The Pirates of Malabar, and An Englishwoman in India Two Hundred Years Ago
by John Biddulph
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For most people, interest in the doings of our forefathers in India dates from our wars with the French in the middle of the eighteenth century. Before then their lives are generally supposed to have been spent in monotonous trade dealings in pepper and calico, from which large profits were earned for their masters in England, while their principal excitements were derived from drinking and quarrelling among themselves. Little account has been taken of the tremendous risks and difficulties under which the trade was maintained, the losses that were suffered, and the dangers that were run by the Company's servants from the moment they left the English Channel. The privations and dangers of the voyage to India were alone sufficient to deter all but the hardiest spirits, and the debt we owe to those who, by painful effort, won a footing for our Indian trade, is deserving of more recognition than it has received. Scurvy, shortness of water, and mutinous crews were to be reckoned on in every voyage; navigation was not a science but a matter of rule and thumb, and shipwreck was frequent; while every coast was inhospitable. Thus, on the 4th September, 1715, the Nathaniel, having sent a boat's crew on shore near Aden, in search of water, the men allowed themselves to be inveigled inland by treacherous natives, who fell upon them and murdered twelve out of fourteen who had landed from the ship. Such an occurrence now would be followed by a visit from a man-of-war to punish the murderers. Two hundred years ago it was only an incident to set down in the ship's log-book. But all such outrages and losses were small in comparison with those to which traders were exposed at the hands of pirates.

It is difficult to realize, in these days, what a terrible scourge piracy was to the Indian trade, two hundred years ago. From the moment of losing sight of the Lizard till the day of casting anchor in the port of destination an East India ship was never safe from attack, with the chance of slavery or a cruel death to crew and passengers, in case of capture. From Finisterre to Cape Verd the Moorish pirates made the seas unsafe, sometimes venturing into the mouth of the Channel to make a capture. Farther south, every watering-place on the African coast was infested by the English and French pirates who had their headquarters in the West Indies. From the Cape of Good Hope to the head of the Persian Gulf, from Cape Comorin to Sumatra, every coast was beset by English, French, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Arab, Malay or other local pirates. In the Bay of Bengal alone, piracy on a dangerous scale was practically unknown.

There was no peace on the ocean. The sea was a vast No Man's domain, where every man might take his prey. Law and order stopped short at low-water mark. The principle that traders might claim protection and vengeance for their wrongs from their country, had not yet been recognized, and they sailed the seas at their own risk. Before the close of the seventeenth century the buccaneers had passed away, but their depredations, in pursuit of what they called "free trade," were of a different nature from those of the pirates who succeeded them. Buccaneer exploits were confined to the Spanish main, where they ravaged and burnt Spanish settlements on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, moving with large forces by sea and land. According to Esquemeling, Morgan sailed on his expedition against Panama with thirty-seven sail and two thousand fighting men, besides mariners and boys. But the Spanish alone were the objects of their attack. So long as Spain claimed a monopoly of South American trade, it was the business of Spain alone to keep the marauders away; other Governments were not disposed to assist her. Hardly had the last of the buccaneers disappeared from the Western seas, when a more lawless race of rovers appeared, extending their operations into the Indian Ocean, acting generally in single ships, plundering vessels of every nationality, though seldom attacking places on shore.

Of these men, chiefly English, the most notorious were Teach, Every, Kidd, Roberts, England, and Tew; but there were many others less known to fame, who helped almost to extinguish trade between Europe, America, and the East. Some idea of the enormous losses caused by them may be gathered from the fact that Bartholomew Roberts alone was credited with the destruction of four hundred trading vessels in three years. In a single day he captured eleven vessels, English, French, and Portuguese, on the African coast.

War in Europe, and the financial exhaustion that ensued, rendered it almost impossible for the maritime powers to put an effective check on the pirates either in the East or the West. With peace their numbers increased by the conversion of privateersmen into freebooters. Slaver, privateers-man, and pirate were almost interchangeable terms. At a time when every main road in England was beset by highwaymen, travellers by sea were not likely to escape unmolested. But the chief cause of their immunity lay in the fact that it was the business of nobody in particular to act against them, while they were more or less made welcome in every undefended port. They passed themselves off as merchantmen or slavers, though their real character was well known, but they paid royally for what they wanted; and, as gold, silver, and jewels were the principal booty from which they made their 'dividend,' many a rich bale of spices and merchandise went to purchase the good will of their friends on shore, who, in return, supplied their wants, and gave them timely information of rich prizes to be looked for, or armed ships to be avoided. They prided themselves on being men of honour in the way of trade; enemies to deceit, and only robbing in their own way. The Malabar coast was scandalized when Kidd broke the rule, and tricked or bullied people out of supplies. Officials high in authority winked at their doings from which they drew a profit, and when armed squadrons were sent to look for them, the commanders were not always averse to doing business with the freebooters.

