The Royal Navy and the African Pirates
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One hundred and fifty years ago the Royal Navy fought a daring campaign against ruthless pirates and won, killing ‘The King of the Pirates’, Bartholomew Roberts off the coast of Africa and capturing his fleet. Scores of his men were executed by the Admiralty Court.
On the Barbary Coast of North Africa pirates preyed on shipping in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic as they had done for centuries and they terrorized the populations of the coastal towns. To them, piracy was a way of life, and the great sea-powers of the day couldn’t stop them. Then, in one of the most remarkable – and neglected – anti-piracy operations in maritime history, the Royal Navy confronted them, defeated them and made the seas safe for trade.
This is the subject of Graham A. Thomas’ compelling new study of one of the most pernicious episodes in the history of African piracy. As he tells this compelling story, he uncovers the long tradition of piracy and privateering along the African shore. Vividly he describes attacks not only in the Mediterranean but also on the other side of the continent, along the shores of West Africa and around Madagascar. But perhaps the most telling sections of his narrative concern critical engagements that stand out from the story – the daring rescue of the British merchant ship The Three Sisters by HMS Polyphemus in 1848 and the actions of the battleship HMS Prometheus against the Rif pirates a few years later.
His account is based on documents held at the National Archives and other original sources. It gives a fascinating inside view into the way in which the Royal Navy responded to the menace of piracy in the nineteenth century.
- Pen and Sword, October 2011
Pen and Sword
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