Prize-taking and hierarchical discipline were the keys to British naval effectiveness. A great many fortunes were made by the ship’s officers. They became the stuff of legend and the financial foundations of dynasties.

This chapter addresses prize-taking in the European and Asian theatres during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars . There are also some actions off South America which appear in the chapter of that name.

The Admiralty philosophy for the management of the Royal Navy was simple. The officers and men must be kept in such fear of the certainty and viciousness of punishment that the alternative of following orders and risking death was always preferable.

This rather bleak philosophy overlooks the close community of a ship at sea when a Captain must work hard to maintain the loneliness of command. It is also true that a minority of seamen volunteered for the job and formed a core of professionalism to lead the impressed men however it is my belief that the mortar of solidarity on British warships was the income from prize-taking.

Prize-taking gave important support to the British war-time economy. Its effects have not yet, so far as I know, been quantified although Hill in ‘The Prizes of War’, 1998, provides useful information and Green’s ‘The Royal Navy and Anglo-Jewry’, 1989 is worthwhile reading. As Pitt said in a debate reproduced below ‘prize-taking is the key to British success in war.’

Bullion or specie was preferred for its fixed value; goods and ships tended to return less than expected in the forced sales of the Prize Courts, particularly those far from London – the Mediterranean and West Indian courts, for example. The Indian Courts gave effect to the East India Company’s rules under which it claimed 50% of prizes captured within its jurisdiction. Throughout most of the wars, the fund was distributed one eighth to the Admiral, one quarter to the Captains and the rest to other officers, leading hands and ordinary crew in fractions. As recipients were often cruising in distant seas, an Agency system developed in British ports which skimmed-off a handsome income from the sailors.

Prize money was also available to the army. It was paid in respect of guns and public stores seized after the capture of enemy towns. There was also a payment for head money, based on the numbers of enemy soldiers captured. In India an important part of the army’s prizes derived from confiscation of the native prince’s treasure. Records are quite sparse but a few references can be seen of auctions of treasure in the Asia chapters and sales of prize goods in the China chapters.

There is a useful Editorial note in an article dated 9th August 1794 below indicating the India Company employed only 17 Indian-financed privateers and frigates in Asian seas. There is also a detailed Instruction from owners to the Captain of an American privateer.

The interested reader will need to refer to the Asia and China chapters for several additional reports of individual prize-taking around India and China.

The Prize system was ultimately abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century (Britain in 1948) when it was found citizens could be conscripted and required to fight on nationalist patriotic grounds without extra cost. Since then the value of prizes has accumulated to the benefit of government.

Sat 20th April 1793

The total registered tonnage of British-flag merchant shipping in 1792 is 1,365,000 tons. It is generally valued at £8 per ton. There are 80,000 seamen regularly employed. After deducting the expected costs of maintenance, the shipping fleet returns about 18% nett per annum to its owners.

Sat 13th July 1793

The news of war arrived in Bombay and within a few hours numerous applications for letters of marque were made by captains of country ships.[1] All applicants were told their requests would be complied with.

Sat 17th July 1793

Cuddalore, 24th June – HMS Minerva (Admiral Cornwallis) took the ship Le Citoyen as prize off here today.

Sat 17th July 1793

HMS Nimble has taken a French privateer La Patriote Francais and sent her to the Downs. HMS Swan has taken L’Europe and sent her to Cowes, HMS Spitfire has taken L’Afrique and sent her to Portsmouth, HMS Greyhound has taken an armed sloop and sent her to Dover, HMS Stag and HMS Fortune have sent two French sloops-of-war to the Downs.

Sat 3rd August 1793

Public Notice – All owners and commanders of ships who wish to fight France should apply for letters of marque from the Secretary of the Bombay Presidency. They are required to provide a short description of the ship and names of the owners and officers.

Security will be required for performance – 25,000 Rupees for ships manned by less than 150 men; 30,000 Rupees for larger ships. Security is required in the names of the owner(s), master and officers and from two disinterested parties.

Sat 10th August 1793

The prize brig Nestor arrived at Calcutta 3rd July. She was captured from the French off Vizagapatam. She is consigned to George Tyler for the benefit of the captors.[2]

Sat 7th September 1793

Editorial – Any prizes we take in Eastern Seas will provide business to the courts at Bombay and at Madras as the Admiralty Jurisdiction at Calcutta is limited to the river up to the mouths of the Ganges.

Sat 21st September 1793

Calcutta news – two French prizes captured by the Company were sold at the Bankshall – the snow Nestor for 2,700 Rupees and the hulk Chandranagore for 1,730 Sicca Rupees. The Brutus, a prize of the cruiser Drake, was also sold (without her cargo) for 14,500 Sicca Rupees.

Sat 21st September 1793

HMS Edgar (Bentley) captured the French privateer Dumourier which had earlier captured the Spanish ship Santa Jago. HMS Edgar is in Admiral Gell’s fleet of four ships-of-the-line and a frigate. A large amount of treasure was found on the Dumourier valued at over £½ million. It has been sent to London. Prize money will be substantial – Admiral Gell will get about £70,000, the captains (Foley, Molloy, Bertie, Dixon and Sir A Douglas) £23,000 each and even crewmen should get about £35 per head.

Sat 12th October 1793

Indian news – French privateers from Mauritius seem to sail faster than English frigates. Several British ships have been taken on the Cochin and Pedier coasts.[3]

The Dumourier, a French privateer has been fortuitously captured. Its officers say there are 22 privateers based at Mauritius – six work the Bay of Bengal, four the Sunda Straits, four the Malacca Straits and the rest are deployed in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and on the Malabar Coast. A couple are 40 gun ships but the majority are designed for coming alongside and boarding. The crews of English ships taken as prizes report on return to India that the French are inquisitive about navigation in the Far East, particularly the anchorages east of the Ladrones (the Spanish and Portuguese word Ladrones refers to pirates who lived in the islands south of Guang Dong province. The principal island was Cheung Chau which later became a part of Hong Kong.)

Sat 12th October 1793

Several country ships were on the Pedier coast including the Eagle (Lindsay) from Madras. Lindsay learned of the presence of the French frigate Sybil (44) and two privateers on the coast. The former was said to be chasing the Indiaman Scott. It was said the privateers had taken two country ships – the snow Industry from Bencoolen and the Floyer of Madras. Most of the country ships then left the coast for Penang. The Danish snow Hope, en route to Madras, was stopped and searched by the two privateers and British cargo removed. The Hope was later lost escaping privateers, the crew saved.

Sat 12th October 1793

The Spanish treasure galleon (England is not at war with Spain) was adjudged by the Admiralty Court to have been legally taken and the Spanish ambassador has consented to the judgment. Lord Hood’s share, as Admiral, is estimated at £60,000.

The captors of the other Spanish treasure ship (Santa Jago – see above) have resolved to not sell the prize, once the cargo has been removed, but to dismantle her. They believe the Spanish Customs duty on imported gold is high enough to encourage the ship’s officers and supercargo to hide valuables around the vessel.

Many bars of fine pewter on the ship’s manifest have turned out to be thinly painted bars of gold and this has stirred the captors’ interest.

Spanish treasure ships are always attractive prize – the Hermione which was seized in 1762 (during the Seven Years War) contained £519,705 of treasure.

Sat 2nd November 1793

Local News – The officers of the captured French privateer L’Egalite are volunteering interesting information. When they seized the Polly, they held a council into the means available to dispose of their prize – whether to take her with them or sent her to Mauritius under a prize crew. Several seamen, the cook and his mate all had opinions. The distinction of rank on board has more or less disappeared. The officers’ sole remaining perk was a dining table to themselves.

Sat 2nd November 1793

Two Dutch cruisers off Batticalao, Ceylon have taken a French Snow La Fidelle loaded with cannon, ammunition and stores for Pondicherry. There are 8 cannon, 80,000 lbs of powder, 13,000 round shot, siege implements and some wine and brandy.

Sat 9th November 1793

The French have seized an Arab ship off Muscat on or about 10th October. She was formerly British and still had some English papers on board.

Sat 16th November 1793

Indian news – at Madras on 18th October was reported the recapture of a French prize. M/s Thomas Rea of the Fly and John Williams of the Lucy were both taken with their ships by the privateer L’Egalite and sent in the Prince of Wales, another French prize, to Mauritius.

The prize crew comprised Captain Gardy of the L’Egalite, another officer, 4 Frenchmen and 10 – 12 Lascars. A Malay sailor was persuaded to provide the prisoners with pistols and cutlasses and, whilst most of the French were asleep at night, they captured the watch officer. Unfortunately he was able to raise the alarm and a fight ensued in which four of the Prize crew were killed before the other two submitted. The Lascars did not involve themselves. The Prince of Wales has just arrived at Madras.

In February 1794 the Editor publishes a correction:

Rea was the gunner of the Danish ship ‘Denmark’ but was discharged on the Pedier coast for mutiny. He got a job on the ‘Fly,’ bound for Prince of Wales Island, but his ship was taken by the ‘Breton Cheri’ (Lampierre). Rea immediately joined the privateer’s crew for reward. Soon afterwards the ‘Breton Cheri’ met the ‘Denmark’ which was said (apparently by Rea) to have English goods on board. None were found. Rea said he could prove the ship and cargo was English. Lampierre was disinclined to believe him but his crew, operating on principles of equality, differed. Rea led a gang in the ship’s boat to seize the ‘Denmark.’ They plundered the officers’ chests. The next day they captured the snow ‘Prince of Wales’ and it was resolved to send both ships to Mauritius. Rea and Williams were put on the ‘Prince of Wales’ as part of the prize crew. They resolved to murder the French crew, put into Coringa and dispose of ship and cargo to their own benefit. Three other non-French crew joined the conspiracy. Having murdered the Frenchmen, a dispute arose over their next destination. The majority favoured Madras. On arrival there a storm arose and they had to put out to sea again. They put into Pondicherry where Rea sold the betel nut cargo. The gang then fell out over the division of the spoils and one turned informer at Madras.

Sat 23rd November 1793

A 600 ton Arab dhow has been taken by two French privateers off Muscat. She had a valuable cargo worth half a million rupees,of which 350,000 rupees was treasure. The ship was under the guns of the fort and the captain saw the two small French brigs approaching but had no suspicions of them. One got alongside, the crew boarded and they carried her. The dhow’s sailors arrived in Muscat the next morning and immediately a fleet of five armed ships sailed to give chase but returned empty-handed after a cruise of four days. It is supposed the value of the prize was sufficient for the privateer to return direct to Mauritius. The mate of the dhow was an American named Savage. His wife is French. They were both taken prisoner.

On 22nd October, the Phoenix (Moore) arrived at Calcutta from Rangoon, which she left on 25th September. At that time the British ships Hunter (Galloway) and Helen (Anderson) were in that port. Rangoon is full of Frenchmen who had comprised the crew of a ship that was lost on the nearby coast and whom no-one will repatriate. The Captain is in charge of them and, having recovered a good part of his cargo, is obliged by the Pegu government to maintain the men himself. All British ships visiting Rangoon are warned to take care and secure their vessels from surprise.

Sat 30th November 1793

Letter from Bengal – the French privateers that have been cruising in the vicinity of the Andamans and Penang at the mouth of the Malacca Straits are expected to shift their attentions to the Bay of Bengal as the winter monsoon sets in. Concern is so great that several laden ships, although well armed, are detained in the river (Hoogly) and insurance premiums rise in proportion to our fears.

Letter from Penang – scarcely a ship dares to venture out of port such is the supposed swarm of French privateers outside. They have already caught many ships on the Pedier coast. These privateers rendezvous at Aceh and are well manned and armed.

The Carnatic (Scott) has arrived at Calcutta from Penang. Scott says 15 French privateers are reportedly active in the Malacca and Sunda Straits.

Sat 7th December 1793

HMS Phoenix (Sir Richard Strachan) has captured the French East Indiaman La Pauline, valued at £30,000, and brought her into Portsmouth.

Sat 7th December 1793

India news – A 32-gun frigate The Bombay has been built by the Bombay Presidency for the Company’s service. It will be commanded by Capt Pruin.

The Governor-General has chartered the Fort William, the Nonsuch and another country ship as privateers to be armed for cruising in the Sunda Straits for the protection of our shipping.

Sat 28th December 1793

Bombay Notice – HMS Minerva’s prize, the French brig Bonne Foy that was taken off Diego Garcia, will be sold here by public outcry on 30th December if not first sold privately. (it was bought-in unsold)

Sat 11th January 1794

The Company has refitted and armed several ships to form an escort service for the merchant shipping. Commodore Mitchell is in command in the William Pitt. The other ships are Brittania (Cheap), Pigot (Ballantyne), Houghton (Hudson), Nonsuch (Canning) and the cruiser Viper (Roper). The ships are expected to cruise the Malacca and Sunda Straits and the Bay of Bengal when not convoying.

The Company’s ship Cornwallis which sailed from Portsmouth on 8th July, has captured a French brig bound from Negrais to Mauritius and sent it as prize to Vizagapatam. The Cornwallis’ prizemaster is on board. The ship has since been sent to Madras to be condemned (no Admiralty Court at Vizagapatam)

Sat 11th January 1794


From Cox’s Island, downriver of Calcutta, 4th December we hear the following:

  • The brig Venus has arrived from Batavia via Penang and reports the taking of a Dutch Indiaman in Sunda Straits by a French privateer of 20 guns. The prize has a rich cargo of spices and gold dust valued at £100,000 (the production and money of the Celebes).
  • The Recovery (Greenway) of Calcutta was captured in the China Sea en route to China by the Dumourier and ransomed for $30,000. She then put into Malacca and landed her uninsured cargo of tin and pepper, the property of one Sidney Meadows.
  • The Recovery also reports the loss of the Pearl of Bombay which was taken by a French privateer near Penang. She says a French force has attacked the pepper godowns of the Company’s factory at Bencoolen, which are located on nearby Rat Island.
  • The American ship Canton has also been captured by the Dumourier. The Canton sailed for China from Madras in August with a British merchant Leany on board who took a cargo of silver and goods with him. She missed the summer monsoon and was intending to winter at Malacca but met the Dumourier whereafter there are two versions of events – either they invited Captain La Forgue on board for dinner, someone revealed the presence of British cargo on board and he immediately seized the ship and sent her to Mauritius; or one of the French-speaking officers, sent over in a boat, deserted and reported the Canton was English. He brought back a boarding party and led them to a bag of pepper in which were the real invoices.

Sat 18th January 1794

The Nerbudda was taken by a privateer off Pulo Aor and was sailed away to the East (presumably for the Sunda Straits).

The Governor of Macau has seized a French ship that put into his port. His act has irritated the Chinese officials responsible for Macau who require an explanation.

Editorial – The spate of seizures of our shipping has alarmed merchants all over India. We require either peace or the means to protect ourselves.

Sat 1st February 1794

Shipping news – The Dutch Governor of Malacca, H. Couperus, wrote the following to English ship captains in his port on 14th December 1793:

A long low French ship with yellow sides and mouldings, full of Europeans, and mounting a full deck of heavy cannon, has been seen in the Banka Straits on 18th November 1793. She was seen off the Palembang River on 20th November. Several Javan and Sumatran ships have been captured by her.

The following day he added:

A letter from Batavia dated 29th September says the English East Indiaman Princess Royal was attacked by three French warships and quickly taken. The French ships mounted about 120 guns.

The news has been confirmed by Capt Bampton of the Hormazeer, who has just arrived with sugar from Batavia after making a delivery to Botany Bay. He saw two 50-gun ships and one 44-gun at Batavia, which latter had brought the new Political Commissioners from Holland.

Sat 1st February 1794

The Company’s ships in China were to have sailed for home in mid-December but the order was countermanded by Lord Macartney, who requires they await him at Canton.

Meanwhile the Carron (Simpson) has arrived Madras from China and the Captain reports three French warships are cruising off the Canton coast. They are a 64-, a 44- and a 20-gun ship and they are supposed to have come from France direct. They have a large body of troops on board and are said to be responsible for the recent capture of the Indiaman Princess Royal.

On enquiry Simpson’s information was sourced from the same fleet of Bugis proa’s that previously reported at Malacca.

Sat 8th February 1794

The 12 English passengers of the Winterton who were taken as prisoners to Mauritius have been delivered to Madras on 16th January by the American ship Henry (Crowninshield). He also brought 7 other English people who had been caught on one or other of the French prizes.

Captain Crowninshield reported he was told the French have 13 privateers cruising East, of which some five are expected back at Port Louis soon for refitting and provisions. The frigates Sybil and Prudence and the prize Indiaman Princess Royal (44), with 500 European seamen, are being prepared for a cruise in the Bay of Bengal with the Dumourier. Three other privateers are being prepared. One, the Ville de Bordeaux, has 480 men and is well armed. She will patrol the Sunda Straits. M. St Felix, the governor of Mauritius has been removed from office by the newly arrived Political Commissioners for suspected disaffection and we hear he has escaped to Bourbon (Reunion) where the residents still wear the white cockade (the sign of submission to the Bourbons) and are well known for their devotion to the Royalist cause.

News of the war arrived at Mauritius on 3rd June and a partial embargo of foreign ships was commenced until 25th November for ships to America and Europe and until 1st December for ships to Indian ports. 17 American ships were caught by the embargo and English property on board them was seized and sold. The proceeds were kept in the Treasury in accordance with the FrancoAmerican treaty. Then a copy of an English Order-in-Council was discovered on the Princess Royal indicating that French property on American ships was lawful prize to British privateers. The Mauritians are absolutely likely to reciprocate.

We nevertheless hope we can get our money back as the ships involved arrived at Mauritius before the outbreak of war. Prize-taking has become so lucrative on Mauritius that bidding for the fast-sailing Princess Royal was fierce and she sold for 2,400,000 livres. A larger Dutch Indiaman obtained only 600,000 livres although its cargo sold for 800,000 livres. The Faza Rabani (Savage) is Arab property, both hull and cargo, but the taste for prizes is so strong, she is likely to be condemned as well. One privateer brought back $100,000 from a country ship off the Malabar coast, apparently Parsee.

The Mauritian privateers are a cooperative venture of the entire mercantile population. The ship’s value and fitting-out cost is divided into 100 assignable shares which are negotiable. The shareholders thus fund the expedition. The return on many of the voyages has exceeded five times cost and some voyages have exceeded ten times.

7,000 – 8,000 men are engaged in the trade. 30% of the crews are Creoles or free blacks who act as marines. The profitability of privateering has aroused the jealousy of the uninvolved merchants. Monopolies and cartels flourish, and the costs of necessaries has increased substantially.

The Commissioners from Paris have allowed the mob to erect a gallows in front of Government House at Port Louis with the inscription ‘accapareurs, voila votre recompense’ which has alarmed the monopolists.

Sat 15th February 1794

Prize money of 104,298 gold Star Pagodas will be paid out to those troops of the Company’s Madras Army who were involved in the war with Tippoo (The Star Pagoda is said to equate in value with 350 of the India Company’s Madras Rupee).

Sat 22nd February 1794

Two armed Dutch ships have taken a French frigate or privateer of 26 guns off Batavia.

Sat 8th March 1794

Madras news 14th February – Captain MacIver, who commands a merchant ship Swallow belonging to the Sultan of Aceh, was stopped and searched by the French privateer Elize when off Aceh head. The French were satisfied that the ship and cargo belonged to the Sultan and let MacIver’s ship go but before they did so, he had some conversation with the officers.

The Elize has 20 guns and a crew of 250 tough-looking seamen. They said three frigates had departed Mauritius to cruise the Malabar coast looking for Admiral Cornwallis’ fleet.

The Elize at that time had not made a single capture but she has grapnels at the yard arms and 45 volunteers act as marines. Everyone has a cutlass and a brace of pistols. The crew dine at the Captain’s table by rotation, 35 each day.

Sat 22nd March 1794

Before the commencement of the winter monsoon, a small French brig from Africa, which was storm-damaged, put into Damaun for repair. She was seized by the Portuguese officer there, the ship hauled ashore where she still lies today, the Captain and officers were detained and the crew sent to Goa.[4]

Contrast this Portuguese act with the case of the English ship Polly (Taylor) which put into Pondicherry under distress last year whilst the port was still in the control of the French. It was supplied and repaired and allowed to depart unmolested although the outbreak of war was known.

Also note the Spanish attitude to maritime distress. In the last war with Spain an English ship in imminent risk of foundering put into Havana, Cuba, expecting to be made prize. The Governor permitted the necessary repairs, provided provisions and then ordered them away saying ‘we are not at war with the weather’.

Sat 22nd March 1794

The Asiatic Mirror (a Calcutta paper) of 19th February 1794 reports a rumour that French privateers off Sumatra are active. The Indiaman Pigot is said to have been taken, according to Captain Scott of the Carnatic, just arrived at Madras. Scott says he left Prince of Wales Island (Penang) on 12th February for Padang but was chased into Soosa roads by a French privateer. He stayed in the shallows until the privateer left. Whilst there he met a Malay proa from the coast of Sumatra that said both Padang and Tapanuli had been captured by the French, the Pigot taken and 12 privateers were on the coast. Scott decided to steer south for Madras rather than go direct to Calcutta. He was chased by another privateer and, whilst trying to escape, came up on and passed a slow-moving grab, to which the privateer transferred its attentions. He supposes it to have been caught. This occurred two days out of Madras.

Editor – the Pigot left Penang on 24th December with a large supply of military stores for Bencoolen, and would have been off the west coast of Sumatra by early January which is the time and place of her reported capture. Her cargo of shot and powder would be very attractive to privateers. It is supposed the French have increased their coverage of Eastern seas to intercept the Company’s fleet returning from China. The Indiamen just arrived from China have postponed their departure from Madras for the time being. We hope the government will deploy the Fort William on convoy duty, for which task she is eminently suited. Our Bengal squadron was at Malacca on 1st January under Commodore Mitchell and believed that the various French privateers had returned to Mauritius. This appears to be untrue.

Sat 22nd March 1794

Effects of prize-taking:

The Madras papers report the arrival of the Boddam from Bengal with news that many vessels have been laid-up, freight rates have risen to ¾ rupee per bag of cargo and insurance agents are declining almost every risk.

It seems that all the adversity of this war is falling on the merchants in Eastern seas. At Madras no-one is delivering cargo.

Sat 29th March 1794

It is beginning to appear that the Company’s Directors have accepted responsibility with the home government for protecting maritime trade in India. There has been some Company compliance with mercantile requests so far as prudence and policy permits. The merchants are now making a petition to the Supreme Government at Calcutta and we suppose they will be accommodated.[5]

Sat 29th March 1794

The American ship Cleopatra that was seized at Mauritius for carrying English cargo is said, in the Oriental Star newspaper, to have been released. This must be wrong. We know from an irreproachable authority that the cargo was found to be indubitably English and preparations for its sale were well advanced in December 1793.

The only doubt in the Mauritian Commissioners’ minds is whether English property in a neutral ship can be confiscated. Under the old rules of international law (free ships make free goods) they could not but under the new British Orders-in-Council they can.

The Commissioners have collected another £40,000 of property under similar circumstances and have applied to the National Convention for instructions.

Sat 29th March 1794

Asiatic Mirror 29th February 1794 – The Success (Smith) arrived at Madras from here in late February and reports a Dutch ship-of-the-line of 60 guns and three Portuguese frigates are cruising the Malabar coast. The Arabs have armed six vessels to protect their own trade in the Gulf of Cambay. They have taken a French privateer that had previously taken one of their treasure ships and recovered all their missing loot.

The merchants and underwriters of Calcutta (about 40 proprietors) met at the Le Gallais Tavern to agree the wording of an Address to government on the dangers to which Indian trade is exposed and to request convoy for their ships.

A committee of M/s Fairlie, Colvin, Gardner and Perreau was chosen to draft the Address. They delivered it to the Governor-General and he called them to a meeting a few days later. They will relay the Governor-General’s advice to their associates tomorrow. (see further entry below)

Sat 5th April 1794

Commercial news – The meeting of merchants and underwriters in Calcutta (reported last week) has resulted in a decision to arm two ships to co-operate with government against French privateers. One underwriter donated 25,000 rupees. Some well-known naval officers are mentioned for command and the captains and officers of many country ships have volunteered.

Sat 12th April 1794

Editorial – There is a rumour circulating that French privateers based at Mauritius will soon run out of ammunition. We accordingly remind readers that they recently took an immense shipment of sulphur from an Arab ship and confiscated a huge amount of saltpetre from several American ships. As they have an endless supply of charcoal on the island, there can be no shortage of the means to make gunpowder.

Sat 12thApril 1794

A letter from Milan of 8th October quotes letters from Genoa which report four English and Spanish warships and a French warship from Toulon (flying the white Bourbon flag – see the Toulon / Corsica chapter for better particulars) entered Genoa’s port and seized a French frigate flying the Republican colours. They killed some officers and forced a French surrender.[6]

The fleet then called on the Genoese officials to abandon their neutrality and join the allies. The town council was assembled to debate the request.

Sat 19th April 1794

Calcutta news, 1st April:

The frigate Bombay (32) is cruising off Ceylon. It was built in Bombay docks and fitted out by public subscription. She is a testament to Indian carpentry skill.

The Fort William, Henry and Daphne have been chartered by the Calcutta Government to cruise against privateers.

Sat 26th April 1794

A list of French captures of 19 British Indian ships, made in August and September 1793, is shown together with a list of the names of French privateers and their supposed armament. The list appears to have originated in Mauritius.

Sat 26th April 1794

We have received no new information in Bombay this week and will reproduce information from the latest Madras Courier which entirely concerns Mauritius:

The American ship Hector (Delano) arrived Madras from Mauritius with the following news. The craze for privateering has reduced with the availability of profit.

The numbers of ships taken has continued high but the ability to remit proceeds of sale has become uncertain.

The ships Canton and Pearl, which were laden with the immense plunder obtained by the privateer Dumourier are both said to have ‘foundered’ en route back to Mauritius.

Investors in privateering operations are said to have been persuaded to require their ships officers to ransom their seizures in future.

Sat 26th April 1794

Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 31st August – The Committee of Merchants yesterday resolved to publish in the local newspaper a letter they have received from Thomas Jefferson and their answer to it:

“The Government has received your complaint of spoliation committed on your merchant ships by privateers of the warring European powers. The President has asked me to assure all merchants involved in foreign trade and navigation that we will seek redress for all injuries they sustain on the high seas or in foreign countries contrary to the Law of Nations or to our existing treaties.

“Forward your authenticated evidence to us and we will institute the proper proceedings for your relief. The just and friendly disposition of the belligerents persuade us that they will take effectual measures to restrain their armed vessels from committing aggression on our citizens or their property. Please publish this to whoever is a victim of such spoliation. You may send your complaints as individuals or associations.”

The Philadelphia merchants replied:

We have been strictly neutral and friendly to everyone and we ought to be exempt from these depredations. Sgd John Nixton.

