The Sinking of the Gloucester

Last month it was announced that the wreck of a ship known as the Gloucester had been found off the coast of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. The ship had been wrecked on the sandbanks in 1682, whilst carrying the then heir to the throne, James Stuart, Duke of York, who later became James II. Whilst I am interested in the Stuart era, I must admit, I didn’t know anything about the sinking of this ship, so  whilst it has been in the news a lot recently, I thought it best to explain the context around the sinking and why it has been such an important discovery. I also recently wrote a short piece on why this amazing discovery was needed by the town of Great Yarmouth, which can be viewed here.

Greenhill, John; James II (1633-1701), as Duke of York; Dulwich Picture Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/james-ii-16331701-as-duke-of-york-200078

James Stuart was heir to his older brother, Charles II, as Charles had had no legitimate children. As James was a Catholic in a Protestant country, this did cause issues. By the time of 1682, Charles had made James and his family live in Scotland, mainly due to the issues of the succession. Many had tried to bar James from becoming King, whilst there was also a Popish Plot in 1679, where Catholics had attempted a conspiracy to kill Charles in favour of his brother, James.[1] In early 1682, when these issues appeared to be settling down, James was allowed to return to England, with plans being made to allow him and his family, including his pregnant second wife, Mary of Modena, back to court. In order to do this, James was to collect Mary by boat from Scotland and bring her back to England, with the hopes that she would give birth to a boy and thus secure James’ claim to the throne.

The ship chosen for this journey was the Gloucester. It had been originally commissioned in 1652 and was launched in 1654, so by the time it was used by James, it was already of some age. In fact, it had been out of action due to a poor state of disrepair and had been refitted between 1878 and 1680.[2] In order to collect James from Margate in Kent, which is on the east coast, it had to leave the dock at Portsmouth on the south coast. As well as the Gloucester, there were also five other ships and four yachts that formed the escort.[3] When the time came for boarding, there was a bit of chaos. It took several hours to load the tons of baggage and the estimated 350 passengers on board. Some, passengers decided to change which boat last minute. One of these passengers was Samuel Pepys, the famous diary writer. As he suffered from sea sickness and was worried that the amount of people on board would make him worse, he decided to change boat.[4]

John Hayls, Samuel Pepys, oil on canvas, 1666, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Bad weather made the journey an awkward one. One the first day of sailing, the Gloucester decided to moor due to the terrible conditions. When this decision was made, the ship fired a cannon to announce the decision but this only caused confusion. Instead, some the ships in the escort took this as a sign to move seawards again and were separated from the rest.[5] When the ship got closer to the coast of North Norfolk, an argument ensued between the pilot, some of the crew and naval experts, and the Duke of York, as to which route would be best to take. The area was known for its treacherous sandbanks, so a wrong decision would have been fatal. This proved to be true in the case of the Gloucester.

At 5:30 am on the 6th of May, the ship hit two parallel sandbanks known as the Leman and Ower sandbanks off the coast from Yarmouth. James was reluctant to leave the ship, thinking that they could save it.[6] Instead the opposite was true. It only took the ship around an hour to sink. The rest of the passengers couldn’t leave as etiquette dictated that no one could leave until royalty had gone first. In the end, it has been estimated that around 130-250 people died that day, including some from the nobility. James had also lost a brother of his first wife, Anne Hyde, and according to one source, “all the Dukes cooks but one, all his footmen, and all the rest of his servants”.[7]

As would be expected, the sinking caused a lot of emotions within the witnesses and the families of those who had died, with all wanting answers. The pilot of the Gloucester, James Ayres, was sentenced to life in prison, although there were some, including the Duke of York, who were calling for his execution.[8] Instead, the pilot only served a year of his sentence. Others blamed James, for one being involved in the argument about navigation, and two, for taking so long leaving the ship, meaning others couldn’t escape.[9] No matter who was really to blame for the wreck, the reality was that many people had lost their lives in the tragic accident.

