MAPS Spur New HUNT For Kidd Treasure (Nov, 1936)
MAPS Spur New HUNT For Kidd Treasure
by HAROLD T. WILKINS
Author of “Modern Buried Treasure Hunters”
I AM laying plans to land on a mysterious island in a far eastern ocean, to which a modern and seaworthy steam, or Diesel engined yacht will transport an old sea captain and navigator and myself many thousands of miles across two oceans from the quays and wharves of London and New York.
On that elusive island, which, contrary to the old tradition about Captain Kidd’s hidden treasures, is neither in American or Caribbean waters, is an eerie valley, called by Kidd himself “DEATH VALLEY.” The island’s approach is through very dangerous coral reefs and shoals, which have been the grave of good ships and men ever since and, doubtless, before the days of Captain Kidd, hanged as a “bloody pyrat,” felon at Execution Dock, Wapping, in May, 1701.
One passes through the grim portals of Death Valley to a range of hills, and, guided by the charts of Kidd, one reaches caches wherein have lain, for more than 260 years, the loot of Portuguese and Spanish galleons bound from China to Europe, or sailing from Manila to Mexico. The treasures must be rich, indeed, seeing the extraordinary pains which Kidd took to hide the secret now penetrated for the first time.
The story of how I found these new clues to an old mystery, which has baffled lawyers, old Colonial governors, British statesmen and Colonial-American politicians is a strange one. It is easy to be skeptical, and quite natural, seeing the tales propagated about Captain Kidd and his millions.
I ask the reader to fancy himself at the levers of some Wellsian time machine of the fourth dimension, turning back the finger on the dials to the year 1701, in the month of May. He must also fancy himself sitting at the controls of this machine in the summer of 1932. In that year, I was invited by a gentleman—a complete stranger to me—to look at an old sea chest and a few charts on ancient, yellowing and mottled vellum. There were, too, a number of ancient pistols and dirks and a few pieces of eight forming exhibits of one of the most amazing pirate museums existing in any country of the world. I saw the charts and the chest, and a bureau of the days of Dutch William, King of England and New England, “with the provinces of Boston and Massachusetts Bay.” In a flash, I realized that here were clues pointing straight to one of the most sensational treasure hunts.
As I looked at an amazing chest, and saw its inscription—here reproduced—and heard its history and “pedigree,” the years rolled back. I saw a vision of Newgate gaol in old London, of the year 1701. The glint of the sunshine of a May morning was striking through an aperture in the massive walls of a prison cell onto the figure of a remarkable Scot, sitting with his head bowed in his hands, and resting his arms on a table. His shoulders shook, though not with the physical cold and deadly chill of the old condemned cell for felons. Here was the man whom King William III had called his “true and trusted friend,” and had given a sword as a memento of the royal friendship.
Deserted by his friends, he had been convicted of joining the pirates whom he had been commissioned to fight. He awaited Jack Ketch, the hangman.
Outside the prison was a market, and every now and again the man inside could hear very faintly, the shouts of butchers offering housewives mutton and beef. He didn’t pay much heed! He had plenty to think about. Suddenly, there came a rattle of a massive lock. The small-pox pitted turnkey ushered into the cell a chocolate-hued, pig-tailed fellow whose hairy, ruddy countenance looked as if it had been pickled in the brine of icy, hurricane seas in northern latitudes and then burned to brick color in the tropics.
The man opened his cavernous mouth to complain of the deadly cold in the cell; for it was warm and summery outside the stone walls. His teeth were black and snagged like rocks off Cape Horn, and you might have sworn he was a bosun, so like were his tones to the bellow of a fog-horn trying to beat down the howling roar of a gale.
“Come, Ned Ward!” shouted the prisoner, “sit ye here,” indicating the hacked table, with its black bottle of Jamaica rum and its horn mugs.
“May my soul be blasted, if I am not glad to see ye. Hang care and kill a cat, man, what’ll ye drink?”
