Monday, September 15, 2008
What Pyrates did greatly fear
To amuse themselves, pirates held mock trials,
Mimicking what would happen to them if they were captured and came up before an Admiralty Court.
In A General History of the Pyrates, Daniel Defoe relates a sham trial that took place on an uninhabited cay off the coast of Cuba.
The judge, a pirate named George Bradley, sailing master of the Morning Star, sat in a tree with a tarpaulin over his shoulders by way of a robe, a shaggy cap on his head instead of a wig and large pair of spectacles on his nose. The officers of the ship carried handspikes as staves of authority and a hangman stood by with a noose.
The accused was then brought out ‘making a thousand sour faces’.
A pirate playing the attorney general then said:
An’t please your Lordship, and you gentlemen of the jury, here is a fellow before you that is a sad dog, a sad, sad dog; and I humbly hope your Lordship will order him to be hanged out the way immediately.
He has committed piracy upon the high seas, and we shall prove, an’t please your Lordship, that this fellow, this sad dog before you, has escaped a thousand storms, nay, has got safe ashore when the ship has been cast away, which was a certain sign he was not born to be drowned; yet not having the fear of hanging before his eyes, he went on robbing and ravishing man, woman and child, plundering ships’ cargoes fore and aft, burning and sinking ship, barky and boat, as if the Devil had been in him.
But this is not all, my Lord, he has committed worse villainies than all these, for we shall prove, that he has been guilty of drinking small beer, and your Lordship knows, there never was a sober fellow but what was a rogue.
My Lord, I should have spoke much finer than I do now, but that, as your Lordship knows, our rum is all out, and how should a man speak good law that has not drank a dram. However, I hope, your Lordship will order the fellow hanged.
The judge was scarcely impartial. From his seat in the mangrove tree he said:
Harkee me, sirrah, you lousy pitiful, ill-looked dog; what have you to say why you should not be tucked up immediately and set a sun-drying like a scarecrow?
The judge then asked the accused to plead. He pleaded not guilty, so the judge threatened to have him hanged without a trial.
In his defence, the accused said that he was an honest man who had been ‘taken by one George Bradley’ – the man who was now playing his judge – ‘a notorious pirate, a sad rogue as ever was hanged, and he forced me, an’t please your honour.’
Eventually, Bradley sentenced the accused to hang, giving three reasons:
First, because it is not fit I should sit here as judge and nobody be hanged.
Secondly, you must be hanged, because you have a damned hanging look.
And thirdly, you must be hanged because I am hungry; for know, sirrah, that whenever a judge’s dinner is ready before the trial is over, the prisoner is to be hanged of course.