Monday, November 9, 2009

History: Fit To Be Marooned

There's a lot of fiction surrounding pirates in our thoroughly modern age. Pirates - and their privateer brethren - certainly had articles of conduct that showed each member of a crew the rules to play by. Slip up on those rules and many pirate articles specified the punishment for your error. There was never a day, however, when anyone was forced to walk the plank. But marooning, that horrible, lonely, slow way to die, was specified in many articles and practiced right through to the 1830's.

In his book General History of Pirates, Charles Johnson laid out a set of pirate articles. He made comments on the various points therein and passage II was no exception. The article reads:

Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because (over and above their proper share) they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to any value of a pound in plate, jewels, or money marooning was their punishment.

Johnson goes on to add at this point:

This was a barbarous custom of putting the offender on shore, on some desolate or uninhabited cape or island, with a gun, a few shot, a bottle of water and horn of powder to subsist with or starve.

And then the article concludes:

Should the robbery be only betwixt one another, they content themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that is guilty, and set him on shore not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere where he is sure to encounter hardships.

Nice. More often than not the unlucky offender was stripped of all his goods, including clothing, before being put ashore. The added torture of a full body sunburn would encourage dehydration and the possibility of sun stroke as well. Howard Pyle's unfortunate subject pictured seems to have been spared that indignity.

There are stories of men surviving the misery of marooning. Some being discovered years later and, it turns out, having found companionship with a previously unknown native group. Most of these instances are just stories. Survival in most cases would have been next to impossible and some marooning victims were left on what amounted to only a sand bar that would be underwater when the tide came in.

The most famous of all those men marooned (and the subject of a future post) did survive, however. Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, was rescued after being marooned on Mas a Tierra, an unpopulated island 400 miles west of Valparaiso in Chile.

So mind your articles, Brethren. Nine times out of ten, truth really is stranger than fiction.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! So, don't defraud the company (or your shipmates)... Another important safety tip. Thankee!

Pauline said...

Good advice is timeless, isn't it?