Ever since mankind took to the seas in ships, there have been villains with a determination to rob and plunders ships at sea. During the Golden Age of Pirates, the Caribbean, the island of Madagascar and the Malacca Strait, were favourite places that pirates gathered to prey on unsuspecting merchant vessels..
The Caribbean was perhaps the best-known sea that pirates operated in and by the 1600s, several European countries had established colonies on Caribbean islands. The European countries in the Caribbean that had colonial ambitions were either the target of pirates or supported them when there was an advantage to be had with pirates attacking an enemy country’s ships; England v Spain for example.
This stamp shows the naval flags of the principle countries with colonial ambitions in the Caribbean. Clockwise from the top, Great Britain, the Kingdom of France, Portugal, Holland, and Spain.
Caravels were developed in Portugal in the 1400s. They were small, easily maneuverable vessels and soon became the preferred vessel for Portuguese explorers. They had both square rigged sails, which gave them speed in the open seas, and lateen triangular sails that allowed them to sail close to the wind. They were also very agile and maneuverable.
Caravels were popular with pirates for short voyages or surprise attacks.
The Dutch Flute was usually a three-masted vessel with a lateen rig on the mizzen-mast. This vessel has a large capacity for cargo and low expenses to build and operate. Pirates fovoured attacking these vessels as they were usually lightly armed or not armed at all, and carried a large cargo.
There are a number of different categories of sea-going villains which tend to be classified by where and how they practised their trade.
A general term that can be applied to a wide range of nautical miscreants engaged in robbery, kidnapping, murder and theft.
Privateers are pirates with papers. Private individuals commissioned by governments to carry out quasi-military activities, usually against a targeted country’s ships. Francis Drake was one of the most famous privateers who attacked Spanish treasure ships with great success.
This was a government license that authorised a private person, generally a corsair or pirate, to attack and capture vessels from countries at war with the issuer, and so become a privateer.
A term that is specific to pirates plying their trade in the Caribbean and Pacific coast of Central American countries. Buccaneers were originally based in Hispaniola and over time attracted a multinational mix of adventurers and scoundrels. In 1630 they migrated to the island of Tortuga, off the coast of Hispaniola. Their prime foe was Spain which sought to expel buccaneers from its possessions. Their raids on Spanish shipping endeared them to Spain’s colonial rivals, England and France, who offered them various forms of support.
This term is connected to the Mediterranean where, from the 14th-century to the early 18th-century, the Ottoman Empire battled with Christian states for maritime supremacy. These struggles were waged with both conventional navies and state-sanctioned bandits called Corsairs; the most famous of them being the Barbary Corsairs. The Barbary Corsairs eventually came to operate independently from the Ottoman Empire, and being based in North Africa and the West African coast no longer came under the control of the Ottomans. The Barbary Corsairs not only practiced high-seas piracy, but also managed a thriving slave trade of both Africans and Europeans. Corsair activities went into decline with naval intervention and ceased entirely when France invaded Algiers in 1830.
Pirate myths and folklore have grown over generations to portray pirates in a romantic image of swashbucklers swinging from yardarms with a cutlass in hand to plunder some unsuspecting merchantman.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, and movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean have done much to romanticize the life of seaborne brigands. In reality, most pirates were ruthless plunderers, murderers and torturers who terrified not just merchant ships they came across but communities on land who were the target of their raids.
The ‘Golden Age of Pirates’ in the Caribbean extended from 1670 to 1730, a period when piracy was at its peak. Caribbean pirates eventually created a community based in the Bahamas from which they set out to plunder and maraud ships in the Caribbean and off Central American coasts. Some pirates were initially privateers, state-sanctioned pirates, who went off on their own after Letters of Marque expired or were cancelled. Some came from the Royal Navy to escape the harsh discipline that was a hallmark of the navy. It should be noted that pirate captains were often very astute businessmen who traded their plunder with great success and became very wealthy. They also ran their ships in a very democratic manner with a codex for the sharing of booty among the crew and the type punishment for misdeeds was meted out with the agreement of the crew.
