The Manila Galleons

They sighted Cape San Lucas on 2 November 1709 and took up their stations. They spread out so that between them their lookouts could spot any vessel which appeared between the coast and a point some sixty miles out to sea. The Marquiss was stationed nearest the mainland, the Dutchessin the middle and the Duke on the outside, with the bark roving to and fro to carry messages from ship to ship. Rogers was keenly aware they were cruising close to the spot where Sir Thomas Cavendish had captured the Manila galleon on 4 November 1587. Cavendish had two relatively small ships, the 18-gun Desire of 120 tons and the 10-gun Content of sixty tons. The Manila galleon that year had been the Santa Anna, a much larger ship of 600 tons, but she had no carriage guns because the Spanish were not expecting a hostile attack. When Cavendish moved in to attack, her crew had to resort to hurling javelins and throwing rocks on to the heads of the English sailors. Thanks to the massive construction of the galleon her crew battled on for five hours but suffered such heavy casualties that her Spanish commander was forced to surrender. Many of his seamen were Filipinos and among his many passengers there were women and children. The total value of the galleon’s cargo was reckoned to be around two million pesos.1

The annual voyage of the Manila and Acapulco galleons across the Pacific was the longest non-stop passage made by any ships in the world on a regular basis. The westbound voyage from Acapulco took between two and three months and was made easier by a call at the island of Guam towards the end of the voyage, but the eastbound voyage took a gruelling five or six months and sometimes as long as eight months. This put a considerable strain on food and water supplies and inevitably resulted in deaths from scurvy. The track of the galleons was determined by wind and weather patterns and by ocean currents. The shorter and quicker westbound voyage taken by the Acapulco galleon took advantage of the north-east trade winds and a westerly current in the region of latitude 13 degrees north, known as the North Equatorial Current. The eastbound Manila galleon had to follow a curving track some 2,000 miles to the north which took her past the islands of Japan with the help of the Kuro Siwo Current, then across the Pacific with the aid of the westerly winds and then south-east to Acapulco assisted by the California Current which flows along the coast of North America.

It took some years of trial and error before the winds and currents were worked out and the situation was complicated by the typhoons – the cyclonic storms which sweep across the Philippines with a destructive power similar to the hurricanes of the Caribbean region. To take advantage of prevailing winds and avoid the typhoons it was reckoned that the Manila galleon must set sail in May or June, which meant that she could be expected to arrive off the coast of California at any time between October and December unless delayed or blown off course by storms – and many of the galleons had to endure a succession of violent storms during the voyage. In 1600 the Santa Margarita was so disabled by months of heavy weather that she was driven south and wrecked on the Ladrones Islands (Islas Ladrones), off the coast of Panama. Only fifty of the 260 men on board survived the shipwreck and most of the survivors were then killed by the native islanders.2

The annual crossings of the Pacific had begun in 1565 and over the following 250 years more than thirty galleons were lost in storms or wrecked. Since no more than one or two galleons made the crossing each year this was a heavy toll in lives, ships and treasure. ‘The voyage from the Philippine Islands to America may be called the longest and most dreadful of any in the world,’ wrote Gemelli Careri, an experienced traveller, ‘… as for the terrible tempests that happen there, one upon the back of another, and for the desperate diseases that seize people, in 7 or 8 months, lying at sea sometimes near the line, sometimes cold, sometimes temperate, and sometimes hot, which is enough to destroy a man of steel, much more flesh and blood …’3

As far as Rogers and his men were concerned, the only thing that mattered was locating the Manila galleon, and they were experiencing troubles of their own. By 17 November they were running short of water. They sent the bark ashore, where they found a primitive settlement of local Indians. They were given a cautious welcome and allowed to fill up their water barrels from a nearby river. There was still no sign of the galleon on 14 December. They had now been at sea for seven weeks and the Marquiss, which was under the command of Edward Cooke, was in urgent need of repairs to her hull and rigging. She was sent to refit at a place which Rogers and Cooke refer to as Port or Puerto Seguro, on the basis that this was the name given to it by Thomas Cavendish. No such place exists today and it is evident from the description given by one of Cavendish’s sailors, and by Rogers’ detailed description, that the place they were referring to was the sheltered harbour now called Cape San Lucas or Cabo San Lucas. This is situated in the lee of the cape of the same name. Rogers described the entrance of the harbour as being marked by four high rocks which looked like the Needles at the Isle of Wight – and the promontory at the end of the cape certainly does bear a striking resemblance to the Needles.