Ward, the bosun, opened his lips to reply, but before he could get out a word, the captain had brought his great fist down on the table with such a resounding crash that the . turnkey came running back to look through the spyhole of the cell.
“May I frizzle in hell,” he roared, the veins standing out in his throat, “but unless the great lords, whom I served in this affair of the Eastern Ocean bestir themselves right soon, his Majesty King William will have forgotten to reward his faithful servant with a reprieve, and I shall die with my two feet in the air, on top of the waterish gibbet at Wapping. Are they meaning to wait until the lads with the silver oar have led me and those false-swearing rogues to Execution Dock, before they will pass me a reprieve.
He flushed and was silent.
“Here, Ned Ward,” he broke out again, a new and more serious look in his eyes, “it were well to be prepared for what may happen. I am leaving thee my sea chest.”
Ward’s eye glistened. Truth to say, he labored under the slight imputations of chance friends in taverns off Cheapside, that he had been a privateer, or worse. They glanced sidelong at his gold earrings stamped out of a piece of Arabian gold of the Grand Mogul of India. So, perchance the captain had good reason for his adjuration.
“Mark me well, sirrah, if ye break open that chest when I am gone, I will return from the grave and haunt ye to the day of thy own death. . . .”
His mood changed again to a reflective cast.
“I mind me, when those damned plotting rogues broke open my chest when I was aboard the old Adventure Galley at St. Mary’s Madagascar. . . . But I was ready for ’em!—the blasphemous dogs!—I barricaded my cabin with bales of prime East India goods and had all my pistols well primed and loaded to keep ’em out when they would try to break in, in the dead o’ night. And keep ’em out I did, mutinous dogs, but withal, they broke open my chest which was lodged at Edward Welche’s, four miles away, and took all my store of plate and gold—10,000 ounces—and near 400 pieces of eight, and all my papers and my journal! They it was who dragged me from the mighty protection of my commission under the Great Seal of England, down, down to the gallows at Execution Dock! . . . Rogues who could not keep what they had got, but must needs rob another and swear his precious soul away . . . And now, behold, I am left to the tender care of Jack Ketch, like any common thief. Abandoned by all I served and trusted!”
The tears ran down his ruddy cheeks and stained his white cravat as he laid his head in his hands. The turnkey tapped Ward on the shoulder and tip-toed away with him, bearing a heavy oak sea chest, clasped with four bands of iron and padlocked. Carved deeply on the lid was the date “1699” and the words: “CAPN. KIDD HIS CHEST.”
For this was the man who had committed his sea chest to the bosun’s keeping.
Ward, duly warned, forbore to brave the vengeance of an outraged ghost until, in due time, the terrible old man of the sea, Davy Jones, gathered him, too, into the famous locker. The chest of Capt. Kidd remained in Ward’s family until, about a century later, a certain Captain T. M. Hardy, he who supported Nelson’s dying body aboard the Victory at Trafalgar, acquired the chest from the grandson of old Ned Ward.
About 1931, a very old lady, resident in a pretty seaside town on the south coast of England, decided to part with certain heirlooms. The old lady was the oldest living descendant of Captain T. M. Hardy, later Sir Thomas Hardy, G. C. B., and, so one is told, chanced shortly before she died to overhear a remark to the effect that “when the old girl dies, we shall come into all these relics.”
“Oh, shall we? We’ll see about that!” said the spirited old lady. The consequence was that Kidd’s chest made its appearance in an antique shop, accompanied with its “pedigree.” It fell into the hands of an ardent collector of pirate relics who is a friend of the writer.
One day, someone fingering the chest chanced to touch a nail on its side near the bottom. This nail, exactly similar in appearance to others studding Kidd’s sea chest, seemed to be loose. Also, two other similar nails deeply sunk into the wood on the opposite side of the chest were likewise loose. A false bottom was revealed! And lo, on the underside of the false bottom was a treasure chart of an island in a certain remote sea— not the Caribbean or American waters, cunningly hidden for more than 200 years after the examining judge of the Admiralty and the masters of Doctors’ Commons of the obsolete court of Oyer and Terminer for trying pirates, who sent poor Kidd and other pirates to Execution Dock, have rotted into dust!
