The Manila Galleons: Treasures For The ”Queen Of The Orient”

Picture if you will, a four-deck, 100-gun, 2,500-ton vessel crossing the Pacific loaded with treasure and not making landfall for six months. Picture it as short and broad—with high fore and stern castles—carrying so much silver and gold, it draws 40 feet of water while skirting coral reefs 30 feet deep. It’s no wonder that close to 100 of them sank from 1570 to 1815, leaving a trail of treasure across the globe, while enhancing the image of adventure on the high seas aboard the MANILA GALLEONS.

Shipwreck

Shipwreck

Nowhere in the annals of the Spanish Empire’s colonial history did a treasure fleet attract so much intrigue and notoriety for its precious cargoes bound for the Far East. Maritime historians continue to pay homage to these vessels and their influence on international commerce that lasted for over 200 years. These were the largest ships afloat, plying long and risky routes. Convoys of two to five ships left Acapulco, Mexico, setting sail for the Spanish colony of Manila in the Philippines. On an average, three to five million silver pesos were shipped annually from Mexican mints to Manila, the “Queen of the Orient.” The sliver and gold was waggishly referred to as “silk money.” Silk stockings were prized by the fashionable Spanish gentry in Mexico and Spain. But the silver and gold bought other lavish exports as well. They came from all over the Far East: spices, Ming porcelain, opals, amethysts, pearls and jade. There were art treasures, ebony furniture, carved ivory and other exquisite rarities found only in China, Japan, India, Burma and Siam.

The galleons, after a long and laborious return voyage eastward, often made landfall around Cape Mendocino, California, then sailed on to Acapulco. Once unloaded, the cargoes were transported overland by mule train to Veracruz and then taken by Spanish galleons to Seville, Spain. Five Manila Galleons are known to have sunk off the west coast of the United States. One, the San Agustin, sank in 1595, victim of a gale in Drakes Bay, northwest of San Francisco.

Manila Galleons

Manila Galleons

Manifests show that one third of all the silver and gold mined in the Spanish New World made its way to the Far East aboard the lumbering Manila Galleons. Ingots and heavy chests of coins were stored over the keel in the main hold, often the only ballast used for draft and stability. The ships also carried supplies to colonists in the Marianas and Philippines. The Strait of San Bernardino, on the eastern end of Luzon in the Philippine Archipelago, separates the Pacific from the China Sea and remains one of the most treacherous passages ships must ply. Even the most seasoned mariners fear entering and exiting the shallow poorly marked waterway. Of the approximately 130 Manila Galleons lost, close to 100 sank within a 50-mile radius of the entrance to this dangerous strait. Some of the vessels simply ran aground on reefs or shoals, while others were lost in storms or sunk by British and Dutch privateers.

Manila Galleons are out there. Picture them if you will, resting in the Pacific Ocean and China Sea–emblazoned with the regalia of Royal Spain and the Roman Catholic Church–waiting to be discovered by modern-day adventurers.

Treasure

Treasure

About Ellsworth Boyd

Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, pursues an avocation of diving and writing. He has published articles and photo's in every major dive magazine in the US., Canada, and half a dozen foreign countries. An authority on shipwrecks, Ellsworth has received thousands of letters and e-mails from divers throughout the world who responded to his Wreck Facts column in Sport Diver Magazine. When he's not writing, or diving, Ellsworth appears as a featured speaker at maritime symposiums in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Philadelphia. "Romance & Mystery: Sunken Treasures of the Lost Galleons," is one of his most popular talks.
This entry was posted in Latest News, Wreckmaster. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Manila Galleons: Treasures For The ”Queen Of The Orient”

  1. Dive Silver Spring says:

    Thanks for a very interesting article. I had no idea the Manila Galleons ever existed. I thought that most of the sunken treasure galleons were sunk off Florida and the east coast of the U.S.

  2. It’s interesting that you would say this. I didn’t know much about the Manila galleons either until I started to research these fascinating ships in order to write about them. I didn’t realize the amount of trade they brought back, including some of the exotic cargoes that were aboard ship in addition to the silver and gold coins and bullion. Many of these prized imports were popular with the wealthy aristocrats back in Spain, thus there was a great demand for them. The lengths of the voyages, as well as the treasures, captivated my interest as well. Thank you. Best regards, Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster

  3. Julie Ross says:

    Have you ever had the opportunity to dive on a Manila galleon? They sound exciting with all those those treasures from the Orient aboard!

