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Life Aboard a British Privateer

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Life Aboard a British Privateer
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Author(s): Robert C. Leslie & Woodes Rogers
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 128
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-297-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-298-7

Woodes Rogers—the man who rescued ‘Robinson Crusoe’

In the history of the British at sea, the names of many of its greatest men have long been familiar to almost everyone. For many, however, the name Woodes Rogers may not be foremost among them. Yet in the time of Queen Anne this master mariner, sailing from Bristol, circumnavigated the globe in a momentous two and a half year odyssey with his two ships—Duke and Duchess. He was an English privateer of some repute and was successful against the Spanish, taking several prizes in the Pacific on his epic voyage. It was he who rescued the ‘real’ marooned hero of Daniel Defoe’s adventure Robinson Crusoe—Alexander Selkirk—from Juan Fernandez Island and promptly made him captain of one of his own prize ships the Increase. This astonishing man went on to be the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas, held the post twice, beat off Spanish attempts to gain influence in the region and substantially cleared the Caribbean seas of pirates. This fascinating book combines the research of historian Robert Leslie with Woodes Rogers own journals to make a vital account of an extraordinary mariner from the great age of sail. Through its pages the reader may trace Rogers’ career and voyages of the early eighteenth century which inevitably are full of incident and interest. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

But a little after daybreak on the 23rd, still having no wind, Rogers says, “we got out eight of our ship’s oars, and rowed above an hour, when there sprung up a small breeze, upon which I ordered 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 disturbed 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 returned as thick for awhile, but did not ply their guns so fast as we.<br>
“After a little while shooting ahead of them we lay athawt their hawse close aboard, and plyed 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.<br>
“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.”<br>
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 galleon, the Nostra Seniora del Incarnacion Dessengàno, now re-christened the Batchelor, to remain in port with as many men as could be spared to guard and refit her.<br>
“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 her 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 I swallowed 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 recovered myself, only my throat and head being greatly swelled, 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.”<br>
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.<br>
It was 7 p.m., and soon quite dark, before the Duke was under weigh; but at daybreak 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 galleon 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 of 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 a shot in her powder-room.<br>
“Curiously enough,” Rogers says, “the Spaniard had been making signals to the Duke, and edging towards 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 shot (six-pounders) did very little hurt to the galleon, 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-top, 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 bone being struck out and ankle cut above half through, which bled very much before it could be dressed, and weakened 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 galleon; yet there she lay “driving,” the Spanish flag obstinately flying from her maintop-mast head, “all our battering signifying little beyond killing two men in her tops, and shattering her rigging.”
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