Sat 3rd May 1794

Hailes, the British ambassador to Copenhagen, has delivered a note to the Danes with copy to the Prussians, laying down a new interpretation of international law in respect of neutral countries:

“This present war with France differs from all previous wars. In the current hostilities the established Law of Nations and the rights of countries affected by war differ from before. France’s government is unrecognised by both neutrals and belligerents. Denmark has had no diplomatic relations with France since the death of Louis XVI. It is difficult for Denmark to remain neutral.

“The general rule, when a neutral maintains trade with both sides in a war, has been to enforce strict neutrality from both powers towards itself. The belligerents have assurance that the neutrality will not favour one side over the other. If the trade between a neutral and either belligerent is unsatisfactory, they have means, by amicable negotiations, of resolving all differences.

“In the present case Denmark retains all a neutral’s legal rights with respect to England but this cannot be assured with respect to France. In France, Danish neutrality has already been violated. You have no minister there to protect your trade and there is no French judicial authority that can guarantee your rights. Everything is settled democratically by the people.

“We believe the Danish King will find it impossible with France to introduce those measures that ensure that neutral trade, particularly grain trade, is not abused. In fact, it is notorious that the grain trade of France is not a private trade at all but is controlled by the French legislature (presently the National Convention) and the municipalities. It is not a trade of private speculations like ours but a government trade. It is trade with a Government that has declared war upon us.

“An essential tool in war is the embargo. To compel peace, we prevent our enemy importing those things it requires to alleviate need. If we fail to prevent French imports of grain, we sustain French people in their war against all Europe. It is established law that starving one’s opponent is a reasonable means of achieving victory. In this new kind of war against an ungoverned country, we cannot apply rules that were designed for use between countries that agreed to be bound by international law and treaties.

“If the Danish King admits French privateers with their prizes into his ports, he cannot obtain security under international law for the validity of their Letters-of-Marque or for the regularity of their conduct. If your courts acknowledge the legality of French Letters-of-Marque, they acknowledge a government which the King himself does not acknowledge. This is contradictory.

“Danish courts can neither condemn prizes for sale not condemn British subjects and goods to arrest or confiscation. Those seized ships, subjects and goods, belong to a friendly power. They are entitled to protection under treaties and international law. It is particularly impossible to assert impartial neutrality since there is no French authority which can give French privateers the proper instructions for their conduct that distinguish privateering from piracy.”

(a similar note was later submitted to the Danish Court by Count Goltz on behalf of the King of Prussia)

The King of Denmark replied through His minister A P von Bernstorff, on 28th July 1793:

“We are strictly neutral and conscientiously observe the terms of our treaties. We are displeased by the notes of Britain and Prussia. We explain our reasons for acting as we have below.

“Our most important consideration, as desired by our subjects, is the preservation of peace. In this matter the rights of Denmark are not in question. We appeal to our friends, the Kings of Britain and Prussia, that the performance of our treaties with them should be sufficient. We believe that the particular nature of a war cannot diminish the treaties we have earlier made with you.

“We agree that you may make regulations at our expense. We do not agree that, to lighten the burden of the war you have engaged in, you may call our trade into contribution.

“You may disagree but, now I have frankly told you my views, I expect you will withdraw your Notes and not resort to violence to enforce your unjust demands. We have not corresponded with the other Neutrals and are unaware of their sentiments but we suspect that they will be unanimously opposed to your novel idea. You may reprehend our conduct but we ask nothing of you except that you perform your agreements with us as we will towards you; and that you respect the institution of neutrality.

“We feel oppressed by you. We cannot believe that the British King has given unprecedented instructions to his ship commanders that are opposed to the sense of the existing agreements between our countries without any prior discussion or advice to us.

“We confirm it is our intention to comply with any of your requests that are not contrary to the rules of strict neutrality or to the interests of this country. We are willing to consider all French ports that you blockade as blockaded ports. We will not enter into contracts with the French government to provision its armies or navies. No sales of prizes taken by French warships will be permitted in Denmark. We have earned your friendship and will continue to strengthen the ties of friendship and alliance between our countries.”

The attached memorial:

The Law of Nations does not depend on circumstances. An enemy engaged in war may take vengeance upon those who do not expect it but reciprocity may occur. A neutral, at war with no-one, cannot acknowledge such compensatory arrangements. It protects itself by impartiality and by treaties. It does not renounce its rights in favour of this or that belligerent. The basis to its rights are enshrined in International Law. Denmark will neither be a party to infringement of international law nor a judge of such infringements. Treaties do not allow for privileges or favours – they list mutual obligations. It would be an unnatural agreement if a party might either whimsically suppress or re-interpret its obligations, or if it performed its agreements only so long as they suited its self-interest. If that conduct became the norm, then all treaties would become useless – what of equity, and fidelity, and safety then?

Denmark neither attempts to justify nor judge the government of France. Our neutrality requires we remain quiet on the subject. We merely lament the disasters that have befallen that country and, on their account, all Europe. We wish them speedily ended. We do not acknowledge the French democratic form of government but the French nation remains extant and the authority it has derives from the French people. Our trade continues in the same way it did between England and France until the latter declared war.

France has not ceased to acknowledge her treaty commitments, at least in so far as our commercial treaty is concerned. This acts in favour both of ourselves and those subjects of belligerent powers who trade under our flag. If grievances are refused or delayed, we have born reprisals, since the nations warring with France showed little regard for their treaties with us. In this way the neutral flag becomes the victim of errors which are not a fault of neutrality itself. Justice is still available in France; private individuals are heard, no-one is prevented from applying to the commercial tribunals. No revision of our commercial treaty is intended. Politicians are irrelevant, judges are sufficient.

It is true the municipalities seized of these disputes are not uniformly equitable. As neutrals we are institutionally disabled from threatening force and this sometimes facilitates inequitable decisions. You object to this uncertainty but you yourselves find it appropriate to act inequitably towards us. A neutral power performs its duty when it maintains strict impartiality and adheres to its treaty commitments. If neutrality becomes more advantageous to one belligerent than another, that has nothing to do with the law. The pro’s and con’s balance out. Those things that do not lie wholly within the power of the neutral cannot influence its neutrality, otherwise every little interest would re-interpret existing treaties.

The distinction you make between private trade and government trade is unknown to us. We decline to discuss it. A neutral supplying the armies, garrisons or warships of a belligerent is restrained only by its treaties, wherein such matters should be addressed. The Danish economy is reliant on navigation and grain trade. This is harmless commerce. Our sales are as important to us as the purchase of our goods is to our buyers. Your concern must be to blockade ports of war not ports of commerce. You say you blockade ports to create famine and reduce your enemy – this is punishing the innocent without distinguishing them from the guilty. Shortages of grain are commonplace. France normally gets her grain from Egypt, Italy and America. The Baltic has historically been a minor supplier only. In 1709, when France was exposed to serious famine, you did not attempt to worsen it. On the contrary, when, soon after, Denmark in its war with Sweden (a country that requires constant food imports), considered adopting the principle you now assert, all the European powers remonstrated, especially you, declaring the principle of blockade to induce famine new and inadmissible. As a result Denmark desisted from it.

You say this present type of war is new. Perhaps it is. Denmark will always judge matters by their apparent justice. In this case, where a neutrality is imperfect, it ceases to be neutrality.

British ships and those of your allies are welcome in Danish ports. We offer you safety, assistance and protection. Those of your ships that have been captured by your enemies cannot be treated the same. We will not treat French privateers as pirates so long as Britain does not. In your country the crews of French privateers are treated as prisoners-of-war. They are exchanged in the usual way and you negotiate with France to arrange those exchanges. These are the usual rules of war and we subscribe to them. We acknowledged the French tricolor in our ports at the time it was also acknowledged in all other European ports. If we alter our stance, we risk involvement in your war. The admittance of privateers into Norwegian ports (Norway is the colony of Denmark) results from our neutrality. All belligerents have hitherto needed and appreciated such facilities. We allow no general proscription because Norway has a small population, a long coast and myriad harbours and anchorages. Any proscription we enacted would be unenforceable. If the French found they could not repair their ships, they would destroy them to deny their use to others. Sgd A P von Bernstorff

Sat 17th May 1794

La Cybelle, Prudence and Princesse Royale were the three French privateers that took the Indiaman Pigot. They each mount 18 guns and have crews of about 200 Europeans. They formed the squadron that was sent from Mauritius to take Batavia, Bencoolen and Penang.

They then demanded $70,000 from the Company’s factory at Bencoolen or they would attack Rat Island (where Bencoolen’s pepper stock is stored). This was not met and they took the island and its warehouses. Lt Hutchinson of the artillery and 80 Europeans, mainly English, from Bencoolen were captured.

The Dutch factory at Padang was taken by a French force from the Ville de Bordeaux in November and then ransomed back for $20,000. The ransom was paid by private merchants of the port, not the VOC, and the agreement that the French made was with those private merchants. They agreed to a condition that throughout the war all French ships would be welcome at Padang to wood, water and refitting and allowed to employ such tradesmen as the Dutch town has to offer.

On 18th December the French attacked Natal (a Company outstation on the east coast of Aceh) using two privateers –Vengeur (38) and Resolue (26) – with combined crews of some 450 men. They were repeatedly repulsed but eventually landed on 24th December about three miles south of the fort and took it that afternoon. Some of our sepoys ran off but the natives were very brave and helpful. The French attacked every night. One European and one sepoy were killed. We spent 10 days in prison until Maidment ransomed us and the fort for $30,000, half payable this year and half next. (Webpage Editor – I regret to say I have tried to discover better details of Maidment without success)

Sat 24th May 1794

The Court of Directors have petitioned George III and obtained His agreement that all prizes taken in the war with Tippoo shall be apportioned 50 / 50 between the Company and the army. However by a letter of 25th June to the Madras Presidency, the Directors approve passing the Company’s share to the troops.

As the troops in Malabar are now dispersed, Lt Wm Browne is to prepare a muster of the involved men.

Sat 7th June 1794

Letter from Pondicherry dated 12th May – The grab Bombay Merchant (Holmes) has arrived here from Batavia which it departed 27th February. The previous month Commodore Mitchell, commanding the Bengal squadron, brought in two French privateers of 36 and 30 guns with their crews of about 600 men. They are the privateers that ransomed the Company’s factory at Natal for $30,000. Mitchell received a reinforcement of 250 Dutch soldiers at Batavia and sailed. A French fleet of 3 frigates and a privateer are known to still be in the area.

The Indiaman Canton (Mackie) was at Batavia at the time Holmes left. It had been captured by the Dumourier and a French snow. The prize crew were short of provisions and sailed for the Sunda Straits to meet the French squadron there. En route they encountered a Dutch frigate which recaptured the Canton. The Dumourier and the snow had been severely damaged in a typhoon and the snow later sank.

The annual Dutch ship from Japan, with a rich cargo of copper etc., was attacked by a privateer but fought it off and made Batavia safely.

Sat 7th June 1794

Letter of Jefferson, American Foreign Minister, to Pinckney, his ambassador to London, dated 7th September 1793:

We have an unauthenticated copy of an Order-in-Council headed ‘Additional Instructions to HM Warships and Privateers,’ dated 8th June 1793. Please confirm its authenticity. Assuming it is genuine, you will obtain explanations from the British government on the following points:

The 1st article requires all ships carrying grain or flour to be sent into British ports and the cargo sold to England or, if the Captain gives security, to an English ally.

This is illegal.

England can war with whom she pleases but peaceful countries always retain their right to trade as usual, whether the trade is with England or her allies or enemies. A neutral country merely abstains from trade in whatever is reasonably considered as contraband and avoids all blockaded ports. No-one can prevent a trade in foodstuffs.

I conclude that the war between France and England cannot interrupt the agriculture of America or prevent our exchanging our production with whoever we like.

Article 1 of the English Additional Instructions is unreasonable. If it is not opposed it will damage our agriculture – the source of our food and clothing. Can England close all the ports of the World to us, except her own and her friends’? Suppose she then closes her own ports – what then? We cannot have our economy restricted and our peoples’ employment reduced at the whim of foreign ministries. This is like a tax on our country. We claim the right to sell our products to whomsoever we like.

We do not send our ships to France to return empty – we exchange our surplus for their surplus, wherever we get best prices. We wish to remain neutral and treat all belligerents equally. If we permit grain shipments to England we must equally permit them to France. If we are partial, we risk alienating one side or the other and involving ourselves in war. The 1st Article of these Instructions has the effect of forcing all neutrals into supporting the English side. We do not want to war.

When our treaty with France obliged us to prevent French enemies from arming in our ports, we prevented France doing so as well – that was just. If we are now required to withhold food from France, we must likewise withhold it from England. We either forego the demand for provisions in Europe or we involve ourselves in their war. This is the dilemma that England seeks to force upon us. If England thinks it appropriate to starve her enemies, that is her business, but she has no legal right to require our assistance in it.

The President requires you to make our case in a friendly and temperate way. Detail the extent of distress that the Instructions cause us and request both a revocation of the Order and indemnity for those Americans who have been injured by it already.

I have to remark that we have never yet received a response from the English government to any matter we have raised with them, except for the exchange of ministers, and you may tell them we necessarily interpret silence as an answer – but do not give them a time-limit to avoid offending them. Write me a report on the situation on 1st December so it arrives here when Congress is sitting.

The 2nd Article of the Instructions permits British warships to seize any ship, except Danish or Swedish, attempting to enter a blockaded port. The only neutrals carrying maritime trade in the Atlantic are Denmark, Sweden and America. This Article targets American merchant ships for seizure whilst it merely turns back Swedish and Danish ships from entering a blockaded port. It is discriminatory. You will demand an explanation of this Article. You will know that America treats England as a Most Favoured Nation except when our bilateral treaties prevent it. Conceivably, England has made agreements with Sweden and Denmark that explain this discrimination. If so, we expect you to procure a similar agreement.

I prefer the British explanations to be obtained in writing.

Sgd Jefferson.

A copy of the Order-in-Council is appended in the newspaper. It confirms Jefferson’s construction. The 2nd Article turns back Swedish and Danish ships only on their first attempt to enter a blockaded port but orders their seizure on any subsequent attempt. A 3rd Article addresses the subject of Notice to ships that may have sailed before the Order was published – the Captains of these ships are to be admonished to deliver to another port.

Sat 7th June 1794

On 1st June a snow arrived at Tranquebar (the Danish enclave) from Mauritius. The captain reports the Indiaman Pigot was brought in to Mauritius on 14th March with Capt Ballantyne, 1st Officer Torin, two midshipmen and four crew. The rest of the complement were distributed amongst the other ships in the French squadron. The Captain was permitted to return to England on his own parole on 19th March. Mr Torin awaited a cartel-ship (used for exchange of prisoners between belligerents) from Mauritius to Madras that was intended to leave at end March. They reported they had been well-treated. The island officials knew of the intended expedition from India against them and also of Commodore Newcombe’s three ship blockade of Port Louis.

The large French frigate Ville de Bordeaux, which took the Sacremento, was confirmed to have foundered near Mauritius and all crew were lost. The Danish ship Minerva (Coulthard) was safe in harbour. She had been suspected of carrying English goods but was searched and the French were satisfied with her neutrality. She will provide passage for 50 English prisoners from Mauritius to Madras at end March.

We have also received a letter dated 16th March from a correspondent on Mauritius. He says the privateers Cybelle and Prudente arrived after an engagement with our Bengal squadron. They have no information on their 2 sister ships Duguay Trouen, ex Princess Royal and La Modeste, ex La Fayette.

There are now three revolutionary clubs on Mauritius – Les Sans Culottes, Les Amis de la Liberty et Egalite Republicane and Les Amis des Loix – the slaves are being politicised and a revolt is feared.

Appended is a list of 13 active French privateers and 10 others in varying states of disuse. They are manned by French seamen (12%), French soldiers (12%), many other nationals, mainly American, and a handful of English. Each ship has 30 – 50 slaves on board to do the drudgery.

Sat 21st June 1794

Calcutta news, 26th May – The American ships Union and Cleopatra sailed from Bengal but were detained in Mauritius for carrying British property. They have been under arrest so long that their cargo has deteriorated and been landed. It was then seized by the Mauritian government.

Sat 28th June 1794

American neutrality has prejudiced American trade just as much as had they declared for one side or the other. The English port of New Providence in Canada has over 100 American ships arrested and brought in by our frigates on suspicion of carrying goods for France.

Sat 28th June 1794

Two English frigates met off Porto Ferraio, Elba on 30th January 1794 without recognising each other (they routinely cruise under false colours) and fought for a considerable time. Both are badly damaged with many killed and wounded.

Sat 12th July 1794

Commodore Newcombe’s fleet has removed the threat of French privateers from the Malacca and Sunda Straits and the last part of the China fleet will sail without convoy. The French warships that escaped are all back in Mauritius.

Sat 19th July 1794

The French ship Constitution with a cargo from Canton put into St Helena on her homeward voyage unaware of the start of war. She was arrested.

Sat 19th July 1794

Channel Islands, February 1794 – French privateers come out of Cherbourg each morning and cruise until sunset. They take our merchant ships off Alderney. The produce of Alderney is being removed to Guernsey as soon as it is harvested for safety. Most of the merchants of Guernsey have sent their wives and children back to England. It is rumoured that guns are being made at Cherbourg, Granville and St Malo for the invasion of the Channel Islands. A militia has been formed on the island for defence.[7]

Sat 26th July 1794

Hailes, the British ambassador at Copenhagen, has complained to Bernstorff, the first minister, against the newspaper Danish Spectator which he says has libelled him with a public accusation of putting profit before people.

Hailes demands a criminal prosecution of the newspaper in the British style. Other allied ambassadors support Hailes’ complaint. The Editor has been questioned by the Governing Council of Denmark.

Sat 26th July 1794

Letter from Vienna, 2nd February: The English Mediterranean fleet has captured 20 barques between Genoa and Nice, all carrying grain to France.

Sat 26th July 1794

Stockholm, 4th April – 7 Swedish merchantmen have been taken as prize by the English. Their papers showed cargoes of grain, herring and iron destined for Spain and Ireland but they were still arrested. The British say they suspect the papers are forged. The Swedish merchants are livid. They conclude that British policy is to ruin their trade.

Sat 26th July 1794

Bombay, 23rd July – Lt Colonel James Hartley of H M’s 75th regiment is charged, in collusion with Mr Ray, of selling prize goods at half price to the merchant Chancri Moosa and ignoring more advantageous offers from other merchants with intent to defraud the Company and the captors of their true share.

Charges unsubstantiated – Hartley released.

Sat 2nd August 1794

Company forces under Colonel Prendergast have done battle with 18,000 men under Vizeram Rao at Bimlipatam near Vizagapatam and defeated them. They first tried to negotiate but failed.

They then marched on the Rajah’s positions. When Rao’s men opened fire, Prendergast responded with grape shot and slaughtered a great many of them, including the Vizeram. Our loss is 50 – 60 sepoys.

The Rajah’s baggage, camp equipment and a large amount of plunder was left in a nearby village by the fleeing enemy and captured by our men.

Sat 2nd August 1794

Denmark, 18th March – the Court is determined to follow a policy of strict neutrality and oppose the British view ‘you are either with us or against us.’ Freedom of commercial navigation is a fundamental right in International Law. A squadron of 8 ships-of-the-line and 4 frigates is assembled under Admiral Schindal for the defence of Danish trade. A further 4 ships-of-the-line are planned. The Danish merchants are determined to maintain their carrying trade of provisions to France, either direct or via Bilbao, Genoa and Leghorn.

A large subscription of some 700,000 crowns for the reconstruction of the Royal palace (destroyed by fire with 100+ casualties) has been received by the Royal family but has been transmitted to the fund for the support of commerce. The Danish King and his family will continue to live in hotels until the national emergency has passed. Both citizens and military officers are subscribing. They are anxious for the honour of Denmark.

Sat 9th August 1794

Captain Wright of the Ceres reports whilst his ship was anchored in Manila Bay and he was ashore, it was boarded at night by 20 French and 14 Spanish seamen who confined his crew and sailed his ship away, supposedly to Mauritius. Wright took passage on another ship back to Calcutta. In the Straits of Malacca he met and briefed Commander Mitchell on the event.

Bombay Courier Editor – Our small fleet of 17 self-financed privateers and frigates has cleared the Malacca Straits, preserved the spice islands and Batavia to our allies and saved Penang. All this without help from England.

Sat 9th August 1794

Government Orders 22nd July – The invasion of Mauritius is postponed. The units assembled at Madras will break-up. The charter parties for transports have been signed and will have to be compromised.[8]

Sat 23rd August 1794

Government Notice, 19th August – the captors of Mahe (the French port on the Kerala coast) will get their part of the plunder but the Company expects to receive its own 50% share.

Sat 30th August 1794

Captain Doussere reports his instructions from Paris are to seize all European shipping except Danish and Swedish. This permitted his taking of Portuguese ships which has been profitable – San Sacramento had 1 million rupees of property, St Antoine had 800,000 rupees and Bom Success had 300,000 rupees in silver alone. He took 180 prisoners with the three ships.

Sat 13th September 1794

The Mentor (Richardson) and Betsy (Megson) have arrived from Manila via Batavia on 6th September 1794. They say two French privateers, one the Revanche, are cruising off Java. The French have seized the annual Dutch spice ship and a Chinese junk, both having very valuable cargoes.

This is not the first time that Chinese trade has been taxed by the French, apparently in the belief that the Chinese government discourages maritime trade by its nationals and that the ship-owners accordingly have no redress.

Sat 13th September 1794

A treaty between the King of Denmark & Norway and the King of Sweden for the safety of their maritime commerce and navigation, done at Copenhagen on 27th March 1794:

The advantages of our strict neutrality, based on our international treaties, are important to our countries. War has spread throughout Europe and our trade is threatened. We have agreed to maintain strict neutrality during the present war. We claim no advantages that have not been already conceded in our treaty arrangements with the belligerents or those that are available to us under international law.

The Baltic Sea, access to which we signatories control, is declared a sea of free navigation. The German possessions of both Denmark and Sweden (some states along the Rhine and Pomerania) are exempted from this treaty.

We will protect the trade of our nationals without extending it or departing from our former agreements. We will each fit-out and deploy a squadron of 8 ships-of-the-line and a proportionate number of frigates. Each squadron will defend the shipping of the other flag as well as its own.

Should any power, in contempt of treaties and international law, molest our navigation outside the Baltic we will attempt conciliation, make joint remonstrance, seek satisfaction and indemnity and, if the matter still remains unresolved after four months, take reprisals. We will unitedly resist any attack from any other power.

This agreement will continue in force until the conclusion of the present war.

Sat 25th October 1794

American news (reported in Leiden Gazette, 24th June):

New York papers to 19th April reveal the American Congress is split politically into two factions. Both sympathise with France; both protest the British attitude to neutral shipping.

The violent party, which prevails in the Southern states, wants war with England, armed forts along the western frontier and indemnity for the slaves carried from New York as prize.

The moderate party, led by General Washington and John Adams, favours negotiating with England for the restitution of illegal captures.

The result, after a Congressional debate, has been a decision to send a Minister to London to argue the equity of the American cause. He is John Jay, Chief Justice of the American Supreme Court and formerly President of the Congress. He holds the same views as Washington and Adams.

London papers 27th June – negotiations with John Jay have commenced. He wants a peaceful solution and so do English ministers. A notice has been published at the Royal Exchange indicating agreement will be forthcoming.

Sat 8th November 1794

British sources in St Petersburg report two letters have arrived, one from the Russian minister at Stockholm to the Tsar and another from the Swedish court to their minister at St Petersburg. It is feared that Russia may accede to the neutrality declared by Sweden and Denmark.

If this happens Britain will be excluded from the Baltic and deprived of Russian masts, hemp or tar for the Royal Navy. Our ability to influence Europe through Prussia or Hanover will also be diminished, but mainly it is the threatened loss to British commerce that has alarmed the ministry.

Russian sources remain unaware of the attitude of the Porte to the armed neutrality in the Baltic. It may be hostile since the insurrection in Poland is diverting Russian resources and relieving the Ottomans.

The British minister at Stockholm has complained of contracts concluded publicly between Swedish merchants and French agents for the supply of huge amounts of gunpowder, ammunition and other contraband and also the great shipments of grain, building timber and similar goods to France. All these exports are shipped under false papers suggesting discharge at Bilbao, Genoa or Lisbon when they are intended to be directly imported at whatever French port the Swedish ships can access. They are paid for by the French in advance of shipment. The Swedish and Danish commissions on the trade are outrageously high but the French must tolerate the high prices or go without.

Sat 15th November 1794

Lisbon, 11th May – a Royal Edict offers merchants, who sustain loss by privateers and can prove their losses, a means of recovery. The government at Madeira has arrested a valuable French ship as security for claims and a request for indemnity of privateering losses has been made on Paris. The cargo of the French ship has been sold and the proceeds deposited with the Commercial Court. If France does not offer indemnity, the proceeds will be distributed to Portuguese claimants.

Sat 15th November 1794

Prize-taking in West Indies is easy and lucrative as the French are not protecting their trade. Admirals Sir Charles Grey and John Jarvis have put the following prizes on sale at Martinique:

Estimated Value
70 ships of various types £ 72,000
6,200 hogsheads sugar £186,000
2,200 hogsheads of muscovado £ 44,000
4,000 bags coffee £ 8,000
5,000 bags of cocoa £ 5,000
3,500 bales cotton £ 70,000
4,000 cases wine £ 8,000
40,000 dozen of liqueurs £ 30,000
Misc Provisions £500,000

That is nearly a million pounds to share amongst the officers and crew of the West Indies fleet.

Sat 10th January 1795

An American ship from Bordeaux recently arrived at Mauritius bringing news that Portugal had declared war on France. The colonial authorities at Port Louis then declared war on Portugal and three Lisbon ships which had long been detained were condemned as prizes. In fact the ships have been arrested so long they have little value.

Sat 31st January 1795

A packet of mails has been received at Bombay from Basra via Muscat containing European news up to 15th August (NB – this comes via the British consul at Aleppo). The major items are (extract):

Santo Domingo has fallen to us with the reduction of Port au Prince and an immense amount of treasure (reportedly £3 millions) has been found there together with 40 ships in harbour loaded with West Indian productions. France is removed from the West Indies. Our naval strength has given us a monopoly of colonial produce, east and west, with the attendant commercial advantages.

Advisory – When the Company’s army obtains loot in war, if the amount is small, it is apportioned according to the efforts of the officers and soldiers involved, then put into one of the Presidential lotteries with the troops getting numbered tickets in proportion to their share. It is a form of gambling to concentrate the value of loot and make it more attractive.

After Abercromby’s campaign against Tippoo in 1792, just such a lottery occurred. In this edition of the Bombay Courier 22 tickets winning 20 gold pagodas each are listed together with those others drawn blank. The prize money of 440 pagodas (less 10% for the raffle organiser M/s Forbes Smith & Co, acting for the prize agents of the army M/s Bailie and Mackenzie) was then invested in Madras lottery tickets.

Sat 21st February 1795

The French frigates and privateers cruising in the East seem to be targeting the Dutch. The VOC has lost three Indiamen this season whilst we have lost none.

