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Thursday, 30 August 2012

75) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Bartholomew Roberts (or Black Bart Roberts): 17.05.1682 – 10.02.1722):

75) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean:
Bartholomew Roberts (or Black Bart Roberts): 17.05.1682 – 10.02.1722)
i)            A two dollar coin issued by the New Zealand Mint on behalf of Niue Islands
ii)          A one dollar coin issued by Perth Mint, Australia on behalf of Tuvalu Islands:

Bartholomew Roberts (or “Black Bart” or Barti Ddu in Welsh) was born on 17th May 1682, in Casnewydd Bach or Little Newcastle, Pembrokeshire, Wales. He was the most successful pirate during the “Golden Age of Piracy”. Although his birth name was John Roberts, it seems that he changed his name to Bartholomew Roberts, taking this alias after another famous buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp.

He went to sea in 1695, but became a prominent sea-farer some 23 years later in 1718, when he was mate aboard a Barbados sloop and later on a slave ship “Princess” which was captured by pirates on ner the Gold Coast (or present day Ghana). Roberts was made to join the pirate crew under their captain Howell Davis, who too was Welsh.

Forced into piracy:

Initially Roberts joined the pirate fleet of two ships “Royal Rover” and “Royal James” very reluctantly, but, later reasoned that the charms of a pirate’s life, albeit a short one in several instances and hazardous as well, was nevertheless full of adventure, captured treasure and merchandise, unbridled power and far more rewarding than a sedentary job/life of a common sailor earning a pittance in the merchant navy with little or no chance of promotion to a Captain’s position.

Howell Davis’s death in an ambush :

Robert’s chance to get a quick “out of turn” promotion as Captain when “Royal James” was abandoned as unseaworthy and Davis commanding his lone ship the “Royal Rover” (a merchantman) planned to take the Portuguese Governor of the Isle of Principe (or “Prince’s Island”) as a hostage for a ransom, by inviting him on board his ship for lunch. 

Under the guise of captaining a British ship, he managed to get an invitation by the Portuguese Governor to the fort so as to extend a personal invitation to the Governor. Somehow the Portuguese got wise to the fact that the Royal James, although flying a British Flag was a pirate ship and Davis was ambushed and shot dead along with some of his men.

Roberts elected as Captain by the “House of Lords”:

Roberts being the most able of the remaining pirate crew and having grown very close to Davis, within six weeks of his capture by the same pirates, was the automatic choice to succeed Davis as captain of the “Royal James” and unanimously elected by the “House of Lords” (the pirate crew’s company of officers who used to refer to one another as “My Noble Lord” and “parleyed” among themselves, as well as,  with Captains of ships taken as prizes who were kept on board the Pirate Flagship) without consulting the “House of Commons” (the ship’s crew other than officers). 

This kind of election normally was not possible on other pirate ships, where a general consensus among all officers and men on board was required.  He accepted this position, since he reasoned that having become a pirate it was better to be a “Commander” of a pirate crew than to be a “common man”.

Avenging Davis’s death:

 The “Lords” were furious at Davis’s death and his party by treachery and wanted revenge as he had led them into several profitable ventures. Roberts avenged Davis’s death by attacking the island at night attacking and capturing the Portuguese Fort, killing several persons, ransacking the harbor and looting a large amount of gold and valuables. 

Thereafter Roberts sailed for Brazil after taking as a prize a Dutch Guineaman and an English ship along the way. Black Bart’s exploits earned him the loyalty of the pirate crew. They admired his fearlessness in battle and referred to him as “pistol-proof”.

Some more Acts of Piracy:

They spent almost three months off the coast of Brazil without incident, but suddenly chanced upon a Portuguese Fleet of about 40 merchant ships waiting for a brace of battle-ships to escort them to Lisbon. Roberts took a merchantman by surprise boarding and capturing it as a prize and forcing its Captain to show him the ship carrying the richest cargo. He led his pirate crew to board and capture the targeted ship and took a rich treasure of 40000 “moidores” (moeda d’oura or “money of gold”), jewellery among other riches, including a silver plate and a cross set with diamonds, being shipped for the King of Portugal himself.