  4. I haven’t had the pleasure of divng on a Manila galleon, but adventurer and salvor Bob Marx has been on several of them. He discovered the remains of the San Augustin, sunk in Drakes Bay, Northern California. It had put in for supplies enroute to Acapulco with a cargo of silk, porcelain, gold, silver and oriental spices. State officials wouldn’t allow him to excavate it. Marx also discovered two Manila galleons off the island of Guam, the Nuestra Senora del Pilar and the Nuestra Senora del Buen Viaje. Thanks for writng. Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster

  5. Luis Camacho says:

    Dear Ellsworth,

    For what I understand the ones with more precious metals such as gold and silver were the ones going from Acapulco to Manilla (please correct me if I am wrong) In your opinion which one would be the manilla Galleon shipwreck with the most valuable cargo?

    Best,

    Luis….

  6. Gerard Soberon says:

    In response to the question from Luis; The gold and silver coins and bullion were primarily originating from mines in the western and central provinces of New Spain. The port of Acapulco was used from the beginning of the Manila Galleon trade missions. As the mines in the western provinces were developed and the oldest mines in the central province of Guanajuato diminished; the port of San Blas was built north of Acapulco to facilitate access to the mines in the Guadalajara province which encompassed the present day states of Nayarit and Sinaloa. The port of Cabo San Lucas was the first stop before continuing up the Alta California coast to Monterrey and then west to the Phillipines.

  7. J. Setchell says:

    I find it difficult to believe that any “Manila Galleon” would tack over 1,000 miles up the California coast before heading out to the trade winds to cross to Manila. It is more likely they would reach out several hundred miles to the trade winds and then reach up toward Manila. The Galleons were never known to be able to sail close hauled and the thought of these slow and unmanuerable ships fighting the headwinds and current to “beat” up the coast over a thousand miles seems highly unlikely.

  8. Bud Lyons says:

    Found a very interesting piece of a ?rock ? with vague? inscription on it. Found on the Oregon Beach near Cascade Head, supposed site of many ancient shipwrecks. Would anyone be curious enough to give me an email address so I could send a picture of my treasure for further ID ? No need to send Clive Cussler out yet :) Thanks , Bud Lyons

  9. Dave Sandersfeld says:

    Bud, I would love to see your photo, as I know Cascade Head well. I worked along Siuslaw National Forests for many years and I have a B.S. Degree from Oregon State University in “Technical Journalism”; and my 2010 nonfiction book PACIFIC COAST PIRATES AND SPANISH GALLEONS in available on Amazon.

    I am working on my sequel about The Pacific Coast Manila Galleons and Oregon shipwrecks

  10. Jack Dyer says:

    You may wish to read a book titled “1421” which tells about the voyages of the Chinese. Extremely well researched and tells about stones left with strange markings. I have a copy that I have finished reading that I could loan you if needed
    PS Ellsworth
    Robert Marx never discovered the Pilar off of Guam. He just borrowed some items from a guy on Guam to use in the Admiralty suit against our group. As he never found the Flo del Mar in the Straits of Molucca. I talked to the guy that was with him when he bought artifacts from an antique shop in Indonesia. Jack

  11. cesar jalosjos says:

    i found a possible 1600 century spanish galleon. if interested pls call +639178168165. tnx.

  12. mark says:

    I HAVE A HOME IN ” SOGOD, CEBU- PH. ” ! ELLSWORTH BOYD, I AM A CERTIFIED DIVER & WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK WITH YOU? I DIVE IN THE “CAMOTES SEA”, AROUND THE ISLAND OF CEBU. THERE IS A (FORT SAN PEDRO) THE OTHER IS (FORT SANTIAGO) IN LUZON, MANILA,PH. THERE ARE TWO CHURCH’S ONE IN CEBU CITY. THE OTHER ON “BANTAYAN ISLAND, CEBU”. BOTH BUILT BY THE SPANISH, IN THE 1500’s! PLEASE EMAIL ME !!! THANKS, MARK …….

  13. tommy johnson says:

    To: cesar jalosjos….are you looking for treasure hunter ? Friend..mi email address es.. got.dannygold@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>