Golden Age of Piracy > General History of Pirates (2nd Ed. Vol II) > Captain Bowen

Captain Bowen

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OF Capt. JOHN Bowen.

THE exact Time of this Person's setting out I am not certain of; I find him cruising on the Mallabar Coast in the Year 1700, commanding a Ship called the Speaker, whose Crew consisted of Men of all Nations, and their Pyracies were committed upon Ships of all Nations likewise. The pyrates here met with no Manner of Inconveniencies in carrying on their Designs, for it was made so much a Trade, that the Merchants of one Town never scrupled the buying Commodities taken from another, though but ten Miles distant, in a publick Sale, furnishing the Robbers at the same Time with all Necessaries, even of Vessels, when they had Occasion to go on any Expedition, which they themselves would often advise them of.

Among the rest an English East-India Man, Captain Coneway from Bengal, fell into the Hands of this Crew, which they made Prize of, near Callequilon; they carried her in, and put her up to sale, dividing the Ship and Cargoe into three Shares; one Third was sold to a Merchant, Native of Callequilon aforesaid, another Third to a Merchant of Porca, and the other to one Malpa, à Dutch Factor.


Loaded with the Spoil of this and several Country Ships, they left the Coast, and steer'd for Madagascar; but in their Voyage thither, meeting with adverse Winds, and, being negligent in their Steerage, they ran upon St. Thomas's Reef, at the the Island of Mauritius, where the Ship was lost; but Bowen and the greatest Part of the Crew got safe ashore.

They met here with all the Civility and good Treatment imaginable; Bowen was complimented in a particular Manner by the Governor, and splendidly entertained in his House; the sick Men were got, with great Care, into the Fort, and cured by their Doctor, and no Supplies of any sort wanting for the rest. They spent here three Months, but yet resolving to set down at Madagascar, they bought a Sloop, which they converted into a Brigantine, and, about the middle of March 1701, departed, having first taken formal Leave of the Governor, by making a Present of 2500 Pieces of Eight, leaving him, besides, the Wreck of their Ship, with the Guns, Stores, and every Thing else that was saved. The Governor, on his Part, supply'd them with Necessaries for their Voyage, which was but short, and gave them a kind Invitation to make that Island a Place of Refreshment in the Course of their future Adventures, promising that nothing should be wanting to them that his Government afforded.

Upon their Arrival at Madagascar, they put in at a Place on the East-Side, called Maritan, quitted their Vessel, and settled themselves ashore in a fruitful Plain on the Side of a River. They built themselves a Fort on the River's Mouth towards the Sea, and another small one on the other Side towards the Country; the first to prevent a Surprize from Shipping, and the other as a Security from the Natives, many of whom they employed in the Building. They built also a little Town for their Habitation, which took up the Remainder of the Year 1701.

When this was done, they soon became dissatisfied with their new Situation, having a hankering Mind after their old Employment, and accordingly resolved to fit up the Brigantine they had from the Dutch at Mauritius, which was laid in a Cove near their Settlement, but an Accident, that they improved, provided for them in a better Manner, and saved them a great deal of Trouble.

It happened that about the beginning of the Year 1702, a Ship called the Speedy Return, belonging to the Scotch-African and East-India Company, Captain Drummond Commander, came into the Port of Maritan in Madagascar, with a Brigantine that belonged to her; they had before taken in Negroes at St. Mary's, a little Island adjoining to the main Island of Madagascar, and carried them to Don Mascarenhas, from whence they sailed to this Port on the same Trade.

On the Ship's Arrival, Captain Drummond, with Andrew Wilky, his Surgeon, and several others of the Crew, went on Shore; in the mean while John Bowen, with four others of his Consorts, goes off in a little Boat, on Pretence of buying some of their Merchandize brought from Europe, and finding a fair Opportunity, the chief Mate, Boatswain, and a Hand or two more only upon the Deck, and the rest at Work in the Hold, they threw off their Mask; each drew out a Pistol and Hanger, and told them, they were all dead Men if they did not retire that Moment to the Cabin. The Surprize was sudden, and they thought it necessary to obey; one of the pyrates placed himself Centry at the Door, with his Arms in his Hands, and the rest immediately laid the Hatches, and then made a Signal to their Fellows on Shore, as agreed on; upon which, about forty or fifty came on Board, and took quiet Possession of the Ship, and afterwards the Brigantine, without Bloodshed, or striking a Stroke.