In the aftermath, James’ reputation was at stake. With his reputation only just beginning to rebuild, the Gloucester did little to help, despite some reporting hoping to diminish the collateral damage. Poems, ballads and plays were all written about the event, meaning the news of it was everywhere.[10] With the succession being so fragile already, this event was again another thing used by some against James to show he wasn’t the right person to become the next king. Others who did support him were willing to place the blame elsewhere and continue their support for him. One such way of doing this was by the production of a medal to commemorate the event and to circulate rumours that it was a republican plot to kill James and end monarchy in England once again.[11]

The future Charles II is pictured centre, with James being second left. After Sir Anthony van Dyck, Five Children of King Charles I, oil on canvas, 17th century, based on a work of 1637, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Whilst James did eventually become king in 1685, following the death of his brother, Charles II, he was ousted during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which his own Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, were invited to take the throne. Perhaps the Gloucester was one of the many reasons used against James’ rule. Whatever the case may be, the discovery of the shipwreck has brought up many fascinating artifacts that capture the moment in time when it sank on the 6th May 1682, including spectacles that would have once been used by someone on board. I hope the discovery helps to add more context behind the life of James and of course be used as a way to remember those who lost their lives on that day. For that reason, I very much look forward to seeing what will happen with it in the future, starting with a planned exhibition next year.


[1] The Gloucester Project, https://www.gloucestershipwreck.co.uk/

[2] Ibid

[3] Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck’, English Historical Review (2022), p. 2

[4] Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys : The Unequalled Self (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 331

[5] National Maritime Museum, The Sinking of the HMS Gloucester, https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/hms-gloucester-shipwreck-history-james-ii

[6] Ibid; Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 12

[7] Letter from Scotland Giving a True Relation of the Unhappy Loss of the Gloucester-frigot, Whereof Sir John Berry was Commander. With a Particular Account of the Persons of Quality Drowned therein, and the Miraculous Escape of His Royal Higness the Duke of York (London, 1682), cited in Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 13

[8] Meilan Sully, ‘Wreck of Long-Lost Royal Battleship Discovered Off English Coast’, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 June 2022, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/shipwreck-gloucester-james-king-england-180980250/

[9] Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 15

[10] Ibid, pp. 16-17

[11] National Maritime Museum, The Sinking of the HMS Gloucester, https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/hms-gloucester-shipwreck-history-james-ii

Creation of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is now one of the things to visit in London, but it had a rather rocky first 10 years after it was opened by King George VI on 27th of April 1937. Small scale ideas for some form of national museum to celebrate Britain’s seafaring history had been in circulation since the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905, but none of these stuck until 1927.[1] From 1927, the Society for Nautical Research led a campaign to create some from of a national maritime museum. This was helped by a wealthy member of the Society, Sir James Caird, who purchased a large collection of naval themed items known as the A. G. H. MacPherson collection.[2] Originally, the museum was to be called the National Maritime Museum, as ingeniously thought up by Rudyard Kipling.[3]

Sir James Caird, Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

These acquisitions, alongside items either belonging to, or associated with, Lord Horatio Nelson, which had already been bought for the nation a long time before, formed the beginnings of the museum’s collection. It had built upon the small art gallery that had already been in existence at Greenwich, a former naval hospital similar to its army sister hospital at Chelsea, since the early 1800s.[4] This made Greenwich the perfect place to house the museum. However, the location being chosen, the process of turning the buildings into a museum worthy of the nation’s maritime heritage couldn’t take place until two things had happened. First, the Royal Hospital School, for sons of naval men, that already used the site had to move out, which they did when it moved to Suffolk in 1933; and secondly, an official act passed by Parliament granting the site national status was passed in 1934.[5]

On the 29th of April 1937, the museum officially opened to the public. Around 5,000 people attended on the first day alone, which in a time of financial hardship, was no mean feat.[6] One of the most popular galleries was No. 10, which was dedicated to all things Nelson. Sadly though, less than 3 years after it had opened, the museum had to close its doors at the outbreak of the Second World War.[7] The threat of bombs meant many of the precious items had to be moved outside of London, a decision which proved to be right as the site was bombed many times during the war.

