South Sea Armada
The full name of La Consolación was the Santa Maria de la Consolación. This small galleon was part of a larger fleet of Spanish galleons called the Armada del Mar del Sur (South Sea Armada) which carried treasure between Peru and Panama. The treasure was transported overland to Portobello then loaded onto Spanish galleons setting sail for Spain
In April 1681, the Armada del Mar del Sur left Callao (the port of Peru) for Panama. The Armada’s departure was delayed for over a month waiting for La Consolación. She was waiting for silver bullion from the Potosi mine. The Armada had already set sail by the time La Consolación arrived in Callao.
Pirate Encounter and Sinking
The Viceroy of Peru commanded La Consolación to set sail alone despite advice from royal officials who were against it because of the ever present danger of pirates. The treasure had to reach Panama in time to set sail with the Armada for Spain.
La Consolación soon met with pirates who were under the direction of Captain Bartholomew Sharpe (an English privateer). The rivalry between Spain and England was fierce in 1681, and Captain Sharpe was on the hunt for Spanish ships loaded with gold and silver. Accounts vary, but Captain Sharpe led anywhere from three to six ships. When La Consolation’s Captain Juan de Lerma saw the pirate ships, he altered course and attempted to seek safety in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The pirates gained on him quickly and he decided to take evasive action near Santa Clara Island, but before he could reach the island he struck a reef. As La Consolación began to take on water, the passengers and crew evacuated on smaller boats and in order to prevent the English from obtaining the treasure, La Consolación was set on fire. They then sailed for the island of Santa Clara for safety. The pirates were furious when they realized the ship had been intentionally set on fire. They followed the survivors (approximately 350), captured many of them and beheaded them when they realized how much treasure had been on La Consolación. Because of Captain Sharpe’s brutal attack on the survivors of La Consolación, the Ecuadorians nicknamed the island of Santa Clara “Isla de Muerto” or “Island of the Dead”.
17th Century Salvage Attempt
For several days the pirates forced native fishermen to dive for the treasure, but without success. Captain Sharpe and his men were forced to leave empty handed.
In 1998, the shipwreck site was again discovered and this time treasure was recovered. Much of the treasure consisted of Spanish colonial “pillar and waves” type cobs from the Potosi mint
©2007 BBWS, Inc.
South Sea Armada