Book Review: Koh I Noor by Anita Anand and William Dalrymple.

Published: 15-06-2017
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 352
ISBN: 9781408888841
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing
Illustrations: 2 x 8pp colour insert

Diamonds are forever and so are the stories attached to them. This is a book about a diamond, and the lengths people went to in order to possess it. In the end it is a story about possessiveness, belonging and ownership.
It is a human story, a chunk of rock, no matter how great in value cannot speak for itself. It’s character is very much formed by its owners, and the fact that these people wished to own it says something about them in turn.
As the centuries pass, and the diamond takes on yet more handed down significance, afforded by generations of ownership and individual lives, it has grown a life of its own, a life perhaps as faceted as its etched surface that envelopes the lives of those that would posses it. They must understand what it says about them to want it. After so much time, Koh I Noor has a voice and it comes from centuries of history.

The premise of this book, (well presented and richly illustrated) is to tell the real story of the world’s most infamous diamond. This as opposed to the potted history’s collected by the British after they gained possession of it after the 2nd Sikh War. This it succeeds in marvellously. The two authors go back into Indian Legend to explain the significance of such stones as the Koh I Noor, and then follow it right down to the present day controversy of who should possess it.

William Dalrymple tackles the immense job of tracking the stone from early Legends and down through it’s hectic early life as a Mughal, then Persian then Afghan and then Sikh trophy. This section takes up part 1 of the story and ends with the death of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Dalrymple does a stellar job of reducing down whole centuries into chapters, but inevitably perhaps more elbow room is required and the narrative ebbs and flows.

Anand takes up the baton of the story in part 2 which traces the path of the diamond from the hands of the dead Ranjit Singh 1st Sikh War to its loss to the British, its travel to Britain and recutting, and then to the modern day. This part of the book is maybe a touch better written but perhaps not as academically pleasing. The narrative flows easily and is vivid as it is informative. The diamond, and attendant movements and politics play a background role to the people who own it, the lives of its principle Indian owners are investigated thoroughly, (so much so that I must admit to forgetting at times what the book was about.)

Distance is lost somewhat in the second half of the book, but that’s because we suddenly go into closeup. First of all there is so much more documentation available for Anand to draw on, which helps her build her narrative up. However I could not help but feel a certain unease when it came to the passages about the battles of the Sikh Wars. Now I will just say that the battles and politics surrounding the diamond are central to this story and need to be included to understand why it is important.

Nevertheless I wondered if it was necessary to at all times mention the (undeniable) prowess of the Sikh Army and then observe that whenever they were defeated by the British it was only ever down to either treachery or (apparently) better British weapons. I always flinch slightly whenever I come across patterns like this.

I tried to decide wether or not this mattered to anyone else but myself, wether or not I was being too pedantic, too critical or unfair. Yet I could not escape from the resolution that the authors had chosen to include this information, and associated titbits, and therefore having done so perhaps would have done well to have attempted to reach a balance of perspectives. For instance I could have picked at a few minor things to do with the Duke of Wellington but I decided that if readers wanted to read about the Duke in full they’d read another book, but the fighting is directly associated with the story of the diamond whereas Wellington is incidental.

This I think brings us back to the way the book tends to delve into the biographies of the main owners, and sometimes strays from actually discussing the subject at hand. Then when it does return to topic, using the Koh I Noor as a sort of connector to carry the story onwards, it is discussed in such a way, especially in the latter half of the book, as to suggest that everybody concerned had no other motive for doing anything than to gain possession of the diamond.

Sometimes this quirk can be seen in TV documentaries where a specific thesis is being presented, and where a single, secret, hitherto forgotten pivot becomes the reson-d’être of the entire story. I found therefore checks and balances to my enjoyment of the book, but on the whole I liked it, and it was a fascinating trip down a path less travelled, a joy to read. Then again nothing is perfect to everyone.