Sat 21st February 1795

London news, 14th July 1794 – The Order-in-Council to our warships and privateers of June 1793 (searching neutral ships for cargo being sent to France and bringing any found into an English port) has been withdrawn.

The rift with the Courts of Denmark and Sweden is consequently healed and our continuing access to the Baltic appears assured.

Sat 28th February 1795

The merchants of Bombay have thanked Commodore Rainier for the protection of their trade by H M warships. The efficiency of his services is reflected in reduced insurance premiums which are now half what they were a year ago. Premium on voyages Bombay to Calcutta are now 6% and Bombay to Madras 4% ad valorem.

Sat 25th April 1795

Halifax, Canada, 23rd August:

Last month HMS Argonaut and HMS L’Oiseau arrived from the Delaware coast with 13 American prizes loaded with grain and provisions. All the prizes were part of a fleet of 30 vessels from Philadelphia that formed a convoy to France. The French warships convoying the fleet were La Concorde, Le Perdrix, Le Cassacas, Cornelia and two others.

All the cargo on the ships is consigned to the French Republic. The shipments were assembled by Fouchet, the French minister to America. He had first awaited the arrival of 4 French ships-of-the-line but they were delayed whilst demurrage on the chartered bottoms was increasing. Fouchet eventually took a gamble and lost.

The British fleet at Halifax now comprises 3 ships-of-the-line and 13 frigates.

Sat 23rd May 1795

HMS Hussar has brought a French privateer into Halifax, Nova Scotia.[9] She is the 12 gun Republican and had $23,000 in silver on board. She is one of the privateers that the US Government permitted to be fitted-out in Charleston – so much for strict neutrality. In her brief life she took about 20 prizes, mostly Spanish.

Sat 20th June 1795

Report from Amsterdam, 6th February 1795:

  • The Dutch Committee of Commerce & Marine has warned all neutral or Dutch shipping, coming from Levant, Mediterranean or East & West Indies, not to touch at an English port en route. All Dutch shipping entering British ports is being confiscated.
  • The VOC has been suspended and a new corporation set-up in its place.

Sat 20th June 1795

Admiral Lord Howe has intercepted the Dutch East India fleet and brought it into a home port. It comprises 8 Indiamen, 6 warships and 100 merchantmen. The prize value is too great to estimate.[10]

Sat 11th July 1795

The Company’s armed cruiser Panther (Margotty) arrived at Madras from Suez on 26th June with dispatches from London for the Governor General. The packet left London on 20th March. Baldwin, British Consul at Alexandria, has zealously made up the European news for us. He says:

The French have embargoed Dutch shipping in English ports. British letters of marque were amended 9th February 1795 to include the Netherlands as a French satellite. The Braket and Zeeland ships-of-the-line, three smaller warships, nine East Indiamen richly laden and sixty other Dutch ships have been arrested in English ports. On 8th February the Zuiderberg arrived at Cork from Batavia with a million in specie and was arrested. All Dutch property is retained provisionally. The ship and cargo owners and the masters, as citizens of allies, receive a government indemnity.

Sat 25th July 1795

The Spanish treasure ship Santa Jago, taken in April 1793, has been adjudged to the captors by the London Prize Court. Its value is assessed at £935,000. Rear Admiral John Gell commanded the squadron.

Sat 12th September 1795

2nd Officer Black of the Bombay ship Armenian Merchant has just arrived at Negapatam from Mauritius on an American ship Peggy (Roper) from New York. Black’s ship was taken by the French frigates Cybelle and Prudente and a brig Courier in Sunda Straits on 30th June and is now arrested at Mauritius.

He said the French squadron at Mauritius has 1,600 troops on board supposedly for the siege and subsequent garrisoning of Batavia.

Sat 26th September 1795

Letter from Malacca – Three French privateers from Mauritius have been active in the Malacca Straits. The Crockett of Bombay has been taken. The Parsees at Malacca fear one or two of their ships (sent by their colleagues at Bombay) have also been taken. The Dutch Governor of Malacca has been warned that the French intend to take the settlement and destroy the Orpheus (the Company’s armed cruiser based there). The north entrance to the harbour is unprotected.

The French took Myers’ ship (he is the Master Attendant at Malacca) off Palembang. On 17th August they took a brig belonging to a Chinese from Batavia, plundered and scuttled it and deposited the crew on the Java coast. On 18th they took the Fort Louis, a Spanish snow, off Penang that was en voyage from Madras to Manila. That evening they took the Dutch brig Java. This is the VOC’s armed cruiser.

On 20th the French commander sent a message to the Dutch governor of Malacca. Whilst waiting outside the port for an answer, they took a Parsee ship from Bombay to Malacca. On 22nd they took a grab. That evening the Dutch governor sent his reply and the French then moved off.

Sat 14th November 1795

Two American ships arrived Calcutta from Mauritius in mid-October, both named America and both commanded by a Crowninshield (one by John and the other by B).[11] The Captains of all the prizes taken by the French privateers Cybele and Prudente in the Malacca Straits are returned on these ships – Stone of the Talbux, Stokes of the Latchme, Lindsay of the Fort Louis, Scott of the Penang Grab and Scott of the Carnatic. Also returned are Robinett and Hewitt. They are all on parole not to serve against France until they have been exchanged. Another American ship is bringing the remaining English prisoners from Mauritius to Bombay at the end of this month.

All the released men speak well of Capt Reynaud of the Prudente and Capt Garraud of the Courvette. Capt Trouhart of the Cybelle was not well thought of. The Mauritian Governor Malartic was kind but the Colonial Assembly allowed no subsistence to the prisoners. American provisions are widely available on the island and only a slight shortage of rice is apparent which is expected to be relieved by the Danes at Tranquebar soon.

The French frigate Moineau has arrived Port Louis and a national fleet is expected soon.

We are told that, amongst all the neutral shipping, the American flag is most respected by the French, particularly in the Atlantic trade.

Sat 28th November 1795

Sheriff’s sale, 3rd December – The ship Eydroos ex Hero, built Bordeaux 1786, refitted 1792 by M/s Gillet and Edwards at Calcutta. Capable of carrying 1,000 bales of cotton or 7,000 bags of rice.

Sat 23rd January 1796

Letter from Halifax, Nova Scotia, 16th May – We have taken two valuable prizes – L’Esperance a 22-gun French sloop and Harmony an American merchantman from Baltimore. This latter ship had a cargo of French claret and brandy and £80,000 in silver.

Sat 23rd January 1796

The Dutch flag no longer flies over Malacca. We seized public property there valued at over 380,000 Madras star pagodas.

The Dutch at Batavia have decided not to surrender to the Company. The two VOC Indiamen there that were intended for China have unloaded their cargoes, cannon and stores and have been hauled ashore for safety. Their crews are added to the garrison.

Sat 6th February 1796

The Bombay Governor-in-Council offers for sale on 15th February the Dutch ketch Verwachden, prize of HMS Drake, with her guns and equipment. The cargo will be sold in lots. A deposit of 10% on each lot is required from successful buyers with the balance in 10 days. The prize agent is Joseph Harding.

Sat 5th March 1796

French privateers from Mauritius have devised a new method of taking prizes. They carry only small guns and come alongside and board. They effect this by using captured pilot boats. The marines hide under deck until they are alongside, then swarm aboard and make the capture.

The Indiaman Triton has just been taken in this way on arrival off the Hoogly whilst en route from Madras to Calcutta,. The privateers were helped by the Triton’s boatswain who persuaded 20 of the deck crew to decline to fight.

Sat 7th May 1796

State of the Royal Navy:

Exclusive of the chartered armed ships protecting British coasting trade, the Navy has in commission 120 ships-of-the-line, 23 x 50-gunners, 159 frigates and 164 sloops for a total of 466 warships.

Of this number, 7 capital ships, 1 x 50-gunner, 5 frigates and 6 sloops are serving in Asia, about the same as at Jamaica and rather less than we have at Halifax or in the West Indies (here the name West Indies refers to the Lesser Antilles).

The main concentration of British naval force is in the English and Irish Channels and the North Sea (127 warships).

8 capital ships and 2 sloops are under construction.

Sat 2nd July 1796

Auction, 5th July of the cargo of Rymsdyck’s ship Wellvareen, taken at Mocha as prize of HMS Arrogant, the Company’s cruiser Alert and the Company’s armed ship Jehangir.

Samples of the cargo comprising sugar, spices, red wood and arrack are available. Successful purchasers to pay one gold Mohar[12] instantly with the balance before 15th July by which date they must remove the goods.

The ship and her stores will be sold immediately thereafter.

Sgd Philip Dundas and Levi Philipps, Agents of the Captors.

(NB – there is an Admiralty Jurisdiction in Bombay without a specialist Prize Court)

Sat 16th July 1796

The auction of the immense volume of Dutch property seized at Colombo during our invasion will be on 20th August. It is mainly comprised of the following:

  • 9,000 bales (each 80 lbs) of cinnamon, ready packed for Europe
  • 220,000 lbs pepper
  • 94 chests (each 200 lbs) of cardamoms
  • 180,000 lbs saltpetre
  • 190 bales of coarse cloth
  • 95 bales of cotton yarn.
  • Large quantities of Ceylon and Java coffee, Batavia sugar, gum aloes, myrrh, nutmegs, mace, cloves, iron and steel
  • 2 Dutch Indiamen each 720 tons complete with rigging and stores (suitable for the Pegu trade).

The goods were offered for sale at auction by Major Agnew and Mr McDowell at Colombo, payment in three months, security for payment required.

The Company put in a quick offer for all the cinnamon which the Prize Agents accepted – this is now withdrawn from sale.

Sat 16th July 1796

The Madras Courier of 21st June has published a letter from Banda Aceh of 27th March detailing the progress of Admiral Rainer’s invasion force:

On 17th February Major Johnson Kennedy took possession of the fort of Amboinya. They found $56,000 in silver, a stock of cloves and other spices to an estimated value of 600,000 Gold Pagodas, 85 fine cannon and a great quantity of stores.

The Admiral then continued with the fleet to Bangka Island on 8th March. Major Kennedy led the landing party ashore under strong fire from the fort. As the British approached the Dutch soldiers spiked their guns and fled. The Dutch Governor, finding himself deserted by his troops, called for a respite and offered to deliver the fort on the following day. On the morning of 9th March Major Kennedy led his men into Fort Banda finding £70,000 in specie, various spices to a value of c. 400,000 Gold Pagodas, 310 cannon and a great quantity of military stores. Admiral Rainier then left to return to Amboinya.

Major Kennedy was left in command of Bangka island with two companies of European infantry, two companies of the 17th battalion of Native Infantry, one company of the Wurtemburg regiment, a half company of the coast artillery and about 100 sepoys, formerly in the Company’s service, who were found in the fort. The value of prizes to the Admiral’s force exceeds 3 tonnes of gold (approaching GBP500,000).

Sat 23rd July 1796

A Dutch Indiaman carrying van der Graaf, late Governor of Batavia, has been captured in the Channel and taken into Plymouth. It contains some £350,000 of cargo.

Sat 17th September 1796

Admiral Rainier, in charge of the occupation of the Spice Islands, has loaded the Bombay ship Surprise Galley with about 20% of the spices found in storage at Amboinya and sent her to China.

The cargo is valued at 400,000 Gold Pagodas, pending sale.

Sat 17th September 1796

Notice, 19th July 1796 – We, the officers of the late expeditionary force to Ceylon, consider ourselves entitled to a share in the prize money from the sale of the goods seized in our invasion. Major Gen James Stuart has disallowed our claim. We Protest and have laid our claims before H M for adjudication.

Sgd 33 officers (from Lt Col to Ensign) of Madras Army.

Sat 15th October 1796

Public Auction, 20th October – the prize Batavia’s Wellvareen, 400 tons with all her stores, apparel and furniture. About 4 years old, copper-sheathed, two decks, hold sealed and caulked, flat-floored and therefore admirable for rice cargoes. Her slight draught makes her suitable for river trade.

Payment 25% on sale, 25% after one month and 50% in two months.

Sgd P Dundas and L Phillips, Agents of the captors.

(NB – This is the second Notice. The first auction was postponed. The ship was then sold to Capt Scott for 18,800 rupees)

Extraordinary 23rd October 1796

HMS Arrogant and Victorious have located and engaged the French privateering fleet that has been predating on our merchant ships. They encountered six French frigates off the Pedier coast (the Sumatran coast along the Malacca Straits) on 9th September and engaged them.

HMS Arrogant was disabled after an hour but Victorious continued fighting until the French bore away for Aceh, towing two disabled frigates, although the whole squadron was heavily damaged.

HMS Victorious sustained 15 killed and 55 wounded. HMS Arrogant lost 5 men killed and 20 wounded. It was supposed by the involved British naval officers that the French squadron will now be obliged to refit.

Sat 10th December 1796

The Company’s sloop Swift (Billamore) has captured the French privateer Jean Labat on 18th November. She comes from Mauritius and had no carriage guns. She was fitted out solely for boarding. Uniquely, the Jean Labat was manned entirely by gentlemen with their servants in attendance on them.

Sat 17th December 1796

A party of Bengal civil servants – Bebb of the Board of Trade and his assistants Parry and Paxton – have gone to Colombo to value the spices we took in prize from the Dutch and prepare them for shipment to London.

Tues 2nd January 1798

The frigate HMS Experiment (44) met a fleet of Spanish merchant ships returning from Mexico and captured three. The cargo is largely silver and Capt Barratt’s personal quarter share is over £800,000. Our own West Indian convoys are arriving at London safely.

Sat 28th April 1798

Tranquebar, 6th April – a ship Hirondelle has arrived here from the King of Cochin China (the Mekong estuary in the southern third of today’s Vietnam) seeking for information about the Armida, another of the King’s ships which he feared had been lost at sea.

Actually, the Nonsuch (Thomas) seized Armida in Pedier roads last year for carrying enemy goods.

Sat 28th April 1798

Letter from Macau – a ship has just arrived here from Manila. The Spanish governor no longer expects a British invasion and his fleet remain in harbour. HMS Cybelle (Cook) and HMS Fox (Malcolm) have visited Manila under French colours to get water and provisions. Having received these, they displayed their English colours and made a few small captures in Manila Bay.

Sat 5th May 1798

The Company’s ship King George holds Letters-of-Marque.[13]

Sat 12th May 1798

Two of the Company’s Indiamen – Raymond (Smedley) and Woodcote (Hannay) – have been captured off Tellicherry by the 46-gun French frigate Preneuse (l’Hermite). The crews were sent ashore next day. The Woodcote carried 100 tons of pepper and both ships had a considerable lading of piece-goods.

Sat 19th May 1798

HMS Virginie has arrived at Madras. She was last at the Cape where two Danish ships from Batavia and Mauritius had been seized as prizes. An Englishman found in the crew of one Danish ship has been charged with High Treason.

Sat 26th May 1798

Letter from the Cape, 8th March 1798:

HMS Crescent has arrived Capetown with a valuable French prize she took off Cape d’Aguilhas. The cargo of slaves has sold at 400 – 700 Rix dollars per head.

Three other ships have been arrested here. Two were condemned as lawful prizes.

One was an American commanded by Capt Ferrier and chartered to the Dutch Government. It was found to have two sets of ship’s papers, Dutch and American. Ferrier is imprisoned until some diamonds on his (real) ship’s manifest are produced – we don’t know where he is hiding them.

The second ship was Danish.

The third, under Danish colours, actually belonged to the British merchant Ryan and it was not condemned. This ship was formerly the Fort William in Mr Tyler’s ownership. The Fort William was taken by the French as prize and Ryan bought it at Mauritius. He then foolishly made a claim on government here for demurrage while his ship was detained. He was arrested and sent a prisoner to England.

Admiral Pringle, in command of the Cape fleet, has returned to England in HMS Crescent and has been succeeded by Admiral Christian.

Wed 6th June 1798 Extraordinary

A division of the spoils from the Dutch prizes has been published by the Prize Court.

The King and the Governor of the Company’s island of St Helena both do well in the distributions from Macassar and Hooghly. The seven ships taken on 14th June 1795 likewise go mostly to Company ships’ officers and officials on St Helena.

Sat 30th June 1798

A letter was received on 3rd June at Madras from Admiral Rainier. On 5th January the frigates HMS Cybelle (Cook) and Fox (Malcolm) sailed from Macau convoying two Indiamen and five country ships to Bombay. This was a pretext – the frigates parted company with the merchantmen off the Ladrones and sailed instead for the Philippines.

On 12th January they captured a small Spanish ship from Manila and learned that the Spanish fleet was at Cavite and comprised 4 capital ships and 4 frigates. It was said that two ships had only their lower masts installed and all the others were hulks. The Spanish fleet had reportedly been dismasted last July in a typhoon and no spares were yet available. The master of the captured ship said there was a rich merchant ship in Manila roads coming to Canton. He was released after surrendering the cash on his ship ($4,000).

It appeared to the officers of the frigates that the ‘rich’ merchant ship might be cut out of the roads and seized. They sailed to Corregidor[14] under French colours and disguised their ships and crews as best they could. On entering Manila Bay they saw three gunboats which had apparently been sent out to examine them. These were captured using the ships’ boats. They continued to within 3-4 miles of Manila when a boat came out directly to HMS Fox. The French-speaking part of the crew was assembled near the gangway, all wearing Republican tricolor cockades, and the Spanish officer was received in French style. He said the Governor required him to water and provision every arriving ship. He confirmed that the Spanish warships could not be readied for sea in under two months – it was not just typhoon damage, no crews were available.

Captain Cook rowed over from Cybelle and boarded the Fox posing as the French Commodore. He asked if any departing Spanish ships needed convoy and learned that one was leaving for China but was still loading. Having debriefed the Spanish officer as much as necessary, the disguises were abandoned. Shortly thereafter two more boats arrived from the shore. One contained the Spanish Admiral’s aide-de-camp and the other the Governor’s nephew. They offered to help tow the frigates to the anchorage whilst it was still daylight. At this moment the ships’ boats returned with the three captured gunboats. One had a 32 pounder and the others 28 pounders. Each had a crew of about 90 men. This rather ‘tipped the wink’ to the Spanish grandees that all was not as they thought. Then a large Customs boat came out for inspection. The frigate’s crew displayed their gunpowder and shot to him. By 2 pm about 200 Spanish officials had arrived on the supposed French frigate. The Spanish officers were given dinner and later were allowed to depart in their own boats.

Sat 7th July 1798

The Laurel (Foggo) has been captured by an American privateer. The Laurel left Ceylon undermanned on 23rd October. On 19th November she saw the privateer, which got in under her guns, hooked the anchor and stopped square alongside. About 60 Europeans boarded and our lascars and sepoys jumped overboard.

The privateer is the Apollo (Houdell) of Boston, a 16-gun ship with a crew of 70. She took us to Mauritius on 18th January where the Laurel was condemned on 25th January.

Sat 4th August 1798

Maritime commerce is slow. The Europeans are keeping their ships in port and little prize-taking can be done. HMS Stag (14) nevertheless captured a Spanish ship of 600 tons bound for Manila with a cargo valued at £100,000. Lord St Vincent’s squadron captured another bound for South America with an equally valuable cargo. Our Admiral off the Texel has been busy destroying Dutch fishing boats. It is feared they may be used in the invasion of England. Fresh fish is off the menu in Holland.

Sat 18th August 1798

Bertrand Barrere, the French legislator, has published a 500 page two-volume book The Liberty of the Seas, sub-titled The English Government Unmasked.

It reviews our Navigation Laws, the Rule of 1756 and prize-taking. It considers British maritime policy both as acts of war and as judicial injustice. It contains estimates of the income that has flowed to England from prize-taking and privateering in the early years of the war.

Sat 22nd September 1798

HMS L’Oiseau (Linzee) reports from Penang on 10th July that they have captured the Madras ship Angelique travelling to Manila with a cargo worth 118,000 Gold Pagodas. The ship and cargo is owned by six Armenians at Madras who are all British subjects. The ship stopped at Tranquebar for a second set of (false) papers and both sets are in our possession The warship is taking the prize to the Cape.

Sat 6th October 1798

The American ships Ganges and Orion entered Port Louis, Mauritius in July for water and were arrested and condemned. They had fired on a French privateer on their outward bound voyage.

The Indiamen prizes Raymond, Woodcote and Helsingoer are laid-up in Port Louis.

Sat 6th October 1798

Merlin, or someone with comparable authority in France (he signs the privateering licences), is promoting the cause of French privateers. Several French national frigates have been chartered to the privateering speculators provided they are used in Indian seas. They are to cruise against neutral shipping – Danish, American, Indian, Arab, etc.

The latest arrivals from L’Orient are of this type. One 24 gunner with 200 crew has just arrived – a very fast sailer. A Danish Indiaman that was visiting Mauritius has been seized in consequence of this new order.

Sat 13th October 1798

The French have captured the Shaw Allum, the flagship of the great Surat merchant Chilabi. She was en route to Mocha with a reported million Rupees in silver to buy coffee. Even if she had only half that amount of silver the loss will be keenly felt in Surat.

Wed 24th October 1798 Extraordinary

The French frigate La Seine that sailed from Mauritius for France a few months ago with two other frigates and all the dissident soldiery of that island, met with two British frigates as she approached the coast of France and was taken in a fierce battle. She had 610 men on board of whom 170 were killed. The other two frigates are now being sought for.

Sat 10th November 1798

Seven privateers have arrived at Mauritius from France to perform the Directory’s order which is to capture all shipping in eastern seas found to contain English goods.

Wed 21st November 1798 Extraordinary

The French were in the course of transferring the valuable prizes from their occupation of Malta to France when the carrying frigate was intercepted by a British squadron and HMS Seahorse seized the ship and cargo.

Thus was the accumulated wealth of the Templars on Malta transferred to some British naval officers and their crews (NB – HMS Seahorse later captures the Rosetta Stone in transit from Alexandria to France).

Wed 21st November 1798 Extraordinary

A fleet of Swedish merchant ships bringing naval stores to France has been caught in the channel and brought into the Downs (the anchorage in the Thames estuary at the Medway confluence).

Sat 22nd December 1798

The Company agrees that merchant ships may arm for their protection. Country ships must produce the Company’s Pass and testimonies from two creditable persons proving they are resident in British India (under the Company’s protection) before they may obtain guns and ammunition for their vessels. Foreigners and ships registered at foreign ports will not be supplied.

It is a term of the licence that no replacement ammunition will be issued until the ship accounts for the use of its existing stock.

Sat 19th January 1799

France has responded to American abhorrence of privateering:

On 31st July the Directory issued a Decree saying there were many privateers in the West Indies and off the North American coast that used French colours but they were actually operated by foreigners or pirates.

French letters of marque will in future be issued only by the Directory. All existing letters of marque, whoever issued them, are null, effective thirty days after this Decree. The Agents at the French colonies of Cayenne, St Domingo and Guadaloupe will check the authorities of any privateers they find and punish anyone opposing this Decree.

Sgd Merlin & Lagrade

Bombay Courier Editor – Merlin is the man who sells letters of marque. The old ones are signed by him. This Decree may not receive the respect that is usually accorded.

Sat 2nd February 1799

The London Prize Court has condemned the towns, forts and surrounding settlements of Amboinya and Banda to Admiral Rainier’s squadron. This ratifies the Admiral’s precipitant sale of the stock of spices, etc., found there.

Sat 16th March 1799

Colonel McNeil, commandant of our garrison on Amboinya (where a fabulous treasure if spices was seized) is an unpopular man. In mid December 1798 an English soldier came into his dining room and shot at him; a few days later another English soldier shot at him but his gun misfired.

The Colonel says he cannot imagine why his men try to kill him. HMS Orpheus and Hobart are standing-by in the harbour. HMS Vulcan and the Company’s warship Swift have gone to the Celebes for livestock.

Sat 16th March 1799

The Prize Court has issued guidelines to naval commanders when retaking a prize. They derive from Sir Edward Pellow’s case. To protect their entitlement to salvage and its amount, they need only obtain notes of the recapture and the affidavits of three crew members to evidence their claim.

The Court is concerned that bringing a recaptured ship into port delays her voyage and diminishes the value that accrues to the captors. The Court wants naval commanders to permit such merchant ships to continue their voyages after recapture and establish their prize claims documentarily.

Sat 16th March 1799

HMS Trusty (Tod) has stopped the return voyage of the Danish East India fleet at St Helena. The fleet comprises the Rendsberg, Oden, Nancy and Magdalen and was travelling from Batavia back to Copenhagen.

The Danish warship Oldenburg (64) was in the roads and claimed to be convoying the fleet but she had no national commission on behalf of the King. Instead she was empowered to protect the ships by a certificate of the Copenhagen Chamber of Commerce.

Tod says that sailing under such a certificate is illicit trade as the Danish government would be able to disavow its responsibility for the Oldenburg and Governor Brooke of St Helena agrees.

The Danish fleet is accordingly sent to England for the determination of the Prize Court. The Danish government is enraged.[15]

Sun 5th May 1799 Extraordinary

Six warship prizes (Franklin, Tonnant, Spartiate, Aquilon, Conquerante and Souverain Peuple) have been bought by the Navy Board for £117,000. Their names will be Anglicised as appropriate.

Sat 8th June 1799

Britain has now (c. January 1799) taken over 60 capital ships and 120 frigates from the enemy fleets (French, Dutch and Spanish). Over half British trade (both imports and exports) is with Europe. We have to oppose French obstruction of our traditional commerce.


Second half of 1799 and all 1800 missing from British Library copy of the newspaper.

Sat 17th January 1801

The new Treaty of Commerce between England and Denmark has two important articles. No 3 agrees that neither King will furnish ships, soldiers or arms to the enemy of the other. No 20 requires the ships, seamen and cargoes of each to be authenticated by passports.

(Editor – obviously this treaty gives us a right to inspect passports. That means we can legally search Danish ships under the bilateral treaty without reference to international law)

Sat 7th February 1801

HMS Minotaur (Lewis) and HMS Niger (Hillyer) have reported to the Admiralty that they used their frigates’ boats to cut-out two Spanish corvettes from Barcelona Roads on 4th September 1800. They are the La Paz and Conception. The British found 4 million Reals on board and 48 brand-new brass cannon.

However, the Swedish Consul at Barcelona has a different report on the action. He complained to the Governor of Catalonia on behalf of the owners of a galliot named Hoffaung (Rudbart) from Swedish Pomerania. He says the English officers boarded the Hoffaung to check the papers. They were satisfactory but they then allowed several of their fellow officers and seamen to board, pointed a pistol at the Captain, and rowed the ship out of the roads. They then used this neutral Swedish galliot to deceive two Spanish corvettes and obtain their surrender. The Consul says it is unprecedented to use a neutral vessel to capture a belligerent’s ships. Neutral shipping alleviates the hardships of war and is not supposed to be involved in it.

The Spanish King accepts the Swedish version and deplores the event. He will wait to the end of the year for the Swedish King to obtain justice, as he expects England to recognise the folly of its naval officers. After that time, if no redress has been obtained, he will act against Sweden.