Out at sea Rogers was increasingly doubtful about seeing the Manila galleon because it was nearly a month past the time when the ship was due. The chief concern now was the shortage of bread and provisions. There was no safe place on the American coast where they could obtain supplies and they had barely enough left to last them the fifty-day voyage across the Pacific to Guam, which was their next destination. On 19 December a council meeting was held on board the Dutchess at which the chief officers decided they would have to abandon their cruise for the Manila galleon. They were bitterly disappointed and as they put their signatures to the resolution ‘all looked very melancholy and dispirited’.

Before heading west into the vastness of the Pacific all three ships needed to stock up with wood and water, so the Duke and Dutchess set a course for Cape San Lucas. They were hampered by calms and a contrary current and were still some way off the coast when, at nine o’clock on the morning of 21 December 1709, the lookout at the masthead of the Duke cried out that he could see a sail on the horizon. ‘We immediately hoisted our ensign, and bore away after her, the Dutchess soon did the same.’

The calm weather continued all through the afternoon of 21 December. The Duke and Dutchess made little progress towards the distant sail and there was some speculation that the ship might be the Marquiss coming out of the harbour at Cape San Lucas. This led to some of the crew laying bets on whether it was the Marquiss or the Manila galleon. They watched the Duke’s pinnace make contact with the Dutchess and lie alongside her for a while before rowing on towards the strange ship. Robert Fry was despatched in the yawl to see whether the men on the Dutchess had managed to identify the ship, and while he was away the Duke hoisted a French ensign and fired a gun, which was answered by a gun from the ship. When Fry returned he brought the good news that ‘it was the ship we had so impatiently waited for, and despaired of seeing her’.4

With dusk approaching it was agreed that the two pinnaces should keep close contact with the galleon during the night and at intervals show false fires (an early form of flare) so that the two privateers, which were hampered by the lack of wind, would know exactly where they were. The ships were cleared for action and everything was made ready for engaging and boarding the galleon in the morning. Throughout the hot night the pinnaces showed their lights, which were answered by lights on the privateers. At daybreak the crew of the Duke could see the galleon on their weather bow, about three miles away. The Dutchess was beyond and to leeward of her. At 6 a.m. the pinnace returned and her crew said that during the night the Dutchess had passed close to the galleon, which had fired two shots at her which she had not returned.

There was still no wind, so Rogers ordered his crew to get out eight of the ship’s large oars or sweeps and for an hour they rowed until a light breeze sprang up. He then ordered a kettle of chocolate to be prepared for the ship’s company, before arranging for prayers to be said. While these were in progress they were interrupted by the guns of the galleon, which was slowly bearing down on them with barrels of gunpowder hanging from her yardarms to discourage the privateers from attempting to board her. At 8 a.m. the Duke opened fire, first with her bow-chasers and then, as they came closer, with her full broadside. The thundering boom of the carriage guns was joined by the rattle of small-arms fire as the crews of the Duke and the galleon fired volleys of shot at each other with muskets and pistols. Rogers was the first and only serious casualty on his ship. ‘I was shot through the left cheek, the bullet struck away great part of my upper jaw, and several of my teeth, part of which dropped down on the deck where I fell … I was forced to write what I would say, to prevent the loss of blood, and because of the pain I suffered by speaking.’5

The Duke’s gun crews had been well trained and were able to fire faster and more effectively than those of the galleon. They kept on firing as the Duke swung alongside the stout wooden hull of the galleon, causing so many casualties that the galleon’s commander hauled down his ensign and surrendered. As there was still very little wind, the Dutchess, being to leeward, had difficulty in reaching the galleon. When she came within range she fired her guns and a volley of small shot, but the fight was over. As the clouds of acrid gunsmoke cleared and drifted away the three ships drifted on the calm waters of the Pacific. Edward Cooke, who watched the action from a hill overlooking the harbour where the Marquiss was anchored, reckoned the engagement lasted no more than half an hour.

