By Haydn Brown.
First, an Explanation:
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
“Pirate is the most general of the four terms. Originating with the Greek peiratēs, meaning brigand, it can be applied to a wide range of nautical misbehaviour, including coastal raiding and intercepting ships on high seas. Robbery, kidnapping, and murder all qualify as piratical activities, provided there’s some water and a boat involved. If there’s no water and no boat, you’re just a regular bandit. If there’s a boat but no water, you need to go back to pirate school.”
A privateer was a pirate with papers. As the name suggests, privateers were private individuals commissioned by governments to carry out quasi-military activities. They would sail in privately owned armed ships, robbing merchant vessels and pillaging settlements belonging to a rival country. The most famous of all privateers is probably English admiral Francis Drake, who made a fortune plundering Spanish settlements in the Americas after being granted a privateering commission by Elizabeth I in 1572. The use of privateers allowed states to project maritime power beyond the capabilities of their regular navies, but there were trade-offs. Because privateering was generally a more lucrative occupation than military service, it tended to divert manpower and resources away from regular navies.
Privateering could be shady business, and this accounts for some of the lexical overlap with the word pirate. Privateers sometimes went beyond their commissions, attacking vessels that didn’t belong to the targeted country. This extracurricular raiding and pillaging were indistinguishable from piracy as defined above. At other times, outlaw pirates would operate with the tacit encouragement of a government but without the written legal authorization given to privateers. In historical settings where these practices were common, the line between privateer and pirate was blurred.
As youngsters we were brought up on romantic swashbuckling tales of pirates sailing in various exotic parts of the world; then there were movies such as “Treasure Island” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. No one ever told us that being a pirate in the cold waters of the North Sea could be just as profitable, and just as violent, – as happened, for instance, on the morning of Wednesday, 31 January 1781 when a large brigantine, the “Alexander & Margaret” was heading for London laden with coals. David Bartleman was its captain with Daniel MacAulay as his mate.
At about six o’clock on that January morning a Cutter, carrying eighteen 4-pounders plus a crew of upwards of 100 men commanded by the notorious English pirate Daniel (John?) Fall, emerged out of the mist and attacked the brigantine just off Cromer on the edge of the North Norfolk coast. Bartleman and his crew courageously defended their ship and did manage to beat off what was a first assault by Fall; it was an effort which no doubt raised the moral of the men – at least temporarily.
This success did indeed turn out to be short lived for barely two hours later Fall’s Cutter attacked again. This second skirmish continued for a further two hours until the brigantine became totally disabled with Daniel MacAulay, the mate, dying from the loss of blood and Bartleman also seriously wounded, some of the remaining crew less so; two small boys, apparently, escaped injury. It was clear that there was no option other than for Bartleman to strike a ransom with Daniel Fall; a ransom reputed to have been around 400 guineas. This agreement allowed Bartleman to bring his proud but shattered vessel into Great Yarmouth, which lay approximately thirty miles south-east of the skirmish area. Two weeks later, on the 14th February 1781 and at an age of barely 25 years, David Bartleman died as a consequence of his wounds and was buried in the parish churchyard of St Nicholas Church, in Great Yarmouth. To commemorate the gallantry of his son’s death, plus the bravery of his faithful mate, and at the same time mark the infamy of Fall the pirate, his father Alexander Bartleman ordered a stone to be erected over his son’s grave. At the foot of this stone is the following epitaph:
“Twas great. His foe though strong was infamous – the foe of human kind
A manly indignation fired his breast
Thank God my son has done his duty”.
On Saturday, 3 February 1781 the Ipswich Journal recorded this and other similar incidents by Fall:
“Yesterday the noted pirate Fall made his appearance to the North of this coast, and has taken a number of colliers and coasters; amongst which are the following:
The ‘John Pearson’ of Shields, ransomed for 700 guineas.
‘Smelt Coxon’ of Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.
‘Fanny Porter’ of Yarmouth ransomed for 300 guineas.
‘Alexander & Margaret’ from Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.”
Almost simultaneously, another account emerged from Cromer, picking up on what could have been part of Daniel Fall’s raiding programme in the vacinity of the Norfolk coast during that period, reporting thus:
“On Monday last, 11 fellows, armed with pistols etc landed out of a large boat at Runton, near Cromer, and greatly terrified the inhabitants; but assistance being called from Cromer, [ensured] they were all secured. The account they give of themselves is, that they belonged to a large smuggling vessel, which they were obliged to quit in order to save their lives; but it is supposed they belonged to the noted Daniel FALL, two of them being lately wounded, one of whom is shot through the knee, and the boat they landed from being thirty feet long. It is thought they either came to plunder, or surprise some unarmed vessel. William Windham, Esq. of Felbrigg, sent for Captain Bracey, of the impress service in this city, who accompanied by his gang, safely conducted them to town, [where] they were examined before Roger Kerrison, Esq., who committed them to Norwich Castle. They all prove to be Englishmen. (February 1781).”
