Life Aboard a British Privateer – Part 6

While engaged cruising among the Gallapagos, two more small prizes were however added to the fleet, but, at the same time, great anxiety was felt as to the safety of one of the recent prizes, a small bark under the command of a Mr. Hatley, which was lost sight of here, with only two days’ water on board. And after several days of unsuccessful search she was “bewail’d as lost” it being supposed that Hatley and his prize crew of three men had been surprised and overpowered while asleep by the two Spaniards prisoners on board her. Besides careening the frigates and landing their sick men while in Gorgona Road, arrangements were made with certain Spaniards of note among the prisoners for the purchase, or rather what Rogers called the ransom, of the large gallion-built ship, with the other small prizes and their cargoes ; but the stout French-built ship, the ce “Havre de Grace”  in attempting thė capture of which Rogers’ brother was killed, was not sold, but after being re-christened the “Marquiss” was re-fitted, and armed with nine guns, as an additional cruiser. It was in discharging cargo, before careening her, that “500 bales of Pope’s bulls were found, which, taking up abundance of room, in the ship, we throw’d. overboard” says Rogers, “to make room for better goods, except what we us’d to burn the pitch off our ship’s bottoms when we careen’d lem”.  These bulls or indulgences, he says, “tho they cannot be read, the print looking worse than any of our old ballads, are sold here by the clergy for 3 Ryals to 50 pieces of eight each”.

Though Rogers rarely lets a chance pass of having a shot at the Pope,, he was far from having bigoted or puritanical ideas about the Catholic religion, for in speaking of his treatment of some of his prisoners of the better class, he says, “We allow’d liberty of conscience on board our floating commonwealth, and there being a priest in each .ship, they had the great cabin for their Mass, whilst we us’d the Church of England service. over them on the quarter deck; so that the papists here were the Low Church men”. Other reasons, not connected with his prisoners’ liberty of conscience, may have had something to do with this arrangement. It happened, however, curiously enough, that about this time Rogers and his crew, quite unintentionally, assisted in the making of what afterwards became, no doubt, a very valuable relique to the Romanists here. For while dis- charging the cargo ofthe Spanish gallion-built ship, he says, “A large wooden effigy of the Virgin Mary was either dropt or thrown overboard, which drove ashoar near the north point of the island, from whence some Indians there a-fishing, brought her in their canoe to the shoar over against our. ship, where we gave our prisoners liberty to walk that day. Who, as soon as they saw her, cross’d and bless’ d themselves, and fancied this must be the Virgin come by water The blind superstition of from Lima to help them, and set the image up on shoar and wiped it dry with cotton, and when they come aboard told us, that tho’ they had wiped her again and again, she continued to swéat very much ; while all those around were devoutly amazed, praying and telling their beads. They shew’d this cotton to the ransomers and the interpreter wet by the excessive sweat of the Holy Virgin, which they kept as a choice relick”. “Before this” says Rogers, “when I heard the like stories, I took ’em to have been invented meerly to ridicule the Romanists : but when I found such silly stories believed by eight grave men of a handsome appearance and good reputation amongst the Spaniards, I was convinced of the ignorance and credulity of the Papists”.

