Pieces of eight

Piracy seems to be a growing problem today, and it was even worse in the eighteenth century. One of the most famous was the Scottish Captain William Kidd. There is in fact some doubt as to how far his activities extended and he was used as a political pawn between the Whigs and the Tories, but what interests me is how his capture and trial were reported in the London press. Albeit at a much slower pace, it bears comparison with the way 24-hours news coverage of a modern event chops and changes as more information is revealed.

The first hint we have of Kidd being in potential trouble occurs on August 18:

Amsterdam, Aug. 18. Letters of the 2d of July from Curassaw say, They had Advice there, That the English Pirate Capt. Kidd, in a Ship of 30 Guns, and 250 Men, had been at St. Thomas, and offered the Danish Governour 45000 Pieces of Eight in Gold, and a great Present in Goods, if he would protect him in that Port for a Month; which being refused, the said Kidd sailed toward St. Domingo, and meeting an English Ship by the way, promised her 25000 Crowns to buy him Provisions at Curassaw, which she carried him, and was paid accordingly; Whereupon another Ship at Curassaw went to trade with Kidd, and is returned hither with vast Riches, and some of his Men; 100 of his Crew went to St. Eustachius, and were so well provided with Money, that they had above 2000 Crowns a piece, but not finding Chapmen there, for their Goods, they were gone elsewhere. (Flying Post, August 12–15, 1699)

A few days later Kidd appears to have surrendered to the Governor of New England (although Belloment had earlier engaged Kidd in a raid against another group of pirates, so Kidd may have thought he was safe in what he was doing). Note the continual references in what follows to him as famous, infamous, notorious and so on, building up the kind of villainous characterisation we are used to in today’s tabloid press:

London. August 23d, We have an account that Capt. Kidd the famous, orrather Infamous, Pirate hath surrender’d himself to the Lord Bellamont Governour of New-England with his ship and Cargo said to be worth 200000l. Which he hath got by the many Piracy’s he hath Committed. (London Post, August 21, 1699)

By the next report Bellomont has captured him – and seemingly been rewarded for his pains:

London. September, 8th… ‘Tis Confirmed, that Capt. Kidd, the noted Pirate, is seized by the Ld Bellamont, Governour of New-England, with all his rich Cargo, and that he has presented his Lordship with a Gift in Jewels valued at 10000 l. and tis said his Lordship has appointed Commissioners to take an Inventory of the Cargoe, and the Value thereof. (London Post, September 6, 1699)

The Post Boy has more information, and an explanation for the apparent bribe:

By our last Letters from New England we have Advice, That Capt. Kidd, the famous Pirate, of whom we have so often made mention, being arrivd on that Coast, prevailed with a Person of Note in that Colony to go to his Excellency the Earl of Bellamont, who is Governor of that Country: His Lordship admitted the Gentleman to speak with him in the presence of the Council, where he endeavoured to justify Captain Kidd, and said, That he had done nothing contrary to his Commission, having taken but one French Privateer; his Lordship said, That if he had done nothing else, he wou’d do him what service he could. Upon this Kidd sent a Present of Jewels to the Countess of Bellamont, to the value of some Thousands of Pounds, which she would not Accept of, until such time as she had acquainted her Lord : His Lordship ordered her to take them, which accordingly she did ; and soon after Kidd thinking himself secure appeared at Boston, where he was apprehended, and being carried before his Excellency in Council to be Examined, he prevaricated with him, and the Council, and was found in several Stories, being not able to give a Satisfactory Account of his Voyage ; and it being well known that he had Committed several Piracies on the High Seas, he was sent to Prison, where he is to remain until such time as he is Tried. After this his Lordship appointed Commissioners to inspect into his Effects, and to take an Inventory of them, sending at the same time the Jewels which his Lady had received to the said Commissioners, to be laid up with the rest of the abovementioned Pirate’s Effects, which are of a very great value. (Post Boy, September 7–9, 1699)

After an illness and some breathless reporting of the ‘will he, won’t he’ variety, Kidd was shipped back to England, now with a considerably lower figure being placed on his goods, either because of previous hyperbole or quite possibly light fingers among the investigators:

Captain Kidd the notorious Pirate, with 40 more are shortly expected here from Boston in New-England. What was seiz’d in Kidd’s Ship is not valued about 26000 l. sterling. (Post Boy, March 16–19, 1700)