A book that shines in its ability to string together thousands of years of history, involving politics, war, personalities and rivalries into a fluid tale. In many ways parting the mists of myth that surround the diamond. A highly readable, exciting and poignant work, that cleverly tells the history of the diamond and at the same time using it as a vehicle to tell the history of India

It is a book that admittedly carries with it a few unanswered questions. In the end when the subject of ownership is raised we are left in the air. All we know is that some in India want it back, and some in Britain would see the act of giving it back as tantamount to admitting to a greater national guilt, perpetrated by earlier generations but nevertheless festering under the surface.

The book indirectly asks us to beg the question we return to the question, what does that say about those who want it back, and those who want to keep it? This stone that is now so heavy with the weight of history. There is no longer in either country an Empire for it to represent. Why defend what is no longer in existence? Why use Koh I Noor as a dagger of blame?

For all the controversy about ownership, right and wrong one of the most potent legends about the Mountain of Light is that it brings ill fortune to those who posses it. Koh I Noor is the original cursed stone. For centuries it has been fought over, and aptly, one owner was instantly identified as a conquerer for it can only be possessed by those who have vanquished another.

After reading this book I am tempted to say that yes, the stone must be cursed. When it became malevolent is impossible to say, but perhaps the curse isn’t what the stone does to people in terms of spells or incantations. But like all great treasures the curse lies in what people do to each other in order to possess it.


Book Review: Boer Guerrilla vs British Mounted Soldier by Ian Knight.

Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (27 July 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472818296

Conan Doyle wrote that no enemy of Britain had done her so much damage as the Boer’s with their ancient theology and their very modern rifles. This book gets to the heart of that statement.

This is a capsule of tactical thought. Proving that this Osprey series retains its core strength of highlighting fighting experience from ground level and how actual combat can drive change in doctrine.

The Boer Wars are fertile ground for this discussion, and Ian Knight is as usual a capable guide to South African military history. It will I think rest rather neatly alongside his previous title about the Zulu war, and the other combat about the fighting in east Africa between Askari forces in ww1 as a very useful and accessible study of colonial warfare in Africa.

One of the main selling points of any Osprey book is by detailed maps, unit breakdowns and examinations of weapons and tactics in a very specific area, and this book delivers on all points. Can one ever tire of seeing photos of flinty looking Boer’s and comparing them to the at first neat but increasingly capable looking British forces?

The pages are replete with fascinating images, in addition to Johnny Shumate’s full page spreads, and the added bonus of one of Woodville’s paintings deployed as a double page layout.

Knight utilises some key eyewitness sources to bring realism to bush warfare in the Boer War. All in all the British come off the worst, even with their attempts to match Boer mobility and firepower with their own mounted infantry tactics.

It seems almost like if the Boers had been able to match British industry and supply they would probably have won the second war. Not that winning the first one wasn’t a brilliant feat on its own. But although efforts were made to make the Victorian army more “irregular” it was not really troops in the open that turned the tide.

It was economics, it was constriction, and ultimately the power of a rich industrial nation versus a poor agrarian one. In the end Boer Commandants could raid as far into British territory as they liked, and it still wouldn’t change the writing on the wall.

It’s not even as if the army kept any of the lessons learned in South Africa past the actual fighting. By WW1 very little remained of the keys of dispersal, concealment and manoeuvre that had been present during the Boer War.

Though many would cite the excellent marksmanship of the BEF in 1914, learned so the enemy supposed, in many colonial campaigns it was lucky they did not encounter a Boer Commando who, though mythologised as crack shots, were indeed experts at practical marksmanship when opposed to a European foe, demonstrated here in the final action and Elands Neck.

Of note is the fact that the war in east Africa only swung in favour of the allies when some ex Boer commandants took over in the theatre. A sharp, highly enjoyable addition to the series by Ian Knight.


Book Review: The Art of Giuseppe Rava.

Hardcover: 173 pages
Publisher: Winged Hussar Publishing (6 Jun. 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 099709463X

I do love military art. Part of the reason I am writing a history blog at all is because of the drama I saw in paintings. I have mentioned before that military painting is not as popular as it once was. Nevertheless it is not to be underestimated. Recently there has been an exhibition at the National Army Museum London of the work of battlefield artists. Commemorating combat and conflict in paint remains the most poignant homage to soldiering in my opinion.

