Pirates and jelly


Pirates and jelly



Archives, libraries and museums house documents, materials or artifacts, sometimes very small, which are capable of evoking complex stories. Such stories do not always have a real basis, and others do, but they have been so distorted over time that they generate more doubts than certainties.

The following story is related to some ceramic fragments belonging to the Maruri collection: a series of archaeological artifacts collected by an Ecuadorian expedition in Santiago Island around 1963, and today kept in the Library, Archive and Museum of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). The small pieces of clay belong to a type of vessel known in academic literature as "Spanish jars", and would have been left at various points along the coast of Santiago by buccaneers and pirates who visited the Galapagos during the 17th and 18th centuries.

A particular account concerning the presence of these jars is included by the Norwegians Thor Heyerdahl and Arne Skjølsvold in Archaeological evidence of pre-Spanish visits to the Galapagos Islands. There it is told —although without quoting the source, something very common in Heyerdahl— that Captain Clinton Baverstock found a huge Spanish jar on the bed of a dry river in 1950, 200 m from Buccaneer Cove (Santiago).

[According to The Abaco Account newspaper of May 31, 1964, Clinton Baverstock, born in Washington State, was an American sea captain who, after a long career with the Pacific Mail Line company, became one of the first pilots of the Panama Canal in 1934. During his 25-year stay in Panama, he built a ketch, the Inca, with which he sailed to Galapagos on two occasions].

Based on this fact, Heyerdahl points out that, in 1684, the British pirates William Ambrose Cowley and William Dampier, along with other companions, landed twelve days in James Bay, in Santiago, to distribute loot taken from Spanish ships near Guayaquil.

They left there, among other things, eight tons of quince jam in large jars.

[Heyerdahl bases his comment on "a British Museum manuscript", although, in order not to lose his habit, he does not indicate which one. Probably he was referring to Journal of a voyage round the World, 1683-1686 (or The voyage of William Ambrosia Cowley, mariner, from y. Capes of Virginia to y. Islands of Cape D'Verd; from thence to Guiny ... etc.), ca.1690, kept in the Sloane Manuscripts Collection of the British Library as Mss. 1050 & 54.].

According to the Norwegian explorer, the curious "treasure" was destroyed by envoys of the viceroy of Peru when he discovered that the islands were a buccaneer hideout. The fragments of the Spanish jars were so evident that they were found by Captain James Colnett in 1793, during his voyage on the HMS Rattler (a trip recounted in the book A Voyage to the South Atlantic and around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean..., published in 1798) and by the aforementioned Baverstock. In fact, in 1953, Thor Heyerdahl and his team came across some of these fragments embedded in lava flows, during an expedition to the Galapagos.

The history of the marmalade and the pirates was recorded in the half-historical, half-fantasy intangible heritage of the Galapagos. The ceramic pieces in the Maruri collection indicate the real existence of these "Spanish jugs". But what is true in Heyerdahl's story?

A thorough literature search returns two valuable results. On the one hand, William Dampier's own travel diary, entitled A new voyage round the world, in the 1937 reprint published in London by A. and C. Black Ltd.

These ships that we took the day before we came from Guanchaquo, all three laden with flour, bound for Panama. Two of them were laden as deep as they could swim, the other was not above half laden, but was ordered by the viceroy of Lima to sail with the other two, or else she should not sail till we were gone out of the seas; for he hoped they might escape us by setting out early. In the biggest ship was a letter to the president of Panama from the viceroy of Lima; assuring him that there were enemies come into that sea; for which reason he had dispatched these three ships with flour, that they might not want (for Panama is supplied from Peru) and desired him to be frugal of it, for he knew not when he should send more. In this ship were likewise 7 or 8 tuns of marmalade of quinces, and a stately mule sent to the president, and a very large image of the Virgin Mary in wood, carved and painted to adorn a new church at Panama, and sent from Lima by the viceroy; for this great ship came from thence not long before. She brought also from Lima 800,000 pieces-of-eight to carry with her to Panama: but while she lay at Guanchaco, taking in her lading of flour, the merchants, hearing of Captain Swan's being in Valdivia, ordered the money ashore again. These prisoners likewise informed us that the gentlemen (inhabitants of Truxillo) were building a fort at Guanchaquo (which is the sea port for Truxillo) close by the sea, purposely to hinder the designs of any that should attempt to land there. Upon this news we altered our former resolutions, and resolved to go with our three prizes to the Galapagos; which are a great many large islands lying some under the Equator, others on each side of it ... We stayed here but 12 days in which time we put ashore 5000 packs of flour for a reserve if we should have occasion of any before we left these seas.

And, on the other, the first volume of the compilation of travel diaries made by David Henry in 1774 and entitled An historical account of all the voyages round the world, performed by English navigators; including those lately undertaken by order of his present majesty (pp. 301-302):

In their passage they descried three sail: Eaton pursued two of those to seaward, and Cook presently made prize of that which was nearest the land. They were ships laden with flour to Panama; in one of which was found a letter from the viceroy of Lima to the President of Panama, acquainting him with enemies being upon the coast, and with the supposed strength of their forces. They also found an image of the Blessed Virgin in wood, and a stately mule, being a present to the President, with seven or eight tons of marmalate of quinces, which is eaten as a great delicacy in that country. From the prisoners taken in these prizes they learned that the Spaniards were fortifying Truxillo, and that a garrison was already established. The attack of that town was therefore judged impracticable, and it was resolved to retire to the Gallapagos with the prizes, and there to consult what next was best to be undertaken. The Gallapagos are a cluster of islands lying on the Equator, very little known or frequented, till the buccaneers found their way into the South Seas; the nearest of them lies 110 leagues to the westward of the main, in long. 70 deg. W from England. For these islands they set sail on the 29th of May, and reached them on the 31st. Here they found plenty of turtle, which they feasted upon fresh every day. They staid about ten or twelve days, and laid up about 5000 packs of meal from their prizes to serve as a future supply in case of necessity.

Both accounts (the second clearly based on the first) indicate the capture of booty of jam, but neither of them indicates that it was buried in Santiago. However, considering the circumstances (and that the flour loot was indeed buried), what else could the pirates have done with such an amount of quince in jars?

And, if so, how many of the fragments preserved in the Maruri collection did contain the marmalade stolen by the buccaneers from the Spanish ships?


  Colnett, James (1798). A Voyage to the South Atlantic and around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean... London: printed for the author by W. Bennett.
  Dampier, William (1937). A new voyage round the world. London: A. and C. Black Ltd.
  Henry, David (1774). An historical account of all the voyages round the world, performed by English navigators; including those lately undertaken by order of his present majesty. London: Printed for F. Newbery.
  Heyerdahl, Thor; Skjølsvold, Arne (1956). Archaeological evidence of pre-Spanish visits to the Galapagos Islands. Salt Lake City: The Society for American Archaeology.


Aa.Vv. [Fragments of Spanish jars]. [Artifact]. [N.d.] : Aa.Vv., [ca1684]. [N.d.] : [n.d.] : [n.d.]. DDC 986. Well preserved.

  Subject categories: Archaeology | History of Galapagos
  Keywords: Artifacts | Manuscripts | Objects | Pirates
  Time framework: 1684


Text & picture: (edgardo.civallero@fcdarwin.org.ec).
Publication date: 1 December 2021
Last update: 1 December 2021