The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter I: The Rise of European Piracy in the East
Portuguese pirates-- Vincente Sodre-- Dutch pirates-- Royal filibustering-- Endymion Porter's venture-- The Courten Association-- The Indian Red Sea fleet-- John Hand-- Odium excited against the English in Surat-- The Caesar attacked by French pirates-- Danish depredations-- West Indian pirates-- Ovington's narrative-- Interlopers and permission ships-- Embargo placed on English trade-- Rovers trapped at Mungrole-- John Steel-- Every seizes the Charles the Second and turns pirate-- His letter to English commanders-- The Madagascar settlements-- Libertatia-- Fate of Sawbridge-- Capture of the Gunj Suwaie-- Immense booty-- Danger of the English at Surat-- Bombay threatened-- Friendly behaviour of the Surat Governor-- Embargo on European trade-- Every sails for America-- His reputed end-- Great increase of piracy-- Mutiny of the Mocha and Josiah crews-- Culliford in the Resolution-- The London seized by Imaum of Muscat

From the first days of European enterprise in the East, the coasts of India were regarded as a favourable field for filibusters [=freebooters], the earliest we hear of being Vincente Sodre, a companion of Vasco da Gama in his second voyage. Intercourse with heathens and idolaters was regulated according to a different code of ethics from that applied to intercourse with Christians. The authority of the Old Testament upheld slavery, and Africans were regarded more as cattle than human beings; while Asiatics were classed higher, but still as immeasurably inferior to Europeans. To prey upon Mahommedan ships was simply to pursue in other waters the chronic warfare carried on against Moors and Turks in the Mediterranean. The same feelings that led the Spaniards to adopt the standard of the Cross in their conquest of Mexico and Peru were present, though less openly avowed, in the minds of the merchants and adventurers of all classes and nationalities who flocked into the Indian seas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the decadence of buccaneering and the growth of Indian trade, there was a corresponding increase of piracy, and European traders ceased to enjoy immunity.

In 1623 the depredations of the Dutch brought the English into disgrace. Their warehouses at Surat were seized, and the president and factors were placed in irons, in which condition they remained seven months. This grievance was the greater, as it happened at the time that the cruel torture and execution of Captain Towerson and his crew by the Dutch took place at Amboyna. It was bad enough to be made responsible for the doings of their own countrymen, but to be punished for the misdeeds of their enemies was a bitter pill to swallow. In 1630, just as peace was being concluded with France and Spain, Charles I., who was beginning his experiment of absolute government, despatched the Seahorse, Captain Quail, to the Red Sea to capture the ships and goods of Spanish subjects, as well as of any other nations not in league and amity with England.

There were no Spaniards in the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean, but international arrangements in Europe were not regarded when the equator had been crossed. Quail captured a Malabar vessel, for which the Company's servants at Surat were forced to pay full compensation. The Seahorse returned to England in 1633, but in view of the new field of enterprise opened up, Endymion Porter, Gentleman of the King's bedchamber, embarked on a piratical speculation, in partnership with two London merchants, Bonnell and Kynaston, with a licence under the privy seal to visit any part of the world and capture ships and goods of any state not in league and amity with England. Two ships, the Samaritan and Roebuck, were fitted out with such secrecy that the East India Company were kept in ignorance, and sailed in April 1635, for the Red Sea, under Captain Cobb.

The Samaritan was wrecked in the Comoro Islands; but Cobb, continuing his cruise with the Roebuck, captured two Mogul vessels at the mouth of the Red Sea, from one of which he took a large sum of money and a quantity of goods, though the vessel had a pass from the Surat factory. Again the Company's servants at Surat were imprisoned, and not released till they had paid full compensation. Some small satisfaction was experienced when it became known that John Proud, master of the Swan, one of the Company's ships, had encountered the Roebuck in the Comoro Islands, and had attacked the freebooter. He was unable to capture it, but succeeded in procuring restitution of the captured goods; the treasure, however, was carried off to London, where it must have seemed as if the days of Drake and Hawkins had come again.

The Company laid their grievance before the King, who expressed much concern, promising to write to the Great Mogul and explain matters; so the Company commenced an action against Bonnell and Kynaston in the Admiralty Court. Porter was too highly placed to be struck at. Bonnell evaded arrest and escaped to France, but Kynaston was arrested and lodged in gaol; upon which Charles ordered his release on bail, saying he would try the case himself at his leisure.

