The best known of the treasure legends tied to the island is that of the Treasure of Lima
In 1820, with the army of José de San Martín approaching Lima, Viceroy José de la Serna is supposed to have entrusted treasure from the city to British trader Captain William Thompson for safekeeping until the Spaniards could secure the country. Instead of waiting in the harbor as they were instructed, Thompson and his crew killed the Viceroy’s men and sailed to Cocos, where they buried the treasure. Shortly afterwards, they were apprehended by a Spanish warship. All of the crew bar Thompson and his first mate were executed for piracy. The two said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives – but after landing on Cocos, they escaped away into the forest.
The first claims of treasure buried on the island came from a woman named Mary Welsh, who claimed 350 tons of gold raided from Spanish galleons had been buried on the island. She had been a member of a pirate crew led by Captain Bennett Graham, and was transported to an Australian penal colony for her crimes. She possessed a chart showing where Graham’s treasure was supposed to be hidden. On her release she returned to the island with an expedition, which had no success in finding anything, with the points of reference in the chart having disappeared.
Another pirate supposed to have buried treasure on the island was the Portuguese Benito Bonito. Though Bonito was hunted down and executed, his treasure was never retrieved.
Hundreds of attempts to find treasure on the island have failed. Several early expeditions were mounted on the basis of claims by a man named Keating, who was supposed to have befriended Thompson. On one trip, Keating was said to have retrieved gold and jewels from the treasure. Prussian adventurer August Gisslerlived on the island for most of the period from 1889 until 1908, hunting the treasure with the small success of finding six gold coins.
Discovery and early cartography – J. Lines (Diario de Costa Rica, May 12, 1940) cites Fernández de Oviedo who claims that the first discoverer of the island was Johan Cabeças. Other sources claim that Joan Cabezas de Grado was not a Portuguese sailor but an Asturian. D. Lievre, Una isla desierta en el Pacífico; la isla del Coco in Los viajes de Cockburn y Lievre por Costa Rica (1962: 134) tells that the first document with the name “Isle de Coques” is a map painted on parchment, called that of Henry II that appeared in 1542 during the reign of Francis I of France.
The island became part of Costa Rica in 1832. In 1897 the Costa Rican government named the German adventurer and treasure hunter August Gissler the first Governor of Cocos Island and allowed him to establish a short-lived colony there.
The general vegetation of Cocos Island has greatly changed since the island was first named and described by Europeans. Captain Wafer, who visited the island in 1685 and whose name was given to the landing place, describes extensive coconut groves extending inland into the interior of the island. It is very unlikely that these groves developed naturally, and it seems evident that pre-European man must once have cleared considerable areas in the ravine bottoms and interior plateaus and ridges, utilizing the clearings for coconut plantations of substantial extent. It has been posited that these plantations were used to provide fresh liquid and food for pre-Columbian voyages (balsa rafts using guara navigation) between Guatemala and northwestern South America. After the Spanish conquest and its consequences, these voyages ended and the tropical jungle recovered the land that had been laboriously cleared by early human hands.
The book Desert Island proposed the highly detailed theory that Daniel Defoe used the Isla dell Cocoze as an accurate model for his descriptions of the island inhabited by the marooned Robinson Crusoe. However Defoe placed Crusoe’s island not in the Pacific, but rather off the coast of Venezuela in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park centers on the fictitious Isla Nublar that is off of the west coast of Costa Rica. Isla del Coco may be the inspiration for this island. Supporting this argument is the Dreamworks Interactive game Jurassic Park: Trespasser (1998) which used Cocos Island’s topography as a substitute for the fictional island on which it takes place. Also, “Isla Nublar” is intended to mean “Cloudy Island”, and Cocos Island is the only island with cloud forests in the eastern Pacific. The book The Silent Sea (2010) of Clive Cussler, uses the mystic pirate tales but puts the island in US north Pacific coast.
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Mystery of Cocos Island • Locations & Activities