Bowen was made, or rather made himself, of Course, Captain; he detained the old Crew, or the greatest Part thereof, burnt the Brigantine as being of no Use to them, cleaned and fitted the Ship, took Water, Provisions, and what Necessaries were wanting, and made ready for new Adventures.

I shall leave them a while, to relate an unfortunate Story of a worthy honest Gentleman, who suffered through the Rashness and Folly of a headstrong People, for pyratically taking and murdering the Captain and Crew of this very Ship Bowen and his Gang now seized.

An English-India Man, commanded by Captain Thomas Green, called the Worcester, in her Voyage home to England, was drove by southerly Winds into Scotland, in the Month of July 1704, and anchored in Leith Road; the Captain, and several of the Ship's Company, going ashore for Refreshments, the People of the Town, who had Acquaintance and Friends in Captain Drummond's Ship, understanding the Worcester came from the East-Indies, were very importunate in their Enquiries after this Ship, and being told that they had heard of no such Ship in India, the Enquirers pretended to be very much surprized; so that, in short, it grew into a Suspicion that the Worcester had not dealt fairly by the Scotch Ship, which they had not heard of themselves since her Departure. In short, the Magistrates were inform'd that some of the Crew had dropt Words that plainly indicated the supposed Robbery and Murders of their Countrymen. Upon this several Men were privately examined; sometimes they were threaten'd to be hanged, and then again large Promises were made to encourage 'em to discover the pretended Fact; till at length an Indian Boy was prevailed on to confess the whole Matter upon Oath, as they might think. Then the Captain, chief Mate and Crew, were seized and sent to Prison, the Ship was unloaded, and almost ripp'd to Pieces, to search for Goods, Writings, &c. to confirm the Indian's Deposition, but nothing could be found; therefore they were obliged to try them, and try them they did, upon this Evidence, and some small Circumstances sworn to by Charles May, the Surgeon, which carried great Improbabilities along with it. The Depositions were as follow; the Indian, whose Name was Antonio Ferdinando swore, ‘That on the Coast of Mallabar he came aboard the Sloop that attended the Worcester, and thereafter saw an Engagement between the said Sloop, the Worcester and another Ship, sailed by White Men, speaking English, and bearing English Colours. That they did engage the said Ship for three Days, and on the third Day the said Ship was boarded by those in the Sloop, who took up the Crew of the said Ship from under Deck, killed them with Hatchets, and threw them overboard.

Charles May only deposed, ‘That being ashore at Callequillon he heard Guns firing at Sea, and asking some Body he met at the Landing Place, what meant this shooting? He was answered, the Worcester was gone out, and was fighting at Sea with another Ship. That the next Morning he saw the Worcester riding at her Birth, where she had rid the Day before, and another Ship riding at her Stern. That the Worcester's Long-Boat coming ashore, and he asking the Men what brought them ashore? They answered, they were sent for Water, they having spilt and staved all their Water; and that they had been busking all Night. That this Evidence going aboard five or six Days after, saw the Ship lumber'd with Goods, and that he was inform'd that the Ship that was riding at the Worcester's Stern, was sold to Cogo Comodo, Merchant at Quilon. That Antonio Ferdinando was wounded, and some others; and when he ask'd the Patients how they came by their Wounds, they were forbid to answer by Mr. Madder, the chief Mate. That all this fell out between the Months of January and February 1703.

As to Antonio's Deposition, it appear'd to be all Invention, and nothing true in it; and Charles May's a Heap of sly Insinuations, drawn from a known Fact, which was this; the Worcester departing from Callequillon to Carnipole, was drove by Stress of Weather from near the Road of Quillon to Anjango, where coming near the Aureng Zeb, India Man, she saluted her with five Guns, which were the Guns the Surgeon heard; and the Aureng Zeb came in along with the Worcester, and anchor'd at her Stern, which was the Ship taken Notice of by him. By busking all Night is meant only beating to Windward, which she did in order to fetch Quillon, the Wind being contrary. The Worcester spar'd her Water to the Aureng Zeb, which occasioned their sending for more, and the wounded Men, which were proved to be no more than three in the Voyage; one was from a Fall in the Hold, another by fighting with Knives, between two Dutch Men, and the other by cutting of Wood.