Pirate ships tended to be small and easily maneuverable which was an advantage when attacking larger, heavily laden and slower merchantmen. They were well equipped with cannon and their crew was fearless and well-armed.
Piracy in the West Indies fell into a decline with the ending of the “pirate republic” based on New Providence, Bahamas. This decline was partly due to pirates’ successes which attracted the attention of naval intervention and they eventually ended up with nowhere to trade their looted goods. Pirate ships soon found that they were no match for Royal Navy warships and once their land bases had been invaded this left them no support infrastructure to store looted goods, repair ships, and manufacture arms.
Not much is known about pirate life on board ship as there were no writers on pirate ships, except for Louis Becke who sailed with Bully Hayes and wrote about his experience. Documentation does exist on the experience of ships that were attacked by pirates but other than that little is known about life onboard a pirate ship.
Buried treasure is a part of pirate folklore but it is not certain if many pirate captains did in fact buried their treasure on uninhabited islands and then kill the crew members who helped bury the chest so that only the pirate captain knew the location of the treasure.
Starting in the 1680s, saw the beginning of smuggling between Jamaica and Hispanic America. It flourished despite Madrid’s restrictions against it and the possibility of smugglers languishing in confinement in the filthy dungeons of Cartagena if caught. Spanish colonists had silver buckles to their belts and golden hilts to their swords, but lacked the commonest of European products, so, the trade in these products became brisk and profitable for Jamaican merchants. When England went to war against Spain in 1762, this put an end to both Spanish and British smuggling of goods from Jamaica to Hispanic America. Royal Naval ships now started to patrol the seas around Jamaica and other island and seize any vessels deemed to be smugglers. Smuggling in the Caribbean went into a decline.
To insure their maritime raids were successful, pirates used a number of basic but very effective weapons. Many pirates had some military training so they were combat effective.
A light weapon that was very popular with pirates, who often carried several pistols strapped to their chests.
These were a crucial weapon in the pirate age with the most famous being the cutlass, remembered in pirate lore as a necessary weapon for all pirates.
The most popular cannons were small and very useful in ship-to-ship combat. These were often swivel cannons, lightweight and mounted on swivels on the ship’s railings. They were not effective at long range but their firepower and manoeuverability made them devastating weapons in close combat.
These are some of the most notorious privateers and pirates of the Golden Age of Pirates.
An early and famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake. Although contemporary authors often described their subjects as despicable rogues of the sea, official views were often quite different.
In 1581, Drake, in the Golden Hind, was actively encouraged by Queen Elizabeth I to plunder Spanish galleons and possessions. He was knighted by the Queen on his return from a round the world expedition with loot worth £1.3M. He returned a hero to the English public but the Spanish saw him as a pirate, not a privateer, and he became known to them as ‘El Draque’ (The Dragon).
The English influence in the Caribbean began with the privateers Francis Drake and Richard Hawkins.
Richard Hawkins, son of the famed seaman Sir John Hawkins, set sail with Francis Drake in 1593 for a raid on Spanish possessions in South America. On their way south they sighted the Falkland Islands. They proceeded on to attack and burn four ships at Valparaiso. However, north of Paita, Hawkins encountered two Spanish warships and was forced to surrender. He was imprisoned in Lima and returned to England after a ransom was paid.
Woodes Rogers was an English sea captain and privateer and later the Royal Governor of the Bahamas.
He was born in Poole, Dorset in 1679, and died in Nassau in 1732.
As the Governor of the Bahamas, he was instrumental in helping to suppress piracy in the Caribbean.
In 1708 – 1711 he commanded a privateering expedition around the world, sponsored by Bristol Merchants who had lost ships to foreign privateers. In 1709 he rescued Alexander Selkirk from a Pacific island, whose adventures became the basis for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
In 1717 he was appointed governor of the Bahamas and when he arrived in Nassau he established an orderly government, backed by a professional military unit, forcing many of the 2000 outlaws and pirates based there to surrender and receive the King’s pardon.
