Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Pirates Own Book: The Ancient Pirate

Those of you who are regulars around here at Triple P know what's up with me when I turn to Charles Ellms and the happy balm that is his The Pirates' Own Book. I'm in a funk, down on myself, harassed by the blue devils. Somehow, though, Ellms delightful writing (and a healthy dose of woodcut illustrations that always make me smile) seems to help me pull myself up by my bootstraps and get on with the work at hand. So I share my joy with you. And all's right with the world.

Today we explore the short but action packed piratical career of Captain Condent. Ellms does not give the Captain a christian name but I'm fairly certain that we are not talking about Christopher Condent, although his life was action packed as well. According to Ellms, Condent was born in Plymouth and travelled to New Providence as a young man. Here, his hopes of signing aboard a pirate ship were dashed by the new Governor Rogers who was already hanging pirates right and left. This puts the start of Ellms' story somewhere around 1718, which will come up as a curiosity later.

Condent boards a merchant sloop bound for New York and a singular occurrence elevates him from seaman to Captain. Evidently a disgruntled American Native who had been ill-treated by the crew locked himself in the cockpit below decks with a fair amount of black powder. His intent was to blow up the ship and no one wanted to approach him for fear that he would follow through an his threat. Condent took pistol and cutlass, jumped into the hold and - after taking a ball from the native's gun, which broke his arm - shot and killed the man. Ellms gets right to the gory stuff here, saying the gunner then cut up the dead man's body, sliced out his heart, roasted and ate it. Shades of L'Olonnais.

The crew mutinies and elects Condent Captain at this point. The pirates went on a spree in the Caribbean, capturing Spanish and Dutch ships willy nilly. Condent found a Dutch privateer to his liking, made her his flagship and named her Flying Dragon. He took his new ship to the coast of Brazil, and happily plundered Portuguese merchants until he decided to head out across the Atlantic. His goal was Angola and the rich slave trade.

Condent, who now had a compliment of two captured merchants along with Flying Dragon, did well along the African coast. He took French and Portuguese ships, but Ellms makes no mention of slaves. Finally, Condent turns back toward Brazil where he receives word that the Brazilians have captured a pirate ship and "the pirates [are] imprisoned". He embarks on a cruise of revenge. As Ellms tells it:

...he used all the Portuguese who fell into his hands, who were many, very barbarously, cutting off their ears and noses; and as his master was a papist, when they took a priest, they made him say mass at the mainmast and would afterwards get on his back and ride him about the decks, or else load and drive him like a beast.

Judging from this vaguely confusing quote - and the illustration above - it appears that Flying Dragon's master had very little fear for his Catholic soul, mass or no.

We soon find Condent again off the coast of Africa and still having success. He loses one of his companion ships to fire and decides to make for Madagascar. Once there, Condent and his crew determine to sail for the Indian Ocean, where they are wildly successful. They returned, dropped anchor off Mauritius, shared out their booty and "broke up their company". The crewmen "settle among the natives" and Condent requested a pardon for himself and his men from the "governor of Mascarenhas". The governor agrees to the pardon if the pirates will destroy their ships, and Condent orders them sunk.

Condent himself then sails to Mascarenhas where he is welcomed by the governor. To such a degree, in fact, that Condent marries the governor's sister-in-law. Ellms ends on this note:

...but, as I have been credibly informed, he is since come to France, settled at St. Maloes, and drives a considerable trade as a merchant.

This ending is confusing as it made me, at least, think that Ellms is talking about a man who is still living and working. That would mean Condent was something like 140 years old. And that, Brethren, is not just remarkable but pretty much impossible. Perhaps the Captain was (is?) an example of my mother's old adage that Heaven doesn't want him and Hell won't have him. As always, Charles Ellms gives me something to ponder.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Okay, my first question is who was Christopher Condent? Or are you just teasing us for a later post with that one? By the way, I love how Ellms is never satisfied with a little action, it always has to go completely over the top... He's like the Rob Zombie of pirate writers. Then, the ending of his story doesn't really seem very plausible, even if you don't count the Dorian Gray/Methusalah aspect... Still a fun little tale, though. Thankee for sharing, Pirate Queen!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! "He's like the Rob Zombie of pirate writers" is one of the best sentences I've ever read. Not to mention a great description of Ellms. If there aren't body parts sliced off or virgins violated - or both! - it's not a good story, dammit! And yeah, Christopher Condent. I guess we'll have to see about him...