Judge Cooper Sails for Palmyra Next Week

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Judge Cooper Sails for Palmyra Next Week


Longer and detailed piece covering Judge Cooper's trip Palmyra and his search for the legendary treasure supposedly buried there. Includes large excerpts from Eben "Rawhide Ben" Low's trip and coverage of the wreck of the Henry James years before.

Great piece with lots of good detail on important events and material from Palmyra's past, giving a good overview up to that point.




Honolulu Star Bulletin




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All aboard for Palmyra.
Following is the personnel of those who will probably make the voyage to Judge Cooper’s treasure island Palmyra in the schooner Luka, sailing from Honolulu July 2 or 3:
Judge H.E. Cooper, owner of the island.
C. Montague Cooke, curator at Bishop Museum
Professor J.F.C. Rock, botanist at the college of Hawaii and the Government nursery.
Gerrit P. Wilder, well-known amateur scientist and botanical enthusiast.

Once again Judge Henry E. Cooper will brave the dangers of sea and pestilence and make a dash for that buried treasure purported to have been left on the isle of Palmyra by some contemporary of the notorious Captain Kidd. Once again the good ship Luka will steer a southerly course to the “$250” island, reported to contain the buried loot of blood thirsty sea rovers whose lives were spent in cutting throats, scuttling ships and burying treasure: the island which caused near-international (newspaper) complications and over which there has been expended in litigation many times the value placed upon the island when it was sold in 1890 for $250.

July 2 or 3 is the date set by Judge Cooper for the second sailing on the search of the island for the treasure which is reported to have been buried there and for which the jurist mad a previous, though unsuccessful trip. While on the island, should the party reach it safely, it is the intention of Judge Cooper to make a thorough and careful survey and endeavor to trace the treasure-mine by aid of a chart which is said to be the key that will unlock the golden door.

Accompanying Judge Cooper will be C. Montague Cooke, curator at the Bishop Museum; Prof. J.F.C. Rock, botanist affiliated with the College of Hawaii and the government Nursery, and possibly Gerrit P. Wilder. The latter has been invited to make the voyage, but as yet Judge Cooper has not received an acceptance. Captain Piltz will accompany the seekers after wealth, vice Captain F.C. Miller, who navigated on the previous unsuccessful trip.

Has Interesting History

Palmyra island bears a record in recent years that reads like a page from the history of the dark ages aside from the almost embrogllo between the United States and Great Britain that eventually proved to be a newspaper ??-but not until the navy department had gone to the expense of sending a cruiser into the southern waters to make a complete investigation.

Purchased in June 1910 by Judge Cooper from Mrs. Elsie M Wunderberg, for the sum of $750, the top price paid for the island, it had shown a steady increase in price during its several previous transfers-probably the amount of the buried treasure having increased in value with each sale of Palmyra.

The late F.W. Wundenberg, whose Cooper, from Mrs. Elsie M. Wunden purchased it from W.A. Kinney in 1890, the consideration then being $500, Kinney, however-either a poor businessman or skeptical of the buried treasure-lost on his sale, having purchased the island from W.F. Allen of the Pacific Navigation Company in 1886 for the same price paid by Judge Cooper. The Pacific Naviagtion Company appears to have made a quick sale and large profit, having made the purchase from W.L. Wilcox in 1885, the consideration being “one dollar and other valuable considerations.” The price paid by Wilcox was $550, he purchasing from Henry Kahanwinul, husband of Kalama, the widow of Johnson Beswick Wilkinson of New Zealand. Kalama secured of the island through the will of Wilkinson in 1866.

The island had been claimed as a Hawaiian possession in 1862, in connection with the myriad other islands that dot the South Seas. However, it appears to have been the personal property, at different times, of members of different nations and reacxes, and while it was rumored early in 1912 that Great Britain was a contender for the treasure graveyard there was never any fact on which the rumor could be pinned. As a matter of fact Palmyra island and the Palmyra group are United States territory.

Spanish Treasure Ship

The treasure which is reported to be buried on the island is said to have been taken from teh Spanish ship Esperanza, captured by pirates shortly after leaving Peru in 1816. THe legend has it that the vessel, some weeks after her capture by the pirates, struck on a coral reef in the South Seas and that the pirates built a small vessel from teh wereckage and decamped with gold and silver estimated at from one to several millions. The treasure is said to have been taken to Palmyra and there buried. Henc the impending trip of the Luka.

An additional legend has it that another pirate ship, the Santa Rosa, was fitted out in England and scoured the South Seas in search of the buried treasure, some rumors having it that the Santa Rosa unearthed a considerable amount of the buried coins and visited Hawaii during the reign of King Kamehameha, the Santa Rosa crew trading some of the coins to Hawaii’s king for rum.

