Life Aboard a British Privateer – Part 5

Having given his ship the usual “good heel” and “tallowing her low down” Rogers came to sail March 30th, at ten o’clock, with his new launch in tow from Lobos. On more than one occasion Rogers shows a decided want of sympathy with the sportsmen of the expedition, and relates here “how there were in this island abundance of vultures, alias carrion crows, which looked so like turkeys that one of our officers at landing bless’d himself at the sight, hoping to fare deliciously. He was so eager he would not stay till the boat could put him ashore, but leap’d into the water with his gun, and getting near to a parcel let fly at ’em. But when he came to take up his game, it stunk insufferably and made us merry at his mistake”. These birds were no doubt a flock of Gallenazo, described by Darwin as frequenting the wooded isles on the west coast of South America, and as “feeding exclusively upon what the sea throws up, and the carcases of dead seals” which, from the following entry in the journal must have been very plentiful in this island, “where” says Rogers, “owing to the presence of certain unwholesome old seals, whose  livers disagreed with those of our crew that eat them ; the air, with the wind off shore, is loaded with an ugly noisome smell, which gave me a violent headach, and was complain’d of by all” as quite unlike the spice-laden breezes of Juan Fernandez. Rogers’ headache and these un- wholesome old seals were no doubt quickly forgotten at sea, when listening to the stories of their Spanish prisoners about “a certain rich widow of the late Vice Roy of Peru, who was expected to embark with her family and wealth shortly for Aquapulco. Also of a stout ship with dry goods for Lima, and another richly laden from Panama, with a Bishop aboard”. 

Acting on which advice, “it was agreed to spend as much time as possible cruising off Payta without discovering themselves”. They had not long to wait, for two days after leaving Lobos “a sail was spy’d to windward about daybreak, and the pinnace being hoisted out and mann’d under the command of Mr. Frye, first lieutenant of the Duke, ‘ by 8 o’clock took the Ascension of 500 tons, built gallion fashion, very high with galleries”. This was “the stout ship from Lima” and from her “they learnt that the ship with the Bishop would stop at Payta to recruit”  and, being near that place, Rogers “resolved to watch narrowly, in order to catch his Lordship”. 

With the exception of a “small vessel of 35 tuns laden with timber from Guiquil” and captured by the Beginning  nothing hove in sight for several days, one of which seems to have been passed by Rogers, first in chasing his consort for some hours, mistaking her for the Bishop’s ship, and then keeping up the joke until she cleared for action, “which I did” he says, “to surprise them”. This was a favourite form of practical joke with Rogers, affording no doubt great amusement both to him and his lieutenant, Mr. Frye, when dining together next day “on board the new prize upon a good quarter of mutton and cabbage a great rarity,” adds Rogers, “here”. 

A week of inaction, however, followed, while the increasing number of the fleet and prisoners,and consequent greater number of mouths to provide for, began to tell rapidly upon their stores, especially of water, “which beginning to grow short, we cannot” says Rogers, “keep the sea much longer”. Wherefore “at a meeting held on board the Duke April 12th, we came to a full resolution to land and attempt Guiaquil”.  At this meeting it was also decided that the name of that somewhat impetuous sportsman, Mr. Carlton Vanbrugh, should no longer remain on the committee. “He having not only threaten’d to shoot one of the Duke’s men at Lobos for refusing to carry some carrion-crows that he shot, but abus’d Capt. Dover”

So long as the ships were at sea, and the work of a purely naval kind, the seamen of the expedition had matters pretty much their own way, and things went on smoothly enough. But the moment a land expedition was agreed on, disputes quickly arose between Captain Rogers and those of his officers not actually seamen. While speaking of his men, he says, “We know that misfortunes attend sailors out of their element, and hear that they begin to murmur about the encouragement they are to expect for landing ; which they alledge is a risque more than they shipp’d for”.

It was therefore found necessary to come to a definite arrangement as to the disposal of the plunder of Guiaquil before “the mixed gang of most European nations” of which the crews were composed could be induced to enter heartily into an attempt upon it. Rules were, therefore, after much discussion, drawn up for the conduct of all taking part in this little invasion, and “what was to be deem’d the men’s share” in the booty settled, which included “all manner of bedding and clothes, short of stripping (whatever that might mean), “gold rings, buckles, buttons, liquors and provisions ; with all arms and ammunitions, except great guns for ships” in a word, every thing portable was to be carried off, and be divided equally among the men, the one very honourable exception being “woman’s earrings”.

