The History of the Life and surprising adventures of John Gow, alias Smith, a most notorious Pirate and Murderer
From Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals who have been Condemned and Executed for Murder, the Highway, Housebreaking, Street Robberies, Coining or other offences
By Arthur L. Hayward
The principal use to which a work of this nature can be applied is to engage persons to refuse the first stirrings of their passions, and the slighted emotions of vice in their breasts, since they see before their eyes so many sad examples of the fatal consequences which follow upon rash and wicked enterprises, of which the following history exhibits as extraordinary an instance as perhaps is anythere to be found.
In giving an account of this malefactor, we are obliged to begin with his embarking on board the vessel which he afterwards seized and went a-pirating in. It was called the George galley, and was of about two hundred tons burden, commanded by Oliver Ferneau, a Frenchman, but a subject of the Crown of England, who entertained this Gow as a private seaman only, but afterwards, to his great misfortune, preferred him to be the second mate in the voyage of which we are next to speak.
Captain Ferneau being a man of reputation among the merchants of Amsterdam, got a voyage for his ship from thence to Santa Cruz on the coast of Barbary, to load beeswax, and to carry it to Genoa, which was his delivering port; and as the Dutch, having war with the Turks of Algiers, were willing to employ him as an English ship, so he was as willing to be manned with English seamen, and accordingly among the rest, he unhappily took on board this Gow with his wretched gang, such as MacCauly, Melvin, Williams and others. But not being able to man themselves wholly with English or Scots, he was obliged to take some Swedes, and other seamen to make his complement, which was twenty-three in all. Among the latter sort, one was named Winter, and another Peterson, both of them Swedes by nation, but wicked as Gow and his other fellows were. They sailed from the Texel in the month of August, 1724, and arrived at Santa Cruz on the second of September following, where having a super-cargo on board, who took charge of the loading, and four chests of money to purchase it, they soon got the beeswax, on board, and on the third of November they appointed to set sail to pursue the voyage.
That day the ship having lain two months in the road at Santa Cruz, taking in her lading, the captain made preparations to put to sea, and the usual signals for sailing having been given, some of the merchants from on shore, who had been concerned in furnishing the cargo, came on board in the forenoon to take their leave of the captain, and wish him a good voyage, as is usual on such occasions. Whether it was concerted by the whole gang beforehand, we know not, but while the captain was treating and entertaining the merchants under the awning upon the quarter deck, as is the custom in those hot countries, three of the seamen, viz., Winter and Peterson, two Swedes, and MacCauly a Scotchman, came rudely upon the quarter deck as if they took the opportunity because the merchants were present, believing the captain would not use any violence with them in the presence of the merchants.
They made a long complaint of all their ill-usage, and particularly of their provisions and allowance, as they said, being not sufficient nor such as was ordinarily made in other merchant ships, seeming to load the captain, Monsieur Ferneau, with being the occasion of it, and that he did it for his private gain, which however had not been true. If the fact had been true, the overplus of provisions (if the stores had been more than sufficient) belonged to the owners, not to the captain, at the end of the voyage, there being also a steward on board to take the account. In making this complaint they seemed to direct their speech to the merchants as well as to the captain, as if they had been concerned in the ship, or as if desiring them to intercede for them with the captain, that they might have redress and a better allowance.
The captain was highly provoked at this rudeness, as indeed he had reason, it being a double affront to him as it was done in the view of the merchants who were come on board to him, to do him an honour at parting. However, he restrained his passion, and gave them not the least angry word, only that if they were aggrieved they had no more to do but to let him have know of it; that if they were ill-used it was not by his order that he would enquire into it and if anything was amiss it should be rectified, with which the seamen withdrew, seemingly well satisfied with his answer.
About five the same evening they unmoored the ship and hove short upon their best bower anchor, awaiting the land breeze (as is usual on that coast) to carry them out to sea; but instead of that, it fell stark calm, and the captain fearing the ship would fall foul of her own anchor, ordered the mizen top-sail to be furled. Peterson, one of the malcontent seamen, being the nearest man at hand seemed to go about it, but moved so carelessly and heavily that it appeared plainly he did not care whether it was done or no, and particularly as if he had a mind the captain should see it and take notice of it. Which the captain did, for perceiving how awkwardly he went about it, he spoke a little tartly to him, and asked him what was the reason he did not stir a little and furl the sail. Peterson, as if he had waited for the question, answered in a surly tone, and with a kind of disdain, So as we eat, so shall we work. This he spoke aloud, so that he might be sure the captain heard him and the rest of the men also, and it was evident that as he spoke in plural numbers, We, so he spoke their minds as well as his own, and words which they all agreed to before.
The captain, however, though he heard plain enough what he said, took not the least notice of it, or gave him the least reason to believe he had heard him, being not willing to begin a quarrel with the men and knowing that if he took any notice at all of it, he must resent it and punish it too.
Soon after this, the calm went off, and the land breeze sprang up, and they immediately weighed and stood out to sea; but the captain having had these two bustles with his men just at their putting to sea, was very uneasy in his mind, as indeed he had reason to be; and the same evening, soon after they were under sail, the mate being walking on the quarter deck, he went, and taking two or three turns with him, told him how he had been used by the men, particularly how they affronted him before the merchants, and what an answer Peterson had given him on the quarter deck, when he ordered him to furl the mizen top sail. The mate was as surprised at these things as the captain, and after some other discourse about it, in which it was their unhappiness not to be so private as they ought to have been in a case of such importance, the captain told him he thought it was absolutely necessary to have a quantity of small arms brought immediately into the great cabin, not only to defend themselves if there should be occasion, but also that he might be in a posture to correct those fellows for their insolence, especially should he meet with any more of it. The mate agreed that it was necessary to be done, and had they said no more, or said this more privately, all had been well, and the wicked design had been much more difficult, if not the execution of it effectually prevented.
But two mistakes in this part was the ruin of them all. First, that the captain spoke it without due caution, so that Winter and Peterson, the two principal malcontents, who were expressly mentioned by the captain to be corrected, overheard it, and knew by that means what they had to expect if they did not immediately bestir themselves to prevent it. The other mistake was that when the captain and mate agreed that it was necessary to have arms got ready, and brought into the great cabin, the captain unhappily bid him go immediately to Gow, the second mate and gunner, and give him orders to get the arms cleared and loaded for him, and to bring them up to the great cabin; which was in short to tell the conspirators that the captain was preparing to be too strong for them, if they did not fall to work with him immediately.
Winter and Peterson went immediately forward, where they knew the rest of the mutineers were, and to whom they communicated what they had heard, telling them that it was time to provide for their own safety, for otherwise their destruction was resolved on, and the captain would soon be in such a posture that there would be no muddling with him. While they were thus consulting, as they said, only for their own safety, Gow and Williams came into them with some others to the number of eight, and no sooner were they joined by these two, but they fell downright to the point which Gow had so long formed in his own mind, viz., to seize upon the captain and mate, and all those that they could not bring to join with them; in short, to throw them into the sea, and to go upon the account. All those who are acquainted with the sea language know the meaning of that expression, and that it is, in few words, to run away with the ship and turn pirates.
Villainous designs are soonest concluded; as they had but little time to consult upon what measures they should take, so very little consultation served for what was before them, and they came to this short but hellish resolution, viz., that they would immediately, that very night, murder the captain and such others as they named, and afterwards proceed with the ship as they should see cause. And here it is to be observed that though Winter and Peterson were in the first proposal, namely to prevent their being brought to correction by the captain, yet Gow and Williams were the principal advisers in the bloody part, which however the rest came into soon; for, as I said before, as they had but little time to resolve in, so they had but very little debate about it but what was first proposed was forthwith engaged in and consented to.
