Foreign News: Treasure in Tobermory (2024)

On moonless nights on Scotland’s Isle of Mull, they say, a lonely dog still howls on the beach for his Spanish master drowned 362 years ago in the peaceful waters of Tobermory Bay. Both had sailed against England in 1588 in King Philip’s mighty Armada. On the homeward trip, their ship “much beeten with shote and wether,” sailed westward into Tobermory Bay where her grandee captain, arrogant even in defeat, demanded food and aid from the local Scots.

“It is not the way of the MacLeans to listen to insolent beggars,” replied the local chieftain, Lachlan MacLean, but, he added, if the Spaniard would lend him 100 men-at-arms, he could have all the food he liked—provided he paid for it.

Pop Goes Donald. The agreement made, MacLean marched off with his Spaniards to ravage his ancient enemies, the MacDonalds, on the islands of Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck. When he returned, the Spaniard announced that he was ready to set sail.

“Pay me first,” said the Scot.

“When you return my men,” said the Spaniard.

The canny chieftain returned the men-at-arms, but he kept three Spanish officers behind as hostages and sent his young kinsman, Donald MacLean, along to collect the gold on the spot. Once on board, Donald was clapped in irons, and—hostages or no hostages—the galleon hoisted sail and headed out to sea. A short while later a hideous explosion—it was young MacLean, they say, who touched it off—rocked the quiet harbor, and the Spanish ship settled peacefully below the waves, ten fathoms down. Only the captain’s dog and three sailors escaped drowning.

There has been much argument since then over the identity of the sunken ship, but around Tobermory it became accepted as fact that she was the 960-ton galleon Duque de Florencia, a ship laden with gold and silver plate and carrying the Armada paymaster’s chest, a hoard of 30 million ducats in gold coin.

Duck & Work. It was a treasure to tempt any Scot, and in 1641 the Marquess of Argyll, head of the Clan Campbell, got King Charles to grant him the rights to fish for it. The MacLeans, however, were not giving up that easily. They built a stone fort on the shores overlooking the site of the wreck, and announced their firm intention “to shoot guns, pistols and muskets” at any Argyll diver who attempted to “duck and work” near the sunken wreck. In 1683 Captain William Campbell sailed the frigate Anna of Argyll into the harbor and ordered the divers “to sink their bells . . . and duck and work regardless of the threats of the MacLeans.” The embattled treasure-seekers managed to catch “a crowne or diadem, and had hooked the sayme, but being chained, it fell among ye timbers.” They soon gave up.

Since that time some 15 attempts have been made to salvage the Florencia’s treasure. They yielded handfuls of gold and silver coin, a cannon designed by Benvenuto Cellini, the skeleton of a boy, some silver plate etched with Spanish arms, religious medals, ammunition and boarding pikes. But under the silt of years the bulk of the Spanish treasure still, presumably, lies where it sank, tucked securely “beneathe ye sell of ye gunroome.”

Last week, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, which insisted that its only interest was in training divers and locating the exact site of the wreck, the Argylls were at it again in Tobermory Bay. The time had come, the eleventh Duke decided recently, to make “a really serious attempt” at the treasure. Even if loot eludes him, the Duke hopes to make expenses selling movie and feature story rights to the search. “The world is too drab,” he says. “I think we could all do with a little romance.”

Clinkers & Scallops. Meanwhile, 65 feet down, his divers probed the bay floor with powerful hydraulic jet drills and huge vacuum-cleanerlike suction pumps, looking for cash but finding mostly romance. So far, they had raised what seemed to be an ancient, encrusted cannonball. It turned out to be a clinker dumped off a World War II coal ship. A piece of ancient planking turned out to be part of the town pier. Some mysterious round objects turned out to be weights from a modern fishing net. A bonanza haul of large scallops had a solid market value of three shillings apiece in the London markets. But by week’s end the divers had found a genuine Spanish dagger in a ten-inch sheath encrusted with rust, and two Spanish medallions.

For the Argylls and those residents of Tobermory who can still hear the captain’s dog howling on their beaches at night, hope lived on, and the search went forward. The MacLeans were not talking. There is also a legend that everything worth taking from the sunken galleon was taken 300 years ago—by a MacLean.

Foreign News: Treasure in Tobermory (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dan Stracke

Last Updated:

Views: 6362

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dan Stracke

Birthday: 1992-08-25

Address: 2253 Brown Springs, East Alla, OH 38634-0309

Phone: +398735162064

Job: Investor Government Associate

Hobby: Shopping, LARPing, Scrapbooking, Surfing, Slacklining, Dance, Glassblowing

Introduction: My name is Dan Stracke, I am a homely, gleaming, glamorous, inquisitive, homely, gorgeous, light person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.