Copyright 2014-2020 Hidden Wirral
THE " Spacious days of great Elizabeth " were the golden age of privateering, in the sense that the profession was carried on by men cast in the heroic mould, who disdained to draw too nice a distinction between privateering and piracy. Elizabeth was the sailor's friend, "the restorer of the glory of shipping, and the Queen of the North Sea." Camden tells us that "the wealthier inhabitants of the sea- coast, in imitation of their princess, built ships of war, striving who should exceed, insomuch that the Queen's navy, joined with her subjects' shipping, was, in short time, so puissant that it was able to bring forth 20,000 fighting men for sea service." The ships so benevolently provided by the wealthier inhabitants of the sea coast were, of course, privateers, but Liverpool was at that time too insignificant and poor a place to indulge in the romantic and fashionable patriotism of the age. It is in this reign we find privateering first mentioned in connection with Liverpool. In 1563 a privateer, fitted out by Sir Thomas Stanley, of Hooton, son of the Earl of Derby, brought a prize into the river Mersey "with great rejoicings." Another privateer, fitted out by the licensed victuallers of Chester, brought in a French prize, whereupon the " shipping shot off so noble a peal of guns, so quick and fast one upon another, that the like was never heard in these parts of England and Wales." In the year 1566 two prizes arrived, one of which was subsequently ransomed. It is now impossible to say when the first private armed ship left the port of Liverpool, but as the Tower in Water Street was for many ages the seaside residence and place of embarkation of the Derby family, it is probable that their ships, armed, of course, against corsairs, or for naval warfare, were among the earliest that set out. The ships of the Stanleys, in fact, are mentioned in our old poetry. In the ballad of "Lady Bessie" Lord Stanley promises Elizabeth of York to send her messenger Humphrey Brereton, to Henry VII. " I have a gude shippe of mine owne Shall carry Humfrey ; If any man aske whoes is the shippe ? Saye it is the Earle's of Derbye. Without all doubt at Liverpoole He tooke shipping upon the sea." Nearly five hundred years have flown since Isabel of Lathom gave her hand and, let us hope, her heart to the gallant Sir John Stanley, who received from his father- in-law the site upon which he erected the Tower in Water Street. The close connection thus begun between the Stanleys and the citizens of Liverpool has grown and strengthened with the years, and while these lines are being penned, the sixteenth Earl of Derby sits in his official residence as Lord Mayor of Greater Liverpool, within bow-shot of the site of the ancient fortress and town house of his ancestors. Though he may not possess "a gude shippe" of his own to carry Humfrey, he has but to telephone down the street to the' neighbourhood of the Tower, and floating palaces, surpassing in splendour the happiest dreams of "Lady Bessie," will be placed at his disposal for a consideration to take shipping upon the sea. About the time of the sailing of the Spanish Armada, the Town Council providentially laid in 300 pounds of gun- powder, and ordered "a gun" to be set up at Nabbe (afterwards Pluckington) Point, above the pool.
It was the good fortune of a Liverpool captain and shipowner, how- ever, to render a more important service to his Queen and country at that exciting time. Worthy Master Humfraye Brooke brought to England the first intelligence of the Armada being at sea. He was outward bound from Liverpool to the Canaries when he espied the Biscayan division of the Spanish fleet in the distance, sailing north. Suspecting its errand, he put ship about and made all haste to Plymouth, whence he despatched couriers, or perhaps went himself, to London. He received substantial marks of favour from the Government for his foresight, prudence, and activity. Liverpool was not then able to add much to the fleet of upwards of a hundred merchantmen, which joined the twenty ships of the Royal Navy and took so distinguished a part in baffling, defeating, and dispersing the "invincible" Armada. In 1634 tne memorable levy of ship money took place. The whole county was assessed at the sum of ^475, of which Liverpool was required to pay ^15, raised in the following year to ^25. During the Civil War, the Tower in Water Street was garrisoned by the retainers of Lord Derby, the castle being held by Lord Molyneux. We cannot linger over this period of Liverpool history in which the fiery Prince Rupert found that the men of Liverpool were foemen worthy of his steel, for the "crow's nest" which he despised was not taken without an incessant cannonade carried on for eighteen days, and numerous assaults, in which he lost 1,500 men. It is sufficient for our present purpose to observe that the capture of the town by the Parliamentary forces was a serious blow to the royal cause, as it gave Parliament and its partisans the power of fitting out vessels of war in the Mersey, and of thus interrupting the communications with Ireland, whence the Lord-lieutenant of the King, the Marquis of Ormonde, was preparing to send supplies and reinforcements to the Royal party.
Several frigates, or small vessels, were fitted out at Liverpool one of them by Colonel John Moore. A number of Liverpool frigates, under the command of Captain Banks, cruised in the Irish Channel, sometimes blockading Dublin, and cutting off the supplies of provisions, coal, and other necessaries, which that city previously obtained from England. The cruisers also added much to the difficulty of sending over reinforcements to England. So great was the inconvenience produced by the Liverpool Squadron that the Marquis of Ormonde strongly urged the royalists in Chester to attack Liverpool by sea. The Marquis, writing to Lord Byron, January 16, 1643, says : " When they (the Royal fleet) are gone, it is too probable the Liverpool ships will look out again, if that town be not in the meantime reduced, which I most earnestly recommend your lordship to think of and attempt as soon as you possibly can, there being no service that, to my apprehension, can at once so much advantage this place (Dublin) and Chester, and make them so useful to each other." The merchants of Liverpool have always been a shrewd, far-seeing race, and an instance of their readiness to make the most of their opportunities turns up in an unexpected quarter. In the recently published Kenyon MSS. we find, under date 1702, "Reasons humbly offered by Henry Jones, Esquire, for building a mould or harbour in Whit- sand Bay, at the Land's End, in Cornwall." The tenth reason adduced is as follows : " By all the above it is likewise further manifest that even in times of peace there hath not nor can be secure trading 'twixt St. George's and the British Channels, or anywhere to the westward of the Land's End, without this proposed mould, and that for want of it there hath been and may be more ships lost (yearly, besides the men's lives) than three times the value of what would erect the same. Hence, the Leverpoole merchants, during all the last war, possessed those who trade from London that their ships might come safer north about Ireland, unload their effects at Leverpoole, and be at charge of land-carriage from thence to London, rather than run the hazard of having their ships taken by the enemy, or wreckt, by reason of the great dangers of Scilly, the Land's End, Mount's Bay, Lizzard, and all the South Channell to London, which hath proved an unspeakable detriment to all the trading seaport towns that border upon the British Channell ; which evills would effectually be prevented were there an harbour and light- house at the Land's End of England."
In the reign of George II. Liverpool ships, in common with those belonging to other British seaports, were plundered, and their crews maltreated by the Spanish Guarda Costas, whose depredations, carried on with impunity for several years, aroused at length the indignation of the whole country. In 1728, while the fate of Europe continued in suspense, while the English fleet lay inactive and rotting in the West Indies, the sailors perishing miserably without daring to avenge their country's wrongs, the merchants of Liverpool, London, Bristol, and other places petitioned the House of Commons for redress. The House instituted inquiries, and passed resolutions accusing the Spaniards of violating the treaty between the two crowns, and with having treated with inhumanity the masters and crews of British ships. The King, in reply to the address of the Commons, promised to procure satisfaction. The outrages went on and grew in number and daring until, in 1737* the whole nation cried for vengeance, and petitions from merchants in all parts of the country poured into the House of Commons, which, at length, in Grand Committee, proceeded to hear counsel for the merchants, and examine evidence, by which it appeared that amazing acts of wanton cruelty and injustice had been perpetrated by Spaniards on the subjects of Great Britain. In the following year the King informed Parliament that a Convention with Spain had been ratified. When the terms of the Convention became known, many merchants, planters, and others trading to America, the cities of London and Bristol, the merchants of Liverpool, and the owners of ships which had been seized by the Spaniards presented petitions against it. In a great debate in the Commons, Mr. Pitt denounced the Convention as dishonourable to Great Britain, but, in spite of strong opposition, the Convention received the approval of both houses. In 1739, Spain, having failed to pay the money stipulated in the Convention as compensation to those who had suffered by the depredations, letters of marque and reprisal were granted against the Spaniards. The British Minister at Madrid politely explained to the Court of Spain that his master, although he had permitted his subjects to make reprisals, would not be understood to have broken the peace, and that this per- mission would be recalled as soon as his Catholic Majesty should be disposed to make satisfaction. The King of Spain failed to appreciate the nicety of the distinction perceived by the British monarch, and proceeded to defend himself by vigorous words and actions.