It must not be omitted that Gow had always had the wicked game of pirating in his head, and that he had attempted it, or rather tried to attempt it before, but was not able to bring it to pass; so he and Williams had also several times, even in this very voyage, dropped some hints of this vile design, as they thought there was room for it, and touched two or three times at what a noble opportunity they had of enriching themselves, and making their fortunes, as they wickedly called it. This was when they had the four chests of money on board and Williams made it a kind of jest in his discourse, how easily they might carry it off, ship and all. But as they did not find themselves seconded, or that any of the men showed themselves in favour of such a thing, but rather spoke of it with abhorrence they passed it over as a kind of discourse that had nothing at all in it, except that one of the men, viz., the surgeon, once took them up short for so much as mentioning such a thing, told them the thought was criminal and it ought not to be spoken of among them, which reproof was supposed cost him his life afterwards.
As Gow and his comrade had thus started the thing at a distance before, though it was then without success, yet they had the less to do now, when other discontents had raised a secret fire in the breasts of the men; for now, being as it were mad and desperate with apprehensions of their being severely punished by the captain, they wanted no persuasions to come into the most wicked undertaking that the devil or any of his angels could propose to them. Nor do we find that upon any of their examinations they pretended to have made any scruples or objections to the cruelty of the bloody attempt that was to be made, but came to it at once, and resolved to put it in execution immediately, that is to say, the very same evening.
It was the captain's constant custom to call all the ship's company into the great cabin every night at eight o'clock to prayers, and then the watch being set, one went upon deck, and the other turned in, or, as the seamen phrase it, went to their hammocks to sleep; and here they concerted their devilish plot. It was the turn of five of the conspirators to go to sleep, and of these Gow and Williams were two. The three who were to be upon the deck were Winter, Rowlinson, and Melvin, a Scotchman. The persons they immediately designed for destruction were four, viz., the captain, the mate, the super-cargo, and the surgeon, whereof all but the captain were gone to sleep, the captain himself being upon the quarter deck.
Between nine and ten at night, all being quiet and secure, and the poor gentlemen that were to be murdered fast asleep, the villains that were below gave the watch-word, which was, Who fires next? At which they all got out of their hammocks with as little noise as they could, and going in the dark to the hammocks of the chief mate, super-cargo and surgeon, they cut all their throats. The surgeon's throat was cut so effectually that he could struggle very little with them, but leaping out of his hammock, ran up to get upon the deck, holding his hand upon his throat. But be stumbled at the tiller, and falling down had no breath, and consequently no strength to raise himself, but died where he lay.
The mate, whose throat was cut but not his windpipe, struggled so vigorously with the villain who attacked him that he got away from him and into the hold; and the super-cargo, in the same condition, got forwards between decks under some deals and both of them begged with the most moving cries and entreaties for their lives. And when nothing could prevail, they begged with the same earnestness for but a few moments to pray to God, and recommend their souls to mercy. But alike in vain, for the wretched murderers, heated with blood, were past pity, and not being able to come at them with their knives, with which they had begun the execution, they shot them with their pistols, firing several times upon each of them until they found they were quite dead.
As all this, even before the firing, could not be done without some noise, the captain, who was walking alone upon the quarter-deck, called out and asked what was the matter. The boatswain, who sat on the after bits, and was not of the party, answered he could not tell, but he was afraid there was somebody overboard; upon which the captain stepped towards the ship's side to look over. Then Winter, Rowlinson and Melvin, coming that moment behind him, laid hands on him, and lifting him up, attempted to throw him overboard into the sea; but he being a nimble strong man, got hold of the shrouds and struggled so hard with them that they could not break his hold. Turning his head to look behind him to see who he had to deal with, one of them cut his throat with a broad Dutch knife; but neither was that wound mortal, for the captain still struggled with them, and seeing he should undoubtedly be murdered, he constantly cried up to God for mercy, for he found there was none to be expected from them. During this struggle, another of the murderers stabbed him with a knife in the back, and that with such a force that the villain could not draw the knife out again to repeat his blow, which he would otherwise have done.
At this moment Gow came up from the butchery he had been at between decks, and seeing the captain still alive, he went close up to him and shot him, as he confessed, with a brace of bullets. What part he shot him in could not be known, though they said he had shot him in the head; however, he had yet life enough (though they threw him overboard) to take hold of a rope, and would still have saved himself but they cut that rope and then he fell into the sea, and was seen no more.
Thus they finished the tragedy, having murdered four of the principal men in command in the ship, so that there was nobody now to oppose them; for Gow being second mate and gunner, the command fell to him, of course, and the rest of the men having no arms ready, not knowing how to get at any, were in utmost consternation, expecting they would go on with the work and cut their throats. In this fright everyone shifted for himself. As for those who were upon deck, some got up in the round tops, others got into the ship's head, resolving to throw themselves into the sea rather than be mangled with knives and murdered as the captain and mate, etc., had been. Those who were below, not knowing what to do, or whose turn it should be next, lay still in their hammocks expecting death every moment, and not daring to stir lest the villains should think they did it in order to make resistance, which however they were in no way capable of doing, having no concert one with another, not knowing anything in particular of one another, as who was alive or who was dead. Had the captain, who was himself a bold and stout man, been in his great cabin with three or four men with him, and his fire-arms, as he intended to have had, those eight fellows had never been able to have done their work. But every man was taken unprovided, and in the utmost surprise, so that the murderers met with no resistance; and as for those what were left, they were less able to make resistance than the other, so that, as has been said, they were in the utmost terror and amazement, expecting every minute to be murdered as the rest had been.
But the villains had done. The persons who had any command were dispatched, so they cooled a little as to blood. The first thing they did afterwards, was to call up all the eight upon the quarter deck, where they congratulated one another, and shook hands together, engaging to proceed by joint consent in their resolved design, that is, of turning pirates. In older to which, they unanimously chose Gow to command the ship, promising all subjection and obedience to his orders, so that we must now call him Captain Gow, and he, by the same consent of the rest, named Williams his lieutenant. Other officers they appointed afterwards.
The first orders they issued was to let all the rest of the men know that if they continued quiet and offered not to meddle with any of their affairs, they should receive no hurt, but chiefly forbade any man to set a foot abaft the main mast, except they were called to the helm, upon pain of being immediately cut to pieces, keeping for that purpose one man at the steerage door, and one upon the quarter deck with drawn cutlasses in their hands. But there was no need for it, for the men were so terrified with the bloody doings they had seen, that they never offered to come in sight until they were called.
Their next work was to throw overboard the three dead bodies of the mate, the surgeon, and the super-cargo, which they said lay in their way; that was soon done, their pockets being first searched and rifled. From thence they went to work with the great cabin and with all the lockers, chests, boxes and trunks. These they broke open and rifled, that is, such of them as belonged to the murdered persons, and whatever they found there they shared among themselves. When they had done this, they called for liquor, and sat down to drinking until morning, leaving the men, as above, to keep guard, and particularly to guard the arms, but relieved them from time to time as they saw occasion.
By this time they had drawn in four more of the men to approve of what they had done, and promised to join with them, so that now there were twelve in number, and being but twenty-four at first, whereof four were murdered, they had but eight men to be apprehensive of, and those they could easily look after. So the next day, they sent for them all to appear before their new captain, where they were told by Gow what his resolution was, viz., to go a-cruising or to go upon the account. If they were willing to join with them and go into their measures, they should be well used, and there should be no distinction among them but they should all fare alike; he said that they had been forced to do what they had done by the barbarous usage of Ferneau, but that there was now no looking back; and therefore, as they had not been concerned in what was past, they had nothing to do but to act in concert, do their duty as sailors, and obey orders for the good of the ship, and no harm should come to any of them.
As they all looked like condemned prisoners brought up to the bar to receive sentence of death, so they all answered by a profound silence, which Gow took as they meant it, viz, as a consent because they durst not refuse. So they were then permitted to go up and down everywhere as they used to do, though such of them as sometimes afterwards showed any reluctance to act as principals, were never trusted, always suspected and very often severely beaten. Some of them were in many ways inhumanly treated and that particularly by Williams, the lieutenant, who was in his nature a merciless, cruel, and inexorable wretch, as we shall have occasion to take notice of again in its place.