Although he was best known as a pirate, whose life was loosely portrayed by Errol Flynn in the 1935 swashbuckler ‘Captain Blood,’ he was in fact a privateer having the backing of the English Crown to terrorise the Spanish.
Morgan was born in Wales in 1635. It is not clear how he made his way to the Caribbean or how he started in a career as a privateer. In the early 1660s he became a close friend of Sir Thomas Modyford, the Governor of Jamaica, and was given a ‘letter of marque’ a license to attack and seize Spanish vessels. he subsequently conducted successful raids on ports on Cuba and Panama, often using fire ships. After a particularly successful raid on Panama City, stripping the city of its wealth and destroying a large Spanish squadron, he was arrested and summoned to England to appease the Spanish; the English had by now signed a peace treaty with Spain. In London he was received as a hero by the general public and leading figures of the government and royalty.
After these raids, he became too dangerous for the English crown and in 1674 was appointed Jamaica’s Lieutenant Governor, and served on the Assembly of Jamaica until 1683. He died in Jamaica in 1688 and his life was romanticized after his death and became an inspiration for many pirate-themed works of fiction. Although Morgan always fought with a commission from the governor of Jamaica, becoming a legal defender of Jamaica, the Spanish did not recognize privateering as a legal activity and so considered him to be a pirate.
His body was buried in a cemetery in Port Royal but after the earthquake of 1692 struck this part of Jamaica, a large section of the town, including the cemetery sank into Kingston harbour; his body was never recovered.
He was described by his cousin Thomas Morgan as:
“A man of courage, determination, bravery, and … charisma. he was a planner, a brilliant military strategist and intensely loyal to England and to Jamaica. … but unlike so many of the brethren, he was flexible and adaptable, able to see that the future for Jamaica lay not in pillage or plunder but with peaceful trade … He was also an adept politician and held office longer than any of the governors of his time.”
Blackbeard was one of the most notorious of pirates, at least in common lore. Little is known about his early life until he set up his base on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. He captured a French slave ship which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge and by early 1718 was at the height of his power.
His name came from his black beard and ferocious appearance which he used to full effect to intimidate the crews of vessels he prayed upon. He then moved his base to North Carolina, supposedly having retired from piracy. This was not to be. Later on in 1718, two Royal Naval ships sailed up the channel to capture Blackbeard and his crew. The ensuing battle did not bode well for Blackbeard who was killed and his head was subsequently strung from the yard arm of HMS Pearl.
Piracy was not the sole purview of men. There were two infamous women pirates who had a brief career in the Caribbean until they were captured – Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Anne Bonny was born in Ireland and moved to America when she was quite young. In the Carolinas she married a poor sailor and part-time pirate, James Bonny and in 1717 moved to Nassau, a sanctuary for pirates. There she met Jack Rackham (Calico Jack) and became his pirate partner and lover. She escaped Nassau and disguised as a man joined Calico’s ship’s crew. They spent several years in Jamaica and the surrounding seas until they were captured in 1720 by a sloop hired by the Governor of Jamaica to seek them out.
Bonny, Rackham and Mary Read, another woman pirate disguised as a man who had sailed with them, were taken to Jamaica, tried and sentenced to hang. Rackham was immediately hanged but the sentence of Read and Bonny was stayed as both women were pregnant. Read died in prison, but little is known of the fate of Bonny. She was not executed and it may be that she was released because of her father’s influence. She may have moved back to Charles Town where she married, had children and lived out the remained of her life. A possible date of her death in 1780.
Mary Read was born in 1685 in England; she was also known as Mark Read. Read and Anne Bonny are two of the most famed female pirates of all times. She began dressing as a boy at a young age, first by her mother in order to receive an inheritance, and later to join the British military.