A declaration of war on both sides soon followed, and in 1744 France declared war against England. Referring to this period, the author of " Williamson's Liverpool Memorandum Book," published in 1753, advanced the remarkable theory that the town flourished more in war than in peace. "In the last war, 1739 to 1748," he says, "trade flourished and spread her golden wing's so extensively that, if they had possessed it seven years longer, it would have enlarged the size and riches of the town to a prodigious degree. The harbour being situated so near the mouth of the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland (a passage very little known to or frequented by the enemy) afforded many conveniences to the merchants here, untasted by those of other ports, which invited numbers of strangers from different parts to beg-in trade and settle here, finding it so advantageous a mart. Trade since the late peace has not been so brisk as formerly, but it appears by the Custom House books to be much revived. The chief manufactures carried on here are blue and white earthenware, which at present almost vie with China (large quantities are exported for the Colonies abroad), and watches, which are not to be excelled in Europe. All the different branches are manufactured in and about the town, to supply the London and foreign markets." It is true that in this war the commerce of Liverpool suffered much less than that of London, Bristol, and Hull from the privateers of the enemy, but the prosperity had prob- ably more to do with black than golden wings, the number of slave ships having grown from one vessel of 30 tons in 1709, to 72 ships of 7547 tons in 1753.
In 1749 the total tonnage of vessels that entered the port was 28,250 tons. In 1751 the number of ships that entered was 543, with a tonnage of 31,731. For the next hundred years Liverpool went on steadily, doubling her trade about every sixteen years. In the year 1744, Liverpool appears to have possessed four privateers, namely, the Old Noll, of 22 guns and 180 men, Captain Powell ; the Terrible, of 22 guns and 180 men, Captain Cole ; the Thurloe, of 12 guns and 100 men, Captain Dugdale ; and the Admiral Blake, whose armament is not stated, commanded by Captain Edmondson. The Terrible recaptured, and sent into Waterford, the Joseph, of Bristol, laden with logwood, tar, etc., which had been taken on the homeward passage from Boston by a Bilbao privateer. The Terrible also recaptured the Brom- field, of Bristol, Captain Sharp, which had been taken by the French on the passage from St. Kitts to Bristol. The L' Amiable Martha, from St. Domingo for Bordeaux, was taken and carried into Cork by the Terrible. The prize cargo consisted of 370 hogsheads and 44 barrels of sugar, 57 casks of coffee, 1 1 hogsheads of indigo, one hogshead white sugar, 1,270 pieces of eight, and five cobs of gold. In 1746 the Terrible captured a Martinico ship and sent her into Liverpool. In July, 1744, we read that the Thurloe had captured a vessel with wine ; and about the same time that the Vulture privateer, of Bayonne, 14 carriage guns and 118 men, had been taken and carried into Cork by the Thurloe and the Blake privateers of Liverpool.
The Admiral Blake took a Martinico ship, and, in company with the Thurloe, carried into Cork the Admiral, a rich French ship from Martinico for Bordeaux. In the capture list of August, 1744, we read that the Thurloe privateer of Liverpool, and her prize, a Martinico man, were taken by a French privateer, but afterwards retaken by the Thurloe's consort, the Old Noll, with the Frenchmen on board, and carried into Cork. After a smart engagement, the French privateer, of 36 guns and 300 men, sheered off. The Old Noll took the Providence, from Bordeaux for Martinico, and carried her into Kinsale ; and recaptured the Hannah, Captain Fowler, from Jamaica, which she sent into Cork. The Old AW/ also took a prize off the Start, and a fishing vessel with 30 men, "three of them Irish," and the City of Nantz, a very large ship from St. Domingo for Nantz, which she convoyed to Liverpool. Finally, the Old Noll recaptured and carried to Liverpool the Sarah, from Carolina for London, which had been taken by a French privateer called the Count de Maurepas, who had captured five prizes. In November, 1745, the sad intelligence reached Liverpool that the Old Noll had been sunk, with all her crew, by the Brest squadron. In June, 1748, the capture lists recorded that "a Dutch ship, from Bordeaux to Dunkirk, with bale goods and spices, and a French sloop from Cape Francois, coming express with the account of the English taking Port Louis," had been captured by the Warren privateer, of Liverpool. Early in the same year a vessel called L'Amitie, bound for St. Domingo, was taken and carried to Antigua by a Captain Johnson, of Liverpool. Liverpool commerce suffered heavily from the privateers of the enemy, and the few captures recorded above offer a sad contrast to .the long list of Liverpool vessels taken during the war.* Captain Fortunatus Wright was undoubtedly the most famous British privateer commander of his time, and Liverpool's favourite hero during the first half of the eighteenth century. In the few memorials of his life and character which we have gathered together he strikes the imagination as the ideal and ever-victorious captain, around whose name and fate clings the halo of mystery and romance.
Smollett, the historian, has paid the following tribute to his memory: "Sir Edward Hawke, being- disappointed in his hope of encountering la Galissoniere, and relieving the English garrison of St. Philip's, at least asserted the empire of Great Britain in the Mediterranean, by annoying the commerce of the enemy and blocking up their squadron in the harbour of Toulon. Understanding that the Austrian government at Leghorn had detained an English privateer and imprisoned the captain on pretence that he had violated the neutrality of the port, he detached two ships of war to insist in a peremptory manner on the release of the ship, effects, crew, and captain ; and they thought proper to comply with his demand, even without waiting for orders from the Court of Vienna. The person in whose behalf the Admiral thus interposed was one Fortunatus Wright, a native of Liverpool, who though a stranger to a sea-life, had in the last war* equipped a privateer, and distinguished himself in such a manner by his uncommon vigilance and valour, that if he had been indulged with a command suitable to his genius, he would have deserved as honourable a place in the annals of the navy as that which the French have bestowed upon their boasted Gue Trouin, Du Bart, and Thurot. An uncommon exertion of spirit was the occasion of his being detained at this juncture. While he lay at anchor in the harbour of Leghorn, commander of the St. George Privateer of Liverpool, a small ship of 12 guns and 80 men, a large French xebeque, mounted with 16 cannon and nearly three times the number of his complement, chose her station in view of the harbour, in order to interrupt the British commerce. The gallant Wright could not endure this insult ; notwith- standing the enemy's superiority in metal and number of men, he weighed anchor, hoisted his sails, engaged him *War of the Austrian Succession.
within sight of the shore, and after a very obstinate dispute, in which the Captain, lieutenant, and above three score of the men belonging to the xebeque were killed on the spot, he obliged them to sheer off, and returned to the harbour in triumph. This brave corsair would, no doubt, have signalised himself by many other exploits, had not he, in the sequel, been overtaken in the midst of his career by a dreadful storm, in which the ship foundering, he and all his crew perished."* Professor Laughton, in his "Studies in Naval History," very properly doubts whether Smollett is entirely correct in his statements regarding Wright's early life. " His father," he says, ' ' who was of Cheshire origin, was a master mariner and shipowner, and I have little doubt that Wright himself followed the sea in his youth probably as his father's appren- tice, or afterwards in command of one of his father's ships. The evidence is indeed very strong that he was far from a stranger to a sea life. William Hutchinson, for many years dockmaster at Liverpool, and who, on the title-page of his 'Treatise on Practical Seamanship,' styles himself as dis- tinctively 'Mariner' the sort of man who, in the last century, would have divided the human race into seamen and land- lubbers speaks with evident pride of having served under Fortunatus Wright, and frequently refers to the practice of 'that great,' 'that worthy hero,' as illustrating different points of seamanship. He had, however, retired from the sea, and settled down as a merchant and shipowner. Beyond that, little is known, but it is believed that he became involved in a tedious and costly lawsuit on account of one of his ships with letters of marque detaining a vessel in which the Turkey Company had an interest. In this there is possibly some confusion with a later incident, the circumstances of which are before us ; but at any rate we may accept the statement that, consequent on this lawsuit, and not caring to abide another with which he was threatened, he realised his property and left Liverpool." For these personal details, Professor Laughton was indebted to the kindness of Mr. Fortunatus Evelyn Wright, Consul for Sweden and Norway at Christchurch, New Zealand. Mr. F. E. Wright, or rather his elder brother, Mr. Sydney Evelyn Wright, formerly a paymaster in the navy, is the lineal representative of our privateer captain, as well as of John Evelyn, the author of " Sylva," and the first treasurer of Greenwich Hospital.*
According to Smithers' History of Liverpool, Fortunatus Wright was the son of Captain John Wright, mariner, who died in April, 1717, and who gallantly defended his ship for several hours against two vessels of superior force, as is recorded on a plain tombstone in St. Peter's churchyard ; which records also that 4i Fortunatus Wright, his son, was always victorious, and humane to the vanquished. He was a constant terror to the enemies of his king and country." After giving the substance of Smollett's account, Mr. Smithers adds, "but tradition tells that he became a victim to political interests. The tombstone is silent as to the cause of his death." It is to be regretted that so little is known of the early life of a brave man, of whom Liverpool has reason to be proud. In June, 1742, Captain Fortunatus Wright was travel- ling in Italy, where he met with an adventure which is thus related in a letter from Horace Mann, the British Resident, to his friend Horace Walpole : "Captain Wright's daughter, Philippa, married Charles, the grandson of John Evelyn, of Wottun, whose daughter, Susanna, married her first cousin once removed, John Ell worthy Fortunatus Wright, who served as a lieutenant in the navy during the war of American Independence, and retired after the peace of 1783. He was subsequently appointed master of the George's Dock, Liverpool, where he was accidental!}' killed in the year 1798. Some of his descendants, doubtless, still reside in Liverpool, though the elder branch of the hero's family emigrated many years ago to New Zealand.