But Porter's views went beyond a single piratical voyage. Hardly had Cobb started on his cruise, when he entered into partnership with Sir William Courten for an association to establish a separate trade to the East Indies. A royal grant was obtained, and the King himself was credited with a share to the nominal extent of £10,000. The grant was a flagrant breach of faith, and was the inauguration of the system of interlopers that in after years caused so much loss and trouble to the Company. Four ships were equipped and sent out, and before long it became known that two vessels from Surat and Diu had been plundered by Courten's ships, and their crews tortured. Again the Company's servants at Surat were seized and thrown into prison, where they were kept for two months, being only released on payment of Rs.1,70,000, and on solemnly swearing to respect Mogul ships.

The Civil War brought these courtly piracies to an end, and the decay of the Spanish power drew the more turbulent spirits of Europe and America to the Spanish main, so that for a time there was a diminution of European piracy in Indian waters. As buccaneering became more dangerous, or less lucrative, adventurers of all nations again appeared in Eastern waters, and the old trouble reappeared in an aggravated form. The Indian Red Sea fleet offered an especially tempting booty to the rovers. Lobo, a Jesuit priest writing in the seventeenth century, tells us that so vast was the commerce of Jeddah, and so great the value of the ships trading to that place, that when in India it was wished to describe a thing of inestimable price, it was customary to say, 'It is of more value than a Jeddah ship.' Every year during the winter months, Indian traders, and pilgrims for Mecca, found their way in single ships to the Red Sea. On the setting in of the monsoon, they collected at Mocha, and made their way back in a single body. All Indian trade with the Red Sea was paid for in gold and silver, so that the returning ships offered many tempting prizes to freebooters.

In 1683 John Hand, master of the Bristol, interloper, cleared his ship with papers made out for Lisbon and Brazil, and sailed for Madeira. There he called his crew together, and told them he intended to take his ship to the East Indies. Those who were unwilling were overawed, Hand being a mighty 'passionate' man. He appears to have been half pirate and half trader; equally ready to attack other traders, or to trade himself in spices and drugs. On the Sumatra coast, finding the natives unwilling to do business with him, he went ashore with a pistol in his pocket to bring the 'black dogs' to reason. The pistol went off in his pocket and shattered his thigh, and that was the end of John Hand.

In the same year six men, of whom four were English and two Dutch, while on passage in a native merchant's ship from the Persian Gulf to Surat, seized the ship, killing the owner and his two wives. The lascars were thrown overboard, six being retained to work the ship. Their cruise did not last long. Making for Honore, they threw the six lascars overboard when nearing the port. The men managed to get to land, and reaching Honore, gave information of the would-be pirates to the local authorities, who seized the ship, and soon disposed of the rogues.

Three years later, two ships under English colours, mounting respectively forty-four and twenty guns, were reported to have captured vessels in the Red Sea, to the value of Rs.600,000. The Seedee of Jinjeera, who styled himself the Mogul's Admiral, received a yearly subsidy of four lakhs for convoying the fleet, a duty that he was quite unable to perform against European desperadoes. Public opinion at Surat was at once excited against the English, and further inflamed by the Dutch and French, who were only too anxious to see a rival excluded from the trade. Sir John Child, to pacify the Governor, offered to send a man-of-war to look for the pirates; but the Dutch and French factors continued to 'spitt their venom' till the Governor laughed in their faces and asked why they did not join in sending vessels to look for the rogues, since the matter seemed to them so serious.

In the same season a gallant engagement was fought against pirates, though not in Indian waters. The Company's ship Caesar, Captain Wright, bound from England for Bombay, was chased off the coast of Gambia by five ships, carrying each from twenty to thirty guns, under French colours. Wright had no intention of yielding without a struggle, so put his ship before the wind, to gain time for getting into fighting trim. The Caesar was carrying soldiers, and there were plenty of men to fight the ship. The boats were cut away, the decks cleared, ammunition and arms served out, three thousand pounds of bread which cumbered the gun-room were thrown overboard, and the tops were filled with marksmen. As soon as all was ready, the mainsail was furled, and the ship kept under easy sail. Before long the two smaller ships came up, hoisted the red flag, and began firing, one on the Caesar's quarter and one astern. Soon the three other ships, two of which Wright styled the Admiral and Vice-Admiral, came up.

