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Lure of Pirate Treasure
April 11, 1998 at 06:34:25

The Lure of pirate treasure. By Alan Hassell Copyright 09/04/98 All rights reserved.

Queenscilff is a seaside holiday resort situated near the head of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria. One of the attractions it offers the public is the lure of Pirate treasure. According to local legend, the pirate Benito Bonito, entered Port Phillip Bay sometime in 1821 and concealed in a cave a treasure known as the Lost Loot of Lima.

After doing so, he ventured out of the heads to continue his evil trade. Waiting for him outside was a British Man-O-War, which gave chase and eventually stormed Bonito's ship. Following a DrumHead trial, Bonito was allegedly hanged at sea. The only crewmember to escape was a cabin boy who had a map tattooed on his arm.

Such is the attraction of this treasure; many expeditions and syndicates have sought the treasure spending thousands of dollars in the process, without recovering a single Spanish piece of eight.

The "Loot of Lima" is one of the most sought after treasures and probably one of the most documented. Researchers, Historians, and authors all agree on one point that the so-called treasure is buried on a tiny island in the Pacific known as Coco's Island.

Coco's Island lies in Latitude 5 32' 57" North, Longitude 87 2' 10" West, about 550 miles due west of Panama City. It is sometimes confused with Coco's Keeling Islands.

It became the perfect hideout and haunt of pirates dating the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Off the main shipping lanes, but still close enough to the rich Spanish colonies situated along the Coastline, it was strategically well situated to the pirates needs.

Coco's offered safe anchorage and a plentiful supply of fresh water and coconuts from which the pirates brewed alcoholic beverages. Deposits of loot on Coco's are associated with notorious names such as William Dampier, Edward Davis, Benito Bonito, Captain Thompson and some stories have it that even Captain Kidd buried his loot there too.

During a Trans Atlantic voyage a man named William Thompson, became friendly with another seaman John Keeting. One night, Thompson confided to Keeting and told the following story. In 1890, he had been at anchor in the British Brig "Mary Dear" in the Port of Callao. Chile and Peru were at war; the Chilean army was about to attack the City of Lima. The Spanish has accumulated great wealth and riches at Lima. The largest collection being held in the Cathedral of Lima.

Amongst the collection of gold and silver artefacts, mostly encrusted with precious stones, was a life-size effigy of the Virgin Mary holding the divine child, reputedly made of solid gold and encrusted with jewels. The Spanish had gathered their riches together and transported them to Callao only to find the only ship in the harbour was the "Mary Dear."

Thompson was trusted by the Spanish because of prior dealing with them in the past. He was commissioned to cruise off the coast for several weeks. Should Lima survive, he was to return the treasure to the Spanish Authorities in Panama.

The treasure was loaded onto the "Mary Dear" together with six soldiers and two priests to guard it during the coming voyage. Thompson and his crew were overwhelmed at the value of the cargo they had stored in the holds of their ship and this immense fortune proved to be too great a temptation for him. Once they left port for the open sea, they waited until the guards and priest were asleep, then took the advantage of murdering them all and disposed of their bodies over the side of the ship. Thompson then set sail for Coco's Island and anchored in Chatham Bay.

Two Bays, Chatham and Wafer Bay offer safe anchorage in the North of the island and both offer fresh water springs. There is also a smaller inlet in the South of the island called Bay of Hope where a landing could have easily been made. Thompson unloaded the "Mary Dear" and his treasure in a cave in Chatham Bay goes one story, but in another he made an inventory which reads as follows.

"We have buried at a depth of four feet in the red earth: alter trimmings of cloth of gold with baldachin, monstances, chalices, comprising 1,244 stones; 1 chest; two reliquaries weighing 120 pounds, with 624 topazes, carnelian's and emeralds, 12 diamonds; 1 chest; 3 reliquaries of cast metal weighing 160 pounds, with 860 rubies and various stones, 19 diamonds; 1 chest; 4,000 doubloons of Spain marked 8, 5,000 crowns of Mexico, 124 swords, 64 dirks, 120 shoulder belts, 28 rondaches (small shields); 1 chest; 8 caskets of cedar wood and silver with 3,840 cut stones, rings, platens and 4,265 uncut stones; 28 feet to the north-east at a depth of eight feet in the yellow sand; 7 chests with 22 candelabra in gold and silver, weighing 250 pounds, and 164 rubies, 12 armspans west; at a depth of 12 feet in the red earth. The seven foot Virgin of gold with the child of Jesus and her crown and pectoral of 780 pounds, rolled in her gold chasuble on which are 1.684 jewels. Three of these are four-inch emeralds on the pectoral and six are six-inch topazes on the crown. The seven crosses are of diamonds."

Having hidden his treasures and shared out several chests of gold with his crew. He left the island and was sighted by the Spanish Frigate "Espsigle" which engaged and captured them. The Spanish on finding some of the "|Loot of Lima" on board hanged the crew sparing only Thompson and another man on condition they disclose the hiding place.

