Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Between Two Piracies
By Cindy Vallar
One of the vessels that had lain in wait for the passing convoy in 1695, was the Portsmouth Adventure. Among the men aboard was Richard “Dirk” Chivers (sometimes spelled Shivers), who served as a mate. The following year, Chivers captained his own pirate ship. He and his men seized an EIC ship laden with Arabian horses bound for Surat. Her commander, John Sawbridge, didn’t take kindly to being seized and made the mistake of lecturing the pirates on the errors of their ways. Chivers and his men “ordered him to hold his Tongue, but he continuing his Discourse they took a Sail-needle and Twine and sewed his Lips together, and so kept him several Hours with his Hands tied behind him.” (Zacks, 127) Thereafter, they hustled Sawbridge and his men into a boat, rowed away from their prize, and set it afire with the horses still aboard. Afterward, the pirates deposited the captives ashore and went on their merry way. Chivers eventually received a pardon for his piratical acts and retired from the sea to Europe. Captain Sawbridge received no such reprieve; he soon succumbed to the punishment the pirates had inflicted on him.
Whether Chivers destroyed the horses out of spite or because they amounted to booty too bothersome to fence wasn’t known. But four years prior to the conflagration, another pirate had the audacity to appeal for help from the very Company that he and his mates often pillaged. One night in 1692, eighteen pirates found themselves under arrest. They had ventured into Mangriol, India intent on bullying, abusing, and plundering. To show off their shooting prowess, they engaged in a contest, during which they imbibed whatever spirits were close to hand. They eventually returned to their vessel, drunk and with their weapons empty. During the night, a local boy cut their anchor and the ship drifted ashore. In the ensuing struggle, the locals captured the pirates. Shackled together, they were marched thirty miles inland and imprisoned in Junagadh.
Among the incarcerated were Robert Culliford, Jon Swann, William Mason, and James Gilliam. Six months passed before Gilliam succeeded in smuggling out a note, which he addressed to the East India Company’s headquarters in Bombay.
I who am unknowne do lye here in a miserable prison at Junegarr do make bold to write to your Honour yt: I am an Englishm[a]n and taken by ye Govern/t hereof at Mangalore in ye most treacherous manner . . . I shall satisfie ye to ye full both of my comming into ye country and also of their taking me, which in this small piece of paper as you receive it is too little for it would require a great deal more. (Zacks, 42-43)The note reached its destination and was read on 4 September 1692. Not surprisingly, the governor ignored Gilliam’s plea. It would prove costly for the EIC once the pirates finally escaped four years later.
Captain Leonard Edgecomb commanded the 350-ton Mocha Frigate, a fine ship of thirty-six guns belonging to the Company. He had a reputation for being an intolerable master. Any seaman who made even the slightest misstep felt the lash across his back. Edgecomb even dared to have his surgeon keelhauled, but his officers refused to carry out that order. The ship was so unhappy that when she put into Bombay in 1696, one-third of her crew went ashore and never returned. Edgecomb hired Sampson Marshall and eight other replacements before setting sail for China. Those nine seamen, however, were not whom they appeared to be. Marshall was actually James Gilliam and the others were fellow prison escapees.
Three weeks later, at four o’clock in the morning on 18 June, someone on Mocha Frigate yelled, “Fire!” This being a mariner’s biggest fear on a wooden ship, the resultant panic was immediate, providing the pirates with the perfect opportunity to launch their takeover. According to the first mate, a man named Negus:
A number of Desperate and Bloody minded men between 3 & 4 this morning arose in armes, secured ye gunroom, killed ye captain in his bed, forced me and others from ye quarter deck with flourished pistols in their hands and dreadful oaths in their mouths swearing the death of all who shall oppose them. (Zacks, 51)
The ship’s steward came across the captain’s cabin boy, who “was crying, saith the captain was killed and thrown overboard into the sea, which made me more afraid.” (Zacks, 51) Gilliam had slit Edgecomb’s throat, according to one account; another said that he was “pelted to death with broken bottles, and then thrown to the sharks.” (Grey, 136)
By dawn, Mocha Frigate belonged to the pirates. She was renamed Resolution and given a new captain, Ralph Stout, and quartermaster, John Gulliam.1 Nearly half of the Company crew wanted no part of the mutiny or piracy. When evening came, Gilliam and his mates allowed eighteen of the twenty-six men to leave in a boat. First Mate Negus, who was among those who left, made note of who else wanted to depart but was forbidden from doing so.