The greatest sufferers among European traders in India were the English; for not only were the greater number of pirates of English blood, but pirate captains of other nationalities often sailed under English colours. The native officials, unable to distinguish the rogues from the honest traders, held the East India Company's servants responsible for the misdeeds of the piccaroons, from whom they suffered so grievously. Still, whatever their nationality might chance to be, it is fair to say that the generality of them were courageous rascals and splendid seamen, who, with their large crews, handled their ships better than any merchantmen could do. When a pirate ship was cast away on a desolate coast, they built themselves another; the spirit of the sea was in their veins; whether building and rigging a ship, or sailing and fighting her, they could do everything that the most skilful seamen of the age could do. As was said half a century later of La Bourdonnais, himself a true corsair in spirit, their knowledge in mechanics rendered them capable of building a ship from the keel; their skill in navigation, of conducting her to any part of the globe; and their courage, of fighting against any equal force. Their lives were a continual alternation between idleness and extreme toil, riotous debauchery and great privation, prolonged monotony and days of great excitement and adventure. At one moment they were revelling in unlimited rum, and gambling for handfuls of gold and diamonds; at another, half starving for food and reduced to a pint of water a day under a tropical sun. Yet the attractions of the life were so great that men of good position took to piracy. Thus, Major Stede Bonnet, of Barbados, master of a plentiful fortune, and a gentleman of good reputation, fitted out a sloop and went a-pirating, for which he was hanged, together with twenty-two of his crew, in November, 1718. Even women, like Anne Bonny and Mary Read, turned pirates and handled sword and pistol. Desperate, reckless, and lawless, they were filled with the spirit of adventure, and were the forerunners of the men that Hawke, Nelson, and Dundonald led to victory.

Long after they had disappeared from the seas the Indian trade continued to be exposed to the ravages of native pirates, who were not finally coerced into good behaviour till well into the nineteenth century. Of the European pirates Kidd, the most ignoble of them all, is alone remembered, while the name of Angria is only recalled in connection with the destruction of Gheriah by Watson and Clive. The long half-century of amateur warfare waged by Bombay against the Angrian power is dismissed in a few words by our Indian historians, and the expeditions sent forth by Boone against Angrian strongholds are passed over in silence. An account of some of them is given in Clement Downing's curious little book "Indian Wars," valuable as the relation of an eye-witness; but the work, published in 1737, is inaccessible to the general reader, besides shewing many omissions and inaccuracies.

The early records of the East India Company have furnished the foundation on which this neglected chapter of our Indian history has been compiled. If the Company's servants appear at times in an unfavourable light, the conditions of their service must be considered, while the low standard of conduct prevailing in England two hundred years ago must not be forgotten. They were traders, not administrators, and the charter under which the Company traded was of very insecure duration. Twice the Crown broke faith with them, and granted charters to rival associations. As the stability of the Company became assured, the conduct of its servants improved.

It is not intended in these pages to give an exhaustive account of all the pirates who haunted the Indian seas, but to present some idea of the perils that beset the Indian trade—perils that have so entirely passed away that their existence is forgotten.

Scattered among the monotonous records of the Company's trade are many touches of human interest. Along with the details relating to sugar, pepper, and shipping, personal matters affecting the Company's servants are set down; treating of their quarrels, their debts, and, too often, of their misconduct, as ordinary incidents in the general course of administration. At times a bright light is turned on some individual, who relapses into obscurity and is heard of no more, while the names of others emerge again and again, like a coloured thread woven in the canvas; showing how much romance there was in the lives of the early traders. One such thread I have followed in the account of Mrs. Gyfford, from her first arrival in India till her final disappearance in the Court of Chancery, showing the vicissitudes and dangers to which an Englishwoman in India was exposed two hundred years ago.

To Mr. William Foster, of the India Office, I am especially indebted for aid in directing my attention to old documents that would otherwise have escaped notice, and who has generously placed at my disposal some of the results of his own researches into the history of the Company in the seventeenth century, as yet unpublished.

My thanks are also due to Sir Ernest Robinson for permitting me to use his picture of an engagement with Mahratta ships, as a frontispiece.





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.



Measures to suppress piracy—The Adventure fitted out—Warren's squadron meets with Kidd—His suspicious behaviour—He threatens the Sidney—Waylays the Red Sea fleet—Captures the Mary—Visits Carwar and Calicut—His letter to the factory—Chased by Portuguese men-of-war—Chases the Sedgwick—Chivers—Action between Dorrill and Resolution—Kidd captures the Quedah Merchant—Dilemma of European traders at Surat—Their agreements with the authorities—Experience of the Benjamin—News of Kidd's piracies reaches England—Despatch of squadron under Warren—Littleton at Madagascar—Kidd sails for New York—Arrested and tried—His defence and execution—Justice of his sentence—His character—Diminution of piracy—Lowth in the Loyal Merchant—Act for suppression of piracy—Captain Millar ...



Native piracy hereditary on the Malabar coast—Marco Polo's account—Fryer's narrative—The Kempsant—Arab and Sanganian pirates—Attack on the President—Loss of the Josiah—Attack on the Phoenix—The Thomas captured—Depredations of the Gulf pirates—Directors' views—Conajee Angria—Attacks English ships—Destroys the Bombay—Fortifies Kennery—Becomes independent—Captures the Governor's yacht—Attacks the Somers and Grantham—Makes peace with Bombay—His navy—Great increase of European and native piracy ...



