Piracy off Pontianak in the Early Nineteenth Century-And Not by the Usual Villains; with an Appendix on Captain Hercules Ross, Country Trader and Native of Jamaica

By Smith, F. Andrew | Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Piracy off Pontianak in the Early Nineteenth Century-And Not by the Usual Villains; with an Appendix on Captain Hercules Ross, Country Trader and Native of Jamaica


Smith, F. Andrew, Borneo Research Bulletin


Introduction

In a series of articles in Borneo Research Bulletin (BRB) I have covered aspects of trade in the early nineteenth century between Borneo and other Asian countries, i.e. so-called "country trade" (Smith 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009). I have emphasized the various hardships that were experienced by the mariners and described some of their voyages and experiences from contemporary records. In this context I covered in some detail voyages by Captain Daniel Smith, who was based in Penang, over a period of seven years before his death at Malacca in 1815 (Smith

2008). (1) There was a short hiatus in my account, between Smith's departure from Penang late in November 1808 as commander of the Margaret and his (probable) return in April 1809 as a passenger on the Clyde. (2) I have now discovered that the cause of this hiatus was piracy by some of the Margaret's crew off Pontianak. This is recounted in an affidavit ("protest") by Smith in Malacca, as recorded in one of the manuscript "Prothocol Books" (cited here as PB) that included many legal issues that were part of the Dutch legal system in Malacca. They were continued after the British first took over in 1795 and contain a huge amount of information, such as purchase and ownership of slaves. (3) The records include affidavits by commanders who had experienced maritime mishaps that include damage to cargo or loss of vessels, and sought to establish that they were not responsible; this was probably for purposes of insurance.

The records are nearly all in Dutch, with the affidavits that I consider here in English. For example, a quite long account of the loss by shipwreck of the Triton north of Malacca in August 1808 (PB R/9/22/35:277) mentions that one of the vessels that arrived in an unsuccessful bid to save cargo was the Margaret of Penang, commanded by Daniel Smith. This was some months before the Margaret was pirated, as described in Smith's later affidavit (PB R/9/22/136:340). In addition to the latter there is an affidavit soon afterwards by Captain Hercules Ross, another country trader and then based in Malacca (PB R/9/22/36:356). The cause was again piracy off Pontianak, and again not by local inhabitants. The present article describes these events and is intended to be the last in the series focusing on country trade involving Borneo in the early 19th century. As previously, it extends beyond Borneo, and much further than originally expected. Some of the other mariners who I have discussed earlier in BRB reappear here, thus closing some gaps. Research on Hercules Ross reveals that he was a particularly interesting character and I have given in an Appendix some details of his life and family. Another significant character who briefly appears is Alexander Hare--he later achieved fame and notoriety because of his short-lived fiefdom in South Borneo, and his even later dispute with John Clunies Ross when they both settled on the Cocos-Keeling Islands. Hare deserves separate treatment that I hope to provide in the future.

Daniel Smith's protest and the aftermath

Dated 21 March 1809, the affidavit was signed by Daniel Smith, who described himself as late commander of the ship Margaret of Prince of Wales Island. He recorded that he had sailed from Penang on 21 November 1808 and arrived four or five days later at Malacca, where he sold some his cargo, with the proceeds remitted by Alexander Hare (who was by then based in Malacca) to Carnegy and Co. in Penang. Smith proceeded on a standard course to Riau, Lingga, and the Kapuas estuary (Pontianak roads), where the ship arrived on 9 December. Smith went up the river to the town to conduct his business and on 24 December sent the longboat to the ship with a cargo of water. On 26 December lascars arrived in Pontianak with several Chinese fishermen. They reported that the ship had departed and that Java men in the longboat had killed the ship's gunner (possibly a European) and fled ashore. …

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