The Norfolk Chronicle also picked up on the theme of Fall in the following two reports; on one hand you have Fall, the pirate, and on the other hand, you have Captain Steward, the ‘good guy’ :
“Yarmouth, Feb 1, 1781. On Thursday, about twelve o’clock, the ‘Dreadnought’, with Privateer, Captain Timothy Steward, Commander of 14 carriage guns, and 50 men, went to sea………he saw a large brigantine from Shields (known now to be the ‘Alexander & Margaret……..which was taken this morning about six o’clock)………Within half an hour, another large vessel, laden with coals, passed our roads and which was also taken this morning……and ransomed for five hundred guineas. The Captains of the above vessels say, they were taken by that notorious villain FALL, who had on board his ship at that time thirteen Ransomers; they supposed that FALL has taken near thirty sail of ships from the North. It is surprising that this villain had not one Frenchman on board.”
“Captain STEWARD, his Officers……. sailed down to a Scotch privateer in the Roads, and would have had its Captain [join him in pursuit of] this audacious pirate, but the Captain refused; then Capt. Steward directly sailed down to the ‘Ranger’ privateer, but the crew refused, as their Captain was not on board and the ship [was] not in proper order for action. Captain STEWARD, had 20 Gentlemen friends on board,……….who volunteered to go in pursuit of FALL, [provided] the ships in view would join the chase; but all refused. The sloop of war, ‘Fly’, was in the Roads, but had fifteen ships under her convoy for Portsmouth. (February 1781)”
Our Ships are Privateers, YOURS are Pirates!:
It depended very much from which side you were looking. Generally speaking, the British ships which preyed on enemy vessels were described as privateers. The enemy’s ships, or those who attacked British vessels, regardless of their own origin, were described as pirates. It made little difference to the treatment given to their victims. Strickly speaking, a privateer had a government commission to carry out commerce raiding against the enemy — a kind of privatised naval warfare — whereas a pirate was simply in it for the money and would attack anyone. However, sometimes even Captain Fall was given the relative dignity of being called a privateer – and in this the profits likely to come to him from the value of his ‘catch’ were huge:
“The ‘Sans Pear’, a French privateer, Capt. FALL, is arrived at Helvoetfluys, with 100 English prisoners, and 14 ransomers, valued at 5,400 guineas. The same privateer has also taken the ‘Ranger’ privateer (formerly the Lady Washington and captained by Magnus Brightwell of Wells), of 12 guns and 45 men; and on the third inst. she fell in with the ‘Eagle’ privateer of 16 guns and 160 men, which she sunk, after an obstinate engagement, that lasted with great fury on both sides for three hours and an half. (February 1781).”
At the beginning of June 1781, the Harwich packet, ‘Prince of Wales’ was captured by two cutters – The ‘Fearnought’, commanded by Fall, and the ‘Liberty’, which he had recently cut out from a Scottish port. The packet was taken into Flushing, where the ‘Liberty’ was wrecked as she approached the harbour and her company, including the British prisoners were rescued by Fall. It is interesting to note that although England was at war with Holland, the capture angered the Dutch, as they considered the packet-boats to be no more than neutral ships and the prisoners were soon repatriated.
Often FALL would sail under American colours. In February 1781 for instance, a Harwich packet sighted Fall who carried letters of marque from Holland, France and America and on this occasion hoisted the 13 stripes as the packet passed him. A short while later it was reported that Fall was off Orfordness with a squadron of privateers from Dunkirk. This demonstates that Fall, and many English sailors were happy to act as French (and American) privateers! – it would appear that a pirate was a pirate, regardless of the flag under which they happened to be sailing. However, although Captain Fall was active for quite a long time in the North Sea, it was reported in April 1782 that Fall had moved into the Irish Sea – and, apparently, Norfolk and the East Coast heard no more of him!
Today, tucked away in the old graveyard of the Great Yarmouth parish church of St Nicholas, is the headstone which was erected to the memory of David Bartleman, master of the brigantine “Alexander & Margaret” of North Shields.
In the early part of 2011, stonemason Colin Smith, spent many weeks restoring Bartleman’s faded relic of a headstone and transforming it into a legible icon for the St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust. This work was followed in the July of that same year by a special service, attended by more than 25 people; it was held in the St Nicholas churchyard, specifically for the purpose of the rededication and re-positioning of the restored stone at the West End of the Church. The stone was blessed by the Rev Chris Terry. Interestly, the funding for the restoration was said to have come from a family whose distant ancestors were themselves pirates!
Like most ship’s of the time, Bartleman’s ’Alexander’ and Margaret’ brigatine sported a figurehead, or ‘wooden dolly’ on its bow. Some three decades later, this same figurehead settled in Shields when, in 1814, the ship was in dock for repairs and the late Captain Bartleman’s father, Alexander, presented the figurehead to the quayside tradesmen. They, in turn, placed it at the entrance to Custom House Quay on Liddell Street, North Shields, and it stood there until 1850.
The curved female figure which today stands outside ‘The Prince of Wales Tavern’ in North Shields is the latest in a series of ‘wooden dollies’ which have stood at the entrance to Customs House Quay since 1814. This and all other ‘Dollies’ since then became famous the world over amongst sailors, who would cut pieces off to keep for good luck whilst voyaging at sea. Most Dollies became so defaced that they were regularly replaced.
Pirates of the … North Sea?
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