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, but they generally tell the same story, whose rough chronology is as follows:

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 she loses the ensuing battle, but before sinking the treasure is transferred to the pirate's ship and they sails for Macao

February 18, 1816: The ship encounters a storm and finds itself crashed on reefs 1 mile east of Palmyra with a broken mast

February 22, 1816: The pirates repair their ship enough to beach on one of Palmyra's small islands

March 9, 1816: The survivors build a smaller ship, and 80 of the remaining 90 sailors leave to get help

June 9, 1817: Once the new ship is finished, six of the 10 leave

June 22, 1817: A storm washes four of the six overboard, but the two remaining men are picked up by an American whaler

June 24, 1817: One of the two dies before they reach the mainland, and James Hines becomes the only survivor

July 1, 1817: Hines is taken to the Mission City (San Francisco) hospital for recovery

July 30, 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.  The largest evidence against it is the logistial inconsistency is in the timeline itself.  The crew purportedly traveled from Peru to Palmyra, a journey of 6,000 miles, in only 17 days, and thats without accounting for the storms and fighting they encountered.  

This would mean they sailed, on average, nearly 300 miles a day, while most ships at the time could only travel 120 miles a day.  To put it in perspective, Hawaii is only 1,000 miles away from Palmyra, but even into the 20th century the average journey between them was 10-13 days.  The crew of the Esperanza should not have hit Palmyra for 2 months, not just over 2 weeks. Its possible these are simple reporting errors in the account, and the events still unfolded, but the discrepancies add a certain amount suspicion to the story.

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…

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