The Admiral ranged up on the quarter and tried to board, but was obliged to sheer off, with the loss of many men and a bowsprit shot away. The Vice-Admiral tried to board at the bow, but with no better success, losing a foreyard and mizzen-mast. For five hours the engagement lasted, but the small-arm men in the Caesar's tops fired so well that the pirates could hardly serve their guns. The crew showed a wonderful spirit, cheering loudly at every successful shot, till the discomfited pirates bore up, leaving the Caesar to pursue her way to Bombay, much knocked about as to hull, but having lost only one man killed and eight wounded.

In the following year came news to Surat of two vessels, under Danish colours, that had stopped English ships and seized native ones between Surat and Bombay. The Phoenix, a British man-of-war, was at Surat at the time, so, together with the Kent, East Indiaman, it was despatched to look after the marauders, taking with them also two small boys, sent to represent the French and the Dutch. In due time Captain Tyrrell returned, and reported that he had found a squadron of four vessels; that after a two days' chase he had brought them to, when they turned out to be two Danish ships, with two prizes they had taken. They showed him their commission, authorizing them to make reprisals on the Mogul's subjects for affronts offered to Danish traders; so he left them alone. A few months later the Portuguese factory at Cong, in the Persian Gulf, was plundered by an English pirate; another was heard of in the Red Sea, while Philip Babington an Irish pirate, was cruising off Tellichery in the Charming Mary.

By 1689 a number of sea rovers from the West Indies had made their appearance, and the factory at Fort St. George reported that the sea trade was 'pestered with pirates.' The first comers had contented themselves with plundering native ships. Now their operations were extended to European vessels not of their own nationality. In time this restriction ceased to be observed; they hoisted the red or black flag, with or without the colours of the nationality they affected, and spared no vessel they were strong enough to capture.

The Armenian merchants were loud in their complaints. An Armenian ship bound from Goa to Madras, with twenty thousand pagodas on board, was taken by a pirate ship of two hundred tons, carrying twenty-two guns and a crew of sixty men. Another Armenian ship, with fifty thousand xeraphims, was taken near Bombay, on its voyage from Goa to Surat. Besides those that beset the Malabar coast, there were pirates in the Persian Gulf, at the mouth of the Red Sea, and in the Mozambique Channel, while five pirate vessels were cruising off Acheen. During the next ten years the losses caused by the pirates were prodigious.

Ovington mentions that at St. Helena (1689) they were told, by a slaver, of three pirates, two English and the other Dutch, so richly laden with booty that they could hardly navigate their ships, which had become weather-beaten and unseaworthy from their long cruises off the Red Sea mouth. Their worn-out canvas sails were replaced with double silk.

    "They were prodigal in the expences of their unjust gain, and quenched their thirst with Europe liquor at any rate this Commander (the slaver) would put upon it; and were so frank both in distributing their goods, and guzzling down the noble wine, as if they were both wearied with the possession of their rapine, and willing to stifle all the melancholy reflections concerning it."
Such an account was bound to fire the imagination of every seaman who heard it.

The number of pirates was increased by the interlopers, merchant adventurers trading without a licence, who, like John Hand, when they failed to get cargoes, plundered native ships. Their proceedings were imitated by the permission ships, vessels that held the Company's licence for a single voyage. Not seldom the crews of interlopers and permission ships rose and seized the vessel against the will of their owners and commanders, and hoisted the Jolly Roger. Commissions were granted to the East India Company's commanders to seize interlopers; but the interlopers, as a rule, were remarkably well able to take care of themselves. As pirates and interlopers alike sailed under English colours, the whole odium fell on the English. In August 1691, a ship belonging to the wealthy merchant Abdul Guffoor was taken at the mouth of the Surat river, with nine lakhs in hard cash on board. A guard was placed on the factory at Surat, and an embargo laid on English trade. As the pirate had shown the colours of several nationalities, the authorities were loth to proceed to extremities. Fortunately for the English Company, a member of the pirate crew was captured, and proved to be a Dane; so the embargo on English trade was taken off.

Though they plied their calling at sea, almost with impunity, the pirates occasionally fell victims to Oriental treachery on shore. Thus James Gilliam, a rover, having put into Mungrole, on the Kattiawar coast, was made welcome and much praised for the noble lavishness with which he paid for supplies. Soon there came an invitation to a banquet, and Gilliam, with some of his officers and crew, twenty in all, were received by the representative of the Nawab of Junaghur with excessive ceremony. Much polite curiosity was evinced about the noble strangers. "Why did they always go armed? Were their muskets loaded? Would they discharge them to show their host the European method?" The muskets were discharged, and immediately the banquet was announced. "Delay to reload the muskets was inexpedient. It would be time to recharge their weapons after the feast."