They were now in a new circumstance of life, and acting upon a different stage of business, though upon the same stage as to the element, the water. Before they were a merchant ship, laden upon a good account, with merchants' goods from the coast of Barbary, and bound to the coast of Italy; but they were now a crew of pirates, or as they call them in the Levant, Corsairs, bound nowhere but to look out for purchase and spoil wherever they could find it. In pursuit of this wicked trade they first changed the name of the ship, which was before called the George galley, and which they called now the Revenge, a name, indeed, suitable to the bloody steps they had taken. In the next place they made the best of the ship's forces. The ship had but twelve guns mounted when they came out of Holland, but as they had six more good guns in the hold with cartridges and everything proper for service (which they had in store through being freighted for the Dutch merchants, and the Algerians being at war with the Dutch), they supposed they might want them for defence. Now they took care to mount them for a much worse design, so that now they had eighteen guns, though too many for the number of hands they had on board. In the third place, instead of pursuing their voyage to Genoa with the ship's cargo, they took a clear contrary course, and resolved to station themselves upon the coasts of Spain and Portugal, and to cruise upon all nations; but what they chiefly aimed at was a ship with wine, if possible, for that they wanted extremely.
The first prize they took was an English sloop, belonging to Pool, Thomas Wise commander, bound from Newfoundland with fish for Cadiz. This was a prize of no value to them, so they took out the master, Mr. Wise and his men, who were but five in number, with their anchors, cables and sails, and what else they found worth taking, and sunk the vessel. The next prize they took was a Scotch vessel, bound from Glasgow with herrings and salmon from thence to Genoa, and commanded by one Mr. John Somerville, of Port Patrick. This vessel was likewise of little value to them, except that they took as they had done from the other, their arms, ammunition, clothes, provisions, sails, anchors, cables, etc., and everything of value, and sunk her too as they had done the sloop. The reason they gave for sinking these two vessels was to prevent their being discovered, for as they were now cruising on the coast of Portugal, had they let their ships have gone with several of their men on board, they would presently have stood in for shore, and have given the alarm, and the men-of-war, of which there were several, as well Dutch as English, in the river of Lisbon, would immediately have put out to sea in quest of them, and they were very unwilling to leave the coast of Portugal until they had got a ship with wine, which they very much wanted.
After this they cruised eight or ten days without seeing so much as one vessel upon the seas, and were just resolving to stand more to the to the coast of Galicia, when they descried a sail to the southward, being a ship about as big as their own, though they could not perceive what force she had. However they gave chase, and the vessel perceiving it, crowded from them with all the sail they could make, hoisting up French colours, and standing away to the southward. They continued the chase three days and nights, and though they did not gain much upon her, the Frenchman sailing very well, yet they kept her in sight all the while and for the most part within gunshot. But the third night, the weather proving a little hazy, the Frenchman changed her course in the night, and so got clear of them, and good reason they had to bless themselves in the escape they had made, if they had but known what a dreadful crew of rogues they had fallen among if they had been taken.
They were now gotten a long way to the southward and being greatly disappointed, and in want of water as well as wine, they resolved to stand away for the Madeiras, which they knew were not far off; so they accordingly made the island in two days more, and keeping a large offing, they cruised for three or four days more, expecting to meet with some Portuguese vessel going in or coming out. But it was in vain, for nothing stirred. So, tired with waiting, they stood in for the road, and came to anchor, though at a great distance. Then they sent their boat towards the shore with seven men, all well armed, to see whether it might not be practicable to board one of the ships in the road, and cutting her away from her anchors, bring her off; or if they found that could not be done, then their orders were to intercept some of the boats belonging to the place, which carry wines on board the ships in the road, or from one place to another on the coast. But they came back again disappointed in both, everybody being alarmed and aware of them, knowing by their posture what they were.
Having thus spent several days to no purpose, and finding themselves discovered, at last (being apparently under a necessity to make an attempt somewhere) they stood away for Porto Santo [the most northerly of the islands], about ten leagues to the windward of Madeiras, and belonging also to the Portuguese. Here putting up British colours, they sent their boat ashore with Captain Somerville's bill of health, and a present to the governor of three barrels of salmon, and six barrels of herrings, and a very civil message, desiring leave to water, and to buy some refreshments, pretending to be bound to ——.
The Governor very courteously granted their desire, but with more courtesy than discretion went off himself, with about nine or ten of his principal people, to pay the English captain a visit, little thinking what kind of a captain it was they were going to compliment, and what price it might have cost them. However, Gow, handsomely dressed, received then with some ceremony, and entertained them tolerably well for a while. But the Governor having been kept as long by civility as they could, and the refreshments from the shore not appearing, he was forced to unmask; and when the Governor and his company rose up to take their leave, to their great surprise they were suddenly surrounded with a gang of fellows with muskets, and an officer at the head of them. These told them, in so many words, they were the captain's prisoners, and must not think of going on shore any more until the water and provisions which were promised should come on board.
It is impossible to conceive the consternation and surprise the Portuguese gentry were in, nor is it very decently to be expressed. The poor Governor was so much more than half dead with fright that he really befouled himself in a piteous manner, and the rest were in not much better condition. They trembled, cried, begged, crossed themselves, and said their prayers as men going to execution, but it was all one, they were told flatly that the captain was not to be trifled with, that the ship was in want of provisions, and they would have them, or they should carry them all away. They were, however, well enough treated, except for the restraint of their persons, and were often asked to refresh themselves; but they would neither eat not drink any more all the while they stayed on board, which was until the next day in the evening, when to their great satisfaction they saw a great boat come off from the fort, and which came directly on board with seven butts of water, a cow and a calf, and a good number of fowls.
When the boat came alongside and delivered the stores, Captain Gow complimented the Governor and his gentlemen, and discharged them to their great joy, and besides that gave them in return for their provisions two cerons of beeswax, and fired them three guns at their going away. It is to be supposed they would have a care how they went on board any ship again, in compliment to their captain, unless they were very sure who they were. Having had no better success in this out of the way run to the Madeiras, they resolved to make the best of their way back again to the coast of Spain and Portugal. They accordingly left Porto Santo die next morning with a fair wind, standing directly for Cape St. Vincent or the Southward Cape.
They had not been upon the coast of Spain above two or three days, before they met with a New England ship, one Cross commander, laden with slaves, and bound for Lisbon, being to load there with wine for London. This was also a prize of no value to them, and they began to be very much discouraged with their bad fortune. However, they took out Captain Cross and his men, which were seven or eight in number, with most of the provisions and some of the sails, and gave the ship to Captain Wise, the poor man whom they took at first in a sloop from Newfoundland; and in order to pay Wise and his men for what they took from them, and make them satisfaction, as they called it, they gave to Captain Wise and his mate twenty-four cerons of wax, and to his men who were four in number, two cerons of wax each. Thus they pretended honesty, and to make reparation of damages by giving them the goods which they had robbed the Dutch merchants of, whose super-cargo they had murdered.
The day before the division of the spoil they saw a large ship to windward, which at first put them into some surprise, for she came bearing down directly upon them, and they thought she had been a Portuguese man-of-war, but they found soon after that it was a merchant ship, had French colours and bound home, as they supposed from the West Indies; and so it was, for they afterwards learned that she was laden at Martinico and bound for Rochelle.
The Frenchmen not fearing them came on large to the wind, being a ship of much greater force than Gow's ship, carrying thirty-two guns and eighty men, besides a great many passengers. However, Gow at first made as if he would lie by for them, but seeing plainly what a ship it was, and that they should have their hands full of her, he began to consider; and calling his men together upon the deck, told them what was in his mind, viz., that the Frenchman was apparently superior in force in every way; that they were but ill-manned, and had a great many prisoners on board, and that some of their own people were not very well to be trusted; that six of their best hands were on board the prize; and that all they had left were not sufficient to ply their guns and stand by the sails, and that therefore as they were under no necessity to engage, so he thought it would be next to madness to think of it.