Some Pirates leave Black Bart’s group:

Having traded/spent a portion of their captured treasure at “Devil’s island”, they sailed off in pursuit of a Brigantine, in a sloop, leaving the “Rover” with a large portion of their treasure, in the charge of a trusted crew member Walter Kennedy (whose name had also been discussed as a possible Davis’s successor when Bart was elected Captain and was a member of the “House of Lords”), who fled with the Rover and the remaining treasure while the main company of pirates were away chasing the Briganteen.

Roberts drafts a set of Articles (Terms of Service) which every member of his Pirate “Company” has to swear allegiance to:

Roberts was left with no alternative, but to convert his sloop into his main ship, renaming it the “Fortune”. Having been betrayed by Kennedy, Roberts made his pirate crew swear allegiance to a “set of articles”, whereby,

-      Every member of the crew could vote on pressing issues, have an equal share of food and liquor captured from their victims. Lights on board the pirate fleet would be put out at eight O’clock every night, and any drinks or carousal thereafter by any crew member was to be done on the open deck without lights for security reasons.

-      The articles included punishment by having a pirate’s nose and ears cut off if he robbed a colleague or stole his share of the looted cache.

-      Each man was to be armed to the teeth at all times for any action/battle which may chance upon them,

-      No boy or woman was to be brought on board and not following this article was a crime punishable by death.

-      Deserters from the pirate ship both while sailing in peaceful waters and in battle were to be marooned or put to death.

-      Any disputes between crew were to be settled by a variation of a duel on shore, first by the rules of a duel and in the event of both persons missing their shots, by cutlass, with the first man drawing blood being declared a winner.

-      Leaving the ship’s company on a “Voluntary Retirement” was prohibited till the pirate had amassed a fortune of 1000 Pound coins of equivalent value. The only exception was when a crew member had been rendered a cripple or had lost a limb in service, then he would be allowed to retire from active service as a pirate by getting proportionate amounts of gold coins as his retirement benefits from the common pool of The Group’s accumulated treasure resources, the maximum being upto 800 Pounds for the most serious disabilities.

-      The musicians were to have rest on the Sabbath Day.

-      The captain and the quartermaster were to receive two shares each of the prize, the master gunner and boatswain one and one-half shares, all other officers of the ship’s company one and one quarter, and “private Gentlemen of Fortune”  one share each.

The Pirates were required to take an oath on a Bible which was reserved for this purpose only under Robert’s custody, who was also known to conduct Sunday Service on Board his ships.

(These terms were highly innovative and intriguing for its Day and Age, in that, they were like a “Code of Conduct” or “Terms of Service” for pirates joining Robert’s crew much like those which many Organizations/Corporates make new recruits sign up, even in the present day). 

No wonder then, that he was the most successful of all the pirates that lived during the “Golden Age of Piracy” and he is said to have raided and captured almost 500 ships as “prizes” during his short career as a pirate between 1719 and 1722.

Robert’s personal ensign:

He lived by the motto “A merry life and a short one” and his “personal ensign” or the “Jolly Roger” (pirate flag) showed him and death holding an hourglass together. (It seems that the origin of the phrase “a short life and a merry one lies in this motto of Bart’s). 

In some versions of the Flag, the skeleton also holds a flaming lance or an arrow and a heart is shown below the hourglass dripping three drops of blood.

Montigny la Palisse a well known French pirate joins Black Bart Roberts:

By February 1720, his pirate group was joined by a French pirate Montigny la Palisse who brought with him a Sloop, the “Sea King”. The two ship pirate fleet encountered battle with two battleships from Barbados called the “Summersett” and the “Philipa”, the Sea King fled the battle, while Roberts lost almost half his men and his ship took considerable material damage was inflicted on the “Fortune”.  

 The “Fortune” docked at Dominica for repairs and refitting, where it was hounded by two ships from Martinique, but the pirates made good their escape.