Just after the valuation and sale of the plunder of Guiaquil and the prizes was settled, a mutiny was discovered among the crew of the Duke,  sixty of whom signed a paper, expressing discontent at the large share of plunder assigned to “the gentlemen that were officers, tho not sailor amongst us”. But a little firmness, combined with a judicious use of the bilboes on Rogers’ part, with an abatement on three of these gentlemen’s shares, soon brought his men to reason; “while though” says Rogers, “sailors usually exceed. all measures when left to themselves on these occasions, I must own ours have been more obedient. than any ship’s crew. engaged in a like undertaking I ever heard of” adding, “but if any sea officer: thinks himself endowed with patience and industry, let him command a privateer and descharge his office well in a distant voyage, and L’ll engage he shall not want opportunities to improve, if not to exhaust all his stock”. It must be remembered that Captain Rogers wrote this little growl, and found his stock of patience running short, on the equator, in a small ship, half full of sick men, and soon after what he calls “those general misunderstandings, and several unhappy differences among us, arrising out of, and before our attack on Guiaquil”. That Rogers had at this time even more difficult questions and people to deal with, is shown by an entry in his log, that, “amongst the prisoners taken on the last prize from Panama, was a gentlewoman and her family, her eldest daughter, a pretty young woman of about 18 newly married, and her husband with her; to whom we assigned the great cabin of the prize, none being suffer’d to intrude amongst them. Yet I was told the husband shew’d evident marks of jealousy, the Spaniard’s epidemick, but I hope he had not. the least reason for it amongst us my third lieutenant, Glendall, alone having charge of the :ship, who being above 50 years of age appeared to us the most secure guardian to females that had the least charm”: which is followed by the description of “an ugly creature call’d by the Spaniards a sloth, caught in Gorgona, and which” says Rogers, “being let go àt the lower part of the mizen shrouds was two hours getting to the masthead, keeping all the time an  equal and slow pace as if he walk’d by art and all his movements had been directed by clockwork within him”. “Many monkeys were: shot in Gorgona Island, fricassees and broth being made of them for the sick men”. But though “Capt. Dampier, who had been accustomed to such food, said he never eat any thing in London that seemed so delicious as a monkey or baboon of these parts, none of the Duke’s officers would touch them, provisions being not yet scarce enough”. Rogers also describes the “land turtles alias tortoises caught in the Gallapagos islands as the ugliest creatures in nature, with shell black as jet not unlike the top of an old hackney coach; the neck long about the bigness of a mans wrist, with club feet as big as ones fist shaped like those of an elephant, the head little and visage small like a snake looking very old and black” He adds “they lay eggs on our deck about the size of gooses, white with a large thick shell exactly round”.

After leaving Gorgona, the Duke, Dutchess and Marquiss on the 25th of August, bore away for Tecames Road, in order to trade with the natives and Spaniards there for fresh provisions, &zc. The Indians here, however, were at first disposed to fight rather than trade, so that while careening the ships half the men had to be kept under arms ; until Rogers happily thought of conciliating them with “a present of three large wooden Spanish saints he had on board, and which, with a feather’d cap for the chief’s wife” were sent on shore. 

On the afternoon of Nov. 4th, the Dutchess being near, Rogers sent his yawl aboard with Lieut. Glendall to agree exactly on some remarkable land, that each of us knowing the same landmark, might the better keep our stations. We agreed also that the Marquiss should now be in the middle with the Dutchess next the shore. Two days later it was arranged between the captains of the Duke  and Dutchess that the outer berth should be exchanged for the inner one every two days, in order, says Rogers, “that we may have equal chances for seeing the Manila ship, because I now think the inner birth the likeliest; Sir Thomas Cavendish in Queen Elizabeth’s time having took the Spanish Galleon in this place on the 4th of November”.

An old salt, in the days when yachting was almost unknown, used to say, “that a man who went to sea for pleasure, would be likely to go to hell for pastime.” Englishmen and Americans, however, do now go to sea not only for amusement, but spend large sums in doing so, many of these being men who, in Rogers’ time, would no doubt have gone to sea for gain, and the pleasure and excitement of Spanish gallion-hunting. But three months like those now spent in the Duke and Dutchess cruising under a tropical sun off Cape St. Lucas, waiting and watching for the Manila ship, were enough to try the patience of the most ardent of gallion-hunters. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that a sea parliament had at this time to assemble on board the Duke to pass measures for the prevention and punishment of gambling, which had so increased of late among the officers and crews of the ships, that some of the men had lost the greater part of their share in the plunder recently divided among them. It was probably one of these reckless gamblers that was ordered into irons about this time “for wishing himself a pirate, or that an enemy was alongside who could overpower us” – a wish which must have appeared even more atrocious to Captain Rogers than did that of Mr. Squeers’ pupil, “the juniorest Palmer” who after first “wishing he was in heaven” went on to “wish he was a donkey, because then he wouldn’t have a father as didn’t love him!” Among the measures passed “against wagering and gaming” on board the frigates, the most useful was one repudiating “all debts contracted from man to man, unless attested by the commanders and entered on the ship’s books” which strange old-motherly resolution was “agreed to and signed by the officers and men in each ship in sight of California, Nov. 11th, 1709″.