He was questioned and committed to Newgate:

Capt. Kidd the Pirate was brought to Town on Sunday examined by the Lords of the Admiralty for some Hours and then committed to Newgate, with orders to be strictly observed. (Flying Post, April 13–16, 1700)

You can almost picture the reporters trying to get an interview:

No Person is admitted to speak with that notorious Pirate Captain Kidd, who is now a Prisoner in Newgate. (Post Boy, April 25–27, 1700)

By May 10 he was in court and swiftly condemned to death:

London, May 10. At a Session of the Court of Admiralty held at the Old-Baily on the 8th and 9th instant, William Kidd, late Captain of the Adventure Galley, was Indicted and Tried for the Murder of William Moore, his Gunner, on board the said Ship; and was found Guilty. He was likewise Indicted with Nicholas Churchill, James Howe, Darby Mullint, Abel Owen, Gabriel Loffe, and Hugh Parrot, (who were some of his Men) for several Acts of Piracy committed on the Quedo Merchant, and other Ships; and they were all Convicted of the same… Whereupon the Court proceeded to pass Sentence of Death upon Captain Kidd, and eight of the other Pirates before-named. (London Gazette, May 8–12, 1701)

Most of the other pirates were reprieved (as others had been in return for their testimony against Kidd), but Kidd reportedly made one last-ditch effort to avoid his fate:

Kidd, the Famous Pirate, who is to be Executed to Day, proffers, ‘tis reported, 100000 l. for his Life. (New State of Europe Both As to Publick Transactions and Learning, May 23, 1701)

Clemency was not forthcoming, and the unfortunate Kidd was executed and gibbeted as an example to others:

Yesterday about three in the Afternoon Capt. Kidd, with 3 other Pirates, were carried in 3 Carts from Newgate to Execution-Dock, where, between 6 and 7, they were executed. (Flying Post, May 22–24, 1701)

I am told that the Corps of Capt. Kidd is to be hung up in Chains at Tilbury-point. (London Post, May 23–26, 1701)


To catch a thief

The stuff of legend, highwaymen were a real problem to travelling folk in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so much so that there were huge rewards for apprehending them, as the following extract makes clear:

London, Octob. 23. On Saturday and Sunday Night last several Foot-pads and House-breakers, mixing with the Mob, committed divers Robberies in the high Streets of this City, stopping of the Coaches, and taking Money by force, and then made off… but to prevent the Mischiefs for the time to come, we hear that on the 4th and 5th of November, and all publick Nights for the future, certain Persons, well armed, will be employed to hire up the Coaches, and ride backward and forward through the publick Streets, and that whoever presumes to stop the Coaches, and demand Money, will be seiz’d and prosecuted as Robbers on the Highway, and the Law against Highway-men executed upon them. And there being by Act of Parliament a Reward of 40 Pounds to every Person that apprehends a Highwayman, ‘tis not to be question’d but every Body will be ready to assist in the getting of the Money, even their own Companions. (English Post, October 21–23, 1700)

This is a little like the decoy cars used by police today to catch car thieves, but one wonders how successful they would be if their presence was advertised like this.

The travelling public had their own strategies for dealing with the threat, as illustrated by this delightfully nautically flavoured story:

Last Saturday one Sir John Wilmot, riding from Shaftsbury to our Town, on the Beginning of Salisbury Plain he overtook a Seaman, and having some Discourse with him, ask’d, Whether he would fight if he was attackt by any Highwaymen? Mr. Tarpaulin reply’d, He would play his Part, if he once boarded them. The Gentleman seeing the good Resolution of the Fellow, took him into his Coach; but they had not gone far before some Sparks that live by the searing Words, Stand and deliver, were hovering about ‘em; wereupon the Gentleman said to the Sailor, We shall be beset presently, so giving his marine Companion a Blunderbuss, he cry’d out, I see the Enemy is to the Windward of us, we’ll pull up to the Larboud-side, and stand towards ‘em. Coachman, (quoth he) hale to your Fore-braces; but the Coachman not rightly understanding his Sea Terms, lets go the Reins of the Horses, whilst the Sea-Commander was cutting a Hole through the fore-Leather of the Coach, for a Port-Hole, and bidding the Coachman stand Abust Shot through, and did such good Execution as to Kill one of their Four Enemies and Wounded another so much, that he fell off his Horse. This sharp Engagement made the other run away; but the Seaman being eager for Plunder, call’d for Hands aloft, order’d the Coachman to rack about presently, that he might fire his Chace Guns, but the Enemy sheering off as fast as they could, the Seaman and the Coachman hoisted Sail as fast, and made the best of their way for Salisbury; where giving an Account what was done, to a Magistrate, he is bound over to shew the Authority of his Commission next Assizes; and the Gentleman that pickt him up gave sufficient Sureties to answer the same.