’Tis observable likewise, that May's Evidence, which is brought to support Antonio's, contradicted it in several Parts; for Antonio swore the Fact to be done between Callicut and Tallecherry, (where, by the Way, the Ship never was, as was own'd by the Surgeon, and prov'd by the Captain's and other Journals) and May heard the Guns at Callequillon, which could not be less then 140 Miles asunder. Antonio makes the supposed Engagement hold three Days; according to May, the Worcester was busking only one Night; all the rest of his Evidence is, As he was inform'd, As he was told, &c. And what's remarkable of this May, is, he was eighteen Months after this in the said Ship, and own'd on the Trial, that he never heard in all that Time one Word spoken of a Fight with any other Ship, or a Prize taken, or any Thing relating to such an Action, which must be very strange, if the Matter had been true.

In short, Captain Green and the rest of the Crew were convicted, and received Sentence for the supposed Crimes, as follows, Green, Madder, Sympson, Keigle and Haines to be hanged on Wednesday, April 4th. Taylor, Glenn, Kitchen and Robertson, on Wednesday, April 11th, and Brown, Bruckley, Wilcocks, Ballantyne and Linsey, on Wednesday, April 18th.

I cannot but here take Notice (though with much Concern) that upon the Condemnation of these unhappy Men, there seemed a universal Joy in and about the City; it was the only Discourse for some Days, and every Man thought himself nearly concerned in it; and some could not forbear in Words openly to express their brutal Joy: Now, said they, we'll Darien ’em: By this they shall see we'll do our selves Justice, &c.

After Sentence, the Prisoners desired not to be disturb'd in their dying Moments, that they might improve ’em to the best Advantage; but now they were not only insulted with the most opprobrious Language, by such as could get to ’em, but continually worried by the religious Kirk Teachers. The most dismal Threatnings were denounc'd against ’em, and nothing but God's Wrath and eternal Torments in all its Horrors, were to be their Portion, if they died obdurate (as they call'd it) that is, without owning themselves guilty; and all this delivered with that Passion peculiar to that bitter Sett of Men. Nay, so restless were they, that even now, after Condemnation, they singled out some they found more terrified by their Cant, and assur'd ’em of Life if they would ingenuously acknowledge the Crimes they were condemned for; and, at last, worked so far upon Haines and Linsey, that they brought them to own almost what they pleased. The former of these, upon their Pardons being granted, gave a frightful Account of the whole Pyracy and Murther upon Drummond's Ship, and took Care, as near as he could, to keep close with Ferdinando's Evidence, only here and there he was out in very material Points, as Men always are that don't relate Matters of Fact. There was a great many bloody Circumstances added to colour the whole, as their Manner of Swearing when they commenced pyrates (much like the ridiculous Ceremonies at making of Witches) which, he said, was thus; Every one of ’em was let Blood, which they mixed together, and after every Man had drank part, they all swore to Secrecy, &c. with abundance of such Stuff. Linsey, a Man of better Sense, contented himself with saying as little as possible, which was excusable, he being on shoar in the pretended Engagement, so that most of what he said, consisted in Hearsays of the Indians, &c. Thus these poor Wretches screen'd themselves from this fatal Blow, at the Expence of Faith and a good Conscience, and to enjoy a troublesome Life, perhaps a few Years.

As soon as their Confessions were made publick, the Gentry, as well as the Mob, was transported with Rage, and the poor Wretches were blackened and reviled in a shameful Manner; and so violent was the Torrent of their Fury, that it reached even their Council for their Tryals, and they were obliged, for their own Safety, to withdraw into the Country.