Arrival of Mr. Boone as Governor—He builds ships and improves defences of Bombay—Desperate engagement of Morning Star with Sanganians—Alexander Hamilton—Expedition against Vingorla—Its failure—Hamilton made Commodore—Expedition against Carwar—Landing force defeated—Successful skirmish—Desertion of Goa recruits—Reinforcements—Landing force again defeated—The Rajah makes peace—Hamilton resigns Commodoreship—A noseless company—Angria recommences attacks—Abortive expedition against Gheriah—Downing's account of it—Preparations to attack Kennery ...



The Company's civil servants—Their comparison with English who went to America—Their miserable salaries—The Company's military servants—Regarded with distrust—Shaxton's mutiny—Captain Keigwin—Broken pledges and ill-treatment—Directors' vacillating policy—Military grievances—Keigwin seizes the administration of Bombay—His wise rule—Makes his submission to the Crown—Low status of Company's military officers—Lord Egmont's speech—Factors and writers as generals and colonels—Bad quality of the common soldiers—Their bad treatment—Complaint against Midford—Directors' parsimony ...



Sivajee's occupation of Kennery—A naval action—Minchin and Keigwin—Bombay threatened—The Seedee intervenes—Conajee Angria occupies Kennery—Boone sails with the expedition—Manuel de Castro—Futile proceedings—Force landed and repulsed—Second landing—Manuel de Castro's treachery—Gideon Russell—Bad behaviour of two captains—Defeat—Attack abandoned—The St. George—The Phram—Manuel de Castro punished—Bombay wall completed—Angria makes overtures for peace—Boone outwitted ...



Trouble with the Portuguese—Madagascar pirates again—Loss of the Cassandra—Captain Macrae's brave defence—The one-legged pirate—Richard Lazenby—Expedition against Gheriah—Mr. Walter Brown—His incompetency—Gordon's landing—Insubordination and drunkenness—Arrival of the Phram—General attack—Failure—The Kempsant's alliance—Attack on Deoghur—The Madagascar pirates, England and Taylor—Ignominious flight—Fate of the Phram—Brown despatched south again—The pirates at Cochin—They take flight to Madagascar—Their rage against Macrae and England—England marooned—Taylor takes Goa ship—Rich prize—Governor Macrae ...



Measures taken in England against pirates—Woodes Rogers at the Bahamas—Edward Teach—Challoner Ogle—Bartholomew Roberts killed—Matthews sent to the East Indies—Naval officers' duels—Portuguese alliance—Expedition against Colaba—Assault—Defeat—A split in the alliance—Plot against Boone—His departure—Matthews' schemes—His insulting behaviour—He quarrels with everybody—Goes to Madagascar—The King of Ranter Bay—Matthews goes to Bengal ...



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 case of Mr. Curgenven—Death of Conajee Angria—Quarrels of his sons—Portuguese intervention—Sumbhajee Angria—Political changes—Disaster to Bombay and Bengal galleys—The Ockham beats off Angria's fleet—The Coolees—Loss of the Derby—Mahrattas expel Portuguese from Salsette—Captain Inchbird—Mannajee Angria gives trouble—Dutch squadron repulsed from Gheriah—Gallant action of the Harrington—Sumbhajee attacks Colaba—English assist Mannajee—Loss of the Antelope—Death of Sumbhajee Angria—Toolajee Angria—Capture of the Anson—Toolajee takes the Restoration—Power of Toolajee—Lisle's squadron—Building of the Protector and Guardian ...



Toolajee fights successful action with the Dutch—He tries to make peace with Bombay—Alliance formed against him—Commodore William James—Slackness of the Peishwa's fleet—Severndroog—James's gallant attack—Fall of Severndroog—Council postpone attack on Gheriah—Clive arrives from England—Projects of the Directors—Admiral Watson—Preparations against Gheriah—The Council's instructions—Council of war about prize-money—Double dealing of the Peishwa's officers—Watson's hint—Ships engage Gheriah—Angrian fleet burnt—Fall of Gheriah—Clive occupies the fort—The prize-money—Dispute between Council and Poonah Durbar—Extinction of coast piracy—Severndroog tower ...

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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, 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 L10,000. 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 'pastionate' 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 spirits 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 Quffoor, 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 L500 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 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 History of the Pirates. 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 L534,000 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.



Measures to suppress piracy—The Adventure fitted out—Warren's squadron meets with Kidd—His suspicious behaviour—He threatens the Sidney—Waylays the Red Sea fleet—Captures the Mary—Visits Carwar and Calicut—His letter to the factory—Chased by Portuguese men-of-war—Chases the Sedgwick—Chivers—Action between Dorrill and Resolution—Kidd captures the Quedah Merchant—Dilemma of European traders at Surat—Their agreements with the authorities—Experience of the Benjamin—News of Kidd's piracies reaches England—Despatch of squadron under Warren—Littleton at Madagascar—Kidd sails for New York—Arrested and tried—His defence and execution—Justice of his sentence—His character—Diminution of piracy—Lowth in the Loyal Merchant—Act for suppression of piracy—Captain Millar.