And then, when seated and defenceless, there was an irruption of armed men, and Gilliam, with his followers, were seized and fettered. For a year they lay at Junaghur, where two of them died. In vain Gilliam contrived to send a letter to the Surat factory, asking that they might be claimed as British subjects. President Harris knew that the least interest shown in the fate of the rovers would be fatal to the interests of the Company, and was relieved when he heard that they had been sent to Aurungzeeb's camp; after which they are heard of no more.

In the beginning of 1692, authority was given to the Company's commanders to seize pirates and hold them till the King's pleasure was known, but the measure was of small effect. The pirates were prime seamen, who outsailed and outfought the Company's ships; while among the Company's crews they had numerous sympathizers. The prizes to be gained were so great, and the risks so small, that the Company could hardly restrain their own men from joining the sea rovers. Thus in 1694, John Steel/1/ ran away with the long boat of the Ruby frigate. Sixteen others who had plotted to join him were detected in time, and clapped in irons. The French and Dutch gave passes to all who applied for them, so Steel placed himself under French protection, and for two years 'that rogue Steel' finds frequent mention in the coast letters. Four years later Steel was arrested in England. But though the directors had been supplied with many accounts of his misdeeds, no sworn evidence could be produced against him, so Steel escaped scot-free.

All other pirates, however, were destined to be eclipsed in fame by Henry Every, alias Bridgman,/2/ who now made his appearance in the Indian seas. His exploits, the great wealth he amassed by piracy, and his reputed marriage with a Mogul princess, continued to excite the public mind long after he had disappeared from the scene. Several biographies of him were written, one of them attributed to Defoe, all of them containing great exaggerations; and a play, "The Successful Pirate," was written in his honour. His biographers generally give his name as John Avery, but it was as is here given. According to the account of Van Broeck, a Dutchman who was detained on board his ship for a time and was on good terms with him, he was born at Plymouth, the son of a trading captain who had served in the navy under Blake. Every himself served in the navy, in the Resolution and Edgar, before he got the command of a merchant ship, in which he made several voyages to the West Indies. In May 1694, he was first mate of the Charles the Second, one of the small squadron of English ships hired from Sir James Houblon by the Spanish Government, to act against French smugglers who were troubling their Peruvian trade./3/

The Spaniards were bad paymasters, and Houblon's squadron was detained at Corunna three or four months, while the crews became more and more discontented as their wages remained unpaid. As their sense of grievance increased, a plot was formed among the most turbulent spirits to seize a ship and turn rovers, under Every's command. On the night of the 30th May, the captain of the Charles the Second was made prisoner while in bed. A boat-load of men sent from the James to prevent the capture, joined the mutineers; the cables were cut, and the ship ran out of harbour. The captain and all who were unwilling to join were put into a boat, and the Charles, renamed the Fancy, was headed south for the coast of Africa. The only man detained against his will was the doctor, as he was a useful man.

Some months were spent on the Guinea coast, where some negroes were captured, and five ships-- three English and two Danish-- were plundered and burnt. Before the end of the year Every was east of the Cape, intent on the Red Sea traders. The first intelligence of him that reached Bombay was in May 1695, when three outward-bound merchantmen reported that they had seen him at Johanna.

     "Your Honor's ships going into that island gave him chase, but he was too nimble for them by much, having taken down a great deale of his upper works and made her exceeding snugg, which advantage being added to her well sailing before, causes her to sail so hard now, that she fears not who follows her. This ship will undoubtedly (go) into the Red Sea, which will procure infinite clamours at Surat."
Accompanying this report came the following characteristic letter from Every:--
"February y'e 28th, 1695/4.

     To all English. Commanders lett this Satisfye that I was Riding here  att this Instant in y'e Ship fancy man of Warr formerly the Charles of y'e Spanish Expedition who departed from Croniae y'e 7th of May.  94: Being and am now in A Ship of 46 guns 150 Men & bound to Seek our fortunes I have Never as Yett Wronged any English or Dutch nor never Intend whilst I am Commander. Wherefore as I Commonly Speake w'th all Ships I Desire who ever Comes to y'e perusal of this to take this Signall that if you or aney whome you may informe are desirous to know w't wee are att a Distance then make your Antient Vp in a Ball or Bundle and hoyst him att y'e Mizon Peek y'e Mizon Being furled I shall answere w'th y'e same & Never Molest you: for my men are hungry Stout and Resolute: & should they Exceed my Desire I cannott help my selfe.

as Yett An Englishman's friend

Here is 160 od french Armed men now att Mohilla who waits for Opportunity of getting aney ship, take Care of your Selves."/4/

According to Van Broeck, he was a man of good natural disposition, who had been soured by the bad treatment he received at the hands of his relations. The letter shows him to have been a man of some education, and during his short but active career in the Indian seas he appears to have attacked native ships only. The Company's records do not mention the loss of a single English ship at Every's hands, a circumstance that no doubt told heavily against the English in native opinion at Surat.