"For this last week I have had Complaints made to me which were brought by an Express, of an Englishman, one Wright's design to storm the Town and Republick of Lucca, which horrid design was manifested by his obstinate refusal to deliver a couple of Pistols to the Guards at the Gate, and his presenting one of them cocked at the Corporal, and twenty soldiers that demanded them of him, threatening to kill them if they persisted. Much mischief might have ensued had not a Colonel with thirty more soldiers taken this valiant Squire Prisoner. He was con- ducted with the above attendants to his Inn, where he found another Guard, and two were placed in his bed- chamber, till one of the Lucchese noblemen to whom our Countryman had recommendations, found means to persuade the Republick that no mischief should ensue. He was kept three days prisoner, when at four o'clock in the morning, just as his Servant was setting out post to tell me, he received a message from the Gonfaloniere, by an officer who speaks English, 'that since he had been so daring as to endeavour to enter the Town by force of Arms, it was therefore ordered that he should forthwith leave the State never presume to enter it again without leave from the Republick ; and that there were post horses at the door of his house, as well as a Guard of Soldiers, to see him out of the Territories of the Republick ! ' He answered a great deal not much to the purpose. However, his compliance with the orders put an end to what had made a great noise, and for three days had put their Excellencies in an uproar."* It is supposed that after this remarkable adventure Captain Wright lived with his wife and family either at Leghorn or Florence for about four years. His connection with John Evelyn, and his letters of introduction to the Lucchese nobleman, show that he was a man of good social position.
Professor Laughton, who has seen speci- mens of his handwriting, pronounces it to be that of a man of culture and education. "The hand," he says, " is not of a commercial character, still less is it the hand of a rude seaman, more familiar with the marling- spike than the pen." Soon after the outbreak of war with France in 1744, Wright conjointly, probably, with the English merchants in Leghorn, fitted out the brigantine Fame "to cruise against the enemies of Great Britain." In the "Gentleman's Magazine" for January, 1744, it is recorded that the Swallow, Captain Wright, from Lisbon for London, had been taken by the Begonia and ransomed at sea, her former captain, Mr. Hutchinson, being detained as security. We have no means of knowing whether the Swallow belonged to our Captain Wright or not, but it is scarcely conceivable that with Fortunatus Wright and William Hutchinson on board either the Swalloiv or any other vessel would have struck. We know, however, that it is to this period of Wright's romantic career that Captain Hutchinson refers in his observations on a ship cruising on her station, which we have quoted in a previous chapter as illustrating the tactics of these two daring and successful commanders. In the "Gentleman's Magazine" for November, 1746, we read that two French ships from Smyrna for Marseilles were taken "by the Fame privateer, Captain Wright, fitted out by the merchants at Leghorn, and carried into Messina ; " and a month later the same publication stated that the Fame had captured 16 French ships in the Levant, worth ,400,000 sterling; also that 18 of our West India and other ships were carried into French ports. The " London Gazette" reported the captures as follows: "Sixteen French ships, taken by the Fame Privateer, Captain Fortunatus Wright, in the Mediterranean ; two of them about 200 tons each, brought into Messina on October 13, and the others sent into Leghorn.
The largest of the two ships was fitted out by the French factories on the coast of Caramania with 20 guns and 150 men ; but after a smart engagement of three hours with the Fame off the isle of Cyprus, the Frenchmen ran their ship ashore and escaped, while the English took possession of the ship, and got her afloat again." On the i Qth of December, 1746, the Fame captured a French ship, bound from Marseilles for Naples, with the Prince of Campo Florida's baggage on board, and carried her into Leghorn, notwithstanding that the French vessel had a pass from his "Sacred majesty, King George the Second." This was a most irregular, not to say irreverent, action, the only excuse offered being the omission of the vessel's name in the pass. She was sent into Leghorn to be condemned in the usual way; and, no doubt, the Prince of Campo Florida used very sulphurous language when he heard the fate of his equipage and baggage ; so did Mr. Goldsworthy, the English Consul at Leghorn, who was aghast at the "insult" offered to his Majesty's pass. We are not sure that Wright himself was in command of the Fame when this "outrage" on majesty was committed, but he speedily received a very strongly-worded exhortation from the consul to set the prize at liberty. The captain would not give way to the consul, but afterwards, on the representation of the British Minister, he agreed to refer the affair to the naval commander-in-chief on the station, who decided against him, and the prize w r as released. A far more serious international dispute next claimed his attention. Early in 1747 the Ottoman Porte complained that Turkish property on board French ships had been seized by English privateers, and especially by Captain Fortunatus Wright, in the Fame. Mr. Goldsworthy, the English Consul at Leghorn, who had been instructed toenquire into the matter, wrote to Captain Wright for an explanation, and received a reply which was the reverse of satisfactory to the Turkish merchants whose property had been confiscated.
" The two ships named," wrote Captain Wright, "had each of them a French pass, and both of them belonged to Marseilles. They also hoisted French colours and struck them to me ; nay, the latter engaged me for a considerable time under these colours. For these reasons I brought them to Leghorn, and have had them legally condemned in the Admiralty Court, by virtue of which sentence I have disposed of them and distributed the money."* The fact that the prize money had been realized, distri- buted, and probably spent by the captors, though grievous to the Turkish mind, was not permitted to end the matter. The influence of the Turkey Company was strong enough to procure from the British Government fresh instructions dated March 30, 1747, for the Privateers and Admiralty Courts in the Mediterranean, to the effect that Turkish property on board even French vessels was not prize. Captain Wright naturally refused to allow the order in his case to be retrospective, and as he positively declined to disgorge, an order was sent from England to have him arrested and sent home. On December nth, 1747, the Tuscan authorities obligingly clapped him into prison, but refused to deliver him up to Consul Goldsworthy, who vainly argued that as commander of an English private ship he was subject to consular jurisdiction. Captain Wright remained a prisoner in the fortress of Leghorn for about six months ; then an order came from Vienna to hand him over to the English Consul. Whilst Goldsworthy was waiting for an opportunity to send the stubborn hero to England, a new command bade him set him at liberty on the ground that Wright had " given bail in the High Court of Admiralty to answer the action commenced against him." This was done on or about June loth, 1748.
The special ground of this action, which ran on in a manner highly pleasing to the legal mind and profitable to the legal pocket, was the seizure of Turkish property on board the Hermione, a French ship taken by the Fame on February 26th, 1747, the proceeds from which Captain Wright refused to give up. The suit was still pending in June, 1749, a year after the captain's release, for on the 4th of June he sent a long statement of his case to Consul Goldsworthy, concluding in these characteristic words : " The cargo was all sold at public auction, for which I have proper vouchers ; therefore, I am surprised at the manner the Turkey Company have represented this affair, or that they should trouble his Grace, after they have prosecuted me, after they had caused me to be confined near six months at their instance, and have since found their libel totally rejected, and that I am acquitted from the charge. They attacked me at law ; to that law I must appeal ; if I have acted contrary to it, to it I must be responsible ; for I do not apprehend I am so to any agent of the Grand Signior, to the Grand Signior himself, or to any other power, seeing I am an Englishman and acted under a commission from my prince." The correspondence about the Hermione was still going on in 1750, when Wright entered into partnership with Captain William Hutchinson. It seems that Wright did not disgorge after all, but how the lawsuit ended whether it was nursed to death by the lawyers, or merged in some diplomatic settlement with the " Grand Signior," is not known. It might be supposed that Wright having in 1746 taken 16 ships, valued at ,400,000, was in a position to recoup the losses of the Turkish litigants. Professor Laughton thinks the value of those prizes was a gross exaggeration. " Wright," he says, "was owner as well as captain of the brigantine, and her ship's company must have been small ; his share of such a sum would have rendered him wealthy ; but he does not come before us in the after years as a wealthy man."
It is, however, expressly stated in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for 1746, that the Fame was fitted out by the merchants of Leghorn, therefore Wright was not the owner, though he may have had a share in the venture. To capture so many important prizes, and make himself the terror of the French in the Mediterranean, required not only a daring commander, but a considerable crew, both for fighting the enemy and manning the prizes. In a list of British privateers in 1745 we find the Fame, fitted out in London, carrying 50 guns and 380 men, and commanded by Captain Comyn. She surpassed all the other privateers numbering 98 in the number of her men and guns, and yet we can trace none of her exploits. It is very probable that Captain Comyn was succeeded by Fortunatus Wright, who immedi- ately made the vessel justify her name and superior armament. This, however, is purely conjecture. The Fame was not idle while Captain Wright was cooling his heels in the fortress of Leghorn ; for in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for January, 1748, it is recorded that a French ship from Alexandria to Marseilles had been carried into Leghorn by the Fame privateer. In 1750 Captain Wright joined with Captain William Hutchinson in purchasing and fitting out as a merchant ship the old 2o-gun frigate of war, Leostoff, which made several trading voyages to the West Indies, under the command, probably, of Hutchinson, while Wright settled down with his wife and family at Leghorn. When the speedy renewal of the war between England and France became apparent in 1755 and early in 1756, Captain Fortunatus Wright set about building a small vessel at Leghorn, to cruise against the "hereditary
enemy " of Great Britain. This was the St. George privateer, destined to be as famous, but not so fortunate for its gallant commander, as the Fame.