War with France was being actively prosecuted by land and sea. In 1695 the nation was still smarting under reverses in the Low Countries and the repulse of the Brest expedition. At sea the navy was holding its own, though English commerce suffered terribly under the attacks of French corsairs of Dunkirk and St. Malo. The Company applied for a ship to be sent to the Indian seas to deal with the pirates; but Lord Orford, the head of the Admiralty, refused to spare one. It was the fashion for wealthy men to obtain letters of marque for privateering, and a syndicate was formed, to which the Chancellor, Lord Somers, Lord Orford, Lord Bellamont, and other Whig nobles were parties, to send out a privateer against French commerce. For this purpose the Adventure galley was purchased and fitted out, and the command was given to William Kidd, who was suggested to Lord Bellamont as a fit person for the task. Kidd was an old privateers-man who had gained some reputation in the West Indies during the war. Lord Bellamont had been appointed Governor of New York, though he did not proceed there till two years later. The king had charged him to use his utmost endeavours to put a check on the pirates who sailed from New England, and nothing better occurred to him than to obtain a commission for Kidd to act against the rovers. A general reward of L50 was offered for the apprehension of each pirate, and L100 for Every, increased in the following year to L500.

In December, a commission under the Admiralty Seal was issued to Kidd, authorizing him to proceed against French shipping. He was to keep a journal of his proceedings, and any ship captured was to be carried into the nearest port and legally adjudged by a competent court. If condemned, he might dispose of it according to custom. Six weeks later, a second commission under the Great Seal was granted him, in his capacity of a private man of war, to apprehend all pirates, freebooters, and sea rovers, the names of Thomas Too (? Tew), John Ireland, Thomas Wake, and William Maze, or Mace, being specially mentioned. Again, he was enjoined to keep an exact journal of his doings, and the pirate ships he captured were to be proceeded against according to law, in the same manner as French captures. A subsequent warrant was granted to the syndicate, who figure in it as the Earl of Bellamont, Edmund Harrison, William Rowley, George Watson, Thomas Reynolds, and Samuel Newton. Under these unpretentious names were hidden Lords Orford and Somers, and other Whig nobles. They were to account for all goods and valuables captured in the rovers' possession: one-tenth was to be reserved for the Crown, the rest being assigned to them to recoup their expenditure.

The Adventure carried thirty guns and rowed twenty-six or thirty oars. In May, 1696, Kidd sailed from Plymouth for New York with a crew of about seventy men. On the way he captured a small French vessel, which was properly condemned, and the proceeds helped to complete the equipment of the Adventure. In New York he filled up his crew to one hundred and fifty-five men, and people shook their heads when they saw the men of doubtful character that he enlisted. It was felt at the time that, either his intentions were dishonest, or he was taking a crew that he would be unable to control. The men were promised shares of what should be taken, while Kidd himself was to have forty shares. Nothing was said as to the share of the owners or the Crown. In September he sailed for the Cape. There were plenty of pirates and French trading-ships close at hand on the American coast, but he did not waste a day in looking for them.

Within a few days of Kidd's leaving Plymouth, a royal squadron consisting of the Windsor, Tyger, Advice, and Vulture, under Commodore Warren, sailed from Sheerness to visit the harbours and watering-places, used by East India ships, as far as the Cape, and clear them of pirates. The squadron, with five East Indiamen under convoy, made its way slowly along the African coast, losing many men from sickness. Two hundred leagues west of the Cape they sighted a strange sail that seemed to wish to avoid them. Warren gave chase and forced it to heave to. On being signalled to come on board, the commander proved to be Kidd, in command of the Adventure. Asked to account for himself, he told how he was engaged to look for Every and destroy pirates, and showed his commission. Apparently, this was the first that Warren had heard of him, but there was no gainsaying the royal commission, so the usual hospitality was shown him, and he was bidden to keep company as far as the Cape. Warren had lost many men on the Guinea coast, and asked Kidd to spare him some. No better opportunity could have been found for getting rid of troublesome men, but Kidd declined to part with a single one. As Warren's wine told on him, his true character showed itself. He boasted of the feats he was going to do, and the wealth he would get, till Warren was filled with disgust and suspicion. The Adventure wanted a new mainsail. Warren could not spare him one. No matter, he would take one from the first ship he met; and he was finally sent back to the Adventure, reeling drunk. For six days he sailed in company with the squadron. Then a calm came on, and at night, making use of his oars, Kidd stole away, and was nearly out of sight when the sun rose.