P.S. The other Highwayman died of his Wounds within two Hours after; but under his Misery would not discover who were the surviving Rogues. (Weekly Journal, November 23, 1717)

Women had less violent but innovative ways of getting round the problem:

Last Week an Emenent Lady coming singly in the Stage-Coach from Colchester to London… quote the Coachman to her, If your Ladyship has any thing valuable about you, I pray you to secure it as well as you can, for I see several Sparks upon the Heath here abouts, whom I mistrust to be Highwaymen. Upon the Caution, the Lady put her Gold Watch, a Purse of Guineas, and a very fine Suit of Lace Headcloaths under her Seat; and by that time she had dishivell’d her Hair in a very uncouth Manner about her Head and Shoulders, a Highwayman rid up to her presenting a Pistol into the Coach, and demanded her Money. The Lady who was a very fine Woman, having a great Presence of Mind, naturally acted the Part of a Mad-Woman, opening the Coach, leaping out, and taking the Highwayman by one of his Legs, cry’d out in a very pitious and Shrieking Voice, Ah! dear Cosen Tom, I’m glad to see you, I hope you’ll now rescue me from this Rogue of a Coachman, for he is carrying me by that Rogue of my Husband’s Orders to Bedlam, for a mad Woman. D— me (reply’d the Highwayman) I’m none of your Cosen, I don’t know you, I believe you are mad indeed. Ah! Cosen Tom (said she again) but I will go with you, I won’t go to Bedlam. So clinging close to the Hughwayman and his Horse, in all the seeming Passions of Madness that could be, quote he to the Coachman, do you know this mad B—h? Yes (reply’d the Coachman) I know the Lady very well, who is sadly distracted, for she has torn all her Headcloaths all to pieces, and I am going with her now by her Husbands Orders to London, to put her into a Mad-House, but not into Bedlam, as she supposes. E’en take her then (said the Highwayman) to the D—l and you will, for thinking to have met with a good Bait, I find now there’s nothing to be had of this mad Toad. So he set Spurs to his Horse as fast as he could for fear he shou’d he [sic] be plagu’d with her, for She seem’d mighty fond of her Cosen; but after he was gone, she was more pleas’d with his Absence than his Sight, and got safe to London. (Weekly Journal, December 27, 1718)

Ten shillings reward

From the classified ads in the Post Man and the Historical Account, August 4–6, 1702:

Lost on the 26th of July, 1702, between Chelsea and London by the Thames side, a Watch in a black studded case, with a blue Ribbon, engraved within Daniel Quare; whoever brings the same to the Mitre Coffee house in Mitre Court over against Fetter-lane in Fleetstreet shall have 10s. reward.

Lost on Sunday last near Cane-wood by Hampstead, a small Spaniel Bitch, liver colour and white, a blaze in her Forehead, mottled about her Nose and Feet, large tufts of white Hair near her tayl, sits up and begs. Whoever gives notice of her to Mr Richards at the Flying Horse near the Fountain Tavern in the Strand, or to the Widow Barrets in Pond-street, Hampstead, shall have 10s. reward.

Elizabeth Hancock, Appentice, aged about 13, of a fair Complexion, thick Lips, short neck’d, pretty broad Shoulder’d, low of stature, in a strip’d Stuff Gown and Petticoat mixt with yellow, and Gold Rings in her Ears; went away from her Mistress, Mrs Mary Connock, at the Cabinet-makers, Charles-street, Westminster, on the 21st of the last Month; whoever gives notice of her, so as she may be had again, to the said Mrs Connock, shall have 10s. reward.

I wonder which of the three was more valued? Certainly not poor Elizabeth, judging by the disdainful description of her by her mistress, who is obviously rather more concerned with her investment than the child’s welfare.

