• Stephanie Maher

The Plundering of Sir Francis Drake along the Channel Islands

Updated: Sep 13

To view Previous Blog: Spanish Gold Lures Them: The Mysterious Article of the Torqua Cave


Click here to main web page: The Secret of the Torqua Cave of Santa Catalina Island




The article Spanish Gold Lures Them, published in 1911 by the LA Times, describes the details of Sir Francis Drake’s plundering while sailing along the California coast. The details had come from the journal entry of a crew member sailing with Sir Francis Drake during his circumnavigation between 1577-1580. John Ryan, a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, had found this journal entry while looking through this family archives. It seems likely that the journal entry was written by John Drake, Sir Francis Drake's cousin, a page of during his first circumnavigation.


It is documented that Queen Elizabeth I ordered Sir Francis Drake to pass around South America and through the Strait of Magellan and explore the coast and retrieve any Spanish wealth for the Crown in 1577.[1] Sir Francis Drake set sail in December of that year with five small ships, manned by 164 men. Drake’s flagship, the Pelican, which he renamed Golden Hinde, displaced about 100 tons. Drake’s crew reached the Brazilian coast in early 1578[2].


On the 1st of March in 1579, off the coast of Ecuador, Golden Hind challenged and captured the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion. The galleon had the largest captured to that date: over 360,000 pesos amounting to six tons of treasure.[3] Drake returned on Golden Hind, the last of the five small ships, with only 56 of the original crew to England three years later in September 26, 1580 and brought back more than ten tons of silver bullion as well as 101 pounds of gold and other treasures.[4] Where he had obtained most of his treasure and gold after his plundering off the coast of Ecuador is undocumented because the Queen demanded secrecy of his endeavor. The Queen killed anyone who talked about Sir Francis Drake’s voyage. [5] It is only rumored that he plundered and retrieved treasure along the California Coast. Sir Francis Drake became knighted because he was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the oceans.[6] He had also set up trade with Ternate (one of the Spice Islands) and claimed California for the Queen[7]. Drake was then elected Mayor of Plymouth and Member of Parliament for Portsmouth[8].


According to the article Spanish Gold Lures Them, the journal entry describes how Sir Francis Drake had come upon a fleet of Spanish Galleons during a heavy storm while sailing south along the California coast during his circumnavigation. Drake successfully plundered one of three Spanish galleons, taking the treasure load. The other two Spanish Galleons had escaped the pursuit of Drake and found shelter from the storm along a beach on the west side of Santa Catalina Island, now known as Ben Weston Beach. The Spanish then unloaded their treasure from the two Galleons onto the beach and buried it to prevent Drake from claiming it. The Spanish then created a “Spanish Chart” or “Document of Trickery” (as it is described), to act as a marker for the buried treasure. However, this Spanish Chart had indicated where only “part” of the treasure was buried on the Spanish Chart, which had been inside of a “cave” about a mile from the Ben Weston Beach. The reasoning for this was to mislead and discourage Drake from finding all the buried treasure if he did catch up to the two Galleons and managed to recover the “Spanish Chart.”


Sir Francis Drake did indeed catch up to the two Spanish Galleons after sailing out into the Pacific according to the article Spanish Gold Lures Them. The Spanish Galleons “did not put up a fight.” Seeing that they were empty of treasure, Drake knew that a “trick” had been played because the first Spanish Galleon that he plundered had been “well laden” with treasures. After a more thorough search of the remaining Spanish Galleons, Drake found the “Spanish Chart” that had indicated where only part of their treasure was buried inside the "old Indian cave." Drake did not go back to search for the treasure because he knew Spanish Guardships would be arriving soon, the winds were favorable for travel, and his ships were already loaded to the brim with treasures from his previous plundering’s.


The Spanish Chart that Sir Francis Drake had taken from the two “empty” Spanish Galleons was eventually sold back to the Spanish government. Sir Francis Drake’s cousin named John Drake, was the page accompanying Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation[9]; I am assuming he was the one who wrote the journal entry about Drake’s pursuit upon the three Spanish Galleons sailing south along the California coast, which in turn had inspired John Ryan, the direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, to track down the Spanish Chart in an “old obscure library” in Spain.


John Ryan realized the Spanish Chart depicted Ben Weston Beach of Santa Catalina with “markers.” He traveled to Santa Catalina where he had followed the markers to an old “Indian cave,” and uncovered part of the treasure of the two Spanish Galleons, the decoy meant to trick and mislead Sir Francis Drake from recovering all the treasure of the two Spanish Galleons.