On reaching the Cape, Warren could get no news of him, but to the captains of the Company's ships he communicated his suspicions of Kidd. Three of them, bound for Johanna in the Comoro Islands, the Sidney, the Madras Merchant, and the East India Merchant, agreed to sail in company for mutual protection. The Sidney, being the faster sailer, reached Johanna in advance of her consorts, and found the Adventure at anchor in the roadstead. As the Sidney came to anchor, Kidd sent a boat to Captain Gyfford, ordering him to strike his colours, and threatening to board him if he refused. Gyfford prepared to defend himself. Two days later the East India Merchant and the Madras Merchant appeared, making for the anchorage, and Kidd lowered his tone. He then invited the three captains to come on board the Adventure, which they refused to do, letting him plainly see that they distrusted him.

Soon they had to warn him regarding his ill-treatment of the Johanna people, for which they threatened to call him to account. This unlooked-for attitude on the part of the three captains made Kidd uneasy; and finding that they would not leave the anchorage till he had gone, he made sail and departed. Some of the crew of the Adventure had, however, used suspicious language, saying they were looking for an East India ship. When asked if they would attack a single one, they answered evasively, while continuing to boast of the things they were going to do. These early proceedings of Kidd effectually dispose of the plea that his intentions were at first honest, and that he only yielded to the coercion of his crew in taking to piracy, after reaching the Indian seas. The truth is that Kidd was resolved on piracy from the first, and had little difficulty in persuading the majority of the crew to join him. It can hardly be doubted that the accounts of the great wealth acquired by Every had turned his head. There were a number of men on board the Adventure who were unwillingly coerced into piracy, and who remained in a chronic state of discontent, but Kidd was not one of them. Long before he had made a single capture, it was reported in the ports of Western India that Kidd was a pirate.

From Johanna he shaped his coarse for Madagascar, but the pirates were all away in search of prey; so he continued his cruise in the Mozambique Channel and along the African coast. He is said to have met Indian ships at this time without molesting them, which was afterwards cited to show that his intentions were then honest. It is more likely that he was only doubtful as to his own power, being unacquainted with the weakness of Asiatics, and reserving himself for the rich prey offered by the Mocha fleet.

Cruising northwards, he landed at Mabber[1] on the Somali coast, and took some corn from the natives by force—his first bit of filibustering. Then making for Perim, he anchored to await the Mocha fleet. Three times he sent a boat to look into Mocha harbour, and bring notice when the Indian ships were ready to sail. As the fleet in scattered array emerged from the straits, he singled out a large vessel and began firing at it. This at once attracted the attention of the Sceptre frigate that Sir John Gayer had sent as a convoy, and Kidd took to his heels.

If Every had been in his place, he would have followed the fleet across the Indian Ocean, and have picked up a straggler or two, but the sight of the Sceptre and a Dutch man-of-war had been enough for Kidd, and he left the pilgrim fleet alone. Without molesting them further, he made his way eastward, and, on the 29th August, off Sanjan, north of Bombay, he took the Mary brigantine, a small native vessel from Surat. This was Kidd's first capture on the high seas. Thomas Parker, the master of the Mary, was forced on board the Adventure to act as pilot, a Portuguese was taken to act as interpreter, and the lascars of the Mary beaten and ill-treated. A week later he put into Carwar for provisions, flying English colours; but his character was already known. The Sunda Rajah and the factory stood on their guard while he was in harbour. Harvey, the chief of the factory, demanded the surrender of Parker, but Kidd vowed he knew nothing about him. Eight of his crew deserted, and told their story. They had no desire for the piratical life into which they had been trepanned, and reported that many more of the crew would leave him if they could get the chance. While off Carwar he careened the Adventure on a small islet in the harbour, which was long known as Kidd's island. A month later he was off Calicut, where his ever-recurring trouble about supplies is shown in the following letter to the factory:—

"Adventure Gally, October y'e 4't, 1697.


"I can't but admire y't y'r People is so fearfull to come near us for I have used all possible means to let them understand y't I am an Englishman and a ff'rd not offering to molest any of their Cannoes so think it convenient to write this y't you may understand whome I am which (I) hope may end all Suspition. I come from England about 15 mos. agone with y'e King's Commission to take all Pyrates in these seas, and from Carwar came ab't a month agone, so do believe y't (you) have heard whome I am before y't and all I come for here is wood and water wh'h if you will be pleas'd to order me shall honestly satisfie for y'e same or any thing that they'l bring off which is all from him who will be very ready to serve you in what lyeth in my Power.


They knew who he was only too well, so he sailed for the Laccadives, whence news was soon received of his barbarous treatment of the natives, and that he had killed his quartermaster.[2] The letter is characteristic of Kidd's methods. From his first entrance into the Indian seas his conduct had aroused suspicion. Owing to the large amount of coasting trade and the frequent necessity of calling at many places for water, the news of the sea spread from port to port with great rapidity. At the moment of his writing this letter he had the master of the Mary a prisoner under hatches, and the factory chiefs of Carwar and Calicut were well aware of it; but to the end he believed that he could throw dust in the eyes of the Company's officials by making play with the royal commission.

While he was on the coast, Kidd was chased by two Portuguese armed vessels, a grab and a sloop. The grab was a poor sailer, and Kidd had no difficulty in eluding it; but the sloop, a better sailer, allowed itself to be drawn on in chase, till Kidd, shortening sail, was able to give it several broadsides, which reduced it to a total wreck; after which he showed a clean pair of heels. At Kidd's trial it was stated he had ten men wounded in this business.

