Thursday, October 25, 2012
Horror on the High Seas: Torture for Torture's Sake
Let us start out with torture and pirates via that story of the unfortunate Aaron Smith. Smith, a pilot and some-time surgeon aboard an English merchant, was captured by pirates in the Caribbean in 1822. Pressed into unwilling service due to his knowledge of the islands, Smith witnessed atrocities that he would later write about to great acclaim. His pamphlet The Atrocities of the Pirates, was published after he was tried and acquitted on charges of piracy. Of course his Victorian contemporaries, already in love with the gruesome, snapped up his writing and, for a short time, the pilot knew a modicum of fame.
Here is a sample involving a member of the pirate crew whom the captain accused of plotting mutiny:
[The Captain] threatened me with vengeance for my interference, declaring that he had not done half that he intended to do.
Having said this, he turned to the man, told him that he should be killed, and therefore advised him to prepare for death, or confess himself to any of the crew whom I chose to call aside for that purpose.
The man persisted in his plea of innocence, declared that he had nothing to confess, and entreated them all to spare his life. They paid no attention to his assertions but, by the order of the Captain, the man was put into the boat, pinioned and lashed in the stern, and five of the crew were directed to arm themselves with pistols and muskets and to go in her. The captain then ordered me to go with them, savagely remarking that I should now see how he punished rascals, and giving directions to the boat's crew to row for three hours backwards and forwards through a narrow creek formed by a desert island and the island of Cuba. "I will see," cried he, exulting, "whether the mosquitoes & the sandflies will not make him confess." Prior to our leaving the schooner, the thermometer was above ninety degrees in the shade, and the poor wretch was now exposed naked to the full heat of the sun. In this state we took him to the channel, one side of which was bordered by swamps full of mangrove trees, and swarming with the venomous insects before mentioned.
We had scarcely been half an hour in this place when the miserable victim was distracted with pain; his body began to swell, and he appeared one complete blister from head to foot. Often in the agony of his torments did he implore them to end his existence and release him from his misery; but the inhuman wretches only imitated his cries, and mocked and laughed at him. In a very short time, from the effects of the solar heat and the stings of the mosquitoes and sandlies, his face had become so swollen that not a feature was distinguishable; his voice began to fail, & his articulation was no longer distinct.
The unfortunate man continued to be tortured in this manner for another half an hour. Finally, the boat was rowed back to the ship but, when the captain was informed that the man had not confessed, he ordered that the "rascal" be taken back to the sand bar and used for target practice. Surviving this, the poor devil was finally weighed down with "a pig of iron... fastened round his neck, & he was thrown into the sea."
An ignominious end for a man who clearly chose bad company and, in the final analysis, found a miserable death for it.
Header: Dead Pirate Ashore by Howard Pyle c 1887 via Wikipedia