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Friday, March 21, 2014

Mrs. R. and the privateer

The Friendship sails from Malacca, and Eleanor hears about an exciting encounter

On the 15th of August [1800] we sailed from Malacca with a fine breeze; no person on board had to regret touching here. The officers, seamen, and lascars, who were tired of the feathered tribe, sold their birds very well at this place; some fetched as high as ten and twelve dollars, each, particularly the luries [lories] from Gillolo. The lascars were then rich in money, as well as in many little comforts which the place so plentifully afforded. 

In the evening we reached Cape Ricardo [Rachado], where we were obliged to anchor and furl all the sails, in consequence of one of those storms of thunder, lightning, and rain, to which I before alluded as prevalent in these latitudes. There we remained all night and next day; passed through that dangerous channel which extends on both sides from the mount called Parcellar [Gunung Ledang], on the Malay side, and some small rocky islands on the Sumatra side, called the Arrowes [possibly some of the Riau Islands].  Before dark we were reckoned clear of all danger, and the following day saw upon our right the islands called the Sambelongs.  We were still, however, annoyed with heavy squalls, but were not, as before, under the necessity of anchoring, having, as the sailors expressed it, more sea room.

On the 17th we saw five sail of ships a-head; this number gave us more confidence than the sight of a single one would have done, and we therefore stood on towards them. One of these proved to be the [HEIC letter of marque] Arniston, Capt. [Campbell] Majoribanks, bound to China: our captain went on board, and learn from Mr. Jamieson [James Jameson, first mate] the particulars of the attack made on it by a privateer at Bencoolen. 

It appeared that the Armiston had just anchored, and the seamen were aloft furling sails; they had no suspicion of the strange ship that was approaching with American colours hoisted; but the privateer no sooner got within gun-shot, than she fired her broadside into the Indiaman. Not a moment was lost on the other side in getting the people down, when they slipped the cable and followed her; this was of little use, there was no equality between the sailing of the ships, and the privateer made off, no doubt finding herself mistaken in the superior force of the enemy, and the latter concluded that the privateer had taken them for a country ship, manned with lascars. 

Capt. Majoribanks said that he had landed a detachment of sepoys at Penang, and advised our putting in there, having no doubt but they would be sent to Calcutta with us, and besides a protection, they being all armed, the business would pay the owners of the ships very well.

In consequence of this information, it was determined upon to call at the above-mentioned place, it being also reported that the Bay of Bengal was infested with several privateers. The next day we came in sight of Prince of Wales’ Island, or Penang, and anchored in the harbour on the 20th of August, saluting Fort Cornwallis with nine guns, which number was returned. The ship had but just anchored, and the sails been secured with all possible expedition, when one of the Sumatra storms came on, with the most tremendous peals of thunder, lightning, and rain; but we were now so accustomed to these visitations, after a passage of thirteen weeks, and running upwards of eighty degrees of longitude within a short distance of the equator, that they had become little alarming to any on board.

After this, the captain landed, and repaired to the master attendant’s office, when he was accompanied by Mr. [John] Baird to the government-house, and was introduced to Sir George Leith, the commandant. The offer of the ship to take on the troops to Calcutta was accepted, provided the ship could stay four or five days, to enable them to prepare provisions, water, &c. It was mentioned that there was water enough on board for double the number of men to be conveyed to Calcutta; however, they thought proper to detain us, saying, that as the troops were Hindoos they must fill their own water.

Mr. Baird, the master attendant, came on board, and very politely offered us apartments at his house during our stay, which were accepted, and I landed next morning, determined to make good use of my time while we remained. I was anxious to see all that was worth notice at this second Botany Bay, as it was termed by our host, Mr. B., who had much satire in his disposition and conversation, although in every respect a worthy and honourable character, and had commanded an Indiaman in the service of the Company many years previous to his appointment to this island.

Captain John Baird had commanded more than one East Indiaman:  first, he was captain of the Rochford, 1773, 1775-76, and 1777-79; then he took over the Locho for  two voyages, 1785-86, 1787-88.  He was also, as Mrs. R. was to find out, an affable and amusing host.

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