There were severall more desirous to leave ye ship with us and am confident [they were] reall therein namely Jon Death, chirugeon, . . . all four Carpenters crue, John Brand cooper, Isaac Coleman foremast man, and ffrances Dyer cooks mate. To all outward appearance can say no less of Ralph Stout, our Designed Pilott for ye Streights of Malacca. (Zacks, 52)Two days later, the stranded crew members arrived in Achin (Aceh), Sumatra, where they reported to Mr. Soames, who oversaw the Company there. While they recuperated, they heard about a ketch in the harbor. Robert Culliford and some of the other prison escapees had taken Josiah, but none of them were capable navigators. A man named James Croft managed to steal back the ketch, which was how it came to be at Achin. As for Culliford and his men, “[t]he pirates are left upon the Nicobars where doubtless the natives will punish them.” (Zacks, 53)
Half of the Mocha Frigate survivors decided to head for Bengal aboard the Elizabeth on 28 June. With the assistance of her captain, they stopped at the Nicobars, figuring that if they delivered the captured pirates to the Company, they might receive a reward. Three hours after their arrival, a dugout canoe approached Elizabeth. Three men were aboard and claimed to be shipwreck victims. They were invited on board, but no sooner had their feet touched Elizabeth’s deck than the men from the Mocha Frigate swarmed up from below with weapons drawn. One of the pirates was shot in the chest, but Robert Culliford and Quartermaster Raynes were bound and taken to the hold.
Elizabeth continued her voyage northward. They rode out a storm that lashed the ship, and the next day calmer seas prevailed. Through his telescope, Captain Wallis spied the Mocha Frigate anchored in a harbor of Siam (Thailand) with thirty-five pirates aboard. Although notified of what happened, the authorities refused to intervene or assist, but forgot to tell Wallis of their decision. Gilliam and his fellow pirates, in the meantime, learned from some local source that two pirates were imprisoned on the Elizabeth. Gilliam demanded their release, while Wallis refused. A standoff ensued.
When the moon rose, Captain Wallis had his men covertly ferry Culliford and Raynes ashore with a request for the authorities to place them in jail. Wallis hoped the pirates would make so much noise that their mates on the Mocha would attempt to rescue them, rather than molest Elizabeth. He assumed correctly, which allowed Elizabeth to slip away in the dark. Rather than pursue her, the reunited pirates celebrated.
A Company report summarized what happened.
These villains having begun with the murder of the commander and the seizing of one of your Honour’s ships will doubtless go on in making a prey of any ship they can meet with and master . . . . And the mischief falls heavier on the English than on any other European nation, because the pirate ships pass under the name and colours of the English and it is known there are many English aboard them. So that whereas the English nation has been generally respected in all parts of India, they will now lie under the character of pirates and robbers, and our soldiers in garrison and our seamen in country and Europe ships will be allured by the pirates’ success to run to them as several stragglers have already done. (Zacks, 56-57)Now that Robert Culliford was reunited with his fellow pirates, they pursued their marauding until they encountered a Company ship named the Dorrill, with thirty guns, on 7 July 1697. She had sailed from Madras (Chennai), India, for China, but was attempting to put in at Sumatra when Captain Hyde “spied a saile to windward, bearing down upon me. [It] came up under my quarter and gave a Levitt [i.e, a flourish] with the Musick of trumpets, oboes and drum, [then] dropt astern without hailing or anything of parley.” (Zacks, 170)
About an hour later, he spotted a second ship that stayed out of range of his guns. William Reynolds, the supercargo of the Dorrill, wrote a report of the incident to Sir John Gayer, the governor of the EIC in Bombay.2
We thought at first she had been a Dutchman, bound for Achin or Bengall until wee preserved she had taken down all her galleries . . . . Then wee saw that in room of her galleries there were large sally ports in each of which was a large gun, seemingly of brass. (Fox, 353-354)These were clear indications of how pirates altered a prize to suit their needs and Captain Hyde assumed she was such a vessel. He
sent all our people to their respective quarters for action, and now hoisted our colours whiche the Captain desired nailed to the staffe in sighte of the enemy; which was immediately done. As soon as they perceived oure colours, they hoisted theirs which were the Union Jack, and let fly a Broad Red Pendant, at their masthead. (Fox, 354)Although within fifteen yards of each other, neither ship opened fire. The wind came up at noon, and Dorrill sailed on, with the pirates keeping apace until three in the afternoon, when they sailed off. Seven miles later, they resumed their pursuit.
The reason for the pirates’ departure was explained later by Captain William Willock, a prisoner aboard their vessel. An argument had erupted on the quarterdeck, where the pirates had gathered.
Hell was never in a greater Confusion than was when aboard, some for hoysung [hoisting] French colours, some for fighting under no colours, some for not fighting at all, some for running him aboard without fireing a gunn. The Captain laid down his charge because of the confusion, then about ship they must goe to chuse another Captain. (Hill, January, 2)Selecting a captain in the midst of a potential battle in such close proximity to the prey, wasn’t the best tactic. Culliford wanted to attack, but having stepped down as captain to become just one voice among many, he chose another tack to get his way. He went from man to man, doing whatever was needed to convince each that his way was the best way. As a result, they all backed him and he became captain once again.