The same ships that brought Every's letter to Sir John Gayer brought intelligence of a well-known French pirate having got aground at Mohilla. The three Company's ships watering at Johanna heard of the occurrence, and proceeded to the spot, burnt the French ship after taking out what treasure was on board, and captured six of the Frenchmen, who were brought to Bombay. Every's friendly warning about the '160 od French armed men' evidently referred to the wrecked crew.

The value of Perim, or Bab's Key, as it was then called by mariners, to command the trade of the Red Sea, was at once perceived by Every, who attempted to make a settlement there. After some unprofitable digging for water, he abandoned the project, and established himself in Madagascar, which had before this become known as a pirate resort. During the next thirty years the only traders who dared show themselves on the Madagascar coast were those who did business with the pirates, owing to the number of pirate settlements that sprang up at different points; the best known being at St. Mary's Island, St. Augustine's, Port Dauphin, and Charnock's Point. They built themselves forts and established a reign of terror over the surrounding country, sometimes taking a part in native quarrels, and sometimes fighting among themselves; dubbing themselves kings, and living in squalid dignity with large seraglios of native women.

Captain Woodes Rogers, who touched at Madagascar for slaves, sixteen years after Every's time, described those he met as having been on the islands above twenty-five years, with a motley crowd of children and grandchildren.

    "Having been so many years upon this Island, it may be imagined their Cloaths had long been worn out, so that their Majesties were extremely out at the Elbows: I cannot say they were ragged, since they had no Cloaths, they had nothing to cover them but the Skins of Beasts without any tanning, but with all the Hair on, nor a Shoe nor Stocking, so they looked like the Pictures of Hercules in the Lion's Skin; and being overgrown with Beard, and Hair upon their Bodies, they appeared the most savage Figures that a Man's Imagination can frame."/5/

One remarkable settlement was founded in the north, near Diego Suarez, by Misson, a Frenchman and the most humane of pirates, with whom was allied Tew, the English pirate. Misson's aim was to build a fortified town "that they might have some place to call their own; and a receptacle, when age and wounds had rendered them incapable of hardship, where they might enjoy the fruits of their labour and go to their graves in peace." The settlement was named Libertatia. Slavery was not permitted, and freed slaves were encouraged to settle there. The harbour was strongly fortified, as a Portuguese squadron that attacked them found to its cost. A dock was made; crops were sown; a Lord Conservator was appointed for three years, with a Parliament to make laws.

The colony was still in its infancy when it was surprised and destroyed by the natives, while Misson was away on a cruise; and so Libertatia came to an end. Tew succeeded in escaping to his sloop with a quantity of diamonds and gold in bars. On Misson rejoining him, they determined to go to America. Misson's ship foundered in a storm, while Tew made his way to Rhode Islands, and lived there for a time unquestioned. But the fascinations of a rover's life were too much for him. He fitted out a sloop and made again for the Red Sea, and was killed in action there with a Mogul ship.

From their Madagascar settlements the pirates scoured the east coast of Africa, the Indian Ocean as far as Sumatra, the mouth of the Red Sea where the Mocha ships offered many rich prizes, the Malabar coast, and the Gulf of Oman. From time to time, ships from New England and the West Indies brought supplies and recruits, taking back those who were tired of the life and who wished to enjoy their booty. European prisoners were seldom treated barbarously when there was no resistance, and the pirate crews found many recruits among captured merchantmen. Their worst cruelties were reserved for the native merchants of India who fell into their hands. They believed all native traders to be possessed of jewels, as was indeed often the case, and the cruellest tortures were inflicted on them to make them surrender their valuables.

One unhappy Englishman we hear of, Captain Sawbridge, who was taken by pirates while on a voyage to Surat with a ship-load of Arab horses from Bombay. His complaints and expostulations were so annoying to his captors that after repeatedly telling him to hold his tongue, they took a sail needle and twine and sewed his lips together. They kept him thus several hours, with his hands tied behind him, while they plundered his ship, which they afterwards set on fire, burning her and the horses in her. Sawbridge and his people were carried to Aden and set on shore, where he died soon after.

