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Friday, September 15, 2023

Wood - Romance of Treasure-Trove - Keeping the Public in Publis Domain


Every year, since 2002, September the 19th has been International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  If you go to the link above you will find how it started with "pirate guys" John Baur and Mark Summers with some help from columnist Dave Barry.  Their story may or may not interest you, but let's shout "AHOY, MATEYS!" and dive into a story worth retelling.

There are many tales of Blackbeard the pirate ( Captain Edward Teach) and Sir Henry Morgan, but I want to give a lesser known incident about treasure hunting that may have originated with buried pirate treasure.  It (along with stories of Blackbeard and Morgan) is one of many stories in Eric Wood's The Boy's Book of the Sea.  It's in the section called


Which goes on to say "These are True Stories of Treasure, and they are as Strange as Fiction."  Dropping down within that chapter, the storyteller in me was taken by this very true story of shipwreck and a fight to the death.

Sometimes the romance of treasure-trove is over-clouded by tragedy; and very often for nothing. The story is told of the foundering of the American ship Reliance, Captain Harding and his crew of twelve men barely escaping with their lives in the boats. Then a storm broke upon them and separated the boats, and Hiram Manly, mate, and nine men found themselves alone on the watery waste, being buffeted about, in danger every minute of being swamped. They worked desperately to keep her afloat, happy to be so far safe. Then one man was washed overboard by a huge wave, another fell dead from his exertions, and the survivors, day after day under pitiless sun, and night after night, held on their way, economising the few provisions and little water they had, becoming delirious as the anxiety told on them. Two more men were lost one night—perhaps the madness seized them, and they flung themselves overboard to end it all; perhaps a wave took them. But, whatever it was, they disappeared without a sound. The survivors, after what seemed an eternity of suffering, were at last flung upon a coral island, where they found water, which, because of the uncontrolled thirst upon them, killed two of them. Then fish was found; Hiram built a fire from drift wood, lighted it by the crystal glass of a watch and the sun’s rays, and then went to rouse his sleeping comrades. One man was dead.

Then the three castaways fell to eating their first good meal for many a day, and afterwards set out to explore the island, Manly going in one direction and the other two—Dillon and Harper—in another. They found no sign of human beings, and presently Dillon and Manly met.

“Where’s Harper?” asked Manly.

“We’ll never see him again,” was the reply. “He’s dead.”

“Dead!” cried Manly. “Where did it happen, and how?”

“Sharks!” said Dillon. “He went to bathe, and—and they got him!”

“Did the body come ashore?” Manly asked, filled with horror, and wondering when his own turn would come. “Let’s go and see!”

“No!” exclaimed Dillon. “It’s no use. We should never find him!”

But Manly persisted, and ran off in the direction from which Dillon had come; and in half an hour came upon the body of Harper, with a knife wound in his chest!

Instantly Manly’s thought flew to the agitation of Dillon when he suggested seeking the body, and he knew that there had been treachery. But why? Why should Dillon kill Harper, a man with nothing of value on him? Not even his clothes were worth having, torn and ragged as they were.

Manly raised himself from beside the dead man, turned, and, turning, saw Dillon creeping towards him with an open knife in his hand. Weaponless, Manly for a moment was filled with terror; then, catching up a handful of sand, he flung it into the murderer’s eyes, blinding him for the minute. Then, with a bound, Manly was upon him, clutching him by the throat and wrestling for the knife. For a long time the two men fought, biting, scratching, Dillon seeking to use his knife, Manly trying to seize it; but at last, with a sharp twist, Manly sent the murderer headlong to the ground, and the next instant was upon him, and, joy! he had the knife.

Again they fought.... And Dillon met the fate of the man he had killed.

Panting from his exertions, Manly sat on the sand beside the dead man, and his bleared eyes looked out to sea. He leapt to his feet, weariness all gone, all thought of the tragedy forgotten; he waved his hands frenziedly, yelled hysterically:

“A sail! A sail!”

Away out there was a ship.

Tearing his shirt from his back, Manly rushed to the water’s edge and waved it long and feverishly, waved it till there came from the ship the boom of a gun, that told him he had been seen. And then reaction set in; he dropped senseless to the earth.

They found him thus; found Dillon, too, lying dead, and knew that some tragedy had been enacted on the silent, lonely strand. When Manly came round he blurted out his story, telling all.

“But why should he have killed Harper?” said the officer who had come ashore with the boat party.

“It fails me,” said Manly.

The next moment the pair were startled as a seaman rushed towards them with a cry upon his lips. He placed something in the officer’s hand. They were two small golden coins.

They were coins such as Manly knew none of his comrades had possessed, and there was a gleam in his eyes as he looked at the officer, neither speaking a word.

Quietly they walked over to Dillon, searched him, and found three more coins of the same kind.

“Reckon that was the motive, sir,” said Manly. “They found these while they were exploring the island, and Dillon, thinking he had come across treasure-trove, decided to kill us both off. Harper went first, and my turn would have come very soon. Thank God I went in search of Harper!”

The officer agreed with Manly in his suggestion, and soon had his men searching the beach; but not another coin was discovered. Instead, they found the skeleton of a man—of some poor mariner, no doubt, who had been cast ashore, his worldly possessions consisting of the five gold coins that had roused the cupidity of Dillon, and had brought tragedy upon them.

Presently Manly was taken on board the Bristol, and sailed away from the coral island, the scene of a tragedy of treasure that never existed.

Everyone has heard of the treasure of Cocos Islands, off Panama, to which many expeditions have been sent, though without success. The treasure was hidden by a pirate named Beneto Bonito, and hidden so securely that, although many expeditions—some of them recent ones—have been sent out to find it, none has yet succeeded. But, despite failure, year after year men go forth, secretly and well equipped, seeking the hoards of riches that they fondly believe they will some day find.

Perhaps they will.


Love that part about the coins being found on a skeleton, an earlier castaway on the island.

I'm uncertain if the mention at the end of Cocos Island or Beneto Bonito is meant to be part of this story.  I doubt it, but would certainly agree with the final two sentences: But, despite failure, year after year men go forth, secretly and well equipped, seeking the hoards of riches that they fondly believe they will some day find.

Perhaps they will.  


May you enjoy tales of pirates and treasure and. . . September the 19th when you, too, can join in  International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

If you find yourself at a loss for sufficient pirate commentary, batten down the hatches and go to "40 useful pirate phrases for international talk like a pirate day"


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.

Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-

  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.

  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"

The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:        

         - David K. Brown -

         - Richard Martin -

         - Spirit of Trees -

         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for December 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.

       - World of Tales - 

           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.

You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!

    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.

You can see why I recommend these to you. 

Have fun discovering even more stories

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