Lenten levity, Georgian style

A fascinating article on activities on Ash Wednesday from the World, February 7, 1788:

Yesterday being the First Day of Lent, the Merchant Taylor’s Company had a lively, pretty dinner, accordingly…

The Anacreontic, last night, was more than usually full and joyful—the Concert had much excellence—and the Supper was very well ordered—but it being Ash Wednesday, it may be easily imagined how few people partook of it—and every body departed very early—soon after four in the morning.*

The Trading Justices, in consequence of each Round-house last night being full, are to meet this morning, to petition for the most strict observance of Lent—that every Concert, as well as the Play-houses, may be shut.**

The shutting of the Theatres on Wednesday and Friday, through Lent, is not in consequence of any specific regulation, from the Magistracy or the Lord Chamberlain—The custom originated with Mr. Fleetwood***—Who being one year, in an extraordinary degree, unsuccessful, thus chose to rid the management of two losing nights—and shut the House, rather than open it to a probable disadvantage.

* The Anacreontic Society was a gentleman’s club, named after Anacreon, a Greek poet, whose work focused on women, wine and entertaining – and as can be seen from this mention, so did the club. Its main aim was ostensibly to celebrate an interest in music. The president, Ralph Tomlinson, wrote a drinking song called ‘The Anacreontic Song’ with music by John Stafford Smith, the latter now better known as the melody for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

** The closing of theatres during Lent was a custom that continued into the nineteenth century. It was in fact a power given to the Lord Chamberlain by statute (Licensing Act, 1737), but only in the city of Westminster, so there were many complaints from theatre owners about lack of fairness (e.g. a parliamentary debate on 28 February 1839).

*** Charles Fleetwood, who died in 1745, managed the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane together with Colley Cibber. His losses might have been rather more due to his famous propensity to gamble.

In the same issue:


The late occurrence of this kind now beginning to be so much talked of—the circumstances are shortly these—The familiar and affectionate intercourse of the parties, was well known.

Being thought not prudential on either side, particularly on the part of the Lady, all thoughts of a match were opposed.

For the Gentleman’s Fortune, is less than 5000l. the Lady has not so much.

Accordingly, after much struggle to conciliate the family, in vain, an Elopement was determined—and it took place the evening before last.

Lady — — was at the Dutchess of Ancaster’s, where there was a small party—Her Ladyship left the room unobserved, and passing the Porter, as it were to go to the next door, got into a carriage, which Mr. C. had in waiting, and so drove off—as it is supposed, to Scotland.

And one for the ladies:

Answer to the ENIGMA inserted in yesterday’s Paper.

EVE is compos’d of three letters alone,

Reads backwards and forwards the same;

Without ever speaking makes sentiments known,

And from beauty, takes too sure an aim!

Dickey All-hot, an ambulating vendor of pancakes


On the Death of Richard Hardwidge, alias Dickey All-hot,

an ambulating Vendor of Pancakes, who died the 14th inst.

Farewell, thou chattering chatter-box of fun,—

Dickey! to thee and thine a long farewell :

Thy frying pancake-crying race is run,

Flat as a fritter in the grave to dwell.


I saw thee first (full forty years ago)

On coach-box mounted, reins and whip in hand,

Guiding thy nags, with steady pace and slow,

On Weymouth’s pleasant, health-inspiring strand…


Dickey was miss’d from his accustom’d round,

Where he so oft diversified the scene;

Nor could report or trace of him be found

At either Bridge, or in the space between :


In vain I listen’d for the sound all-hot;

I sought him in the Market-place in vain;

I look’d down High-Street, but I saw him not,

For he was stretch’d upon the bed of pain;


And there he died!! Weep, Jarvies of the Fly,

Who oft behind them modestly would steal

To bolt two pancakes, screen’d from public eye,

And there luxuriate on their ha’penny meal.


Mourn! urchins, mourn! ye, who on errands straying,

And, our of two-pence would a penny save :*

No more four pancakes for that penny paying—

Dickey, the fryer, now lies in the grave.


Who, thy appropriate costume once had seen—

Drab castor, cast obliquely o’er thy brow,

Thy blue-striped jerkin, apron, and sleeves so clean,

Thy smirking smile and thy obsequious bow—


Thy dumpy figure, twirling on thy heel,

Flourishing fork and forking fritters out,

While buyers fork’d the blunt for savoury meal—

That such will ne’er forget thee who can doubt?


Richard, adieu! adieu that graceful bow—

And though thy bright tin-dish and charcoal-pan

Still greet the public eye—yet all allow,

“We better could have spared a better man.”


