Etopia Press author Elin Gregory has a new book out, so I invited her over again to tell us all about it. Pirates! Well, I do like Johnny Depp
Thanks, Tristam for inviting me to post on your blog, in honour of the release of On A Lee Shore, a book that is mostly about pirates.
And what do pirates want? Yes, treasure! Or so popular fiction would have us believe. Certainly there were pirates who committed robberies that made the Great Train Robbers look like handbag snatchers. It is estimated that Black Sam Bellamy’s haul would be worth approximately £100 million in today’s money and many other pirates – Thomas Tew, Captain Kidd, Bartholomew Roberts – are reputed to have stolen as much if not more. Forbes magazine [http://www.forbes.com/2008/09/18/top-earning-pirates-biz-logistics-cx_mw_0919piracy.html ] has compiled a list of piratical top earners, likening the profession to being the investment bankers of the period! Hollywood has familiarised us with the image of heavily armed pirate vessels bringing lofty Spanish galleons to a halt so howling savages can swing from deck to deck with cutlasses between their teeth in search of chests brimming with gold moidores, silver plate and strings of pearls. However the truth of the matter was far more prosaic and practical.
Pirates were robbers, living upon what they stole. There were comparatively few ports that would welcome a known pirate ship and the more successful a pirate crew became the fewer places would welcome them. Consequently they had to steal everything they required to live. Food, drink, spares for the ship, even weapons and powder and shot for the long guns. One of the best documented pirate careers is that of Bartholomew Roberts. He was only a pirate for two years but in that time he took 470 ships, sometimes several at a time. His most famous catch was a portuguese treasure galleon laden with newly minted pieces of eight, bar silver, emeralds and gold but most of his prizes were small fishing craft or coastal traders. His ship outgunned them so they allowed his boats to draw alongside and his men would rummage the ship and take anything that might be useful. Fresh food was essential – it doesn’t take long to get scurvy. Sometimes they would swap items taken from another vessel for part of a cargo. Benjamin Hornigold once pursued and took a French ship because he had seen the crew in port and wanted to steal all their hats!
However the very most popular item to steal was the medicine chest. Medicine in the early 18th century was very rough and ready by modern standards. There were several routine treatments that would be applied for illnesses – bleeding, cupping, purging, dosing – and injuries would be plastered, stitched or, in the case of damaged limbs, amputated. Life was brutal and so was the treatment. Especially the treatment for the various forms of social disease that were rife amongst the sea going population. It was known how these diseases were caught but there was no understanding of the actual cause. No antibiotics existed and sometimes the treatment was as nasty as the affliction. This urethral syringe was used to inject a solution of mercury, a poison, as a treatment for syphilis. Other treatments included bizarre ingredients like the ashes of a wolf’s testicles or to ‘eat a roast mouse’. Anyone who survived the treatment was considered a success, even if he died later from infection or food poisoning.
With a high turnover of piratical staff the captains were always on the look out for promising recruits. Any man with skills to augment those of the pirates could be forced on board – navigators were prized, likewise carpenters, and doctors. Musicians were particularly popular – pirates liked to have the band playing when they went into battle. However, there were frequently rules against taking women aboard and, except in rare cases, pirate crews tended to be all stag.
If you were a pirate, what kind of non-monetary treasure would you go for?
Over the next few days I will be continuing my thoughts about the Golden Age of Piracy on blogs belonging to Sue Roebuck, Kiran Hunter and Catherine Cavendish. Comment here or on their blogs for a chance to win a copy of “On A Lee Shore”. Each comment = one chance so the more the merrier.
Blurb: “Give me a reason to let you live…”
Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe.
Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?
Amidships the party was getting rowdy as the musicians sawed, pounded, or whistled. One crew challenged the other to wrestle and made wagers on the outcome. It looked like anarchy, but there were men in the waist of the ship who stepped in if the struggle got too aggressive. Kit found himself laughing as he watched Saunders, bottle held safely out of the way, battering a brawny pirate about the shoulders with the despised volume of Homer.
Saunders spotted Kit, abandoned the brawlers, and made his way to his side. He offered O’Neill a swig from his bottle and leaned back against the transom.
“What a to-do,” he said. “Damn fellow knocked my bottle over, would have spilled it if I hadn’t looked sharp.”
“So inconsiderate,” Kit nodded to the book, “and he made you lose your place.”
“Hanging is too good,” O’Neill commented as he offered the bottle to Kit, who shook his head. O’Neill passed it back to Saunders.
“Barbuda,” Saunders said suddenly. “That is our destination. There I should be able to replenish our medicine chest—try as I might the men will keep catching things. While we are in port they will have the opportunity to catch some more I wouldn’t wonder. “
“Something to look forward to then—you and your syringe.” O’Neill grinned as Kit shuddered. “And what will you do, Mr. Penrose?”
“He will give his parole,” Saunders said, “as befits an officer of His Majesty’s Navy, and will accompany me to Willaerts coffee house to see if we can trade this unlovely item for something more elevating.” He waved the book again. “Or he will not give his parole and will spend our time in port chained to a long gun—possibly. It depends on our lord and master’s whim.”
Many thanks again to my gracious host, Tristram.
My pleasure, Elin. Remember you can find Elin here: http://elingregory.wordpress.com