The generality of the men were of Gow's mind, and agreed to decline the fight, but Williams, his lieutenant, strenuously opposed it; and being not to be appeased by all that Gow could say to him, or any one else, flew out into a rage at Gow, upbraiding him with being a coward, and not fit to command a ship of force. The truth is, Gow's reasoning was good, and the thing was just, considering their own condition; but Williams was a fellow incapable of any solid thinking, had a kind of savage, brutal courage, but nothing of true bravery in him, and this made him the most desperate and outrageous villain in the world, and the most cruel and inhuman to those whose disaster it was to fall into his hands, as had frequently appeared in his usage of the prisoners under his power in this very voyage. Gow was a man of temper, and notwithstanding all the ill-language Williams gave him, said little or nothing but by way of argument against attacking the French ship, which would certainly have been too strong for them; but this provoked Williams the more, and he grew so extraordinary an height, that he demanded boldly of Gow to give his orders for fighting, which Gow declining still Williams presented his pistol at him, and snapped it, but it did not go off, which enraged him the more.
Winter and Peterson standing nearest to Williams, and seeing him so furious, flew at him immediately, and each of them fired a pistol at him. One shot him through the arm, and the other into his belly, at which he fell, and the men about him laid hold of him to throw him overboard, believing he was dead; but as they lifted him up, he started violently out of their hands, and leaped directly into the hold, and from thence ran desperately into the powder-room with his pistol cocked in his hand, swearing he would blow them all up. He had certainly done it, if they had not seized him just as he had gotten the scuttle open, and was that moment going to put his hellish resolution into practice.
Having thus secured the distracted, raving creature, they carried him forward to the place which they had made on purpose between decks to secure their prisoners, and put him amongst them, having first loaded him with irons, and particularly handcuffed him with his hands behind him, to the great satisfaction of the other prisoners, who knowing what a butcherly furious fellow he was, were terrified to the last degree to see him come in among them, until they beheld the condition he came in. He was, indeed, the terror of all the prisoners, for he usually treated them in a barbarous manner, without the least provocation, and merely for his humour, presenting pistols to their breasts, swearing he would shoot them that moment, and then would beat them unmercifully, and all for his diversion as he called it. Having thus laid him fast, they presently resolved to stand away to the westward, by which they quitted the Martinico ship, who by that time was come nearer to them, and farther convinced them they were in no condition to have engaged her, for she was a stout ship and full of men.
All this happened just the day before they shared their last prize among the prisoners, in which they put on such a mock face of doing justice to the several captains and mates and other men, their prisoners, whose ships they had taken away, and to whom now they made reparation, by giving them what they had taken violently from another, so that it was a strange medley of mock justice made up of rapine and generosity blended together.
Two days after this they took a Bristol ship bound from Newfoundland to Oporto with fish. They let her cargo alone, for they had no occasion for fish, but they took out almost all their provisions, all the ammunition, arms, etc., and her good sails, also her best cables, and forced two of her men to go away with them, and then got ten of the Frenchman on board and let her go. But just as they were parting with her, they consulted together what to do with Williams the lieutenant, who was then among the prisoners and in irons. And after a short debate, they resolved to put him on board the Bristol-man and send him away too, which accordingly was done, with directions to the master to deliver him on board the first English man-of-war they should meet with, in order to get his being hanged for a pirate, as they jeeringly called him, as soon as he came to England, giving the master an account of some of his villainies.
The truth is, this Williams was a monster rather than a man. He was the most inhuman, bloody and desperate creature that the world could produce, and was even too wicked for Gow and all his crew, though they pirates and murderers, as has been shown. His temper was so savage, so villainous, so merciless, that even the pirates themselves told him it was time he was hanged out of the way.
One instance of the barbarity of Williams cannot be omitted, and will be sufficient to justify all that can be said of him. When Gow gave it as a reason against engaging with the Martinico ship, that he had a great many prisoners on board, and some of their own men that they could not depend on, Williams proposed to have them all called up one by one, and to cut their throats and throw them overboard—a proposal so horrid that the worst of the crew shook their heads at it. Gow answered him very handsomely, that there had been too much blood spilled already; yet the refusing this, heightened the quarrel, and was the chief occasion of his offering to pistol Gow himself. After which his behaviour was such as made all the ship's crew resolved to be rid of him, and it was thought if they had not had an opportunity to send him away, as they did by the Bristol ship, they would have been obliged to have hanged him themselves. This cruel and butchery temper of Williams being carried to such a height, and so near to the ruin of them all, shocked some of them, and as they acknowledged gave some check in the heat of their wicked progress, and had they had an opportunity to have gone on shore at that time, without falling into the hands of Justice, it is believed the greatest part of them would have abandoned the ship, and perhaps the very trade of a pirate too. But they had dipped their hands in blood, and Heaven had no doubt determined to bring them, that is, the chief of them, to the gallows for it, as indeed they all deserved, so they went on.
When they put Williams on board the Bristol-man, and he was told what directions they gave with him, he began to relent, and made all the intercession he could to Captain Gow for pardon, or at least not to be put on board the ship, knowing that if he was carried to Lisbon, he should meet with his due from the Portuguese, if not from the English; for it seems he had been concerned in some villainies among the Portuguese before he came on board the George galley. What they were he did not confess, nor indeed did his own ship's crew trouble themselves to examine him about it. He had been wicked enough among them, and it was sufficient to make them use him as they did. It was more to be wondered, indeed, that they did not cut him to pieces upon the spot and throw him into the sea, half on one side of the ship, and half on the other, for there was scarce a man in the ship but on one occasion or other had some apprehensions of him, and might be said to go in danger of his life from him. But they chose to shift their hands of him this bloodless way, so they double fettered him and brought him up. When they brought him among the men, he begged they would throw him into the sea and drown him; then entreated for his life with a meanness which made them despise him, and with tears, so that one time they began to relent. But then the devilish temper of the fellow over-ruled it again, so at last they resolved to let him go, and did accordingly put him on board, and gave him many a hearty curse at parting, wishing him a good voyage to the gallows, which was made good afterwards, though in such company as they little thought of at that time. The Bristol captain was very just to him, for according to their orders, as soon as they came to Lisbon, they put him on board the Argyle, one of His Majesty's ships, Captain Bowles commander, then lying in the Tagus, and bound home for England, who accordingly brought him home. Though, as it happened, Heaven brought the captain and the rest of the crew so quickly to an end of their villainies that they all came home time enough to be hanged with their lieutenant.
But to return to Gow and his crew. Having thus dismissed the Bristol-man, and cleared his hands of most of his prisoners, with the same wicked generosity he gave the Bristol captain thirteen cerons of beeswax, as a gratuity for his trouble and charge with the prisoners, and in recompense, as he called it, for the goods he had taken from him, and so they parted.
This was the last prize they took, not only on the coast of Portugal, but anywhere else, for Gow, who, to give him his due, was a fellow of council and had a great presence of mind in cases of exigence, considered that as soon as the Bristol ship came into the river of Lisbon, they would certainly give an account of them, as well of their strength, and of their station in which they cruised, and that consequently the English men-of-war (of which there are generally some in that river) would immediately come abroad to look for then. So he began to reason with his officers that the coast of Portugal would be no proper place at all for them, unless they resolved to fall into the hands of the said men-of-war, and they ought to consider immediately what to do. In these debates some advised one thing, some another, as is usual in like cases. Some were for going to the coast of Guinea, where, as they said, was purchase1 enough, and very rich ships to be taken; others were for going to the West Indies, and to cruise among the Islands, and take up their station at Tobago; others, and not those of the most ignorant, proposed standing in to the Bay of Mexico, and joining in with some of a new sort of pirates at St. Jago de la Cuba, who are all Spaniards, and call themselves Guarda del Costa, that is Guard ships for the coast (though under that pretence they make prize of ships of all nations, and sometimes even of their own countrymen too, but especially of the English), but when this was proposed, it was answered they durst not trust the Spaniards. Others said they should go first to the islands of New Providence [Bahama Islands], or to the mouth of the Gulf of Florida, and then cruising on the coast of North America, and making their retreat at New Providence, cruise from the Gulf of Florida, north upon the coast of Carolina, and as high as the Capes of Virginia.