It was also settled “that prisoners of note shall be carefully kept as pledges for any of our men that be missing. But that it was desirable no man should trust to this, or be a moment absent from his officers or post”. The whole winding up with the hope “that the foregoing rules being strictly follow ‘d, they will exceed all other attempts of this nature before us in these parts ; and not only enrich and oblige ourselves and friends, but even gain reputation from our enemies”.

The plunder of Guiaquil had scarcely been thus comfortably arranged, and two of the small prizes armed and manned for it, when at daybreak of April the 15th another sail was “sighted between them and the land” and, being calm, both ships’ pinnaces were sent in pursuit of her.  Unfortunately, in the hurry of starting for the chase, and expecting little resistance, they neglected to take their swivel guns, or “patereroes,” with them. The result of which was, that after repeated attempts “to get into a position for boarding, the boats were obliged to retire much dammaged, under a heavy fire of partridge shot and small arms, with the loss of two kill’d and three wounded : among the former was” says Rogers, “my unfortunate brother, Mr. Thomas Rogers, shot through the head, and instantly died, to my unspeakable Sorrow”. Philosophically adding, “but as I began this voyage with a resolution to go thro it, and the greatest misfortune shall not deter me, I’ll as much as possible avoid being thoughtful and afficting myself for what can’t be recall’d, but indefatigably pursue the concerns of the voyage, which has hitherto allow’d little respite”.

The Spanish ship was accordingly followed up and taken that afternoon at 2 p.m., and proved to be the ship from Panama; “but we missed the Bishop” says Rogers, “who ten days before landed at Point St. Helena with his attendants, plate, &c”

After adding another small prize, loaded with cassia soap and leather to the fleet, “on the following day” Rogers says, “about twelve we read the prayers for the dead, and threw my dear brother overboard with one of our sailors ; hoisting our colours half mast ; and we beginning, the rest of the feet follow’d, firing each some volleys of small arms. Our officers expressing great concern for his loss, he being a very hopeful, active young man, a little above twenty years of age”. Even if inclined to do so, Woodes Rogers had now no time for “thoughtfull affiction”, his squadron having increased under him from two to eight vessels, with over three hundred prisoners to feed and guard. All which, until his return from the attack upon Guiaquil, were placed on board the frigates and three of the prizes; with orders “to remain at sea forty- eight hours undiscover’d, then to sail for Point Arena and anchor there. Irons being put on board every ship because, having many more prisoners than men to guard ’em, we must have em well secur’d”.

Two hot days and nights were now passed in the boats of the expedition, rowing and towing their small barks among the islands and mangrove swamps, piloted by Dampier, and one of the Spanish prize captains, up the creeks toward Guiaquil. Great caution being taken to avoid being seen, as “they learnt on landing upon the island of Puna” that a report had been spread among the Spaniards a month before, that they might expect to be ec attacked by some English Lords, in 7 vessels from London, under the conduct of an Englishman named Dampier”. 

Captain Rogers rarely complained of hardships and was not easily frightened, but when lying in his boat under the mangrove bushes, he remarks, “that the muskitoes pester’d and stung him grievously ; while when at anchor across the tide on a dark night with a small rolling sea, the boat being deep laden and cramm’d with men” he says, “that though engaged about a charming undertaking he would rather be in a storm at sea than there.”

One can hardly help pausing a moment here, to consider the hazardous position of this little body of adventurers, and admire the self-reliance of Rogers and his officers, in venturing upon the sack of Guiaquil, while the small force under them was divided among a feet of six prizes with 300 prisoners on board to guard and feed. Want of water, as he says, no doubt made some attempt upon the mainland now almost a necessity. Still even this might have been obtained elsewhere ; while Rogers’ expression, “tho engaged upon a charming undertaking” and the building of the launch at Lobos, both point to a preconceived plan having been arranged for this attack, but so timed by him as to appear to the men a mere question of fighting the Spaniards ashore, or perishing at sea for want of water.

It was on the 22nd of April, that after leaving the small barks about half way between the island of Puna and the town of Guiaquil, Rogers got with his boats “about 12 at night in sight of the town with 110 men” but on finding “when abreast of it and ready to land, from abundance of lights, with a confused noise of their bells, a volley of small arms, and two great guns, that the town was alarm’d, Captain Dover, the doctor of physick and he fell into a debate of above an hour, as to whether to attack the place then in the dark during this first alarm, or not?” Rogers was of course for pushing on, but Captain Dover and the majority were against him, while Dampier, when asked how the buccaneers would have acted in such a case, said simply enough, “that they never attacked a place after it was once alarm’d”. And so, the tide being favourable, the boats dropped down the river again out of sight of the town to the two barks; where a further consultation was held among officers, lying in a boat astern of one of the barks, in order that what was debating might not be overheard by the rest of the company. Which debate ended in Rogers yielding to the majority, and sending two Spanish prisoners to treat with the Corregidore of the town for its ransom, valued by Rogers, with the goods in his prizes, and “certain new ships then on the stocks near the town”.