The tedium of this long cruise was broken once by touching at the islands of Tres Marias for wood and water, and again by a second visit to the Galapagos in hopes of falling in with “poor Hatley and his bark ;” but nothing was found there beyond some traces of the buccaneers in the shape of wreckage and broken wine jars. 

Provisions of all sorts, especially bread, were, “after a strick rummage of the ships” now found to be running short, while their new consort, the “Marquiss” was discovered to be defective and leaking, and had to be taken to the port of Segura for repairs. “So that”  Rogers says, “we all looked very melancholy, necessity compelling us to no longer continue cruising for the Manila ship, but sail at once across the Pacific for the island of Guam in order to revictual before starting for China and the Indies, and thence round the Cape of Good Hope, for England.” This was, however,  scarcely decided upon, when, on December 21st, at nine a.m., a man “at the mast head cry’d out he saw another sail as well as the Dutchess”  which, though at first thought to be the Marquiss rejoining them, proved after several wagers to be the long expected Acapulco ship. The weather continued calm that day, which “kept them all in a very uncertain languishing condition,” and the chase had to be tended during the night by “two pinnaces showing false fires, that we might know wherea bouts they and the chase was”.

But a little after daybreak on the 23rd, still having no wind, Rogers says, “we got out eight of our sbip’s oars, and rowed above an hour, when there sprung up a small breeze, upon which I order’d a large kettle of chocolate to be made for our ship’s company, (having no spiritous liquor to give them) and then went to prayers, but before we had concluded, were disturb’d by the enemy firing at us. She had barrels hanging at each yard arm, which looked like powder barrels to deter us from boarding. The Dutchess , being to leeward, with little wind, did not come up. And the enemy firing her stern chase several times, we returned it with our forechase, till getting close aboard, we gave her several broadsides plying our small arms briskly, which they return’d as thick for awhile, but did not ply their guns so fast as we. After a little while shooting ahead of them we lay athawt their hawse close aboard, and ply’d them so warmly, that she soon struck her colours two-thirds down ; and the Dutchess coming up, fired five guns and a volley of small shot, to which she made no reply, having submitted.This Galleon was” says Rogers, “called by the long name of Nostra Signiora de la Incarnacion Desengàno, Sir John Pichberty, Commander, she had twenty guns, with twenty patereroes and 193 men, whereof nine were killed, ten wounded, and several blown up and burnt with powder. We engaged them about three glasses” (an hour and a half), “in which time we had only myself and another wounded. I being shot through the left cheek, the bullet striking away great part of my upper jaw, and several teeth which dropt down on the deck where I fell. The other was an Irish landman slightly wounded. A shot disabled our mizenmast, and I was forced to write what I would say to prevent the loss of blood, and because of the pain I suffered by speaking”.

On examining the officers on board the prize, they learnt that “she left Manila in company with a much larger vessel ; but having lost sight of her about three months ago, they thought she must be got to Acapulco before now”. The  latter part of this information was evidently not relied on, for measures were at once taken to secure and leave the present prize and prisoners at Port Segura, and start the Dutchess with the Marquiss which they found in “sailing posture there” on an eight days’ cruise for the other gallion, the Nostra Seniora del Incarnation Desengàno, now re-christened the Batchelor, to remain in port with as many men as could be spared to guard and refit her. Her sails being removed, and the prisoners, of whom there were 170, secured for the time on board a small bark, anchored a mile distant from her without rudder, sails, or boat, with a few men to give them victuals and drink.

Rogers’ wound must have been serious for on the 24th he says, “In the night I felt something clog my throat, which swallow’d with much pain, and suppose it was a part of my jaw bone or the shot, which we can’t yet give account of” adding, “but I soon re-cover’d myself, only my throat and head being greatly swell’d, I have much ado to swallow any sorts of liquid for sustenance” which made him very weak : and, what was worse, “that he spoke in great pain, and not loud enough to be heard at any distance”.

