By Richard Walburn
A coral island. A pear-shaped pool. In its depths tons of gold, guarded by sea monsters, a giant octopus and a moroeel. And the way to the treasure is shown on the proverbial sea-stained chart. What more can you want?
The story starts in 1849. The Church at Pisco, a town on the coast of Peru, housed great treasure: golden ingots, golden candlesticks and ornaments, and rich jewels. It weighed 14 tons and had been stolen originally from the Incas, the ancient people of that part of South America, whom the Spaniards had conquered and enslaved.
The priests of Pisco guarded their treasure jealously. They hid it in a deep underground vault, protected by iron bars. No thieves, however audacious, could break in to steal it, and no one, except the priests, knew it existed.
The first link in the chain of security was broken when one priest, Father Matheo, ran away to sea. He told the secret of the treasure to a rogue named Diego Alvarez, who brought three other men into the plot: Brown, Barnett and Killorain. They went to Pisco, where Alvarez and Killorain, both good Catholics, impressed the priests by their show of godliness. Alvarez told the senior priest that the one-time Father Matheo was on his way to Pisco with a gang of rogues to steal the treasure.
But there was not time to send to the Peruvian capital for soldiers. The good Fathers, fearful for their gold, believed Alvarez. What could they du to safeguard it? Alvarez had his answer ready: he and his friends would take it to the Peruvian capital - under guard by priests. The Fathers fell for this bare-faced trick. The treasure was loaded on to the Bosun Bird, the ship hired by Alvarez, and the voyage commenced. As soon as they were safe from view the gang knocked the priests on the head and threw them overboard. But what could they do with the ?3,000,00o worth of treasure? Obviously the thieves could not land it at any port, for they were unable to account for its ownership. Once again Alvarez had a ready answer. They would sail across the Pacific, land on a remote, uninhabited South Sea island and hide the treasure temporarily. They would then sail on to Australia and give themselves out as ship-wrecked mariners. They could then hire another ship and return to the island.
Unfortunately for them it did not work out like that. Alvarez, Barnett and Brown were killed in a brawl shortly after they arrived in Australia, some time about r 850, and Killorain was sent to prison for his part in the fight. But he was now the sole owner of the map Alvarez had drawn, showing where the treasure had been hidden.
On his release, twenty years later, Killorain became a tramp. One night, old and weary, he came to a shack. Its owner gave him food and shelter. On his death-bed Killorain told his secret to this man - Charles Edward Howe.
Armed with Killorain's map, Howe sailed to the Tuamatos islands (part of French Tahiti), where Killorain had told him to look for a tiny island, marked by a coral pinnacle on its eastern shore. Howe landed on what he thought to be the island shown on the map. He lived there from 1910 to 1927, digging for treasure. It took him all these years to realize that coral islands look very much alike. He moved to another island and, so the story goes, immediately found the Pisco treasure - or part of it. He dug up a chest filled with jewels. The bulk of the treasure, the golden ingots, Killorain said, had been dropped into a pear-shaped pool. Howe gazed into its murky depths.
What should he do? He could not recover the treasure alone, but if he spoke of his discovery the French authorities would seize the stolen treasure. Howe re-buried the chest, and returned to Australia, where he tried to find backers and helpers for another voyage to lift the treasure. He showed Killorain's map to prove his story. Howe found men ready to search for the treasure, but mysteriously he disappeared before they could organize the voyage, and was never seen again. He had handed over his map though.
Howe's partners went about the treasure hunt in the right way. They made inquiries in the Tuamatos islands and in Peru; yes, they were told, Howe had spent years digging for treasure; yes, the church of Pisco had been robbed of its treasures; yes, the Bosun Bird had reached Australia. The partners secured from the French Government permission to dig for treasure in the Tuamatos. They came to London to raise additional money, and to find a diver, a man to bring up the golden ingots from the depths of the pear-shaped pool: young George Hamilton answered the advertisement and joined the party.
The six adventurers voyaged to Tahiti, hired a schooner and looked for an island marked by a coral pinnacle. They found it at last and hurried ashore. Within a few minutes they were standing by the pear-shaped pool, exactly as Killorain and Howe had described it. This pool was close to the beach and was tidal, being connected to the sea far below the surface.
The partners probed the depths of the pool with drills. Below twelve feet (3-6 metres) of water they went into six feet (r -8 metres) of sand. At one spot they struck something hard. Hamilton put on diving gear and went down to investigate. He felt a tug on his ankle: he was in the grip of a giant octopus, its tentacles encircling his body. He plunged his diver's knife into its body, and was engulfed in stifling darkness-the inky fluid ejected by the monster. Hamilton shot to the surface.
He dived again. This time he was attacked by a moray-eel, its body the thickness of a man's thigh its jaws armed with jagged teeth. He fought it off and surfaced again. The pool was freed at last from its sea-monster guardians, thought the adventurers. Now they could get at the treasure.
But they faced another problem. If they were to find the gold which they believed lay hidden deep in the sand, it would have to be dug out by hand. They built and lowered a `coffer-dam', a makeshift device to hold back the sand as they dug downwards. But it failed to work: each time the diver emptied it, it refilled with sand. Linkback:
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