This treasure island is well drawn with a pen, in red and black ink—for be it recalled that Captain William Kidd was a good hand with a pen and could compose an effective letter—on an oblong piece of yellow vellum, or parchment. On the north side of the map—which is orientated with compass bearings—is a lagoon, while a coral reef is marked on the south. A number of crosses denote caches of “Arabian gold,” moidores, jewels, sequins and pieces of eight, and these marks are dotted about among trees, a small hill, and a range of hills. At the foot of this treasure chart, a legend, printed in block letters by the hand of Captain William Kidd, directs the hunter to step out so many feet by a compass bearing, which will bring him to a big tree, when he will swing round to another point on the compass and head straight, for certain rocks, when—blank feet by blank feet by blank—will be something well worth investigating- with picks and spades!
Right at the bottom of the parchment chart are the magic initials:
“W. K. 1669.”
Unluckily, however, the name of the island is not stated by Captain William Kidd. It is almost certain that, as he wrote in his eleventh hour letter from the cell of Newgate prison to Robert Harley, Speaker of the House of Commons, such information would be given only on condition of a reprieve. He gives no latitude or longitude— nothing save the name of a certain very wide sea.
The mystery unraveled itself further in the summer of 1933 when the collector called at a shop in the same town and was shown a heavy oak bureau that had belonged to Captain Kidd. The collector was looking at a runner, or way-road, supporting the lid of the bureau, and something less than one-third of an inch in circumference, when he observed that the runner had been engraved with the words:
“CAPTAIN WM. KIDD ADVENTURE GALLEY 1669.”
He suddenly exclaimed, and pointed to the end of the runner. Looking closely at it, he saw that the end had been sealed with a grey wax which, when he tried it with the point of a penknife, was as hard as iron. It was with great difficulty that the collector and the dealer broke up the seal and probed the interior of the slender wooden rod. There was something inside! They drew out of the tube a small piece of parchment-vellum, rolled up tightly into a cylinder. The vellum was yellow with age, and on it, drawn in red and black ink, was a skeleton island shaped exactly like the treasure chart on the inside of the false bottom of Kidd’s old sea chest. The bit of vellum had evidently belonged to a legal document of Mrs. Sarah Kidd, wife of the captain, for it bore a truncated phrase in 17th century legal handwriting:
“of me Sarah W . .”
The skeleton island, too, had been initialed, showing that it must have been drawn in or about the year 1691 when Captain William Kidd, “gentleman of New York,” married Mrs. Sarah Oort, lately a widow. But whereas No. 1 detailed chart indicated no name or sea, the skeleton chart bore on the north side the name of a certain remote sea, thereby for the first time throwing gleam of light on what all historians know is the “dark” period of Captain Kidd’s career, of which nothing is known. That period lies between his probable birth at Greenock, on the Clyde, about 1645, and his emergence into the limelight in New York as a successful and “blasphemous” privateer, in 1690. The skeleton chart not only shows that he had voyaged in a part of the world he is not known to have visited at any time of his career, but it takes us one step on the road toward an elucidation of the mystery of the locality of the nameless eastern treasure island drawn on the first chart!
The collector has also a third chart of the island. This was found concealed in a chest which figured at the trial of Captain Kidd, in the Old Bailey, in May, 1701, but the Crown authorities clearly never knew what lay behind the innocent-seeming oblong looking-glass which slides in and out of a wooden beaded frame inside the lid of the chest! This third skeleton chart also bears the initials, in red ink:
“W. K. 1669.”
When my friend showed me these charts and we excitedly compared them, noting how two of them supplied essential clues to the lacunae in the first, I said, “I’ll bet there is a fourth treasure chart, which Kidd made, knocking around somewhere.”
