820s. They were guided by Thompson’s friend – American captain Fitzgerald, who conducted the search on a map, allegedly made by Thompson himself. The result of the expedition was disastrous: almost all of its members died of fever and snake bites, and Fitzgerald himself, exhausted by illness and confused mind, was picked up by English whalers after a year on the island. This attempt did not convert anyone, and thirty years later, in 1854, another group of treasure hunters led by one Mary Welch landed on Cocos.

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Cocos Island Mystery, Costa Rica - Photo 3

Who was the discoverer of the island?

Mary Welch claimed to have a map of Fitzgerald, which she had received from some acquaintance who had been in contact with a failed treasure hunter before his death on Newfoundland. The newfound treasure hunters had driven through dozens of tunnels and shafts in the Cocos cliffs, but after ten months they left the island without finding anything there. Mary Welch went home to America, and nothing more was heard of her or Fitzgerald’s map.

In 1897, August Gissler, a German adventurer appointed by the Costa Rican government as governor of the island, arrived on Cocos. Having built an agricultural farm in one of the valleys of Cocos, he began a “scientific” treasure hunt, dividing the island into 100 squares and methodically excavating them down to the rock base. Despite the well-organized search, the result was more than modest – only a handful of doubloons were found, and no trace of untold wealth. Gissler himself left the island for good in 1917, advising future treasure hunters not to waste their time here.

Cocos Island Mystery, Costa Rica - Photo 4

Who was the discoverer of the island?

But the failures of their predecessors only encouraged new adventurers, among whom were even the later famous American millionaire William Vanderbilt II and car racer Malcolm Campbell, who, however, could not cope with the difficulties of life on Cocos, and after a month of work abandoned the venture.

In the middle of the twentieth century Cocos was visited five times by a wealthy Californian farmer Forbes, who gave up everything, even his farm, to find the treasure, but his efforts ended up with nothing. After him, the Englishman Albert Edwards landed on the island and continued his search for the treasure of Lima, the treasures of the famous pirates, and the gold of the last Inca emperor Atahualpa, who was then assigned to Cocos. All three of his expeditions to Cocos ended miserably, especially the third one, in which the landing failed, a yellow fever epidemic, snake bites, and a conflict between treasure hunters left almost all the participants dead.

In 1962, the Frenchmen Robert Verne, Jean Portell and Claude Charlier went to Cocos for treasure. They decided to explore the grotto in Chatham Bay, but while trying to land the treasure hunters’ boat overturned, two men drowned, and two months later Robert Verne was picked up by American sailors. In 1973, Robert Verne went to Cocos again, but having found nothing, he returned back, writing a book about his adventures – “The Last Treasure Island”.

Coco Island mystery, Costa Rica - Photo 5

The failures did not stop the treasure hunters, and the Costa Rican government finally decided that from now on, all treasure hunters on Cocos would be accompanied by soldiers of the Costa Rican army, who the treasure hunters had to maintain at their own expense. In addition, when a treasure is found Costa Rica receives only 50% of its value. After the emergence of such conditions, the number of treasure hunters has decreased dramatically.

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The treasures of the long-legendary Cocos Island could not immediately disappear from human memory, so the search for them continues to this day. In 2003, a group of enthusiasts once again decided to try to find the treasure of Lima, the only treasure of the island of Cocos, whose existence was never in doubt. The treasure hunters decided to begin their search not with a trip to Cocos and an excavation of the “Captain Thompson map,” many copies of which were sold at various auctions, but with a study of archival documents.

They tried to trace the fates of the crew members of the schooner “Dear Mary. Suddenly they found documents about the fate of Captain Scott Thompson, who died on Newfoundland in 1840. Almost in utter poverty, he told his sheltering man the story of Lima’s treasure and pointed out the place where he had hidden it. After Thompson’s death, the man went to Cocos, where he immediately found the treasure, but took only a small part of it, understanding that it did not belong to the captain, but to all members of the crew of the Dear Mary.

Coconut Island Mystery, Costa Rica - Photo 6

The fact that this treasure hunter immediately found the treasure of Lima led researchers to believe that the Spanish inquisitors had misunderstood the English sailor by declaring Cocos Island off Costa Rica to be the location of the treasure. While researching geographical maps of the period, they discovered another Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean, which today is called Niue (exactly the sound of “coconut” or “coconut” in Samoan). This island is located near the islands of Samoa – only 500 kilometers to the south.

However, now the island is called Samoan, and 200 years ago, on some maps, it was denoted in English – Cocos. But an expedition sent there found nothing but one place very similar to an old deserted cache in a deep coastal grotto, which by many accounts may have contained treasure.

In their search for whoever got ahead of them, researchers turned their attention to the famous writer Robert Lewis Stevenson, who became fabulously rich after several trips to the Samoan Cocos. He most likely learned of the treasure there by studying geographical maps and analyzing the currents and wind paths that helped the Mary’s Way reach the coast of Cocos Island and return in short order.

Confident of this, R. L. Stevenson set sail for Niue, abandoning his treatment for tuberculosis in the Alps. Finding these treasures, the writer remained permanently in Samoa, passing away there from tuberculosis in 1894. For everyone else, one of the best works of adventure literature, Treasure Island, was left as a memento of the treasures of Cocos Island.

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