Before long. Every made some notable captures. Off Aden he found five pirate ships of English nationality, three of them from America, commanded by May, Farrell, and Wake. In the Gulf of Aden he burned the town of Mahet on the Somali coast because the people refused to trade with him. In September, while cruising off Socotra with the Fancy, two sloops, and a galley, he took the Futteh Mahmood with a valuable cargo, belonging to Abdool Guffoor, the wealthiest and most influential merchant in Surat. A few days later he took off Sanjan, north of Bombay, a ship belonging to the Emperor, called the Gunj Suwaie (Exceeding Treasure). 

This was the great capture that made Every famous. According to the legend, there was a granddaughter of Aurungzeeb on board, whom Every wedded by the help of a moollah, and carried off to Madagascar. But the story is only the most sensational of the many romantic inventions that have accumulated round Every's name. The native historian/6/ who relates the capture of the Gunj Suwaie, and who had friends on board, would certainly not have refrained from mentioning such an event if it had occurred; nor would the Mogul Emperor have failed to wreak vengeance on the English for such an insult to his family.

The Gunj Suwaie was the largest ship belonging to the port of Surat. It carried eighty guns and four hundred matchlocks, besides other warlike implements, and was deemed so strong that it disdained the help of a convoy. On this occasion it was returning from the Red Sea with the result of the season's trading, amounting to fifty-two lakhs of rupees/7/ in silver and gold, and having on board a number of Mahommedan ladies returning from pilgrimage to Mecca. In spite of the disparity of force, Every bore down and engaged.

The first gun fired by the Gunj Suwaie burst, killing three or four men and wounding others. The main mast was badly damaged by Every's broadsides, and the Fancy ran alongside and boarded. This was the moment when a decent defence should have been made. The sailor's cutlass was a poor match for the curved sword and shield, so much so that the English were notorious in the East for their want of boldness in sword-play. But Ibrahim Khan, the captain, was a coward, and ran below at the sight of the white faces. His crew followed his example, and the vessel was taken almost without resistance.

So rich a prize was not to be relinquished without a very complete search. For a whole week the Gunj Suwaie was rummaged from stem to stern, while the crew of the Fancy indulged in a horrible orgy, excited beyond measure by the immense booty that had fallen into their hands. Several of the women threw themselves into the sea or slew themselves with daggers; the last piece of silver was sought out and carried on board the Fancy, the last jewel torn from the passengers and crew, and then the Gunj Suwaie was left to find its way to Surat as it best could.

The vials of long-accumulated wrath were poured out on the English. Instigated by Abdul Guffoor, the populace of Surat flew to arms to wreak vengeance on the factory. The Governor, Itimad Khan, was well disposed to the English, but popular excitement ran so high that he found it difficult to protect them. Guards were placed on the factory to save it from plunder. A mufti urged that the English should be put to death in revenge for the death of so many true believers, and quoted an appropriate text from the Koran. Soon came an order from Aurungzeeb directing the Seedee to march on Bombay, and for all the English in Surat and Broach to be made prisoners. President Annesley and the rest, sixty-three in all, were placed in irons, and so remained eleven months.

To make matters worse, news arrived of Every having captured the Rampura, a Cambay ship with a cargo valued at Rs.1,70,000.

    "It is strange," wrote Sir John Gayer, "to see how almost all the merchants are incensed against our nation, reproaching the Governor extremely for taking our part, and as strange to see that notwithstanding all, he stems the stream against them more than well could be imagined, considering his extreme timorous nature."
The strangeness of the merchants' hostility is hardly apparent, but it is not too much to say that Itimad Khan's friendly behaviour alone saved English trade from extinction. The Dutch, always hostile in the East, whatever might be the relations between Holland and England in Europe, strove to improve the occasion by fomenting popular excitement, and tried to get the English permanently excluded from the Indian trade. In the words of Sir John Grayer, "they retained their Edomitish principles, and rejoice to see Jacob laid low."

But Itimad Khan knew that the pirates were of all nationalities, and refused to hold the English alone responsible. To propitiate the Governor, Sir John Gayer made over to him the six French pirates taken at Mohilla, not without qualms at handing over Christians to Mahommedan mercies. He fully expected that the treasure taken out of the wreck would also be demanded of him; but Itimad Khan was not an avaricious man, and no such demand was made. "His contempt of money is not to be paralleled by any of the King's Umbraws or Governors," Sir John wrote, a year later, when Itimad Khan was dead.