But nothing could be resolved on, until at last Gow let them into the secret of a project, which, as he told them, he had long had in his thoughts, and this was to go away to the North of Scotland, near the coast of which, as he said, he was born and bred, and where he said, if they met with no purchase upon the sea, he could tell them how they should enrich themselves by going on shore. To bring them to concur with this design, he represented the danger they were in where they were, the want they were in of fresh water, and of several kinds of provisions, but above all, the necessity they were in of careening and cleaning their ship; that it was too long a run for them to go to southward, and that they had not provisions to serve them till they could reach to any place proper for that purpose, and might be driven to the utmost distress, if they should be put by from watering, either by weather or enemies.
Also, he told them, if any of the men-of-war came out in search of them, they would never imagine they were gone away to the northward, so that their run that way was perfectly secure, and he could assure them of his own knowledge that if they landed in such places as he should direct, they could not fail of considerable booty in plundering some gentlemen's houses, who lived secured and unguarded very near the shore; and that though the country should be alarmed, yet before the Government could send any men-of-war to attack them, they might clean their ship, lay in a store of fresh provisions, and be gone. Beside that, they would get a good many stout fellows to go along with them upon his encouragement, so that they should be better manned than they were yet, and should be ready against all events.
These arguments and their approaching fate concurring, had a sufficient influence on the ship's company to prevail on them to consent, so they made the best of their way to the northward; and about the middle of January they arrived at Carristoun [the island of Carrick], in the Isles of Orkney, and came to an anchor in a place which Gow told them was safe riding under the lee of a small island at some distance from the port. But now their misfortunes began to come on, and things looked but with an indifferent aspect upon them, for several of their men, especially such of them as had been forced or decoyed into their service, began to think of making their escape from them, and to cast about for means to bring it to pass.
The first to take an opportunity to go away was a young man who was originally one of the ship's company, but was forced by fear of being murdered (as has been observed) to give a silent assent to go with them. It was one evening when the boat went on shore, for they kept a civil correspondence with the people of the town, that this young fellow, being one of the ship's crew and having been several times on shore before, and therefore not suspected, gave them the slip and got away to a farm-house which lay under a hill out of sight. There, for two or three pieces-of-eight, he got a horse, and soon by that means escaped to Kirkwall, a market town and chief of the Orkneys, about twelve miles from the place where the ship lay. As soon as he came there he surrendered himself to the Government, desiring protection, and informed them who Gow was, and what the ship's crew were, and upon what business they were abroad, with what else he knew of their designs, as to plundering the gentlemen's houses, etc. Upon this they immediately raised the country, and got a strength together to defend themselves.
But the next disaster that attended the pirates (for misfortunes seldom come alone) was more fatal than this, for ten of Gow's men, most of them likewise forced into their service, went away with the long-boat, making the best of their way for the mainland of Scotland. These men, however they did it, or what shift soever they made to get so far, were taken in the Firth of Edinburgh, and made prisoners there.
Hardened for his own destruction and Justice evidently pursuing him, Gow grew the bolder for the disaster, and notwithstanding that the country was alarmed, and that he was fully discovered, instead of making a timely escape, he resolved to land, and so put his intended project of plundering the gentlemen's houses into execution, whatever it cost him.
In order to this he sent the boatswain and ten men on shore the very same night, very well armed, directing them to go to the house of Mr. Honeyman of Grahamsey, sheriff of the county, and who was himself at that time, to his great good fortune, from home. The people of the house had not the least notice of their coming, so that when they knocked at the door, it was immediately opened. Upon which they all entered the house at once, except one Panton, who they set sentinel and ordered him to stand at the door to secure their retreat, and to hinder any from coming in after them Mrs. Honeyman and her daughter were extremely frightened at the sight of so many armed men coming into the house, and ran screaming about like people distracted, while the pirates, not regarding them, were looking about for chests and trunks, where they might expect to find some plunder; and Mrs. Honeyman in her fright coming to the door asked Panton, the man who stood sentinel there, what the meaning of it all was. He told her freely they were pirates, and that they came to plunder her house. At this she recovered some courage, and ran back into the house immediately, and knowing where her money lay, which was very considerable and all in gold, she put the bag in her lap and boldly rushing by Panton, who thought she was only running from them in a fright, carried it all off, and so made her escape with the treasure.
The boatswain being informed that the money was carried off, resolved to revenge himself by burning the writings and papers, which they call there the charters of their estates, and are always of great value in gentlemen's houses of estates but the young lady, Mr. Honeyman's daughter hearing them threaten to burn the writings, watched her opportunity, and running to the charter-room where they lay, tied the most considerable of them up in a napkin and threw them out of the window, jumped out after them herself, and escaped without damage, though the window was one storey high at least.
However, the pirates had the plundering of all the rest of the house besides, and carried off a great deal of plate, and things of value, and forced one of the servants, who played very well on the bagpipes, to march along, piping before them, when they carried it off to the ship. The next day they weighed anchor, intending though they had cleaned but one side of the ship, to put out to sea and quit the coast. But sailing eastward, they came to anchor again at a little island called Calf Sound. And having some further mischief in their view here the boatswain went on shore again with some armed men; but meeting with no other plunder they carried off three women, whom they kept on board some time and used so inhumanly that when they set them on shore again they were not able to go or stand, and it is said one of them died on the beach where they left them.
The next day they weighed again, holding the same course eastward, through the openings between the islands, till they came off Ross Ness; and now Gow resolved to make the best of his way for the Island of Eday, to plunder the house of Mr. Fea, a gentleman of a considerable estate, and with whom Gow had some acquaintance, having been at school together, when they were youths. On the 13th of February in the morning, Gow appearing with his ship off Calf Sound, Mr. Fea and his family were very much alarmed, not being able to get together above six or seven men for his defence. He therefore wrote a letter to Gow intending to send it on board as soon as he should get into the harbour, to desire him to forbear the usual salutes, with his great guns, because Mrs. Fea his wife was so very much indisposed, and this as he would oblige his old school fellow; telling him at the same time that the inhabitants were all fled to the mountains, on the report of his being a pirate, which he hoped would not prove true. In which case, he should be very ready to supply him with all such necessities as the island would afford, desiring him to send the messengers safe back, at whose return the alarms of the people would immediately be at an end.
The tide it seems runs extremely rapid among those islands, and the navigation is thereby rendered very dangerous and uncertain. Gow was an able seaman, but was no pilot for that place, and which was worse, he had no boat to assist in case of extremity, to ware the ship, and in turning into Calf Sound, he stood a little too near the point of a little island called the Calf, and which lay in the middle of the passage. Here his ship missing stays, was in great danger of going on shore; to avoid which, he dropped an anchor under his foot, which taking good hold, brought him up, and he thought the danger was over. Gow was yet in distress and had no remedy but to send his small boat on shore to Mr. Fea to desire his assistance, that is to say, to desire him to lend him a boat to carry out an anchor and heave off the ship. Mr. Fea sent back the boat, and one James Laing in it, with the letter already mentioned. Gow sent him back immediately with an answer, by word of mouth, viz., that he would write to nobody, but if Mr. Fea would order his people to assist him with a boat to carry out an anchor, he would reward them handsomely.
In the meantime Mr. Fea ordered his great boat, for he had such a one as Gow wanted, to be staved and launched into the water and sunk, and the masts, sails and oars to be carried out of sight. While this was doing Mr. Fea perceived Gow's boat coming on shore, with five persons in her. These men having landed on the main island, left their boat on the beach, and altogether marched directly up to the mansion house. This put him into some surprise at first, however, he resolved to meet them in a peaceable manner, though he perceived they were all double-armed. When he came up to them, he entreated them not to go up to the house, because of the languishing condition of his wife, who was already frighted with the rumours which had been raised of their being pirates, and that she would certainly die with the fear she was in for herself and family, if they came to the door.