Admiral Lord Keith, CiC Mediterranean, says the corvettes were provisioning for the relief of Malta or possibly going to Holland. His report makes no mention of a Swedish ship. He found 300 Dutch Swiss on board one corvette, which came from Majorca. There were Dutch officers on the other.

The Swedish King agreed to remonstrate with London and let the Spanish know the result. He reminded the Spanish King that he has been involved in a long and fruitless negotiation in London on restitution of prizes, and Sweden is a neutral whilst Spain is a British enemy. He complains that several other Swedish ships have been taken by English and French warships in Spanish ports.

Sat 14th February 1801

Denmark and England have discussed their maritime quarrel at Copenhagen, particularly the recent encounter between the Danish frigate La Freya and several English frigates.

Count de Bernstorff represents Denmark and Charles Whitworth KB, normally our man in Petersburg but lately expelled from that Court, speaks for England.

The agreement is:

  • The right to search neutral ships sailing under convoy is to be further discussed.
  • La Freya and her convoyed ships are to be released.
  • England will provide all necessary materials for their repair.
  • Danish convoys will cease until the matter is explained and a definitive agreement reached for the future.

Sat 21st February 1801

Letter from Lisbon, 23rd September – a fleet from South America has arrived. It is composed of both Portuguese and Spanish ships. None of the captains knew that warlike preparations were being made in Spain against Portugal (the so-called War of the Oranges). The five Spanish ships are from La Plata and carry 12 million piastres of treasure. The money is effectively in the possession of the port authorities of Lisbon. It is expected that the Portuguese court might use it as a bargaining counter to deter a French invasion.

Sat 21st February 1801

The diplomat Lord Robert FitzGerald has written an Opinion on the Baltic Confederacy and the resentment of Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg, etc., at the capture of their neutral ships and cargoes:

The democratic press has vociferously opposed our national policy towards neutral shipping. The people are being misled. It is not a matter of British arrogance towards the rest of the maritime trading world. Actually, this is a commercial matter. Countries like Denmark envy our prosperity. The Dutch made the same arguments against us in the last (American) war. Denmark is simply rehashing the old Dutch arguments. She wants a free and uninterrupted trade with our enemies. Almost since the beginning of this war, Denmark has shown a preference for France over us. She pursues warfare under the cloak of neutrality.

The nature of the present war has been perfectly recorded by Herbert Marsh in his book.[16] It is a war against our maritime supremacy. The French are our relentless rival and inveterate foe. They aim for our abject submission. We have to attack the foundations of their power. Our object is our own security. God has given us an island base which is an advantage. God has given us huge fleets. We alone repel the assaults of France, Spain and Holland. We must guard against the secret blows of Denmark and Sweden.

Those countries characterise the repeated illicit acts of neutrals as unauthorised acts of individuals. This is a poor excuse when these individuals are strengthening our enemy. The neutrals know precisely what is going on but they want the money and do not effectively control their own people.

Dutch merchant fleets are blocked-up in Surinam, the West Indies and America. They can hardly move without meeting one of our blockading frigates. As a result the Netherlands has invited neutrals to carry home the produce of her possessions in the Americas.

All the inland trade of the Netherlands is carried on by commission agents and the external trade by natives of the Baltic states. The masters of most Dutch ships are Danes. Dutch property is carried under papers suggesting it is Danish property. For this service the Danish government gets a revenue from the Dutch. That is what it is all about. This situation has continued for years. False sale papers are issued by the Dutch owners to Danish and other neutral Captains in Surinam, Amsterdam and other European ports. The agreements are not made before a magistrate, no Oath is required and no payment is made for the supposed transfer of ownership.

Crews are sent out from Copenhagen and Altona to Surinam. The middlemen describe the ‘transfers’ as ‘naturalisations’. The Danish King issues Royal Sea Passes at Copenhagen as though the ships and their crews were really Danish, even if the ships have never before been in a Danish port and the crews have little connection with Denmark. The bills of sale for the ships are made out with the unique clause ‘only valid until the vessel reaches a Danish port.’ The bills of sale for the cargo make payment conditional on safe arrival at destination. They permit a commission to the person drawing the Bills. These captains say they are Danish and have come from Europe to buy West Indian cargoes in enemy ports. If the ship is captured or sunk, no payment is required of the captains.

The problem for our Prize Courts is establishing the ultimate beneficial ownership of the ship and cargo. Even if England allows a right for neutrals to buy and sell in enemy colonies (they just have to prove a bone fide purchase in the open market and their payment for it), we must maintain this check because the profits are enormous and the speculators should be willing to endure the delay of seizure and investigation.

The sale of Danish citizenship (called Briefs of Burghership – the Brief gives the recipient all the commercial rights of a Dane) has become notorious and numerous Englishmen as well as Dutch sailors have thus obtained an ability to trade with the enemy. Burghers are authorised to fly the Danish flag and exhibit Danish papers, although for Englishmen, that is illegal when we are at war (English law prevents any Englishman from seeking the protection of a foreign King in any matter that is injurious to the country). Danish consuls worldwide issue declarations to ship masters purporting to protect the Captain and his ship from search by other Danish authorities. The Danes have been using both frauds in West and East Indies, particularly in Java, in the Mediterranean, in fact everywhere. The trade of Mauritius is monopolised by these imitation Danes. The extent of this fraudulent trade exceeds the capital of Denmark to sustain. The ports of Cadiz, Ferrol, Cathagena, Toulon, L’Orient, Brest, Rochefort are always full of ships flying the Danish flag – wherever our enemies are in need of supplies, there is a ‘Danish’ ship ready to help. One famous mercantile House in Copenhagen has a fleet of 80 ships sailing the high seas under the Danish flag, not one of which ships is actually Danish. The Danish crews are all metamorphed Spaniards, Dutch and French. An insignificant trading nation has thus appeared in the first rank of world trade.

England has to take care and put these people to strict proof that they and their cargoes are what they are said to be. In every case all suspicions must be allayed in the Prize Courts. This is not a matter of one or two ‘likely lads’ taking a chance – it is the policy of the Danish court and, to the extent that it strengthens our enemies and weakens us, it must be repudiated.

The La Freya case, in which the frigate attempted by violence to prevent its convoyed ships being searched, cannot be countenanced. It was an infraction of Danish neutrality by one of her own commanders. It was an attempted denial of the right of every belligerent warship, whilst in a state of war, to confirm neutral tonnage was not assisting any of the belligerents. The only legal limitation on that belligerent’s right is the prohibition of arbitrary and vexatious arrests when the ship’s papers, etc., appear unremarkable.

Countries at war conclude treaties listing the articles to be treated as contraband. They agree the forms of Sea Passes for their respective subjects.

How dare a neutral frigate attempt to screen neutral merchant ships from being searched and having their papers inspected! This is the meaning of the absurd dictum ‘free ships make free goods’ which is intolerable to belligerents.

There is no need for us to fear a confederacy of Russia, Sweden and Denmark at sea (and Russia on land) taking over the world. This action of La Freya was an experiment. The Danes were trying us out to see how firmly we would maintain our rights. (NB – after England released La Freya and her convoy, Russia ended her embargo on British ships)

Denmark has only Copenhagen as a port. Therein lie 33 capital ships, mostly 64’s, 12 – 15 frigates and some smaller ships. 8 of the capital ships are unfit for sea service. If the remainder could be readied for sea, they could not all be manned. In any event Denmark will not hazard its entire fleet – it will divide it, and the most we can expect to see would be 10-12 capital ships coming out from the Baltic. The rest would be reserved and some few of them would protect the Danish coast, particularly the harbours of their colony of Norway, where the people are not very friendly to Denmark (indeed, FitzGerald mused, they seem more like us than Danes). Nevertheless, all Danish seamen (and that includes Norwegians) are obliged to serve in the Danish Navy whenever notice of their required service is given to them. On the other hand, government has excited Danish seamen with the prospect of becoming carriers of the world’s trade. This appeal to greed is more powerful that the appeal to duty. I conclude that a realistic assessment of the naval force that Denmark can put in the field is probably no more than 5 capital ships and some attendant frigates, and they could only maintain this level in the summer. Accordingly Denmark is no threat to England.

Turning to Sweden, her fleet was diminished in the last war with Russia. She has 20 capital ships and is always reluctant to deploy them outside the Baltic. They might allow up to five capital ships to concert with the Danes in the North Sea – the rest would cruise in the Baltic to protect the trading towns. Swedish finances have not yet recovered from the late war. The Danes have greater credit than the Swedes and the management of the national treasury is more efficient in Copenhagen than Stockholm. Any additional taxes on the people of Sweden would likely have unpredictable consequences.

Russia has 60 capital ships – a larger navy that Sweden and Denmark combined. The Tsar Paul has just helped the allied cause in the eastern Mediterranean. He cannot quickly switch sides. Russia also has a shortage of seamen. She is an unlikely candidate for the Baltic Confederacy.

Prussia is a military power with no maritime tradition. Her threat is to the ports on the south Baltic coast which she can access by land – Hamburg particularly – but if she excluded us from Hamburg it would hurt her as much as it hurts us. We would both lose the benefit of trade. Her Silesian linens could not be sent to international markets.

I have sought to clarify the extent of threat to England that a Baltic Confederacy represents. I believe if the whole Baltic marine could ally with the fleets of France, Spain and the Netherlands, it would still be inadequate to cope with our navy. Cutting our trade with the Baltic and Germany could not be effected for long. The cost of naval stores (timber, planking, hemp, etc.) would rise in England. Government would protect the naval forces but our mercantile marine would be hit. On the other hand the money we routinely send to the Baltic might be employed developing new sources for those products (e.g. Canadian firs for masts). Such sources may be further away than the Baltic but we are likely to find them. The end result would be a temporary loss for us and a permanent loss for the Baltic states. Once the Baltic countries cut-off our supply, we would reciprocally ensure their goods were not supplied to others. It would be commercially self-defeating for the Baltic countries as naval stores are all they can return for the necessaries and luxuries that we sell to them. They would also lose the silver we ship to make up the balance of trade which is invariably against us. Scottish fir is difficult to access but should be comparable for masts; English oak has traditionally been our preference for hulls.

What would Norway say to its Danish masters for the loss of its principal export (fir masts)? What if Swedish iron was no longer required by us, if we stimulated our home production to meet our requirements. Tar and pitch is readily available from America. The Prussian and Russian dealers in flax, hemp and coarse linen would soon be distressed by our absence from their market. Can the occasional supply of grain from Denmark be sufficient for us to forego our maritime rights in war? If it was withheld from us, would it not spur domestic production here to compensate?

Russia and Prussia could certainly hurt us by denying our access to Hamburg and the Elbe and Weser rivers but they would provoke the Elector of Saxony and others who rely on that trade.

At present English merchantmen pay about £160,000 a year to Denmark for Sound Dues (the fee for entering the Baltic). That money mostly goes straight to the Danish King. Has he thought about this? The North East Sea Canal (Kiel Canal) links the Baltic to the North Sea and is used by small Dutch ships to bring Baltic goods to Netherlands and France. We would certainly blockade that. If the Northern Confederacy really came into existence England might respond by occupying Heligoland (as a base to smuggle our goods into N W Europe) and by interdicting the carriage of goods through the Keil Canal. Only the state of peace between our countries prevents us from doing this today. The settlements at Tranquebar & Fredricksnagore (a Calcutta suburb that catches some of the Company’s Bills business) in the East and St Croix & St Thomas in the West Indies would be easy to occupy and that would be an end to Danish hopes of commercial aggrandisement from this war.[17]

Sat 21st February 1801

Anthony Merry, our man at Copenhagen, has written to the Danish King on 10th April 1800 to explain the arrest of the Danish frigate Hausersen (van Doekum) at Gibraltar. Its another Freya-type case.

The frigate was met at sea convoying some merchant ships. The English squadron sought to inspect the papers and cargoes of the merchantmen. The frigate captain said his destination was Gibraltar. The English said ‘in that case, come into port and we’ll take a look there.’ The Dane refused this so the English put out boats to examine the merchant ships. The Danish frigate fired on one boat wounding a sailor and captured another boat. The English commander said if the Dane did not cease his resistance he would be attacked. The Danish frigate and its convoy then entered Gibraltar.

Lord Keith, English CiC Mediterranean interviewed Captain van Doekum and said he thought him personally responsible for the injury to the seaman as he could not believe the Danish court would instruct him to act like that. Keith asked to see van Doekum’s instructions. The Captain said he was instructed to prevent his convoyed ships being boarded. Keith wanted to put the matter before a Judge and asked van Doekum for security. The Dane agreed and returned to his ship but then sent a letter declining to provide security. Keith called on him to surrender himself.

The British government considers it has an incontestable right in international law to inspect ships on the high seas. The resistance of the commander of a ship in the service of a country with whom England is at peace is an act of hostility. It is inappropriate for the Danish King to require his commanders to display hostility to England. Keith expects the King’s disavowal of van Doekum and an apology, together with a proportional reparation. We wish for peace but we insist on a disavowal, apology and reparation.

Sat 21st February 1801

Lord Grenville has replied to the Danish minister’s (Count de Vedel Jarlsbourg) note about the frigate La Freya. He has clearly drawn on FitzGerald’s analysis above:

I have shown your note to my King. He is concerned to preserve the friendship between our countries. He believes no Danish officer has instructions to attack British warships in British seas and supposes the captain acted on his own responsibility. Your note requires satisfaction and reparation for the captain’s aggression. My King recognises the difficulties neutrals have in the present war and has often refrained from exercising his rights. In this case, some of His seamen have been killed and His flag has been insulted almost in sight of His coast. England maintains its legal rights.

Please represent this matter in its true light to your Court.

England will not permit neutrals to provide support to her enemies under any cloak of supposed free trade. We repudiate the ‘free ships make free goods’ doctrine. You hold that ‘whilst our country is at war you may take advantage of our disability in our enemy’s market to assume our former trade to your own advantage’. Britain says ‘if you support our enemy you injure us and we will treat you as an enemy as well,’ We will never agree to be commercially disadvantaged by war in any of our markets and our markets are global.

Please also note that any lands Britain takes by act of war are ours to deal with as we see fit. If there is trade to be done, we will generally handle it ourselves. If you want a share you will have to publicly join us and espouse our cause.

What is really involved in this ‘neutral rights’ debate is an attempt to profit from the war in ways that are unavailable in peace. The Netherlands was formerly an imposing trading nation. Now its ships are shut-up in Surinam and other American ports by our cruisers and the great mass of Dutch trade in West Indies and America cannot be brought home. The Dutch accordingly ask the neighbours to do it for them. Dutch inland trade in Europe is done by the Dutch themselves as commission agents; Dutch maritime trade is done almost entirely by seamen from the Baltic states. The masters of most Dutch ships are Danes. Ownership of the ships is apparently transferred to Danes by documents which the parties publish. One document that is never published is the one revealing the ultimate beneficial ownership of the ship and cargo.

The idea of the Dutch marine en masse suddenly becoming the Danish marine is silly. It is a documentary fraud designed to permit what is not permitted; an abuse of the legal process by giving documents, which you can touch and read and tender as exhibits in evidence, a status comparable to real evidence. We were not born yesterday. These purported sales have been investigated at Surinam. Dutch consuls around the World are involved in this commercial conspiracy. Both parties to the purported agreements are seldom present; no ‘consideration’ is paid; the agreements are not made on Oath or before a magistrate – they are all done by notarising.

That is not to say that the Danes, Swedes, Americans and others are incapable of carrying goods from one place to the other. It is precisely the fact that they can do so that galvanises them into this despicable charade. They want the freights and the profits of trade for themselves. We object because it has been British feats-of-arms that have opened these markets. It is our intention to monopolise all this new trade and concentrate the world’s production in London before supplying it to Europe. This helps us pay for the war.

There is a new industry at Copenhagen. It involves ship-brokers who sell Danish registry to all-comers. They sell the King’s Royal Sea Passes as though the ships and masters are Danes. These documents are all endorsed ‘only valid in Denmark’ (i.e. the law and jurisdiction clause is Danish) – they have no legal force elsewhere.

In every town of Denmark one may buy a ‘brief of Burghership’ that makes one a Danish citizen. No selection is done; everyone qualifies. People of every nationality (but particularly Dutchmen) become Danes with Danish papers. They sail under the Danish flag and trade in all our enemy’s ports. British citizens are involved (posing as Americans) although we have a law that no Englishman may claim the protection of another country in war time.

The great Dutch settlement at Batavia in Java has been preserved to the Dutch by the use of Danish ‘subjects’. The trade of Mauritius is similarly preserved.

You Danes have sought to confuse the issue by convoying ships involved in Dutch trade. The Danes are not at war with anyone. From whom are you protecting your merchant ships? Clearly it is from us and from our demand that we board and inspect. It is an attempt to foster an illegal trade by the threat of violence. It is the Danish court’s wish to oppose us for its national commercial advantage.

(the article continues to examine the naval forces of Denmark, Sweden and Russia and concludes Britain has nothing to fear from them individually or collectively. See FitzGerald’s original analysis above for details.)

Sat 21st February 1801

On 1st September HMS Termagant captured the French polacre La Capricieuse. It was three days out of Toulon bound for Egypt and contained a French General, 350 muskets and some shot.

The General’s dispatches were destroyed before Termagent’s officers boarded.

Sat 28th February 1801

Privateers apply the discipline of a king’s ship to their crews as regulated by the Articles of War. They are unlike merchantmen.

Sat 9th May 1801

The new Madras Insurance Company has presented a £200 sword to Captain Waller of HMS Albatross for his capture of two French privateers. Not to be outdone, the Old Madras Insurance Company has given him £200 of silver plate through its Agent at Madras M/s Lys Satur & d’Monte.

Sat 30th May 1801

Captain Alms and his crew of the Amboinya were captured by the French privateer La Gloire and landed on the Burmese island of Cheduba (off the Arakan coast). The Rajah of the island was allegedly told by the French that the prisoners were a tribute of slaves for the King at Ava. He accordingly sent them to Rangoon. It took 20 days and a few presents before Alms could clear up the misinformation.

Fortunately the Governor of Rangoon was in Ava at the time and interceded on Alms’ behalf. The Amboinya crew have now arrived at Penang on the Ceres from Rangoon.

Sat 13th June 1801

House of Commons debate on the King’s Address to parliament:

After considering the Union with Ireland (see the Ireland chapter), Charles Grey turned to the war.

He said every European power was now against us. Russia had given grave cause for British complaint but he had seen a Russian manifesto whereby our man in Petersburg (Whitworth) purportedly agreed to cede Malta to the Tsar. We knew he was a difficult customer. We should never surrender Malta to a weak naval power but Russia has a Black Sea fleet. If we let her into the Mediterranean it would balance the power of France. Why did we antagonise the Tsar? Our efforts seem to have resulted in the destruction of the balance of power in Europe – its us against the rest.

Our policy to Sweden and Denmark should be separate from our policy to Russia. We should not attack either of those countries because of a Russian initiative. We are fighting those countries because they wish to trade with our enemies whilst asserting their neutrality. We say ‘you are with us or against us’ and neutrality is not an option. Our claimed right to ‘stop and search’ has repeatedly been questioned in international law. It was objected at the end of 17th century, by Prussia in 1740, by the Dutch in 1762 and by many countries towards the end of the American War. It seems to be only England that supports ‘stop and search’ and everyone else supports ‘free ships make free goods’. If we are wise we will have an international conference to discuss the matter. If our claim is not founded on justice, we should give way.

We need a statesman not a bunch of tricky politicians. Our Orders-in-Council leave us open to charges of piracy – that we steal the goods of merchants and sell them (and their ships) for our own advantage. Indeed it has been prize-taking that accounts for the immense size of our navy and the wealth and activity of our ports and seamen. It is this ‘something for nothing’ that accounts for our assiduity in naval attack – everyone stands to gain and there have been so many windfall fortunes made from prizes that everyone wants a bit of it. A respected member of this House once said ‘we should never go to war for an unprofitable right, any more than for a profitable wrong’. I wish to hear ministers establish the connection between this right and our national welfare. We should calculate what this right is worth before we expend all our goodwill with the neighbours. We are solely, so we say, concerned to prevent military stores coming to the ports of our enemies. The present exhausted state of the French merchant marine suggests she could not avail herself of much if we were to forego ‘stop and search’.

In the Convention of 1780, the Empress of Russia conceded her right to supply a blockaded port and her former policy was abandoned by the Russian government. We are able to maintain a close blockade on all France’s principal ports month after month, year after year. If France was to import Baltic stores of any amount, that would not restore her marine nor supply her with the sailors to man her marine. By holding this ‘right’ we give France the support of all the maritime countries who sooner or later become our enemies as a result.

The European ports we are able to use are those we have effectively conquered – Lisbon, Naples, the Turkish ports. Are we really able to take-on the fleets of the entire world alone? The discontent in Ireland should disabuse us of our pretensions. That country would readily submit to France, not for religion, but to escape our harsh dominion.

We have a serious grain shortage. Where are we to buy the essential supplies if we war with everyone. Genoa and Copenhagen well remember our vexatious acts. Much of our grain has historically come from the Baltic. We risk that supply by opposing the neutral powers.

We went through all this in the Seven Years War. Lord Camden settled the policy in 1756:

our enemies must be cut-off from supplies of naval stores but it is to be done with the greatest moderation towards neutrals’.

Perhaps it is too late for that now – the Armed Neutrality Convention has already been signed by the Baltic states. It is said to duplicate the Convention of 1780, but Lord North never found it politic to war with the signatories of that Convention and neither did the great Rockingham administration that succeeded him.

In Pitt’s commercial treaty with France we got a good trade deal in return for giving full effect to the principles of the Armed Neutrality. We made that agreement with France voluntarily – why do we now object to conceding it to others? In 1793 we made a provisional treaty with Russia agreeing that Russians may carry all their national production to our enemies with the exception of contraband. We are now again in the weakened state we experienced at the end of the American war with the important difference that we now have decided naval superiority. Eight years of war have brought distress to our people. Only the people of the seaports and in our forces have profited.

I demand an explanation from ministers why every country in Europe hates us (and a good many of them believe we hate them). We have supported the émigrés at the expense of our reputation for fairness. Their despicable activities in France are due to their hatred of that government but, even at the highest levels of French government, émigré hatred is attributed to us. Talleyrand believes we hate France. If it was not so, why was Bonaparte’s peace overture rejected last year. If ministers did not foresee the approaching storm, were they qualified to administer the country? The detention of the Swedish convoy gave them an insight into Stockholm’s opinions. Prussia has all along been explicit in its wishes. When France proposed peace to Austria it was England that objected – now the Emperor has a French army at the gates of Vienna. Austria is the only land power of Europe that can confront France alone and we have risked their resentment. We declined to negotiate with France when she was bankrupt in both credit and resources saying we would treat only when she became more moderate! Now she is restored and again threatening an invasion whilst we are deserted by our allies.

Ministers have disposed of the militia, preferring to spend the money elsewhere. Our paper currency is over-issued and depreciating like French assignats; the burden of the new taxes is heavy and there is a desperate shortage of basic food at a time when we say we ‘rule the waves’ and can import and export anything we want. To extricate ourselves from the danger of invasion requires economy. We should re-establish and re-recognise the true principles of our Constitution. Ministers have been entrusted with the country’s entire support but they have brought disgrace upon us. It is no longer acceptable for you representatives of the people to automatically assent to ministerial policies of which you secretly disapprove. MPs should make public interest the sole guide to their decisions.

Grey then moved an amendment to the King’s message to inquire into our relations with the neighbours and, if the representations that we commend H M to make are unavailing, this House will give Him its complete support. Whitbread seconded.

Pitt said he represented the majority and Grey the minority. He nevertheless welcomed Grey and the other liberals back into the House (after the Whig secession throughout the previous session). If Grey wishes his view to prevail he will have to convince a majority of members. Pitt’s policy had saved England from the calamities that had affected the rest of Europe. We all consider our principles before we vote. There is only one item to respond to – that is our differences with the Baltic states.

Our right to ‘stop and search’ is just – it has preserved our existence. Grey’s proposal would place England at the mercy of France. The right to ‘stop and search’ was established in international law over a century ago – there is no trace of doubt concerning it. There has been no quibbling from our Judiciary which adjudicates the claims. They have been asserting the principle in case after case since the first days of the war. I have enough real enemies to contend with without Grey acting the stalking horse. There are a good many lawyers present in this House. Why have they not raised this question before – because there is no question, the matter is settled.

The evaluation of the question is easily done by first reviewing the law on the subject and second by reviewing any bi-lateral treaty terms that might appear to conflict with international law. I have no doubt that the principle accords with the Law of Nations. Grey’s case rests solely on the modifying effect of any relevant bi-lateral treaties. He is right to note my French treaty of 1787 reciprocally removed ‘stop and search’ if we were at war and France was neutral or vice versa. Perhaps many countries have similar agreements. This complaint was made at the time and we answered it by stipulating that the treaty was not a precedent for dereliction of the principle.

Pitt thought Grey might have better success if he argued it the other way around – that there is no general consent to ‘stop and search’ amongst nations. In the instant case we have express engagements from all three of the Baltic states to allow ‘stop and search’ and their acts in forming an Armed Neutrality derogate from their agreements with us. I rely on the treaties with Denmark and Sweden of 1661 and 1670, which remain in full force today, wherein the right to carry enemy property was abandoned. As regards Russia, in our Convention with her, signed as recently as the beginning of this war, we both agreed to observe the principle. Russia went further and engaged to prevent neutrals from protecting French trade on the high seas and in French ports. All three treaties are in full force and together with international law provide a complete justification for our policy.

I do not rely on old treaties alone. Both Sweden and Denmark have at various times in this war expressed their readiness to agree the principle and both acknowledged our not carrying the claim as far as Russia would take it. Sweden agreed an Armed Neutrality in 1780. Later she was at war with Russia and completely reversed herself. Denmark gave us a pledge last Autumn (when her capital city, her fleets and arsenals were at our mercy – see the Europe chapter) not to send merchant vessels with convoy and a few months later she has signed a Convention to the contrary, just like 1780. One of the articles in her 1780 treaty is that its terms are to be maintained by force. This is perfidy. Our right is established.

I now consider the expediency of asserting that right. Are we to permit neutral ships to convey the silver of South America to Spain or the naval stores of the Baltic to Brest. Britain is a naval power – we fight at sea. Has there ever been a time when we did not assert this principle? France is no longer a naval power precisely because of our application of this principle. If French commerce had not been destroyed, if neutral’s frauds were not prevented, does Grey suppose our situation would be as strong as it is?

Prize-taking has produced our naval predominance – it is essential.

France is no longer able to invade Ireland, she cannot invade anywhere by sea. Prize-taking is the key to our success. Many of Grey’s topics are important but they are secondary. This matter of prize-taking is fundamental. The calamities that have affected Europe are sad but Britain has been largely shielded from them.

The House then divided 245 / 63 against Grey’s amendment.

