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Preface C

Stage 2

by William Dampier Icon
10 minutes  • 1952 words

The expedition contrived by the pirate leaders was an attack on Portobello, the rich isthmus city near the site of the famous Nombre de Dios.*

(Footnote. The capture of Portobello is described in the History of the Buccaneers Part 3 Chapter 12. The details of other events, shortly summarised by Dampier in his Chapter 1, are supplied by Basil Ringrose in Part 4 of that History. For this first period my quotations are from Ringrose. Another account of this stage of Dampier’s voyage is given by Lionel Wafer, the surgeon, in his New Voyage and Description, who was with him in one ship or another till 25 August 1685 when Davis and Swan parted company (see Chapter 8). Wafer’s book was not published till after Dampier’s in 1699.) The buccaneer force consisted of nine ships, two of them French, and 477 men. The place was easily taken and, though it had been sacked by Morgan only 11 years ago, the booty gave a dividend of 40 pounds per man. A proposal was now made, on the instigation of friendly Indians, to march across the Isthmus to the city of Santa Maria. The French broke off: they “were not willing to go to Panama, declaring themselves generally against a long march by land.” The force was thus reduced by two ships and 111 men. Two of the captains with a party of seamen were left “to guard our ships in our absence with which we intended to return home.” The expeditionary force of 331 men landed and marched forward in seven companies carrying flags of various colours; “all or most of them were armed with fusee, pistol and hanger.” The adventurous march with this trivial armament was completed in ten days: Santa Maria was taken with no loss of men but produced little or no booty. The force, which had been provided by the Indians with 35 canoes, then got separated and one party appeared off Panama at the island of Perico, where were anchored “five great ships and three pretty big barks.” The buccaneers numbered only 68 men in five canoes: they nevertheless attacked and took the barks after a desperate resistance. An admiral was killed and in one of the barks the Spaniards lost 61 out of 86 men: all but eight of the rest were wounded. The buccaneers’ casualties were 18 killed and 22 wounded. It was then found that the five ships were deserted, their crews having been transferred to man the barks; the biggest was La Santissima Trinidad of 400 tons. The freebooters found themselves in possession of more than sufficient shipping to carry them wither they would. The action, however, occasioned a second breach in the brotherhood. Captain Coxon, the commander-in-chief, was charged with backwardness in the engagement, and some “sticked not to defame or brand him with the note of cowardice.” Coxon thereupon withdrew from the fleet taking 70 men with him, and recrossed the Isthmus. The next adventure, an attack on Puebla Nova, was a grievous failure, costing the death of Captain Sawkins, the new commander-in-chief, “a man as stout as could be, and beloved above any other that ever we had amongst us, as he well deserved.”** A minority, 63 in number, who so lamented Sawkins that they could not serve his successor Sharp, mutinied and left for the Isthmus in an old ship assigned to them. They had hardly gone when another mutiny broke out. The men on one of the prizes to which Captain Edmund Cook was appointed by Sharp refused to serve under him: Cook joined Sharp’s ship and Captain Cox took over the command of the mutinous crew, with the status “as it were of vice-admiral.”

(*Footnote. Coxon’s subsequent career is told by Mr. Masefield (Volume 1 page 531). He spent the rest of his life in the Caribbean Sea, alternately in piracy and as a government agent in the suppression of piracy. Latterly he went trading with the Moskito Indians and died among them in 1688.) (**Footnote. So wrote Ringrose (Sloane Manuscripts 3820). in his published story (History of the Buccaneers Part 4) the passage appears thus: “a man who was as valiant and courageous as any could be, and likewise, next to Captain Sharp, the best beloved of our company or the most part thereof.” The discrepancy is thus accounted for. Ringrose returned to England in 1682 and sailed again with Captain Swan in October 1683. in his absence his manuscript was doctored by Sharp, or his shipmate Hack, before its publication in 1685 in the supplement to the History. Sharp perhaps anticipated that Ringrose would never return to confute him; and he did not, being killed in Mexico, as we shall see, in February 1686.) Off Guayaquil they captured a bark which they sank after replacing from her their rigging damaged in the encounter. A designed attack on Arica failed owing to heavy weather which prevented a landing from the boats. With little difficulty they next captured the city of La Serena, an exploit not even mentioned by Dampier, but described with much zest by Ringrose. The city had no less than seven great churches and each had its organ. The houses had charming gardens and orchards “as well and as neatly furnished as those in England, producing strawberries as big as walnuts and very delicious to the taste.” Sad to relate, owing to the Spaniards’ failure to pay the 95,000 pieces-of-eight demanded as ransom, this agreeable city was burned to the ground.