No one since the Late Angus McBride has made gouache paint sing such an atmospheric song like Giuseppe Rava. Each painting is a story, one that can be read, something is always happening, even when people are not shooting or killing each other. The light and shade, and the effect it creates in Rava’s pieces evoke so strongly an element of the story that one might be able to in places hear what cannot be heard and smell what cannot be smelled.

Much like McBride, Rava’s strength lies in depictions of cold steel and forgotten civilisations, which he imbues with an immediacy and hot blooded warmth that would make one believe he had just seen the image he has created. The best military illustrators and artists can see a moving scene unfold and freeze it at the most dramatic or poignant moment. In this book, time and time again you will be able to see those moments, where time has suddenly been stopped and recreated.

The book, a neat, clean looking production, is light and easy to put on a shelf. There is a very generous and thoughtful introduction by author Gabriele Esposito, who has collaborated with Rava on several publications. I appreciated very much his comment about how military history without the art is a sad thing.

Format wise there is almost 200 paintings. About half are familiar to me from Rava’s work for Italeri and Hät miniatures. I adored that artwork as a kid, I was inspired by it, I copied it. I loved how scarred his shields were and I marvelled at his powers of perspective when rendering soldiers charging towards the viewer. His bravery with composition made me want to emulate those luging spears and rushing warriors with my pencils. They brought the action to life.

There is no explanatory text accompanying the plates. Only titles. To be extremely picky I think there should have been some sort of supporting explanations beside the art. In most of the other military art books I have, this is the way the paintings are presented, but although I prefer the relationship between word and visual, the lack of text doesn’t detract from the excellence of the illustrations.

The paintings are separated by era, starting with antiquity and going down into the mid 20th century. The selection highlights Rava’s versatility over a vast range of subject matter, from the ancient Egyptians to the world wars. Standout amongst the selection I feel are: The elevation of a Byzantine emperor; a model of quiet dignity and imperial grandeur. The battles of Ravenna and Ivry are favourites of mine, as are some of the Greco Persian subjects, I think the alternate view of the flag raising at Iwo Jima is good for its fresh perspective, also the novelty of the charge of the Italian Cavalry in 1917, plus I do rather like the painting of Wellington’s Staff in 1815.

A must for fans of historical art and illustration, especially, fans of Rava’s work and those enthusiasts who love a good action packed battle scene.


Book Review: Unsolved! By Craig P. Bauer.


Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691167671
624 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 222 halftones. 8 line illus. 17 tables.

Where do I start? This is a headspinning book, filled with secrets that have yet to be revealed. It’s like reading one long cliffhanger with the sure knowledge the sequel that reveals what happens is going to be a long time coming.

First off we get a crash course on how to decipher codes, and indeed in doing so we learn how to create them. We are even given a cipher to break, the author suggesting that we may want to stop reading and have a go “attacking” a problem or two. Then we are into the thick of a mind bending puzzle about the efforts to crack the mysterious writing held in a medieval manuscript.

Along the way we get to know the nuts and bolts, jargon and some of the methods used by cryptographers, my favourite nugget is the oh so apt short hand for basic encoded messages or Monoalphabetic substitution cipher MASC. See? Easy memory hook because it’s just like Mask, it masks the intention!

Now after thoroughly grasping that, I proceeded onwards and got completely turned around when the maths came in. I continued in a mixture of comprehension and incomprehension until we got to the Ancient Ciphers where at least I knew which way was up.

With amazing thoroughness, wit and easy communication the author immerses the reader in the world of Cryptanalysis Remember these are unsolved problems, and so each chapter is highly tantalising as a series of brilliant minds each take a turn at tackling ciphers which in the end remain as enigmatic as their creators originally intended. They truly must rank as some of the best in history, just because they have resisted the efforts of centuries of scientific thought to the present day.

