No.41: The Barbary Corsair

Alarums and excursions:

In 1760-1 these news items appeared in the English press with a conflation of Turks and Algerians that was probably quite typical of the time.

‘London, October 2. An express has been received from Mount’s Bay, that between the 26th and 27th ult. an Algerine Chebeck, of 20 guns, and full of men, was driven ashore by a strong southerly wind, and entirely lost; 170 of the crew got on shore, which terribly affrighted the country people. It is 25 years since an Algerine cruizer was in any of our ports in England…’  (Newcastle Courant, 11.10.1760, No.4385, p1)

‘London, January 3. His Majesty’s frigate Bland is arrived at Falmouth, to convoy the Turks, which were stranded at Mount’s Bay, to Algiers.’ (Newcastle Courant, 10.01.1761, No.4398, p1)

Why were the local people so ‘terribly affrighted’? They clearly suspected the ship of being a Barbary Corsair, or Sallee Rover, from Salé in Morocco, privateers of the Mediterranean who sometimes ranged further north in feats of daring seamanship, since their lateen-rigged triangular sails were less suited to the rougher waters of the Atlantic. They were occasionally active in British waters in the 17th and 18th centuries, and ventured as far north as Iceland in 1627, when the Revd. Olafur Egilsson was captured – which was why people were so afraid. (A recent English translation of his travels and travails has been made available.)

A household name, albeit fictional, who also spent time as a ‘guest’ of the Sallee Rovers, was Robinson Crusoe!

As was the case where privateers of any nationality were concerned, it was not uncommon for ships to be ‘taken and retaken’, captured by an opposing force, then recaptured by their own, or to suffer serial capture, as the two following ships with some connection to Corsairs demonstrate.

The Fountain was captured from the Algerians in 1664 and taken into the service of the Royal Navy. She was intended to be used as a fireship but was prematurely set ablaze by a shot from the Dutch side at the Battle of Solebay in 1672.

Similarly, the Dutch fluyt Schiedam, one of our Designated wrecks, was wrecked in Jangye-Ryn Cove, Cornwall, after serial capture. Laden with a cargo of timber from Spain, she was captured in the Mediterranean in 1683 by Barbary Corsairs. She was then captured by the English under Sir Clowdisley Shovell (shipwreck seems to have hung around his career: he just missed being wrecked in 1703 in the Great Storm, before being finally lost with his fleet in the Association disaster off the Isles of Scilly in 1707), and despatched for Tangier to act as a transport for England, on which voyage she was finally lost.

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