The boatswain answered they did not desire to fright his wife, or anybody else, but they came to desire the assistance of his boat, and if he would not grant them so small a favour, he had nothing to expect from them but the utmost extremity. Mr. Fea returned that they knew well enough he could not venture to give them or lend them his boat or any help, as they appeared to be such people as were reported, but that if they would take them by force, he could not help himself. But in the meantime, talking still in a friendly manner to them, he asked them to go to a neighbouring house, which he said was a change-house, that is a public-house, and take a cup of ale with him. This they consented to, seeing Mr. Fea was alone; so they went all with him. In the meantime Mr. Fea found means to give secret orders that the oars, masts and sails of the pirates' boat should be all carried away, and that a quarter of an hour after they had sat together, he should be called hastily out of the room, on some pretence or other of somebody to speak with him; all which was performed to a tittle. When he was got from them, he gave orders that his six men, who before he had got together, and who were now come to him well armed, should place themselves at a certain stile behind a thick hedge, and which was about half way between the alehouse and his own house, saying that if he came that way with the boatswain alone, they should suddenly start out upon them both, and throwing him down, should seize upon the other, but that if all the five came with him, he would take an occasion to be either before or behind them, so that they might all fire upon them, without danger of hurting him.
Having given these orders, and depending upon their being well executed, he returned to the company and having given them more ale, told them he would gladly do them any service that he could lawfully do, and that if they would take the trouble of walking up to his house in a peaceable manner so that his family might not be frighted with seeing him among them, they should have all the assistance that was in his power. The fellows (whether they had taken too much ale, or whether the condition of their ship and the hopes of getting a boat to help them, blinded their eyes, is not certain) fell with ease into this snare, and agreed readily to go along with Mr. Fea; but after a while resolved not to go all of them, only deputed the boatswain to go, which was what Mr. Fea most desired.
Chained neck to neck and hand to hand these wretches were led through the streets to Blackfriars Stairs, where they were taken aboard a barge and carried down the river to the vessel which was to transport them to America.
(From the Newgate Calendar)
The boatswain was very willing to accept of the trust, but it was observed he took a great deal of care of his arms, which were no less than four pistols, all loaded with a brace of bullets each, nor would he be persuaded to leave any of them behind him, no not with his own men. In this posture, Mr. Fea and the boatswain walked along together very quietly, until they came to the stile, having got over which Mr. Fea, seeing his men all ready, turned short about upon the boatswain, and taking him by the collar, told him he was his prisoner and the same moment, the rest of his men rushing in upon them, threw both down, and so secured the boatswain, without giving him time so much as to fire one pistol. He cried out, indeed, with all his might to alarm his men, but they soon stopped his mouth by first forcing a pistol into it, and then a handkerchief; and having disarmed him, bound his hands behind him and his feet together. Then Mr. Fea left him there under a guard, and with his other five men, but without arms, at least such that could be seen, returned to the alehouse to the rest. The house having two doors, they divided themselves and rushing in at both doors at the same time, they seized the four men before they were aware, or had time to lay hold of their arms. They did indeed what men could do, and one of them snapped a pistol at Mr. Fea, but it did not go off, and Mr. Fea at the same time snatching at the pistol to divert the shot if it had fired, struck his hand with such force against the cock, as very much bruised it.
They were all five now in his power, and he sent them away under a good guard to a village in the middle of the island, where they were kept separate from one another, and sufficiently secured. Mr. Fea then despatched expresses to the gentlemen in the neighbouring island to acquaint them with what he had done, and to desire their speedy assistance, also desiring earnestly that they would take care that no boat should go within reach of the pirates' guns. And at night Mr. Fea caused fires to be made upon the hills round him, to alarm the country, and ordered all the boats round the Island to be hauled up upon the beach, as far as it was possible, and disabled also, lest the pirates should swim from the ship, and get any of them into their possession.
Next day, the 4th, it blew very hard all day, and in the evening about high water, it shifted to W.N.W., upon which the pirates set their sails, expecting to get off and so to lay it round the island, and put out to sea. But the fellow who was ordered to cut the cable, missing several strokes, the cable checked the ship's way, and consequently on a sudden she took all aback. Then the cable being parted when it should have been held, the ship ran directly on shore on the Calf Island, nor could all their speed prevent it. With an air of desperation Gow told them they were all dead men, nor could it indeed be otherwise, for having lost the only boat they had, and five of their best hands, they were able to do little or nothing towards getting their ship off; besides, as she went on shore at the top of high water, and a spring tide, there was no hope of getting her off afterward. Wherefore the next morning, being Monday, the 15th, they hung out a white flag, as a signal for a parley, and sent a man on shore upon Calf Island, for now they could go on shore out of the ship at half flood.
Now Mr. Fea thought he might talk with Gow, in a different style from what he did before; so he wrote a letter to him, wherein he complained of the rude behaviour of his five men, for which he told him, he had been obliged to seize on them, and make them prisoners, letting him know that the country being all alarmed would soon be too many for him, and therefore advised him to surrender himself peaceably, and be the author of a quiet surrender of the rest, as the only means to obtain any favour; and then he might become an evidence against the rest, and so might save his own life. This letter Mr. Fea sent by a boat with four armed men to the island, to be given to the fellow that Gow had sent on shore, and who waited there; at the same time, he gave them a letter from Gow to Mr. Fea, for now he was humbled enough to write, which before he refused. Gow's letter to Mr. Fea was to let him have some men and boats, to take out the best of the cargo, in order to lighten the ship, and set her afloat; offering himself to come on shore and be hostage for the security of men and boats and to give Mr. Fea a thousand pounds in goods for the service. He declared at the same time, that if this small succour was refused him, he would take care nobody should better himself by his misfortunes, for rather than they would suffer themselves to be taken, they would set fire to the ship, and would all perish together.
Mr. Fea replied to this letter that he had a boat indeed, that would have been fit for his service, but that she was staved and sunk; but if he would come on shore quietly without arms, and bring his carpenter with him to repair the boat, he might have her. Mr. Fea did this to give Gow an opportunity to embrace his first offer of surrendering. But Gow was neither humble enough to come in nor sincere enough to treat with him fairly, if he had intended to let him have the boat; and if he had, it is probable that the former letter had made the men suspicious of him, so that now he could do nothing without communicating it to the rest of the crew. About four in the afternoon Mr. Fea received an answer to his last letter, the copy of which is exactly as follows:
From on board our Ship the Revenge, Feb. 16th, 1725.
I am sorry to hear of the irregular proceedings of my men; I gave no orders to that effect, and what hath been wrongfully done to the country, was contrary to my inclinations. It is my misfortune to be in this condition at present; it was in your power to have done otherwise in making my fortune better. Since my being in the country, I have wronged no man, nor taken anything but what I have paid for. My design in coming was to make the country better, which I am still capable to do, providing you are just to me. I thank you for the concern you have for my bad fortune, and am sorry I cannot embrace your proposal as to being evidence, my people have already made use of that advantage. I have by my last signified my design of proceeding, provided I can procure no better terms. Please to send James Laing on board to continue till my return. I should be glad to have the good fortune to commune with you upon that subject. I beg that you would assist me with a boat, and be assured I do no man harm, were it in my power, as I am now at your mercy. I cannot surrender myself prisoner, I'd rather commit myself to the mercy of the seas; so that if you will incline to contribute to my escape, I shall leave my ship and cargo at your disposal.
