The San José boasted 62 bronze bronze cannons, had three masts, weighed 1,200 tons, and was just one ship in a treasure fleet for the Spanish Navy, when it set sail for the first time in 1698. It could carry hundreds of people and enough riches (from the mines in Potosi, Peru) for a small country. It’s not something you’d want at the bottom of the ocean. And yet that’s where it ended up.
Ten years later, on June 8, 1708, it engaged in a battle with a British ship off the coast of present-day Colombia, near the Rosario Islands, on a trip from Panama to Colombia.
The fight would later be named “Wager’s Action,” after the British Naval captain Charles Wager, whose squadron was based to the north in Jamaica. The Brits were after the riches on the Spanish ships, which would fund Spain and France’s effort in the coming War of Spanish Succession against the British, among other countries.
The battle began around 3 p.m. with the San José in the center of a three-ship formation. The first shots were fired around 5 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m., the San José explodes and sinks, with only 11 people surviving the explosion and subsequent sinking.
With 600 people onboard and somewhere between $1 billion and $17 billion worth of gold, silver, and emeralds, it was in no shape for battle, and during battle, gunpowder onboard exploded, sinking the ship, its treasure, and the people onboard.