Rogers sent a boat across to the galleon to bring her captain and officers over to the Duke. They learnt that the ship they had captured was called the Nuestra Señora de la Incarnación Disenganio and her commander was Monsieur Jean Pichberty, a French chevalier (in his report Rogers anglicised his name and rank to Sir John Pichberty). He was the brother-in-law of Admiral Jean-Baptiste du Casse, who had fought Admiral Benbow and Admiral Whetstone in the West Indies. On board his ship were 190 sailors and servants, ten passengers and eight black Africans. During the action they had lost nine killed, ten wounded ‘and several blown up and burnt with powder’.

The vessel which the privateers had captured was not, strictly speaking, a galleon but a frigate-built merchant ship, armed with 20 carriage guns on a single gun deck and 20 swivel guns mounted on her rails. At 400 tons burden she was not much larger than the 350-ton Duke and her captain had little option but to surrender when faced with the 30-gun Duke and the 26-gun Dutchess. From her commander the privateers learnt that she had set sail from Manila in company with a much larger galleon, the Nuestra Señora de Begoña, a newly built vessel of 900 tons armed with 40 carriage guns on two decks and an equal number of swivel guns. The two galleons had lost touch with each other during the 7,000-mile voyage but had an agreement to meet off Cape San Lucas in order to present a combined front to the privateers – the captains of both ships had received information at Manila, via English trading posts in India, that two Bristol ships were planning to intercept and attack them.

For the rest of the day and during the night the three ships remained out at sea while their crews carried out repairs, and the privateers’ surgeons dressed the wounds of the injured men on board the Spanish ship. The following day, 23 December, they headed towards Cape San Lucas and at 4 p.m. they rounded the distinctive rocky promontory at the end of the cape and dropped anchor in the sheltered waters of the bay beyond. The Marquiss was there to greet them ‘and all the company much overjoyed at our unexpected good fortune’. That night Rogers felt something clog his throat. He swallowed with great pain and presumed the object was either part of his jawbone or the musket shot which had hit him. In his journal he made light of the injury but admitted that his head and throat were badly swollen and he had considerable difficulty in swallowing the liquids he needed for nourishment. In the morning a council meeting was held on the Duke but Rogers was unable to attend. The other chief officers agreed that the Dutchess and the Marquiss would set sail immediately and cruise for eight days with the objective of intercepting the other Manila galleon. They duly weighed anchor at eight in the evening and headed out to sea.

By dawn the next day they were six miles off Cape San Lucas. Edward Cooke, commanding the Marquiss, recorded in his journal, ‘Sunday, December 25, being Christmas Day, at eight in the morning were two leagues of Cape St Luke, and saw a sail bearing S.W. distant about seven leagues, which we concluded to be the great Manila ship.’6 Both ships gave chase but made little progress and by nightfall they were still several miles away. At around midnight the Dutchess came within gunshot of the galleon and opened fire. In the ensuing action the powerful guns of the galleon inflicted so much damage on the masts and rigging of the Dutchess that Captain Courtney was forced to break off the action in order to carry out repairs. The Marquiss was still some four miles from the scene at daybreak owing to the continuing lack of wind. And then, at 8 a.m., Cooke saw the Duke slowly emerging from Cape San Lucas and heading their way.

Rogers had wanted the Duke and Dutchess to go out together to intercept and attack the great galleon but he had been over-ruled. He had, however, arranged for two lookouts to be positioned on the hill above the harbour with orders to signal him if they saw another ship appear on the horizon. Meanwhile he had spent a productive Christmas Day negotiating terms with the commander of the captured Manila ship, who was clearly a man of influence. Jean Pichberty agreed to pay five bills of exchange, payable in London, for the sum of 6,000 dollars. This would cover the remaining ransom money due for the taking of Guayaquil and would enable the privateers to release the three Guayaquil hostages who were still being held as surety for the ransom.