In April (1698) the Sedgwick, arriving at Fort St. David, reported that on its way from Anjengo it had been chased for three days and nights by Kidd, but had been saved by a stiff breeze springing up. On its return voyage the Sedgwick was less fortunate, being captured off Cape Comorin by Chivers, a Dutchman, in the Soldado, otherwise known as the Algerine, of two hundred and fifty tons and carrying twenty-eight guns. The cargo of the Sedgwick not being to Chivers' liking, and being put into good humour with sundry bowls of punch, he let the Sedgwick go, taking out of her only sails and cordage.

The year 1698 saw the Company's trade almost extinguished owing to the depredations of the sea rovers and the hostility aroused against Europeans. Every letter brought accounts of the pirates and the losses occasioned by them. In small squadrons they swept the coast from Madras to the mouths of the Indus, and haunted the sea from Cape Comorin to the Straits of Malacca. In July, the Company's ship Dorrill, bound for China, was attacked in the Straits of Malacca by the Resolution, late Mocha, commanded by Culliford, and, after a hot engagement of three hours, made the pirate sheer off, with heavy losses on both sides. Bowen in the Speedy Return, for the taking of which Green was, with doubtful justice, hanged, Chivers in the Soldado, North in the Pelican, Halsey, Williams, White, and many others of less fame, were plundering and burning everywhere with impunity. Early in the year, Kidd captured the Quedah Merchant a country ship bound from Bengal to Surat, belonging to some Armenian merchants who were on board. The captain was an Englishman named Wright; the gunner was a Frenchman, and there were two Dutchmen. This was the best prize made by Kidd, and yielded some L10,000 or L12,000, which was at once divided among the crew of the Adventure, Kidd's forty shares being one-fourth of the whole. Able seamen got one share; landsmen and servants a half-share only. The Surat factory was filled with alarm, not without good reason. In vain Sir John Gayer wrote to the Governor, and sent an agent to the Emperor to disclaim responsibility. In August came an imperial order directing that the English, French, and Dutch should be held responsible for all losses, and that for the Quedah Merchant alone the English should pay two lakhs of rupees. Guards were placed on the factories; all communication with them was forbidden; their Mahommedan servants left them, and their creditors were made to give an account to the Governor of all debts owing by Europeans. The Dutch and French tried to exonerate themselves by laying all the blame on the English, but the Governor refused to make any distinction, and called on the three nations to pay fourteen lakhs of rupees as a compensation for the losses occasioned by piracy. Sir John Gayer was a man of action. Like Macrae, to be mentioned later in these pages, he had first brought himself into notice as a sea-captain, and as Governor of Bombay had upheld the Company's interests for four years, in circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. The time for some decided action had arrived if the Company's trade was to continue. On receiving intelligence of these occurrences, he appeared off Surat with three armed ships, and sent word to the Governor that he would neither pay any portion of the fourteen lakhs, nor give security. At the same time he intimated that he was ready to furnish convoys for the Mocha ships, as he had already done, and, in proof of good will in acting against the pirates, pointed out that, now the war in Europe was at an end, a royal squadron was on its way to the Indian seas to extirpate them. The European traders on the west coast had always been so submissive to the Emperor's authority that this unexpected display of vigour astonished the Governor: he moderated his tone. The Dutch declared they would abandon the Surat trade rather than pay; so the Governor consented to make no demand for past losses, if the English would engage to make good all future losses by piracy. This was also refused. Finally, the English, French, and Dutch agreed to act in concert to suppress piracy, and signed bonds by which they jointly engaged to make good all future losses.

Onerous as these terms were, the agreement came not a moment too soon. The news of it reached Aurungzeeb just in time to procure the reversal of an order he had issued, putting a final stop to all European trade in his dominions. He told the Surat Governor to settle the matter in his own way. In pursuance of the agreement, the Dutch convoyed the Mecca pilgrims and patrolled the entrance to the Red Sea, besides making a payment of Rs.70,000 to the Governor; the English paid Rs.30,000 and patrolled the South Indian seas; while the French made a similar payment and policed the Persian Gulf.

An experience of the Benjamin yacht at this time showed that pirates were not prone to wanton mischief, where there was no plunder to be gained. In November, the yacht lay at Honore, taking in a cargo of pepper, when the well-known pirate ships Pelican, Soldado, and Resolution came into harbour for provisions. Seeing the Bombay Governor's yacht, they naturally concluded that some attempt would be made to prevent the natives from supplying their wants. They at once sent word to the master of the Benjamin that they had no intention of molesting him, unless he hindered them in getting provisions, in which case they would sink him. The master of the yacht was only too glad to be left alone; the pirates got their provisions, and, in recognition of his behaviour, presented him with a recently captured Portuguese ship. Sir John Gayer, in much fear lest he should be accused of being in league with the pirates, quickly made it over to the Portuguese authorities.

