Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: The Most Coveted Book

I took a Spanish manuscript of prodigious value. It describes all the ports, roads, harbors, bays shoals, rocks and risings of the land and instructions on how to work a ship into any port or harbor. The Spaniards cried when I snatched their book.

The above quote is from the English buccaneer captain Bartholomew Sharp and is probably dated some time in the year 1681. Sharp, purely by luck, managed to capture the Spanish treasure ship El Santo Rosario the previous year. Aboard the ship, along with a good deal of silver, was the book of navigational charts that Sharp refers to in his testimony at England's High Court of the Admiralty. According to Sharp he literally snatched the charts from the hands of the Spanish as their pilot was attempting to toss the valuable information overboard.

The book was not only valuable but fortuitous for Sharp. He cagily offered the atlas to Charles II and was shortly thereafter acquitted of the charge of piracy. Charles, despite the protests of the Spanish ambassador, turned it over to William Hack, a Navy pilot and mapmaker, for translation and reproduction.

Within four years the book was in wide circulation throughout England and the Caribbean. It detailed the entire coastline of North, Central and South America including navigation around the Horn. It's detail and ease of use certainly at the very least assisted in the success of seamen from Woodes Rogers to the pirates of the Golden Age as well as many Royal Navy pilots. It assuredly contributed to the loosening of Spain's hold on the Main over the course of the following century and beyond.

This coveted publication, for which it's original owners fought and cried, was known to the English speaking world as The Waggoner of the South Seas. This interesting name derives from an earlier book of charts of the North Sea set down by Lucas Janszoon Wagenaer, a Dutchman, in 1584. By the time Hack published his translation of the Spanish original, almost all books of charts were known as "Waggoners" in England.

There are still some of these books in existence and they are lovely to look at as well as surprisingly accurate. Their lines are exquisite, and their colors delightfully fresh over three hundred years later. Even today, Hack's Waggoner is a book to cry over.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I was always told not to cry over stolen books... No, wait... that's not it.

Anyway, it's good to see you back today, Pirate Queen. I hope you are feeling better.

I also like your Piratical Fact of the Week. That's a pretty amusing picture that accompanies it.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yeah, that picture is funny. It kind of hits all the high notes with regard to salacious pirate stories, anyway.