During the afternoon of 25 December the lookouts on the hill above Cape San Lucas made the agreed signal with flags to indicate that a third ship had appeared in addition to the distant sails of the Dutchess and the Marquiss. Rogers was determined to put to sea at once. Arrangements were hastily made to secure the large number of prisoners now in their hands, and at 7 p.m. the Duke set sail. His officers had tried to persuade him to remain on board the prize in the harbour but to no avail. He remained in command in spite of the injury he had sustained, but admitted, ‘I was in so weak a condition, and my head and throat so much swelled, that I yet spoke in great pain, and not loud enough to be heard at any distance.’7

There was so little wind that the Duke was still nine miles to leeward of the galleon at noon the following day. Her crew watched helplessly as the diminutive Marquiss moved in to attack. She was dwarfed by the galleon but her sailors gave three cheers, fired a broadside and raked her massive sides with volleys of small-arms fire. She was joined by the Dutchess, which came up under the stern of the galleon and poured in a broadside before drifting away. For several hours the two privateer ships attempted to make some impression on the apparently impregnable galleon, moving in to attack and then falling away out of range of her guns. By nightfall the Marquiss had almost run out of ammunition. According to Cooke, they fired ‘above 300 great shot, about 50 cross bars, and two great chests of steel bars, besides abundance of partridge small shot, and above nine barrels of powder’.8 Not till the early hours of the next day was the Duke close enough to send a boat across to find out what sort of condition her two consorts were in. The boat returned with the news that the foremast of the Dutchess was seriously damaged and her crew had suffered many casualties. The Marquiss had escaped lightly but Rogers arranged for three barrels of gunpowder and a supply of shot to be rowed across to her.

At daybreak on 27 December the three privateers made a combined attack on the great galleon, later recorded in graphic seaman’s language by Cooke:

Captain Courtney in the Dutchess, stood close up, gave his broadside and volleys and then ran ahead. The Marquiss coming up under her quarter, did the like, and the Duke next performed the same along her lee-side. We kept raking of her fore and aft, and then wore to get out of the way of the Duke’s shot, still firing, as did the other ships … The enemy fired at us all three at once, but slow, seldom missing our masts and rigging, and sometimes hulling us. After lying near half an hour along the chase’s side, the Dutchess lay by to stop her leaks, and secure her foremast being much disabled, having 25 men killed and wounded and the sails and rigging much shattered.9

In addition to the damage caused by the guns of the galleon, the privateers were also subjected to a hail of hand-grenades (described as ‘stink pots’) which blew up several cases of powder on the quarterdeck of the Duke and started a fire on the Marquiss which the crew managed to extinguish before it spread. Around 11 a.m. the Duke broke off the action after her mainmast had received two direct shots. Rogers made the signal for the other captains and senior officers to come aboard his ship for a meeting. There was still a general determination to continue the action but the ships’ carpenters warned that the foremast of the Dutchess and the mainmast of the Duke were likely to go by the board and take the other masts with them. The Dutchess had thirty men killed or wounded, and the Duke had eleven wounded, including Rogers, who had been hit in the ankle with a wood splinter which exposed his heel bone. He had lost a lot of blood and was unable to stand. It was evident that they had little chance of taking the great galleon. Between them they had fewer than 120 men fit for boarding the enemy, which, according to information they had obtained from the prisoners they had taken in the smaller galleon, had around 450 men on board, including a large number of Europeans, ‘several of whom had been formerly pirates, and having now got all their wealth aboard, were resolved to defend it to the last’.