In the midst of this Confusion two Men, who were known to be of Drummond's Crew, came home in the Raper Galley, and made Affidavits of the Loss of the said Ship to the pyrates, as has been mentioned; upon which her Majesty and Council first reprieved them for eight Days, and afterwards desired Execution might be farther respited till they heard from above.

The common People, who for some Time past, with raised Expectations, had waited for the Execution, began to grow very impatient, bitterly inveighing against the Reprieve; and the Council met on the 11th of April in the Morning, to consider what was to be done; which the Mob perceiving, imagined ’twas in order to a further Reprieve or Pardon; immediately all Shops were shut up, and the Streets filled with incredible Numbers of Men, Women and Children, calling for Justice upon those English Murtherers. The Lord Chancellour Seafield's Coach happening to pass by, they stopp'd it, broke the Sashes, haul'd him out, and oblig'd him to promise Execution should speedily be done before he could get from ’em.

According to the Chancellor's Promise, soon after, on the same Day, being Wednesday, Captain Green, Madder, and Sympson were brought out, and convey'd to Execution, which was at Leith Road upon the Sands, and all the Way were huzza'd in Triumph as it were, and insulted with the sharpest and most bitter Invectives.

Thus fell these unhappy Men a well-pleasing Sacrifice to the Malice of wicked Men.

As for Captain Green's Speech; after he had taken Notice of the Crimes he was to dye for, and appealed to all present to charge him, or the Crew, with any Injustice, since he had lived there; he goes on in giving an Account of his Faith, his living and dying in the Church of England, of their Manner of Life abroad, their Observance of religious Duties, and the Sense he had of the Impossibility of Salvation, if he dy'd with a Falshood in his Mouth. Then follows, — ‘Pursuant to which, I in the Presence of Almighty God, declare to you his People, that I am innocent in Design or Deed, and free from the Crimes for which I am condemned. That to my Knowledge, I never all my Life-time wrong'd Man in his Person or Goods, or had Accession thereto. What the Custom of pyrates is, I thank God I know not: But I understand my Accusers and Persecuters will have you to believe, that I think it unnecessary to confess before Men. Take what I say as good Christians ought to do; if you have no Charity, you wrong your selves, and cannot hurt me.

‘I am told some of my Crew have confess'd the Crimes, and load us with Guilt; this is done since Sentence, and in hopes of saving themselves, which I wish they may do by lawful Means, and not have Accession to the shedding innocent Blood. I am a dying, these are still in hopes to live, chuse you which of us to believe, &c.

To return to Captain Bowen, who pyratically possessed himself of Captain Drummond's Ship and Brigantine, as aforesaid, he, being inform'd by the Crew, that when they left Don Mascarenhas, a Ship called the Rook Galley, Captain Honeycomb Commander, was lying in that Bay, resolved, with the other pyrates, to sail thither, but it taking up seven or eight Days in watering their Vessels, and settling their private Affairs, they arrived not at the Island till after the Departure of the said Galley, who thereby happily escaped the villainous Snare of their unprovok'd Enemies.

The Night after the pyrates left Maritan, the Brigantine ran on a Ledge of Rocks off the West Side of the Island Madagascar, which not being perceived by the Ship, Bowen came into Mascarenhas without her, not knowing what was become of his Consort.

Here Captain Bowen staid eight or ten Days, in which Time he supplied the Ship with Provisions, and judging, that the Rook Galley was gone to some other Island, the Ship sail'd to Mauritius, in search of her; but the pyrates seeing four or five Ships in the N. W. Harbour, they thought themselves too weak to attempt any thing there, so they stood immediately for Madagascar again, and arrived safe, first to Port Dauphin, and then to Augustin Bay. In a few Days the Content Brigantine, which they supposed either to have been lost, or revolted that honourable Service, came into the same Bay, and informed their Brethren of the Misfortune that happened to them: The Rogues were glad, no doubt, of seeing one another again, and calling a Council together, they found the Brigantine in no Condition for Business, being then very leaky, therefore she was condemned, and forthwith halled ashore and burnt, and the Crew united, and all went aboard the Speedy Return.