Although all the subjects tackled were equally fascinating in some way or another, I did identify most with the ancient ciphers. It was also very pleasing to see Adrienne Mayor’s Research play a part when it came to “nonsense” words, which I recalled being impressed with in her excellent book on Warrior Women. It is also an excellent surprise to see the Vikings mentioned here. No I wasn’t aware of medieval Norse codes, nor that Caesar used ciphers, or that the Greeks had coded signal systems, but I did know that the Vikings had strong links to the Eastern Roman Empire, which is probably why their ciphers so closely approximate Greek ones.

Did I understand everything I read? No. I’m not mathematical. Did I ever feel lost? Strangely no. The author is good at conveying complex ideas, which when they are not series of equations come across very clearly. There is an almost conversational tone to the book in the way Bauer playfully interacts with the reader, in a way it’s almost like he’s offering all the codebreakers out there the chance to collaborate, or at least take part in the debate.

Do not mistake me, this is a serious look at the facts and methods here. Authored by an expert in cryptanalysis who was a lecturer for the NSA. In short it might well be more than you bargained for, but if this book has taught me anything it is not to take anything at face value. Speaking as a mathematically challenged member of the reading public I nevertheless asset by the 3rd chapter, I was able to detect the presence of a cypher in the images shown of carved stones without looking at the text for explanation. No I didn’t try to crack it, I kept reading! But that proves that Unsolved has the power to educate.

Some of the ciphers here are obviously fresh meat for conspiracy theorists. Indeed some of the code breakers mentioned are highly unscientific in their theories. Yet it’s far from just a jumble of uninspiring theory, as it rarely takes a stance to suppose anything that is not in evidence. Indeed I might go so far as to say that this is a very inspiring book, and will likely engage an active mind more closely than you might think.
I must admit that when I picked up this volume, with its slightly mystic cover design, and immodest weight I at first thought that I wouldn’t like it but if a good mystery is your cup of tea then this is likely to be the most original and absorbing book you will read this year.


Book Review: Fontenoy 1745 by Michael McNally.

Illustrator: Seán Ó’Brógáin
Short code: CAM 307
Publication Date: 18 May 2017
Number of Pages: 96

Some years ago a French mayor suggested changing the Gare du Nord to Fontenoy in a tit for tat response to Waterloo being the EU terminus. Most, even in France would probably frown and say “Fonte-What?” Chances are if you read Osprey Books you won’t be one of those people, and those who appreciate 18th century history will certainly not be ignorant of the most important battle of the War of the Austrian Succession.

Nevertheless public consciousness of what is perhaps the most conclusive French victory over British arms is not good. It is quite possible some know a general outline of the fight, but it really deserves a closer look. There is a sort of terrible grandeur to the simplicity of the fight. The dramatic theatricality that all stand up fights have. Also to commend it to the student of military history and strategy is the brilliance of the French commander’s generalship and his own heroic personality.

Fontenoy was the peak of Marshal de Saxe’s career. The campaign demonstrated his excellent strategic planning, and expert understanding of his enemy. Meanwhile the allies under the Duke of Cumberland showed themselves as dull and gullible puppets that played willingly into the hands of the French. The battle itself is almost like a European Gettysburg, in which one force believing too much in its own superiority flings itself against a determined foe and pays the price.

This, above even the stunning performance of the British infantry, is Saxe’s hour. And when we read the crisis of the fight it is hard not to cheer out-loud when the Marshal’s foresight pays off and he wins the field. Michael McNally should be praised for a crisp and stirring narrative through this title, demonstrating an excellent grasp of both sides strengths and weaknesses. Though the battle should probably be honestly described as a bit of a slogging match, the campaign itself was one that must stand alongside some of the finest feats of arms in terms of Saxe’s use of deception and foresight that forced his enemy to play to his tune.

Personally I had heard of Fontenoy as a boy when I was told that it was the first battle in which the Black Watch (then the 43rd highlanders) were engaged. From an allied point of view there was little to rejoice in, and it highlights the questionable reliability of allowing princes the supreme command of troops. The Duke of Cumberland perhaps might have made a decent tactical, brigade commander, but was lost in the big picture. Hence when it came to the limited field at Culloden the next year he was able to triumph, but Fontenoy shows us that he was a flawed commander when pitted against a soldier who knew his business.

