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The Pirates of Malabar

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The Pirates of Malabar
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Author(s): John Biddulph
Date Published: 2012/01
Page Count: 156
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-754-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-753-1

Pirates of the Indian Ocean

Despite the rise and domination of the Raj in post mutiny India and all it came to mean to the British Empire, it should be remembered that the rush to India by all the European powers was originally for the wealth of its trade. That trade had been carried on for centuries and by the 17th and early 18th centuries was still active, vital and industrious. However, Britannia had not quite established her sovereignty of the waves and to sail into the vastness of the southern and eastern oceans was to launch a ship and its crew into the virtual unknown—not because of uncharted currents and coasts, but because of other dangers they might encounter on their outward or homeward passages. The seas were the prowling place of pirates of all descriptions, creeds, colours and nationalities. Some belonged to the races of the sub continent itself while other captains and crews bore names little different from those of their victims. This interesting book describes the activities of this lawless seafaring breed, those who fell foul of them and those who sought to rid the sea lanes of their pestilential presence. This Leonaur edition also contains a first hand account of an English woman who had her own very close encounter with pirates which contributes an invaluable immediacy to the principal narrative.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

In 1734, the Coolee rovers, who infested the coast of Guzerat, gave much trouble. Their stronghold was at Sultanpore, on the River Coorla, and they enjoyed the protection of several wealthy persons who shared in their plunder. A squadron under Captain Radford Nunn was sent against them, which captured five armed vessels and burnt fourteen more. To save others from capture they burnt about fifty more small sailing-boats themselves. Six months later, ten more of their boats were burnt and two captured. Under these blows they were quiet for a time.<br>
In December, 1735, a valuable ship fell into Sumbhajee Angria’s hands, owing to the bad behaviour of its captain. The Derby, East Indiaman, bringing a great cargo of naval stores from England, and the usual treasure for investment, was due to arrive in Bombay in November. The captain, Anselme, was a schemer, and wished to remain in India for a year, instead of returning to England at once, as had been arranged. Accordingly, he lingered a month in Johanna, and shaped his course northward along the African coast. Thence getting a fair wind which would have brought him directly to Bombay, without running the risk of working along the Malabar coast, he, instead, steered for the latitude of Goa, and thence crept northwards, making as much delay as possible, so as not to reach Bombay till January.<br>
On the 26th December, an Angrian squadron of five grabs and four gallivats bore down on the Derby, off Severndroog, and engaged in their favourite way of attacking a big ship, astern. There was little wind, and the Derby would neither stay nor wear. Only two guns could be brought to bear at first; there were no guns mounted in the gun-room, and no encouragement was given to the crew. Two years before, the directors had authorized the captains of outward-bound ships, when exposed to a serious attack, to hoist two treasure chests on deck, for distribution, after the engagement, to the ship’s company, in order to encourage them in making a good resistance. The captains of homeward-bound ships were empowered to promise £2000 to their crews in the same circumstances.<br>
Nothing of the kind was done by Anselme. The crew, discontented, fought with little spirit; many of them refused to stand to their guns. The main and mizzen masts were shot away, seven men, including the first mate, were killed, five were dangerously, and a number more slightly, wounded. Still, many of the officers and men were willing to continue the fight, but were overruled by the captain, who insisted on surrender, and the Derby with 115 prisoners, of whom two were ladies, was carried into Severndroog.<br>
No such loss had befallen the Company for many years. The much-needed naval stores went to equip Angria’s fleet, and the money for the season’s investment was lost. The whole Bombay trade was dislocated. Angria, desirous of peace, opened negotiations. The Council, wishing to redeem the prisoners, offered a six months’ truce, and, after eleven months of captivity the prisoners were sent to Bombay, with the exception of three who took service with Angria.<br>
In December, 1736, the King George and three other vessels captured a large grab belonging to Sumbhajee Angria, together with 120 prisoners. A Surat ship that had been taken was also recovered.<br>
The year 1738 was an anxious one in Bombay. The Mahrattas were occupied with the siege of Bassein, which was defended with desperate valour by the Portuguese. Sumbhajee’s vessels were active on the coast, and Mannajee was restless and untrustworthy. Commodore Bagwell, with four of the Company’s best ships, the Victory, King George, Princess Caroline, and Resolution, was sent to cruise against Sumbhajee, while Captain Inchbird was deputed on a friendly mission to Mannajee. On the 22nd December, Bagwell sighted Sumbhajee’s fleet of nine grabs and thirteen gallivats coming out of Gheriah. He gave chase, and forced them to take refuge in the mouth of the Rajapore River, where they anchored.<br>
Bagwell, ignorant of the navigation, and with his crews badly afflicted with scurvy, boldly bore down on them; on which they cut their cables and ran into the river. Before they could get out of shot, he was able to pour in several broadsides at close range, killing Angria’s chief admiral, and inflicting much damage. Fearing to lose some of his ships in the shoal water, he was obliged to draw off, having had one midshipman killed.<br>
Mannajee at once took advantage of Sumbhajee’s temporary discomfiture to attack and capture Caranjah from the Portuguese. Then, elated at his success, and in spite of his own professions of friendship, he seized three unarmed Bombay trading ships and two belonging to Surat. To punish him, Captain Inchbird was sent with a small squadron, and seized eight of his fighting gallivats, together with a number of fishing-boats. Negotiations were opened, broken off, and renewed, during which Mannajee insolently hoisted his flag on the island of Elephanta. With the Mahratta army close at hand in Salsette, the Bombay Council dared not push matters to extremity; so, invoking the help of Chimnajee Appa, the Peishwa’s brother, they patched up a peace with Mannajee. At the same time, Bombay succeeded in making a treaty of friendship with the Peishwa, which secured, to the English, trading facilities in his dominions.<br>
While this was going on, a Dutch squadron of seven ships of war and seven sloops attacked Gheriah, and were beaten off. A little later, Sumbhajee took the Jupiter, a French ship of forty guns, with four hundred slaves on board. To English, Dutch, French, and Portuguese alike, his fortresses were impregnable.<br>
In January, 1740, a gallant action was fought by the Harrington, Captain Jenkins. The Harrington was returning from a voyage to China, and, in coming up the coast, had joined company with the Pulteney, Ceres, andHalifax. Between Tellicherry and Bombay they were attacked by fifteen sail of Angria’s fleet. Four grabs ran alongside the Harrington, but were received with such a well-directed fire that they dropped astern. The four Company’s ships then formed line abreast, and were attacked from astern by Angria’s ships. The brunt of the fight fell on the Harrington. Jenkins had trained his crew, and was prepared for this method of attack. After five hours of heavy firing the Angrian ships drew off, showing confusion and loss.