Captain Henry Morgan, now immortalised on the label of the rum that bears his name, was one of the most notorious privateers of all time, plundering Spanish possessions in the Caribbean for his own personal gain, reports Simon Edge for London’s Express.
When he died he had built up one of the biggest fortunes in Jamaica. So when archaeologists discovered his sunken flagship full of unopened cargo boxes and coral-encrusted chests, you can imagine their commercial sponsors would be over the moon at the prospect of doubloons and pieces of eight.
Actually what they are hoping for is rum. For the gentleman in question was the Welsh-born Sir Henry Morgan, a man who bent all the rules of diplomacy in his pursuit of treasure and was one step up from a pirate (although he sued two newspapers that called him that). He was the inspiration for the Errol Flynn film Captain Blood but today he is best known as the swashbuckling mascot of Captain Morgan’s Rum – the company putting up the money for the salvage.
“When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved,” says marketing manager Ali Wilkes. “The artefacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible.”
Although details of his early life are sketchy, Morgan seems to have been born around 1635 – in the reign of King Charles I – in Glamorgan. He arrived in the West Indies in his early 20s, shortly after the English had captured Jamaica from the Spaniards – and may even have been a soldier in the victorious army.
“Many young men were drawn to the Caribbean in pursuit of riches,” says his biographer Nuala Zahedieh. “Sugar offered high returns but required a large capital investment, and those with limited resources such as Morgan looked in other directions. The Spanish empire had long offered rich pickings through trade and plunder, and Jamaica, in the heart of the Caribbean, provided a good base for both activities.”
Although the Anglo-Spanish war ended in 1660, private adventurers were tacitly encouraged to continue hostilities as a cheap way of keeping the Spaniards at bay. Morgan spent two years on a plundering expedition in Central America, finding the Spanish “in all places very weak and very wealthy”, then married the daughter of the deputy governor of Jamaica and established a home in Port Royal, its main settlement.
In 1667 the island’s governor made him admiral of the privateers and over the next four years he led a series of spectacular raids against the Spanish empire. He penetrated far into the Cuban interior and then attacked Portobello, a wealthy port on the isthmus of Panama. French privateers refused to take part because it was too dangerous but the Welshman carried off a daring surprise attack.
The total plunder was reported to be as much as £100,000, much more than the total value of Jamaica’s agricultural output. Each man received a basic share of £120, five or six times the annual wage of a 17th century sailor. In London, Morgan was seen as a national hero.
But the main prize was Panama City, the richest settlement in the Spanish New World and a site of huge strategic importance. Its capture would humiliate Spain and provide massive plunder.
Again, Morgan triumphed. The Spanish were routed in January 1671, losing 400 or 500 men against just 15 privateer losses. But most citizens had time to escape with their valuable property. Morgan’s men spent a month searching offshore islands and the surrounding country for runaways, reportedly torturing captives.
Before the main attack he had sent an advance party to storm a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River. He and the rest of his fleet arrived to find the British flag flying. But the cheers from those on the cliff and on board ship turned to horror as Morgan’s flagship Satisfaction ran onto a reef, followed by three or four other ships.
It is the Satisfaction that archaeologists from Texas State University now think they have found. “To us, the ship is the treasure – the story is the treasure,” says Fritz Hanselmann, team leader. “You don’t have a much better story than Captain Morgan’s sack of Panama City and the loss of his five ships.” Back home, a growing segment of influential opinion held that it would be better to pursue peaceful trade with the Spanish, notably in slaves. Having operated on a nod and a wink until this point, Morgan was now arrested, shipped back across the Atlantic and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
But his disgrace was shortlived. He was released in 1674, knighted and allowed to return to Jamaica as lieutenant-governor – the island’s number two.
Here he remained, with two stints as acting governor and at one stage arresting and punishing genuine pirates who had seized English ships. “I abhor bloodshed and I am greatly dissatisfied that in my short government I have been so often compelled to punish criminals with death,” he wrote.
Suffering from liver problems related to his taste for drink, he died in Jamaica in August 1688, aged about 53. He was given something resembling a state funeral. He is now immortalised on the label of the rum that bears his name – an idea dreamed up by Canadian distilling tycoon Sam Bronfman in the Forties.
When the archaeologists exploring the wreck ran out of cash, the Captain Morgan Rum Company – now part of drinks giant Diageo – stumped up the funds for a magnetometer survey, which looks for underwater metal. Unfortunately that process isn’t capable of detecting 350-year-old bottles of rum – but corporate fingers are being crossed on shore.
“Who knows what’s in the cargo boxes and chests?” says Wilkes. “But wouldn’t it be amazing if we discovered some bottles of Captain Morgan’s finest?”
BAD BOYS (AND GIRLS) OF THE HIGH SEAS
JOHN RACKHAM: Otherwise known as Calico Jack, in the early 18th century Rackham plundered ships from New York to the Caribbean but is best known for his design of the Jolly Roger flag with its skull and crossed swords and having two female crew members: Mary Read and Rackham’s lover, Anne Bonny.
ANNE BONNY: A wild Irish redhead who was said to have fled to sea after stabbing someone in an argument aged only 13. She ended up in the Bahamas where she married small-time pirate James Bonny before shacking up with Calico Jack. With Mary Read the pair stole her lover’s ship, the Revenge, and put to sea, capturing ships and accruing treasure. They were eventually tracked down and captured by the Royal Navy in 1720 and sentenced to hanging, although no record exists of Bonny’s death. There were even reports that she was freed after a ransom was paid.
EDWARD TEACH: Known as Blackbeard because of his thick facial hair, he terrified victims by tying lit matches under his hat and carried up to six pistols in a bandolier slung across his chest. Teach also became a notoriously successful pirate in the Caribbean, holding entire ships’ companies to ransom. His own ship, called Queen Anne’s Revenge, flew a flag carrying a skeleton spearing a heart. He was eventually killed in battle with the Royal Navy.
HENRY EVERY: Born in Devon and known as Long Ben, Every operated in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In 1695 he raided a ship in the Arabian Sea on its annual pilgrimage from Mecca where he plundered £600,000 of jewels, making him the richest pirate in the world. He was one of the few pirates to retire with his loot. He was written about in his lifetime by Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.
For the original report go to http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/264097/The-real-pirate-of-the-Caribbean