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The shipwreck and treasure of the Consolacion

Only in the 90s did we find traces of the treasure of the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, a Spanish ship which was wrecked off the coast of Ecuador in the 17th century. For more than 300 years, thousands of silver coins remained at the bottom of the sea. They are now collected by numismatists fond of Spanish coins. Let’s take a look back at the sinking of the Consolacion and its legendary treasure.

Finding the treasure of the Santa Maria de la Consolacion

In 1998, two brothers were walking on the beach of Santa Clara Island. One of them slipped two unusual black flat stones into his pocket that he had just discovered on the sand. Soon after, they realize that they are indeed “coins of eight” from a sea treasure. Where did these silver coins come from? How did they get there?

Santa Clara Island is located in the bay of Guayaquil, off the coast of Ecuador. It is called “Isla del Muerto” in Spanish, because it is similar to the body of a dead man covered with a shroud. This macabre name was, without doubt, at the origin of the legend of the Spanish treasure.

The discovery of the men is of particular interest to the Ecuadorian Roberto Aguire, who us the rich owner of a tuna fishery and a numismatist-to-be. He created the Robcar company to carry out the investigation of the treasure. Two years went by before he got the authorization from the Ecuadorian government to start rescue and expeditions. While the divers brought up thousands of pieces, Roberto Aguire hired Joel Ruth to identify the galleon. Is it genuinely from the Santa Maria de la Consolacion shipwreck?

Joël Ruth is a marine archaeologist, historian and specialist of Spanish coins. At first, he identified the wreck as the Santa Cruz’s which sank in 1680 in the same area. Then, new clues put him on the track: maps with annotations and a carbon-14 analysis of burned wood found in the water. Ruth went to the wreck of the Consolacion. After 20 days of efforts, several objects confirmed the dating of the ship between 1649 and 1680. There is no further doubt that the ship aground on Santa Clara Island is none but the Santa Maria de la Consolacion.

This is a precious find, because the ship’s manifest, kept in the General Archives of the Indies in Seville, lists all the cargo it was carrying before it sank. We now know that the cargo consisted of 146,000 pesos in silver and gold and silver bars.

The sinking of the Consolacion

A legendary story?

How did the Santa Maria de la Consolacion end up at the bottom of the ocean? In the 17th century, the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain shared the colonies. The other maritime powers did not look kindly on this and pirates hired by other nations sailed and raged in the troubled waters. In South America in particular, maritime traffic was rich and intense. Ships carried silver and gold from the mines in Bolivia to Panama, before being sent to Europe.

bateau pirate trésor consolacion
©pixabay

The Consolacion was one of them. A galleon armed with 24 cannons and 350 sailors, it left the port of Lima in April, heading north. Legend has it that on its way, it came across the Trinity, the ship of the pirate Bartholomew Sharp. The latter chased him. In a panic, the commander of the Consolacion struck the island of Santa Clara. The crew set fire to the ship before it sank so that the pirates could not steal the goods. He was then massacred by the buccaneers.

An enigmatic treasure

However, this story is nothing more than a legend that has kept the myth alive for decades. In 2019, Benerson Little, an American writer and historian, sets the record straight. For the specialist in 17th century piracy, the Englishman Sharp is not the man responsible for the sinking of the Consolacion. After stealing the ship Trinidad in Panama in the early 1680s and renaming it Trinity, the pirate sailed the South American seas with a literate crew. Sharp’s voyage is, in fact, extremely well documented thanks to his logs.

Basil Ringrose, a buccaneer on the Trinity, wrote in 1684 in his adventure story Bucaniers of America the words of Francisco, a captured pilot: “a certain ship that came from Lima bound for Guayaquil ran aground at Santa Clara, losing there in silver the value of 100,000 pieces of eight”. There is no doubt that the two ships never crossed.

It seems that the Santa Maria de la Consolación hit Santa Clara Island alone. However, the mystery remains. How did the Consolacion run aground? For what reason was the ship burned? Why wasn’t the treasure searched until the 90s?

Sources :
Forum Numista
Blog Benerson Little
Article El Universo
Site Ocean Treasures

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