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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 8
This webpage reproduces part of
Angry Island

by Margaret Mackay

published by Rand McNally & Company,
Chicago • New York • San Francisco

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 10

Part One
Early Adventures

 p44  9 Yo, Ho, Ho, and a Pirate's Last Words

If that Stevensonian rascal, 'Italian Thomas' Currie, did not get his wish for a woman, he had been finding another solace with the presence of the British troops.

He had access to the garrison canteen, because he had money. There, in the store hut, he turned up with handfuls of gold, and got drunk every day. He sang old pirate chanties and yarned about his bloodthirsty exploits as a sea rover. He often boasted of his vast riches, and dropped hints about the heavy iron chest which he and his shipmates had buried on the island.

In his cups, he maundered on with fierce remarks about those fellow-pirates, Captain Jonathan Lambert and Andrew Millet, with whom he was known to have quarrelled. He dropped hints of revenge and triumph. He monotonously repeated details of the date, the fishing errand, and the capsizing of the boat in which he said they had been drowned.

 p45  With the hazards of the Tristan coast, this misfortune had been taken for granted by his hearers. But he kept insisting on it so intensely that as the weeks passed the soldiers became suspicious.

Whatever he had done — or not done, the treasure chest was his alone.

Wrote the missionary Mrs Rogers, more than a century later:

Corri boasted of silver plate, pearls and diamonds, besides rolls of golden coin, and the grandfathers of some of Tristan's oldest inhabitants repeated the story to their children in his words to them. Old Betty Cotton, who died aged ninety-four, told my husband that her father told her Corri had said, 'The treasure is hidden somewhere on the right-hand side of the last house in the Settlement down in the direction of Little Beach, between the two waterfalls.'

It is possible that Italian Thomas had designated this area merely to mislead his listeners. But the soldiers were sure that the hiding-place could not be far away. For when he ran out of money to pay for his rum, he would disappear for only a short time before he returned with another handful of gold sovereigns.

He used the will-o'‑the‑wisp of his wealth to ensure his popularity with the garrison. He vowed that one day he would show the hiding-place to whatever man he liked best. Naturally, each soldier felt a thrill at the possibility of becoming the heir. They all treated him with jovial indulgence, flattered him, and bought him more and more drinks, hoping to loosen his tongue.

One early spring day — September 27, 1817 — he had been filled so full of rum that he seemed to have reached the boiling-point of revelation. He promised to tell his new friends where his glittering hoard was buried. He was really anxious, at last, to share his secret. The soldiers hung around him, motionless while they waited for his next maudlin words.

He raised his arm to point in the direction of the hiding-place — made a desperate effort to speak — and sank to the ground.

A stroke had killed him.

For days, the gunners spent most of their spare time searching and digging for the iron chest. They ransacked Currie's hut and his few shabby belongings for a map or clue. They scrutinized every square yard of the plain, the nearby mountain slope and the cliffs above the  p46 beach. And ever since, generations of settlers and visitors have patiently hunted for the pirates' treasure.

But perhaps the spectre of Italian Thomas has barred their way, deluding them in death as in life. In any event, the inhabitants themselves have long believed that his unresting ghost roams about on stormy nights, guarding his buried loot.

And now — is Tristan da Cunha still a treasure island, even after the eruption?

Out of the whole thirty-seven square miles, the smoking streaks of lava were fated to creep down into the very area where the hiding-place was understood to be. It seems like the sort of demoniac joke which goes with 'Tristan luck'.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20