Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Secrets of South Pacific's True Treasure Island

Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Secrets of South Pacific's True Treasure Island

Article excerpt

HOW romantic it would be to think a dreamy South Pacific atoll that Robert Louis Stevenson's wife fell in love with in 1890 would inspire him to write his immortal Treasure Island.

But in truth he had published his famous tome some seven years before they set eyes on this South Pacific treasure from aboard the old iron steamer Janet Nicoll, on their way to a new life in the Cook Islands in the hope the forever-poorly author could regain his health in warmer climes.

Yet that tiny half-square kilometre speck that Fanny Van de Grift Osborne wrote of as athe most romantic island in the world,a was indeed a truly treasure island a with as many mysteries, shootings, intrigues and treasures that her master story-teller husband could ever dream of.

For while Robert Louis may have mused that Fanny had discovered her treasure island in the little dot of land called Suwarrow, little was he to know that 38 years earlier treasure had been found there in the way of a rusty steel box laden with gold and silver coins, precious necklaces, brooches and other jewellery.

Nor that there was more to come.

In 1850 an American ship, the Gem loaded with barrels of whale oil had run aground on Suwarrow Island's fringing reef. The crew was unharmed and made their way to Tahiti, from where a salvage team was sent to recover the whale oil.

But the captain of the recovery vessel, Livingston Evans already knew rumours of buried treasure on Suwarrow, and while his crew recovered the oil barrels, he himself went off in search of that treasure a remarkably finding a cache of Mexican and Spanish coins buried behind a beach and believed to have been worth then (1852) around US$15,000.

Wisely, after returning to Tahiti, Evans quietly disappeared with his considerable fortune.

Then three years later in Samoa, a German trader bought details from a drunken beachcomber of other treasure he said lay buried on Suwarrow. When the trader arrived there he followed those leadsa[degrees] to uncover US$2,400 worth of Spanish coins at the base of a tree.

Meanwhile others were showing an interest in the tiny atoll as a trading outpost, one company building a defensive fortress surrounded by coral walls on which it mounted two cannons facing into the atoll's lagoon. …

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