To forestall the Dutch with the Emperor, Gayer sent an agent offering to convoy the Red Sea fleet for the future, in return for a yearly payment of four lakhs a year. The offer was refused, but it served to place the English in a more favourable light, and to procure the cancelling of orders that had been given for attacking Bombay and Madras. Had it been accepted, the Seedee would have been added to the number of the Company's enemies. The Dutch, not to be outdone, offered to perform the same service in return for a monopoly of trade in the Emperor's dominions. This brought all other Europeans into line against the Dutch proposal, and the intrigue was defeated.

The embargo on all European trade at Surat was maintained, while the Dutch, French, and English were directed to scour the seas and destroy the pirates. It was further ordered that Europeans on shore were not to carry arms or use palanquins, and their ships were forbidden to hoist their national flags. The Dutch and French hung back. They would not send a ship to sea without payment, except for their own affairs. Sir John Gayer, more wisely, sent armed ships to convoy the Mocha fleet, at the Company's charge, and so the storm passed off.

Meanwhile Every, glutted with booty, made up his mind to retire/8/ with his enormous gains. According to Johnson, he gave the slip, at night, to his consorts, sailed for Providence in the Bahamas, where his crew dispersed, and thence made his way to England, just at the time a royal proclamation offering £500 for his apprehension was published. The reward was doubled by an offer of four thousand rupees from the Company; eight rupees being the equivalent of a pound at that time. Several of his crew also straggled home and were captured; but before he left the Indian coast, twenty-five Frenchmen, fourteen Danes, and some English were put ashore, fearing to show themselves in Europe or America. This fact would seem to throw some doubt on the account of his having left his consorts by stealth.

On the 19th October, 1696, six of his crew were tried and sentenced at the Old Bailey, and a true bill was found and an indictment framed against Every himself, though he had not been apprehended. According to Johnson,/9/ Every changed his name and lived unostentatiously, while trying to sell the jewels he had amassed. The merchant in whose hands he had placed them, suspecting how they had been come by, threatened him. Every fled to Ireland, leaving his jewels in the merchant's hands, and finally died in Devonshire in extreme poverty.

But the authority for this, as for most of the popular accounts of Every, is extremely doubtful. That he was cheated out of some of his ill-gotten gains is probable enough, but it is in the highest degree improbable that he was known to be living in poverty, and yet that the large reward offered for his apprehension was not earned. What is alone certain is that he was never apprehended, and that in a few months he carried off an amount of plunder such as never before was taken out of the Indian seas by a single rover. For long he was the hero of every seaport town in England and North America; innumerable legends gathered round his name, and an immense impulse was given to piracy.

A few months after his departure, there were five pirate ships in the Red Sea, under English colours; two more, each mounting fourteen guns, were in the Persian Gulf; and another was cruising off Tellicherry. At Madagascar others were coming in fast. The news of Every's great booty had spread from port to port, and every restless spirit was intent on seeking his fortune in this new Eldorado, as men nowadays flock to a new goldfield. The Company's sailors were not proof against the temptation. While on the way from Bombay to China the crew of the Mocha frigate mutinied off the coast of Acheen, killed their captain, Edgecombe, and set afloat in the pinnace twenty-seven officers and men who refused to join them. The Mocha was then renamed the Defence, and for the next three years did an infinity of damage in the Indian Ocean.

At the same time, the crew of the Josiah ketch from Bombay, while at anchor in the Madras roads, took advantage of the commander being on shore to run away with the ship. The whole thing had been planned between the two crews before leaving Bombay; their intention being to meet off the coast of Sumatra, and cruise in company. The piratical career of the Josiah did not last long. Making first for the Nicobars, the crew flocked on shore, and were soon involved in quarrels with the natives; leaving on board only two men, one of whom was James Cruffe, the armourer, who had been forced to join them against his will. The other man was but a lukewarm pirate, and Cruffe prevailed on him to join in an attempt to carry off the ship. They cut the cable, and by great good fortune, without any knowledge of navigation, succeeded in carrying the ship into Acheen.

Stout's command of the Defence, once Mocha, quickly came to an end. According to one account, he was put to death by his comrades, at the Laccadives, for trying to desert them; according to another account, he was slain by some Malays. His place was taken by Culliford, who had been the leader of the mutineers of the Josiah. He changed the ship's name to the Resolution, and proved himself one of the most daring rovers of his day.