Sat 20th June 1801

A small Danish brig Myrhen tells a tale of woe. She was detained by the Company’s officer at Chittagong on 10th December on suspicion she was enemy property (there was no cargo). The detention order was lifted on 13th March and the Company paid the Captain 2,500 rupees for wrongful arrest. She had by then missed the winter monsoon and the Captain was obliged to sell the ship to pay-off arrears of crew wages. There were no buyers at Chittagong and on 21st March he brought the brig round to Calcutta, the nearest major commercial port, but met with heavy weather from the change of the monsoon and ran aground off the Sunderbunds losing not only his anchor and cable but the rudder as well. He got her off after four weeks of innovative seamanship and jury-rigged a rudder to bring her into the Hoogly.

He arrived 8th May but that was the day the Company, responding to instructions from London where a dispute with Denmark over our ‘stop and search’ of neutral vessels has become violent, introduced a new law embargoing all Danish ships in British ports. Instead of potential buyers coming on board for inspection, he had a military guard arrive and take possession of the ship again. This should deter him from grazing in our eastern fields in future.

Sat 11th July 1801

The RussoSwedish treaty permits the officer of the warship convoying neutral merchant ships to declare the ships carry no contraband (articles of war) and his declaration must be accepted. They agree not to carry contraband. They will respect all blockades that are effective blockades. The captain and at least half the crew of every merchant ship shall be of the nation whose flag she flies.

The Convention has no retrospective effect. It is made to deal with future acts of violence. It is intended to make it the basis of a system of protection for all the neutral states of Europe. If a signatory’s ship is insulted or plundered, both Russia and Sweden will demand satisfaction and, if their complaint remains unredressed, they will together take reprisals. If either power is attacked by a belligerent on account of this Convention, the two countries will defend each other. These principles will continue in force in every maritime war that Europe might in future become involved in. Other neutrals may join if they wish. Notice of the intention of this Convention will be given to belligerent powers.

Done at St Petersburg, 16th December 1800

Sat 25th July 1801

The Matilda has captured the ship Les Deux Amis and brought her into Madras. Les Deux Amis was formerly the Rebecca which was captured by the French last year. In consequence of that prize-taking, the New Madras Insurance Company as underwriter settled the owners and asserts a precedent claim on the ship under subrogated rights.

The insurers say the Matilda is legally due only salvage. However Chase and Co, the Secretary of the insurer, has written to Captain Sheen of the Matilda that the Indian insurance market wishes to encourage prize-taking and the New Madras has waived its subrogated rights in favour of the captors on this occasion.

Sat 1st August 1801

HMS Daedalus (Waller) has brought a valuable Danish prize into Trincomalee. She comes from Europe with a rich cargo and £10,000 in specie.

Sat 1st August 1801

The Sun of 23rd March has obtained a legal opinion on the status at International Law of the British Order-in-Council requiring ‘stop & search’ of neutral merchant shipping on the high seas:

Page 732 of the 1720 Amsterdam edition of Grotius, deals with the matter of prize-taking. “Goods found on an enemy’s ship are generally considered enemy property. This is not a fixed rule of International Law but merely a rebuttable presumption. In the Dutch war with the Hanse towns of 1333 the matter was so decided and has since been incorporated in the Law of Nations.”

In a note to this entry, Grotius adds “ships of friends are not to be made prize for carrying the enemy’s property unless it has been done with the consent of the owners.” He adduces several authorities for the proposition and further says “the true construction of the Laws of France, which has subjected both ships to be condemned for their cargoes and cargoes to be condemned for their ships, is that unless the owners consented to the carriage of enemy property, only the cargo may be condemned.”

This assumes that, as of 1720, enemy property may be searched-for in the ships of a Neutral and, if found, becomes the property of the captor. Whether the ship is subject to capture as well depends on the knowledge of the owner.

Sat 22nd August 1801

The Danish ship Fredericksburg, which sailed from Bombay for Manila, put in to Malacca and was arrested by the Company’s port staff there.

Sat 12th September 1801

Our garrison at Amboinya sent a force under Colonel Burr to attack Ternate (an island off the west coast of the Moluccas, former sole source of cloves). Lt Hayes of the Company’s warship Swift of Bombay played an essential role in the battle. We received the Dutch surrender on 21st June and have seized $150,000 in silver and much other prize property.

Sat 19th September 1801

The American ships Peggy and Mornington have arrived at Calcutta from Mauritius. They sailed from the island on 12th July.

At that time the Diana and Nymph privateers had returned to Port Louis and been dismantled. The islanders have made an account of their privateering ventures during the recent campaign. Outfitting the privateers, the capture of five of them and the few prizes they have taken this season, have together caused a loss of approaching 1,000,000 rupees, they say.

Only the two Surcoufs have made money. The elder took the American brig Traveller which had a cargo of silver specie; the younger took the Company’s ship Kent and two other ships with full cargoes.

It appears likely that Mauritius may cease its privateering activities.

Sat 10th October 1801

London Gazette, 20th June – All the British Orders-in-Council against the member countries of the Armed Neutrality have been revoked by the King.

Sat 24th October 1801

King, the American minister to London, complained to Hawkesbury on 13th March 1801 about prize-taking in West Indies:

An American ship sailed from an American port to a Spanish colony with a cargo of Spanish goods which the American had bought in Spain. The Prize Court at Nassau condemned the cargo as it was grown in Spain, an enemy of Britain.

The same argument has been used against Neutral trade in the Prize Court at Jamaica. (the Leopard case, which carried Malaga wine from Spain to USA and then re-exported it to West Indies.)

Britain claims the right to distress her enemies by interrupting their trade. An open trade is carried on between British and Spanish colonies in West Indies involving British and Spanish merchants, trading the very goods that Americans carry. This trade is never disturbed.

The Treaty between America and Britain acknowledges that enemy goods are lawful prize. International law allows a Belligerent to seize enemy goods. It protects Neutral goods. This is the law.

The British have tried in the present war to extend the rights of Belligerents at the expense of Neutrals. I attach a copy of the judgment in the Nassau case. This policy is ruining American trade in West Indies.

The Foreign Minister replied that he agreed the Nassau and Jamaica courts appeared to be misconstruing the law. The British view is that the produce of an enemy’s colony may be imported by a Neutral into his own country and may be re-exported from there to the mother-country of that producing colony.

In the same way, the produce of the mother-country can also be traded to her colonies by the same circuitous route. There must be a genuine import and export at the Neutral country to qualify – i.e. landing of goods, paying of Customs dues, etc. – even if the goods are subsequently shipped-off in the same ship by the same merchants. Direct trade by Neutrals between enemy mother-countries and their colonies is illegal. The ships will be stopped and their cargoes seized wherever found.

Sat 28th November 1801

In the course of the British invasion and occupation of Ternate, the American ship Hazard was taken with a cargo belonging to the Dutch government.

Philip Dundas, Superintendent of the Company’s Marine at Bombay, has just published the result of the attack.

Sat 10th April 1802

The Admiralty has searched its records and produced a figure for the destruction of enemy warships during the period 1793 – 1801:

French Dutch Spanish Total
Of the line 45 25 11 81
50-gunners 2 1 0 3
Frigates 133 31 20 184
Sloops 161 32 55 248
Total 341 89 86 516

The Admiralty also reports the destruction of 934 enemy privateers and 5,453 enemy merchant ships over the same period.

Sat 10th April 1802

Mr Hogan’s British privateer Chance, which is based at the Cape, has captured a fine Spanish war-brig. It is a new ship of 600 tons and was carrying a valuable cargo.[18]

Sat 24th April 1802

Public Auction on 3rd May of the French brig Creole, prize of HMS Victor:

About 120 tons, teak-built, coppered to the bends, a fast sailer and ideal for the Basra or Malay trade. (The notice is not from the Bombay Admiralty Court, which does not come into existence for another 1-2 years. It is a private advertisement)

Sat 1st May 1802

The Bengal Hircarrah newspaper has reported on the activities of Hogan’s privateer Chance (White). Hogan is based at the Cape. He operates his armed ships from there and sends all his prizes to the Admiralty Court in Capetown for condemnation.

The Chance cruised off the coast of Peru where she found opportunities for gain. On 19th August 1801 she took the new Spanish ship Amiable Maria, 600 tons, with a cargo of grain, wine and baled goods and has sent her to the Cape. On 24th September she took a 22-gun Spanish warship Limeno.

Sat 15th May 1802

The Madras Courier of 21st April says the brig Active (Greenway) was captured by the French privateer Subtile on 22nd March, about 10 days after the coming into effect in East Indies of the peace terms.[19]

Sat 15th May 1802

The East India Company’s shipping losses in the Revolutionary War were:

1792 Winterton wrecked off Madagascar
Princess Royal taken by the French in Sunda Straits
Pigot taken by the French off Bencoolen
1794 Triton taken by a privateer in Bay of Bengal
1798 Ocean lost in eastern seas
Raymond taken at Malabar
Woodcote taken at Malabar
Princess Amelie burnt at sea
1799 Henry Addington lost at sea
Fitzwilliam burnt
1800 Queen burnt
Talbot lost in China Seas

That’s over 12,000 tons.

Sat 22nd May 1802

The Company’s Resident at Amboinya has written to the Directors on 6th July 1801 on the capture of the last Dutch Colony in Asia. His report has been shown to Lord Hobart at the Board of Control.

His report deals with the capitulation of Ternate to Colonel Burr in June 1801 after a siege of 52 days. The Dutch were in possession of Fort Orange but were unable to break our sea blockade and many of them died of hunger before the surrender.

The value of the spices (cloves) in store (part of the prize to the captors) is in excess of £150,000.[20] We lost 10 soldiers and 12 seamen in the siege.

Sat 28th August 1802

The Company’s ship Cornwallis, which was captured by Mauritian privateers, has been auctioned on the island for $12,500 to slave traders operating on the Mozambique supply route.

Sat 4th September 1802

HMS Suffolk (74), which has been on the East India station for eight years, has returned to England with the peace and the crew has been paid-off. Each sailor received about £160 for his long service and prize money.

Sat 13th November 1802

Capt Burnaby arrived at Mauritius from Madras at end July with a dispatch from the Governor-General Wellesley to the Mauritian Governor Magellon. It is said to concern those English ships that were taken by Mauritian privateers subsequent to the peace treaty taking effect.

The note says Captain Churchill will be sent from Calcutta to Mauritius to adjust the claims. He has just arrived at Port Louis on the Cornwallis with some 500 French prisoners we were holding in India. The Mauritians had judicially approved the claims a few days prior to his arrival. Churchill was only able to enter notices of appeal to the supreme court in Paris in respect of the Porcher and the Tay. Captain Greenway of the Active has made a formal complaint against Captain Pinaud of the privateer Subtile for illegal capture and detention of the Active.

Sat 26th February 1803

The prize account of the seizure of the Dutch fleet in the Zuider Zee is complete. Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell will get £199,000 as his one eighth share.

Sat 2nd July 1803

The prize money obtained from the capture of the Cape totalled about £250,000. Shares due to the various ranks of the invasion force are being calculated.


The following articles relate to the resumption of war when the fully-laden French and Dutch fleets were returning to Europe from their erstwhile colonies East and West and became exposed to the renewed British blockade.

There is an interesting article dated April 1809 describing the treaty relationship between Portugal and Britain in 1798 which is helpful in explaining Portuguese deference to British policy. Strangely the Portuguese ran an adverse trade balance with Britain throughout this period and paid the balance (approximating £1 million annually) in silver.

Sat 17th September 1803

Now we are at war again, the Bombay Presidency expects to receive a commission from the Lords of Admiralty to adjudicate prize cases locally and avoid the former delay attendant on sending cases to London to be heard.

Sat 3rd December 1803

The costs of colonial produce on the Amsterdam market has risen 15% in the first few weeks of renewed war. A considerable number of French and Dutch ships have been seized by us as prizes already. The Dutch convoys from Batavia and West Indies are both expected to arrive soon.

Sat 3rd December 1803

The French have sent instructions to their returning merchant fleet from Santo Domingo to divert to any Spanish or Portuguese port rather than make for a French port and risk interception by the British blockading frigates.

Sat 10th December 1803

The Company’s Indian army is re-organising its arrangements for prize-money. It takes too long to get paid. We want the men to get the money early so they fully enter into the spirit of things.

In future every regiment will have a Prize Master who will administer the schemes, chase up the intermediaries and immediately distribute any available moneys.

Sat 31st December 1803

The Prize Courts Bill is still working through the House of Commons. It sets-up a specialist court intended to speed judicial awards and the subsequent sale of prizes and distribution of funds.

Burrows MP wished the provisions of the Bill be extended to India as we take prizes there and they have to be sent to the Cape for adjudication – this inconvenience encouraged illegal sales and distributions in Asian ports.

Sadly, it was too inconvenient. The Bill could not be amended and no provision for Indian Prize Courts is contained in it.

Sat 4th February 1804

The numbers of prizes being brought into Jamaican ports is so great, the British colonial government is unable to house all the prisoners.

Sat 3rd March 1804

Sweden was a signatory to the Convention of St Petersburg of 1801 whereby Neutral rights on the High Seas were proclaimed. Now British diplomacy has achieved a volte face by Sweden – she has qualified her accession to the Treaty.

In return the two Swedish convoys we seized (and condemned in the Admiralty Prize Court) are to be indemnified. This is intended to open a renewed British friendship with Sweden.

We hope our belated settlement with the Americans[21] will induce a more friendly relationship with them as well.

Sat 10th March 1804

Captain Cochrane MP objected to aspects of the prize system in a fiery speech in the House of Commons on 28th June 1803. The property in a prize belongs to the King until a judicial order of condemnation is obtained whereupon the value of the prize becomes the property of the captors.

Whilst under the King’s ownership, prize property is supervised by the King’s Proctor Heseltine. That Proctor handles the matters in consultation with Sir Stephen Lushington, one of whose sinecures is Protector of Captors’ Interests.

Abuses have been alleged against the Proctor. Specifically, Cochrane says, legal fees are unjustifiable and excessive.

Some MPs said, now the Admiralty is being investigated and malpractice curbed, there should be less reasons in future for complaint by captors.

Sat 24th March 1804

The French privateer Generale de Caen that was captured as prize by HMS Caroline has been sold at Calcutta to Captain MacIntosh. His old ship Sarah was burned in February 1803 and he needs a replacement. The log book of Generale de Caen revealed that 17 prize-masters boarded her at Mauritius, so confident were they of success. Their instructions were to send back only ships worth £40,000+ and to ransom, burn or sink the others.

Sat 5th May 1804

The Mauritian prize-takers are doing something new. An American ship Derby has just arrived at Calcutta from Mauritius and says only the Countess of Sutherland and the Eliza Ann have been brought in to Port Louis so far.

These ships were caught by Admiral Linois’ squadron. None of the captures of the town’s own merchant privateers have been brought back to Port Louis although we have lost many ships to them.

Sat 19th May 1804

The Flora transport, part of the convoy to Gibraltar, got ahead of the convoy and was taken by a French privateer cruising off Gibraltar for just such an opportunity. The Flora carried forty soldiers and the wives and children of several officers attached to the Gibraltar garrison. She was taken into Algeciras with her colours reversed and run aground in full sight of the Gibraltar garrison. We were indignant. The crew of the privateer was largely Italian and Spanish with only one Frenchman amongst them. (The presence of a single national of the flag becomes the agreed test of nationality  c.f. the opium smugglers on the China coast employing a single Spaniard under the Spanish permit to trade to Amoy – see the China chapters)

We had to exchange an equal number of French prisoners to get our people back. The baggage of the women was confiscated and even their personal jewellery was taken from them.

Spain is supposedly neutral but she acts thus because she expects France to protect her. The Spanish do not seem to care about us at all. They do not allow us to take French prizes into their ports, indeed we are not permitted to remain in Spanish ports longer than necessary to water and provision, but they harbour, arm and fit-out privateers against us. It is said the cargoes of British ships are landed and sold on the quay without any legal process at all.

Sat 19th May 1804

The treasure seized by General Arthur Wellesley’s army during the war with the Marathas, as reported to the General, is 1,152,196 Hyderabadi Rupees.

The Governor-General authorises its distribution to the army in the usual shares as prize money. The ordnance and military stores seized from the Marathas are reserved for the Company’s use. As the reported prize money is inadequate compensation for the officers they will also receive six months batta.

Sat 4th August 1804

For sale on 9th August for ready money – prize of the Indiaman Sir Edward Hughes, the French brig Jeune Clementine, 115 tons, and her cargo of 180 Zanzibar slaves, as is, caveat emptor.

In November 1804 the French national ship Zephyr is also auctioned, 54 tons, fast sailer, suitable for Persian Gulf trade (sold to Stephen Beaufort, a Bombay merchant, for 3,000 Rupees).

Later the same month the merchantman La Fortune (30), 480 tons, oak-built and coppered, is auctioned with her guns and stores while the schooner Marengo, another capture of HMS Concorde, was sold privately to the Company and renamed Assaye.

(NB – no judicial involvement is apparent in these advertisements)

Sat 25th August 1804

The diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls seized from the Marathas in the Deccan in the late war are to be sold by raffle. The items are valued by the Shroffs of Poona at 220,775 Rupees and by the Shroffs of the Nizam at 315,225 Rupees. Taking the median figure as indicative of value, 2,680 raffle tickets at 100 Rupees each are to be issued. The jewellery is divided into 147 prizes worth 200 – 40,000 Rupees each. Tickets are on sale in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The draw will take place at Bombay where the prizes will be displayed.

Sat 1st September 1804

We have just learned that HMS Investigator (Flinders) put into one of the Mauritian ports eight months ago and was arrested. His papers and maps were seized contrary to the Rules of War. Flinders name is on the latest list of English prisoners at Mauritius available for exchange.

Sat 17th November 1804

HMS Swift (Leake) has been captured by the French privateer L’Esperance. The warship was carrying Admiral Lord Nelson’s dispatches for the Admiralty. He is CiC of the British Mediterranean fleet. The documents were regrettably not destroyed before the capture and have been seized by the French.

Sat 8th December 1804

Admiral Rainier, commander of our East India fleet, has stationed a couple of frigates off Port Louis to recover any British ships seized by French privateers. Mauritius is the only French base in the East. The Mauritian privateers have little choice but to return there with their prizes. When they do our frigates often intercept them and recover the captured ships. HMS Tremendous has just recaptured the Indiaman Mornington off Port Louis.[22]

Sat 9th February 1805

The Company permits sale of prizes in India although the India Company lacks a formal Admiralty Jurisdiction in India. It appears intended to convert the prizes to money prior to seeking for an award of the Prize Court (some of the cargoes are perishable):

The officers and crews of HMS Tremendous, Lancaster, Phaeton & Terpsichore are offering the cargo of the Dutch East Indiaman prize Elizabeth for sale. Samples may be inspected in Adamson’s Warehouse in Bombay. Sugar, coffee, tea, pepper, tin, nankeens, silk and a wide variety of foods and drinks are to be sold in small Lots (this is a typical cargo of Chinese and Javan goods). 10% deposit once the Lot is knocked-down and balance in 14 days.

On 23rd February the ship itself, 750 tons, with all its stores was offered for auction. It was built in Liverpool and is ideal for the China trade. List of stores may be had from the offices of Ardaseer Dadisett. (Both adverts in English and Parsee)

In March the cargo of the American ship Penman (nutmegs, mace and sugar from Dutch Colonies – another prize of the squadron) was auctioned and immediately afterwards, the ship itself – 420 tons of American oak, 4 years old – together with her guns and stores.

In April it was the French ship La Minerve and her stores – 230 tons, coppered, suitable for live cattle transport or Basra trade. Nasservanjee Cowasjee is the successful bidder in respect of this last-named vessel. He will employ Captain John Cummings to operate the ship on Persian Gulf routes.

Sat 9th February 1805

The historical submission of the Spanish Court to France has persuaded the British cabinet to capture a treasure fleet that is coming from Montevideo. Pitt says he permitted this attack against an ally because he fears the silver would be sent to France.

The London Gazette (undated) has a report on the engagement:

Captain Moore commanded the four frigates – HMS Indefatigable (Moore), Medusa (Gore), Amphion (Sutton) and Lively (Hammond) – and met the Spanish treasure fleet on 5th October en route to Cadiz. A fifth ship, HMS Triumph (Sir Robert Barlow), was off Gibraltar and Moore sent Medusa to advise Barlow of his orders and rejoin him together with Amphion.

Moore engaged the Spanish fleet off Cape St Mary. He placed his ships on the weather beam of the Spanish frigates and directed them to shorten sail but without response. He fired a shot across the Admiral’s bows which persuaded that officer to shorten sail.

Moore sent Lt Ascott of HMS Indefatigable in a ship’s boat to advise the Admiral that his flotilla was detained. Moore waited a while then signalled the boat to return. After debriefing Ascott, he put another shot across the Admiral’s bows. La Mercedes, the second ship in the Spanish line, then fired at HMS Amphion and the Admiral’s flagship fired upon HMS Indefatigable. Battle commenced.

In a few minutes La Mercedes blew-up and sank with the loss of 200+ crew. In 20 more minutes the Admiral surrendered but one of the other two ships tried to escape. Moore sent HMS Lively, which is a fast sailer, after her and she obtained her surrender at about dusk.

Once he had got the Admiral to surrender, Moore put out his boats and rescued 40 survivors of La Mercedes. Moore reported the specie found in the ships was $1,307,634 for the Spanish government and $3,128,885 for private merchants. The government also owned 4,732 bars of tin according to the Bills of Lading. $807,756 and 1,139 bars of tin were lost with the foundering of Le Mercedes and should be deducted from the above totals.[23]

Moore brought the three surviving Spanish warships into Portsmouth. The treasure and silver plate was landed and sent to the Bank of England under the escort of the 4th regiment of Dragoon Guards. Pitt says he will keep the money safe until the war is over (as Britain is not at war with Spain it is not prize money and is considered a ‘droit’ of Admiralty, i.e the King’s property, but compensation equivalent to prize money is later paid to the captors).

The ministry has published a paper saying this was not an act of war but a precaution – England does not wish Spain to take advantage of her. We cannot treat the Spanish survivors as Prisoners of War as Spain is our ally but they have given their parole not to disappear. The bloodshed was considerable but fortunately it was mainly Spanish; British losses were slight.[24]

Sat 9th February 1805

A practical example of Pitt’s ‘what is to be gained from the war’ has been provided in Surinam. We have just reconquered this Dutch colony and discovered a great part of the missing treasure of Santo Domingo. It had been deposited there for safe-keeping when the French withdrew and has now been captured by our army (it is a prize of the captors).[25]

Sat 23rd March 1805

Pitt has conditioned his approval of the seizure of the Spanish treasure fleet. He has told British merchants involved in Spanish trade that Spanish ships in England will be allowed to load and depart even if Madrid declares war against England.

They will receive passports to their destinations to enable them to pass through the British blockades at Cadiz and elsewhere. He hopes the Spanish government will do the same. The Admiralty has arranged convoy escort of Spanish merchant ships to the Mediterranean. It will depart Spithead on 20th October.

Sat 13th April 1805

A rare disincentive to privateering has been identified at the Court of King’s Bench in the case of James Farr & Co v John Anderson & others. The Plaintiffs are Liverpool slavers claiming for the total loss of their ship Mercury and a cargo of 256 slaves at £50 a head. The defendants are insurance underwriters.

During the voyage the Mercury encountered an alluring prize and captured it. This comprised a ‘deviation’ under the policy and exempted underwriters’ liability for the later foundering of the Mercury and the total loss of her cargo.

Sat 4th May 1805

News from the war:

  • Spain declared war on England on 16th December 1804. The Spanish King said England had formally sanctioned his paying money to France in lieu of the military assistance he is treaty-bound to give. Later England said he had promised too much money to France. The British had then stolen his money and that of his merchants and had blockaded Barcelona. He is contemplating an attack on Gibraltar. The English have arrested all Spanish ships and cargoes in British ports (Pitt’s offer of consensuality was unilaterally withdrawn on the Spanish Declaration).
  • France has forbidden Swedish ships to enter the ports of France or its allies, except those taking grain to alleviate the famine in Spain.

Sat 18th May 1805

The final distribution of prize money from the sale of the Dutch ship Elizabeth occurred on 26th March at Adamson’s office (he is in a loose partnership with Ardaseer Dady, the great Bombay trader and financier). The unclaimed shares have been sent to M/s Wilson and McInerheny, prize agents for the captors in London, to be disposed of in accordance with the Act of Parliament.

Sat 25th May 1805

10,000 copies of a pamphlet are said to have been sold in England. It appeals to the honour and conscience of England and demands the immediate restitution of the gold and silver stolen from the Spanish treasure fleet.

Sat 21st December 1805

HMS Harrier captured a Spanish ship in the approaches to the Canton River. It carried a valuable cargo of bird’s nests but the prize went aground in a storm and was lost.

Sat 8th February 1806

The prize money for the men of the Company’s army of Egypt (confronting the French occupation of the country) is starting to be paid. It will be received in three tranches. The first payment is 13/6d for each soldier.

Sat 1st March 1806

Sir Sidney Smith’s frigate HMS Antelope is distinctive. The ship has been stationed in West Indies where it made an immense income from prize-taking. The crew received prize money of £200 per man when they last arrived at Portsmouth.

Smith has required them to use some of it to buy smart uniforms – a round Japanese cap with a broad lace band showing the name of the ship in capitals, a black silk neckchief, white flannel waistcoat edged in blue, a blue jacket with three rows of gilt buttons and blue trousers. They also wear a gold ring on the right little finger and each has a fob-watch with silver chain. Each man has a set of breakfast and dinner service in his berth and other conveniences not often enjoyed, even by petty officers.

HMS Antelope is now at Dover Roads. Smith is installing a printing press on board.

Sat 8th March 1806

Notice – the Insurance Companies of India have agreed that British ships captured by French privateers and condemned and sold in Mauritius will not be insured by them in their new owners’ names should they come to India for business.

These Mauritian condemnations are not judicially ordered and are characterised as illegal by the insurance companies.

Sat 7th June 1806

Sir George Keith, commander of HMS Protector, has captured a valuable Dutch East Indiaman Prince of Augustenburgh formerly known as the James Sibbold of Bombay. The prize was taken off the Cape of Good Hope whilst sailing under Danish colours. She has a cargo of ivory, indigo and cotton estimated to be worth £250,000. Keith has opted to sail her himself to London for condemnation and sent his own warship off for reprovisioning of 5 months victuals.

Sat 2nd August 1806

The American President has again addressed Congress on prize-taking:

The right of a neutral to trade in non-contraband goods to a belligerent’s ports (except blockaded ports) was established by us with Britain when we recently negotiated the settlement of claims arising from the War of Independence.

Britain has acknowledged that compensation is due to America and has since actually paid damages to us for her admitted infraction of the rule.

When England recently reverted to her objectionable practice of interfering in this trade, we told our ambassador at London to protest. This obtained a partial and temporary suspension but without British admission of fault.

We have told him to try harder.