When the museum was finally allowed to reopen at after the end of the war, things had changed very much. Sir Geoffrey Callender, the first Director of the museum, who had been an integral part of the creation of the museum, had recently died, leaving a large hole in the staff.[8] There was also a vacancy on the Board of Trustees, which was filled by the late Prince Philip, then a 27-year-old who was just out of the Navy himself.[9] This was a role he took seriously, not just for his own interests with the navy, but also preserving naval history for future generations, just as with his involvement in saving the Cutty Sark. The role as trustee was one he held until 2000, a total of 52 years. His long legacy with the museum will continue there through the Prince Philip Maritime Collection Centre, where royal maritime collections are held and cutting-edge conservation is practised.

With all the turmoil the National Maritime Museum faced in its first 10 years of life, it’s wonderful to see it thriving now. Sadly though, that isn’t really true with the current pandemic, but I sincerely hope it will last for many more years to come, especially as it’s on my list of places to visit one day when we can go places again.


[1] Littlewood, K. and Butler, B., Of Ships and Stars: Maritime Heritage and the Founding of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (London: The Athlone Press, 1998), p. 24.

[2] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[3] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[4] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[5] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lost Diamond Chelengk (Stroud: The History Press, 2017), pp. 230-231.

[6] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 231.

[7] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 231.

[8] Littlewood, K. and Butler, B., Of Ships and Stars, p. IX.

[9] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 232.

Royal Boats owned by Charles II

The 29th of May marks the birth of Charles II, one of my favourite historical figures. To celebrate this, and what is known as Oak Apple Day, I thought it rather fitting to look into some of the boats owned by the King. These two boats, the Royal Escape, used as a yacht and a royal barge. Both boats have interesting stories and quite personal connections for the Merry Monarch. Before talking about these boats, it is best to first of all explain what Oak Apple Day is and how it was celebrated.

Oak Apple Day was made a national holiday following the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. It was named Oak Apple to remember the oak tree Charles hid in during his 6 weeks trying to escape England following the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester. The 29th of May was chosen for this because it was the Charles’ birthday and the day he made his triumphal entry into London in 1660. This national holiday was celebrated until the Victorian period, when it was abolished by Parliament in 1859.[1] It is still commemorated in small pockets of the country, most notably at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, who use the time to celebrate Charles II as their founder.[2] It is usually marked with a visit by a member of the royal family, but unfortunately like so many other things at the moment, it will be marked in some other way this year.



The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: view of the Pensioners cheering and waving their hats and sticks, at a King Charles’s Day Parade. Wood engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

For Charles, his escape from the Battle of Worcester must have been an experience full of fear, uncertainty and exhilaration. At the time he would have had no idea whether he would make it to France safely or ever see England again if he got there. It is no wonder that he made Oak Apple Day a national holiday. The boat that was instrumental in his escape was called the Surprise. It was owned by a man called Tatersal who lived on the south coast near Brighton. Ironically, the ship had been intercepted by a Royalist squadron in the years before the Battle of Worcester, but Charles had intervened and let Tatersal go.[3] Little did they know then the part they’d later play in each other’s lives. When Charles escaped on the Surprise, Tatersal was the only crew member who knew Charles and his plans to escape to France, the rest of the crew instead believed he was a fellow merchant wanting to go further along the coast to escape debts.


Willem van de Velde the Younger, The Royal Escape Close-Hauled in a Breeze, Late 17th Century, National Maritime Museum Greenwich/WikiCommons

Following the Restoration, the Surprise was purchased for Charles, renamed the Royal Escape, and turned into a royal yacht as a tourist attraction to show visiting dignitaries.[4] Owning a royal yacht sounds like a modern thing for British royalty but actually, Charles was the first monarch to own one.[5] Tatersal was greatly rewarded, despite his cheekiness in asking for more payment once he realised who Charles really was. He was given a pension and a captaincy in the Navy, as well as being given a role in the procession following Charles’ return from Holland.[6] This new lifestyle in the Navy didn’t last long for Tatersal as he went back to owning smaller ships and in his final years he became a landlord at the Old Ship Hotel before dying aged 60 in 1674.[7] His body was buried in St Nicholas’ Church in Brighton with a rather grand tombstone, with the inscription saying how he had “preserved the Church, Crown and the Nation”.[8] The Royal Surprise was rebuilt as a transport ship in 1714 and 1736 before being sold on in 1750, but it’s name was reused for subsequent ships.[9]

