On February 18, 1770, the Basque-owned and operated vessel, the Oriflama (the oriflamme or golden flame), set sail from Cádiz, destined ultimately to become the “Basque ghost ship.”


Diagrams of first and third rate warships, England, 1728. From the 1728 Cyclopaedia, vol. 2, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

William A. Douglass recounts the story in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp.  185-86):

      On February 18, 1770, the Oriflama left Cádiz, commanded by José Antonio de Alzaga, with José de Zavalsa serving as master and Manuel de Buenechea as pilot. (All three are Basque surnames.) More than five months later, on July 25, the Oriflama was spotted in the Pacific by the crew of the Gallardo. Its captain, Juan Esteban de Ezpeleta (another Basque surname), knew Alzaga and ordered that a friendly cannon shot be fired in greeting. When there was no reply, a boarding party was sent to investigate. It found that half of the Oriflama’s crew had died of a mysterious plague and the survivors were deathly ill.

Later that day, before the Gallardo could render assistance, the two vessels were separated by bad weather. It was said that as the distressed ship disappeared into the night, it was bathed in a ghostly light. On July 28, some objects from the Oriflama, as well as several bodies, washed ashore on the Chilean coastline. The following spring, Viceroy Amat sent Juan Antonio Bonachea in command of trained divers to search for the shipwreck. They were unsuccessful.