But though the surgeons and chief officers wished him to stay in port on board the prize, he was unable to resist the temptation, when, on the afternoon of the 26th, “two sentries who had been placed upon a hill above the port signalled by three waffs that a third sail was in sight, as well as the Dutchess and Marquiss of joining his consorts as soon as possible, in command of his own ship, Captain Dover remaining on board the prize. It was 7 P.m., and soon quite dark, before the Duke was underweigh ; but at day break next morning all three vessels were sighted to windward, distant about four leagues ; the wind remained scant, however, all day, so that Rogers and his crew had the mortification of seeing first the Marquiss and then the Dutchess briskly engage the gallion without being able to join them; in fact it was midnight before they did so, and then only to find that the Marquiss had fired away nearly all her powder and shot with little or no effect, her guns being too small, and that the Dutchess had been forced to stretch away, with several men wounded, from the Spaniard, to repair her foremast and other defects, among which was shot in her powder room. “Curiously enough” Rogers says, “the Spaniard had been making signals to the Duke, and edging toward her all day, mistaking her for her lost consort, until just before dusk, otherwise, having little wind, and that against us, we should not have been up with her at all”. The following day, however the Duke was near enough to join in the fight, but only to find, as the Dutchess  and Marquiss had done before her, that their largest round shot (six-pounders) did very little hurt to the gallion, a brave new ship, the Bignonia of 900 tons and 60 guns, and well provided with close-quarters, and her waist protected by strong boarding-netting.

The Dutchess had now twenty men killed and wounded, while a fire-ball from the enemy ‘s round-tops lighting on the Duke’s , quarter-deck, blew up an ammunition chest, by which Mr. Vanbrugh and a Dutchman were much burnt; while Rogers says, “Just before we blew up on the quarter deck I was unfortunately wounded by a splinter in the left foot, part of my heel being struck out and ankle cut above half through, which bled very much before it could be dressed, and weaken’d me so that I could not stand, but lay on my back in great misery”.

From first to last they had been engaged six or seven hours, and placed not less than 500 shot in the gallion ; yet there she lay “driving” the Spanish flag obstinately flying from her maintopmast head, “all our battering signying little beyond killing two men in her tops, and shattering her rigging”.

As all this fighting was simply of a commercial character, a council was now assembled on board the Duke and though the Spaniard still “lay with his mainyard aback, expecting another brush” it was at once decided, “that after keeping the galleon company till night, they should then lose her, and return to the harbour to look after the prize already taken”.

This measure was the more urgent as ammunition of all sorts was running short, and the Duke’s mainmast shot through miserably in two places, so that it settled to it, threatening every moment to fall by the board, and bring other spars down with it ; which, as they had long voyage before them, and masts not easily got there without great delay, might even endanger the safety of the whole expedition. It was indeed lucky for them that they did not attempt to board this great ship, for they learnt afterwards that her complement of men amounted to 450, besides passengers ; while in all three ships they had now less than 120 men left fit for boarding. Soon after this the “Spaniard filled her sails and made away W.N.W” 

Glad enough, no doubt, to lose sight of them, though in size and force she was quite equal to the great gallion that, to Lord Anson’s surprise, bore down upon the “Centurion” of 60 guns, instead of trying to avoid her. Weight of metal, however, enabled him to make as short work of that gallion as Rogers did of the smaller one.

Rogers himself was of opinion that had the Duke and Dutchess  attacked this ship together in the first instance, they would have taken her, and was most anxious for that reason that the Dutchess and Marquiss should not go out of port until his ship was ready to sail. The majority, however, decided then that he should remain in port until the arrangements for the security of the smaller gallion and her prisoners were completed. Upon arriving at Port Segura the prisoners, with Captain Pichberty, his officers, and a padre, were supplied with water and provisions, and after acknowledging in writing “that they had been very civilly treated” were despatched in the small bark to Acapulco.

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