As a bit of a research rabbit hole when trying to find out more about the Surprise/Royal Escape, I found another interesting story of Charles II’s royal barge. This barge as another of Charles’ boats to have a fascinating life upon the waves, albeit on the River Thames as well as the ocean at Portsmouth. It is now housed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth, which is a fitting home considering its main role to ferry Charles around the fleet of the Navy on inspections.[10] The woman sculptured at the stern (back) of the boat was Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, a mistress of Charles, thus cementing the boat’s connections with Portsmouth itself even more.[11] After Charles’ death in 1685, that was not the end of the life for the royal barge. Whilst it probably lay dormant for many decades, it was brought back to life for the funeral of Horatio Nelson, the most famous of British seaman.


Royal Barge of Charles II, Flickr: Andrea Vail

Charles’ royal barge was used to carry Nelson’s coffin to the Admiralty Building amongst a flotilla of other boats along the Thames after the body had laid in state at Greenwich for 3 days.[12] The choice of a royal barge in Nelson’s state funeral showed the high esteem the Admiral was held in. During this first part of the funeral along the Thames, was a solemn affair but the Navy played a large part too, providing an escort and giving gun salutes.[13] Trafalgar veterans were also used during the funeral, mainly to take the coffin off the royal barge when it arrived at the Admiralty. This, alongside the 20,000-30,000 people who were in attendance along the funeral route to St Pauls the following day, created a patriotic image that helped cement Nelson as an immortal figure in the naval legacy of Britain.[14] As the royal barge used during this procession had originally been used by Charles II to inspect the navy, it was fitting to use it for the funeral of the hero of Trafalgar.


The funeral procession on the River Thames of Lord Nelson seen from Bankside. Coloured etching by John Thomas Smith, 1806. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

On the 390th anniversary of the birth of Charles II and Oak Apple Day, I hope this blog post has highlighted some of the boats used by the monarch that have incredible, if somewhat forgotten, stories behind them. Charles himself did love ships himself and wanted to improve the navy but unfortunately there was never enough money to do these improvements. However, during his reign the Act of Establishing Articles and Orders for the Regulating and Better Government of His Majesty’s Navies, Ships of War and Forces by Sea was passed, the first set of articles that made the navy a professional fighting force.[15] Perhaps Charles himself would have been proud that one of his barges was used in a funeral for the man who had helped make the British Navy become a legend of sorts following the Battle of Trafalgar.

[1] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 148.

[2] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 149.

[3] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[4] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[5] Royal Yacht Britannia,  https://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk/about/history/

[6] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[7] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[8] Beardsley, M. R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile, p. 116.

[9] Colledge, J. J. and Warlow, B., Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present (Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2010), p. 347;  Winfield, R., British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2007), p. 367.

[10] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge

[11] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge

[12] The National Royal Navy Museum, Curator’s Choice: The Royal Barge https://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/curators-choice-royal-barge; Heard, S., ‘Sir Isaac Heard: the man who helped the nation mourn Nelson’, Royal Museums Greenwich Blog, 12 June 2019, https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/sir-isaac-heard-man-who-helped-nation-mourn-nelson

[13] Heard, S., ‘Sir Isaac Heard: the man who helped the nation mourn Nelson’, Royal Museums Greenwich Blog, 12 June 2019, https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/sir-isaac-heard-man-who-helped-nation-mourn-nelson; Konstam, A., Horatio Nelson (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), p. 56.

[14] Konstam, A., Horatio Nelson, p. 57; Jenks, T., ‘Contesting the Hero: The Funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson’, Journal of British Studies, 39.4 (2000), pp. 423 and 437.

[15] Davies, J. D., ‘The Navy, Parliament and Political Crisis in the reign of Charles II’, The Historical Journal, 36.2 (1992), p. 272.