On the declaration of war, the Tuscan government, whose interests were closely bound up with those of France, and whose neutrality was in practice only a thinly-veiled partiality, took measures to prevent the English ships in port from increasing their crews or armament, either for defence as merchant ships or for privateering purposes. Captain Wright was too well- known for the destination of his vessel to be a matter of doubt to the government officials, and he was compelled to resort to stratagem in order to have her properly equipped for her intended cruise. It was with an air "childlike and bland " that he applied to the authorities to know what force they would permit him to carry out of the port as a merchant ship. This was ultimately fixed at four small guns and 25 men, every precaution being taken by the officials to ensure that the limit was not exceeded. Wright gravely urged them to have guard boats rowing round him to make more certain, and so conducted the whole affair that in taking leave of the governor, he obtained from him a written certificate that he had complied with the limitation. He sailed out of the port of Leghorn on the 25th of July, 1756, in company with three or four merchant vessels homeward bound to England, which, amongst other things, carried an efficient armament and ship's company for the St. George. The enemies of England at Leghorn secretly rejoiced, no doubt, thinking that Wright and his convoy were sailing into the lion's mouth, for they must have known that a French privateer had been cruising for the past month off the harbour, expecting to make a rich but easy capture of the poorly armed little St. George and her convoy. The captain of the French privateer had asked in Leghorn, "Pray when does Wright intend to come out? He has already made me lose too much time." The French commander had indeed very substantial reasons for desiring a meeting. His vessel, a xebec (carrying lateen sails on three masts) had 280 men on board, and mounted 16 carriage guns, besides swivels and a great number of small arms. She "had been fitted out with a particular view to take Captain Wright, who, having done the French much damage during the last war, had been marked out by the French King, who promised the honour of knighthood, a pension of 3,000 livres per annum for life, and the com- mand of a ship of war, to whoever should bring him into France alive or dead.
The merchants of Marseilles had also promised a reward, double the value of Wright's vessel, in a writing pasted up on their Exchange."* The subsequent proceedings of Wright and the French candidate for knighthood at his expense are given in a letter from Leghorn to a merchant in Liverpool, dated July 30, 1756 : " Your brave townsman Capt. Fortunatus Wright's late gallant action is at present the topic of conversation here ; the heads of which are as follow : Capt. Wright sailed the 25th inst. with three other small vessels under convoy of Capt. Wright, who engaged to see them safe as low as Gibraltar. The Government here would not allow him to carry more than four guns and 25 men, not intending to infringe on the privileges of this neutral port. When he got clear of the harbour, he bought eight guns more from some commanders of vessels and prevailed on 55 of their men to enter on board his ship; so that he had 12 guns and 80 men with him. About 8 o'clock next morning, a French privateer of 16 guns, with above 200 men on board, who had been cruising a month off of our harbour, in order to intercept the English ships, bore down upon them. Capt. Wright made a signal for his convoy to run and save themselves, whilst he boldly lay by for the enemy ; about twelve the engagement began in sight of above ten thousand of the well-wishers to the French, but in three-quarters- of-an-hour he silenced the xebeck, who made off, (ill shattered) with her oars ; had there been any wind, Capt. Wright would easily have taken her.
Two other privateers appearing in sight and attempting to cut off his convoy, hindered his continuing the chase, he choosing rather to protect them than to run the risque of their being taken. Next morning he brought them safe back into this port. He lost his lieutenant and four men, and had 8 others wounded ; but the xebeck suffered very much, a lucky shot having carried away her prow, on which were 30 men attempting to board him ; he so maltreated her, that it is generally believed they lost above 80 men, besides their captain and lieutenant. " There has been an edict published at Marseilles by the French King's order, offering a reward of double the value of Captain Wright's ship, a pension of 3,000 livres per annum, besides being honoured with the Order of St. Lewis and having the command of a king's ship, for any person who will take him. " Capt. Wright, for his gallant behaviour and protection of the merchantmen agreeable to his promise has had a present given him of 120 sterling, collected by the English Factory ; the foreigners are going to make a purse for him, and it is to be hoped his townsmen will not be backward with you, for his gallant behaviour in disabling a French privateer, and to enable him to support himself under some difficulties. This State having (though very imprudent) thought proper to stop him since his return, alledging that his ship was armed out of this place ; but the whole Factory can prove to the contrary, he having suffered his ship to be searched by the first and second captains of this port, who went on board by the Governor's order, and two guard-boats attended him to hinder any arms or ammunition coming off shore.
The French here daily ship off ammunition for Marseilles, and our States say 'tis no more than common merchandise ; though they will not permit any Englishman the same privilege. "Our Consul here has sent an account of the affair to Sir Horace Mann, the Resident at Florence,* and we are in hopes, through his means and the whole Factory's, who are all hearty in the cause, that the British Government will take notice of him ; especially as the French have set so high a price on his head, and think him so dangerous an enemy to them ; they having not yet forgot his brave actions last war."f This was an astonishing victory, gained over an enemy of double his force, who had had ample time to put his crew in efficient order, while Wright's hastily-gathered reinforcement of 55 men, composed of Slavonians, Venetians, Italians, Swiss, and a few English, were called upon to fight at a moment's notice. In the " Gentleman's Magazine" the xebeck is said to have "received much damage, and lost her captain, lieutenant, the lieutenant of marines, and 88 men, 70 more being wounded ; she bore away and left Capt. Wright the honour of having preserved four vessels, some richly laden, which had put themselves under his protection for convoy, after having in vain waited for a ship of war." * 1756. " Day by day, meanwhile, our Minister at Florence was in extreme agony at the dark hour which had fallen upon old England. His Florentine friends told him that Minorca would be given to Spain, and probably Gibraltar would be restored to her. When he heard that the Genoese had joined France, Mann recognised the old saying of them as people Senza fede. ' What an opportunity has been lost ' (July 2Oth) ; ' at present two privateers of 1 6 guns and of 24, that are between Corsica and Leghorn, prevent any of our Merchantmen leaving that port.' The partiality of the Florentine Regency for the French enraged him. It- is so great, he writes, in August, that there is no bearing it." Mann and Manners, vol. i, p. 389. Instead of a knighthood, a pension for life, and a higher command, the French captain met with defeat, death, and the attendant disgrace of being vanquished by an "inferior force." The Tuscan authorities, exasperated at the Tartar caught by their French friend, soon showed their leaning.
Wright had no sooner anchored than the governor ordered him to bring his vessel within the Mole under pain of being brought in by force. As an officer holding his Britannic Majesty's commission he refused to obey; where- upon two snows anchored alongside the St. George and took charge of him. This high-handed proceeding roused the indignation of the captains of the English ships in the Mole, who offered to haul out and make common cause with him.
Wright, however, chose in this instance a peaceful course, placing himself in the hands of the British Resident at Florence, who immediately demanded satisfaction from the Regency. What likelihood there was of get- ting it in the then state of public feeling may be gathered from the following extract of a letter received in Liverpool from a merchant residing at Leghorn, dated August 3Oth, 1756.* " The loss of Mahon hath exposed us to the most insulting sneers ; and it has been very mortifying to see a rabble though of boys go about for several nights with white cockades, crying ^Viva Franchia ; burn the English ; ' which cry has again been renewed on occasion of the holiday of St. Lewis, kept here with great rejoicing. We were in hopes that Captain Wright's (late of Liverpool) gallant behaviour which we were all spectators of in defeating a strong French privateer off the port, would have restored our credit a little ; but it has served only to exasperate these Italians against us the more, because disappointed of a fresh triumph over us, as they made full account of seeing Captain Wright fall a sacrifice to the enemy, whom they encouraged to cruise off, on purpose, and furnished with intelligence of Captain Wright's motions, which were watched narrowly." The Regency, in fact, declined to redress the wrong done, and turned the tables by complaining that they were the injured parties, Captain Wright having deceived them by going out with a greater number of men and arms than had been authorised, or seen by the examining officers, who boarded the St. George by the governors orders. They further charged him with violating the neutrality of the port, making improper use of the emperor's colours, and repeatedly disobeying their orders to come within the Mole. The British Resident replied, denying the alleged decep- tion, and pointing out that the men and arms went out of the port on board other vessels ; that the engagement had taken place twelve miles off, the Frenchman being the aggressor. As to their orders to Wright to come within the Mole, they had no business to give them. Before sailing he was within their jurisdiction, had complied with their instructions, and received the governor's certificate to that effect ; but since he had sailed under the English flag, and now held the King's commission, he owed no obedience to the authorities of Leghorn, whose action was a gross injustice and a breach of neutrality. This polite inter- change of views went on for two months, when the affair was unexpectedly taken out of the hands of scribes and diplomatists by a man of action Sir Edward Hawke, who had just superseded Admiral Byng as Naval Commander-in- Chief in the Mediterranean. In the Liverpool Advertiser of October 8th, 1756, we read the following significant extract of a letter from Leghorn : " Admiral Hawke has sent the Jersey of 60 guns, and the Is is of 50 guns, to Leghorn to demand from the Magistrates Capt. Fortunatus Wright, of your port, whom they have detained, and has only given them three days to consider of it." A week later the editor published another letter from Leghorn, dated September 28 : 4 'Agreeable to my last on the 23rd inst., the men of war arrived from Sir Edward Hawke demanded Capt. Fortunatus Wright.