At Juan Fernandez, the most southerly point of the cruise, another mutiny broke out. According to Ringrose there was a division of opinion, some for going home by way of the Straits of Magellan, others for a further cruise on the Pacific coast. Sharp was deposed from his command in favour of Watling. The ships left the island on 14 January 1681, the crews in smouldering discontent. The leaders seem to have thought that the best chance of harmony lay in carrying out a successful coup: a second attack on Arica was accordingly resolved upon. At Iquique Island near that town information for the assault was demanded from four prisoners: that given by one old mestizo was hastily believed to be false, and he was summarily shot. This brutal act raised further dissension and Captain Sharp, in one of his apocryphal additions to Ringrose’s text, states that, after a vain protest, he, Pilate-fashion, “took water and washed his hands saying, ‘Gentlemen, I am clear of the blood of this old man: and I will warrant you a hot day for this piece of cruelty whenever we come to fight at Arica!’” Ringrose says not a word of this, nor does Sharp himself in his own journal: he probably invented the lie because the attack on Arica in fact turned out a bloody and profitless affair. Captain Watling and both quartermasters–28 men in all–were killed; 18 others desperately wounded, and some, including three surgeons who were drinking instead of fighting or attending the wounded, were taken prisoners. The town was stormed with reckless courage and half taken against a stubborn defence. The Spaniards with superior numbers counter-attacked again and again and finally drove the marauders back to their ships.*

(Footnote. Cox attributes the failure at Arica to “having landed on Sunday 30 January, it being the anniversary of King Charles the First and a fatal day for the English to engage on.”) Great expectations were thus disappointed, Arica being the port from which “is fetched all the plate that is carried to Lima, the head city of Peru.” On the death of Watling Sharp resumed the command. Ringrose (as emended by Sharp himself) eulogises this captain as “a man of undaunted courage and of an excellent conduct,” while according to Dampier the company were “not satisfied either with his courage or behaviour.” The opinion of the crews was put to the test by voting at the island of Plata. The majority, including Ringrose, went for Sharp: the minority of 44, including Dampier and Wafer, seceded. At this point Dampier takes up the chronicle, but we part from Ringrose with regret.**

(*Footnote. Wafer says: “I was of Mr. Dampier’s side in that matter and chose to go back to the Isthmus rather than stay under a captain in whom we experienced neither courage nor conduct.” It need not be inferred from this that Dampier took a lead in the mutiny. Wafer’s book, published two years later, was addressed to readers presumably acquainted with Dampier’s.) (*Footnote. His spirited and admirably written narrative shows him to have been a man of education, witness that on an emergency he was able to make shift with Latin for talk with a Spaniard. He went home with Captain Sharp and wrote his story which forms Part 4 of the History of the Buccaneers. He came out again with Captain Cook to Virginia, where Dampier joined them. He was killed in an ambush near Santa Pecaque, in Mexico, February 1686 (see below).) Now that Dampier tells his story in detail less commentary is needed. In Chapters 1 and 3 he has much to say about the friendly Moskito Indians and their wonderful skill in striking fish, turtle and manatees. On this account they were “esteemed and coveted by all privateers,” and some of them were always part of the ships’ complements in the cruises on both sides of the Isthmus: they are the men to whom Dampier frequently refers as “strikers.” In his account of the laborious journey of 23 days over the Isthmus (Chapter 2)–the outward crossing had taken them only ten–the reader will specially note how he preserved his journal in a joint of bamboo, waxed at both ends. The exhausted party were taken on board Captain Tristian’s ship on 24 May 1681, and here is concluded the second stage of the voyage round the world. Since Portobello the expedition had been a failure in capture of plate. Other booty had to be discarded for want of neutral ports for its realisation, and Dampier’s party brought back little or nothing. It was about 2 1/2 years since he had left London.

(*Footnote. Later they were there joined by Lionel Wafer, the surgeon, who had been severely injured by an explosion of powder during the transit, and was left with other stragglers in the charge of friendly Indians, with whom he remained some five months. Wafer, by reason of his medical skill, lived “in great splendour and repute,” and was so “adored” by his hosts that they tattooed him “in yellow, red, and blue, very bright and lovely.” When he rejoined his friends at La Sound’s Key he was at first not recognised, and then with hilarity.) Dampier is so reticent about himself that it is difficult to hazard an opinion as to the part he took in this or any other buccaneering cruise. There is nothing to go upon: throughout the voyages of this volume he never commanded a ship nor an expedition: he does not tell us how he was rated, or what part he took in affairs–he gave his advice occasionally, and joined in the mutiny at Plata, intimating, however, that he took no active share in it. Nor does he appear to have been much in the forefront of battle, as Ringrose was. The only friendship he seems to have formed was with Ringrose, whom he called friend and “worthy consort.” He is not even mentioned by Sharp, Cowley, or Cox. His attitude towards the wild men with whom he associated was one of aloofness. His chief concern was the study of geography, the winds and tides, the plants and animals, and keeping his journal posted up.

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