The Pirates of Malabar

Chapter IX: A Troubled Year in Bombay
Loss of the Hunter galley-- Quarrel with Portuguese-- Alliance of Portuguese with Angria-- War with both-- A double triumph-- Portuguese make peace-- Angria cowed-- Matthews reappears-- Trouble caused by him-- He returns to England-- Court-martialled-- The last of Matthews 

The year succeeding Boone's departure was a stirring one in Bombay. On the 27th February, the Eagle and Hunter galleys, while off Bassein, convoying a Surat ship, were attacked by four of Angria's grabs. After a five-hours' engagement, during which the Hunter made three attempts at boarding, an unlucky shot ignited some loose powder, and the galley blew up, every soul on board perishing. A similar explosion, though less serious, took place on board the Eagle, which forced her to take refuge in a shattered condition in Saragon harbour. Here the Portuguese showed such unfriendliness that the Council were obliged to send other galleys to protect and bring the Eagle away.

Since the conclusion of the Portuguese treaty with Angria, an angry correspondence had gone on between Goa and Bombay, and soon the old causes of quarrel were revived. The chief of these was the levying of duties at certain places. The General of the North, who had tried to force on a quarrel a year before, smarting, doubtless, under the treatment he had received from Matthews at the siege of Alibagh, began to levy duties on provisions coming from Bombay to Portuguese territory. Phipps retaliated by levying customs duties at Mahim, which the Portuguese had always claimed to be free to both nations. The quarrel grew hot. The General of the North forbade all communication with Bombay, and, on the 26th May, a British gallivat was fired on at Mahim.

The Council resolved to uphold their rights, but were in a poor condition to do so. Meanwhile, it became known that Angria's assistance was being invited by the Portuguese. On the 23rd June, a party from Bombay landed and destroyed the Portuguese fort at Corlem, and shelled Bandara. Captain Loader, of the Revenge, without orders, burned the undefended village on Elephanta, for which he was suspended from his command; but at the end of a week he was reinstated. Want of shipping for a time prevented any vigorous prosecution of hostilities on the part of the Council. They were obliged to remain on the defensive, while Portuguese galleys cruised off the island, making occasional raids, killing a militiaman or two, and burning villages. Mahim, Riva, and Darvi were all raided, but with small benefit to the assailants. On the 28th August, at night, a Portuguese force landed and destroyed the fort at Warlee, assisted by the treachery of a renegade Portuguese. On the 3rd and 4th September, two attempts to land at the Breach were repulsed, and the Council were cheered by the arrival of the Salisbury and Exeter from their Red Sea cruise.

Cockburn, of the Salisbury, less churlish than Matthews, at once put two pinnaces and seventy-six men at the Council's disposal. A small expedition of eleven gallivats under Stanton was also fitted out, and a battery erected by the Portuguese at Surey to hinder provisions coming into Bombay, was captured. One man of the Exeter was killed and another wounded. Just then came news that Angria was fitting out an expedition of five thousand men to attack Carwar, and the Exeter sailed there to defend the factory.

At the beginning of November, the tide turned. News having been received that some of Angria's grabs were cruising off Warlee, the Victoria and Revenge, manned with crews from the Salisbury, were sent out. After a hot engagement, Angria's commodore, a Dutchman, was killed, and his ship, mounting sixteen guns, taken.

On the same day that the captured ship was brought into Bombay, two other captures entered the harbour. The Directors had sent out from England three galleys, the Bombay, the Bengal, and the Fort St. George, manned with sailors from the Thames. As they were proceeding up the coast they found themselves dogged for two days by two strange grabs showing no colours. Resolved to put an end to it, on the third day, on the 1st November, off Cape Ramus, they shortened sail and called on the strangers to show their colours. They proved to be Portuguese, and the English hails were answered by threats and shouts of defiance. The Bengal then fired a shot across the bows of the leading grab, which was answered by a broadside, killing the second mate and two seamen. The Bombay closed in, while the Fort St. George turned its attention to the second grab. In half an hour both of the Portuguese vessels struck their colours, and the galleys continued their course for Bombay with their two prizes, each carrying twenty guns. Such was the difference made by having British seamen, instead of the miserable crews that had hitherto manned the Company's ships.

It was well for the Bombay Council that Matthews had been absent while this was going on. For two months and a half he had remained at anchor in the Hooghly. Early in December he reached Bombay, and at once recommenced his quarrels with the Council and his captains. Cockburn, of the Salisbury, was placed under arrest, presumably for the assistance he had given to the Council. After a time he was transferred to the Exeter, and ordered to proceed to England.

In coming up the coast Matthews had touched at Goa, and informed the Viceroy of his disapproval of the Company's actions, and that his squadron would soon be leaving the Indian seas. But the Viceroy had had enough fighting. The capture of his grabs had brought him to reason. He laid all the blame for recent hostilities on the General of the North, and a peaceful accommodation was come to with the Council, Matthews being disregarded.

In spite of Matthews' failure to destroy the Madagascar pirates, the presence of his squadron in Indian waters impelled them to seek safety in the West Indies, and henceforward they ceased to be dangerous to the trade-ships of India. The Madagascar settlements lingered on till they died a natural death. Angria too had been tamed, by the slaying of his commodore and the capture of his ships. For years the sea-borne trade of Bombay had not been so little subject to molestation as it was for the next three or four years.