I certainly lay no claims to powers of vaticination, but on February 16, 1933, I received an “urgent” letter from the collector:
“Dear Mr. Wilkins:
“At last I have some news for you which I think tops the lot. The fourth map has turned up! I went today to see the man who keeps all pirate relics for me, and he told me the other day an old naval man came to see him and mentioned he had an old brass-bound chest with engraved plate on top ‘WILLIAM AND SARAH KIDD: THEIR CHEST.’ One day he let it fall and must have touched a secret spring, for out fell a parchment and on it the map of the island, rather a large one with writing ’round it. My man did not buy it, as the owner said he might be tempted to sell. He is coming to see him in a few days.”
My friend, the collector, was for a week kept on the tenterhooks of suspense. The days went by, and then one morning the old naval man called, bringing with him the chest.
“It came to me from my brother, who traveled the world a good bit,” he said, “but who is this Kidd? I suppose he is a financier who was prosecuted for swindling?”
The collector smiled, like Brer Rabbit, as the chest changed hands.
The hectic moment had arrived. Would the chest solve the riddle of the whereabouts of this skeleton treasure island? Exactly as in the case of the three other treasure charts of Kidd, the fourth map was hidden most artfully in a false bottom. Had you not known, you might have searched for hours and not found the secret opening. Four nails, of a kind not made today, were withdrawn from beading around the edge of the bottom of the chest. These nails, though of course very small and slim, are telescoped very much in the manner of a modern cartridge bullet in its casing. We drew out the beading and probed in the narrow aperture revealed.
Something was inside! It was drawn gingerly forth and to our excited glances there stood disclosed a very Tantalus of a piece of old musty, brown parchment, well calculated to bedevil the most acute of treasure hunters. An oblong piece of yellowish vellum had been stuck on the back of a piece of leathern binding, very ancient, which seemed as though it had been cut from the cover of an old Bible, which may well be the case. On the reverse of the parchment, when one carefully pried it aside at the corners, one may read the clearly written script of some old English legal document, forming the palimpsest for Captain William Kidd’s treasure island.
We looked. It might well have formed the original of the delightful treasure island chart which R. L. S. and his young relative, Lloyd Osborne, drew and faked for Treasure Island!
“Very prettily drawed out” by an educated sea rover of the late 17th century—most certainly not by a foremast hand who “could hand and reef and steer a course, but not set one till you got back into the trades with no blessed miscalculations and a spoonful of water a day”—is a real treasure island, with latitude and longitude, but identical in other respects with the treasure chart signed by “W. K. 1669.” This fourth chart is the key chart. Wrecks—old galleons and brigs—are marked around the coasts of this island of coral and romance, and round three sides, in the margins, runs a fascinating legend—clues to treasure caches—detailing feet to step out from triangles, stakes in a lake, and “Death Valley.”
What treasures the island caches hold, we are not told by the old cartographer. My own view is that Kidd himself drew these charts—he was a good hand at this kind of thing and could write a good letter, as Robert Harley, speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of William and Mary, well knew. The collector, on the other hand, thinks that Captain Kidd may have been given this chart by some dying pirate who knew it was not long before he, the owner, went to feed the sharks.
“There seems some fatality about all this,” the collector says with a worried face.
“I am dogged by Kidd and his relics. People call here with his watch, his miniature done in a ring, his chests, his bureau, and the Lord knows what. It is almost as if his ghost were trying from the land of shades to get ready to hunt up this treasure island, and to do him some justice, 230 years and more after he died, refusing to reveal to the Crown these secrets hidden in his chests, then in England. Here’s a queer thing. Years back, when old Mrs. Hardy was a girl, and had just inherited the Kidd chest, which had been in her family ever since the days of the famous Captain T. M. Hardy of Nelson’s Victory, two very rough old shellback sailors called at her house.
