1609: Captain John Harris, Captain John Jennings, and 15 other pirates at Wapping

Add comment December 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date* in 1609, seventeen pirates hanged at Wapping’s “Execution Dock”. Though English, a large number of them had been taken in Ireland.

Elizabethan England had cultivated a reputation for the quantity and ferocity of her buccaneers, profitably plundering Spain’s New World treasure galleons and establishing themselves as a terror in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic — some, like Sir Francis Drake, with official blessing as privateers, and many others operating off-book knowing that a crown thirsty for specie would turn a blind eye to their business.

This sector was a rising tide that lifted many boats: commoners on the make and lords of the realm alike invested in pirating, and the proceeds washed over Britain’s wharfs to all the landlubbers who called pirates family, or who received their stolen plunder, or who sold ale to the conquering corsairs.

In 1603, the arrangement changed.

With Elizabeth’s death the crown passed to a man who disdained the profession and wanted to bring English hostilities with Spain to a close. James I had not yet even been crowned king in England when he published notice of a sea change in the piracy policy.

We are not ignorant that our late dear Sister, the late Queen of England, had of long time wars with the king of Spain, and during that time gave Licences and Commissions to divers of her, and our now Subjects, to let out and furnish to sea divers ships warlikely appointed, for the surprising and taking of the said King’s subjects’ goods, and for the enjoying of the same, being taken and brought home as lawful Prize.

We further will and command, that our men of war, as be now at sea having no sufficient commission as aforesaid, and have taken, or shall go to sea hereafter, and shall take any the ships or goods of any subject of any Prince in league or amity with us, shall be reputed and taken as pirates and both they and all their accessories, maintainers, comforters, and partakers shall suffer death as pirates and accessories to piracy, with confiscation of all their lands and goods, according to the ancient Laws of this Realm.

These are fine words for the diplomatic pouch but veteran raiders weren’t just going to throw over their only profession** and in practice James lacked the naval muscle to enforce his writ very far from English shores. Ireland, and in particular its most distant southwest province of Munster, had become a fine pirate haven jutting into Atlantic hunting-grounds, where the denizens of ports like Baltimore and Crookhaven merrily continued to welcome English sea rovers.

“Although these things happen more often in England than Ireland, by reason there is more plenty of Ports and Shipping, as also more abundance of Seamen,” wrote the English mariner Henry Mainwaring, who was alternately a pirate and a hunter of pirates.

yet in proportion Ireland doth much exceed it, for it may be well called the Nursery and Storehouse of Pirates, in regard of the general good entertainment they receive there; supply of victuals and men which continually repair thither out of England to meet with Pirates. As also, for that they have as good or rather better intelligence where your Majesty’s Ships are, than contrariwise they shall have of the Pirates. In regard of the benefit the Country receives by the one, and the prejudice, or incumber as they count it, of the other. Unto which must also be added the conveniency of the place, being that the South, the West, and the North Coasts, are so full of places and Harbours without command, that a Pirate being of any reasonable force, may do what he listeth. Besides that, many of that Nation are scarce so well reduced to any civil jurisdiction, as to make a conscience of trading with them.

And here we come to our post’s principal characters … who, it turns out, could not indeed do exactly what he listeth.

Bristol-born and ranging all the way to the Barbary Coast, Captain James Harris favored the port of Baltimore,† along Ireland’s southern coast, as a handy sanctuary where he “repaired and fresh victuald our ship” … but he should have favored it less. Having recently called there, Harris returned too soon, over the objections of his crew, who accurately warned that his name having been bandied about town was liable to attract some attention. He found an English warship waiting for his return but he was a game sport about the turn of fate that brought his end to show that he was no hypocrite since formerly, “making my felicity out of others mens miseries, while I thought prosperity at sea, as sure in my gripe, as the power to speak was free to my gontue, my actions were so imboldened, and my heart so hardned, that I held it a cowardise to dispaire to attempt, and effeminacy to pitie whosoever did perish.” Harris flung his hat to the crowd come to watch him die, and when someone shouted a question about a reprieve, he jauntily replied that he had “None, sir, but from the King of Kings.”

Preceding him at the Wapping gallows with a like prediction of eternal salvation, Captain John Jennings had a more operatic undoing when, likewise victualing at Baltimore, he insisted on taking his Irish lover aboard and triggered all the seamen’s superstitions when the pirates immediately ran into one of His Majesty’s warships, and soon thereafter barely survived a bloody scrap with two Spanish vessels that cost the pirates 10 crew members dead. The surviving crew huddled up and agreed that their rum luck “was a just judgement of God against them, in suffering their Captaine to bring his whore aboard.”

A mutiny overthrew his authority, and although it was eventually restored after the new guy proved himself a Queeg, the morale hit was obviously permanent, for much of his band deserted him the next time he put in at (again) Baltimore. With skeleton crew, he limped along the coast to the Earl of Thomond where he hoped for a hospitable reception; instead, his remaining mates betrayed him (and his last two loyal retainers) into English hands when the dissipated captain was blind drunk.

* The key source on this event is “The Lives, Apprehensions, Arraignments and Executions of the 19 late Pyrates, namely, Capt. Harris, Jennings, Longcastle, Downes, Haulsey, and their companions, as they were severally indited on St. Margret’s Hill, in Southwark, on the 22 of December last and executed the Friday following.” The title implies, wrongly, that the pirates were tried on Friday the 22nd and executed on Friday the 29th; in fact it is explicit right in the text that Captain Jennings “from a free and vnburthened heart, a patient mind and willing steps, I goe out of my chamber in the Marshalstes, the Friday morning being the two and twenty day of December to make my death-bed at Wapping.”