Matthews had sent home two of his ships, remaining himself to do another year's trading, during which he lost no opportunity of worrying and insulting the Company's officers. Everybody at variance with the Council found an advocate in him. A Parsee broker named Bomanjee was under arrest for fraud; Matthews demanded his surrender. The Council placed Bomanjee in close confinement in the fort, to prevent his being carried off. Matthews promised Bomanjee's sons he would take one of them to England, and undertook to make the Directors see things in a proper light. Men charged with abominable crimes received countenance from him. He told the Council that they were only traders, and had no power to punish anybody. The Crown alone had power to punish. He (Matthews) represented the Crown, and was answerable only to the King of England. One may picture to one's self the satisfaction with which, at the end of the year, the Council learned that Matthews was really going.

In December 1723, he set sail for England. During the two years he had been in the Indian seas he had accomplished nothing he ought to have done, and done almost everything he ought not to have done. He had been sent out to suppress the pirates and to protect the Company's interests. He had not captured a single pirate ship or rooted out a single pirate haunt. Claiming, as a King's officer, to be exempt from the provisions of the Company's charter, he had indulged in private trade, and had even had dealings with the pirates. He had flouted the Company's authority wherever it existed, and had encouraged others to resist it.

Every person who had a dispute with the Company received protection from him. He told the Goa authorities that the Company's vessels were only traders, and therefore not entitled to the salutes they had always received. He had refused to give up the Company's sailors whom he encouraged to desert to his ship. He forbade the Bombay traders to fly British colours, but allowed his own trading friends to do so. He had gone trading to Bengal and Mocha, where there were no pirates; two months and a half he had spent in the Hooghly; three months and a half he had spent at Madras and St. David's for trade purposes; and, when the quarrel between the Bombay authorities and the Portuguese was going on, he gave out that he would send the Goa Viceroy a petticoat, as an old woman, if he did not take every one of the Company's ships. He had quarrelled with all his captains, and one of them, Sir Robert Johnson, owed his death to him.

At Surat he had found a discharged servant of the Company, one Mr. Wyche, on whose departure the Governor had laid an embargo till his accounts were cleared. Matthews took him and his eleven chests of treasure on board his ship, in defiance of the Governor's orders, and put him ashore at Calicut, whence he escaped to French territory. From Surat also he carried to England the broker's son, Rustumjee Nowrojee, to worry the Directors. He carried off Mrs. Gyfford, and brought her to England in his ship. His last act on the coast was to call at Anjengo, in order to obtain property she claimed there: but it is probable that he also secured a cargo of pepper.

It is small wonder that, on his arrival in England, in July 1724, the wrath of the Directors was kindled against him, and an account of his misbehaviour was forwarded to the Secretary of State. The naval authorities called on the Directors to produce their witnesses for the charge of trading with the pirates. The difficulty of doing so was obvious, as the witnesses were all under Matthews' command; so the charge was dropped, and the Directors sued him in the Court of Exchequer for infringing their charter by private trading.

Meanwhile the naval authorities had their own account to settle with Matthews; Captain Maine, of the Shoreham, having made various charges against him. In the last week of December, 1724, he was brought to a court-martial on board the Sandwich in the Medway, and the finding of the court was thus recorded:--

    "The Court, having read the complaints of the Directors of the E.I. Co. of several irregularities said to be committed by Captain Thomas Matthews while Commander-in-Chief of a squadron of his Majesty's ships sent to the East Indies, a Publication being made three several times, if any Person or Persons were attending on behalf of the said Directors, in order to prove the several matters therein contained, and not any appearing, the Court proceeded on the complaints exhibited by Captain Covil Maine, and having strictly examined into the several particulars and matters therein contained and heard divers witnesses upon oath, they are unanimously of opinion, that the said Captain Matthews hath in all respects complied with his Instructions, except that of receiving Merchandize on board before the late Act of Parliament, Instituted an Act for the more effectual suppression of Piracy, came to hand, but not afterwards; and it appearing to the Court, that he had sent men irregularly to Merchant Ships, and finding he falls under the 33rd Article of War, they have Resolved he be Mulcted four Months' pay, and that the same be applied for the benefit of the Chest of Chatham, and he is hereby mulcted accordingly."
Six weeks later, the Directors obtained a decree against him in the Court of Exchequer, for £13,676 17s. 6d., which, according to Act of Parliament, was doubled as a penalty.

In 1742, Matthews again found favour with an English Ministry. He was appointed Minister at Turin and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. In February 1744, he encountered a combined French and Spanish fleet off Toulon. His behaviour to his subordinates had excited their ill-will to such an extent that his second in command and many of the captains refused to follow him. The allied fleet escaped with the loss of one ship only. Both admirals and five captains were cashiered, and that is the last we hear of Matthews. The remembrance of his behaviour long rankled in the minds of the Directors, and twenty years elapsed before they could again bring themselves to apply for the despatch of a royal squadron to the Indian seas./1/


/1/ The squadron under Barnet, which was sent out in 1744, on the declaration of war with France. 

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