The express sent to the Regency of Florence brought for answer, that they must submit and deliver up Capt. Wright, for there was no repelling force ; accordingly the guards delivered him. On the 25th the men of war carried him off in triumph, in company with a number of merchantmen that were lying here waiting for a convoy ; Capt. Wright has got 150 brave fellows on board his ship, with whom it's presumed, he will revenge himself if opportunity offers. The fort fired by way of disappro- bation at parting with him, three guns, but not with any design to do any damage." Professor Laughton in his " Naval Studies," referring to this affair, states that Sir Edward Hawke sent Sir William Burnaby with the above-named ships "to convoy what merchant ships were waiting, and to bring the St. George away, maugre the captain of the port, the governor of Leghorn, the regency, or the Emperor himself. The Governor protested ; but Sir William put it, without undue periphrasis, 'that his orders were to take Captain Wright away under his protection ; and in case either the barks or the forts fired, he would be sorry to see himself under the indispensable necessity of returning shot for shot.' The governor preferred dealing with the men of the pen, and sought comfort from Mr. Dick, the consul, who, however, had none to give him, and told him he had heard Sir William Burnaby say he would take her away. ' Well then,' said the governor piteously, ' there's an end of it ; what can we do? the French will see it's not our fault.' And so on 23 September the Jersey and Isis departed, the St. George accompanying them, and sixteen rich merchant ships, homeward bound." Our next information regarding this ever-victorious commander is derived from the public prints for November 1 9th, 1756, which state : "
There are letters in town by the last mail, which mention Capt. Fortunatus Wright having been engaged by two French men-of-war, which he fought for several hours, and at last got clear off." And again : " Capt. Fortunatus Wright has taken and sent into Malta two French prizes, viz., the Immaculate Conception, Kamp- bell, from St. John D'Acre, and the Esperance, Richards, from Salonica, both bound to Marseilles, reputed to be worth ,15,000 at least." Ere the news of these captures had reached his native town, Captain Wright had put into Malta, where he found partiality for the French as strong as at Leghorn, the English ships in the harbour being kept under close sur- veillance. Writing from on board the ship Lark, at Malta, to Consul Dick, at Leghorn, on November 3rd, Captain Robert Miller feelingly complained that, " Our ships, persons and colours are treated with the utmost scandal, shame and indignity, even to the highest degree, and with such cruel severity that it is almost impossible for anybody to believe it that have not been eye-witnesses of it. ... Capt. Fortunatus Wright, of the St. George privateer, has been used here in a most barbarous manner." The authorities certainly treated Wright in a most unfriendly and arbitrary fashion, refusing to allow him to buy the slops and bedding which his men sorely needed, and ordering him to send ashore a number of English sailors whom he had received on board the St. George. These men had been put ashore there from prizes taken by French privateers. As an officer holding the king's commission, Wright scorned to deliver up British subjects who had taken refuge under the British flag. His contu- macy brought a galley royal alongside, whose captain told him his orders were to sink him if he offered to stir an anchor, and if he made any resistance "to board him and cut every soul to pieces."
The seamen were accordingly forcibly taken out of the privateer and landed, their visions of rich captures under the famous and fortunate commander shattered, for they could scarcely have gone aboard as simple passengers and non-combatants. The St. George put to sea on the 22nd of October without the stores she needed, and twenty-four hours later she was followed by an enemy who had been abiding his opportunity. In the words of Captain Robert Miller, ''the large French priva- teer of thirty-eight guns and upwards of 300 men, commanded by Captain Arnoux, was in this port at the same time, and sailed just twenty-four hours after Wright, to take him, as Wright was still in sight of the port. But when the great beast of a French privateer came out, Wright played with him, by sailing round him and viewing him, &c., just to aggravate him, as Wright sailed twice as fast as him ; and indeed she is a prodigious dull sailer for a privateer, and very crank." Williamson's Advertiser for December 3rd, 1756, stated : " We have advice by the way of Marseilles that Capt. Fortunatus Wright has taken and sent to Malta another French ship bound from Sydon to Marseilles, esteemed very rich, being laden chiefly with silks, Burdetts, and cottons. Great rewards and honours are promised to any of the French privateers who shall take him. He is a brave, prudent man, and the only scourge the French feel in those seas." On the loth December the same journal published the following, dated Florence, November 20 : " On the loth inst. anchored at Leghorn a French prize, laden with cotton, wool, and other goods from the Levant, valued at about 8,000 dollars, taken by Capt. Wright, of the St. George privateer, being the fifth capture he has made since his departure from Leghorn." The losses inflicted by this single privateer upon the commerce of France were so great that the French King resolved to take extreme measures for Wright's destruction.
Williamson's Advertiser of December 17, 1756, contained the following " extract of a letter from a house at Leghorn to a gentleman concerned in the St. George privateer, commanded by Capt. Fortunatus Wright, "dated November 22 : " The news we have to communicate to you, relating" to Capt. Wright, is of his further success in the capture of another prize which he has sent into Cagliari ; we got the notice the day before yesterday, by a vessel from thence, particularising her cargo to consist of 4,000 or 5,000 sacks of wheat, which we compute to be worth ^9,000. Pray God continue his prosperity and preserve him from his cruel enemies ; may we use this phrase, as we have advice from Marseilles that two ships of 20 guns, and a settee of equal force, and all well- manned, are there fitting out purposely for him, with orders to give him no quarter, but burn him on board. We are sorry to give you this alarm, but a French gentleman, a friend of ours, is now in our house, and confirms every particular. We have to add, the disgraceful situation we are all in, and the miserable state of our trade, the French Privateers in these seas being innumerable. P.S. Since writing the above our partner is returned from the Consul, who has acquainted him of the equipment against Capt. Wright with this addition, that the two ships are fitting out by the King of France, and the Settee by the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles ; and that they have orders to set him on fire in any road where they may find him." Early in 1757 Wright seems to have had more than one ship under his command. Among the captures mentioned in the "Gentleman's Magazine " for February is a French snow, taken by the King George, Wright, letter of marque, and carried to Lisbon. In the Liverpool paper for March 25th, it is said that "a large privateer is fitting out for Captain Fortunatus Wright, which is to be sent to him as soon as ready, and then he will be commodore of three ships."
One of the French vessels, fitted out especially for Wright's capture, or rather for his utter destruction, was the Hirondelle, of Toulon. Mr. Tatem, the British Consul at Messina, writing on the iQth of January, 1757, gives the following account of her reception by Wright, then in the King George : "The King George, Captain Fortunatus Wright, has lately had two smart engagements in the Channel of Malta, of three hours each (one in the night, the other by day), with the Le Hirondelle, a French polacca of 26 guns and 283 men ; but notwithstanding the great inequality in men, o-uns, and weight of metal, yet Captain Wright obliged nun to neer off, and they both put into Malta the 2nd of January to refit. But poor Wright has met with worse treatment there than he did before, for although he had several shot under water, which made it absolutely necessary to heave down, yet, by the interest of the French faction, he was denied that liberty ; and afterwards, upon account of two slaves having taken refuge on board him, he has been sequestered in port, and cut off from all daily provisions, and even water, till he restores them. But as the Jersey was hourly expected in Malta, we hope Sir William Burnaby will obtain his release. The Hirondelle is one of the vessels fitted out from Toulon expressly to seek him." On January 22nd Horace Mann, the British Minister at Florence, wrote to Mr. Pitt that the Regency had been lamenting the decay of the Leghorn trade ; that he had pointed out that their gross partiality, and their violent action in the matter of Fortunatus Wright, were two of the causes of this decay ; that, yielding to these representa- tions, they had assured him of their intention to observe a strict neutrality ; and that, on the strength of this, he had written to Captain Wright "that he might send all the French prizes he had made to Leghorn, as, at my request, he had kept them in deposit till he should hear from me that he might do it with safety."*
Two months later he writes again, showing the kind of welcome Wright would meet with if he attempted to enter the port of Leghorn : "The Council sent a gentleman belonging to the secretary's office to me, earnestly to desire that, in order to avoid any further inconveniences with regard to him, I would order Captain Wright to keep at such a distance from the Port as would not oblige the Government to take any notice of his being there. . . . Finding that they thought themselves tied up by the orders they received lately from Vienna with regard to Captain Wright, I thought it my duty, purely for the sake of avoiding any new disputes, to write to the Consul in the manner they desired. The estafette was immediately sent back to Leghorn with my letter, in order that, as soon as Captain Wright's vessel appears in sight of the port, a bark may be sent off to him, with the Consul's directions not to enter into the harbour." In Williamson's Advertiser for April ist, 1757, we read that " letters from Leghorn, brought by the Flanders mail yesterday, advise that Capt. Fortunatus Wright, who, after a hard engagement with a French ship of superior force followed her to Malta, has been relieved by the Jersey man of war, and were both sailed from thence, and were expected daily to arrive in Leghorn. The Jersey is to convoy from thence to England, four rich ships that are armed, which have been detained a considerable time on account of a French man of war and a frigate hovering off that port."