The problem was that the privateers’ guns were making no impression on the powerful teak hull of the galleon, which towered above them and made it difficult to cause significant casualties among her crew. According to Cooke, ‘we might as well have fought a castle’, and Rogers noted that the ships built at Manila were much stronger and had thicker sides than ships built in Europe so that ‘few of our shot entered her sides to any purpose, and our small arms availed less, there being not a man to be seen above board’.10 It was agreed that it was better to secure the prize they had already taken than to resume the action and risk losing more men and further damage to their battered ships. As always the resolution was drawn up in writing and was signed by the captains commanding the three ships as well as eleven other officers, including William Dampier, Robert Fry and Alexander Selkirk.

On the evening of 28 December the ships limped slowly back towards Cape San Lucas. On the Duke it was necessary to take down the main topgallant mast and secure the mainmast with additional stays and runners, while the other ships also carried out running repairs. Contrary winds and currents slowed their progress and not till the evening of the following day did they reach the safe haven of the harbour in the lee of the cape. As they anchored alongside their Spanish prize a light shower of rain swept across the bay.

During the next two days negotiations were concluded with Jean Pichberty and the three Guayaquil hostages, all of whom signed a document to the effect that they had been well treated and that the financial transactions made for the payment of the ransom had been carried out voluntarily and with their full consent. On 1 January the hostages and the captain and crew of the Manila galleon-sailed for Acapulco in the Jesus, Maria y José, the thirty-five-ton coasting vessel the privateers had captured off Lobos Island. The Spaniards were supplied with water and provisions for the voyage and the captain was allowed to retain all his books and instruments, ‘So that they parted very friendly, and acknowledged we had been very civil to ’em.’

The captain took with him a letter from Rogers to Alderman Batchelor and the other sponsors of the expedition. The letter eventually reached Bristol and is preserved among the other documents relating to the voyage of the Duke and Dutchess. It is addressed from California, dated 31 December 1709, and provides a brief account of the taking of the smaller Manila galleon and the unsuccessful attack on the larger galleon: ‘This ship was too strong for us, and has wounded all our masts …’ Rogers mentioned the death of his brother and his own injuries, but, being aware that the letter must pass through enemy hands before it reached its destination, he gave no information about the value of the captured galleon’s cargo, nor did he describe the raid on Guayaquil or the taking of other prizes. He ended, ‘My endeavours shall not be wanting on all occasions when please God to restore me to my strength.’11

Before leaving Cape San Lucas and setting sail for home, Rogers had to face another mutiny. This time it was orchestrated by Thomas Dover and concerned the command of their valuable prize, which had been renamed the Batchelor Frigate, in honour of their chief sponsor. Rogers made it clear that he wanted an experienced sea officer to take command of the galleon on the homeward voyage. Dover wanted the command himself and persuaded a number of other officers, including Courtney, Cooke and Dampier, to support his claim. There followed a paper war in which both sides recorded their arguments at length. Rogers and his supporters made it clear that Dover, who was no seaman, was utterly incapable of acting as commander of a sailing ship, and Rogers further pointed out that ‘his temper is so violent that capable men cannot well act under him’. In the end it was agreed that Dover be given nominal command but that Robert Fry and William Stretton would be responsible for navigating and sailing the ship ‘and that the said Capt. Thomas Dover shall not molest, hinder or contradict them in their business’.12 Alexander Selkirk was appointed to the key post of master of the ship.

They spent less than two weeks at anchor in the harbour of Cape San Lucas, repairing their damaged ships and stocking up with wood and water. Rogers was still suffering from his injuries (it would be many months before he was fully recovered) but for most of the men it was a pleasant interlude. The weather was calm and the air was fresh and healthy, in marked contrast to the tropical heat of Guayaquil. They had little rain but there were heavy dews during the nights. The surrounding countryside was mountainous, with barren, sandy wastes relieved by a scattering of shrubs and bushes. The local Indians became increasingly friendly. They much admired the privateers’ ships and paddled out to them on bark logs and climbed aboard. Rogers described them as tall and straight with much darker complexions than other native people they had seen on the Pacific coast. They had long black hair which hung down to their thighs. ‘The men stark naked, and the women had a covering of leaves over their privities … The language of the native was as unpleasant to us as their aspect, for it was very harsh and broad …’ The Indians’ huts were so badly constructed of branches and reeds that they appeared to be temporary dwellings, and they did not have any pots, utensils or furniture of any kind. They lived chiefly on fish but had no nets or hooks and caught the fish by diving underwater and striking them with sharpened sticks. Although he was critical of the Indians’ appearance and primitive way of life, Rogers was impressed by their honesty: ‘They coveted nothing we had but knives and other cutting instruments, and were so honest that they did not meddle with our coopers or carpenters tools, so that whatever was left ashore at night, we found it untouched in the morning.’13