Honoured Sir etc.,
Upon this letter, and especially that part wherein Gow desired to commune with him, Mr. Fea, believing he might do some service in persuading him to submit, went over to Calf Island and went on shore alone, ordering his boat to lie in readiness to take him in again, but not one man to stir out of her, and calling to Gow with a speaking trumpet desired him to come on shore. This the other readily did, but Mr. Fea, before he ventured, wisely foresaw that whilst he was alone upon the Island, the pirates might unknown from him, get the ship by different ways, and under cover of shore might get behind and surround him. To prevent which, he set a man upon the top of his own house, which was on the opposite shore and overlooked the whole island, and ordered him to make signals with his flag, waving his flag once for every man that he saw come on shore, but if four or more came on shore, then to keep the flag waving continually, till he (Mr. Fea) should retire. This precaution was very needful, for no sooner was Mr. Fea advanced upon the island, expecting Gow to come on shore to meet him, but he saw a fellow come from the ship, with a white flag, a bottle, a glass and a bundle, then turning to his own house, he saw his man make the signals appointed, and that the man kept the flag continually waving. Upon which he immediately retired to his boat, and he was no sooner got into it, but he saw five fellows running under shore, with lighted matches and grenadoes in their hands to have intercepted him, but seeing him out of their reach, they retired to the ship.
After this the fellow with the white flag came up and gave Mr. Fea two letters; he would have left the bundle, which he said was a present to Mr. Fea, and the bottle which he said was a bottle of brandy, but Mr. Fea would not take them, but told the fellow his captain was a treacherous villain, and he did not doubt that he should see him hanged, and as to him (the fellow) he had a great mind to shoot him; upon which the fellow took to his heels, and Mr. Fea being in his boat did not think it worth while to land again to pursue him. This put an end to all parley for the present, but had the pirates succeeded in this attempt, they would have so far gained their point, either that they must have been assisted, or Mr. Fea must have been sacrificed.
The two letters from Gow were one for Mr. Fea, and the other for his wife. The first was much to the same purpose as the former, only that in this Gow requested the great boat with her masts, sails and oars, with some provisions to transport themselves whither they thought fit to go for their own safety, offering to leave the ship and cargo to Mr. Fea, and threatening that if the men-of-war arrived (for Mr. Fea had given him notice that he expected two men-of-war) before he was thus assisted, they would set fire to the ship, and blow themselves up, so that as they had lived so they would die together. The letter to Mrs. Fea was to desire her to intercede with her husband, and plead that he was their countryman and had been her husband's schoolfellow, etc. But no answer was returned to either of these letters.
On the 17th, in the morning, contrary to expectation, Gow himself came on shore upon the Calf Island2, unarmed except for his sword, and alone, only one man at a distance, carrying a white flag, making signals for a parley. Mr. Fea, who by this time had gotten more people about him, immediately sent one Mr. Fea, of Whitehall, a gentleman of his own family, with five other persons well-armed over the island, with orders to secure Gow if it were possible by any means, either dead or alive. When they came on shore, Gow proposed that one of them, whose name was Schottary, a master of a vessel, should go on board the ship as hostage for this Gow's safety, and Schottary consenting, Gow himself conducted him to the ship's side.
Mr. Fea perceiving this from his own house, immediately took another boat and went over to the island himself, and while he was expostulating with his men for letting Schottary go for hostage, Gow returned, and Mr. Fea made no hesitation, but told him that he was his prisoner. At this Gow started and said that it ought not to be so, since there was a hostage delivered for him. Mr. Fea said he gave no order for it, and it was what they could not justify, and since Schottary had ventured without orders, he must take his fate, he would run the venture of it; but he advised Gow, as he expected good usage himself, that he would send the fellow who carried his white flag back to the ship with orders for them to return Schottary in safety, and to desire Winter and Peterson to come with him. Gow declined giving any such orders, but the fellow said he would readily go and fetch them, and did so, and they came along with him. When Gow saw them, he reproached them for being so easily imposed on, and ordered them to go back to the ship immediately, but Mr. Fea's men, who were too strong for them, surrounded them and took them all. When this was done, they demanded Gow to deliver his sword, but he said he would rather die with it in his hand, and begged them to shoot him, but was denied; and Mr. Fea's men disarming him of his sword, carried him with the other two into their boat, and after that to the main island, where Mr. Fea lived.
Having thus secured the captain, Mr. Fea prevailed with him to go to the shore over against the ship, and to call the gunner and another man to come on shore on Calf Island, which they did. But they were no sooner there, but they also were surrounded by some men which Mr. Fea had placed out of sight upon the island for that purpose. Then they made Gow call to the carpenter to come on shore, still making them believe they would have a boat; and Mr. Fea went over and met him alone, and talking with him, told him they could not repair the boat without help and without tools. So persuading him to go back and bring a hand or two with him, and some tools, some oakum, nails, etc., the carpenter being thus deluded, went back and brought a Frenchman and another with him, with all things proper for their work. All of whom, as soon as they came on shore, were likewise seized and secured by Mr. Fea and his men.
But there were still a great many men in the ship, whom it was necessary to bring if possible to a quiet surrender; so Mr. Fea ordered his men to make a feint as if they would go to work upon the great boat which lay on the shore upon the island but in sight of the ship. There they hammered and knocked and made a noise as if they were really caulking and repairing her, in order to her being launched off and put into their possession; but towards night he obliged Gow to write to the men that Mr. Fea would not deliver the boat until he was in possession of the ship, and therefore he ordered them all to come on shore, without arms, and in a peaceable manner. This occasioned many debates in the ship, but as they had no officers to guide them and were all in confusion, they knew not what to do. So after some time bewailing their hard fate, and dividing what money was left in the ship among them, they yielded and went on shore, and were all made prisoners, to the number of eight-and-twenty, including those who were secured before.
Being now all secured and in custody in the most proper places in the island, Mr. Fea took care to give notice to the proper officers in the country, and by them to the Government of Edinburgh, in order to get help for the carrying them to England. The distance being so great, it took up some time; for the Government at Edinburgh not being immediately concerned in it, but rather the Court of Admiralty of Great Britain, expresses were dispatched from thence to London, that his Majesty's pleasure might be known; in return to which, orders were despatched into Scotland to have them immediately sent up into England with as much expedition as the case would admit. Accordingly they were brought up by land to Edinburgh first, and from thence being put on board the Greyhound frigate, they were brought by sea to England. This necessarily took up a great deal of time, so that had they been wise enough to improve the hours that were left, they had almost half a year's time to prepare themselves for death, though they cruelly denied the poor mate of a few moments to commend his soul to God's mercy, even after he was half murdered before. They were most of them in custody the latter end of January, and were not executed till the 11th of June.
The Greyhound arrived in the river the 25th of March, and the next day came to an anchor at Woolwich; and the pirates being put into boats appointed to receive them, with a strong guard to attend them, were brought on shore on the 30th, and conveyed to the Marshalsea prison in Southwark, where they were delivered to the keepers of the said prison, and were laid in irons. There they had the mortification to meet Lieutenant Williams, who was brought home by the Argyle man-of-war, from Lisbon, and had been committed to the same prison but a very few days before.
Indeed, as it was a mortification to them, so it was more to him, for though he might be secretly pleased that those who had so cruelly, as he called it, put him into the hands of Justice by sending him to Lisbon, were brought into the same circumstances with himself, yet on the other hand, it could not but be a terrible mortification to him that here were now sufficient witnesses found to prove his crimes against him, which were not so easy to be had before.
Being thus laid fast, it remained to proceed against them in due form, and this took up some long time still. On Friday, the 2nd of April, they were all carried to Doctors' Commons, where the proper judges being present, they were examined; by which examination the measures were taken for the farther proceedings. For as they were not equally guilty, so it was needful to determine who it was proper to bring to an immediate trial, and who, being less guilty, were more proper objects of the Government's clemency, as being under force and fear and consequently necessitated to act as they did; and also who it might be proper to single out as an evidence against the rest. After being thus examined they were remanded to the Marshalsea. On Saturday, the 8th of May, the five who were appointed for evidence against the rest, and whose names are particularly set down in its place, were sent from the Marshalsea prison to Newgate, in order to give their information.
Being thus brought up to London, and committed to the Marshalsea prison, and the Government being fully informed, what black uncommon offenders they were, it was thought proper to bring them to speedy justice. In order to this, some of them, as has been said, who were less criminal than the rest, and who apparently had been forced into their service, were sorted out, and being examined (giving first an account of themselves, and then of the whole fraternity) it was thought fit to make use of their evidence for the more clear detecting and convincing of the rest. These were George Dobson, John Phinnes, Timothy Murphy, and William Booth.
