Saturday, 28 March 2015

Henry Every and his Amazing Pirate Theft from the Mughal Convoy, 1694

Henry Every is not a pirate as well known as Blackbeard, Mary Read, Captain Kidd, Francis Drake or Walter Raleigh which is a shame as his adventures are just as spectacular.

His upbringing is not what one might expect for a notorious pirate. Born in the west of England near Plymouth in the 1650s at a young age he begins work for the Royal Navy as a sailor. Little is known for sure about this period for him but according to some accounts in the early 1690s he enters the Atlantic slave trade, buying slaves on the West African coast and then seizing the slave traders themselves followed by chaining them to his ship's hold alongside their former captives.

1694 marks the year when he really makes a name for himself. By now he is a first mate aboard a privateer outfitted to harass French shipping in New Spain, at the request of the Spanish government. One night whilst the ship's captain, a horrendous drunk called Gibson, lies sleeping after a bout with a bottle of rum, Every and several confederates begin a mutiny that ends up with Captain Gibson forced ashore. He then slips out his privateer out of the Spanish port of La Coruna and sets sail for Madagascar with the new goal of seeking wealth by any means possible.

Henry knows if he is going to be a success then radical change is necessary. He renames his ship ‘The Fancy’ and sails for the Cape of Good Hope. As soon as he reaches it he plunder three British ships off the Cape Verde Islands. From there he moves on to the Cape of Good Hope and then the island of Johanna in the Comoro Islands. Whilst there he modifies the Fancy by cutting away some of her wooden structure to improve her speed and make her one of the fastest ships then sailing in the Indian Ocean.

He takes full advantage of this to capture a passing French pirate ship with loot taken from the Moors near the island of Johanna. He shows his canny instinct by recruiting some forty of the crew to join his own company. In the process his total strength grows possibly as high as 150 able men. With it his assurance and reputation rapidly swells.

At Johanna he writes a famous letter that seals his status as a much feared pirate. In an address to all English Commanders, he states that he has no intent of committing acts of piracy against English or Dutch vessels, but that if he can not convince his crew otherwise, it is possible.

Once the message reaches London all the newspapers have a field day and splash it all over their covers. From Henry’s point of view it also has the advantage that should he ever be captured he can now claim he had been forced to act against his will.

Soon after Every moves on to the Arabian coast to seek more treasure. Chance favours him and he joins up with five other pirate vessels including Thomas Tew's sloop Amity. They spot a 25-ship Mughal convoy bound for India but it escapes them. However their disappointment is brief as the very next day they encounter the greatest ship in Aurangzeb's fleet, the Ganj-I-Sawai, and its escort Fateh Muhammed, both passing the straits en route to Surat.

Every seizes the moment, rallies his men and attacks the Fateh Muhammed, which had earlier repulsed an attack by the Amity, killing Captain Tew. Remarkably and mysteriously the Fateh Muhammed's crew put up little resistance, and Every's pirates ransacks the ship for all of its £50,000 worth of treasure. Quite why this happened is not clear but maybe the imposing 46 guns of the Fancy ship are a factor.

An ordinary pirate might have been content with this success but not Every. He sets sail in pursuit of the Ganj-I-Sawai, overtaking her about eight days out of Surat. It is a bold risk. The Ganj-I-Sawai is a fearsome opponent, mounting 62 guns and a musket-armed guard of four to five hundred, as well as six hundred other passengers and yet Every is unphased.

He launches right into an attack. The opening volley between the two evens the odds. One of the Indian ship's cannons explodes, killing three or four gunners and causes great confusion and demoralization among the crew, while in contrast Every's broadside hits his enemy's mainmast by the board. The Fancy then draws alongside the Ganj-I-Sawai and the pirates clamber aboard.

A ferocious hand-to-hand battle ensues, in which Every's outnumbered crew lose 20 men. However, the superior Indian force is let down by its cowardly leader, Ibrahim Khan, who rushes below and hides among his concubines. After two hours of fierce but leaderless resistance, the Indians succumb.

The pirates are merciless in victory. Many of the Indian ships' crew are tortured and the female passengers raped. When the pirates finish their plundering of the ships, they set them adrift without the surviving women. What happened to these is unknown. One possibility is that they commit suicide as under Islamic law all rape victims are seen as unmarriageable. Another is that they are simply thrown overboard.

None of this bothers the pirates as they only care for the immense treasure they have seized. It includes silver, gold, jewels, and a jewel-encrusted saddle set meant as a gift for the Great Mogul. It has been estimated that the loot from the Ganj-I-Sawai totalled between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces. This means that Every and the surviving pirate captains are able to share out £1,000 and some gemstones between every man in the crew once they set sail again.

The loss of the ship causes great embarrassment and anger. The attack on the Gang-i-Sawai is badly received by the Great Moghul and he cuts off all trade with the East India Company. The Moghul also seizes their trading posts and arrests East India Company officials. This causes so much distress and dismay amongst the British Government of the day that it offers a reward of £500 for every crewman, which the East India Company then doubles. This makes it very difficult for Every and Co. to go anywhere unnoticed in the West Indies or any of the British colonies.

Consequently Every splits up his fleet to make capture more challenging. His band head for St. Thomas to sell off some of the cargo they carry. In the Bahamas, the pirates shower the governor, Trott with gifts and bribes, even going so far as to give him their ship. His own crew then split up, some heading to North America, while the majority, including Every, return to Britain aboard the sloop Isaac, landing in Ireland. It is here he changes his name to Benjamin Bridgeman. His last words to his men are a series of contradictory stories over where he plans to go so as to ensure no one knew where he will go.

With those last parting words Henry Every disappears away into history. In so doing he matches his dramatic entrance into naval history with just as enigmatic and mysterious a departure.

If you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage and another pirate story at Blackbeard's demise, 1718