Early in 1912 the canard of Great Britain’s desire to secure control of Palmyra caused considerable of a stir in official circles; the story, which apparently was of local origin, being transmitted to Washington, with the result that the cruiser West Virginia, at that time lying in Honolulu harbor, was ordered to leave, under sealed orders, and cruise for palmyra. The West Virginia sailed February 16, and returned February 25, reporting no evidence of previous posession on which Great Britain might base a claim to the island, nor any evidence to show that she had any “designs” on the island. A thorough search was made but no evidence uncovered that would intimate taht any foreign power contested the claim of Uncle Sam to the little islands.

Small Island Group

Palmyra, the group, numbers in the neighborhood of 50 tiny isles, the entire group not being more than three miles in length. In the center of the island lie three large lagoons, while between the island the water is only about two feet deep.

Following the international-complication rumor came a report that Palmyra would make an ideal naval base for either Uncle Sam or John Bull. This, however, was emphatically denied by former-supervisor Eben P Low, who had paid a visit to Palmyra some months previous and spent several days among the group. Speaking of his visit early in 1912, Mr. Low said:

“I visited Palmyra two years ago this coming April in the schooner Concord. I was sent there at the insistance of a local hut of business men to look into the possibilities of extensive copra cultivation and exportation. It was then the purpose of the Honolulu company to purchase the group and institute development of the many little islands capable of growing the coconut tree in paying quantities.

Some Islands Inaccessible

“We had a very call from being marooned at Palmyra. The concord ran very close and finally into the reef, and for a time was hard and fast. It really looked as if the well-known Hawaiian isalnd schooner was destined to leave her bones on those inhospitable reefs. We succeeded however in hauling a ship’s boat into the lagoon, but the feat could only be attempted at high tide. It was no easy task and required the combined efforts of Captain Eil Piltz, the veteran skipper, once with the Inter-Island Company, myself and son. We composed the party that tramped through the jungle, for that is what it really amounts to in many places on some of the larger islets in the group.

“In my opinion no buildings can be erected on any accessible spot on Palmyra, owing to the fact that the islands are very low, the highest spot that we found being barely six feet above high water.

No Habitation Found There

“No habitation graces the islands in that group,” says Low. “We met wit hsigns that indicated at one time the presence of several parties of poachers, but in my opinion they must have been natives from some of the neighboring islands, as they had in some instances carved their names on the trunks of coconut trees. There was nothing on the island that indicated that Japanese bird poachers had visited there, at least for a number of years.

“The place is simply overrun with sea-birds of almost every description. In going about the islands we were continually obliged to exercise care we did not step upon them as they sat about the ground. The ground in places appeared to be littered with the husks of coconuts, these presumably gathered by the visiting parties of south sea islanders.

The fern trees and the so-called birds nest ferns to be found in the larger islets were large and well developed. Many of the trees were much finer specimens than we find here.

Coconuts Galore

“In my trip through the islands I counted three thousand bearing coconut trees. Other trees of the same nature but not bearing numbered over five thousand, and under this classification were ranged trees from eighteen month to four years old. I believe that the latter should in most instances be listed as full bearing by this time.

“There is one solitary islet which affords lodgment for but a single coconut tree.”

Mr. Low tells of a string of islands to the south of the group upon which he estimated that between twenty and thirty thousand coconut trees were growing.

A Paradise for Birds

Birds find on Palmyra an undisturbed haven of rest and refreshment. THey literally cover the ground and the well-known “love bird” was found in such numbers that the Low party were continually employing sticks to move them out of the way of the pedestrians. Eggs by the thousand littered the sandpiles and some of the more protected reefs.

It is believed that some of the southern islands art at times visited by storms or hurricanes which cause high seas to completely sweep over them, carrying away nearly all vegetation and bird life.

Mr. Low offers the statement that abundant rainfall can be relied upon throughout Palmyra.

“No monuments of any description were discovered by our party during the three days’ tramp over all the islands. I am convinced that none such ever existed save in the imagination of some people inclined to sensationalism. Had there been anything like a sign, flagstaff or other mark setup by a landing party this would have been found by us.

“The finest fish that ever tempted a palate are to be found in abundance off the shores of Palmyra. From the Concord we dropped lines and the fish were brought to the sacrifice in varieties to satisfy the most fastidious.”

Another story of deep interest in connection with Palmyra is that of the wreck of the Henry James in the early nineties. The story, which is built around a punchbowl, was originally printed as follows:

The Henry James Wreck

“Highly prized by Captain H.M. Hayward, Commodore of the Oceanic Steamship Company’s fleet, is a beautiful silver punch bowl, which was presented to him twenty years ago by the British Board of Trade for his service in rescuing the crew of the British bark Henry James from the lonely atoll of Palmyra reef in the South Pacific.

“The story of the Henry James is an interesting one. In command of Captain Lattimore, she was bound from Newcastle to San Francisco, with a cargo of coal. Included among the twenty-six souls on board were two women and several children. The coral reefs of the South Seas are dreaded by all mariners, as they are hardly to be distinguished above the surface of the ocean and oftimes with their waving coconut trees may be mistaken for a mirage. It was the fate of the Henry James that she should crunch upon the Caldew reef, forty miles away from Palmyra Island, where her bones still lie.