Sat 30th August 1806

The Company has established a vice-Admiralty Court at Bombay for disposal of prizes. One small brig and the cargo of another are advertised today. The Agent to the Captors in both cases is the firm of M/s Leckie and Malcolm of Bombay.

Sat 11th October 1806

Captain Crowte and the owners of the Plymouth privateer Lord Nelson are feeling warm and contented. The £40,000 of tea on the Concordia and the ship itself have both been condemned to them. Not long ago they captured £30,000 of wool on another ship which was also condemned.

Sat 25th October 1806

HMS Greyhound and Harrier have engaged a small Dutch squadron convoying the annual Dutch spice ship and captured it near Sunda Straits. Captain Thomas Troubridge of HMS Harrier has reported the engagement of his ships:

“We bore up under French colours until we were within hailing range then raised the British flag and opened fire. They were expecting it and quickly returned our shot but after forty minutes of close action they ceased fire.

“We captured the frigate Pallas (ex Trowbridge) and two merchantmen Victoria and Batavier. These last carried a rich cargo of spices. An armed corvette William escaped.”

The mace, nutmegs and cloves were pledged by the captors to the Governor of Penang (through the intermediary of Carnegie & Co) for totally £200,000.[26]

The captured Dutch frigate Pallas has been bought by the Royal Navy – not bad for 40 minutes work but the Insurance Society of Calcutta paid a claim for the original seizure of the Trowbridge and in March 1807 asserted an interest in the Bombay courts (when the Pallas (ex Trowbridge) was passing through that port en route to London) noting that Penang has no Admiralty Jurisdiction and cannot condemn prizes.

The value of this prize would completely reimburse insurers but their action was struck out by the Bombay Recorder.

Sat 8th November 1806

$30,095 Spanish will be sold by auction on 14th November. The money is from the American ship Erin (W. Stevenson) that was captured by HMS Pitt recently.

Mr Stevenson has apparently not lost his ship – he is advertising in this edition for passengers to the Cape and Baltimore.[27]

Sat 6th December 1806

The prize money for Sir Home Popham’s capture of the Cape has been assessed by Thomas S Sorel, the Army Prize Agent, at Rix $1.2 millions. The CiC gets 47,500 Rupees, Brigadier Generals 23,750 Rupees, Field Officers 5,785 Rupees, Rank & File 32 Rupees. (see the South America chapter for the British invasion of Argentina and the dedicated chapter to Capt Home Popham too)

Sat 20th December 1806

The annual Spanish ship from Manila and Amoy to Cadiz has been captured. Ship and cargo are estimated to be worth £250,000.

Sat 4th April 1807

HMS Caroline has captured the annual Spanish ship San Rafael from Lima and Manila. She is estimated to be worth about $1 million, hull and cargo. She was taken just outside Manila. She had $500,000 in silver dollars, 1,700 quintals of bar copper and much other cargo.

Her Spanish officers say that the British government of Buenos Aires that Popham set-up has been overthrown by an act of the people.[28]

Sat 18th April 1807

The recent British attack on shipping in the harbour of Batavia fell mostly on individual merchants. One alone has lost property worth $300,000.

Sat 22nd August 1807

The American ship Minerva (Allen) came into Bombay in the normal course of her voyage and was discovered to have some Manila indigo in her cargo. She has been arrested and is to be sold with her cargo. There is a great demand for Manila indigo in London. The ship also contained $5,633 in Spanish silver dollars.

Joseph Cook Allen, the Minerva’s supercargo tried to sell the forbidden cargo to avoid detection. A Notice is published in the Bombay Courier dated 11th August warning all residents to beware of Allen. The ship is 230 tons and was built on the Ohio River.

Sat 5th September 1807

The sale of the American ship Minerva and her cargo is postponed due to a Protest lodged by her Master at the Bombay Admiralty Court.

Sat 19th September 1807

The Bombay Prize Court has considered the facts of the capture of the Minerva (Hussey) and given judgment in favour of the owners who appealed the capture of the ship and cargo.

The instructions of the King in the Order-in-Council dated June 1803 to His ship commanders are inter alia to distress the enemy’s trade in his colonial ports. The Netherlands and Spain have declared war against Britain and Batavia and Manila were said by the captors to be two of the enemy’s colonial ports.

The Minerva was not trading directly between an American port and either Batavia or Manila. It had sailed from Mauritius to Batavia to Tegall to Manila and was returning to Batavia when it was taken by the captors.

The invariable practice in Prize Courts is to construe the instructions of the King as binding law. Here in Bombay we also honour the Law of Nations. The Defence has shown that Batavia and Manila had a freedom to trade with places other than their mother country’s ports during peacetime. They were not restrained in trade in the way that British colonies are restrained, as inferred in the King’s instruction.

We do not consider the trade of Batavia or Manila illegal in time of war. We would only do so if such trade was prohibited in time of peace (the Rule of 1756). The evidence shows peacetime trade with both ports was open to all.

Judgment for the Appellant.[29]

Sat 23rd January 1808

The government of Mauritius has received instruction from Paris to cease harassing Arab shipping and only arrest Arab ships if their cargoes are indisputably English. It is present French policy to accommodate subjects of the Porte at Constantinople..

Sat 20th February 1808

Notice, 3rd February – The Company has learned that British Customs duties are charged on prize goods when captured ships are brought into English ports for adjudication.

Formerly they were duty-free but times change and the captors do not mind as its a windfall profit anyway.

The Company gives notice it will also levy the same deduction in India with immediate effect.

Sat 27th February 1808

The Danish port of Frederiksnagore (Serampore, a suburb of Calcutta) was occupied by British troops on 28th January in consequence of the outbreak of war between England and Denmark. Twelve Danish ships in the Hooghly were also arrested.[30]

Sat 27th February 1808

The Dutch fleet at Surabaya on Java has been destroyed by Sir Edward Pellow’s squadron.

Sat 19th March 1808

All c. 60 ships in the Danish war fleet that were captured in our raid on Copenhagen are on their way to be laid-up in English ports.

Sat 26th March 1808

A list of captures made by Mauritian privateers between August – October 1807 is published – Althea, Gilwell, Elizabeth, Trafalgar, Mangles, Susanna, Caroline, Succedany, Maria, Eliza, Udny, Highland Chief, Resource, Louisa and Mersosa.

They are valued at approximately 3 Million Rupees.

Sat 30th April 1808

The King has promulgated new rules for prize-taking by Orders-in-Council. They will take effect in India on 1st May 1808.

Sat 14th May 1808

We have done quite well out of the arrest of Danish shipping in the Hoogly. The frigate Spurknoy contained 170,000 Ducats, $500,000 Spanish, some bars of silver and copper.[31] She is a fine ship of 50 guns. The transport Vilhelmina had much clothing and naval stores. They were due to leave port on Thursday but we managed to catch them the day before.

Sat 21st May 1808

22 ships trading around the Mediterranean have been arrested by us between 1st June and 21st August and taken to Malta. We have applied to the Malta Prize Court for their confiscation for trading contrary to the new Order-in-Council. They are chiefly Americans and Danes.

Sat 28th May 1808

As Denmark has declared war against England, the British ministry feels at liberty to sell the 50 vessels of the Danish war fleet we recently impounded and it is expected to raise about £1 million for the captors. It comprises 14 capital ships, 13 frigates and 6 sloops, etc.

The statutory distribution of prize-money will give the two CiC’s an eighth, the other commanders likewise. Captains get a quarter; lieutenants and warrant officers get a quarter, petty officers an eighth and crew members the last eighth.

Sat 25th June 1808

Madras news – Lt Panton, the officer of marines (and 3rd Lieutenant) of HMS Fox, has been killed. He was in a boat on the Manila coast trying to cut-out some potential prizes when the boat’s magazine exploded and everyone died.

His sister is Mrs Lautier, wife of the French supercargo of a Danish ship Joe Venner. She lives at Tranquebar. The captain of Joe Venner is a debtor of her husband and tried to abandon the supercargo at Tapanooly whilst he was ashore. The ship was later taken as prize by the English but Mr Lautier got a boat to Padang and found his way back to India. Before his return, Mrs Lautier had assumed both her husband and brother had been lost.

Sat 2nd July 1808

Sir Home Popham is in dispute with Admiral Beresford about the division of the freight on the Buenos Aires spoils. Captain Donnelly of HMS Narcissus, which frigate brought the silver home via Rio, offered to pay Popham a third (the usual share of freight for the Admiral) but Beresford stopped him. They could not agree and Popham brought a petition before the Privy Council. He has already tried the Courts and been denied. He applied for a retrial and that was denied too. Popham’s position is he expects to be ranked as a Flag Officer to get a third share of the freight but the Courts say he is just a Captain and was only acting in command of the Buenos Aires invasion.

The Privy Council has delayed commenting on the petition as Popham is being investigated on precisely this subject under a prior agreement with Sir David Baird at the Cape. Apparently he gave Baird a commitment to a share of the Buenos Aires loot in return for provision of ships and men for the invasion. Baird expects Popham to perform his agreement. It seems Popham thought he would be getting the lion’s share as commander of the expedition and thus was rather too generous in his promise to Baird.

These spats commenced before Popham’s attack on Copenhagen. The prize money from that is worth £50,000+ to him personally. Perhaps that will mollify him or perhaps he will use that money to prosecute his Buenos Aires claims further.

Sat 9th July 1808

The House of Commons has been discussing prize money. It seems the plunder of the Spanish warships that preceded the outbreak of renewed war with that country could not be considered as prize money in view of the state of peace existing between England and Spain. It was classified as a droit of the Crown and went not to the captors but to the King.

These droits of Admiralty turn-out to have been a valuable source of monarchical funds. The King’s account is not published but the Royal dukes have received £139,500 in three payments (October/November 1805, April 1806 and early 1808) from the fund.

The debate revealed that a considerable part of the droits fund from the Spanish captures was disbursed to Moore and his group in spite of their legal incapacity. In former similar circumstances, about two thirds of the real value of the captures was granted to captors.

Giving part of the balance to one’s children as the King has done is reasonable.

Sir Francis Burdett told the House that he had heard the Droits fund had swollen to such immense size that ministers could not endure its being left as the private property of the King in light of all the new taxes people are paying. Consequently, the King has made a Grant to parliament. Some payments are said to be made from this Droits fund to merchants whose overseas property is seized due to an outbreak of hostilities. Moore’s squadron was paid an indemnity not prize money. Some payments from the fund had also been made to neutrals for a variety of reasons.

Adam said the King’s income was considered in 1760 when he was crowned. The droits were continued to him then. The King gave parliament £1 million in 1795 and another million in 1806 from this Fund. On both occasions we thanked him. Our gratitude would appear to constitute an estoppel to parliament reviewing his control of the Fund.

Sheridan reminded the House that the Prince of Wales had a claim on the revenues of Cornwall but had been denied both by the King and by the House. Here was a fund from which to draw funds for the Prince.

Sat 9th July 1808

In the debate concerning droits of the Crown and of Admiralty, Lushington (one of the India Company’s MPs) incidentally revealed some historical information about Sir Home Popham. It appears the Company is distancing itself from his acts:

He says Popham left the navy on half-pay. In 1787 he applied to go to India, agreeing to abandon his half-pay and reside in a Danish town. On these undertakings he got a licence from the Company to reside in India. He then went to Ostend, the centre of smuggling of India goods into Europe, where he bought a ship and sailed East.

He visited every British settlement in India in breach of his undertaking to the Company and in 1789 carried on an illegal trade at Calcutta in a ship called the Ville de Vienne.

He returned to Europe and formed a business connection with Charlotte & Co, the notorious smuggling business in Ostend, and made a second voyage East under false colours without the consent of the Company in which he delivered a cargo of cannon and ammunition to unidentified buyers in Asia.

He made a voyage from Calcutta to Penang and back and then bought the American ship President Washington which he renamed as Etrusco. He went to Canton in 1792 and loaded a cargo of tea in a joint venture with a French supercargo Constant and a Monsieur Peron, the then French Resident at that port. He off-loaded some tea and rhubarb root into small boats at Dungeness for sale in the British market and continued to Ostend where he was intercepted and captured by HMS Brilliant (Robinson). Popham’s ship and the balance of its cargo came before the Admiralty Court for condemnation as part French property. Popham told the Judge he was a friend of Cornwallis and Sir Charles Stuart in an attempt to avoid the consequences of his acts. This failed to obtain the effect he sought and the ship was condemned. Popham absconded.

Soon afterwards the King issued him a Treasury Warrant for £25,000 equating with the value of Popham’s share of the Etrusco cargo. Captain Robinson got no prize money for his capture of the ship and cargo.

Lushington said he mentioned all this because he considered the case was an abuse of the Droits fund and the facts comprised reasonable grounds for parliamentary investigation of its control and disbursement.

Popham is now MP for Ipswich and was in the House of Commons when Lushington told MPs this history. He responded that whilst in India he had been commended by Governor-General Cornwallis for his survey of Penang and was therefore doing good for his country. He regretted going to India under a neutral flag but many other officers had done the same and it was twenty years ago. He himself had never smuggled anything but some of his crew may have taken dutiable goods ashore in an informal way.

The Attorney General said it seemed Popham had broken the law and infringed the Company’s monopoly in which case the confiscation of his ship and cargo was an inevitable process of law and not really a prize. Captain Robinson had lost nothing. The Speaker called the Attorney General to order for creating a defence for Popham.

Sat 9th July 1808

The ethics of our naval attack on Copenhagen have been considered in a House of Lords debate. The liberal Whig Lord Holland argued that the suggestion it was necessitated by the secret articles at Tilsit is wrong and he rejected it.

He also rejected the suggestion it was a pre-emptive strike. Many of the Danish warships were almost unseaworthy, he says, although the navy says they were in excellent shape and could have been ready for sea in three weeks.

By eliminating Tilsit and pre-emption, Holland concludes it was simply a wish to remove maritime competition that motivated the attack and he deplores the likely effect of bringing up a generation of Danes with a hatred of England.[32]

Sat 16th July 1808

Tierney has spoken in the Commons debate whether to give the thanks of parliament to Lord Gambier and Sir Home Popham for the attack on Copenhagen and the capture of the Danish fleet. The House has voted 100/19 to do so but Tierney queried the decision.

He says Popham draws his support from the City (Tierney calls them ‘Lloyd’s Coffee House Men’ i.e. insurance underwriters) and from the Mayor of Birmingham. The merchants applauded, indeed, he says, may have instigated his invasion of Buenos Aires.

Popham has been on the one hand subjected to court martial and on the other appointed to the command of the Danish invasion fleet over the heads of his seniors.

The pre-emptive strike may have prevented the formation of a great Baltic fleet of the navies of Russia, Sweden and Denmark to oppose our maritime hegemony (the prophecy of the ministry) but it caused the capture of the British merchant fleet in Russian ports which must have been a disappointment to the City.[33] Tierney wondered in the circumstances whether parliament’s gratitude was misplaced.

Sat 6th August 1808

Popham’s recent mercantile war at Buenos Aires has turned-out to not be original. In 1762, during the Seven Years War, a group of private merchants from England and Portugal bought two British frigates and did the same.

They renamed the frigates, both 50-gunners, Lord Clive and Ambuscade and placed the expedition under Captain MacNamara, the ex-commander of an East Indiaman. They were joined by two Portuguese warships and five merchant ships carrying stores. Regrettably, on that occasion they were beaten off by the Spanish defenders and the Lord Clive was lost.

Sat 17th September 1808

An American named Beare, who has long been in the service of an Indian Prince, was required to retire by Governor-General Wellesley’s regulation prohibiting foreigners to serve in the armies of native princes. Beare had rendered occasional assistance to the Company and in recognition of this assistance was permitted to load a cargo of 300 tons of saltpetre for export. He bought the ship Martha for the purpose.

Saltpetre is, by the Company’s own Regulations, a contraband substance (used in the manufacture of gunpowder) but Beare got a special dispensation from the Calcutta government in view of his past services.

On rounding the Cape, the Martha was stopped and searched by the Royal Navy. The ship was arrested and taken into port in respect of the war materiel discovered on board. The Prize Court considered the matter and declined to acknowledge the validity of the Company’s permit issued to the captain. His saltpetre was confiscated but in view of the mitigatory circumstances, he was permitted to retain his ship.

Sat 24th September 1808

Lushington’s motion in the House of Commons to censure Popham was lost on a division 57/126.

Sat 4th February 1809

An American ship consigned to Mr Wilcocks, the China trader, has been captured by pirates off Macau. She was laden with furs and $300,000 in silver. The Americans complained to the Canton provincial government which told them the incident occurred outside their jurisdiction. At that time there were four American ships at Whampoa and no ships of another nationality in port except British.[34]

Sat 29th April 1809

Court of Common Pleas, Duckworth v Tucker – The complexities of shifting national alliances has affected the distribution of prize money and a topical dispute has now been litigated:

In 1798 the Portuguese war fleet commanded by Admiral Neiza was put under the command of the Earl St Vincent by an order of the Portuguese Court.

Portugal was then at peace with Spain and at war with France while England was at war with both France and Spain.

The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty required that, should the combined Portuguese / English fleet meet a Spanish fleet, the Portuguese ships were to withdraw; if it met a combined Spanish / French fleet the Portuguese would attack only the French ships!

Admiral Neiza’a fleet was actually employed blockading Malta. Some French and Spanish ships were captured off Gibraltar in which actions the Portuguese were not involved but, as a flag officer in our Mediterranean fleet, Neiza claimed a share in the Admirals’ one eighth of the value of prizes taken by the English part of the combined fleet.

The Defendant Tucker was the Naval Prize Agent responsible for distributing the fund. He retained £7,000 in respect of French captures and £1,600 in respect of Spanish captures for the account of Neiza.

Admiral Duckworth is the Plaintiff whose share will be diminished by any amount Neiza can be awarded by the Judge. He queried the right of an absent Portuguese Admiral to a share of the French prizes. He specifically denied the Portuguese should have any share of the Spanish captures.

The Defendant states that although Portugal and Spain were formally at peace they were secretly at war at the time. Neiza told the Court he was completely under St Vincent’s and Nelson’s control and subject to their every order.

St Vincent gave evidence that although the Iberian countries were at peace, the Portuguese War Minister Roderigo de Souza told him that if he encountered a superior Spanish fleet he might order the Portuguese warships to assist and he (de Souza) would take the consequences upon himself.

The Court (Sir James Mansfield) directed the French prize money to be paid to the Plaintiff Duckworth. The Spanish prize money was to be held over, pending for further advice on the present state of international law.

Sat 12th August 1809

The Company has been litigating with the Crown in London concerning its right to a share of the proceeds from prize-taking. In cases arising within its Asian jurisdiction it routinely takes half the proceeds plus any appropriate import tax on the cargo. The case is before the Court of vice-Admiralty and involves our capture of the ship Burma. The Court ruled that the Company’s Charter restricts its prize-taking rights to those ships originating in India.

The hull and cargo of the Burma are accordingly declared ‘droits’ of Admiralty. Each party is to pay its own costs.

In a second case the Company also suffered a rare reversal. The Governor-General has issued Letters of Marque including one to the Calcutta privateer Bee. The Resource was formerly a Bombay ship until captured by the Mauritian privateer Piedmontese about two years ago. Subsequently, the Bee recaptured the Resource and claimed it as prize. Hull underwriters of the ship when it was first captured, who became subrogated to the rights of the then owners on settlement of their claim for total loss, alleged the Bee’s commission was illegal and the Court agreed. The Company’s government was held to lack the power to issues Letters of Marque.

Ownership of the Resource was passed to the underwriters whilst the cargo was deemed a ‘droit’ of Admiralty. Owners of the Bee get 20% of the value of both the Resource and its cargo as salver’s rights.

Sat 16th September 1809

Editorial – The Company is not having a spectacular year commercially. War has hitherto been good for business but the French have been privateering more successfully of late and the weather has been bad. The Travers, Walpole, Asia, Admiral Gardner and Britannia have been lost; the Europe and Streatham were captured and seven ships are presently listed as missing (of which four – Calcutta, Bengal, Duchess of Gordon and Lady Jane Dundas – are hopefully just delayed)

Sat 30th September 1809

Advice to military and naval commanders:

The definition of prize under the Prize Act generally exempts private property of colonists but, in our recent occupations of St Eustatius and Martinique in West Indies, some of the residents bore arms against the British invasion force and that was considered sufficient to put their property within the grasp of the captors.

On both islands the residents were required to prove they had not borne arms in order to preserve their property.

Castlereagh has sought a legal opinion on the point and the Law Officers endorsed what the military commanders did.

Sat 23rd December 1809

The Streatham Indiaman has been captured by a French privateer late in August. Her crew was comprised of 44 Britons, 40 Lascars, 33 Chinese and 16 foreigners.[35]

Sat 3rd March 1810

For sale by auction, 10th March:

  • The American ship Rebecca, captured in the China Sea by HMS Doris and HMS Psyche and brought to Bombay where the new vice-Admiralty Court has condemned her. She is a 600 ton teak-ship built at Pegu.

For sale by auction 7th March:

  • The Rebecca’s cargo (4,000 bags of Batavian sugar and 13,710 pieces of sapan-wood).

Contact Bruce Fawcett & Co, Captors’ Agents.

Sat 3rd March 1810

HMS Culloden put in to Plymouth on 15th August for refit and the crew have received one third of their outstanding wages and prize money. It equates with about £80 per man on average although one received £460. They were granted 14 days leave.

It was depressing to see the fluent ease with which the brokers and agents who infest our ports transferred the crew’s payouts to themselves.

Sat 3rd March 1810

Admiral Lord Collingwood has accumulated over £200,000 in prize money but it does not seem to have done him any good. He is reportedly very sick and is being called back for retirement. (NB – died of cancer en route. His barony was extinguished by his death)

Duckworth will replace him.

Sat 10th March 1810

The Copenhagen prize money is being distributed and the navy is discontented. Captains are receiving £736.17.6d whereas brokers were trading their entitlements at over £1,000 before the apportionment was published.

Sat 14th April 1810

The Portuguese ship Oviedo Pereira has been taken at the Malacca Straits by the French ship L’Entreprenante. She was returning from Macau with $400,000 in silver, the proceeds of last season’s trade.

Sat 5th May 1810

Mr Cochrane Johnstone MP was assigned to go to Vera Cruz and escort a shipment of Spanish silver to London in repayment of money spent by the Wellesleys on behalf of the Seville junta.

Johnstone was promised a commission of 2½% of the value of the shipment.[36]

He went out in HMS Undaunted (Malling) with two other frigates and was supposed to bring the treasure back in the same ship. Johnstone and Malling had a dispute over distribution of the commission, resulting from which Johnstone determined to freight the silver on a Spanish capital ship then at Vera Cruz. Captain Malling was opposed (freighting treasure pays a percentage commission to Royal Navy captains – the cause of their dispute) and said if the Spanish warship sailed with the treasure, he would use his naval squadron to force it to surrender. This induced the Spanish captain to offload the shipment. Captain Malling should prevail – he has orders to bring the shipment to London.

Sat 5th May 1810

Amboinya has been captured. HMS Cornwallis, Dover and Semarang and a detachment of the Madras European Regiment did the deed. The booty, chiefly 20,000 lbs of cloves in the warehouse at Amboinya and its three dependent islands, is valued at £300,000. Head and gun money will add another £100,000 to the prize fund as the garrison numbered 1,500 Javanese soldiers. We also took two big ships, six brigs and some merchant ships.[37]

Having secured Amboinya the expedition continued to Banda, the next nearest, and chief, spice (nutmeg) island.

Sat 16th June 1810

The Port Admiral of Plymouth has received £52,000 in the five years he has had command of the port. Its his share of prizes captured by ships sailing under his command. His 2iC, who was recently superseded, got £21,000 from the same source over the same period.

Editor – These port management jobs are simple and mainly administrative. They should be held by the numerous old, disabled and needy officers in our navy not the young and active friends of the minister.

Sat 8th September 1810

The Admiralty Court has considered and affirmed the basis to payment of Head Money (for captured enemy personnel).

Sir Samuel Hood and Captains Lee and Lukia (commanders of HMS Windsor Castle, Achille and Polyphemus) objected to the crew of HMS Revenge getting part of the Head Money from the capture of the French frigates La Gloire, Minerve, Armide and Indefatigable. The Court accepted their argument.

It said the precedents show Head Money is a reward for actual and direct involvement in the engagement. HMS Revenge had arrived on the scene too late and, although there was an exchange of shots between her and the French ships, it did not contribute materially to the French surrender.

Sat 27th October 1810

Lord Thomas Cochrane MP is upset with all the fiddles going on and the popular assumption that every office-holder is involved in them. He was particularly irritated by the recent House of Commons debate on sinecures and peculation that implicated the Admiralty and, as he is an Admiral, somewhat himself.

He has announced to the House of Commons details of the proceeds of the sale of the Dutch fleet that was brought-in before 5th November 1795, prior to the first raid on Copenhagen.

In the preamble to this disclosure His Lordship maintained that the entire system on which England was fighting was flawed.

He noted that the number of English seamen trading from British ports was 16,000 whereas 29,000 foreign seamen are trading to our ports. He noted that British tonnage trading in our ports had decreased from 37,000 tons to 25,000 tons whereas foreign tonnage had increased from 417,000 tons to 560,000 tons. British production of experienced seamen is the foundation on which the Royal Navy rests, he asserts.[38]

He is confident that one half of our present naval and marine force could terminate the war in a year. He said one thousand men on a flying squadron could keep the entire coast of France in chaos and oblige Napoleon to keep his armies at home.

He said the problem was that the King and the ministers derive a profit from war and want it to continue. He particularly deplored Droits of Admiralty which had produced an income to date of £11 millions to the Crown. The Registrar of Droits (presently Perceval’s brother) received immense fees from them.

The duties of the King’s Proctor (even more fundamentally involved in Droits) are widely misunderstood. This official can only be complained against if he himself agrees to permit the complaint to be forwarded to the Judiciary. Thus the entire subject of Droits is closed-off and made unamenable to parliamentary or Judicial review. This diminished the effectiveness of prize-taking which rested on its appeal to the greed of naval officers.

Since the time of Queen Anne (in 1708) it has been settled that the value of prizes should be shared by the captors and that they might litigate to fix the distribution. Since 1779 this fine arrangement had been superseded by an institution called the King’s Proctor. A gentleman named Stanisforth who is now Proctor has been graciously endowed by an Order-in-Council with the monopoly for determining all prize claims. Stanisforth’s power flows from the King and he necessarily acts for the King and the King’s friends.

The Law Courts admit actions by captors, allow them to insure their interests and make them liable for costs and damages. The King’s Proctor however is not amenable to legal process. On 13th June 1806 the Proctor was handling 16 cases; by 30th June it was 23 cases and by 19th November it was 59 cases. With so many prize funds stopped by the Proctor, no naval officer could rely on his expected income from prizes.