At this Place the pyrates were made acquainted, by the Negroes, of the Adventures of another Gang that had settled for some Time near that Harbour, and had one Howard for their Captain. It was the Misfortune of an India Ship called the Prosperous, to come into the Bay at a Time that these Rogues were looking out for Employment; who, under the Pretence of trading (almost in the same Manner that Bowen and his Gang had seized the Speedy Return) made themselves Masters of her, and sailed with her to New Mathelage. Bowen and his Gang consulting together on this Intelligence, concluded ’twas more for their Interest to join in Alliance with this new Company, than to act single, they being too weak of themselves to undertake any considerable Enterprize, remembring how they were obliged to bear away from the Island of Mauritius, when they were in search of the Rook Gally, which they might have taken, with several others, had they had at that Time a Confort of equal Force to their own Ship.

They accordingly set sail from the Bay, and came into New Mathelage, but found no Ship there, tho’ upon Enquiry they understood that the Pyrate they look'd for, had been at the Place, but was gone; so after some Stay they proceeded to Johanna, but the Prosperous not being there neither, they sailed to Mayotta, where they found her lying at Anchor; this was about Christmas 1702.

Here these two Powers struck up an Alliance, Howard liking the Proposals, came readily into it, and the Treaty was ratified by both Companies. They staid above two Months at this Island, thinking it, perhaps, as likely a Place to meet with Prey as cruising out for it, and so indeed it happened; for about the beginning of March, the Ship Pembroke belonging to our East-India Company, coming in for Water, was boarded by their Boats, and taken, with the Loss of the chief Mate and another Man that were killed in the Skirmish.

The two Pyrate Ships weighed, and went out to Sea along with their Prize, and that Day and the next plundered her of the best Part of her Cargo, Provisions and Stores, and then taking the Captain and Carpenter away, they let the Pembroke go where the Remainder of her Crew pleased, and came with their Ships into New Methelage. Here the two Captains consulted, and laid a Plan for a Cruize to India, for which Purpose they detained Captain Woolley of the Pembroke lately taken, in order to be their Pilot in those Seas; but a very hot Dispute arose between the two Companies, which Ship he should go aboard of, insomuch that they had gone together by the Ears, if an Expedient had not been found to satisfy each Party, that one might not have the Advantage of the other by the Captain's Skill and Knowledge of the Indian Coast, and this was to knock the poor Man on the Head; and murder him; but at last, by the Authority of Bowen, Captain Woolley escaped the threaten'd Danger, by bringing his Company to consent to his remaining on board the Prosperous, where he then was.

The Speedy Return being foul, and wanting a little Repair, it was judged proper for her to go back to Augustin Bay to clean; in the mean while the Prosperous was to have a Pair of Boot-Tops where she lay, and likewise to take in Water and Provision, and then to join their Confort again at Mayotta, the Island appointed for the Rendezvous.

The Prosperous put into Mayotta as agreed on, and waiting there some Time for Bowen's Ship, without seeing or hearing any News of her, went to Johanna, but not meeting with her there, they apprehended some Accident had befel her, and therefore left the Place, and sailed on the Expedition themselves. As to the Speedy Return, she arrived safe at St. Augustin's Bay at Madagascar, and there cleaned and victualled; but tarrying there somewhat too long, the Winds hung contrary, and they could not for their Lives beat up to Mayotta, and therefore went to Johanna, where, hearing that their Friends had lately left that Island, they steered for the Red Sea, but the Wind not proving fair for their Design, they bore away for the High Land of St. John's, near Surat, where they once more fell in Company with their Brethren of the Prosperous.

They cruiz'd together, as was first agreed on, and after some Time they had Sight of four Ships, to whom they gave Chace; but these separating, two standing to Northward, and two to the Southward, the pyrates separated likewise, Bowen standing after those that steered Southerly, and Howard crowded after the others. Bowen came up with the heaviest of the two, which proved to be a Moorish Ship of 700 Tun, bound from the Gulph of Mocha to Surat. The pyrates brought the Prize into Rajapora, on the Coast of India, where they plundered her; the Merchandize they sold to the Natives, but a small Sum of current Gold they found aboard, amounting to 22,000 l. English Money, they put into their Pockets. Two Days after the Prosperous came in, but without any Prize; however, they soon made their Friends acquainted that they had not succeeded worse than themselves, for at Surat River's Mouth, where all the four Ships were bound, they came up with their Chace; and with a Broadside, one of them struck, but the other got into the Bay. They stood down the Coast with the Prize till they had plundered her of the best of her Cargoe, the most valuable of which was 84,000 Chequins, a Piece of about ten Shillings each, and then they left her adrift, without either Anchor or Cable, off Daman.

