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"The Demise of Jolly Roger" Topic


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509 hits since 1 Sep 2021
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Sep 2021 9:58 p.m. PST

"As trade between Europe and the Far East developed, so did piracy, on a scale that dwarfed the activities of the Caribbean buccaneers of the previous century. It has been suggested that the pirates of the East Indies, now Malaysia and Indonesia, and of the South China Sea, were simply fishermen impelled by hardship to seek a dishonest living. An examination of the facts, unfortunately, suggests that fishing was a last resort when their activities brought commerce to a standstill. The truth was that in both areas pirates operated in fleets large enough to intimidate the local authorities and were just as much a menace to their own people as they were to European traders.

In the East Indies the pirates' favourite vessel was the rakish flying-prahu, 50 feet long and with a 14-foot beam. The prahu had a high poop and a long bowsprit, and was steered by two oars, one on each quarter. The bipod mast, mounted well forward, carried a jib and a lug-lateen mainsail, with a similar but smaller sail being carried by a mizzen. Usually, one or two heavy swivel guns were mounted fore- and-aft. While this does not seem particularly dangerous, the prahu was the fastest thing afloat and, acting with others in a pack, could easily run down a merchant vessel or escape from a pursuing warship. The pirates of the Indies were a notably savage lot who would willingly slaughter everyone aboard any vessel that offered the slightest resistance, regardless of age or sex.

Small wonder, then, that the appearance of prahu sails struck terror into every merchantman sailing the waters of the Indies. The Dutch, having extensive possessions in the area, strove to contain the menace, as did the Sea Service of the Honourable East India Company in its time, and, of course, the Royal Navy. The pirates quickly learned that even if they felt strong enough to challenge small warships their prahus were soon knocked to pieces by the dozen, with heavy loss of life, so they avoided direct contact as much as possible. The difficulty lay in getting at them, for their lairs lay in fortified villages up rivers too shallow for conventional warships to navigate. Naval landing parties therefore had to proceed upstream in the pulling boats, being sniped at from the jungle-covered banks the while, and sometimes being treated to a dose of grape or langridge from a cannon sited in a cleared fire-lane. As they approached the village, they might find the channel closed with piles and have to proceed on foot. Finally, they would have to storm the stockades of the village itself, supported by nothing heavier than the boat guns. This could involve heavy hand-to-hand fighting against invariably superior numbers. Generally, however, the pirates, more used to butchering helpless victims than confronting disciplined aggression, disliked the experience and took to their heels. Their village was then burned, as were their prahus, and their guns were taken out to sea and dropped into deep water, beyond hope of recovery…"

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