There is a reference to the detention of these merchant-men, and to Wright and his prizes in an interesting letter, dated March 25th, 1/57, from Sir Horace Mann, to Horace Walpole. He alludes to the misery and misfortune of Admiral Byng, but he looked on the sentence of death as an act of vigorous justice. Without implying Voltaire's phrase that the Admiral was shot "pour encourager les autres" Mann hoped that it would give, courage to others. He had seen much of our sea captains during his official residence at Florence, and he says: " Let us hope that the sentence may produce for the future some refor- mation in the conduct of our sea officers, which was so publickly criticised in the last war. I wish we could see a Fleet in these parts now. Something must be done to recover our maritime reputation. The sea swarms with French Privateers, who daily take all the merchant ships that venture out. I have dissuaded the people at Leghorn from sending many ships away that are laden for above a Million sterling, which, we know, the French have stationed several Privateers and Ships of War to wait for. They have advice boats continually going backwards and forwards, and others are at anchor at Porto (illegible), to be ready to follow Captain Wright and his prizes that had taken refuge at Port Ferrajo, from whence, if they can escape, we daily expect them at Leghorn. A plan has been agreed upon to indemnify the Captains of the Merchant Ships, who are ruined by laying, at a vast expense, in port, by making a small average on the goods they have on board, other- wise they would have ventured out at all hazards."*
But Captain Wright was never more to enter the port of Leghorn. Williamson's Advertiser, in its London corres- pondence, dated May 19, 1757, contained the following intelligence, which must have been received with universal sorrow in the good old town in which the hero was born and bred, and of whose brave and adventurous, yet prudent spirit, he was the shining personification : "A private letter from Leghorn brings advice that Captain Fortunatus Wright, of the King George, a Letter of Marque ship, having sailed from Malta with a French prize for the said port, met with a great storm on the 16th of March, during which the officer that had charge of the prize went down into the cabin or under the hatches to bring up certain colours to hoist as signals of distress or danger, as there was then a French Privateer in sight ; but when he came upon deck again the King George was no longer to be seen ; so that there is room to fear this gallant officer, with 60 stout fellows, are all gone to the bottom. The prize made the port of Leghorn, and gave there this account." There was, however, just one ray of hope left. In another corner of the paper was printed a letter from a merchant in Leghorn to the owners of the Anson and Blakeney privateers, dated May Qth, stating "that five English sailors, belonging to Capt. Fortunatus Wright, who left Cagliari on the loth ult., and came up in a vessel belonging to Genoa, inform me that the Blakeney, Capt. Fowler, and Anson, Capt. Speers, were then in Cagliari." Commenting on this, the editor remarks : "his mentioning Capt. Wright's sailors gives us some hopes that the account of the loss of that brave man, mentioned in the first page of this paper, is premature." To cast further doubt on the news of Wright's death on the i6th of March, there came a letter from Leghorn to a merchant in Liverpool, dated May i6th, which ran as follows : "I have the pleasure to acquaint you that I have just received from our Consul at Messina an account dated the 26th of April " nearly a month after the supposed catastrophe " of Capt. Fortunatus Wright being very well, and has taken another prize since his departure from Malta. And as this so exactly tallies with the account I had from the master of a Maltese vessel arrived here last week (whom I mentioned in my last to have seen him in the Vere of Messina), we have no room to doubt of the truth of his safety, which has given inexpressible pleasure to me, and a general satisfaction to all in this place.
A Danish ship, just now arrived here from Tunis in eight days, was visited six days ago, between Sardinia and Sicily, by the King of Prussia privateer, of your port, Capt. Maccaffee, all well and in high spirits. We are in great hopes that he and other vessels on the same station will meet with great success, as the Smyrna French fleet, consisting of 16 or 1 8 ships, only convoyed by a polacca, who was dispatched some time ago in pursuit of Capt. Fortunatus Wright, and engaged him off Malta, but was bravely repulsed, is soon expected to sail for Marseilles, for which place is also bound a French polacca from Alexandretta, valued at twenty-five thousand pounds sterling." Another Liverpool newspaper, the Chronicle and Marine Gazetteer, of June 3rd, 1757, also published a letter almost identical with the above in substance, and of the same date, but apparently emanating from another correspondent at Leghorn, which ran as follows : "I have just now received a letter from the Consul at Messina, of the 26th ult., with the agreeable news that Capt. Fortunatus Wright was arrived in that port and had brought in with him a brig richly laden. A Danish vessel this day arrived from Tunis, was visited six days ago by the King of Prussia privateer of your place, betwixt the Islands of Sicily and Sardinia ; all well on board and in high spirits. The Ambuscade man of war has taken six prizes bound from the Levant to Marseilles, and sent them to Malta and Messina, from whence they are daily expected here to be sold. She has also taken a French ship, and carried her into Tunis, which the captain sold for ,12,000 sterling ; which being arrived here in safety will sell for one third more than she cost. I have letters from Smyrna of a fresh date, which mention 16 or 18 sail of French ships being ready to sail under convoy of the polacca who some time ago attacked and was bravely
repulsed by Captain Fortunatus Wright off Malta.
There is likewise a polacca on her departure from Alexandretta for Marseilles, deemed worth ,30,000 sterling; which I am in hopes will fall into the hands of some of our cruisers in these seas." "Captain Fortunatus Wright," adds the editor of the Chronicle, " a gentleman of this town who in the last and present war, in a small privateer, gained immortal honour, and the universal esteem of his country, by distressing the enemy, and defending himself in a surprising manner against superior force, at sundry times set out on purpose to take him, was lately reported to be lost in a hard gale of wind ; but by this day's post we have certain accounts of his being safe in the Bay of Messina with a prize. This joyful news gives every true Briton a sensible pleasure, and must certainly animate every heroic soul with a noble spirit of emulation ; that should adverse fortune crush them in the service of their country, their fall may be justly lamented, as his supposed one was which we are glad to say was premature." Then follow these lines, which we reproduce more as a curiosity than as a model for future Dibdins and Bennetts : " O.\ THE UNIVERSALLY-ACCEPTED AND AGREEABLE NEWS OF THE ARRIVAL OF THE BRAVE CAPTAIN FORTUNATUS WRIGHT AT MESSINA, IN SICILY. " He lives, he lives ! in spite of all his foes Celestial Pow'rs were pleas'd to interpose ; He lives to conquer lift the Flag- on high, And let the joyful cannon greet the sky. " Through ev'ry part of Britain, let the joy Touch ev'ry Briton ev'ry Gaul annoy ; To ev'ry heart, as on th' electric mass The quick pervading joy shall sudden pass ;
All feel at once the permeating stroke, The pleasing- shock, for this their Heart of Oak. " At the masthead, see ev'ry streamer flies, To recompense the streamers of our eyes. Britannia wept ! reverse of tears, she smiles ; Her son is safe, the glory of her isles ! " Her tears encreased old Ocean's briny tide ; Her heaving sighs the tempest's breath supply'd ; Her sighs and tears had rais'd the tempest high, And raging winds had sung his elegy ; When Neptune from the hoary billows rais'd His awful head the storm was all appeas'd ; The rocking winds, in deep attention's form Bend forward and he thus harangues the storm : <( Britannia is my bride ye winds obey ; Be still thou tempest be at rest thou sea : This is my son convey him to yon coast And let Britannia know, He is not lost. Bid her suspend her tears her darling Wright, Her Fortunatus still survives to Fight. What, tho' a price on his devoted head Was set by France, who wish'd, and thought him dead ; For why ? His arm was equal to a Fleet ! Tell her no wave shall be his winding-sheet ; ThatY\\ prevent If war has doomed his fall, It must be, shall be from a Cannon Ball. " Notwithstanding the above statements that Wright was quite well and active, and had been actually seen in the neighbourhood of Messina when he was supposed to be at the bottom of the sea, and in spite of the fact that both "Lloyd's List" and the "Gentleman's Magazine" for June, 1757, state that "the St. George Privateer, Capt. Fortunatus Wright, has carried into Messina a French brig, richly loaded," the fate of the hero remains a mystery to this day. There may have been good grounds for the local tradition mentioned by Smithers, that Wright fell a victim to political interests. He had plenty of powerful enemies ashore, and was always safer on the high seas, whatever might be the odds against him. With British oak beneath his foot, the British flag aloft, and a sprinkling of English seamen among his crew, he was afraid of nothing afloat.
