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A NAUTICAL TREASURE HUNT.
In the early part of 1813 I was refitting the 'Prometheus' at Portsmouth, and had written to the late Sir George Hope, the kindest of friends, as well as a brilliant officer and a cool-headed wise man, to give me a run where I might pick up some credit or cash, having served through a fair share of conyoying. I lived at the Crown Hotel, where the captains of the ships at Portsmouth had a noisy scrambling mess, and from the windows of which, opposite the Admiral's Office, a respectable looking, elderly foreign seaman was observed one day to be for some time in waiting. After a conference with the secretary, he was admitted by the Admiral to a long audience, but the purport of which we of course know nothing. About a fortnight after I was sent for by the Commander-in-chief, Sir Richard Bickerton, who put into my hands some papers and an open letter from the then Secretary of the Admiralty, Mr. Croker, dated “Admiralty, January 23rd, 1813," in which he said :
“ The enclosed, which are left open for perusal, will explain to you
purpose of sending the men to Madeira. I believe there is not the least truth in the story, and that the treasure, island and all, are visionary. But Lord Liverpool and Mr. Vansittart think it worth while to make a trial of the thing, as it can be done without any great inconvenience ; will you, therefore, have the goodness to let
the man be sent in the first king's ship likely to touch at Madeira, The packet may be left unsealed that the captain may know the history of the people, and the object of their voyage.
“J. W. CROKER.” I was then introduced to the aforesaid foreign seaman to whom have alluded, named Christian Cruise, and I read the notes whic were taken of his information.
I charged him to tell no person what he knew or what was hi: business, that he was to mess with my coxswain, and be borne for victuals but not for wages, and that no duty would be required from him. He replied, that was all he desired, that he was willing to give his time and would ask for no remuneration if nothing resulted from his intelligence. A few days found us standing dowr channel, and another week at anchor in Funchal Roads at Madeira. I took occasion during our passage to examine and cross-questior: Christian Cruise, and compare his verbal with his written testimony The substance of both was, that some years before he had been seni to the hospital of Santa Cruz, in yellow fever, with a Spanish sailor, who had served for three or four voyages in the Danish merchant ship in which Cruise was employed. He was in a raging fever, bu notwithstanding recovered. The Spaniard, though less violently ill, sank under a gradual decay, in which medical aid was unavailing Dr. Johnson said : “a doctor may catch at the bridle of the pale horse of death when he is running madly away and turn his head, but not when he is going deliberately down hill.” The Spaniard, moreover, had a "mind diseased,” and told Cruise he had something to disclose which troubled him, and which acccrdingly a few days before his death he related as follows:
He said that in 1804, he was returuing in a Spanish ship from
South America to Cadiz, with a cargo of produce and about two millions of dollars in chests, that when within a few days sail of Cadiz they boarded a neutral, who told them that their four galleons had been taken by a Squadron of English frigates--war being declared and that a cordon of cruizers from Trafalgar to Cape Finisterre would make it impossible for any vessel to reach Cadiz, or any other Spanish port. What was to be done ? Returning to South America was out of the question, and they (or rather the captain) resolved to try back for the West Indies, run for the north part of the Spanish Main or some neutral island, and have a chance thus of saving at least the treasure with which he was entrusted. The crew, who preferred running the risk of attempting Cadiz, were all but in a state of mutiny; but they acquiesced in the proceeding, and, keeping out of the probable track of cruizers, reached a few degrees to the southward of Madeira, where they hoped to meet the trade winds.
They had familiarized their minds to plans of resistance and outrage, but had not the heart to carry them into effect till one daybreak the evil one, who has always a temptation ready for those who are inclined to go his way, spread before minds ready to plunder, a most inviting receptacle for stolen goods. They found themselves close off a cluster of small uninhabited islands, fifty leagues to the southward of Madeira, and nearly in its longitude, the name of which the narrator did not know. The centre island, about three miles round, was high, flat, and green at top, but clearly uninhabited; the temptation was irresistible, here was a place where anything might be hidden; why run risks to avoid the English in order to benefit their captain and their owners ? why not serve themselves ?
The captain was accordingly knocked on the head or stabbed with their ready knives and carried below, and the ship hauled in to what appeared the anchorage, on the south side of the island. There they found a snug little bay in which they brought up, landed the chests of dollars, and cut a deep trench in the white sand above high water mark, buried the treasure and covered it over, and some feet above the chests they deposited in a box the body of their murdered captain. They then put to sea, resolving to keep well to the southward, and try to make the Spanish Main or a neutral island, run the ship on shore and set her on fire, agree on some plausible lie, and with the portion of money they resolved to retain on their persons, they were to pnrchase a small vessel, and under English or other colours, to revisit their hoard and carry it off at once or in portions. The juggling fiend, however, whom they served, was not to be so cheated, having inveigled their souls with the temptation of one lone desert island, he employed another for the destruction of their bodies, and there was something like poetical justice in this coincidence; the temptation afforded by the first, resulted in robbery and murder; the intervention of the second, in the death of the offenders.
They passed Tobago, and in their clumsy ignorant navigation ran over, blowing hard, an uninhabited quay, on which the ship went to pieces, and only two lives were saved. These got (I know not how) to Santa Crnz or St. Thomas ; one died, and the story of the other is being now related. The name of the ship, the owners, the port she sailed from, the exact date, or various other particulars by which the truth might be discovered, were not told'to Christian Cruise, or not remembered.
* This broken tale is all he knew
Of those they robbed or him they slew."
On hearing this it certainly occurred to me that possibly he was not "a most Christian Christian,” but a sort of maritime Munchausen, or a modern Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, and I set myself to work in finding discrepancies in his narrative, or rather in the disjoined facts which I collected and wove into the narrative as I now give it.
May he not, I asked myself, have some interested object in fabricating this story? Why did he not tell it before? Is not the cold blooded murder inconceivable barbarity, and the burying the body over the treasure too dramatic and buccaneer-like; or might not the Spaniard have lied from love of lying and mystifying his simple shipmate, or might he not have been raving ?
As to the first difficulty, I had the strongest conviction of the honesty of Christian Cruise, and I think I could hardly be grossly deceived as to his character; and his disclaiming any reward unless the discovery were made went to confirm my belief that he was an honest man. And then as to his withholding his information for four or five years ; be it remembered that the war with Denmark might have shut him out from any possibility of intercourse with England. Next, as to the wantoness and indifference with which the murder was perpetrated ; I am afraid there is no great improbability in this, with self-interest in the scales, humanity is but as dust in the balance; and this not merely with a rude Catalan seaman, but with a Cleveland or a Lambro.
“ He was the mildest mannered man
That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat:"
and I have myself witnessed a disregard of human life in matters of promotion amongst men of gentle blood, which marks the tigertendency of our race, and its utter selfishness and indifference to human suffering.
“Oh, captain, I am not gone," said the dying seaman in the