The maps are very helpful in this book, and the full colour spreads are colourful and exciting. The best is the charge of the Irish brigade, and illustrates what the artist is best at, that being up close and personal scenes of combat. In my opinion he is not so suited to more sprawling scenes, the first 2 pager of the French position at Fontenoy quickly loses me, partly due to the impossibility of the flag in the foreground being spread out as if strings were attached to its corners, while all the other flags are hanging limp from their poles. The charge of the French Cavalry I like, at first I was a little sceptical of the composition in that the French are awfully close to the enemy for a cavalry charge. However look closely and you will see the pistol bearing cavaliers turning their mounts, whose reins and forelegs are rigid as they stall before the steady British line.

Fontenoy was a defining battle. One that should rank amongst the toughest fought of the 18th century, McNally has done the tale justice in this fine book.


Against the Black Flag: Anti Piracy Operations 1715-1723.

In 1713, peace of Utrecht left Spain free to drive logwood cutters out of Campeche and into piracy in New Providence. The Peace also left almost 40,000 privateers (mostly Dutch and English) out of work, many in the West Indies. Facing economic depression and a life of hardship in the merchant service or the Royal Navy, many were eager to find an alternate way out. When the Spanish treasure fleet wrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Florida in 1715, the lure of easy money meant that many of these dangerous types went “a wrecking”, and easily slipped back into their predatory ways in doing so.
Read here for more information on how it all started. ( )

Like a virus the pirate fad spread across the Caribbean and up the North American seaboard. It took everyone by surprise, the British armed forces, as was typical at the end of a war were laying off men, Both the army and the navy were spread thin. In 1716, when pricey really kicked off there where only 13 ships in American waters (3 to be ordered home that year) of which only 8 were in the West Indies.

By comparison between 1716 and 1718 there are estimated to have been 1,500 to 2,000 Pirates active. 800-1,000 of these were active in Bahamas (double of the law abiding population). Nassau on New Providence Island was their main base, and they were working out of around 20 ships that ranged from frigate sized ships like Whydah, & Queen Anne’s Revenge, to the more common sloops which needless to say a frigate, was not equipped to chase. One of the most disconcerting things about the “Golden Age” was the size of ships pirates were now operating in. When he was killed in 1719 Howell Davis commanded a 32 gunner.

The problem now was association, webs of pirates were emanating generally from two main sources, namely two influential captains named Hornigold and Jennings, who were at the heart of the entire thing. What was worse was that the entire system perpetuated itself down a line a string of protégés recruiting fresh and promising lieutenants and almost training them and they repeat the process when they become captain. It has been asserted that a line can be traced through Hornigold and Jennings to almost every other pirate during the period, and that all track back in some way to the Bahamas.

It didn’t help that pirating was almost a culture amongst seamen in the Caribbean and that brutalised sailors of the merchant service trucking slaves from west Africa or sugar, cotton and tobacco from the Americas, looked on Buccaneers like Henry Avery and Henry Morgan as heroes. Therefore the authorities needed to concoct a plan. They lacked the manpower and material to actively hunt the Pirates, though pirate hunters would play a part in their strategy, so they played to their strengths. Reinforcements were moved into the troubled area. Frigates, unsuitable for chasing small ships, were positioned as guard ships over ports and strategic trade routes. A royal pardon was decreed to any pirate that would surrender and with leeway given for initiative on the whole this was a highly effective course of action.

Nevertheless a crime wave of this size was always going to be difficult to tackle. And by 1718 some thought that piracy was causing trade in the Americas to grind to a halt. Big time Pirates like, Davis, Bellamy, Blackbeard, and in 1719, Roberts were constructing pirate fleets. Blackbeard’s flotilla had evaded HMS Scarborough and even blockaded the port of Charleston, which he held to ransom and in 1720 Roberts would hang the governor of Martinique. Nature however had a hand in getting the ball rolling, and as the tide of the “Golden Age” reached its peak it ever so slightly began to recede.

