Spanish Gold in Tobermory Bay?

16th Century Scotland, Isle of Mull History and Heritage

Article by Neil Ritchie

Following their defeat at the hands of the English navy in the summer of 1588, the surviving ships of the Spanish Armada were forced to make their way home around the north and west coasts of Scotland. Several ships were lost along the dangerous coastline in stormy weather. One ship, the San Juan de Sicilia, mysteriously blew up in Tobermory bay on the Isle of has since been claimed that she was carrying large amounts of gold coins.

It is said that in October 1588 the critically damaged San Juan de Sicilia anchored in Tobermory bay to take on supplies and make repairs, there are several theories of what happened next.

The most popular story of the event is that after sailing into Tobermory the captain arrogantly demanded food and aid from the local islanders. The chieftain of clan Maclean said that if the Spanish captain gave him 100 men at arms he could have all the food he liked, provided he paid for it.

The Spaniard agreed and Maclean and his newly acquired mercenaries set out to attack MacLean’s enemies, the MacDonald’s on the Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rhum and Canna. When Maclean returned the Spanish captain announced he was ready to sail. The Spaniard said that he would only pay once his men were returned. Maclean handed over the men at arms but kept three officers as hostages. Maclean then sent his young kinsman Donald Maclean over to the galleon to collect the gold.

Once on board the young Donald was taken prisoner. Even although there were still officers being held by MacLean the Spanish began to set sail. A short while later there was a huge explosion and the galleon sank to the bottom of the bay. Donald Maclean, realising he had no escape and not wanting to let the greedy Spanish leave, had touched off the powder kegs in the magazine.

The survivors and the three Spanish hostages were locked up in the dungeons of Duart castle.

One of the things that has to be asked is why would a treasure galleon laden with gold coins be sailing with the Armada? A little bit of research on the vessel itself and you find that the San Juan de Sicilia, before joining the Armada, was the Brod Martolosi, a merchant ship, most likely part of the Spanish treasure fleet that sailed from the new world to Europe. She was then converted into a troop ship for the invasion force. This is the most likely cause of the confusion.

Some claim that the ship at the bottom is in fact the Duque de Florencia, a ship laden with gold and silver plate and carrying the Armada paymaster’s chest, a hoard of 30 million ducats in gold coin. However the Duque de Florencia managed to make it back to Spain.

The claim that there is huge amounts of gold in Tobermory bay is very unlikely but a sunken galleon filled with gold coins makes for a good story.

Article published on 1st March 2011
Article first published on 2nd February 2008

 

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