On board Dorrill was a Company representative named Solomon Lloyd. He and the supercargo wrote a letter to Sir John Gayer on 28 August 1697. In it, they recounted events that had begun on 7 July:
Att 6 that evening saw the lookt for island, and the Pirate came up with us on our starboard side within shott. Wee see he kept a man at each topmast head, looking out till it was darke, then he halled a little from us, but kept us company all night.At this point, the Mocha Frigate drew closer and the pirate musicians again played.
At 8 in the morning he drew near us, but wee had time to mount our other four gunns that were in hold, and now wee were in the best posture of defence could desire. . . . the Captain resolved to see what the rogue would doe, soe ordered to hand [furl] all our small sailes and furled our mainesaile. (Hill, January, 4-5)
At last it was thought fitt to know what he would say, soe the Boatswaine spoke to him as was ordered, which was that wee came from London. Then he enquired whether peace or war with France. Our answer, there was an universall peace through Europe, att which they paused and then said, ‘That’s well.’ . . . Further he enquired our Captain’s name and whither wee were bound. Wee answered to Mallacca. (Hill, January, 5)What a coincidence! So were they. Culliford invited Captain Hyde to share a glass of wine aboard Mocha Frigate. Hyde declined, but said they might do so in Malacca (Malay). The pirate then asked that the two ships anchor close to each other and he would come to them. Hyde declined again, giving the excuse that they were already late in reaching their destination. Culliford’s next query was if Dorrill would be sending men to the nearby island to gather wood and collect water, to which Hyde replied in the affirmative.
Johannes Vingboons' water color depicting the city of Malacca circa 1665. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
At this point, Hyde asked about their port of origin. “He said from London, their Captain name Collyford, the ship named the Resolution, bound for China.” (Hill, January, 5)
The next morning around 10:30, Culliford had his navigator approach Dorrill once more.
Wee could discerne a fellow on the Quarter Deck wearing a sword. As he drew near, this Hellish Imp cried, Strike, you dogs, which [wee] perceived was not by general consent for he was called away. Our Boatswain in a fury run upon the poop, unknown to the Captain, and answered that wee would strike to noe such doggs as he, telling him the rogue Every and his accomplices were all hanged. The Captain was angry that he spake without order, then ordered to haile him and askt what was his reason to dogg us. (Hill, January, 5)Culliford announced that all they desired was the large amount of gold and silver that Dorrill was carrying to finance the trading venture with China. “Wee told them had none for them but bid them come up alongside and take it as could gett it.” (Hill, January, 5) At least that’s how Lloyd and Reynolds portrayed the exchange. Hyde’s version was short and sweet: “If you would have it, it must be out of the muzzles of our guns. Come up fairly alongside and take it.” (Zacks, 173)
Then the parcel of Bloodhound Rogues clasht [their] cutlasses and said they woulde have oure money or oure hearts’ blood saying, ‘do you not know us to be the Mocha?’ Our answer was ‘Yes Yes.’ Thereupon they gave a great shout and all retired oute of sight, and wee also to our quarters. . . . As soone as they coulde bring their chase guns to bear on they fired them, so keeping on oure quarter. Oure gunns could not bear for a short time, but as soon as did hap, we gave the Pirates better than they did like.On the pirate ship, Captain Willock (the pirates’ captive) saw “the pirates disheartened.” From their perspective they could expect only “broaken boanes, and if we lose a mast, where shall we gett others?” (Hill, January, 2) A six-pound shot had already cut through the foremast. Losing another would essentially make them dead in the water. Although Culliford wanted to continue, the majority did not.
His second shott carried away oure sprit sayle yard. About half an hour after or more he . . . came alongside after which wee both continewed powering oure fire, wee giving sometimes single guns, and sometime broadsides of three or four, as opportunity presented, and could bring them to doe best service. He was going to lay us athwart the hawse, but by good fortune Captain Hide frustrated his attempt by powering in a broadside which made him give back and goe astarne where he lay without firing for a small space. Then he fired one gun which shot came through oure Roundhouse window though without damage.