Roberts devises a New Pirate Flag :

Roberts was very cross with both encounters and changed his flag, showing him as standing on two skulls abbreviated as “ABH” (A Barbadian Head) and “AMH” (A Martiniquian Head) with a cutlass in one hand. Some versions of the Flag show him with a weapon with five points at different levels in one hand and an hourglass in the other. Roberts wanted to hang the Governors of both these islands.

Some more prominent adventures:

The Fortune raided and captured as prizes several ships near Newfoundland.

An incident is worth mentioning when after capturing a number of ships in several daring attacks, in June 1720, he attacked the harbor of Trepassey. On seeing his pirate fleet approach the harbor flying their black pirate flags, the captains and about 1200 crew members of the 22 ships, anchored there, abandoned their positions and fled leaving their ships to the pirates (numbering about 160) without a fight. The harbor also had about 250 shallops (meaning a large heavy boat fitted with one or more masts and carrying fore-and-aft or lug sails and sometimes having guns). Roberts made directly for Admiral Babidge’s ship “Bideford Merchant” (the biggest ship in the harbor). Babidge was one of the richest men in Newfoundland, who made good his escape in a dinghy, when the pirates boarded his ship. The “cowardice” of the ship’s Captains angered Roberts and he had Babidge captured and flogged.

He rounded up the captains of the 22 ships, who were required to attend a “ceremony” aboard the “Fortune” in which a cannon was fired every morning till the pirates were docked in the harbour, and watch the pirates loot their ships. Any Captain being found absent was threatened with having his ship burnt right away. Roberts also threatened to hang at least one of the Captains for the “incivility” shown to him in not waiting upon him and making him feel welcome at the entrance of the harbor.

Roberts selected one Briganteen “Bristol” which was the ideal replacement for the “Fortune” from the anchored ships and fitted it with 16 guns. While leaving the harbor, Roberts reneged on his promise to the Captains not to burn their, ships and burnt the remaining ships in the harbor, anyway.

During the next month Roberts used the faster Briganteen to capture 10 French ships, commandeered one of them and fitted it with 26 cannon, renaming it the “Good Fortune” (later renamed as the “Royal Fortune”). He repeated a similar attack on St. Mary’s Harbor, destroying about 30 French and English ships.

Rest and Recreation:

In late September 1720, the pirate fleet headed for St. Christopher’s island and entered Basse Terra Road flying Robert’s black pirate flags with drummers and trumpeters playing, sailing through the anchored ships. Later, they were granted permission from the French Governor in the island of St. Bartholomew to remain on shore for recreation and rest after bribing the Governor with riches valued at more than his one year’s salary.

James Skyrme joins the Pirate “House of Lords”:

 By October 1720, they were off again capturing and looting several French and English ships.  Among the captured ships was “Greyhound” whose chief mate James Skyrme joined the pirates and later became captain of the “Ranger” one of the two ships which were involved in the final battle that brought about Robert’s death.

Roberts has his revenge against the Governor of Martinique:

Roberts called his “Lords” Pirate Council and devised a plan to kidnap the Governor of Martinique, Robert’s sworn enemy, who was sailing aboard a man-of war. Roberts’s ship pulled up next to the Governor’s ship disguising itself as a French merchant ship offering information about Robert’s whereabouts and suddenly attacked the unsuspecting battleship with cannon and boarding it with pistols and cutlasses. The Governor was caught and immediately hanged on the yardarm of the “Royal Fortune”.

Continuing Raids on shipping:

Robert’s raids on shipping, during 1721, had almost brought merchant shipping to a standstill.  Robert’s crew spread over the “Royal Fortune” and the “Good Fortune” split up , with “the Good Fortune” stealthily breaking away at night and continuing shipping raids in the Caribbean, while the “Royal Fortune” under Roberts set sail for Africa. In Africa, the “Royal Fortune” was abandoned at Cape Verde Islands, having become unseaworthy, and the “Sea King” was renamed the “Royal Fortune” in its place and continued on its pirating ways, attacking and raiding several ships .