Returning to the island they were able to break away from the Spanish guards and took cover in the dense overgrowth. After they spent a week searching for them, the Spaniards finally gave up and sailed away. Some time later a passing whaling ship called into the island for water and found Thompson and the other man who died shortly after from a fever.

Thompsons mate's name in some reports was Benito Bonito, in others it was a man named chapelle. After his rescue from Coco's island, Thompson returned to the sea as a seaman, where he met Keating. Keating claimed Thompson gave him documents, maps and other information to recover the treasure concealed on the island. Since 1860 Coco's Island has been known chiefly as a treasure-hunting site.

It appears that the "Loot of Lima" as it is called lies not in Queenscilff as claimed by local residents, but on an island many miles away. Sir Captain John Williams who salvaged the Niagra became involved in Benito's treasure when he was commissioned to dive at the scene in hope of recovering the virgin's effigy. During an interview I conducted with him, he stated the individuals involved were a weird bunch. He agreed to accept the deal on condition he was paid in advance. He was told that there was an underwater cave with a ledge inside with the statue of the Virgin Mary resting there. Everything was as it was described to his diver's except there was no virgin to be found. After which he was accused of cheating the syndicate he had done the work for.

Historians believe a shadowy figure of a man known as Benito Bonito did exist, although they believe this name was used to disguise his real identity. It is agreed that the true identity of Benito Bonito was Captain Bennett Grahame, a British naval officer who had served with none other than Lord Nelson.

In 1818 Grahame was sent to the Pacific in command of H.M.S. Devonshire to survey the coast between Cape Horn and Panama. Grahame soon tired of his mundane task and instead turned to piracy, his crew was given the option to join him or be put ashore in Panama.

Those that would not join him were instead taken to Coco's island where after being put ashore were slaughtered by Grahame and his crew. Thus he became know as Benito Bonito of the Bloody Sword.

Treasure hunters, searching for the treasure years later uncovered a number of skeletons; these remains are believed to be members of Grahame's crew. Apart from plundering richly laden Spanish vessels carrying cargoes of gold and silver Bonito also came ashore at a spot near Acapulco, Mexico where he seized a rich cargo of gold. According to reports he took it to Coco's island and buried it in Wafer Bay.

One story tells of an occasion when Bonito spotted five Spanish ships, 3 of them being men-o-war and the other galleons laden with gold and silver. Bonito successfully engaged the Spanish in a running duel capturing the Latin ships. During the battle, "Devonshire was extensively damaged and Bonito decided to load his treasure on a Spanish ship,"Relampago", which he sailed to Coco's and buried his treasure in a tunnel some 35 feet long.

Bonito's activities were common knowledge and complaints had been made to the British Admiralty, which despatched a warship to deal with him. However Bonito engaged the man-o-war and defeated it. Eventually he was cornered in the Bay of Buena Ventura after his ship had been sunk. Bonito and his crew were taken to England where they were tried convicted and hanged. Several crewmembers were transported to Tasmania for life. Amongst them, a young girl named Mary Welch or Welsh told a dramatic story.

She claimed Bonito's real name was Grahame who had picked her up in Panama several years earlier. It was Mary who started the Queenscilff version of the treasure tale. She claimed the pirates came ashore at Queenscilff, buried the treasure in a cave and dynamited the entrance. Shortly after passing through the heads, they were spotted by a warship, which gave chase. After a running battle they were captured but Bonito blew his brains out on the deck rather than face the gallows.

The amazing part of her story is that after she married and secured her release instead of hunting for the treasure in the Queenscilff area, she sailed off to San Francisco where she raised an expedition to go to Coco's Island. The maps and documents she had in her possession proved worthless, many historians believe her tale to be nothing more than a fabrication of the imagination.

Kenneth W. Byron wrote a book entitled, "Lost treasures in Australia and New Zealand." In it he describes investigations made by Harry Riesberg, who visited the Cathedral at Lima. He found that at no time was there a war between Chile and Peru. He was astounded when a priest pointed to a life-size effigy of the Virgin Mary, and also discovered that at no time had the Cathedral been plundered. The British Admiralty has no records regarding the capture of Benito Bonito, his trial, execution or even the transportation of prisoners to Tasmania.

Treasure and the thought of instant wealth and riches are sufficient excuse for wealthy individuals to indulge themselves in making a quick profit, especially if the story, documentation and maps appear to be authentic and credible. Anyone owning such information in those hard times where some individuals begged for a living were assured of living well at the expense of others. Today, people are still being taken in by individuals with a good treasure tale; the only difference is that we now know these people as con-artists.

The Coco's Islands has attracted many famous individuals to its shores seeking the Lost Loot of Lima. Little has ever been recorded as being found one individual lived on the island for many years with little to show for his efforts. It was reported at one time that the United States Army went in with heavy equipment including bulldozers and found nothing.

Writers on the other hand find the tale a fascinating one in which they will always find a ready market for the tale they wrote about the so-called treasure. However, time, effort and money often spent gathering the information outweighs any remittance they might recover from such a venture. Treasure tales, are at the end of the day, fairy tales for big boys who never grew up. Happy Hunting Alan Hassell

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Posted By: - - April 11, 1998 at 06:34:25