On April 26 1717 Sam Bellamy and all but 9 of his crew were caught in a hurricane off Cape Cod and were drowned. Both his ships went to the bottom and 6 survivors were hanged for piracy in Boston. The coming of a Royal Pardon for all Pirates arrived in the Caribbean with a new Governor. Captain Woodes Rogers, himself something of a buccaneer, had been appointed governor of the Bahamas, which at that time was not so much a colony as a pirate Republic. He was a man the authorities knew they could trust to sterilise the islands of Pirates, and he came to the West Indies with full powers to restore order. In one hand he would hold the pardon, in the other a rope end.

Rogers approach was known in the Bahamas before his sails came in sight. And one Bahamian diehard named Charles Vane, wanted to defend his actions with powder and shot. When Rogers appeared at New Providence in July Vane sailed out of Nassau with a fire ship and his guns blazing. Yet though Vane and a few others were unrepentant the ringleaders, Hornigold and Jennings had seen the writing on the wall. In 1718 there were now 16 RN ships in American waters of which 7 were in Caribbean. Initially Captain Vincent Pierce of the HMS Phoenix took the signatures of 209 pirates willing to surrender at Nassau, and Jennings had personally convinced 150 to follow him to do the same though these may be part of the total.
Rogers would report that he had pardoned 300 pirates at New Providence, he also set some of them, like Hornigold, to track down their old colleagues.

The appearance of royal authority in this lawless colony seemed to have given some false hope because in May there were only 12 RN ships on the West Indian and American stations in total and only 5 in Caribbean, Rogers own ships would have brought that up to 7, however though many influential Pirates had given up at Providence, Blackbeard was prowling along the Atlantic seaboard of North America from a new base at Ocracoke Inlet, blockading Charleston and seizing ships as he went. The most notorious of America’s Pirates, a protege of Hornigold’s and a sometime colleague of Bellamy and Vane, however was crafty, he had taken the King’s pardon in September and placed himself beyond the reach of the law. However this had not lasted long and he was back at sea off Carolina by November, this infuriated Governor Spotswood of Virginia who, unable to raid into a neighbouring state, turned to the Royal Navy for help.

On 22 November 1718 two rented civilian sloops sailed into Ocracoke inlet on the coast of Carolina. Working with the tide they entered a sheltered lagoon. They were well manned and commanded by an experienced officer, eager for promotion. 35 year old Lieutenant Robert Maynard. His stealthy approach surprised the Pirates, who had been holed up in there for weeks. A desperate running battle ensued, and Blackbeard lashed the navy ships with cannon fire that they were unable to return as they had no guns. It ended with a savage 10 minute boarding action in which Blackbeard was set upon and decapitated, his head, worth £100 in Virginia, was hanged from the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship as it sailed home, not since Perseus had slain the gorgon had such a head been associated with such terror.

To some the death of Blackbeard and the resumption of war with Spain, might have seemed to suggest that the pirate menace was officially on the wane. In 1718 56 pirates which included the deeply unfortunate Stede Bonnet and men from Blackbeard’s ship, plus men pulled in by Hornigold were tried for piracy of which about 49 were executed. But it wasn’t over. Although no pirate would ever come close to inspiring such fear as Blackbeard, he was small time compared to the man who appeared off the Brazilian Coast in July of 1719. Newly elected after Howell Davis was killed at Principe, Bartholomew Roberts was a curious pirate. He was celibate, teetotal, fairly clean mouthed and liked to dress well. A Welshman of obscure background he had originally been a slaver but he had been seduced by the lure of piracy, with its free society and it’s quick rewards for little labour.

Beginning his career with the capture of no less a prize than a Portuguese treasure ship, he spent the next four years roving from the Caribbean to West Africa, snapping up a incredible tally of 470 prizes, and gathering the largest pirate fleet yet seen, powerful enough to attack convoys and indeed capable of engaging the navy. In this time other Pirates were caught. Charles Vane was finally brought in, and Jack Rackham, “Calico Jack”, who is really only famous for the two women Pirates that sailed with him, both men went to the scaffold. And though the greatest of the Pirates seemed untouchable he was feeling the walls closing in.