“When the vessel struck, those on board managed to get ashore in safety, but the shore was merely a rise of half a dozen feet above the sea level. The island was found to be uninhabited and there was hardly any vegetation except some poinsonous looking grasses and a few coconut trees. What stores were saved from the wreck soon became exhausted, and in the sex weeks the castaways spent upon the barren islet, they suffered tortures of mind and body. Captain Lattimore organized “hunting” parties and each day they went out to gather food. Some groveled for land crabs, others scraped the salt off the rocks, while others chased slippery eels or climbed coconut trees. The forage was all put into a big kettle and cooked. There was a lot of grass on the atoll but Captain Lattimore was afraid it might be poisonous. Therefore, before any of the party partook of the delicacy it was fed to a dog which had been saved from the wreck. The animal survived so grass was added to the mulligan of crabs, eels, and coconuts.

Start to Seek Assistance

“The days lengethened into weeks and the lookouts returning nightly after lighting beacon fires, brought the same discouraging news. There was no sign of a sail or a smoke streak on the great stretch of tropical water. Finally, Captain Lattimore decided that the last chance must be taken, if they were to be rescued. One day the party gathered sadly on the beach to bid farewell to the mate and four seaman, who were starting out in an open boat to find succor. They shaped a course for Samoa, 1290 miles away. Nineteen days later, a schooner, cruising off the coast of Upolu, sighted an open boat with a limp sail, drifting with the current. As the schooner approached the boat those on board saw the bodies of five men stretched in teh bottom. They were not dead, however, for uon seeing the schooner, one of the figures arose and uttered a wild cry, and the others leaped up, waving bony arms. The men quickly taken on board, and after being revived, told the story of the wreck of the Henry James and of the castaways awaiting aid.

“In those days the steamer Mariposa, which Captain Hayward still commands, was running between San Francisco and the Colonies. She was bound from Sydney for this port, and heard the news of the shipwreck at the island of Tutuila, where the Oceanic line steamers used to touch. Captain Hayward immediately headed the Mariposa for Palmyra.

Castaways’ Suffering

Meantime conditions were becoming worse among the castaways. They were in a sorry plight. Their clothes had turned to rags, and the diet upon which they had been existing, could hardly sustain them. Captain Lattimore had offered a reward to the first of the party who sighted a sail on the horizon. One evening toward sunset, one of the men dashed into the camp, waving his arms and shouting that there was smoke on the horizon. He had seen that of the Mariposa. THe emotions felt by the little group of ragged, starved castaways could not be described. They shouted for joy and uttered prayers of thanksgiving, as the smoke on the horizon developed into a big steamer, with her nose pointed direct for the island.

A Happy Rescue

Captain Hayward did not venture close in, but anchored about half a mile off the reef. A boat sent ashore was met by one with Captain Lattimore aboard. The castaways were quickly transferred to the Mariposa. Aboard the steamere there was great rejoicing.

Among the passengers was Archbishop Redmond of Wellington, and soon a collection of £140 was gathered for the shipwrecked people. The passengers supplied clothing, and hardy sailormen who had never worn a boiled shirt foudn themselves attired in Tuxedos with kid gloves and brilliant neckties. That night a great dinner was given to the castaways, and when Captain Lattimore was asked how he felt, he replied feelingly:

“This is a wonderful metamorphosis: two hours ago I was cooking a pot of crabs, eels and grass, and now I am dining sumptuously and drinking champagne. I guess the pot is still boiling as the fire was going when we left; but, thank God, we don’t have to eat its contents now.”

The survivors were landed at Honolulu, where they were looked after by the British Consul, who saw that Captain Hawyward’s services were fittingly recognized. Of the £140 collected, £40 was sent to London for the five brave men who sailed out into the ocean in search of aid for their comrades.

Upon his last attempt to reach Palmyra and unearth the treasures that are believed to have been buried for almost a century Judge Cooper met with hard luck. Winds, as is often the case at sea, proved to be contrary and the stout little vessel was blown considerably off her course, the jurist experienced a voyage that in itself is another story, and finally landing, almost off the map, far to the northwest, at Wainiea, kauai, whereas his course-to Palmyra-lay southwest. However, the undaunted, “king of the treasure island” will again attempt to reach his gold and silver laden principality, and who knows? he may return with a Lukaful of gold and silver coins of realms long since passed into history. In any event his friends wish him a safe journey and quick return.

The trial run made by the schooner Luka has demonstrated that the vessel will develop a marked increase in speed over that displayed on a former voyage to the south seas.

The Luka has been given a general overhauling. While on the marine railway the vessel was given a cleaning and repainting. The machinery has received considerable alteration and a far more powerful screw has been installed.

Now being provisioned and made ready for the sea, the trim craft is ready for the reception of the party, who is to become the guests of Judge Henry E Cooper on the trip to the Palmyra group, in the south Pacific, and but a short distance from Fanning island.

Original Format



“Judge Cooper Sails for Palmyra Next Week,” Palmyra Archive, accessed October 28, 2020, http://palmyraarchive.org/items/show/102.


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