On 10 January 1710 the Duke, the Dutchess, the Marquiss and the Manila galleon (now the Batchelor Frigate) weighed anchor, rounded the end of the cape and sailed out into the Pacific. Their destination was the island of Guam, which lay more than 6,000 miles away on the far side of the great ocean.

On the advice of the Spanish pilot of the Manila galleon they followed the route taken by the west-going Acapulco galleons. From Cape San Lucas they headed west-south-west until they reached the latitude of 13 degrees north. From there they sailed due west along the line of latitude to Guam. The crossing of the Pacific took them two months and it proved to be an arduous and difficult voyage. The Duke had sprung a leak, so one of the pumps had to be manned continuously. To conserve food and water the crews were strictly rationed. Each mess of five men was restricted to one small piece of meat and a pound and a half of flour per day. When some of the Duke’s crew were caught stealing pieces of pork Rogers ordered the ringleader to be flogged by every member of the watch and his companions were put in irons. The black slaves were allowed even less food and water than everyone else and three of them died during the passage. Three other people were buried at sea: an Englishman who had joined the privateers at Guayaquil; the Spanish pilot who had been wounded during the capture of the galleon; and a Welsh tailor on the Duke who had been shot in the leg during the same action and ‘being of a weak constitution, fell into a dysentery which killed him’.

Apart from catching two dolphins they rarely landed any fish but the strict rationing and favourable winds enabled them to reach Guam with fourteen days of provisions left. On the morning of 11 March they sighted the distant hills of the island and by midday they were sailing along a green and verdant shore lined with coconut palms. They were greeted by sailing craft with outriggers which flew past them at astonishing speeds. During the afternoon of the same day they dropped anchor opposite a small village and sent ashore two interpreters with a letter for the Governor of Guam. As Guam was a remote outpost of the Spanish empire and a key staging post for the Acapulco galleons, the privateers were not sure what sort of welcome to expect. To their considerable relief they received a reply from the Governor to the effect that they would be given all the hospitality the island afforded. Within two days of their arrival they were being presented with bullocks, limes, oranges and coconuts, and on 16 March the chief officers were invited to the Governor’s house for a magnificent meal of sixty dishes. By the time of their departure on 21 March they had taken on board more bullocks, sixty hogs, rice, corn, baskets of yams and some 800 coconuts.

The next destination was the Dutch trading port of Batavia (Jakarta), which was more than 3,200 miles away. They headed south-west for Ternate, one of the Moluccas. On 15 April they encountered three waterspouts, ‘one of which had like to have broke on the Marquiss, but the Dutchessby firing two shot, broke it before it reached her’. They survived several storms but the Duke was taking in more water than ever, so that it took four men half an hour to pump her free of water and the pumping had to continue night and day. They threaded their way past innumerable islands, never quite certain where they were until on 29 May they reached Butan on the south-east corner of the Celebes. Here they were courteously received by the King of Butan. Presents were exchanged and they replenished their wood and water, but they had to pay extravagant prices for the provisions brought out to them by the local inhabitants. They set sail on 8 June and two days later intercepted a small vessel whose Malayan captain agreed to pilot them through the shoals and islands that lay between them and Batavia. By 14 June they were passing the island of Madura, off the north coast of Java, and on the afternoon of 20 June they saw thirty or forty ships lying in the roadstead of the great Dutch port. They dropped anchor just after sunset ‘at the long desired port of Batavia’.