She married then moved to the West Indies after her husband’s death. There she met Jack Rackham (Calico Jack) and joined his crew, dressing as a man alongside Anne Bonny. Her time as a pirate was successful but short lived. The pirate hunter Jonathan Barnett took Rackham’s crew by surprise and the pirates were brought to Spanish Town, Jamaica for trial. They were convicted and Rackham was immediately executed. Both Read and Bonny had their sentences delayed as they claimed pregnancy. Bonny escaped from prison but Read remained and died in jail; probably from complications due to her pregnancy.
Francois L’Ollonais (also known as Ollonois) was born in France in 1630. He was a particularly cruel pirate who was active in the Caribbean during the 1660s. He is notorious for the sacking of Maracaibo where he proved himself to be an efficient torturer and liberated the town of vast amounts of wealth. He met his end in Panama in 1669 where members of the indigenous Kuna tribe killed him. He was torn to pieces and his body parts thrown into the fire so no trace should remain of this infamous and inhuman creature.
Bartholomew Roberts was one of the most successful pirates of all times having captured some 400 ships over a 4-year period. He died in a fight with HMS Swallow, a Royal Naval ship ordered to chase down pirates. The Royal Navy developed a specific design of warship to chase pirates, small, fast, with a shallow draft, well-armed and easily maneuverable.
Roberts was born in Wales in 1682. Little is known about his early years at sea other than he first went to sea at age 13. In 1719 he became the second mate on a slave ship. This ship was captured by pirates and he and the crew were forced to join the pirate crew. He became close to the pirate captain, who was also from Wales, and after the death of the captain, he was elected to be the new captain. He continued on capturing ships in large numbers until his ships, which were being careened at Cape Lopez, on the coast of Gabon, were spotted by HMS Swallow. A broadside from Swallow delivered a withering fire of grapeshot, some of which struck Roberts in the throat and killed him. He was buried at sea by his crew and his body was never found. After a two-hour battle the ship struck her colours and the pirate crew were captured.
This action proved to be a turning point in the war against pirates and is generally considered to be the end of the ‘Golden Age of Piracy.’
The stamp shows the text of the death sentence served on eight of his crew members after they had been captured.
Captain Edward English was an Irish-born pirate. He was born in 1685 and died in Madagascar in 1721.
In his early career he made his way to Jamaica and served as a privateer in the War of the Spanish Succession. He was captured by a pirate captain and forced to join his crew. This pirate was based in Nassau and took part in raids on Spanish Florida. Whilst serving on the pirate sloop the Lark, the ship was captured by the Royal Navy. He was released with the crew to induce other pirates of Nassau to accept the King’s pardon.
In mid 1718, England was granted captaincy of his own ship which he then sailed for the coast of Africa where he captured a number of merchant ships. England was a good natured and kind man not given to torture or kill his captives. This caused a dispute with is crew which resulted him being marooned on Mauritius with three other loyal crew members. After four months they built a small boat and sailed to St Augustine’s Bay in Madagascar. He died there in late 1720, possibly from a tropical disease.
George Lowther was an English pirate of which little is known about his early life. He was active in the Caribbean and Atlantic and his first mate was Edward Low, another notorious pirate.
He successfully captured many ships and granted a 6-gun brigantine to Edward Low who left to begin his own pirate career.
In 1722, he sailed to a secluded island called Blanquilla, about 200 miles off the coast of Venezuela, there he was spotted by HMS Eagle. He escaped to land by slipping out of his cabin window. His body was later discovered and it was found that he had shot himself rather than be arrested and most likely executed.
Little is known of Israel Hands early life, but he became well known for being second in command to Blackbeard. When Blackbeard was captured and killed by Lt Robert Maynard, Hands was ashore recuperating from a disabling pistol wound. He was however arrested together with fifteen other pirates and taken for trial in Williamsburg, Virginia. In exchange for a pardon, Hands testified against corrupt North Carolina officials with whom Blackbeard had consorted.
Hands appears as a character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island.