As Rogers had foreseen, the Spaniards wisely made use of this time to carry off inland everything of value; and after two days spent in negotiations, made “an offer of 32000 pieces of eight and no more” upon which, his two barks and boats now lying close to the town, he “ordered their interpreter to tell ’em, we had done treating, and after advising all that wished to save their lives to retire out of shot, at once hal’d down our flag of truce and let fly our English and field colours”. And two ship’s guns of about six hundred-weight each, mounted on field carriages, being placed in the great launch, Rogers, Captain Dover, and Captain Courtney landed with seventy men from their boats, a lieutenant with others being left on board one of the barks to ply her guns over their heads into the town.

“The enemy” says Rogers, “drew up their horse at the end of the street, fronting our men and barks, and lin’d the houses with men at half musket shot of the bank where we landed, making a formidable show in respect to our little number. We landed and fired every man on his knee at the brink of the bank, then loaded, and as we advanc’d call’d to our bark to forbear firing, for fear of hurting our men. We who landed kept loading and firing very fast ; but the enemy made only one discharge, and retir’d back to their guns, where their horse drew up a second time. We got to the first houses, and as we open’d the street, saw four guns pointing at us before a spacious church, but as our men came in sight firing, the horse scower’d off. This encouraged me to call to our men to run and seize the guns, and I hasten’d towards ’em with eight or ten men till within pistol shot, when we all fir’d, some at the gunners, and others at the men in arms in front of the church, where they were very numerous ; but by the time we had loaded and more of our men came in sight, they began to run, and quitted the guns, after firing them with round and partridge, one of the last was discharged at us very near, but, thanks to God, did us no hurt ; and they had not time to relade them. By this time the rest of our men were come up with Capt. Courtney and Captain Dover, and they leaving me with a few men to guard the church, marched to the other end of the town, and so” as Rogers says in his marginal note, “we beat ’em out of the town”.

Guards were now posted in all directions round the town, and the Spaniards’ guns turned, and left in charge of Captain Dampier to defend the great place in front of the church. While Captain Dover fired some houses that commanded another church in which he had taken up a position, “there being a hill and thick woods this post, from which the enemy were almost continually popping at him all night”.  The portable plunder of the town, with the exception “of jars of wine and brandy in great plenty, proved of little value” while “the sultry, hot, wet unhealthful weather made the carrying of these to the water side a work of great fatigue”. Only half-an-hour elapsed from the time of landing until the Spaniards vacated the place, and their loss was but fifteen killed and wounded ; while out of Rogers’ small force only two were hurt, one of these being “mortally wounded by the bursting of a cohorn shell fir’d out of one their own mortars on board the bark”. The following day Rogers says, “we kept our colours flying on the great church, and sent the Lieutenant of Puna with proposals to ransom the town”.

Meanwhile Rogers and his men were busy searching every hole and corner in it for concealed valuables, he having great difficulty while so engaged in preventing his men tearing up “the floor of the great church to look amongst the dead for treasure : but which he would not suffer because of a contagious distemper that had swept off a number of people there not long before, So that this church floor was full of graves”. He was himself, however, lucky enough to pick up in this same church “the Corregidore’s gold-headed cane” and another with a silver head ; “none among the Spaniards” he remarks, “carrying a cane but chief officers, and among them none under a captain wearing a silver or gold-headed one, so that those gentlemen must have been much in haste to leave these badges of office behind them”. Besides carrying off “these badges of office” Capt. Rogers says, “we unhung a small church bell and sent it aboard for our ships use”. A boat was also sent higher up the river in quest of treasure, and landing, found most of the houses full of women, particularly at one place, where “there were above a dozen handsome genteel young women, well dress’d and their hair tied with ribbons very neatly, from whom the men got several gold chains, &zc., but were otherwise so civil to them that the ladies offer’d to dress ’em victuals and brought ’em a cask of good liquor. This” says Rogers, “I mention as a proof of our sailors modesty, and out of respect to Mr. Connely, and Mr. Selkirk, the late Govenour of Juan Fernandez, who commanded this party : for being young men, I was willing to do ’em this justice, hoping the Fair Sex will make ’em a grateful return when we arrive in Great-Britain on account of their civil behaviour to these charming prisoners”. Besides this account of their treatment of, and by, the Spanish ladies, these modest young officers “brought back with them gold chains, plate, &c., to the value of over £1000, and reported, that in places above the town they saw several parties of more than 300 arm’d Horse and foot, so that we apprehend,” says Rogers, “the enemy designe to gain time by pretending to pay ransom, till, with vast odds, they may attack us and reckon themselves sure of victory”.