The sailors were so delighted to find themselves in a civilised place where alcohol was cheap and plentiful that some of them were seen hugging one another with glee. Rogers himself was astonished to see such a noble city in this part of the world and the Europeans so well established. Batavia was the centre for the flourishing Dutch empire in the East Indies. Much of it looked like Amsterdam: there were fifteen canals which were crossed by numerous stone bridges and lined with handsome brick houses; there were elegant churches and an impressive town hall overlooking a square in the centre of the city; there were hospitals and schools and printing houses. On the outskirts were fine country houses with gardens shaded by fruit trees and decorated with statues and fountains, ‘so that this city is one of the pleasantest in the world. I don’t think it so large as Bristol, but ’tis more populous.’

Batavia was ruled by Abraham van Riebeck, the Governor-General, who lived like a prince with a personal escort of guards bearing halberds, and a garrison of more than 1,000 soldiers. His residence was a palace within a heavily fortified citadel and when the privateers sent a deputation to meet him they were greeted in a great hall decorated with armour and hung with flags. He examined and approved their commissions as private men-of-war and agreed to their using the port facilities to careen their ships. However, the chief administrator of the port proved obstructive and more than four weeks passed before they were able to take the Marquiss across to Hoorn Island and heave her on her side. When they did so the carpenters discovered that her bottom planks had been eaten to a honeycomb by teredo worms. They had no option but to sell her at a knockdown price of 575 Dutch dollars and transfer her prize goods to the other three ships.

During their prolonged stay in the Dutch port Rogers wrote a second letter to Alderman Batchelor in Bristol. He gave no more information about the value of the Manila galleon’s cargo and explained, ‘I don’t write fuller here nor to any one else, because of the distance and uncertainty of going safe.’14 He did mention that they had lost seventy men by death or desertion, and he did admit that he was much thinner and weaker than usual and had been so ill as a result of his wounds that he had not been able to conduct his normal business. His journal entry for 30 June records in more detail the extent of his wounds, and indicates the extreme discomfort he must have been under:

8 days ago the Doctor cut a large musket shot out of my mouth, which had been there near 6 months, ever since I was first wounded; we reckoned it a piece of my jaw-bone, the upper and lower jaw being much broken, and almost closed together, so that the Doctor had much ado to come at the shot, to get it out. I had also several pieces of my foot and heel-bone taken out, and God be thanked, am now in a fair way to have the use of my foot, and to recover my health. The hole the shot made in my face is now scarcely discernible.15

For all its amenities Batavia could be a deadly place for visiting seamen, and during the eighteen weeks the privateers spent in the vicinity four of them fell ill with ‘fevers and fluxes’ and died. Sixty years later Captain James Cook called in at the port during his first great voyage of exploration in the Endeavour. He had not lost a single man from sickness in a voyage which had taken him from England around Cape Horn to Tahiti and then on to New Zealand and Australia, but in Batavia his men went down with fevers (probably malaria and typhoid) and within a few weeks thirty-one were dead.

Before leaving Batavia the privateers recruited seventeen more men, mostly Dutchmen, to replace those who had died and those who had deserted. On 24 October they weighed anchor and set sail for the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. They sighted Table Mountain on 27 December and the following day they entered the harbour of Cape Town. They saluted the Dutch fort with nine guns and dropped anchor a mile offshore. The anchorage was exposed to fierce gusts of wind from the mountains and to winter storms from the sea, but the town, which Edward Cooke reckoned to be about the size of Falmouth, enjoyed a fresh and healthy climate. Some 250 houses and a church were surrounded by small vineyards and plantations of oak trees. The dockyard and naval storehouses had everything needed to refit and service the ships of the Dutch East India Company, while a fine hospital ‘furnished with physicians and surgeons as regularly as any in Europe’ was able to look after 600 to 700 sick men from the ships returning from the Far East.