Sir Horace Mann, writing on the 2nd of July, 1757, says : "The trade of Leghorn, upon which the .wealth of this whole state chiefly depends, is reduced to the lowest ebb, insomuch that the arrival in the port of a single prize a few days ago, was looked upon as an object of such importance, and exaggerated by the Italians in terms that sufficiently showed that they are now convinced how much their welfare depends upon the navigation of the English merchant ships not being interrupted. The French have many tartans disguised, but well armed, that cruise between Leghorn and Porto Ferrajo, ready on all occasions to intercept such as are of no force, at the [same] time that they can run near the shore when a ship of any strength appears. A few stout privateers, as in the last war, would totally prevent this, and they would enrich themselves by the French vessels from Marseilles that would fall into their hands. Captain Wright, of the St. George privateer, did great service of this kind in the beginning of the war ; but it is feared by some circumstances, and by his not having been heard of for some months, that he foundered at sea. Several prizes made by him have lain some months at Cagliari in Sardinia, waiting for an opportunity to get with safety to Leghorn." The English prestige in the Mediterranean had been reduced to a low ebb through the incompetence of the Government at home and the lethargy of the naval commander-in-chief on the station, and the only English- man whose name was a terror to the French had mysteriously disappeared from the seas. But the power of England was going to be felt in those quarters where it was most despised and hated.
A merchant in Leghorn, writing on the i8th of July, 1757, to a house in Liverpool, said, "Last night arrived here Admiral Osborne with seven sail of men of war, who has instructions to demand satisfaction of the Maltese for their cruel behaviour towards the brave Capt. Fortunatus Wright, whom we have great reason to fear is no more, and we are in hopes he will see justice done to the other privateers who have had the misfortune to carry their prizes into their ports." Again, in Williamson's Advertiser of August 27th, we read that " there are letters from Leghorn which mention that Admiral Osborne, who arrived there with seven men of war on the i7th, was fitting for sea with all expedition, having received advice that five French men of war were preparing to sail from Malta for Toulon, whom he expected to meet with in their passage ; after which he was going to Malta, to demand satisfaction of the Maltese, for their injurious behaviour to the captains of several of our privateers, particularly to the brave Captain Fortunatus Wright." We cannot close this account of one whose career has been justly described as " more romantic than any romance," and as "a succession of romances," in a more appropriate manner than by quoting the following characteristic stories, both relating to the period when Wright was cruising in the neighbourhood of Malta.
The first is related by the author of " Naval Studies," " on the authority of the first Earl of Charlemont,* who says it came to his knowledge during his residence at Malta, about 1750, and was told to him ' by the most credible eye-witnesses.' No names are mentioned, but there is scarcely room for doubt that the hero of it was Fortunatus Wright. He is described by Lord Charlemont as a captain commanding an English privateer of some force, and 'of such skill and bravery that he reigned paramount in the Mediterranean, daily sending into the port of Malta French prizes of considerable value.' In a society such as then ruled in Valetta, this stirred up much angry feeling, the Austrians and Pied- montese jeering the French or Spaniards, and many duels took place in consequence. At length the French knights, irritated beyond measure by the taunts of their adversaries, and the continued success of the English captain, deter- mined to put a summary stop to both, and sent urgent representations to Marseilles, in consequence of which an armed vessel, of force almost double that of the Englishman, was specially equipped and sent to Malta under the com- mand of ' an officer of the highest character for courage and naval knowledge.' After being duly feted by the French party he sailed out of harbour to look for the Englishman, as to a certain victory. Days passed by ; both parties were aglow with expectation, and the ramparts on the sea front were constantly thronged with anxious crowds. Two ships at last appeared in sight. As they came nearer it was seen that the one was towing the other ; that the one was the French ship for w T hich they were looking ; that the other was much shattered. They hoisted French colours, and who so jubilant as the French knights ! Amid exulting cheers they turned into the harbour, between St. Elmo and Ricasoli. All Valetta, Senglea, and II Borgo were called to witness the triumph of the French ; when O cruel disappointment ! the white flag suddenly disappeared, giving place to the victorious flag of England. The Marseilles ship was a prize to the English privateer." The second story, entitled "The History of Selim, from the Armenian's Letters," represents Captain Wright as acting a very noble part. Though extremely romantic, the incidents are neither impossible nor improbable. The French privateer mentioned in the story appears to fit in very well with the Hirondelle, sent out from Toulon to seek Wright, and whom he fought in the Channel of Malta.
You can Find out more about Captain Fortunatus Wright from Gavin Chappell on The Pirates & Smugglers of Wallasey History Tour.
AGAINST the inclination, yet not without consent of my parents, I quitted Armenia, and embarked on board a Genoese trading vessel, proposing to study the civil and military discipline of Emanuel Victor, the great Prince of Sardinia. While I was in daily expectation of seeing Genoa, our ship was taken by a Spanish vessel navigated by corsairs. We were soon loaded with irons; and though I was treated more favourably than others on a religious account, yet I was robbed of the money which I had designed for the expenses of travelling, excepting a few sequins that lay concealed in my clothes. As soon as we arrived at Oran we were thrown into a loathsome dungeon, guarded by Spaniards ; and the little lenity that appeared was now shown to the Christians. Their clothes were restored, while I was stripped of my outer garment ; their allowance of victuals was usually greater, and I was often compelled to labour, while my fellow prisoners were indulged with ease. In this state I continued seven months, and then I was, with five others, sold to a young Moor, and conveyed with my companions to a spacious house two miles distant from Oran, near a little village called Arzew, where the uncle of this young Moor had laid out a plan of spacious gardens, the labour of which was reserved for me and my companions. As soon as we arrived our fetters were removed, for our escape was impossible, the house and intended garden being enclosed
in some places by a wall 20 feet high, and in others by a broad trench, and keepers were constantly employed to watch us. Here I continued labouring three months, without any hopes of redemption, sometimes amusing myself with the flowers and fruit trees, and at others conversing in the Arabic tongue, of which, from the know- ledge I had before my captivity, and my intercourse with some captives in the prison, I had now attained an easy pronunciation. My country dress being permitted to me, the native slaves were kinder to me than to the Christians ; and becoming an interpreter among them, I acquired a sort of pre-eminence that gave me opportunities of doing my fellow captives little offices, which society in distress will extort from the most savage. But the severe labour to which we were daily confined began to waste my strength. Our keepers remitted nothing of their watchfulness over us, nor the young Moor of his care over them. Not an hour of the day passed wherein his eye was not upon our labour. He delighted in seeing us faint beneath our loads; and once when I tottered beneath a heavy burthen he ordered fifty lashes to a Christian who ran to support me. After three months' toil in the midst of an inclement winter, the spring began to open, and brought with it a sweetness and beauty that would have relieved any but slaves, who had once been happy, and now, by no crime, were condemned to misery. Sometimes I had thoughts of telling the Moor who I was, and exciting his pity by a recital of my misfortunes ; but he appeared so avaricious that should he know that I was the son of a Turkish Aga his demands would be greater than my friends could satisfy ; wherefore, I resolved to bear my afflictions in silence, and leave the event to God. As soon as the year began to blossom, news was brought me by the native slaves that the uncle of the young Moor and his family were arrived at his country seat, and that in three days the young Moor would set out for Oran to inspect the affairs of his uncle in
that city. The joy which I felt for a few moments was little short of what freedom would have given ; but the natives soon informed me that the uncle was more avari- cious, cruel, and perfidious than his nephew ; that having no sons, he had preferred his nephew to the inheritance of his large possessions, and that he had one favourite daughter whom he designed for his wife. The hopes conceived from a change of masters now vanished, and I considered myself as one of those unfortunate wretches destined to walk through peril and toil, without any ray of comfort to cheer them in their passage. Two days passed and the uncle had not set his foot in the garden, being troubled with a disorder common in that country to many of his age and sedentary life ; yet he was carried to a window, where, as our keeper said, he constantly observed us ; and indeed the keeper often raised his voice, and exercised the lash, to demonstrate his strict attendance of us. Four days after, the old man's disorder so increased, that being no longer able to approach his window, he was confined to his bed. During this time the severity of our keepers somewhat abated; the daughter of the Moor also, who came at her father's request to oversee the garden, would often bring fruits and other pleasing refreshments to the native slaves, of whom she enquired concerning us, and frequently would recommend to them to treat us tenderly. As the Moors rise early, no morning passed whereon she did not visit the house of the native slaves, and never went unprovided, so that she became their idol. When she had visited the natives, she was often seen to pass through a shady walk into a greenhouse near the dwelling of the captives, where some conjectured she paid