These were the principal evidences, and were indeed more than sufficient, for they so exactly agreed in their evidence, and the prisoners (pirates) said so little in their defence, that there was no room for the jury to question their guilt, or to doubt the truth of any part of the account given in. Robert Read was a young man, mentioned before, who escaped from the boat in the Orkneys, where he surrendered himself, after getting a horse at a farmer's house, and conveying himself to Kirkwall, the chief town of the said Orkneys. Nevertheless, he was brought up as a prisoner with the rest, nor was he made use of as an evidence but was tried upon most, if not all the indictments with the rest. But Dobson, one of the witnesses, did him the justice to testify that he was forced into their service, as others were, for fear of having their throats cut, as many had been served before their faces, and that in particular he was not present at, or concerned in any of the murders for which the rest were indicted. Upon which evidence, he was acquitted by the jury. Also he brought one Archibald Sutor, the man of the house said before to be a farm-house, as to whether the said Read made his escape in the Orkneys, who testified that he did so escape to him, and that he begged him to procure him a horse, to ride off to Kirkwall, which he did, and there he surrendered himself; also he testified that Read gave him (Sutor) a full account of the ship and the pirates that were in her, and what they were; and that he (Sutor) revealed it all to the collector of the Customs, by which means the country was alarmed, and he added, that it was by this man's means that all the prisoners were apprehended (though that was going too far, for 'tis plain, that it was by the vigilance and courage of Mr. Fea, chiefly, that they were reduced to such distresses as obliged them to surrender). However, it was true that Read's escape did alarm the country, and that he merited very well of the public for the timely discovery he made, so he came off clear as indeed it was but just, for he was not only forced to serve them, but as Dobson testified for him, he had often expressed his uneasiness at being obliged to act with them, and that he wished he could get away, and he was sincere in those wishes, as appeared by his taking the first opportunity he could get to put it in practice. This Dobson was one of the ten men who ran away with the pirates' long-boat from the Orkneys, and who were afterwards made prisoners in the Firth of Leith, and carried up to Edinburgh.
Gow was now a prisoner among the rest in the Marshalsea. His behaviour there was sullen and reserved, rather than penitent. It had been hinted to him by Mr. Fea, as by others, that by his behaviour he should endeavour to make himself an evidence against others, and to merit his life by a ready submission, and obliging others to do the like. But Gow was no fool, and he easily saw there were too many gone before who had provided for their own safety at his expense, and besides that he knew himself too deeply guilty of cruelty and murder to be accepted by public justice as an evidence, especially where so many other less criminals were to be had. This made him, with good reason, too, give over any thoughts of escaping by such means as that; and perhaps seeing so plainly that there was no room for it might be the reason why he seemed to reject the offer, otherwise he was not a person of such nice honour as that we should suppose he would not have secured his own life at the expense of his comrades. Gow appeared to have given over all thoughts of life, from the first time he came to England. Not that he showed any tokens of his repentance, or any sense of his condition suitable to that which was before him, but continuing sullen and reserved, even to the very time he was brought to the bar, when he came there, he could not be tried with the rest, for the arraignment being made in the usual form, he refused to plead. The Court used all the arguments which humanity dictates in such cases,3 to prevail on him to come into ordinary course of other people in like government, laying before him the sentence of the law in such cases, namely that he must be pressed to death, the only torturing execution which however they were obliged to inflict.
But he continued inflexible, carried on his obstinacy to such a height as to receive the sentence in form, as usual in such cases. The execution being appointed to be done the next morning, he was carried back to Newgate in order to it. But whether he was prevailed with by argument and the reasons of those about him, or whether the apparatus for the execution and the manner of the death he was to die terrified him, we cannot say, but the next morning he yielded, and petitioned to be allowed to plead, and he admitted to be tried in the ordinary way. Which being granted, he was brought to the bar by himself and pleaded, being arraigned again upon the same indictment upon which he had been sentenced as a mute, and was found guilty.
Williams the lieutenant, who was put on board the Bristol ship (as hath been said) with orders to deliver him on board the first English man-of-war they should meet with, comes, of course, to have the rest of his history made up in this place. The captain of the Bristol ship, though he received his orders from the crew of pirates and rogues, whose instructions he was not obliged to follow, and whose accusation of Williams they were not obliged to give credit to, yet punctually obeyed the order, and put him on board the Argyle, Captain Bowler, then lying in the port of Lisbon and bound for England; who, as they took him in irons, kept him so, and brought him to England, in the same conditions. But as the pirates did not send any of their company, nor indeed could they do it, along with him to be evidence against him, and the men who went out of the pirate ship on board the Bristol ship, being till then kept as prisoners on board the pirate ship (and perhaps could not have said enough, or given particular evidence, sufficient to convict him in a course of justice), Providence supplied the want by bringing the whole crew to the same place; for Williams was in the Marshalsea prison before them, and by that means they furnished sufficient evidence against Williams also, so that they were all tried together.
In Williams's case the evidence was as particular as in Gow's, and Dobson and the other swore positively that Williams boasted that after MacCauly had cut the super-cargo's throat imperfectly, he (Williams) murdered him, and added that he would not give him time to say his prayers, but shot him through the head. Phinnes and Timothy Murphy testified the same, and to show the bloody disposition of this wretch, William Booth testified that Williams proposed afterwards to the company that if they took any more ships they should not encumber themselves with the men, having already so many prisoners that in case of a fight they should not be safe with them; but that they should take them and tie them, back to back, and throw them all overboard into the sea.
It should not be omitted here also in the case of Gow himself (as I have observed in the introduction) that Gow had long meditated the kind of villainy which he now put in practice, and that it was his resolution to turn pirate the first opportunity he should get, whatever voyage he undertook, and that I observed he had intended it on board a ship in which he came home from Lisbon, and failed only for want of a sufficient party. So this resolution of his is confirmed by the testimony and confession of James Belvin, one of his fellow-criminals, who upon trial declared that he knew that Gow and the crew of the George galley had a design to turn pirates from the beginning, and added that he discovered it to George Dobson, in Amsterdam, before the ship went out to sea. For the confirmation of this, George Dobson was called up again, after he had given his evidence upon the trials, and being confronted by Belvin, he did acknowledge that Belvin had said so, and that in particular he had said that the boatswain had a design to murder the master and some others and run away with the ship. Being asked why he did not immediately reveal it to the master, Captain Ferneau, he answered that he heard Belvin tell the mate of it, and that the mate told the captain; but the captain made light of it. But the boatswain finding himself discovered, refused to go, upon which Gow was made second mate, and Belvin was made boatswain; an he had been as honest afterwards as before (whereas on the contrary, he was as forward and active as any of them, except that he was not in the first secret nor in the murders), he might have escaped what afterwards became so justly his due. But as they acted together, Justice required that they should suffer together, and accordingly, Gow and Williams, Belvin, Melvin, Winter, Peterson, Rowlinson and MacCauly, received the reward of their cruelty and blood at the gallows, being all executed together on the eleventh of June.
It happened that Gow being a very strong man, and giving a kind of spring, it so strained the rope that, on some people pulling him by the legs, it broke and he fell down, after he had remained about four minutes suspended. His fall stunned him a little, but as soon as he was taken up, he recovered himself so far as to be able to ascend the ladder a second time, which he did with very little concern, dying with the same brutal ferocity which animated all his actions while alive. His body hangs in chains over against Greenwich, as that of Williams does over against Blackwall.
1 The word is here used in its original sense, indicating something acquired by seeking—or hunting—pour chasser.
2 According to Johnson's History of the Pirates (Chap. XVIII) Gow's real motive for returning to the Orkneys was to wed a girl whose parents had repulsed him on account of his poverty. She was the daughter of one Mr. G——, a well-to-do man.
3 One of these humane arguments, according to Johnson, op. cit., consisted in tying his thumbs together with whipcord, "which was done several times by the executioner and another officer; they drawing the cord until it broke.
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