by Peter Earle
274 pages, $12.95
On October 31, 1641, the stormbattered Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion , flagship of the Spanish silver fleet, struck a reef off the coast of Hispaniola. She took to the bottom with her perhaps as much as 140 tons of silver. Of course, men immediately set out to recover the treasure, but despite all that greed, chicanery, and courage could accomplish, none had any luck until, nearly fifty years after the event, a resourceful Boston sea captain named William Phips decided to try. He got an astounding quarter of a million pounds and a knighthood for his pains.
This is the stuff of a wonderful yarn, and we are fortunate that Peter Earle keeps this in mind throughout his account of the great treasure hunt. Without jettisoning any of his fine scholarship, the author runs out a splendid tale full of adventurers highborn and low, pirates, smugglers, priests, rakes, mutineers, and heroes. Earle pursued his story so carefully that he managed to unearth seventeenthcentury documents which proved vital in the recent rediscovery of the wreck by Burt Webber, a modern-day Phips every bit as single-minded as the original. Phips left enough behind him to allow the book to end with a happy Webber continuing to bring up millions of dollars worth of Spanish treasure from the 350-year-old wreck.