Captain Bartholomew Roberts: The Tea Drinking Pirate

As someone who loves pirates but doesn’t drink rum (unless it’s Malibu) and instead drinks a lot of tea, I feel I’d have got on well with Captain Bartholomew Roberts. Despite his rather strict rules on gambling, fornication and drinking, his crew were staunchly loyal to him until the bitter end. These rules certainly didn’t live up to the general image we have of drunken pirates whoring and gambling. Yet, there was something in this system designed by Roberts that must have worked, for he was the most successful pirate in terms of ships captured. During his short reign on the seas of the Atlantic, between the Americas and West Africa, he captured around 400 ships. In terms of ships captured, this made him the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.[1] He was also known for having a mini fleet of three ships: his flagship, Royal Fortune and two others named Ranger and Little Ranger.[2] With these strings to his bow,

During the time Roberts spent pillaging the coast of West Africa in the few years leading up to 1722, the area was seeing increased activity in slavery, as this was when many of the slavery posts were being established.[3] The link to slavery was a constant in Roberts’ career upon the sea. He reluctantly turned pirate after the slave ship he had previously been on, had been captured by the crew of Howell Davis.[4] In this situation it would have been turn pirate or die. No doubt he would have learnt how t o be a true pirate during those early days on board, especially as the Davis was a fellow Welshman. Roberts was born around 1682 as John Roberts but changed his name to Bartholomew at the time he became pirate.[5] John was obviously not a good enough pirate name.

bart roberts
Capt Bartholomew Roberts (c.1682 – 1722), 1734, Royal Museums Greenwich, copyright National Maritime Museum, London (creative commons licence)

He was a quick learner and within weeks of his capture, Davis was ambushed on the Portuguese island of Principe after a trap set up to lure him to the governor. Roberts was voted in by the crew who must have seen potential in this newbie of a pirate.[6] It was this basic form of democracy that drew sailors to the pirate flag around this time, as they would be allowed to vote in their captains and on major decisions on board.[7] This was certainly something they were not entitled to on Royal Navy ships or back home on land. The decision-making process was also helped by the fact pirates were viewed as men who “could do anything as long as he remained at liberty”.[8] It is claimed that when Roberts accepted his role as captain, he said “since he dipped his hands in the muddy water, and must be a pirate, it was better being a commander than a common man”.[9]

As a captain, Bartholomew was mostly known for the way he dressed on board. His usual outfit consisted of a damask waistcoat, red feather in his hat and a gold chain with diamond crucifix around his neck.[10] He was also known for not drinking rum. Instead his tipple of choice was tea. It would have been easy to get hold of as many of the merchant ships at that time would have carried it. Unusually the crew often would “vote him small parcels of plate and china” if any were found on board captured ships.[11] The somewhat sophisticated notion of drinking tea from china cups was certainly not replicated on many, if any, other pirate ships.

The main legacy he left was his own version of the pirate code, which he created in 1720. His version was one of many such lists of rules that pirates had to abide by. However, each one followed roughly the same guidelines of including voting on board, equal share of booty and compensation for injuries.[12] Robert’s version of the pirate code was certainly quite different in places.

  1. Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.
  2. Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels or money, marooning was their punishment. If the robbery was only betwixt one another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him ashore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere, where he was sure to encounter hardships.
  3. No person to game at cards or dice for money.
  4. The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remained inclined to drinking, they were to do it on the open deck.
  5. To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlasses clean and fit for service.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea, disguised, he was to suffer death.
  7. To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.
  8. No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword or pistol.
  9. No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionally.
  10. The captain and quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half and other officers one and a quarter.
  11. The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favour.

The most unique is the ban of gambling on board, most other pirates wished to limit it but not ban it altogether.[13] As pirates were mainly known for their lack of religious practice, it is also a rare example of the observance of the Sabbath.[14] It’s claimed that Roberts even read the bible out to the crew on Sundays.[15] What is known of this version of the pirate code is taken from later hearsay as it is believed the crew threw it overboard when they were captured.[16] Despite some of these rules sounding harsh, it was clear discipline on board was a priority to Roberts, and is probably the reason why he was known for being a good leader of his men.[17] However, he was known to only use harsh punishments as a last resort, even when it came to the treatment of prisoners.[18]

Various Flags used by Famous Pirates (colour litho)
English School, Various Flags Used by Famous Pirates (19th Century)- Captain Bart’s the middle one with a skeleton and a man holding an hourglass.