** Besides freebooting, English privateers were also keen to obtain new commissions from the Low Countries in the latter’s long-running revolt against Spain. But whether licensed or no, most regular sailors were scarcely in a position to hang up their cutlasses. “Those that were rich rested with what they had,” Captain John Smith wrote about the aftermath of James’s settlement with Spain. “Those that were poore and had nothing but from hand to mouth, turned Pirats; some, because became sleighted for those for whom they had got much wealth; some for that they could not get their due; some, all that lived bravely, would not abase themselves to poverty; some, vainly, only to get a name; others for revenge, covetousness, or as ill.” Plus ça change
.
† Baltimore figures in our story as a pirate-friendly landing; however, it’s most famous in buccaneering annals as the target for an infamous 1631 raid by Algiers corsairs, who carried off most of the villagers as slaves . See The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Mass Executions,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1752: James Lowry, despotical nautical

Add comment March 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1752 the tyrannous Scottish sea captain James Lowrey or Lowry was hanged at London’s execution dock for beating a crew member to death.

Lowr(e)y came to public notice in 1751 after the return to English shores of his merchantman, the Molly, from a run to Jamaica: ten of his ex-crew subscribed a public advertisement accusing him of murdering their mate on board, to which Lowry replied with advertisements accusing those accusers of mutiny.

Right away the British public knew it had a page-turner on its hands.

The captain had become unreasonably enraged with Kennith Hossack for lagging in his duties as he recovered from an illness, and upon a purported accusation of theft he had the mariner tied up and personally battered him about the head using a doubled-over rope as his cudgel, on Christmas Eve no less. Hossack at last dropped dead, at which point the heartless captain slapped his man and denounced him for “shamming Abraham” (i.e., feigning injury to skip work). Lowry evidently really had it in for Hossack, for the first mate explained that “I don’t know that he ever came upon deck twice in a week without beating him: my heart has bled for him many and many a time.” In the mate’s opinion, these beatings were always for no adequate reason.*

That’s a remark from the Admiralty Trial of Captain Lowry, where his former seamen developed the picture of an intolerably Queeg-like commander liable to take bitter umbrage if his men managed an illicit extra ration of sugar or rum, a guy who carried around a beating-cane with its own name (“the Royal Oak Foremast”) just in case he felt like doling out a disciplinary bludgeon. Three days after Hossack’s death, he came to blows with the second mate; two days after that, a fed-up crew “took the command from him” and ran the ship themselves, although they did not forcibly confine him.

Once the ship put in at Lisbon for repairs on the return journey, Lowry lodged a piracy complaint against his crew, but despite the incredibly serious charges and countercharges, everybody sailed on together for home thereafter, each party perhaps silently calculating the odds that the other would dare to press the case further as against getting on about their lives. Lowry does not appear to have made himself scarce until his former comrades went public with their claims, although once they did so he incriminatingly avoided the thief-takers and the small private reward set upon his capture for a few weeks.

On March 25, 1752, the brute was carried from Newgate Prison to the Execution Dock on the Thames, in a cart surmounted by a silver oar emblematic of the Admiralty. There he was hanged, and his body afterwards put in irons and displayed in infamy down the river at Blackwall.


Lowry pictured as part of a “Scotch Triumvirate” of Caledonian evildoers, along with the Scottish officer William Cranstoun, blamed for seducing Mary Blandy to the gallows, and the more mysterious “Major James MacDonald” whose papers suggest involvement in the South Sea Bubble 32 years prior (?). I’m in good company with my confusion on this MacDonald fellow, as the British Museum can’t identify him either. Check out britishtars.com for a fascinating exposition on the iconographic detail of the Lowry images in this post; we have also featured in this narrative several additional links to that same site’s various posts about the events on the Molly.

We have revisited a few times in these pages the intense commercial bustle among publishers of crime ephemera — in England as well as Ireland. Naturally this headline-grabbing execution excited plenty of competitive hawking.

Two examples appear below; the first of them is by a pair of publishers named Harris and Scott; the second, by Parker and Corbett, who at this time had the deal to publish the Ordinary of Newgate’s accounts. Harris and Scott were first to the market here, in an environment where rapidity counted for a lot; the Ordinary wanted to be sure the public knew that his “official” (according to him) version would be soon forthcoming, so he burdened the pages of London newspapers and even his own Ordinary’s Account of ‘regular’ Tyburn criminals with adverts to that effect.


This image from the London General Advertiser of March 26, 1752, one of several papers to carry the notice. For more on the relationship between publishers and crime in this era, see Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London by Richard Ward

Read on below to enjoy both.

* In fact, one nugget from this case is that an adequate reason for corporal punishment at sea might sit at a much higher threshold than we commonly assume today. Although the Royal Navy was (in)famous for the discipline of the lash, multiple experienced sailors testified at this trial that they never knew floggings or beatings to occur on merchant vessels.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1725: John Gow and his pirate crew

1 comment June 11th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1725, John Gow and seven comrade raiders hanged for piracy.

Having mutinied to commandeer a merchant vessel in November 1724, Gow managed merely a three-month career of seaboard outlawry* in European waters before an ill-fated landward raid in his native Scotland saw the ship run aground.

Captured, Gow and confederates were hailed to London to stand trial, the captain delaying matters by refusing to plead before the threat of being pressed forced his hand. The inevitable sentence came off a little … unevenly. During the hanging,

[Gow’s] friends, anxious to put him out of his pain, pulled his legs so forcibly that the rope broke and he dropped down; on which he was again taken up to the gibbet, and when he was dead was hanged in chains on the banks of the Thames.

Scottish scribbler Sir Walter Scott mined the local lore of “the Orkney pirate” heavily for his novel The Pirate.

* Exhaustingly catalogued in the Newgate calendar.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

February 2020
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
242526272829  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!