I realized that this “old Indian cave” is in fact the “Torqua Cave.” I am assuming this “claim” John Ryan uncovered had been a box of gold doubloons since at the beginning of the article it explains that the estimated amount of the treasure from the two Spanish Galleons is thirty million US dollars in gold. Thirty million in gold back in 1911, would amount to just over a billion US dollars today. Could this treasure be buried under the sands of Ben Weston Beach or somewhere nearby the Torqua Cave, “in the mountains” like the article suggests?


The article, Spanish Gold Lures Them describes further that once John Ryan had found the claim inside the Torqua Cave, he interested Andrew Bolton to help him search for the rest of the treasure. The article explains that the name “Andrew Bolton” is “a fictitious name meant to conceal the identity of a well-known Los Angeles man.” John and “Andrew” needed transportation and supplies to find the rest of the treasure, so they had negotiated with the authorities the terms of removal of the treasure. The authorities at the time where the Banning Brothers since they were the ones who owned the island at the time. I discovered that Andrew Bolton is Dr. Charles Fredrick Holder after reading his publications about Santa Catalina Island including: "An Isle of Summer (1901)," "The Channel Islands (1910)," and "The Adventures of Torqua (1902)".


However, the rest of the treasure was never found because the Spanish Chart that John Ryan had tracked down did not indicate where all the treasure was buried, just part of it. After re-reading the article Spanish Gold Lures Them, it seems obvious to believe that John and Andrew (Charles Holder) used the Torqua Cave as a frame of reference to search for the rest of the treasure since part of the treasure was buried inside it. Since the Torqua Cave is about a mile from the beach, John and Andrew must have assumed that the rest of the treasure was buried at least a mile or more from Ben Weston Beach somewhere “in the mountains,” as the article, Spanish Gold Lures Them suggests. John and “Andrew” may have believed the Pimu’gnans, the Native Americans that occupied Santa Catalina island, helped the Spanish bury the treasure, since part of the treasure was buried inside the Torqua cave. It is possible the Pimu’gnans had witnessed and even helped the Spanish bury the rest of the treasure nearby the Torqua Cave.


There must have been at least 150 Spanish men between the two Spanish Galleons that anchored at Ben Weston Beach. The men must have been tired from the ravages of a storm and from fleeing the pursuit of Sir Francis Drake. The men may have been malnourished from months at sea because back then, scurvy was inevitable for them. For the Spanish to carry tons of treasure a mile or more from the beach, would have been an extremely hard feat, even if all those men were strong and had enough energy to burn. It is like those men had to carry the weight of a small car through the unknown, rugged, and mountainous environment. They would have also needed the energy and adequate shovels or tools to penetrate the hard ground to bury the tons of treasure. Most of the land surrounding the Torqua Cave is unlevel with huge boulders in unforgiving terrain with rattlesnakes hiding in the overgrown cactus and shrubs. If the Spanish did indeed bury the rest of the treasure in the mountains nearby the Torqua Cave, the Pimu’gnans would have had to have helped them.


Since the Spanish Chart was meant to trick and mislead Drake away from the treasure, the tons of treasure may be buried underneath the very sands of Ben Weston beach, since it is the easiest spot for the tired Spanish men to bury treasure. But with the help of the Pimu’gnans, it is possible that the rest of the treasure is buried closer to the Torqua Cave, a mile or more from the beach like the article Spanish Gold Lures Them suggests.


When the Spanish interacted with the Pimu’gnans, they may have offered the Spanish food when they led them to the Torqua Cave. It is possible that the Pimu’gnans may have believed that the act of the Spanish burying part of the treasure inside the Torqua Cave was a significant sign or offering, even considering the act a sacred event, not knowing that part of the treasure was put there as a decoy to mislead Drake and discourage him from finding all the treasure, but only to serve as a marker on the Spanish Chart.


Up Next: The Insight into the Mysterious Article: Charles Holder is Andrew Bolton, part 1


To view Previous Blog: Spanish Gold Lures Them: The Mysterious Article of the Torqua Cave


Click here to main web page: The Secret of the Torqua Cave of Santa Catalina Island


[1] Herman, Arthur, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World New York, 2004. [2] http://www.shipmodell.com/index_files/SHIPMODELL_GOLDEN_HIND.htm [3] Wallis, Helen, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, page 134. [4] Wallis, Helen, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, page 134. [5] Wallis, Helen, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, page 133. [6] http://www.shipmodell.com/index_files/SHIPMODELL_GOLDEN_HIND.htm [7] http://www.shipmodell.com/index_files/SHIPMODELL_GOLDEN_HIND.htm [8] http://www.shipmodell.com/index_files/SHIPMODELL_GOLDEN_HIND.htm [9] Wallis, Helen, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, page 134.

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