* The original note says: “Many errand-boys are allowed by their parents two-pence a day to provide for their dinners.”

The Bristol Mercury, June 3, 1837

All the news in the world

Today’s press may seem to publish bizarre and randomly connected material on occasion, but it was no different three centuries ago. Here are some of the notices from Parker’s London News or the Impartial Intelligencer, October 14, 1724:

Last Monday, one Mary Saunders, a distracted Person, who had been dismissed out of Bedlam, cut the Throat of two of her Children, and afterwards her own, in Knaves-Acre, leaving a Paper behind her, signifying that she had made those Sacrifices to the Idol of her Heart, one George Walker, for the Love of whom she first was disturb’d in Mind.

We hear, that there is in the Press, the whole Life and Conversation of a certain Pretender to Commissions, which he never bore, who styles himself the Bloud of the Huffs: The said Pamphlet will give a true and exact Account of all his Military Atchievments, the Battles he never fought, the Encampments he never made, and the Troops which he never drew up: For the use of the Soldiery, tho’ ’tis not given Gratis, yet ’tis said it will be sold for so small a Price as a Penny.

‘Tis written from France, Wines are so very cheap there, thro’ extraordinary Vintages in the Provinces of Champaign, Burgundy, &c. that they are sold for less Money than their very Casks.

Last Week died Mr. Trig, a Tallow-Chandler, who had formerly liv’d near Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, but as ’tis said, so covetous that he would scarce allow himself Necessaries for Life. He left his Brother his Executors, with Orders in his Will, for burying him (if it may be so term’d) in the Roof of a Barn at Stevenage, and his Body to lie there 30 Years; otherwise his Estate of 2 or 3000 l. was to go to the Parish: His Will was accordingly complied with, and on Monday last, the Corpse was deposited there in a Leaden Coffin, to prevent giving Offence to the Neighbours.

Three Shop-Keepers in the City, being indicted by Thomas Clark, a Middlesex Bailiff and his Follower, for an Assault and Rescue of a Person whom they had arrested, were acquitted, it appearing that the Bailiff exceeded his Bounds, and attack’d the Person in the City of London.

Two Porters belonging to Newgate-Market, named Thomas Dover, and Will. Harvey, on a Wager of a Guinea, (which should carry a heavy Burthen the farthest) started at the Pound in St. John’s-Street, with a Weight of 15 Stone of Gravel, each went 17 Miles.

Any ideas there for Rupert Murdoch’s new venture?

Dr Solander’s Vegetable Syrup

Suffering from pimples, lowness of spirits or leprosy? You need Dr Solander’s Vegetable Syrup!

For the SCURVY, &c. Dr. SOLANDER’s VEGETABLE SYRUP stands recommended to the Public on the test of long and extensive experience in all disorders arising from Scurvy or Scrofula, and in all acrimony or impurities of the blood, from what complicated causes soever they may originate; and whether joined to nervous complaints, lowness of spirits, decay of nature, or accidental contagion:—in cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples, or scorbutic roughness of the skin, (particularly prevalent at the return of Spring) this Medicine is eminently successful; in consequence of its antiscorbutic qualities, it restores the appetite, promotes digestion, and strengthens the whole constitution. Lastly, in the most desperate cases, where MINERALS have been ineffectual, in the most universal leprosy, and in the most dreadful CANCERS, an adherance to the Vegetable Syrup has produced complete cures, of which the Proprietor can satisfy the enquirer by respectable testimony. Sold only at the Sunday Gazette Office, Brydges-street, Covent-Garden, in bottles at 10s. 6d. or 5. 3d. each, exclusive of the Stamps.

Dr Daniel Solander was a botanist who accompanied Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand on the Endeavour. Scurvy would certainly have been a problem and it was not widely known then that it was caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C, although Cook had no deaths from it on his ship and tried various measures recommended by the admiralty, including the consumption of malt. But there is no proof that the remedy above was anything to do with Solander, nor indeed the vegetable tea and vegetable juice equally advertised using his name. While it is also not clear what the ingredients were, they were unlikely to have been fresh enough to have antiscorbutic properties, and would certainly have had no effect against leprosy or cancer. There’s also no mention of the size of the bottles, although at a time when the wages of a domestic servant were only £3 or £4 a year, 10 shillings seems excessive – even for such a medicine with so many wonderful properties!