When the intelligence of Kidd's piracies reached England, there was a storm of indignation in the country. Party feeling was running high and with unusual violence. The majority in the House of Commons desired the ruin of Somers and Orford while aiming at the King. The charge of abetment in Kidd's misdeeds was too useful a weapon to be neglected, so it was added to the list of accusations against them. It must be admitted that the circumstances of the Lord Chancellor, the head of the Admiralty, and other prominent men using their influence to forward a venture from which they were to profit, under fictitious names, and that had created such a scandal, demanded inquiry. It was hardly sufficient to say that they had lost their money. Such an answer would justify any illegal enterprise in the event of its failure.

The French war had come to an end, so in January, 1699, a royal squadron of four men-of-war, the Anglesea, Harwich, Hastings, and Lizard, sailed from Portsmouth for Madagascar under Warren.[3] They carried with them four royal commissioners and a proclamation offering a free pardon, from which Every and Kidd were excepted, to all pirates who voluntarily surrendered themselves before the end of April, 1699. The pardon related only to acts of piracy committed east of the Cape of Good Hope, between the African and Indian coasts. After calling at St. Augustine's bay, where several pirates made their submission, the squadron reached Tellicherry in November. As it came to its anchorage, Warren died, and was buried on shore the following day. He was succeeded in the command by Littleton. In the following May, Littleton was on the Madagascar coast, where he remained till the end of the year before returning home. During the whole time he was in communication with the pirates. His dealings with them brought him into disrepute in shipping circles. Hamilton tells us that "for some valuable reasons he let them go again; and because they found a difficulty in cleaning the bottoms of their large ships, he generously assisted them with large blocks and tackle falls for careening them." Possibly Hamilton's remark was due to the conduct of Captain White of the Hastings, whose behaviour excited such suspicion that Littleton placed him under arrest, fearing he would make his ship over to the pirates. Littleton remained on the Madagascar coast for eight months without firing a shot. When he first reached St. Mary's, the pirates greeted him with a salute of nine guns, to which he responded with five, and he was in close and daily communication with them. Whether any pirates made their submission to him does not appear; but it is probable that his presence strengthened the resolution to obtain pardon of those who had previously engaged themselves to Warren; among them Culliford and Chivers. The fact is that piracy was looked upon then more leniently than we should now regard it. Plundering and ill-treating Asiatics was a venial offence, and many a seaman after a cruise with the pirates returned to his calling on board an honest merchantman, without being thought much the worse for it.

Among all the naval officers sent to the Indian seas at that time, Warren appears to have been the only one who really tried to protect the Company's interests. Littleton quarrelled with Sir Nicholas Waite, and had questionable dealings with the Madagascar pirates. Richards and Harland quarrelled with Sir John Gayer, and crippled the Company's ships by forcibly pressing their sailors to fill up their own crews; while Matthews exceeded them all in outrageous behaviour, as will be recounted in its place.

After capturing the Quedah Merchant, Kidd shaped his course for Madagascar, where he found Culliford in the Resolution, who at first treated him with suspicion, hearing that he had a commission to capture pirates. But Kidd soon reassured him over sundry cups of bombo, protesting with many oaths that 'his soul should fry in hell' sooner than that he should hurt a hair of one of Culliford's crew; and, as a proof of good will, presented him with two guns and an anchor. Then, finding the Adventure had become unseaworthy, he abandoned her, and sailed for New England in the Quedah Merchant. In June, 1799, he reached Boston.

Before his arrival, he heard he had been proclaimed a pirate, so he deputed a friend to approach Lord Bellamont on his behalf. The Quedah Merchant was disposed of, and his plunder placed in a safe place. By assurance, and by a valuable present to Lady Bellamont, he thought he could face matters out. Bellamont appears to have been puzzled at first how to treat him. He was unwilling to believe all that was said. At the end of three weeks he made up his mind and arrested Kidd. For eight months he lay in Boston gaol, and was then sent to London for trial, remaining in Newgate for more than a year. Eleven of his crew were also arrested, two of them being admitted as King's witnesses.

In the interval the storm against the Whig ministers had gathered strength, and articles of impeachment against Somers, Orford, and others were being prepared by the House of Commons. On the 27th March, 1701, Kidd was brought to the House to be examined, but he said nothing to inculpate any of the owners of the Adventure, so a resolution was passed that he should be proceeded against according to law.

On the 8th and 9th May he was brought up for trial at the Old Bailey. The first indictment against him was for the murder of Moore, the gunner of the Adventure. There had been a quarrel in which Moore accused Kidd of having ruined them all, on which Kidd called him a 'lousy dog'; to which Moore replied in a rage, that if he was a dog it was Kidd who had made him one. At this Kidd hurled a bucket at him and fractured his skull. The jury found him guilty. He was then tried, together with nine of his crew, for the taking of the Quedah Merchant. His line of defence was that it was sailing under a French pass, and therefore a lawful prize, but he evaded actually saying so. He declared that Lord Bellamont had some French passes of ships he had taken, but would not produce them. That Kidd had captured some ships under French passes, and that the passes were in Bellamont's hands, is extremely probable; but it is incredible that a French pass for the Quedah Merchant was in Bellamont's hands, and that he held it back. He had been accused of complicity in Kidd's piracies, and threatened with impeachment. Every consideration of private and political interest alike prompted him to clear himself of the charge, and confound those who accused the leading men of his party as well as himself.