” ‘We hear you’ve got a chest of Kidd,’ they said, gruffly, ‘will yo’ sell it to us?’ “She was frightened and sent the sailors away. But how did they know she had Kidd’s chest? They came from a long way off.”
There are several puzzling features about these charts. The problem of verifying the latitude and longitude calculated in days before the invention of the sextant and the chronometer is far from an easy one. It is known that until the 18th century longitude was found by ships at sea by the crude method of estimating the run of the vessel by dead reckoning. The sea is a remote one of coral island and lagoons and of wild and “un pacified” natives. All one may tentatively accept is the latitude given by the old buccaneer. But who shall say why Kidd drew two detailed and two skeleton charts and hid them in these chests years before the fatal enterprise which took him to Execution Dock? Had he a presentiment of future tragic happenings?
When Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, wartime Director of Intelligence at the Admiralty, visited the house where are located these treasure charts and chests, he was excited by the sight of the detailed chart of the nameless island.
“Do let me take it away with me and send it to Admiralty,” he entreated. “We will send a ship out there, if we can find where the island is.”
The collector, with a distrust of government departments and their ways, refused.
The Admiral again returned to the house and begged for the loan of the chest, when Lady Hall interposed: “It is best to let it stay where it now is. You would only lose it,” she added.
Sir Reginald Hall had seen only one of these chests and charts.
The mystery of the identity of the nameless island was still unsolved, although I had examined no fewer than 800 charts in the British Museum, ranging from Dutch vellum of the middle of the 16th century to printed and more modern maps and charts of the early 19th century.
Another chest turned up, very tantalizingly, while we were thus stalled. It came from Haiti, the old-time Hispaniola, and had belonged to the mad black Emperor Henri Christophe, slain with a silver bullet. The mate of an English brig off the coast of Haiti had bought it from a man who said he was a prince. It is a very handsome piece of Oriental work, and on the massive lid bears the words:
“Capt. Wm. Kidd
“Q. Mt.” of course stands for the name of the famous pirate ship, the Quedagh Merchant, captured by Kidd’s pirate ship, the famed Adventure Galley, in the waters of India in 1697. The chest contains neither false bottom nor chart, only a broken pearl!
I had given up the mystery of the location of tie island when one day in 1934 fate once more took a hand in the game. At the collector’s house I was introduced to an old sea captain who navigated a British cruiser in the World War. He knows the hidden corners of the Far Eastern seas like the back of his hand. He looked hard at the principal chart hidden by Kidd.
Then he said suddenly:
“I believe I know this island, I am sure, in fact, that I sighted it one evening in 1896 when, about the time of Chino-Japanese war over Formosa, I was chasing blackbirders in that part of the world. The island bears a Latin name, and what’s decidedly odd is that in one Far Eastern port, in 1898, I actually listened to a set of shellbacks and wharf-loungers singing a chanty in which Kidd’s pirates were mentioned, and this island by name—in a garbled form.”
He then said:
“I could navigate a ship to that island tomorrow, and if the money is forthcoming for the expedition, well, you will know where to lay your hands on the man for navigator.”
The reader may naturally ask: Where is this Eastern ocean island?
To which I answer with regret that I am unable to reveal the name or exact location, which, however, we have and know. It is not that we fear the claim might be jumped—for, lacking the essential clues and charts, which only three people know or possess—it would be like hunting in a haystack for a needle.
There are excellent reasons of international politics why its name may not be revealed. A certain power, whose spies are everywhere, from the far Aleutians to the edge of the Antarctic, would be very glad to know the name and location of this island, so, for the moment, until Kidd’s caches have been found and searched, my lips must remain sealed. All I can say is that even the British Admiralty’s charts do not show this island, which lies in very dangerous waters of which its sailing directions say:
“Coral reefs abound … by day and night, navigators must keep a sharp look-out and the lead going. It would be well to give this region a wide berth in foul weather, or in the dark.”
What better place for Kidd’s lost treasure than this forbidden, mysterious sea of lone palm and coral islands?