In 1720 there were 14 Royal Navy ships in American Waters 6 of which are in Caribbean. All were predominantly large vessels, the navy never had enough frigates and sloops, the numbers of Pirates active were in decline, due to the realisation that piracy was not paying and that the easy life of plunder and good times was illusory at best, for more and more rotting carcasses were to be seen hanging from the gibbets of major harbours, tagged with the sign “Pyrates ye be warned”. In 1722 it seemed to Roberts that the best course was to sail for West Africa, were the hunting was still good, he arrived to find that this was true, but that two navy ships were expected to arrive in a month or so.

One of them was HMS Swallow, 50 guns, commanded by Captain Chaloner Ogle. A fairly brilliant officer destined for a successful career, though eventually attaining a greater rank than Maynard would, he never attained the sort of fame as the man who killed Blackbeard. Ogle had heard that Roberts was about and had remained watchful since reaching the coast of Sierra Leone. This paid off on 5 February 1722 when he sighted the Pirate flotilla careening at Cape Lopez. Ogle knew his business and as soon as he came in sight veered sharply away to so as to give the impression Swallow was fleeing. One of Roberts’ ships obligingly gave chase, but found out too late that she was chasing a ship of the line. The ensuing fight was short and one sided, and with the odds evened up Ogle headed back for Cape Lopez.

Five days later Ogle found Roberts still at his former anchorage. In the time he’d been away the Pirates had captured a ship and were now mostly drunk. When Swallow came into view the Pirates thought it was their sister ship returning, but it soon proved otherwise. Roberts gathered his hungover crew and hoisted his sails. He planned to run the gauntlet of Swallow’s fire, give them a broadside and then strike out for open water. Both ships closed on each other, Roberts was conspicuous on deck shouting orders, guns were run out as they passed a terrific exchange of artillery shattered the silence of the sea. Fumbling on the pirate ship allowed the navy gunners to unleash a second crippling broadside before the Royal Fortune could sail away. When the smoke cleared Bartholomew Roberts was dead, and by the time Ogle’s men boarded the pirate ship, his body had been weighted down and thrown overboard.

Many point to this as the end of the golden age of piracy, and indeed it was only the small timers left, all of whom were either hunted down or disappeared into obscurity.
After Roberts’ death pirate numbers began to drop dramatically. The last and most vicious wave appeared in the wake of Roberts, yet there was only 1,000 active in 1723, when the infamous Edward Low, was captured at Cape Fear, which equates roughly to perhaps 10 ships, 500 in 1724, and between 1725-6 it has been estimated that less than 200 were active across the Americas. Between 1718 and 1723, there were 16 trials of pirates. Six of which dealt with men who were from, or were large names in pirate community. Of 304 tried, 210 were hanged.

Although the authorities were taken by surprise by the scale and virility of the great wave of piracy, they had formulated an effective response very quickly. By stationing well armed ships at key ports and trade routes, they forced the Pirates to move in more predictable ways and by utilising privateers, former Pirates and cutting out operations, headed by capable men like Maynard and Ogle, the navy started to make piracy a much less attractive pastime. Added to this was the lure of pardon, a carrot and stick plan came into effect deployed artfully by Rogers, and by 1718 the Pirates operating in American and West Indian waters had been reduced by perhaps 350-400, and numbers would continue to diminish by approximately 500 a year until eventually by 1730 the Golden Age of piracy had faded into gory legend. It would stay that way until the early 19th century when yet another depression and destabilisation, caused by the end of another Great War would trigger one last western upsurge of piracy but that’s another story.

First appeared on Britannia Magazine Facebook Page. 2016.

Pirate: The Golden Age. Angus Konstam.
Pirates: 1660-1730. Angus Konstam.
The Pirate Ship 1660-1730. Angus Konstam.
Blackbeard: Angus Konstam.
Blackbeard’s Last Fight. Angus Konstam.
General History of Piracy: Captain Johnson.
Republic of Pirates: Colin Woodward.
Under the Black Flag: David Cordingly.
If a Pirate I Must Be: Richard Sanders.
Spanish Gold: David Cordingly.