18 6 / 2012
Just off the north-west coast of the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola (now divided into the two countries of Haiti and The Dominican Republic), lies a small rocky island which, from a distance, looks like a giant tortoise rising above the surface of the sea. The Spaniards in fact, named this island, ‘Tortuga’, which means, ‘Tortoise’.
During the summer of 1713, five notorious pirate captains met on the island to make an agreement never to attack each other. As a gesture of good faith, each took with them a bag of personal treasure to be buried on the island. If any of the five were to be killed, their treasure was to be divided between those who remained.
Each buried his treasure in an individual plot and a map was drawn, showing the locations. There were just five copies of the map, of which each captain had one. Within two years of the meeting, all five pirates were dead! Either killed in action or taken by the authorities and executed.
There were many rumours about the meeting on Tortuga, but no one knew the whereabouts of the treasure or who held any of the maps. The story was consigned to myth and legend.
Then one day, in June, 1926, a young boy, the son of a merchant seaman, found an old leather wallet on the beach near where he lived in Cornwall. Upon opening the wallet, he discovered two pieces of parchment. One of them carried a roughly drawn map and the other, some strange instructions.
He took the package to his father, who soon recognized the map as being that of Tortuga. He had of course heard the old legend of the five pirate captains and thought that these two old tattered documents might indeed be directions to the buried treasure!
He took them to the appropriate authorities who verified the age and validity of the papers and an expedition was mounted to find the treasure!
When they arrived in Tortuga, they found that the map led them to five stepping stones that had crossed a small river, long since dried up. The stepping stones however were still in place and upon lifting each one, there sure enough was an old leather satchel!
There was some disappointment. Four of those rascally pirates had cheated! Only one contained anything of worth – a bag of gold doubloons!
When valued, the doubloons were worth many thousands of pounds – the contents of the rest of the satchels were valueless.
The boy who found the wallet on the beach and his father were well rewarded and the doubloons, plus the worthless treasure are now on display at their local museum.
Copyright Leslie Melville 2001: June/July 2012 story of the month