Pirates and Piracy in Sion College Library

Today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but in this post we will not talk like a pirate but about pirates, specifically those to be found within the printed books collection of Sion College Library.

Although Sion College was founded to serve the clergy of London, its library contains much more than ecclesiastical books. Indeed, the subjects covered are wide-ranging, and literature, travel and history are all well-documented. Sion College Library contains several books on the topic of pirates and piracy, many of them wonderfully illustrated.

The history of the bucaniers, 1684 [B85.0/ES6(1)
The history of the bucaniers, 1684, with engraved portraits of famous buccaneers [B85.0/ES6(1)]
The history of the bucaniers is an abridged translation of Americaanse zeerovers, written in Dutch by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin and published in Amsterdam in 1678.

Title-page and frontispiece of The history of the bucaniers of America [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Title-page and frontispiece of The history of the bucaniers of America [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Sion College Library also owns another copy entitled The history of the bucaniers of America, which is a reissue of the second edition of the complete work published in 1684. The first three parts are by Exquemelin but this edition has also been enlarged with the writings of Basil Ringrose for the fourth part.

Opposite the title-page is an engraved frontispiece portrait of Sir Henry Morgan, better known as the notorious Captain Morgan. Although the book also deals with other buccaneers such as Captain Cook and Captain Sharp, the emphasis is on Morgan and many of the illustrations depict events from his remarkable life.

Sack of Puerto del Principe [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Sack of Puerto del Principe [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Sack of Puerto del Principe
(engraving beginning of part 2, chap 5)
Some account of the Island of Cuba. Captain Morgan attempteth to preserve the Isle of St. Catherine, as a Refuge and Nest unto Pirats; but faileth of his designs. He arriveth at and taketh the Village of el Puerto del Principe”

Sea battle against the Spanish Armada
(engraving beginning of part2, chap 7)
Captain Morgan taketh the City of Maracaibo on the Coast of Nueva Venezuela. Piraces, committed in those Seas. Ruine of three Spanish Ships, that were set forth to hinder the Robberies of the Pirates.”

Sea battle against Spanish Armada [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Sea battle against Spanish Armada [B85.0/ES6(2)]
The fourth part, written by Basil Ringrose, features maps and topographic drawings of the different capes.

Capes and their topographic specifics [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Capes and their topographic specifics [B85.0/ES6(2)]
Those books were published only a few years after the events occurred and they continued to fascinate people throughout the 18th century.

One of the major works on piracy during the 18th century, A general history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pyrates, first published in 1724, was believed to have been written by Charles Johnson, but the book has also been attributed to Daniel Defoe. Sion College Library possesses a copy of the third edition (with a different title), A general history of the pyrates, from their first rise and settlement in the island of Providence, to the present time.

A general history of the pyrates, 1725 [B82.3/J62]
A general history of the pyrates, 1725 [B82.3/J62]
A portrait of the formidable Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, faces the title-page.

Bartholomew Roberts [B82.3/J62]
Bartholomew Roberts [B82.3/J62]
The work also features the exploits of Black Bart, i.e. Bartholomew Roberts, a Welsh pirate and one of the most successful of his day.

Although male figures frequently dominate pirate literature, this volume also includes the stories of two iconic female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Ann Bonny & Mary Read, most famous female pirates [B82.3/J62]
Anne Bonny & Mary Read, infamous female pirates [B82.3/J62]
Little is known about the two women and most of the information comes from this work by Charles Johnson. Both Bonny and Read were part of the crew of John “Calico Jack” Rackham and all were captured at the same time. According to Johnson, before Rackham was hanged Anne said to him “that she was sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog“. Mary Read died of fever in prison while pregnant but Johnson remains vague regarding Anne’s fate, finishing his chapter on her life by simply writing: “She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed“.

For centuries, stories of pirates have captured the imagination of people everywhere. The books we hold in the Sion collection contain the contemporary accounts of these fascinating buccaneers on which many later novels and films have been based. Those who truly wish to ‘Talk Like a Pirate’ would do well to take heed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s