John Biddulph.

The Pirates of Malabar, and an Englishwoman in India Two Hundred Years Ago online

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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

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

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

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



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 ...

* * * * *




* * * * *




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

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

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Online LibraryJohn BiddulphThe Pirates of Malabar, and an Englishwoman in India Two Hundred Years Ago → online text (page 1 of 17)