her devotions, and others that she watched the labourers. But whatever might be the cause, it was observed that when the natives carried no part of their extraordinary provisions to us unhappy captives, the next day she omitted her kindness to them ; thus our captivity was lightened. I once more indulged hopes of escape, and laboured more cheerfully than ever. On the 2Oth March, just as our labour was begun, our young benefactress surveyed the whole garden, and having passed the Moors, approached where the captives were employed; drawing her veil entirely down, and wrapping herself in a hyke of blue satin, she spoke to them as she passed, and coming near to me, who was last in the lot of ground, and then had a heavy burthen on my shoulders, she turned her face, still covered, towards mine, and laying her right hand on her breast which is the Moorish salutation, said, in a gentle tone, "Holy Alia relieve thee, stranger."" Many days passed, and some of my fellow captives became so reconciled to captivity, that if the uncle and nephew had been removed they would have been easily persuaded to serve Zaida while they lived. But the indulgence we received only gave me more time to reflect on my hard fortune, and one night, while I was stretched on a grass plot along the side of the Moor's palace, singing a mournful history of my misfortunes, I was surprised by a loud knocking at the gate and the neighing of horses ; and instantly a soft, disordered voice from a window above said trembling and hastily: "70 thy apartment, stranger; Morat ! Morat ! Alia guard thee." I fled, blessing the voice that warned me, and spent a tedious night in broken dreams and waking expectations of cruelty from Morat, by whom such expectations were never disappointed. In the morning, long before the sun, he had surveyed the garden, and finding our labour had not equalled his desire, with his first salutation he struck me to the ground, and, before I recovered, three of my companions were lying speechless. While he was proceeding in his cruelty, a slave came pale and breathless from the house, and faltering could only pronounce : " Zaida, Zaida no more" Morat persevered, and having
given each captive his blow, returned to the house. Bruised and dejected we groaned through the day's fatigue ; but neither the bruises nor the toil preyed on my mind so much as a fear and desire to know what had befallen our young benefactress. Weariness brought with it no rest. I lay all night sleepless, and before daybreak heard our keepers relating that Zaida, having beheld the first mark of her cousin's cruelty to the captives, had fainted and continued some moments lifeless; that a cry that she was dead had reached Zelebin's her father's ear, and so afflicted him, that even her recovery added little to his, the sudden joy rather oppressing him the more ; and, lastly, that Morat was gone to Oran, being called thither by sudden business. I rose overjoyed, and informed my fellow- prisoners that the storm was over. The next day Zaida walked twice through the garden, carefully observing us through her veil, and as she passed by me twice repeated the Aslemash, pressing her hand more closely to her breast, and saying, " Alia guard thee." Zelebin's disorder increased, and the fright had occasioned a fever, which was likely to prove fatal. On the 28th of March it was my lot to be employed under the greenhouse to which Zaida usually paid her morning visit; nor did she fail that day ; for I had scarce taken the spade in my hand when I saw her veiled at the window. When the course of my spade had brought me under the window, she dropped a tulip, with which she had been playing, at my feet ; I took it up, and ran round the building to present it to her, but before I could reach the entrance she was gone. I returned, admiring the largeness and colour of the flower, and was struck by characters like letters in the inside. Examining more attentively, I found the tulip lined with two folds of fine paper, which I took out, and hardly had conveyed to my pocket when one of the keepers approached and took the flower from me. With what impatience did I labour through the day ! Evening came, and being- alone in my cell, I read the following letter : " Holy Alia protect thee, stranger ; I have enquired much concerning thee, and feel a sharp pain when I see thee treated cruelly. If thou seekest thy freedom, I will contrive to give it, for I am loved by my father's servants, who will not betray me. I have provided for thee a Moorish turban, and a rich hyke, in which thou mayest pass concealed. There is another present which I would give thee, but thou shalt see it first, for it may be burthensome to thee. If thou wilt be early with thy spade at the greenhouse, I will shew thee what I would give thee. Be cheerful, stranger, for if Alia will permit, I will do thee much good." All the impatience of the day equalled not the restlessness of the night. I was up before the birds, and at day-break the spade was in the earth ; Zaida came with the sun, and observing none near but me she threw back her veil, and looking on me with a sweet confusion, dropped another tulip and retired. It was the first time I had seen her face, and some moments passed before I could take my eyes from the window. I conveyed the flower to my pocket-book, and worked through the day in a hurry of joy that was painful to support. The burthen of the tulip was this : " Stranger, thou hast now seen what I would give thee ; but then I would have thee ask it. I will consent to be thy wife if thou wilt take me with thee to thy own country. There is a French ship now near Arzew, and the French will carry us anywhere for money. But say not thou wilt take me, if thou hatest me. Speak thy mind, for I will do thee good in whatever way thou desirest. Holy Alia watch over thee." With my pencil I wrote the following answer at the back of her letter : " Great Alia reward thee, gentle Moor ; I will not only ask what them shewedst to me this morning ; but I call our
prophet to witness that I will have no other wife but thee. Whatever thou desirest I will do ; but there is one captive who hath been kind to me, and I would free him too." This she received from the window, and retiring a few minutes, returned and said in her native tongue : " Be thou and thy captive friend at the garden door to-morrow at nine of the night." The wished-for evening came, and Zaida with her own hands opened the door, attended by a faithful servant, and informed me that her father could not live another night ; that horses and dresses were ready, and she had sent by her servant to a hut on the waterside all the money with which her father had entrusted her ; and that a French privateer was preparing to sail in less than two hours. I urged her immediate departure, and she gave me a turban and a satin hyke, and my fellow captive the coarse dress of a slave, covering herself in the like garment, that all might pass as my servants. Thus prepared, we walked silently from the house before ten, and at a small distance mounting our horses, arrived in a short time at the hut. The captive Swede, whom I had released, immediately went on board the privateer to learn her destination, and was informed that she had orders to cruise near Malta, in order to take a bold Englishman, called Fortunatus Wright ; and if the winds would permit, we should be landed in that island. In a few minutes we sailed, and the next morning were many miles distant from Africa. Ten days were passed before we obtained a sight of Malta, and we had scarce dreamed of landing there when a signal was made for standing out to sea in pursuit of a ship, which upon a nearer view was found to be the very privateer which the French captain had orders to take. Instantly I ran down, took Zaida in my arms, and supported her courage with all the animating words I was master of. Once she sunk upon my breast, and I had but just recovered her when the signal was made for the engagement. The fire became hot, and the conflict bloody. I continued com- forting Zaida till the event became doubtful, when pretending to her we were victorious, I sprung upon the deck, and observing that the English endeavoured to board us ahead, I slew the first who attempted our deck, and beckoning to the French to follow me, leapt on board the enemy's ship, unseconded by any, excepting my Swedish fellow- captive, who seeing me overpowered, leapt back and regained his ship. Thus I was made a prisoner, and my fair Moor left a prey to all the wretchedness of despair. After several vain attempts to board each other, the two ships parted, the French steered towards France, and I was carried into Malta. Good heaven ! how soon was changed the gladsome prospect of happiness to the darkest view of misery ! The good captain, whose prisoner I was, observing my despondence, ordered me to be set free, though I had killed one of his men ; and when I informed him, by a Maltese interpreter, of my unhappy story, and my resolution to go in quest .of Zaida, he gave me one hundred guineas, and advised me to sail for England ; " where, though I am unhappily exiled from it," said he, " you will be generously treated, and will hear the fate of the French privateer." He then informed me of her name, and the port from which she was sent; "when you find that she is landed, you will then be at liberty," said he, " to visit France, and if the French captain be generous as he seems brave, he will restore his passenger with all her possessions." He recom- mended me to an English captain then at Malta, and having kindly wished me good fortune, we parted. Two long months I was tossed at sea ; on the loth of August we arrived at our destined port, where the first object that struck my eyes was the French vessel in which I left the lovely Zaida. ; hope and fear almost deprived me of reason ; with difficulty I told the captain all my story, and he, with the readiness of friendship, sent his boat to enquire whether any woman were taken prisoner on board the French prize ; but we received no information, for the sailors who then manned the ship were strangers to her captain. We landed at a fair town,* on the banks of a small river called Avon ; and the captain, who had not drowned his humanity in the rough element on which he traded, conveyed me to the prison, where after searching various apartments, at last I found my fair afflicted Zaida lying on the ground with her head on the lap of her woman, and the Swede sitting near to guard her. As soon as she saw me her voice failed her ; I had almost lost her by an agony of astonish- ment and joy as soon as I had recovered her. Hours were counted ere she would believe her senses, and even days passed over us, in which she sat with a silent admiration, and even still doubts whether all is real.