Two French ships were captured and one ship, the Comte de Toulouse” was renamed the “Ranger” while the other was renamed the “Little Ranger”. Some time later, they encountered a frigate “Onslow” transporting soldiers, many of whom aware of Robert’s exploits, joined him on a quarter share of the divided profits. The “Onslow” was renamed as the fourth “Royal Fortune”.

The sea-battle that killed Roberts:

On 5th February 1722, the “HMS Swallow” under Captain Chaloner Ogle’s command, chanced upon the 3 pirate ships the “Royal Fortune”, the “Ranger” and the “Little Ranger”. The Ranger, commanded by James Skyrme, thinking that it was a merchant ship, gave chase. The “HMS Swallow” opened fire on the “Ranger” which is when the pirates realized their mistake. 10 pirates were killed and Skyrme lost a leg when he was hit by a cannon ball. The “Ranger” was forced to “strike her colours” (signal for surrender) and the remaining crew was captured by “HMS Swallow”.

On 10th February 1722, the “HMS Swallow” found the “Royal Fortune” off Cape Lopez, fresh from its latest exploit of capturing a merchantman, the “Neptune” and many of its crew were drunk and not fit for battle duty.

The pirates mistook the “HMS Swallow” as the “Ranger” returning to port, but were alerted by a deserter from the “HMS Swallow” who had joined Robert’s crew of the identity of the approaching ship.

Roberts as per his usual custom during battle, dressed up in his finest clothes. He is said to have worn a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain around his neck with a diamond cross as a pendant. He had a sword in hand and two pairs of pistols slung across his shoulders.

The pirates tried to sail past the “HMS Swallow” catching one broadside from the Royal Navy ship, but the “HMS Swallow” was wise to the pirate’s trick and moved at full speed catching up with the “Royal Fortune” delivering a second broadside with its cannon. Roberts was the first one killed by grapeshot striking him in the throat while he stood on deck commanding his pirate force.  His crew fulfilled his wish to be buried at sea by his body before it could be captured by his enemies and desecrated or gibbeted as a warning to potential pirates. The battle continued for another two hours with heavy fighting from both sides, and only after the “Royal Fortune’s” main mast fell, did the pirates surrender.  Only three fatalities were reported on the pirate’s side, of which one was Roberts. A huge cache of looted gold and valuables was recovered from the Pirate ships .

A total of 272 pirates were captured. The biggest trial in pirating history ensued at Cape Coast Castle. Some of them were sold into slavery, some hanged, some imprisoned, while almost a third of the pirates were acquitted. Captain Ogle was awarded a knighthood and rose to become an Admiral in his Naval Career.

Black Bart Robert’s personal characteristics and legacy:

He was generally courteous to his prisoners, although on the popular demand of his crew, he would sometimes ill-treat them, like the instance when he hanged the Governor of Martinique or flogged Babidge or when he burnt a slave ship with shackled slaves on board, because he had no time or the inclination  to unshackle them.

He hated cowardice as the incident when the captains and men of the 22 ships in Trepassey harbor demonstrates. He is known to have given gifts of jewellery and valuables to cooperative captains and crew of captured ships.

On several occasions he fought with much superior warships having well-trained men on board, and on many occasions in far superior numbers than the pirates.  His bravery and courage in battle won him the admiration of his adversaries including Royal Navy officers/Governors.

He was described as a teetotallar, liked drinking tea and disliked drunkenness at sea, although he was done in by his crew having got drunk before the fatal battle.

He kept a Company of surgeons/doctors on board his fleet who were replaced in case they were attacked and killed, like in the Davis ambush.

 He also kept a set of musicians on board, in particular a fiddler and trumpeter, who were required to play music every day and on occasions of acquisitions/celebrations by the pirate fleet. 

 He died as he had lived throughout his life – bold and fearless and standing valiantly in the thick of battle.

Roberts’s death hastened the decline and end of “the Golden Age of Piracy”.

