CHAPTER I: A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME—SEVEN MILLION POUNDS STERLING by Capt. J.C. Voss

My seafaring life commenced in the year 1877, when I was quite a young man. Up to the time that I sailed in the Xora, it was spent in large sailing vessels.  During this period, I have filled all sorts of positions from deck boy up to master.

Pirate Gold

Throughout all those years, I would certainly not have believed that a vessel so small as the Xora could live through a heavy gale at sea. Naturally enough, I should not have thought of attempting a long sea voyage in any small craft if it not been for a gentleman, whose name was George Haffner, an American citizen.

In the summer of 1897, when I was sitting comfortably in an easy chair in the Queen’s Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia, a gentleman stepped up to me, saying, “Are you Captain Voss?” I replied in the affirmative. He then introduced himself as Mr. Haffner, handing me at the same time a letter, saying that it was from an old friend of mine, whose death had taken place at sea just fourteen days previously, and with whom he had stayed during his last moments.

The letter ran as follows:

Dear friend John,

You will be surprised to learn that I am now lying on my deathbed. Yes, dear friend, we are at present a long way out on the Pacific Ocean, and I shall never be able to see land any more, but shall be buried at sea like a dog, and the Pacific Ocean will be my grave.

The bearer of this note is Mr. George Haffner, who knows the position where the great treasure lies on Cocos Island. Believe in him, and he will make you a rich man. Excuse my short note, because I am very weak. Kindly remember me to all my old friends and believe me.

Your dying friend,

JIM DEMPSTER

About five months previous to this meeting with Haffner, a Victoria sealing schooner of about seventy-five tons had been chartered by several enterprising men of Victoria, of whom Dempster was one, for the purpose of sailing down to Cocos Island to make a search for the great treasure, supposed to be buried on that island.

Haffner was in possession of a permit, issued by the Costa Rica government, to secure the treasure if found by him. He stated that, when this sealing schooner—the Aurora—arrived at Cocos Island, he had already been on the island for nine months. During which time, he had vigorously searched for the treasure and had located it.

Surprised at this, I asked him dubiously, why he had not taken the treasure back to Victoria in the Aurora. He explained that having arrived at Cocos Island by the Costa Rica supply boat which undertakes a trip every six months to supply the guard on the island with provisions, he met the crew of the Aurora. Not knowing anything of their intentions, besides not liking the captain, he did not feel disposed to disclose his secret as to where the treasure was buried.

He continued:

Meanwhile the crew of the Aurora worked with all their might and made excavations in many places without, however, having the slightest success. Finally, the men got tired and dissatisfied at having come on a wild goose chase. Besides, their provisions ran short. So, they were compelled to return to Victoria, giving me a passage at the same time.

Shortly after our departure from Cocos Island, Dempster became ill, and as a passenger on board I volunteered to nurse him. I did all I possibly could for him, but he grew worse and worse, so that it was soon plain to me that he would shortly succumb.

Not knowing anybody in Victoria and not being sailor myself, I thought of getting in touch with a responsible person in Victoria who would join me on an expedition to Cocos Island to bring away the treasure. So, I decided to confide the news that I had found the treasure to Dempster.

Greatly surprised at this, he almost gained new life, but realised later that his end was near. He himself could not profit by my communication.

I then asked Dempster to give me the name of a reliable man in Victoria, who would be in a position to procure for me a suitable vessel and crew with which to sail to Cocos Island and carry off the treasure. He mentioned your name and wrote the letter which I have just handed to you.

Because I had found from the day that I first met Dempster on Cocos Island until he died that he was a straightforward and reliable man, I have decided to place confidence in you. I now ask, “Can you and will you procure for me a vessel, fit her out properly, sail with me to Cocos Island, assist me to put the treasure on board, and take it to Victoria?” As compensation, I offer you one-third of whatever we may secure of the treasure. This would be the same as my own share because we have to hand over one-third to the Costa Rica Government.