He now . . . bore away, and when about a quarter mile off fired another gun which wee answered. Aboute an houre after he tacked and came up with us we making no sayle, but lying bye to wait him. The distance at most in all our firing was never more than two ships’ lengths, the time of our engagement from half an hour after eleven till three in the afternoon. At this time he lay aloof and made no sign to renew the engagement. (Fox, 356-357)
What the pirates didn’t know was that their aim had been more accurate than they thought. According to Lloyd and Reynolds,
. . . [wee] . . . found our Cheife Mate, Mr. Smith, wounded in the legg, close by the knee, with a splinter or piece of chaine . . . our Barber had two of his fingers shott off as was spunging one of our gunns, the Gunner’s boy had his leg shott off in the waste[,] John Amos, Quartermaster, had his leg shott off [while] at the helme[,] the Boastwaine’s boy (a lad of 13 years old) was shott in the thigh, which went through and splintered his bone, the Armorer Jos. Osbourne in the round house wounded by a splinter just in the temple[,] the Captain’s boy on the Quarter Deck a small shott raised his scull through his cap and was the first person wounded and att the first onsett. Wm. Reynolds’s boy had the brim of his hatt ½ shott off and his forefinger splintered very sorely[.] John Blake . . . the flesh of his legg and calfe a great part shot away. (Hill, January, 6)The ship itself also sustained significant damage to masts, rigging, and sails. Two gunshots even struck the bread room below the waterline of the ship, which meant she was taking on water and their stores of bread were ruined. Scattered around the main deck were remnants of what the pirates had shot from their guns: “mostly tin and tutenagle . . . pieces of glass bottles, teapots, chains, stones, and what not . . . .”3 (Fox, 357)
During the night, both vessels extinguished all their lights. In the morning, although the pirates were no longer close, they were still visible from aloft and continued to follow Dorrill. Morale was a bit low, so the captain rewarded each member of the crew three dollars. He promised more would be added if the pirates engaged them a second time. An additional incentive of five pounds sterling would be given for each pirate that was captured. The last would not happen because the next morning on 10 July, the pirates sailed away and land came into view. Two days later, “the Boatswaine’s boy, George Mopp” died, and between the sixteenth and the twenty-fifth, “the barber, Andrew Miller,” and “the Chiefe mate, Mr. John Smith.” (Fox, 359)
While these attacks took place in the eastern seas, events transpired in England that resulted in one man being chosen to hunt down pirates. A consortium of men, led by Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont – a powerful Whig of the Irish peerage and a Member of Parliament – wished to back a venture that might net them a tidy profit. As the newly appointed Governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, Bellomont set a primary goal for his tenure in office: suppress piracy and smuggling. To that end and with the backing of four highly placed and influential men, he proposed a venture to capture pirates and their treasure-laden ships on the return leg of the Pirate Round, a regular route between North America and the Indian Ocean. What he needed was a proven privateer to accomplish this mission.
In 1695, William Kidd happened to be visiting London when he encountered a friend from New York, Robert Livingston. An influential businessman in the colony, he was acquainted with the new governor and thought Kidd might be just the man Bellomont sought. An agreement was reached in December, and in January 1696, King William III affixed his royal seal to a special commission that gave Kidd
full power and authority to apprehend, seize, and take into your custody . . . Capt. Thomas Too, John Ireland, Capt. Thomas Wake and Capt. William Maze or Mace, as all such pirates, free-booters, and sea-rovers, being either our subjects, or of other nations associated with them, . . . with all their ships and vessels, and all such merchandises, money, goods, and wares as shall be found on board, or with them . . . .
And we also require you to bring, or cause to be brought, such pirates, freebooters, or sea-rovers, as you shall seize, to a legal trial, to the end they may be proceeded against according to the law in such cases. (Hanselmann, 71-72)
There were two caveats to Kidd’s mission. The king did “. . . jointly charge and command you, as you will answer the same at your utmost Peril, That you do not, in any manner, offend or molest any of our Friends or Allies, their Ships or Subjects.” (Botting, 106) The consortium set a deadline by which time he needed to have returned with the promised booty – 25 March 1697 – or Kidd would owe them £20,000.
One member of the consortium was Edmund Harrison, a wealthy London merchant who was also “a director of New East India Company, and, as such, would of course have a personal interest in the suppression of piracy in Eastern waters. Harrison was undoubtedly a shrewd man, supervising the selection of the crew by Kidd, and rejecting all Scotsmen and colonists on the ground that their sympathies would probably be with smugglers and pirates . . . .” (Trial, 13)
The consortium’s plans didn’t turn out as they hoped. From the time Kidd departed England, he encountered problems that impacted the mission and his good intentions. By the time he arrived in the Caribbean, the political stage in London had changed and the Whigs and Tories vied with each other for power. In between Kidd had several run-ins with the EIC, and when he was returned to London in chains in 1700, the Company wielded its influence to use him as a pawn in this political conflict and make an example of him.
1. Stout would later attempt to part ways with the pirates, but they took exception to his desertion and slew him.For additional information, I recommend the following resources:
2. The supercargo is hired to travel aboard a merchant ship bound for foreign ports. He is in charge of the cargo and makes all decisions regarding its disposal in order to gain the best profit for the owners of the cargo.
3. Tutenagle is pewter.
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