First of all I want to thank Grumpy dragon for reminding me about this treasure legend. A treasure that may even be in my back yard so to speak.
Once a year I manage to escape the stress of work to my little hideaway on Magnetic Island. Maggie to the locals of about 2000 people call home. Maggie is not the flashy island of international jet set tourists. Its a place to drop out, hang out chill out. It is not an island of pretentiousness posers "to be seen" that some islands become flooded with towering high rises, jewelry and flashy boats on show.
The pretentious show ponies came and tried to develop the island into some thing it is not. It was never was going to be a exclusive island for the rich and Famous. Their attempt at it now shows with empty apartments up for sale and bankrupt property developers. Many of islanders are every day Mr and Mrs Joe blows working in jobs just like all of us. Struggling to pay the bills like the rest of us. That is why I feel in love with Maggie with its down to earth feel and no image needed to be maintained.
Maggie has it charms and of course, with local legends and the treasure legend adds to the flavor of the place especially when overlooking the bar over horseshoe bay with a few drinks, the yarns get bigger and bigger.
The origins of Magnetic island treasure story dates back an newspaper story in 1934 that claims documents found in temples in Japan describe tell of a Japanese Pirate by the name of Yamada Nagamasa and land called "Seiyo". It has been alleged that along the coast of this land was an island where Yamada Nagamasa buried treasure from his piracy among the Siam and the Dutch and Portuguese.
Was there any truth to the tale?
Being almost a local
I felt the urge to investigate.
And have found the following.
Yamada Nagamasa? lived between 1590?1630 was a Japanese adventurer pirate who gained considerable influence in Thailand at the beginning of the 17th century and became the governor of the Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand.
Yamada Nagamasa was born in Numazu in 1590. He became involved in Japanese trade activities with South-East Asia during the period of the Red seal ships and settled in the kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern-day Thailand) from around 1612.
Yamada Nagamasa lived in the Japanese quarters of Ayutthaya, home to another 1,500 Japanese inhabitants (some estimates run as high as 7,000). The community was called "Ban Yipun" in Thai, and was headed by a Japanese chief nominated by Thai authorities. It seems to have been a combination of traders, Christian converts who had fled their home country following the persecutions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unemployed former samurai who had been on the losing side at the battle of Sekigahara:
The Christian community seems to have been in the hundreds, as described by Padre Antonio Francisco Cardim, who recounted having administered sacrament to around 400 Japanese Christians in 1627 in the Thai capital of Ayuthaya ("a 400 japoes christaos")(Ishii Yoneo, Multi-cultural Japan).
The colony was active in trade, particularly in the export of deer-hide to Japan in exchange for Japanese silver and Japanese handicrafts (swords, lacquered boxes, high-quality papers). They were noted by the Dutch for challenging the trade monopoly of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
The colony also had an important military role in Thailand. Yamada Nagamasa is alleged to have carried on the business of a corsair or pirate from the period of 1620, attacking and plundering Dutch ships in and around Batavia (present day Jakarta).
Stories of Yamada burying his treasure on the East Coast of Australia persist but it is highly unlikely that Yamada would have ventured along the east Coast of Australia and in particular Magnetic Island off Townsville as there were no trade routes in this region and the only ships to venture to this region were the ones blown off course during the summer storms.
This is speculative however Yamada would have passed thousands of islands in the Torres Straights and Coral sea and these would have provided safe keeping for any treasure and avoided a very long recovery voyage in the future.
The Japanese colony was highly valued for its military expertise, and was organized under a "Department of Japanese Volunteers" (Krom Asa Yipun) by the Thai king.
In the space of fifteen years, Yamada Nagamasa rose from the low Thai nobility rank of Khun to the senior of Ok-ya, his title becoming Ok-ya Senaphimuk. He became the head of the Japanese colony, and in this position supported the military campaigns of the Thai king Songtham, at the head of a Japanese army flying the Japanese flag.
He fought successfully, and was finally nominated Lord of Ligor (modern Nakhon Si Thammarat), in the southern peninsula in 1630, accompanied by 300 samurai.
After more than twelve years in Siam, Yamada Nagamasa went to Japan in 1624 onboard one of his ships, where he sold a cargo of Siamese deer hide in Nagasaki. He stayed in Japan for three years, trying to obtain a Red Seal permit, but finally left in 1627, with the simple status of a foreign ship.
In 1626, Nagamasa offered a painting of one of his fighting ships to a temple of his hometown in Shizuoka. That painting was lost in a fire, but a copy of it remains to this day (shown here). It portrays a ship with Western-style rigging, 18 cannons, and sailors in samurai gear. He returned to Siam in 1627.
In 1628, one of his ships transporting rice from Ayutthaya to Malacca was arrested by a Dutch warship blockading the city. The ship was released once the identity of the owner became clear, since the Dutch knew that Yamada was held in great respect by the King of Siam, and they did not wish to enter into a diplomatic conflict.
Yamada was also valued by the Dutch as a supplier of deer hide, and they invited him to trade more with Batavia (Accounts of the castle of Batavia, March 1, 1628). In 1629, Yamada Nagamasa visited Japan with an embassy from the Thai king Songtham.
He soon travelled back to Siam, but became involved in a succession war following the death of the King Songtham. He was wounded in combat in 1630, and then apparently poisoned through his wound, which led to his death.
Yamada Nagamasa as you can see was a real pirate and a fairly well documented life. It was the inference by Dr W G Goddard that Yamada Nagamasa may of visited a south land called Seiyou fringed with coral reefs. This may have spurned enterprising locals on Maggie in the 1930's desperate for tourists to connect the pirate Yamada Nagamasa had buried treasure on the Magnetic Island.
You can see a portion of a map of the day that Japanese traders was using around the time. No south land recorded on the map.This does not mean that he didn't discover some thing but records of his life was pretty clear where he was up until the time of his death.
Perhaps all islands should have a treasure legend to enchant and enthrall Tourists. Island dreaming can and will always inspire the dreamer in all of us.
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South east Portion of JapanesePortolanMap 1623.jpg
THE COURIER MAIL SAT 11 NOV 1933 JAP PIRATE P1.jpg
THE COURIER MAIL SAT 11 NOV 1933 JAP PIRATE P2.jpg