To my query, Haffner then explained that the treasure was valued at over seven million pounds sterling. Thus, each share would amount to, say, £2,333,000. The treasure consisted principally of gold ingots. Thus, the total quantity of this gold would weigh approximately fifty tons and measure roughly one hundred cubic feet. [1]

Turning these gigantic figures over in my mind, my brain almost became dizzy. At last, at last, I thought to myself, “Your poor old daddy’s words will come true!”

He often told me in a joking way, “When you grow up, John, I shall make a millionaire of you.”

When I was about sixteen years of age and reminded him of his promise, he thought it would cost too much money. He recommended to me to go out into the world and hustle for the million myself. He told me that, if I kept on hustling well and hard, I would certainly succeed in becoming a millionaire.

Of course, like a good son, I took my father’s advice and went to sea. From then until the day I met Haffner, I had been hustling up and down and all round the world. I never had managed to commence becoming a millionaire, even in Japanese sea. As I was then already past forty years of age, I had almost lost confidence in my father’s prophecy prior to meeting Haffner.

This gentleman explained to me in detail where the treasure was buried and showed me a chart of the island. It had cross bearings marked on it to give the position.[2]

All that Haffner said appeared to me so simple and straightforward that I certainly arrived at the conclusion that my fortune was made and that I should in reality become a millionaire. I would be one not only in cents or dollars but also in pounds sterling. I would be a double header at that.

What a grand feeling came over me, a poor man, firmly believing that I would be soon the possessor of millions. The thought of which was with me day and night.

I dreamt, the first night after meeting Haffner, that we were both standing on Cocos Island near a large cave, out of which glittering gold and sparkling diamonds were shining invitingly.

To cut a long story short, I really felt the happiest man in the wide world. I did not fail to have a good time in advance at the prospect of becoming a real millionaire.

In the meantime, I was looking round for a suitable vessel, and found a hundred-ton schooner. Haffner, however, did not quite approve of it, thinking it was not really fit to carry such a valuable cargo. One fine day he said that the vessel was unsuitable. He had luckily, for him, met Admiral Pallister of the Northwest British Squadron. The Admiral had agreed to make a trip to Cocos Island. Under the guidance of Haffner, Admiral Pallister would bring the treasure to Victoria in his flagship, the Imperieuse.

This news struck me like a thunderbolt. “Well, in that case,” I said, “I suppose I am out of it?”

“Very sorry indeed,” he replied, “but I am sure you understand my position. In order to secure the treasure with safety I must have a good ship, and, what is more essential, protection, neither of which you can afford me. By placing myself in the hands of Admiral Pallister, I shall have both.”

I saw that Haffner was right, and probably should have done the same had I been in his position. However, I felt truly miserable. I felt as if I had lost my mental balance. All the castles I had already built in the air had vanished with this sudden blow. What was worse was that I had spent quite a little of my savings. So, the tide of my banking account was at a low ebb.

After leaving Haffner, I would not at first believe his story that a British man-of-war should undertake such an expedition. But it proved to be true when Admiral Pallister left Esquimalt Harbour in his flagship Imperieuse with Haffner on board. It even was escorted by a cruiser for the south.

So, I thought to myself that, instead of being on the road to fortune, I have to hustle again and harder than ever before. I solemnly vowed that I would never again build castles in the air. Nor would I have a good time and spend money in advance on the strength of promise of good prospects. In the future, I would wait until I actually had the cash in hand.

[1] Editor’s Note: This meeting in 1897 was in the middle of the 1896 to 1899 Klondike Gold Rush. Gold fever was motivating many men at this time.

[2] The similarities of the outlines of this story to the runaway success Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson originally published in book form in 1883 are unmistakable.

Above was a selection from Sailing to Treasure Island: The Cruisie of the Xora by Captain J.C. Voss edited and Annotated by Linus Wilson. You can buy the eBook, paperback, or audiobook. They all make great gifts for your favorite sailor.

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