Consolacion (Isla de Muerto shipwreck)

Consolación (“Isla de Muerto shipwreck”), sunk in 1681 off Santa Clara Island, Ecuador (PIRATED WRECK)

When salvage first began on this wreck in 1997, it was initially believed to be the Santa Cruz and later called El Salvador y San José, sunk in August of 1680; but research by Robert Marx after the main find in subsequent years confirmed its proper name and illuminated its fascinating history. 

Intended to be part of the Spanish “South Seas Fleet” of 1681, which left Lima’s port of Callao in April, the Consolación apparently was delayed and ended up traveling alone. At the Gulf of Guayaquil, off modern-day Ecuador, the Consolación encountered English pirates, led by Bartholomew Sharpe, who forced the Spanish galleon to sink on a reef off Santa Clara Island (later nicknamed “Isla de Muerto,” or Dead Man’s Island). Before the pirates could get to the ship, the crew set fire to her and tried to escape to the nearby island without success. Angered by the inability to seize the valuable cargo of the Consolación, Sharpe’s men killed the Spaniards and tried in vain to recover the treasure through the efforts of local fishermen. Spanish attempts after that were also fruitless, so the treasure of the Consolación sat undisturbed until our time. 

When vast amounts of silver coins were found in the area starting in the 1990s, eventually under agreement between local entrepreneurs Roberto Aguirre and Carlos Saavedra and the government of Ecuador in 1997, the exact name and history of the wreck were unknown, and about 8,000 of the coins (all Potosí silver cobs) were subsequently sold at auction by Spink New York in December, 2001, as simply “Treasures from the ‘Isla de Muerto’”. Most of the coins offered were of low quality and poorly preserved but came with individually numbered photo-certificates. Later, after the provenance had been properly researched, and utilizing better conservation methods, a Florida syndicate arranged to have ongoing finds from this wreck permanently encapsulated in hard-plastic holders by the authentication and grading firm ANACS, with the wreck provenance clearly stated inside the “slab”; more recent offerings have bypassed this encapsulation. Ongoing salvage efforts have good reason to be hopeful, as the manifest of the Consolación stated the value of her registered cargo as 146,000 pesos in silver coins in addition to silver and gold ingots, plus an even higher sum in contraband, according to custom.