A planned British-led expedition to Costa Rica’s fabled Isla del Coco — the so-called “Treasure Island” where a $250-million fortune in Spanish gold is believed to have been buried by pirates in the 1820s — has turned a spotlight on a 19th-century Newfoundland sailor’s voyage to the remote Pacific site and his purported recovery of at least some of the loot.
The latest of hundreds of expeditions to Cocos Island over the past two centuries, revealed on the weekend by British adventurer Shaun Whitehead, the University of Costa Rica and the German-based Senckenberg Institute, is intended to combine scientific studies on the wildlife, geology and archeology of the tiny island along with high-tech probes of about a dozen potential hiding spots for the “Lost Treasure of Lima.”
Spirited out of Peru in 1821 amid fears of an invasion by Chilean enemies, the treasure is known to have been stolen by British sailor-cum-pirate William Thompson — who had been hired to deliver the fortune in gold and jewels to safety in Mexico — before Newfoundlander John Keating allegedly found and transported a portion of the Cocos horde back to the future Canada.
Thompson, on the run from Spanish authorities, was forced to abandon the treasure on Cocos, an uninhabited island about 500 kilometres southwest of Costa Rica. He is believed to have met Keating in Cuba around 1840, when he hatched a plan with the Newfoundlander to recover the stolen fortune. But Thompson’s death before the expedition could be mounted led Keating to team up with fellow Newfoundland sailor William Boig — sometimes spelled Boag in historical accounts — to unearth Peru’s lost riches from Thompson’s cache on Cocos.
The Newfoundland link to the Treasure of Lima saga was most recently documented in Treasure Island Revisited, a book published in 2006 by St. John’s history writer Jack Fitzgerald. A former journalist and political aide to Newfoundland’s “Father of Confederation” premier Joey Smallwood, Fitzgerald has argued that Keating’s voyage in 1846 to Cocos helped inspire Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure story Treasure Island and left several Newfoundland families with small amounts of Peruvian gold and jewels that they still possess today.
“The Newfoundland connection is very authentic,” Fitzgerald told Postmedia News on Tuesday. “Keating made at least three trips to Cocos Island and it’s an absolute fact that he recovered some of the treasure.”
Fitzgerald added: “I do think there’s treasure still there.”
The author said he has met with local residents and been shown Spanish coins and Peruvian gems fashioned into jewelry — relics of the Cocos treasure brought north by Newfoundland seamen more than a century ago.
Whitehead, an adventuresome technology engineer whose recent projects have included probing unexposed chambers of Egyptian pyramids with a patented, snake-like camera, said in an interview that he’s planning similar “keyhole” investigations of Cocos Island caves that may have been buried by landslides in the 19th century and never properly searched by treasure hunters — including a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, later the U.S. president.
“One of the reasons we got permission (from the Costa Rican government) to do the work is that it’s part of a wider scientific survey, but also because the archeology will cause minimum disturbance to the site,” noted Whitehead.
He said the expedition is likely to take place in December or in early 2013 during the driest months on Cocos Island, a precipitation-prone place that Whitehead described as having a long annual wet season followed by a “somewhat less rainy” one between December and April.
Whitehead insisted that completing the team’s research agenda will be the prime objective at Cocos, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its relatively unspoiled ecosystems and globally significant levels of biodiversity.
“This is not about finding treasure,” he said, while acknowledging that, “we may stumble across it while conducting the scientific survey.”
Original article here: Postmedia.com