While they were lying at Rajapora they past a Survey on their Shipping, and judging their own to be less serviceable than their Prize, they voted them to the Flames, and straightway fitted up the Surat Ship; they transported both Companies aboard of her, and then set Fire to the Prosperous and Speedy Return. They mustered at this Place 164 fighting Men, 43 only were English, the greater Number French, the rest Danes, Swedes and Dutch; they took aboard 70 Indians to do the Drudgery of the Ship, and mounted 56 Guns, calling her the Defiance, and sailed from Rajapora the latter End of October, in the Year 1703, to cruize on the Coast of Mallabar:

But not meeting with Prey in this first Cruise, they came to an Anchor about three Leagues to the Northward of Cochen, expecting some Boats to come off with Supplies of Refreshments, for which Purpose they fired several Guns, by way of Signal, but none appearing, the Quarter-Master was sent in the Pinnace to confer with the People, which he did with some Caution, keeping the Boat upon their Oars at the Shore-Side: In short, they agreed very well, the pyrates were promised whatever Necessaries they wanted, and the Boat returned aboard.

The next Day a Boat came off from the Town with Hogs, Goats, Wine, &c. with a private Intimation from Malpa, the Dutch Broker, an old Friend of the pyrates, that a Ship of that Country called the Rimæ, lay then in Mudbay, not many Leagues off, and if they would go out and take her, he would purchase the Cargo of them, and likewise promised that they should be further supplied with Pitch, Tar, and all other Necessaries, which was made good to them; for People from the Factory flocked aboard every Hour, and dealt with them as in open Market, for all Sorts of Merchandize, Refreshments, Jewels and Plate, returning with Coffers of Money, &c. to a great Value.

The Advice of the Ship was taken very kindly, but the pyrates judging their own Ship too large to go close into the Bay, consulted their Friend upon Means for taking the said Ship, who readily treated with them for the Sale of one of less Burthen that lay then in the Harbour; but Malpa speaking to one Punt of the Factory to carry her out, he not only refused to be concerned in such a Piece of Villainy, but reproved Malpa for corresponding with the pyrates, and told him, if he should be guilty of so base an Action, he must never see the Face of any of his Countrymen more; which made the honest Broker change both his Countenance and his Purpose.

At this Place Captain Woolley, whom they had taken for their Pilot on the India Coast, being in a very sick and weak Condition, was, at his earnest Intreaty, discharged from his severe Confinement among them, and set ashore, and the next Day the pyrates sailed, and ranged along the Mallabar Coast, in quest of more Booty. In their Way they met a second time with the Pembroke, and plundered her of some Sugar, and other small Things, and let her go again. From the Coast they sail'd back for the Island of Mauritius, where they lay some Time, and lived after their usual extravagant Manner.

At Mauritius two of the Crew, viz. Israel Phipeny and Peter Freeland, left the pyrates and concealed themselves in the Island till the Ship sailed. These two Men were part of Drummond's Crew, who found an Opportunity of coming to England soon after on board the Raper Galley, and arrived at Portsmouth in March 1725. When this came to be known, Mr. John Green, Brother to Capt. Green, then under Sentence, went thither and got the Affidavits of the said Phipeny and Freeland, made before the Mayor of Portsmouth, containing several Matters herein mentioned, which Affidavits were immediately brought to London, and by the Secretary of State sent away Express to Scotland, which arrived there some Hours before Capt. Green was executed.

General History of Pirates
(2nd Ed, Vol II)

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Primary Sources

East Carolina University Digital Collection

Secondary Sources

Golden Age of Piracy: John Bowen

History Archive - Colophon