The untrustworthiness of his crews placed Sir John Gayer in an awkward dilemma. He had to report to the Directors that he dared not send ships to convoy pilgrims lest the crews should mutiny; that a boat could not be manned in Bombay harbour for fear of desertion; while on shore, he had not a soldier fit to be made a corporal. A powerful French squadron had appeared on the coast, and the Surat President calculated that the Company's recent losses on captured ships sailing from Surat amounted to a million sterling. The losses of the native merchants were even more serious; trade was almost at a standstill, while three more pirate ships from New York appeared in the Gulf of Cambay, and captured country ships to the value of four lakhs of rupees.

Every letter along the coast at this date speaks of the doings of the rovers: every ship coming into harbour told of pirates, of chases and narrow escapes, and of reported captures.

    "These pirates spare none but take all they meet, and take the Europe men into their own ships, with such goods as they like, and sink the ships, sending the lascars on rafts to find the shore."
So bold were the marauders that they cruised in sight of Bombay harbour, and careened their ships [=turned them on their sides for maintenance] in sight of factories along the coast.

To avenge their losses, the Muscat Arabs, in April, 1697, seized the London, belonging to Mr. Affleck, a private merchant. The Arabs were engaged in hostilities with the Portuguese at the time, and forced the crew of the London to fight for them. Those who were unwilling were lashed to masts exposed to Portuguese fire, from which they did not escape scatheless. In vain the commanders of two of the Company's vessels assured the Imaum that the London was not a pirate.

    "You have sent me a letter," he wrote, "about my people taking one of your ships. It is true that I have done so, in return for one you English took from me, so now we are even and have ship for ship; for this one I will not surrender. If you wish to be friends, I am willing to be so; if not, I will fight you and take all the ships I can."
One pirate ship was reported to have chased two Cong ships, capturing one and forcing the other ashore, where it became a total wreck. "What influence this may have on the Rt. Hon. Company's affairs, God alone knows," wrote the Surat President, mournfully. Soon he was in better spirits. The same pirates had landed and plundered Cong; but, allowing themselves to be surprised, fifty-six of the crew had been set upon and killed.

With few exceptions, the English pirates came from the American colonies. Every year, from New York, Boston, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, ships were fitted out, nominally for the slave trade, though it was no secret that they were intended for piracy in the Eastern seas. Whatever compunction might be felt at attacking European ships, there was none about plundering Asiatic merchants, where great booty was to be gained with little risk. Sometimes the Governors were in league with the pirates, who paid them to wink at their doings.

Those who were more honest had insufficient power to check the evil practices that were leniently, if not favourably, regarded by the colonial community, while their time was fully occupied in combating the factious opposition of the colonial legislatures, and in protective measures against the French and Indians. The English Government, absorbed in the French war, had no ships in the Indian seas; but the straits to which English trade in the East had been reduced, and the enormous losses caused by the pirates, at last forced some measures to be adopted for coping with the evil that had assumed such gigantic proportions.


/1/ It appears likely that this was the John Steel mentioned by Drury as his uncle in Bengal. There is very little doubt that much of Drury's alleged slavery in Madagascar was spent among the pirates.
/2/ It would appear that he assumed the name of Every on taking to piracy.
/3/ Sir James Houblon was an Alderman of London, and a Governor of the Bank of England at the time.
/4/ The letter appears to have been left by Every with the natives of Johanna, who gave it to the merchant captains who brought it to Bombay.
/5/ The quotation is taken from Johnson's General History of the Pyrates, 1724. In his cruising voyage round the world Woodes Rogers did not touch at Madagascar. On that occasion (1711) he met two ex-pirates at the Cape, who had received pardons, and told him that the Madagascar settlements had dwindled to sixty or seventy men, "most of them very poor and despicable, even to the natives," and possessed of only one ship and a sloop. But, he adds, "if care be not taken, after a peace, to clear that island of them, and hinder others from joining them, it may be a temptation for loose straggling fellows to resort thither, and make it once more a troublesome nest of freebooters."
/6/ Elliot's History of India as told by its own historians: Muntakhabu-l Lubab of Khafi Khan.
/7/ Equal to £534,000 at that day.
/8/ According to the statement of a lascar, taken in the Futteh Mahmood and carried to Madagascar, Every sailed for the Bahamas in the autumn of 1695, so that his career in the Indian seas lasted only six months. On reaching Providence, Every presented the Governor with forty pieces of eight and four pieces of gold for allowing them to come and go in safety.
/9/ Johnson's General History of the Pyrates, 1724.


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