As with most pirates, the days were numbered for Captain Bartholomew Roberts and his crew. In 1722 Captain Ogle of the Swallow was out searching Captain Roberts in the Cape Lopez along the coast of Gabon. Ogle’s first tentative steps towards this was to lure out the Ranger from its hiding place before focusing on the Royal Fortune.[19] Despite the imminent threat of danger, Roberts refused to fight until he had finished his breakfast, especially as most of his crew had spent the previous night drinking in celebration of capturing a ship.[20] This lack of action would seal the fate of Roberts and his crew. No shot was fired in enough time at the Swallow, giving Ogle’s crew the opportunity to fire with all their might at Roberts. It worked and killed Roberts, making his men surrender instantly out of a mixture of loyalty and fear. They still somehow managed to find time to wrap their dead captain up in a sail and throw his body overboard.[21] As Peter Earle indicates, this final battle was a bit of a humiliation to the memory of the most successful pirate, as it happened “without a single royal sailor being killed”.[22] The majority of men in Roberts’ crew captured that day were in their 20s, with the oldest being 45.[23]

Following the passing of the Act for the More Effectual Suppression of Piracy in 1700, Admiralty courts could be held abroad, rather than sending pirates to London for trial.[24] This meant that the hundreds of Roberts men captured were imprisoned at Cape Coast Castle, now in modern day Ghana. 52 of them were found guilty and were hung outside the castle gates along the waterside to prove as a warning to other sailors.[25] 74 more were acquitted, 2 sentences were respited, 20 sentenced to hard labour in mines owned by the Royal Africa Company, 17 sent back to London for another trial and 32 died before the original trial.[26] This number doesn’t include the 77 slaves found on board who were sent back into slavery.[27] Captain Ogle himself hugely benefitted from his booty of pirates. He was the only person to be knighted specifically for fighting pirates.[28]

Hanging a pirate in a cage on high ground overlooking the sea (engraving)
English School, ‘Hanging a pirate in a cage on high ground overlooking the sea’ (18th Century)

The trial was one of the largest ever pirates trials and marked the end of the Golden Age of Piracy in the Atlantic. As Roberts’ crew had successfully “nearly brought Antillean commerce to a standstill” by focusing on these newly established slavery ports, an example had to be made.[29] It certainly made a big enough one to end, or at least mark the beginning of the end, of what we see as the Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a “devastating blow to the pirate community as a whole” and showed how willing the authorities were to hand humiliate and punish those caught for piracy.[30] The last words on the crew’s loyalty to Roberts and sense of adventure attributed to the life of a pirate is probably best summed up in the final words of Thomas Sutton, one of the crew members, when discussing heaven with a follow prisoner: “Give me hell, it’s a merrier place: I’ll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance”.[31]

[1] Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age of Piracy (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2010), p. 21

[2] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), p. 127.

[3] Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 16.

[4] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 126.

[5] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 125.

[6] Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 21.

[7] Bowling, T., A Brief History of Pirates and Buccaneers (London: Robinson, 2010), p. 79; D. Cordingly, intro to A. Konstam, The History of Pirates (1999) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 30.

[8] Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2008), p. 108.

[9] Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 34.

[10] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 125.

[11] Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 32.

[12] Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers, p. 148.

[13] Sanders, R., If A Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Bartholomew Roberts, King of the Caribbean (London: Aurum Press Limited, 2007), p. 61.

[14] Sanders, R., If A Pirate I Must Be, p. 61.

[15] P. Gosse, The Pirates’ Who’s Who (1924) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 64.

[16] Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 85.

[17] D. Cordingly, Life Among the Pirates: The Romance and the Reality (1995) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 34.

[18] Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates

[19] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 127.

[20] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 127.

[21] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 127.

[22] P. Earle, The Pirate Wars (2003) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, pp. 16-17.

[23] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 49.

[24] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold: Captain Woodes Rogers & the True Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 161.

[25] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 49; Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, pp. 161-162.

[26] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, pp. 49-50.

[27] P. Earle, The Pirate Wars (2003) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 69.

[28] Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 50.

[29] D. F. Marley, Pirates: Adventurers of the High Seas (1997), cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 150.

[30] P. Earle, The Pirate Wars (2003) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, pp.16-17.

[31] Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 170.