It was not just the pecuniary interest. There was doubt over the Proctor’s patriotism, said Cochrane. Mr W Moyer was a British subject and is now a naturalised Dane (a good many Britons trading to Europe in Danish ships have naturalised as neutrals to avoid British law and the blockades). Stanisforth has sworn an affidavit describing Moyer as a faithful British subject when he had in fact received the thanks of the French government in the Revolutionary War for his services to the French Marine. Thus a traitor is deemed worthy of remuneration by the King’s Proctor. Cochrane concluded with the observation that £11 millions in the King’s hands was bound to incite mischief.

Sir John Nicoll denied Cochrane’s complaints – the Admiralty had been diligent in calculating and apportioning prize money to captors. All cases have been fully settled, he said. Captain Beresford said the King’s Proctor had always acted honourably. Cochrane’s resolutions sank 76/6.

Sat 3rd November 1810

HMS Caroline has arrived at Madras with news of the capture of the Banda spice islands on 8th August. About 400 men were landed from the ships but only half of them could be assembled in the dark to storm Fort Belgica. The sentries discovered them but they got their ladders up quickly and escaladed in.

The Dutch commander and ten men were killed. The rest fled. It appeared there had been about 700 men in the island. After capturing Belgica, there remained the smaller fort of Nassau but that surrendered without a shot. About 100 disciplined troops were made prisoner.

The store of loot (nutmeg) is enormous. Colonel Yates has been appointed Prize Agent and Paymaster.

Mon 21st January 1811 Extraordinary

The conquest of Mauritius has been a rewarding action for our soldiers and sailors. There was little opposition. We seized 50 merchant ships in Port Louis harbour and we found £500,000 in silver on one of the French frigates. The prize money will be marvellous – an army captain can expect over £800 for his share.

Irwin is appointed prize agent for the Madras and Bombay contingents; Playfair for the Bengal troops and Admiral Bertie’s secretary Decotligan will act for the navy.

Sat 12th January 1811

The London banking house Brickwood & Co of Lombard St has failed. They had a Bill to £200,000 from a famous broker which could not be settled. That broker specialised in West Indian trade.

One of the bank’s partners is a relative of Admiral Rainier who acquired considerable wealth whilst in command of the East Indian squadron and invested £100,000 in the business in his relative’s name just a few months ago. Brickwood himself invested a further £60,000 two weeks ago but it was not sufficient.

Sat 9th February 1811

Ternate has been captured by the European Corps from Madras and the marines and seamen of HMS Dover. It is a tiny market for our exports (the other spice islands we have captured are already flooded with India goods) but it will be good for the Company to have a supply of Ternate cloves for sale.

The prize money is less than expected. The public property found by the captors was said to be worth only £100,000 (in spices) but there were only 200 of our people involved in the invasion so it should represent a satisfactory dividend.

Sat 30th March 1811

Montagu is the Port Admiral of Portsmouth. Janverin is Captain of HMS Pluto attached to the Portsmouth squadron. They are in dispute over the distribution of freight for specie shipped on HMS Pluto in July 1808, when the ship carried £100,000 silver (11 tons) from Portsmouth to Gijon in Spain (on the north coast, for Sir John Moore’s army – see the Iberia chapter for another report on this shipment) on account of the British government. The Government paid Janverin £540. 8. 0d for freight.

It has become customary in the Royal Navy for those captains receiving specie as cargo, to share one third of the freight with their Admiral. If there are two Admirals involved, the senior pays one third of what he gets to his junior.

On the other hand, an order of 8th March 1807 from the Treasury revealed that frigate captains had no legal right to freight which was paid as a boon of the King at a rate of ½% ad valorem to the person having care and custody of the cargo. The King’s instruction to freight bullion, which is signed by the King and a Treasury official, is addressed to the Captains and Commanders of H M ships generally and requires the freight be paid to them without deduction. This definition seems to exclude the Admirals’ share and was the basis to Janverin’s attempt to retain the third that customarily would go to the senior officer.

A few Admirals gave evidence that they always got a third, regardless of whether it was public or merchants’ money that was freighted. One said, as a special case, if merchants put bullion on a ship, the Captain might retain the whole freight but he took the chance that his frigate might be diverted to some inconvenient place whenever he neglected the Admiral’s interest.

Admiral Bickerton told the Court that the ministry stopped freight payments for bullion in July 1806 as a measure of economy but had to recommence payment a year later after it had become apparent that the Admiralty had encountered difficulty transporting specie to those places the government needed it sent.

Judgement for the Admiral in £180. 2. 8d.

Sat 29th June 1811

HMS Salsette (ex Pitt) made prize of the French slaver La Expedition off Mauritius on 15th June 1806. We sent the ship and cargo beyond English legal jurisdiction to Goa for disposal, the sale of slaves being illegal in British India.[39]

The nett proceeds have now been received at the Admiralty Court of Bombay and will be distributed on 5th July. Prize money is shared by agreement of HMS Salsette with the crews of HMS Drake and HMS Cornwallis.

Contact John Leckie of the late firm of M/s Leckie and Malcolm, Prize Agents.

Sat 7th September 1811

On 17th January, Admiral Lord Cochrane arrived at Malta to investigate into the conduct of Judge Sewell of the Admiralty jurisdiction, and Locker his Registrar.

There are two grounds for Cochrane’s enquiry. The court fees charged for determination of prize cases have been uniquely high in Malta for many years, and the functions of the Court are united in just a few individuals.

Cochrane’s initial act was to demand a table of fees be prominently displayed outside the Court Registry where the public could see it instead of within one of the judicial offices where they are forbidden to enter.

He personally took the table of fees outside and this caused Judge Sewell to issue a Warrant for Cochrane’s arrest. His Lordship was imprisoned for three days until he ‘escaped down a rope’ from his cell window. He got on board a convoy then leaving for Gibraltar where he transferred to HMS Prometheus to return to London.

By this means he was able to arrive in London ahead of the news of his experiences from other sources.[40]

Sat 19th October 1811

HMS Piedmontaise has brought 57,000 lbs of mace and 170,000 lbs of nutmegs from the conquest of Banda. They are to be sold at auction at Madras on 20th November for the benefit of the captors. Payment in three days of successful bid.

Contact the Prize Agents – James Balfour and / or Richard Bromley.

Sat 16th November 1811

The prize money from the conquest of Batavia is expected to be enormous. One naval captain turned-down a broker’s offer of 8,000 Sicca Rupees (£1,000) for his share.

Quite apart from head and gun money, the principal warehouses of Batavia were found full of coffee, sugar and spices. There is also a great amount of naval stores and numerous brass cannon.

Surabaya may not be as good as expected for prize money. One of our two blockading frigates, HMS Akbar, left station to water and the enemy frigates took the opportunity of its absence to evade HMS Bucephalus and sail away.

Sat 14th December 1811

Lord Thomas Cochrane MP has returned from the Mediterranean and introduced his House of Commons motion to investigate the Malta Prize Court. He says if the Admiralty Courts could properly distribute prize money without enormous deductions for ‘fees’, it would be possible to achieve all Britain’s aims for its Royal Navy with only one third of the ships we presently use. He said he had evidence that the Judge of the Malta Court had unilaterally changed the tariff of court fees.

Our sailors are human beings – if they get the rewards they expect, they will be better motivated to serve the national interest, he said

He said there had been cases in which the Court took half the value of a prize in ‘fees’ and one appalling case in which they took nearly all of the proceeds.

He read a letter from an officer on the East India station who had been deprived of his reward by the vice-Admiralty Court of Bombay which took the entire proceeds of the prize in ‘fees’. He noted in that case that the Bill of Costs had been taxed and reduced by 50 Crowns but the costs of taxation were 85 Crowns. This was a case in which the captured vessel had been formulaically valued at 8,608 Crowns but the actual nett proceeds of sale were 1,900 Crowns.

Cochrane was aware that Captain Bentham had protested the court costs of 3,767 Crowns relating to one of his prizes and threatened to have a question asked in parliament, whereupon the Court agreed to deduct 3,500 Crowns and settled for costs of only 267 Crowns.

Judicial costs were fixed in three enactments – the 39th, 41st and 45th of George III and should invariably be followed, Cochrane thought.

Yorke, responding for the Admiralty, said getting papers from Malta would take time and the matter would be set down for debate next session.

Sir John Nicholl noted that any appeal from the decisions of the Malta Prize Court lay with the King-in-Council.

Cochrane thought the office of Proctor and Marshall should not be combined in one man. The Malta Proctor had charged him for services done by the Marshall. He sought to have his costs taxed by Judge Sewell but was referred back to the Proctor who said his Bill of fees had been passed and could not now be reviewed. Cochrane had complained at that and was then arrested for ‘contempt of Court’ and gaoled. He escaped and reward notices were posted throughout Valletta offering £200 for his apprehension.

Relying on the authority of the Burdett case, he asked the Speaker to confirm that the privileges of the House (and jurisdiction of The Speaker’s Writ) extended beyond the Houses of Parliament without limit.[41]

Cochrane’s motion to investigate the Malta Prize Court was rejected without a vote.

Sat 25th January 1812

The prize fund from the invasion of Batavia remains unknown. The naval Prize Agent says discoveries of public property are still being made and he cannot yet make-up his accounts.

Our chief regrets relate to the burning of part of the stock of spices, the destruction of marine stores and the escape of several frigates, which latter was accomplished with the help of some Dutch residents. We fear a large shipment of treasure was taken away in those frigates. The only warship we captured was the 18-gun brig Surabaya.

Raffles proposes to allow many of the Dutch army / navy officers to remain. Many of them have local wives and families. Only the French contingent of the Java garrison are being entirely removed and most of them have already reached Calcutta.

Sat 22nd February 1812

Lord Thomas Cochrane is still fighting his lonely battle against the costs of administering the law in Prize Courts. He says the Treasurer of the Navy wrote to Captain Mason of HMS Fishguard that the expenses of adjudication are the same regardless of the value of a prize. The Treasurer said the naval officers’ interests are better cared for by the King’s Proctor than by private Prize Agents.

Cochrane noted that over 1,000 cases had been litigated – its was clearly beyond the control of one man. He said of the 300-odd cases still before the Courts today, only 92 were Royal Navy cases and the rest were on behalf of Privateers, presumably that select company of 20-odd British ships that had been granted Letters of Marque.[42]

Cochrane thought the whole business of fees was out-of-control. He had just heard that the Attorney General gets 22 guineas in fees automatically for every case registered in the Court of Appeal whether he attends or not.

He had received details of a case in which the captors had a prize which realised £163 and after adjudication the captors were in debt to the Court for £111 for costs in excess of the Prize value.

The Royal Navy and Privateers were choosing not to arrest neutral ships because of the likelihood of litigation and its attendant expense. They concentrated their efforts on French or Dutch ships. This meant the purpose of prize taking, ‘to distress the King’s enemies’, was not being fully met.

The King’s Proctor had a rule that fees should be moderate in all successful cases and should be taxed in all unsuccessful ones – what does that mean, he asked.[43] He had examined the first 19 entries in the Proctor’s Prize Book and the fees never exceeded 8 guineas but he was personally familiar with two of those cases – the Two Sisters and the Experiment – and knew the costs of each were near £600 of which the Proctor’s take must have been about £500 each. Cochrane thought the whole system of ‘Doctor’s Commons’ was injurious to the Navy (Doctors’ Commons was an ancient court for settlement of disputes at canon law and admiralty law). He felt confident that a revision of the system would produce £5 millions more a year in distributable prize money than the present system produced. By restoring value to prize-taking, he thought the country could operate on a Navy half its present size as the officers would be better motivated.

He particularly objected to Prize Courts overseas. It was notorious that all the business of the King’s Proctor was done by bribery (‘no, no’ from the Treasury benches) and he would prove it. Captain Skene paid £500 to clerks of the Proctor to get service whilst the Captain of HMS Lapwing did not. The cases were contemporaneous and Skene’s prize was instantly condemned whilst the Lapwing’s prize case is today still buried under a mountain of paper.

Cochrane was particularly unhappy that Naval Officers had to use the King’s Proctor whilst the hooligans who operated privateers out of Gibraltar and Malta could employ any one of a large number of Agents.

He thought one step that would improve experience was to publish the Table of Court Fees prominently. The list of Malta Fees had just emerged after 5 years in a locked drawer, he said. Another notice adding one third to the authorised fees was displayed in the Barrister’s Robing Room at Malta. Cochrane thought the House should discover what the Proctor means by ‘moderate fees’ and just how much is he taking each year.

George Rose for the Admiralty said the £500 paid by Captain Skene had been for enquiries made by the Proctor’s clerks to better establish his case. It was not a bribe. He had a letter of satisfaction from the captors to prove it.

Captain James Farquhar, MP for Aberdeen, said the Proctor’s charges are very reasonable.

Cochrane riposted that the entire officer corps of the Royal Navy knew they were being cheated and the House should investigate. Not to do so is a disgrace.

Sir J Nicholls said Cochrane has moved this subject previously and got 6 votes in support.[44]

Sat 29th February 1812

House of Lords, 21st June – The Army Prizes Bill is being debated. This is a Bill to prevent abuse of the prize system:

Suffolk says that at present c. £250,000 is held by Army Prize Agents which should be distributed to captors. The existing arrangements give no interest on payment. One Agent had held £10,000 for 8 years and might have doubled his money, he said. He thought all prize money should be collected by a special government agency. Admiral Nelson once told Suffolk that he never got all the prize money due to him. Field Marshal Beresford who is doing such important work in Iberia, had £27,000 in prize money but he gave it to a relative for speculation and it was said to have been entirely lost.

The distribution of naval prize money is necessarily delayed because there are so many cases – over 1,000 are being adjudicated right now – but army prize money arose more infrequently and should be processed quicker.

Nevertheless, we don’t want the naval system for the army. The King’s Proctor is overwhelmed with cases and gets £20,000 – 30,000 a year in fees. There should be many more Proctors for army claims.

The Earl of Liverpool disagreed. This Bill is to divert unpaid Prize Money to the Chelsea Hospital not to address the problems in prize-money distribution and dry-up a source of charitable funds. Suffolk said it was shameful that the Bill referred to the transfer of only 6,000 Crowns (£1,500) to the hospital when the amount actually held as unpaid was 8,000 Crowns.

The Lord Chancellor said the Judge and Proctor of the Admiralty Prize Court had both been examined by the House of Lords but Doctors’ Commons (a prize court) was an arrangement that is generally agreed to be free of venality.

Suffolk said he would bring further evidence in the next session.[45]

Sat 28th March 1812

On 30th May 1811, the London Admiralty Court passed judgment in the prize case of the American merchant ship Fox:

The ship was captured on 15th November 1810 whilst en route from Boston to Cherbourg. The interested naval officers base their claim on the Order-in-Council of 26th April 1809. They merely have to establish that the ship is trading with the enemy. The ship- and cargo-owners say the British government agreed to repeal the Order once France repealed the Berlin and Milan Decrees. As those Decrees had been repealed, they say, the Order was equally extinct and no action is maintainable.

Alternatively, the defendants plead that, if the Order was still valid, they have equitable grounds for relief.

The Court was asked to rule on the conflict of the Law of Nations with the domestic law of England (by Orders-in-Council – whereby the King and his Privy Council make law). The American defendants believe they are not obliged to know the laws of every country they trade with; it is sufficient for them to know the law governing international maritime trade (the Law of Nations). This case involves their ship whilst sailing on the High Seas well beyond the national jurisdiction of any particular state. They expect the Court to uphold the principles of international law.

The Admiralty Court adjudicates the King’s legislative power in much the same way as the Common Law Courts adjudicate Acts of Parliament.

The Court categorises the Orders-in-Council relative to prize-taking as retaliatory Orders – they respond to the acts of other states, in this case the French enemy. If they could not be categorised as retaliatory Orders they would cease to be enforceable. The Court agrees that evidence of French repeal of the Decrees would extinguish the rationale for the Orders. This evidence should be by a Declaration of the French government on behalf of France herself.

The nature of the French act that induced the Order-in-Council is also relevant. It must likewise have been in breach of the Law of Nations. If the French act was merely an exercise of domestic policy it could not justify the British government in pursuing an illegal response. The Court must assume that the Legislature maintains the current law. If the Orders have not been repealed, the cause of their enactment must be assumed judicially to still operate.

Defence counsel has alluded to occasions on which this Court has modified the terms of the Orders. In the Lucy this Court ruled that all ships transferred by an enemy to a neutral flag were liable to confiscation during war. What the Court has done is not to modify law but to protect the principle of exact retaliation. The Order-in-Council of 26th April 1809 was passed expressly to provide reciprocity for the prior French act. If, in certain circumstances, the French do not assert a right, we will likewise withhold that right from Plaintiffs under the Orders. Whenever there is a French exemption there will be a British exemption. There is some precedent for the belief that this Court has presumed a revocation when no revocation was in fact extant. Those decisions are no authority. It is also true that this Court may anticipate a revocation where it has been declared to be government’s policy but is yet to be formally enacted.

The American Government, which is interested in this case, has adopted the position that it does not expect this Admiralty Court to rule on the legality or otherwise of the Order but it does expect the ministry to repeal it.

The Defendants have drawn the Court’s attention to the Baltic Order-in-Council whereby the British ministry gave an immunity to capture to the Swedish mercantile marine whilst trading within the Baltic Sea. This Court held that that Order had been revoked when the Swedish people replaced their King with Bernadotte[46] and the character of the Baltic states changed from allies to enemies of this country. It was considered unnecessary to await its specific revocation when Britain had already made a general Declaration of War.

Even if there are decisions that presume revocation, it is still necessary for the Defendants to show that this is such a case.

The Defendants have not established a revocation of the French Decrees. They have produced no Edict, no references to cases decided after revocation – nothing for the Court to take notice of. They have adduced the sole case of the New Orleans Packet but it was presented in such a minimalist way as to preclude all reliance on it.

The French Government has repeatedly characterised its Decrees as fundamental laws of its Empire. They have been thus described since the facts of this case occurred. The Declaration of the Duc de Cadore (the French foreign minister) mentions a conditional revocation, which condition has not been complied with. This Court respects the Acts of foreign governments. It understands that the American government has taken a different view but it cannot willy nilly follow the American lead unless it is equally convinced of the case. The Duc de Cadore’s Declaration is awash with stipulations that cannot conceivably be met. Even if there had been a clear revocation in the Duc’s Declaration, it was moderated by the Duc permitting the British government until 2nd February to revoke the Orders. Clearly in matters of reciprocity, the dates of revocation by each side should be more or less contemporaneous. So we have a doubtful ‘revocation’ by the French and no revocation by the British. This Court inevitably concludes that no revocation has yet occurred.

Defence Counsel (Herbert) has noticed that British subjects are licensed to trade with the enemy. Their boats are allowed through the blockade which the British Navy maintains outside all French ports. Thus British subjects are exempt from a restraint of trade that is harshly exercised on the people of other nations. The Court agrees that a blockade established for the purpose of monopolising a nation’s maritime trade is illegal but queries whether the blockade of French ports should be considered under the Law of Blockade at all. It is true that huge numbers of Licences have been granted to British merchants to trade with France but in the absence of a Licence, the trade is illegal. Most of these Licences are issued to foreign-flag ships. The British blockade of France is not governed by the common rules of blockade. It is a retaliatory measure enacted to respond to the enemy’s prior initiative. France declared that the people of Europe should have no trade with Britain and Britain responded with the same restraint on trade with France. Neutrals accordingly cannot trade with France because France forbids them to trade with England.

Turning to the argument in equity, the American government has been misled by a misrepresentation of France. Effectively it has been defrauded. That is sufficient to exclude these Defendants from an equitable defence although they might have rights under another action against either / both the French or American governments.

From the Defence documents it is apparent the ship cleared Boston with its destination publicly declared. They knew at departure that the British blockade was then in place. The documents show they hoped it might have been raised before their arrival at Cherbourg. They were willing to take the risk of capture because they were tempted by the commercial advantage of arriving in France first. Defence Counsel has said that evidence of a formal French revocation of the Decrees has just been received in Paris by the American minister there. This is fundamental to a judicial decision in this case and I therefore withhold judgment until the papers are made available to this Court.[47]

Sat 2nd May 1812

A vast amount of the prize property taken from the Dutch at Batavia still remains for sale. An American ship recently took 80,000 piculs (133 lbs per picul) of prize coffee at $4 per picul. Prize sugar is selling at $3.50 a picul. There remains in stock 200,000 piculs of coffee, 80,000 piculs of sugar, 2,500 piculs of Japanese camphor, 9,000 piculs of black pepper, 10,000 piculs of Banca tin and a large quantity of teak logs, teak planks, Japan wood, beeswax, cotton thread, indigo and various spices.

Sat 1st August 1812

Lord Cochrane’s ‘egregious complaints’ about the administration of Prize Courts has earned his family a ministerial prosecution.[48] A search of the India Company’s records discovered something to stick-on his uncle Basil who has been convicted in London:

Basil Cochrane commenced business for the India Company at Madras in May 1769. In 1797 he became paymaster to the Madras forces. Soon afterwards he returned to England. Prior to his promotion to paymaster, up to 1796, Cochrane and a colleague named Jackson had the contract to provision H M ships at Madras and they received 5% commission from the navy on all trades. At that time the Admiralty supplied all seamen with 2 ounces of tea a week. Gardner, the senior naval officer on Madras station, ordered the tea from Basil who charged 2/6d per lb plus the 5% commission, however Basil had bought the tea from M/s Lee & Shaw, China traders of Madras, for 2/- a lb. An Agent gets commission, a merchant does not. Basil was first a merchant and later an Agent. By assuming both roles, he got 25% profit on tea sales to the navy.

In his defence, Basil said he financed M /s Lee and Shaw to buy their tea direct from China and that involved him in expense. He was found guilty and ordered to repay £2,600 to the Navy being his 20% loading on purchase price.

Sat 1st August 1812

Its tough to be a shipowner in the French coasting trade these days. The Happy Maria sailed from St Bria to St Malo with a salt cargo. Passing Ile d’Yeu she was taken by an English privateer and ransomed for £2,000. Four days later another British privateer ransomed her again for £2,000. The following day a third British privateer asked for money. The shipowner had none left. The third privateer seized the two ransom receipts, off-loaded the French crew into a passing Swedish ship, and took away the ship and salt cargo, probably to Plymouth.

Ransoming has become more popular than prize-taking as rewards are faster than formal prize distributions.

Sat 22nd August 1812

We did very well at Jog Jakarta for prize money. We found $800,000 Spanish in the Treasury and there was also a heap of gold and jewels which is estimated to be worth about $1 million.

These seizures together equate with £500,000 and constitute the best prize money we have had for some years. Sepoys will get $26, Lieutenants $2,831 and the Lt Colonel gets $16,984.

Sat 26th September 1812

The treasure taken at Jog Jakarta is calculated to be worth 4 million Rupees. Most of it has been distributed amongst the expeditionary force.

Wed 19th May 1813 Extraordinary

Calcutta 16th May – The Betsey (Chardon) was the only American ship in the Hooghly at the time that the Declaration of War by America was notified to India. Chardon was released on his parole; the crew are detained in the fort; the ship and cargo are arrested.

Sat 12th June 1813

The American ship Alligator has been seized as prize at Calcutta. Her British Licence is suspected to have been forged. The crew have been imprisoned in the fort and will be sent to Europe on the next Extra ship.

Sat 7th August 1813

The French Navy does not subscribe to the attractions of prize-taking. Perhaps their Prize Courts are less accommodating.

  • The French frigate La Gloire captured four small British warships off Brest in December 1812. She made them throw their guns overboard and accepted a cartel signed by all the officers permitting the exchange of a similar number of Frenchmen. She then released them.
  • Two days later she captured the British merchant ship Minerva from Surinam with a cargo of coffee, cotton and sugar worth 600,000 Francs. She took off the crew and sank the ship with her cargo.
  • Whilst doing so the American ship Powathan arrived. She was prize to HMS Horatio with a small British crew aboard. The French captain renounced his rights to her and returned the Powathan to her American Captain, who was then a prisoner on board his own ship.

Sat 18th September 1813

A couple of American ships have been captured off St Helena. The Derby was caught returning to America from China with a valuable cargo worth £40,000. Another American was captured by HMS Sir Francis Drake (Peachey).

Sat 30th October 1813

Notice, 29th October – The recent Prize Acts create licences to regulate Prize Agents and mitigate abuses in the distribution of shares. The licensed Agents M/s Francis Brothers and M/s James Leith are handling many claims for absent claimants and have appointed Shotton Calder & Co as their Bombay agents. Prize money from Asian activities will continue to be payable only in England.

Sat 30th October 1813

Notice, 30th October – The Commissioners appointed by the British Treasury for the care of American ships and cargoes condemned as Droits of the King since 13th October 1812 have appointed John Leckie as their Bombay agent. Anyone in Bombay who controls arrested American ships or cargoes, or holds the proceeds of their sale, should hand-over the property to Leckie for the British Treasury.

Sat 12th March 1814

Governor Nepean of Bombay (formerly the Admiralty insider) has formed a committee to consider the distribution of prize money from sale of public goods captured at Broach in the recent Maratha War. They recommend native rank & file (R&F) get 2/3rds of a share and European R&F get one share. The list continues up to majors at 240 shares and Lieutenant Colonels at 350 shares. All claims should be presented before 1st March 1815.

Sat 12th March 1814

The impetuous Lord Cochrane, has launched another scathing attack in the House of Commons on the administration of the Royal Navy. He has called for an enquiry. He says our warships are being disproportionately captured by the Americans (in the War of 1812) because our crews are dispirited and amotivated by harsh conditions and lack of promotion prospects. Promotions are now made by parliamentary influence and usually involve corruption. We should revive the promotion of men by merit, he said.

He also reverted to a favoured topic – all naval seamen have difficulty recovering their wages and prize money.

Croker, Secretary of the Admiralty, said it was an exaggeration. Some seamen misbehave but the majority are good men. They are better fed now than ever before. The new practice, whenever a ship returned to its home port, was to pay a part of the wages earned and permit seamen to go home. If they were Irish or Scottish they got extra time for the journey. Since instituting this system there had been fewer desertions.

Croker characterised Cochrane’s complaint as a treasonable libel on the Navy, the House of Commons and the country. And he accused Cochrane and some of his family of corruption.[49]

Only Sir Francis Burdett voted with Cochrane.

Tues 5th July 1814 Extraordinary

One of the last great prizes of this long war was made off the Azores in late January / early February 1814. A British squadron took the Spanish prize of a French frigate. It had been coming from Lima to Cadiz and had £2 million (220 tons) in silver on board.

Sat 9th July 1814

The Bengal brigs Betsey, Mary and Favourite have all been captured off the west coast of Sumatra by the American privateer Hyder Ali of Boston. The name of this privateer seems intended to offend us.

The crews of the three brigs were all put ashore at Tapanooly. They say they heard that three other privateers are in the vicinity and the USS Constitution is cruising off Malabar.

USS Essex has captured eight of our whalers off the Galapagos Islands. 7,000 – 8,000 barrels of whale oil have been lost. Three of the whalers have been fitted out as additional cruisers to the Essex. The Galapagos is a popular watering and provisioning stop for south sea shipping. The islands are uninhabited but abound in turtle and other delicacies.