In Little Newcastle his memorial stone is placed mentioning in both Welsh and English “In this village the famous pirate Black Bart “BARTI DDU” (1682-1722) was born”.

Mention in folklore and literature:

Roberts finds a detailed mention in “A General History of the Pyrates” authored by Charles Johnson.

He has a passing reference in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” when the one-legged pirate “Long John Silver” mentions that his leg was amputated by a surgeon aboard the Royal Fortune, who was also hanged along with the rest of Robert’s men found guilty of piracy.
 Terry Roberts “Black Bart Roberts: The Greatest Pirate of them all” is a detailed chronicle of his exploits. He is also the inspiration for Frank Sherry’s “The Devil’s Captain” Phil Shea’s “The Devil’s Captain”, Nicholas Griffin’s “The Requiem Shark”.

A number of songs, poems and novels featuring him were published in Welsh, most notably a poem/ballad by I.D.Hooson. He inspired the song “Bartholomew Roberts (The Pirate song)” by David Grossman. He finds a mention in at least one movie “The Princess Bride” based on a novel by the same name. He was also covered in History Channel’s special edition “True Caribbean Pirates: The Golden Age of Piracy”. The "Pirate's Council in the recent movie series "Pirates of the Caribbean" has been inspired by his "Parliamentary Councils" on board his pirate fleet.

New Zealand Mint Coin:

New Zealand Mint has issued a set of four two-dollar denomination silver coins under its “The Real Pirates of the Caribbean” series. Bartholomew Roberts features on one of them having made it to the “Hall of Fame” of all time Pirating history in his short career as a pirate.

The obverse of this coin features an image of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of the Commonwealth of Niue.

The reverse of this coin features a coloured image of Bartholomew Roberts or Black Bart Roberts. These coins are legal tender of Niue Island. This coin has a diameter of 40.70 mm and is made of 0.999 Silver. The denomination of the coin is $2 and the year of issue is 2011.

Perth Mint coin:

The obverse of this one-dollar coin depicts an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.

 This 2011 $1 dollar coin shows The Perth Mint “P” mint mark is also seen on this coin. The coin shows an image of Black Bart Roberts and his favourite Diamond encrusted Gold Cross . The coin is made of aluminium-bronze.

The coin is issued under the authority of the Government of Tuvalu and is legal tender in Tuvalu. 


The Perth Mint also brought out this coin in2009 with  99.9% silver as part of a five coin set on notorious pirates (the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1725).

The Pirate Song : "Fifteen men ---- Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum"!!( said to have been written by Bartholomew Roberts)

 Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
The mate was fixed by the bosun's pike
The bosun brained with a marlinspike
And cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped by fingers ten;
And there they lay, all good dead men
Like break o'day in a boozing ken
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

 Fifteen men of the whole ship's list
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore
And the scullion he was stabbed times four
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped down in up-staring eyes
In murk sunset and foul sunrise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the murder mark!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead
Or a yawing hole in a battered head
And the scuppers' glut with a rotting red
And there they lay, aye, damn my eyes
Looking up at paradise
All souls bound just contrawise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

 Fifteen men of 'em good and true
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ev'ry man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
With a ton of plate in the middle hold
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there that took the plum
With sightless glare and their lips struck dumb
While we shared all by the rule of thumb,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
More was seen through a sternlight screen
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Chartings undoubt where a woman had been
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
'Twas a flimsy shift on a bunker cot
With a dirk slit sheer through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot
Oh was she wench or some shudderin' maid
That dared the knife and took the blade
By God! she had stuff for a plucky jade
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight,
With a Yo-Heave-Ho! and a fare-you-well
And a sudden plunge in the sullen swell
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Please click on the Links below for other articles on Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: 

1)Famous Pirates of the Carribean : William Kidd 

2) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Edward-Teach or Black Beard

4) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean : Jack Rackham 

5) Famous-Pirates-of-the Caribbean: Henry Avery 

6) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean : Sir Henry Morgan 

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