Kidd tried to get the witnesses, some of them favourable to him, to say they had seen the French pass, but all they could say was that they had heard him declare there was one. The adverse witnesses deposed that he had feigned to believe that the French gunner of the Quedah Merchant was the captain, though they all knew he was not. When asked, "Captain Kidd, can you make it appear there was a French pass aboard the Quedah Merchant?" he replied, "My lord, these men say they heard several say so." One of the Armenian owners was in court, but he did not examine him; nor could he say why he had not had the ship properly condemned, like the French ship taken between Plymouth and New York. His only reply was that he was not at the sharing of the goods, and knew nothing of it. For his attack on the Mocha fleet he offered no explanation.

He was found guilty, and was then tried for the captures of a Moorish ship (Parker's), a Moorish ketch, and a Portuguese ship. Culliford and two others were next tried for taking a ship called the Great Mahomet. Three of Kidd's crew were acquitted, the rest of the prisoners were found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Culliford was respited, having made his submission to Warren. Three of Kidd's crew had hard measure dealt to them. They had made their submission under the King's proclamation, but not to one of the commissioners appointed for the purpose, so their submission went for nothing. On the 12th May, Kidd, with six of his crew and two of Culliford's, was hanged at Execution Dock, the common place of execution for pirates.

It is impossible to follow Kidd's career, and to study his trial, without coming to the conclusion that he deserved his fate. There is no sign that he was sacrificed to political expediency. Directly the House of Commons failed to bring home the responsibility for Kidd's piracies to the leaders of the Whig party, he ceased to be of any importance for political purposes. The charge of complicity with him was only one of ten charges against Orford, one of fourteen against Somers. The court is said to have dealt hardly with him, but courts of justice were not very tender to any criminals in those days, and the jury did not hesitate to acquit three of those tried with him. Criminals were not allowed the aid of counsel, except on a point of law. Kidd did raise a legal point, and was allowed the aid of a counsel to argue it. His intention was clear from the day he left New York. The four pirates named in his commission were then on the American coast; he made no effort to look for them, but steered at once for the Cape. If he could not control his crew, he could have invoked Warren's help; instead of which he stole away in the night. His threats to the Sidney at Johanna, his attack, after three weeks' waiting, on the Mocha fleet, his detention of Parker, to say nothing of his dealings with Culliford, can only be interpreted in one way. During his whole cruise he never put into Surat, Bombay, or Goa, but cruised like any other pirate.

The legend of his buried treasure has survived to our own day, owing to the fact that he had buried some of his booty before putting himself in Bellamont's hands; but the record of his trial shows that, beyond what was obtained from the Quedah Merchant, his plunder consisted mostly of merchandise. That some of his ill-gotten gains were recovered at the time seems clear from an Act of Parliament passed in 1705, enabling the Crown to "dispose of the effects of William Kidd, a notorious pirate, to the use of Greenwich Hospital"; which institution received accordingly 6472-1.

The scandal caused by Kidd's piratical doings under a commission from the Crown, the political use made of it in Parliament, and the legend of a vast hoard of buried treasure, have conferred on him a celebrity not justified by his exploits. As he appears in the Company's records, he showed none of the picturesque daredevilry that distinguished many of the sea rovers whose names are less known. No desperate adventure or hard-fought action stand to his credit. Wherever we get a glimpse of his character it shows nothing but mean, calculating cunning; and to the end he posed as the simple, innocent man who was shamefully misjudged. His crew were always discontented and ready to desert. He had none of the lavish open-handedness that made the fraternity welcome in so many ports. Every, Teach, England, and a dozen others in his place, would have thrown the commission to the winds, and sailed the seas under the red flag. Kidd's ruling idea appears to have been that he could hoodwink the world as to his doings under cover of his commission: so that when he heard of the charges against him he believed he could disarm his accusers by sheer impudence. At his trial he attempted to lay all the blame on his crew, and vowed he was 'the innocentest person of them all,' and all the witnesses were perjured. Whatever touch of misdirected heroism was to be found in any pirate, it was certainly not to be found in Kidd. He was altogether a contemptible rascal, and had no claims to be a popular hero.

Though Littleton's squadron captured no pirate ships, its presence till the autumn of 1700 had a salutary effect.[4] Some made their submission, and the number who continued to ply their trade was greatly reduced. Many of them were glad to leave a calling that had now become hazardous, in which they had been unwillingly forced to join, while the renewal of the war in Europe furnished a more legitimate outlet for the most turbulent spirits, in the shape of privateering.

North, after making his submission to Littleton, thought better of it, seeing the date of grace had expired, and refused to leave Madagascar. There he remained for several years, fighting and subduing the natives round St. Mary's, till he was finally killed by them. His comrades 'continued the war' for seven years till they had completely subdued the country round.

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