Although Rogers spent much of his time ashore during the three months they stayed at Cape Town, he remained thin and in poor health but he was able to write a long and optimistic letter to Alderman Batchelor. ‘I heartily congratulate your good fortune,’ he began, and for the first time he revealed the riches of the Manila galleon. ‘Her cargo consists of most sorts of goods India affords proper for Acapulco and New Spain, the chief of which are silks, brocades, Bengale goods of several sorts, raw silk, musks, spices, steel ware and china ware.’16 He reckoned that the likely value of the cargo was one million Spanish dollars. In addition to this the possessions of the ship’s officers, men and passengers amounted to not less than 2,000 to 3,000 pieces of eight. In terms of English money he estimated that the prize, after allowing for damage to some of the goods, was worth around £200,000 (£15.5 million today). He was already aware that they were likely to face all sorts of problems when they returned home with their prize goods and he asked Batchelor and his fellow owners to be ready to act for them ‘and to hasten to us as soon as you hear of our arrival in any part of Great Britain’.

With no sign of an end of the war in Europe, and the consequent danger from French warships and privateers, it was agreed that the Duke, the Dutchess and the Batchelor should join a Dutch convoy of East Indiamen for the voyage home. The convoy was under the command of Admiral Pieter de Vos and consisted of sixteeen Dutch ships and nine British ships, including the Bristol privateers and their prize. They sailed from Cape Town on 5 April and headed out into the heavy swell of the South Atlantic. On 30 April they made the island of St Helena, which Cooke noted was ‘garrisoned by the English, for the refreshment of India Ships’, and early on the morning of 7 May they passed Ascension Island, then uninhabited and no more than a tiny speck in the great expanse of the ocean.

As they approached the waters off Europe the Dutch admiral hoisted a broad pennant and all the other Indiamen hoisted long naval pennants from their mastheads so that they would look like a squadron of men-of-war rather than peaceful merchantmen. And to avoid French ships lying in wait in the English Channel and the Irish Channel the convoy made a long detour. They sailed west of Ireland and around the coast of Scotland, pausing briefly off the Shetland Isles to pick up provisions and to join a squadron of ten Dutch warships which had been sent to escort the convoy down the East Coast of England to the Netherlands. On the morning of 23 July 1711 the leading ships in the convoy sighted the Dutch coast and pilot boats came out to meet them. The guns of all the British ships fired a thunderous salute to the Admiral, while the Dutch ships ‘fired all their guns for joy at their safe arrival in their own country’. The Bristol ships waited for the flood tide to take them over the harbour bar into the River Texel. At eight in the evening they finally dropped anchor in Texel Road about two miles offshore. Cooke noted that the voyage from the Cape of Good Hope had taken them three months and seventeen days.

The day after their arrival Rogers made his way to Amsterdam, where there was a letter from the Bristol owners. This advised them to remain at their current moorings until some of the owners came over to see them. There were a number of problems to be sorted out, the most critical being the hostile reaction of the directors of the English East India Company, who ‘were incensed against us, though we knew not for what’. The company had a monopoly of trade between Britain and the East which included everywhere from the Cape of Good Hope to the Straits of Magellan. The company’s agents had kept the directors informed of the movements of the Bristol privateers and the directors were determined to seize and confiscate the Manila galleon.17 When Squire Holledge and a small group of the shipowners arrived on 5 August they were welcomed by a salute from the guns of the three ships. After a brief visit to each ship they travelled to Amsterdam with the ships’ officers to see the Chief Magistrate of the city. They presented him with a brief account of the voyage and swore that their only trading in the Indies had been for provisions and basic necessities.

Some of the crew were now becoming mutinous not only because they wanted their share of the prize goods but also because they wanted to get home. The ships’ council agreed to make an immediate payout of twenty Dutch guilders to each sailor, ten guilders to each landsman ‘and to every officer in proportion as his occasion required’. Meanwhile the shipowners had persuaded the Admiralty to provide an armed escort to accompany the ships back to England. Among the surviving correspondence of the expedition is a letter to John Batchelor from Sir Thomas Hardy, Rear-Admiral of the Blue. Writing from his flagship HMS Monk on 9 September, the admiral assured Batchelor and his colleagues that warships would be sent to bring the ships across from the Netherlands and a fourth-rate ship would take them up the Thames to the Nore. He ended, ‘I wish you success over the East India Company.’18

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