Sat 6th August 1814

The Boston privateer Jacob Jones (John Roberts) took the Bombay ship Adele in Pontianak harbour (west Borneo). He took out 40 chests of opium and the piece-goods and permitted the Adele to continue. These American privateers are provisioning at Manila. There are at least three cruising around Borneo.

Sat 13th August 1814

HMS Doris has brought the American merchant ship Hunter to Bombay to be condemned. She captured the prize on 18th March off Macau. There is now an Admiralty Jurisdiction at Bombay.

Sat 13th August 1814

The American privateer Hyder Ali has been captured by the Royal Navy and two interesting documents were discovered on board. They are from the owners M/s Bryant & Sturgis in Portland to the commander Nicholas Thorndike.[50] The Royal Navy Commissioner at Madras has published them for the information of British warships and privateers:

24th January 1814 – This deals with your management of our ship. Privateering is a commercial not an honourable venture. You are not to seek out fights with enemy warships but to avoid them and capture enemy merchant ships.

These are your trading instructions. We give you two Letters of Credit each for $20,000 – one on Perkins & Co of Canton and the other on M/s Samuel Grey, Charles Saunders and Thomas Ward, guaranteed by William Gray of Boston. Go to Manila, check the market and the exchange rates, get the best return available on your Bills and buy a cargo of indigo. Then come home via Cape Horn.

If the market or exchange is unworkable at Manila, go to Canton where you may readily negotiate Bills. You may employ Perkins & Co at Canton, if their commission is 2% or less, as Mr Cushing is experienced and reliable. Your ship will carry about 3,000 chests of tea. Buy Congou or Champoi either of which will sell here if war continues or in Holland if war ends. We have no objection to 1-2 year-old teas if the quality is good but they should be of the lowest prices as you will have to pay top-dollar for insurance. If tea is expensive you may draw on us for your deficit up to $10,000.

Get in and out of the Canton River as quickly as possible. If you leave before October head for the Bashi Channel, steer north to Lat 35º and ride the wind across the Pacific, pass Hawaii well to its east and turn for Tahiti, thence directly to Cape Horn; if you leave after October, head south for Sunda Straits and give Mauritius and the African Cape a wide berth.

To get into Canton, steer for the Grand Lima Islands then turn north with the islands south west of you and head straight in as fast as you can. The Chinese river boatmen will tell you all you need to know about patrolling warships. You are safe in the inner harbour of Macau or within the Bocca Tigris. You are not safe in Taipa Roads or the estuary.

The risk of your capture is greater at Canton than Manila and you go there only as a last resort but Manila is also dangerous in so far as quality of cargo is concerned. Sgd Thomas Ward.

The second letter contains the privateering instructions and reveals the nature of British trade in Asia:

Captain Thorndike is advised to sail to Aceh and sail down the south west coast of Sumatra disguised as an English merchant ship. He is to visit each port along the coast and check what vessels have visited and what cargo they have. The British routinely exchange opium and piece-goods for gold dust and silver. They usually return to Bengal in June. Beware of any vessel getting information of your presence to Penang (the nearest British naval base).

If Sumatra is lucrative come straight home; if not, cautiously patrol the western entrance to Malacca Straits or sail through those Straits for Banca, Borneo, etc. Rhio (Riau) has valuable ships all year long, especially June – August, and seldom any warships.

There is a great trade in opium and piece-goods from Bengal to the west coast of Borneo (mainly Pontianak) where it is exchanged for gold and silver. The ships arrive in March and leave by about July. They often stop at Rhio on their return leg to sell-off any remaining goods and buy tin.

If your potential victims are in port they will send their gold ashore as soon as they are aware of your presence – to address this, arrest the ship anyway and ransom it for the gold.

Moluccan spices are taken to India in August. A good place to collect them is at Bonthain Bay, south of Celebes, from whence the carrying ships sail south passed Komodo. All the spice trade sails this route.

Whenever you ransom the ship for the cargo, ensure you take a certificate from the master that the cargo is British and is given voluntarily. Take all the papers covering the ship and cargo and bring them home. You have 50 crew although your ship can be adequately manned by 30 men. The extras are to crew any prizes you take and decide to retain.

On the Atlantic side of the Cape of Good Hope, all British shipping encountered will be valuable. If you capture any of these, we would prefer you to man them and bring them home. You must give your Prize Master a copy of your Commission and write your orders to him on the back. Give him all the papers found on board the prize but seal them in a package first. If your prize is manned by Lascars you can safely leave a few of them on board – they will work for anyone.

When you return to America, time your arrival on this coast for November when the sea is rough, the nights are long, daylight reduced and the British cruisers remain in port. You may return earlier if, after paying costs of the voyage, all prize shares and duties etc., you still have $50,000 balance for owners.

Sat 20th August 1814

Letter from Canton, 11th May – On 8th May HMS Doris (O’Brien) chased an American schooner from New York up the Pearl estuary and into the river. The American was faster than HMS Doris and succeeded in reaching Whampoa where she anchored. HMS Doris than sent her boats with 70 men into the river and captured the American ship. Only one British seaman was killed but several of the Americans died. HMS Doris cut the American’s cables to remove her from Chinese jurisdiction but the ship went aground in the river and the British abandoned her.

There are reportedly several American ships amongst the Ladrone islands waiting an opportunity to enter the river. HMS Doris is lurking in the estuary to catch them should they try to enter port.

Sat 22nd October 1814

Admiral Stirling has been convicted at Court Martial of charging fees of merchant ships for convoy protection and irritating the merchants. He remains an Admiral.

He was the senior officer at Jamaica. He appointed Atkinson Bayles & Co of Kingston as his agents. Initially the Agent set a fee of $2,000 being 2½% on a cargo of specie shipped to another Caribbean island. Thereafter, the sum of $2,000 became a customary fee for all subsequent freight of bullion and convoy services.

Stirling’s punishment is to be put on the half-pay list. He is to be denied any future promotion.

Sat 24th December 1814

USS Syren took two Guineamen from Liverpool on the African West Coast run. She took-off their cargoes of ivory and sank them. Soon afterwards HMS Medway encountered and captured USS Syren and has sent her in to the Cape for condemnation.

Mon 6th February 1815 Extraordinary

Lord Cochrane, who was ejected from his seat in the House of Commons for his criminal conviction, has been ‘unanimously’ re-elected by the Westminster electorate.

In his defence in the House of Commons, Cochrane was scathing about the Judiciary in his prosecution and asserted he was not guilty but was convicted due to the malignity of the ministry – specifically a conspiracy by Melville at the Admiralty with Ellenborough the Chief Justice.

His alleged offence was to have received information of a French emissary named de Bourgh arriving at Dover to sue for peace and using that information to profit from the likely effect of that information on the funds.

According to Cochrane, Ellenborough found the other five defendants guilty but, as all six were said to have conspired, he added Cochrane’s name as well, noting he might appeal if he wished (an appeal required the other five’s approval as they were jointly charged. It would be both difficult procedurally and expensive).

Cochrane said the judicial finding was unjust and the sentence excessive – it was a put-up job. He reiterates his innocence and objects the payments to prosecution witnesses and the communications between ministers and the Committee of the Stock Exchange. He notes that the type of conspiracy alleged is routinely heard in the Old Bailey before a common jury but he was tried by a special tribunal with a special jury that was carefully selected by the prosecution.[51]

He attributes the attempt to disgrace him to his earlier revelations of ministerial corruption at the Admiralty. A few days after his expulsion, de Beringer, the man whose evidence obtained the convictions, published a confession saying he erred from mistaken principles. It was Cochrane Johnstone who proposed the stock-jobbing, noting it was a daily event on the London Stock Exchange. de Beringer was merely the frontman for a small fee whereas Cochrane Johnstone was to get all the profit and restore the losses that had derived from their previous speculation.[52] Cochrane has published his letters to evidence his refutation of the charge.

Sat 4th March 1815

The American privateer Hyder Ali has been condemned and auctioned for 25,000 Rupees to Fairlie Ferguson & Co.

Sat 26th August 1815

Privateering has been a lucrative business to the maritime states of New England. The owners of one Boston privateer have cleared $600,000 during this short war (the War of 1812). The particularly high profitability stems from the dearth of British and colonial goods in the American market – privateers can sell their prize cargoes for top dollar.

Sat 11th July 1818

The amount of silver coming out of Mexico is fabulous. At Jamaica since the peace of 1814, the amount of freight paid on bullion sent to London exceeds £300,000. Freight on British warships is normally about 1 – 2% of value – that suggests $15 millions in silver and gold has been shipped to London from Jamaica in the last three years. One third of the freight money goes to CiC West Indies.

Sat 30th October 1819

The Waterloo prize money is better than expected. Wellington gets £60,000, generals get £1,250, field officers £420, captains £90, subalterns £33, sergeants £19 and rank & file £2.10.0d each. With respect to the Iron Duke’s immense share the distribution seems unfair and should be reformed. A better share for ordinary soldiers and sailors might motivate them more.

Sat 8th July 1820

There is a dispute over the distribution of prize money won in the recent Maratha War. It has been referred to the Regent and by him to the Duke of Wellington.

In the former Maratha War of 1803, the Bengal and Madras armies were combined although one operated in Hindustan and the other in the Deccan. The Bengal army under Lord Lake acquired considerably more property than the Madras army under Arthur Wellesley.

At that time the Bengal officers declined to combine their plunder with Madras and each army was paid its own prize money. The same difficulty has again arisen and this time the Madras army demands arbitration.

Sat 15th July 1820

Bombay Castle, 23rd May 1820 – a further payment of 15,465 Rupees in the Seringapatam Prize money is distributed by the Prize Committee.[53]

Sat 14th October 1820

The prize money dispute between the Madras and Bengal armies concerning the late Pindari or Maratha Wars has been referred to the King-in-Council for resolution. The Company has entered its usual claim for 50% of the proceeds.

Sat 13th January 1821

And talk of prize money? No, not a word
For though the gallant fellows well have won it
And sacrificed their youth and health – and heard
How much they may fairly expect upon it;
No hand to make e’en dividends is stirred
And they who ought to do it seem to shun it!
Look back to Amulnair, Bhurtpore and Kurry.
You’ll find Prize Agents seldom in a hurry.

Letter to the Editor – will any of the Prize Agents refute this poetic assertion that is published in the Gazette? What has happened to those many hundreds of thousands of Rupees that were realised by the army in the late Pindari war? Subalterns were told long ago to expect thousands of Rupees each.

Sat 21st April 1821

Captain Robertson is auctioning a huge collection of jewels at Poona using the good offices of the Company’s Collector in the Peshwa’s lands. It may be part of the seizures made in the Pindari War.[54] There are 1,000+ pearls, 200+ diamonds and 100+ emeralds. The auction is 1st May.

Sat 5th May 1821

Notice of Prize distribution, 26th April – The 2,500 men under Colonel Imlack are assessed to share 11,430 Rupees from the Concan part of the Pindari War. The Prize Agent gets 432 Rupees; Imlack gets one sixteenth = 714 Rupees; and the rest is distributed to the officers and men.

Sat 22nd September 1821

HMS Icarus arrived at Portsmouth from Pernambuco on 25th May and reports Lord Cochrane and General san Martin have captured Lima. This is the city in which the Royalists had concentrated their treasure and the prize money is fabulous.

HMS Icarus brought only £40,000 in silver but her captain says there is £2½ millions (280 tons) at Pernambuco awaiting a frigate for shipment.[55]

Sat 16th March 1822

Notice, 11th March – Cap 61 of the last parliament enacted that all unclaimed prize-money payable to members of the Company’s forces is to be appropriated to the Company. The army’s money will be paid into Lord Clive’s Fund whilst the navy’s money will go to the Poplar Seamen’s Hospital. Prize agents are to make payment to the appropriate charity within six months of this notice.

Sat 23rd March 1822

Cap 61’s treatment of prize money was mentioned in the 16th March edition above. It applies to prize money, head money, bounty money, salvage money and all booty derived from warlike service of the Indian army or navy.

Accounting for receipts of prize money is to be done on Oath (thus making false declarations matters of perjury). It exempts all prize accounts which have been lawfully closed.

The Company’s power to enforce this law is equivalent to the Admiralty jurisdiction in England but jurisdiction of offences is retained in England irrespective of the location of the prize fund.

Sat 22nd June 1822

The newspaper John Bull in the East says George IV has pressed Lord Hastings (Moira) to accept that part of the Indian prize-money that is due to him from the wars with the Marathas during his rule. He formerly refused to accept it although it should be a considerable sum. If Hastings does not take his, it pressures the Generals to decline theirs too. The money would then be considered a droit of the Crown and go to the King’s Civil List.

Sat 13th July 1822

Wood, the secretary of Sir Thomas Hislop, is returning to India as Prize Agent.

Sat 8th March 1823

The first estimates of prize-money from the war in the Deccan are arriving from London and they are rather promising. It is expected Sir Thomas Hislop will receive £200,000 and a subaltern about £2,000. Payments are said to be likely to commence in January 1823.

Sat 21st June 1823

The dispute over shares of the prize-money from the Deccan War has reached the Treasury Chambers where the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and three nobles are adjudicating the claims of Governor-General Hastings (Moira) and the Grand Army on the one part and Sir Thomas Hislop and the Army of the Deccan on the other.

They wish to base their apportionment on actual captures as suggested by Hastings. On that division the Poona, Mahidpore and Nagpore loot goes mainly to the Deccan Army. The claim of the India Company for an over-riding 50% has been dismissed. This payment featured in all previous prize distributions in India. A commission is appointed to calculate the precise details. (on the proposed basis, Hislop’s own share is about £300,000)

Vol 1 No 19 Sat 10th May 1828

A Spanish privateer Griego has caught the Mexican brig General Figueroa off the American west coast and another prize in the Mariana Islands. Both have been taken to Manila.

Vol 1 No 20 – Sat 17th May 1828

The two Mexican ships seized by a Spanish privateer and brought into Manila recently (see above) had cargoes totalling 700 quintals of Guatemalan indigo on board. Apparently there are no Spanish ships in Manila at present so the auction proceeds from prize sales will be low.

Friend of China 7.4.42 edition

Trade note : Inventory of the contents of prize junks taken in the Opium War revealed the presence of sarsaparilla which was sold at less than 6d per lb by the prize agent. It sells in London from 1/3d – 2/9d per lb.

To us it is known as a Brazilian product which we get from France after processing.

Liquorice was also found on the junks. We get it from Sicily and Spain at £6-7 per cwt.[56]

Vol 15 No 16, 19th April 1842

Friend of China, 14th April – Admiral Parker has ordered his ships to seize all Chinese coasting junks except those trading between Fukien ports and the British Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca, Penang).

If the cargo is the usual mix of general goods it should be destroyed. If it is valuable it should be brought to Hong Kong and handed over to the naval Prize Agent. Five navy officers have been appointed Agents and, given the size of the Chinese coasting trade, the commissions they receive are expected to be huge.

The prize agent at Hong Kong is Mr Whichelo, the purser of the Blenheim. He has advertised a quantity of Chinese copper cash for sale on 11.4.42 at 1,200 pieces for $1, about 70% of its commercial value.

Vol 15 No 24, 14th June 1842

The prize goods from China are to be sold at public auction in India by M/s Tulloh & Co. The Bengal Hurkaru says the army is pleased with the prospect.

Friend of China 3.11.42 edition

The Imperial Commissioners are negotiating to reduce the reparations to be paid by China to Britain. Pottinger has agreed to reduce it by the amounts paid or promised to be paid at Shanghai and the other towns visited in the war – about $500,000.

There is also $500,000 raised from sale of prize property, mostly guns and copper cash seized at Ningpo.

Friend of China 30.3.43 edition

Captain Anderson of HMS Pylades has been awarded £20 per head prize money on the 52 ‘pirates’ he killed at Chusan roads on 31st July 1842. A similar number escaped.

Friend of China 2.1.44 edition

Sir Charles Napier has again asked in the House of Commons on 14th August 43 about prize money for the army in China.

He says Canton was twice ransomed, first for $3 millions and later for $6 millions and a year’s batta was promised to the entire invading force but has not been paid.

700 coasting junks were seized in the early course of the war which would normally be regarded as prizes but were returned to the Chinese on the instructions of Admiral George Elliot.

Officers of the expedition have received Orders of the Bath and other distinctions but the sailors, who join the Royal Navy in large part to get prize money, have been deprived of their expectation.

Peel replied that the government had not yet advised Her Majesty on the subject. He needed to know the full expenses of the war before he could apportion rewards for service. For example, a sum of $250,000 has been received and Sir Henry Pottinger is being asked what it represented. ‘Until I know the costs of the war falling to the country to pay, I can make no disclosure about distribution of prize money. This does not mean the government is unaware of the bravery and distinction of the services’ he said.


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. The Company is sovereign in much of India and issues its own Letters of Marque authorising ship-owners to arm approved vessels and distress the enemy. This authorisation was deemed to be ultra vires in London in 1808. The ship-owner, officers and crew all partake of the value of ships and cargoes seized. The Company claims 50% of the proceeds of prize-taking. This half share was maintainable only in India – when litigated in London it was struck-out.
  2. Calcutta’s Admiralty Jurisdiction at this time is limited to the river. Condemnations of prize ships and cargo appears to have been done informally.
  3. The Pedier coast is the north and east coast of Aceh at the mouth of the Malacca Straits, a strategically and commercially important area.
  4. In the next edition the Editor recalls that Portugal is supposedly neutral and her ships are welcomed in Mauritius
  5. The India Company is a prodigious commodity trader in its own interest. Private merchants it has licensed are allowed the Indian coastal trade and traffic with the east of the Bay of Bengal and with the Celebes / Moluccas.
  6. This entitles the captors to head money in respect of the enemy crew; the same as paid to the army on capturing the garrison of a town.
  7. Only Jersey is well-populated. It is governed on behalf of Britain by an émigré popularly known as Philippe d’Auvergne, later Duc de Bouillon. He has been made an Admiral in the Royal Navy to give him authority over naval captains serving the island.
  8. An unpublished arrangement has been reached with the French administrators of the island. Hereafter privateering from Mauritius ceases.
  9. The British naval base on the North American east coast.
  10. According to ‘Dutch Asiatic Shipping in 17th & 18th Centuries’ by Bruijn, Gaastra & Schoffer almost every ship returning from the East at this time was made prize by the English. The invoice value of the cargo in the Indiamen that was thus lost appears to have been about 5.5 million Guilders. The Dutch Guilder contained slightly less than 10 grams silver. No information on the other 100 merchantmen or their cargoes is available. A handful of VOC ships reached safety at Setubal and in Norwegian ports. This loss induced the bankruptcy of the VOC and opened Dutch Asian trade to British and American agency.
  11. This will perplex the Canton Provincial government when the vessels arrive there. Foreign ships at Canton are known by the name of their Captains.
  12. A gold coin equivalent in value to 10 silver Rupees.
  13. It seems likely they all do but I have found no express statement to that effect.
  14. The island at the mouth of Manila Bay.
  15. This is how England secures international trade to herself, by arresting the ships of the other maritime states for carriage of enemy property, or in this case unusual papers. As a consequence the ship and cargo is usually condemned, sold off and the ship put back into service under British colours.
    British naval commanders have expert knowledge of the Orders-in-Council and the Judicial attitude to seizure. The monopoly of world trade has produced a demand from the City merchants to make London a free port.
  16. History of the Politicks of Great Britain and France’, 1800. An inexpensive paperback copy was reprinted in 2009 for propaganda study.
  17. FitzGerald’s analysis and the subsequent diplomatic documents, whilst specific to Denmark, are equally applicable to Sweden and largely to America. This may guide as to the usual positions of neutrals in confronting belligerents.
  18. Warships often carry cargoes of precious metals – in the Royal Navy its freight is a perk of the Captain, shared one third with the Admiral. There is regrettably very little information on British privateers in the newspapers. This report and another concerning privateering at Gibraltar are the only articles found.
  19. International agreements made in Europe have a schedule of dates for their effectiveness in other parts of the World. Application of terms in Asia is commonly six months after ratification in Europe.
  20. This will be cloves, which production had been confined to Ternate by the monopoly companies. First an Islamic local government, then Portugal and later the Netherlands. The distribution of production of Asian spices to other territories is just commencing at this period using the opportunity provided by war. It is a matter for British pride.
  21. This refers to the second agreement with America that was rushed through when the decision to war again with France was reached. The first (1794-95 Jay Treaty) agreement is also mentioned in the North America chapter.
  22. But note the earlier report that only captures by the French Navy are being sent back to Mauritius. Mauritian privateers are selling-off their captures elsewhere.
  23. Spanish accounts included other merchandise – alpaca wool, seal skins, tin and copper – and put the value higher. A cargo list for La Medee, La Mercedes, La Fama and La Clara is printed in the newspaper.
  24. Nelson was aware of this initiative and sought to restrain Moore until more warships could be assembled and the Spanish admiral’s submission assured, but this would have diminished the value of a share in the prizes.
  25. The missing treasure was believed to total £12 millions – see an article dated 27th November 1802 in the North America chapter.
  26. They later discovered the price was too modest and resolved to send the ship to London. Governor Dundas of Penang responded that he really meant to offer £500,000, which was accepted.
  27. The captors want Sight Bills on London to get the money home – several of the Agency Houses, the Royal Navy and the Company all sell Bills. As noted earlier the Hong merchants of Canton pay a premium for Carolus dollars and Select Committee members use them to buy British Bills in Chinese hands for as little as 70 percent of face value – part of the reason for the high price of a China writership.
  28. See the South America chapter and the dedicated chapter to Home Popham for more information about that gentleman’s activities in this period. The attacks on Spanish ships are consequent to King Ferdinand’s gifting Spain and its colonies to France. That transfer of sovereignty was ratified by all the courts of Europe except the Vatican and England. The transfer induced the British attempt to assume the sovereignty of Buenos Aires, purchase Cuba, etc.
  29. This is an unexpected result for the Americans from the Bombay Court. The Court’s reference to the Law of Nations should irritate the British ministry. This decision is totally opposed to the sense and reasoning of similar cases in Doctors’ Commons, the London court dealing with most prize cases, which deems all colonies to be operated in the way Britain’s colonies are operated. This Judgment was delivered during Sir James Mackintosh’s tenure as Recorder of Bombay.
  30. The Company effects these seizures safely and expeditiously because it receives advice from Europe overland more quickly than the continental Europeans.
  31. The money is most likely the proceeds of sales of Bills on Copenhagen.
  32. A perceptive comment. Denmark remains the one faithful friend of France throughout the long war. British merchants in Copenhagen are routinely abused in the streets.
  33. This was a frightful blow to British commerce but insufficient to induce peace.
  34. Wilcocks was said on his departure from China to have deducted $300,000 from his debts to Hong merchants on account of this loss.
  35. I published this article to indicate that at least this Indiaman had 25% Chinese crew and only about a third British crew. It will be recalled from an earlier newspaper report that the Company had sold 3,000 seamen to the Admiralty for £105,000. The Company actually has difficulty crewing its ships. The Royal Navy often presses direct from Indiamen and Masters have to make-up their crews as best they can.
  36. This is the sort of job an MP in the minister’s stable can expect from time to time.
  37. Head and gun money are substantial army prizes, payable on the numbers of soldiers and cannon taken in a conquered town.
  38. These shipping statistics are misleading – much smuggling into Europe is done in British-owned ships with foreign registry and crews. The preponderance of Licensed Europe trade in British manufactures and colonial goods must be done in foreign bottoms.
  39. In fact the Company is a buyer of girls in Indian slave markets for the entertainment of the men in the garrison towns, but that is a domestic matter. The illegality arises under British law enacted at Westminster in 1807.
  40. In the then British administration it was advantageous to get one’s version in first and obtain a commitment of support from the ministry before the other party could influence any other power-holder.
  41. See the Dissent Chapter for details of Burdett’s interesting case.
  42. I saw nothing about the licensing or conditions for British privateers in the newspaper throughout the twenty years of war. There are brief remarks concerning the 17 privateers approved for service in Indian waters by the India Company (acting ultra vires apparently) and the simple terms of their employment are mentioned in the Asia chapter – the owners must provide security to the Indian government, report use of arms and ammunition and, in Mauritius, the owners pay subsistence to the officers and crews of ships they have taken.
  43. It has become common practise today. Successful cases always cost the losing party far more in legal fees than unsuccessful ones.
  44. This is the beginning of the end for Cochrane in British public life. After a series of difficulties in London, including an anomalous prosecution of a relative that he is implicated in, he adjourns to South America and becomes the Admiral of the Chilean Navy – see the South America chapter.
  45. There is an interesting discussion yet to be had on the effect of windfall profits on the workings of the British economy. It appeared during the twenty years of war with France that prize money enhanced the gambling spirit of commerce which complimented and enhanced capitalism and particularly stock market activity. One recalls Pitt’s raffle of vast tracts of British land (quaintly called enclosure in some texts) and notes the insurance policies issued on forecasts of chance events – death of Napoleon, result of battles, etc. Easy come, easy go. It should be recalled that gambling was an important social activity of the ruling class in those days.
  46. The French General married the sister of the ex-Queen of Spain
  47. The new evidence was not presented and the Fox, and several other American ships whose condemnation depended on this case, were all condemned. Note the Prize Courts determination that British Orders-in-Council were retaliatory for French Decrees – that is a nationalistic view of the facts. The extension of war to trade was commenced by Britain with the Order-in-Council of 16th May 1806 blockading the N W European coast to which the Berlin Decree responded. The Orders of January and November of the following year elicited the Milan Decree and the American responses.
  48. He was already suspect for offering assistance to Sir Francis Burdett in evading the Speaker’s Writ (see the Dissent chapter). He later leads a fun life as Admiral of successively Chile, Brazil and Greece.
  49. Lord Cochrane is about to be indicted for conspiracy to manipulate share prices – it will remind him ‘he is one and they are many’.
  50. Thorndike is in the China trade, based at Salem. He owned the brig Rambler which he deployed on the business. Sturgis is the well-known China trader – see the chapters of that name for further details of his business.
  51. Special juries were supplied from a list of 48 men selected by the Crown of whom 12 are picked to hear the case. Jurors get a guinea a case and they are said to often pay to get on the list. If they displease the Judge they are struck-off. Cochrane concludes he was not tried by a jury of his peers, a Constitutional derogation.
  52. That France would beat Prussia and secure the service of that country’s army against the Austro-Russian force. Such an event would restore Napoleon’s authority and power and cause British funds to lose value.
  53. The war against Tippoo and the occupation of his capital at Seringapatam are described in many articles in the first Asia chapters.
  54. The Company’s army officers are incensed by the endless delay in distribution of prize money which is now at least partially outstanding back to Cornwallis’ wars.
  55. See the South American chapter for better details of the independence struggles. There are in fact two British frigates stationed by the Admiralty on the South American west coast ‘for observations.’
  56. After two centuries of East India Company’s trade in China and repeated Company assertions that it cannot be increased!

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