After many alarms by night and much skirmishing by day, in which Rogers lost two more men, the prisoners on the 26th of April returned with an offer of 30,000 piéces of eight for the town, ships, and barks, to be paid in twelve days. “Which times Rogers did npot  approve of” and sent his final answer to the effect that “they would see the town all on fire by three that afternoon, unless they agreed to give sufficient hostages for the money to be paid within six days.” Upon which, about 2 p.m., the prisoners came back with two men on horse- back, the required hostages, and said their terms were accepted ; and the Spanish agreement arrived the following morning “sighn’d by ’em” an English one being sent in return as follows:

“Whereas the City of Guiaquil, lately subjection to Philip V. King of Spain, is now taken by storm, and in the possession of Captains Thomas Dover, Woodes Rogers, and Stephen Courtney, Commanding a body of Her Majesty of Great Britain’s subjects: We the underwritten are content to become hostages for the said city, and to continue in the custody of the said Captains till 30,000 pieces of eight shall be paid to them for the ransom of the said city, two new ships, and six barks ; the said sum to be paid at Puna in six days from the date ·hereof; During which time no hostility is to be committed on either side between this and Puna; After payment the hostages to be discharged, and all prisoners to be deliver’d up; otherwise the said hostages do agree to remain prisoners till the said sum is discharg’d in any other part of the World. In witness whereof we have voluntarily set our hands, this 27th day of April Old Stile and the 7th of May N.S. in the year of our Lord 1709”.

Which remarkable document was signed by the two hostages, “who, with all the things we have got together were shipped of” says Rogers, “by 11 o’clock the same morning ; after which, with our colours flying, we march’d through the town to our our barks; when I, marching in the rear with a few men, picked up several pistols, cutlashes, and poleaxes ; which shew’d that our men were grown very careless weak and weary of being soldiers, and that ’twas time to be gone from hence”. On the whole Rogers seems to have thought that the Spaniards got the better of him in this bargain. “For though upon weighing  anchor at 8 next morning from Guiaquil” he says, “we made what shew and noise we could with our drums, trumpets, and guns, and thus took leave of the Spaniards very cheerfully ” he ends with the remark, “though not half so well pleased as we should have been had we taken ’em by surprise. For I was- well assur’d from all hands that at least we should then have got above 200,000 pieces of eight in money, and a greater plenty of such necessaries as we now found”.  Among which “was about 250 bags of flower, beans, peas, and rice, 15 jars of oil, about 160 jars of other liquors, some cordage ironware and small nails, with four jars of powder, a tun of pitch and tar, a parcel of clothing and necessaries, and as I guess” says Rogers, “about £1200 in plate earings et cetera, and 150 bales of dry goods, 4 guns, and 200 Spanish ordinary useless arms and musket barrels, a few packs of indigo, cocoa, and anotto, with about a tun of loaf sugar. Besides these which we took, we left abundance of goods in the town, with liquors of most sorts, sea stores several warehouses full of cocoa, divers ships on the stocks, and two new ships unrigged upwards of 400 tuns which cost 80000 crowns and lay at anchor before the town. And by which it appears the Spaniards had a good bargain : but a ransom for these things was far better for us than to burn what we could not carry off. Among the casualties that occurred to the men during the occupation of Guiaquil,” Rogers says, “a French man belonging to my company, sent with others to strengthen Capt. Courteney’s quarters, being put centinel, shot Hugh Tidcomb one of our men, so that he died. This accident happening by a too severe order to shoot any in the night that did not answer, neither this man nor the centinel understanding how to ask or answer the watch word. By which neglect a man was unaccountably lost.” While of those wounded in the confusion of a night attack “was a man shot against the middle of his pole axe” that hung at his side, which shot made an impression on the iron and bruised the part under it so that it proved a piece of armour well placed”.

Captain Courteney’s chief lieutenant was also wounded upon the outside of the thickest part of his leg by one of his pistols hanging at his side, which unluckily discharged itself, leaving a bullet in the flesh; but with little danger to his life. Which incidents kept all on the alert at night, “the centinels calling to each other every quarter of an hour to prevent ’em sleeping”. No doubt the men that took an active part in this attempt upon Guiaquil were the pick of the frigates’ crews. But it speaks well for their state of discipline that only one, “a Dutchman, so much as transgressed orders by drinking beyond his bearing” and he, after being missed for a day or two, came aboard before they sailed, having been “roused” out of his brandy-wine-fit, and his arms restord to him by the honest man of the house where he lay”.

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