Much of John Fenn’s early life and career is unrecorded. He was a member of Captain Roberts’s fleet between 1717 to 1720 until leaving with fellow member Thomas Anstis. The two participated in a number of seizures of ships in the Caribbean. After quarreling for some time, they both decided to end their piratical careers and petition King George I for a royal pardon claiming they had been forced into piracy by Roberts. After nine months camped on an uninhabited island off Cuba and hearing that their request had been ignored by the King, they decided to resume their piracy.
Whilst careening their ships on Tobago in 1723, they were surprised by the British warship HMS Winchelsey. They were forced to run into the interior of Tobago where they were captured a day later and brought back to Antigua. Fenn was found guilty of piracy and hanged with six of his crew.
Anstis was an English pirate who served under Captain Roberts before setting off on his own with John Fenn. They captured a number of vessels in the Caribbean until they decided to petition King George I for a pardon, claiming to have been forced into piracy. Nine months later, they received information that their request had been ignored.
The mutineers then surrendered to Dutch authorities in Curacao where they received amnesty and their prisoners were hanged.
Edward Low was a notorious pirate of English origin, born into poverty in 1690 in Westminster. As a young man he moved to Boston. His wife died in childbirth in 1719 and two years later he became a pirate.
He has been described as savage and desperate, a man of amazing and grotesque brutality. He operated around the Atlantic coast of Canada and the Azores displaying untold acts of cruelty against the crews of ships he captured.
In 1723, leaving the Azores for the Carolinas, he suffered a resounding defeat at the hand of HMS Greyhound which had been dispatched to hunt down Low and his fleet. Low escaped but twenty five of the crew of his other ship were captured, tried and hanged.
There are conflicting reports on the circumstances of Low’s death. One rumour has it that Low sailed to Brazil, another is that his ship sank in a storm with all hands lost.
Jean Lafitte was a French pirate and privateer who operated in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He was born in 1780 in Haiti. He ran a port in Louisiana where he had a profitable smuggling operation and started to engage in piracy. A US Naval force invaded his base of operations and captured most of his fleet. In return for a legal pardon, Lafitte and his fleet helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans in the Battle of New Orleans, during the war of 1812.
He subsequently became a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence. He founded a new colony on Galveston Island which at its height earned millions of dollars from stolen or smuggled goods and coin. He continued to attack merchant ships as a pirate around Central American ports until he died in 1823. His death happened when he attacked two Spanish ships in Honduras, not realizing they were heavily armed warships. Wounded in battle, he died and was buried at sea.
Captain William Kidd, Scottish navigator and privateer, was born in Scotland in 1655 and hanged for piracy in 1701.
Kidd later settled in New York City where he befriended many prominent citizens.
By 1689, He became a member of a French-English pirate crew sailing the Caribbean under Captain Jean Fantin. During one of their voyages, Kidd and other crew members mutinied, ousting the captain and sailing to Nevis. There they renamed the ship Blessed William and Kidd became the captain. He was commissioned by Nevis, New York and Massachusetts to attack French ships, so became a privateer.
King William III presented Kidd with a letter of Marque to attack pirates and any enemy French ships. He took command of a new ship in England, Adventure Galley, and sailed from the Thames setting course for the Cape of Good Hope. This ambitious expedition was a failure as Kidd failed to find any pirates.
He then seems to have turned to piracy, and acts of his savagery were reported by escaped prisoners. Kidd was declared a pirate early in his voyage by the Royal Navy after refusing to hand over 30 members of his crew to the navy who were looking for conscripts. Returning to America, he supposedly buried much of his treasure on Gardiners Island, just off New York. The belief he had left buried treasure contributed enormously to enhancing his legend.
Kidd found himself a wanted man and was lured to Boston with a false promise of clemency. He was then arrested and jailed. After a year in jail, under brutal conditions, he was sent to England to face charges of Piracy and murder. He was found guilty and hanged in 1701. His body was gibbeted over the River Thames and left for three years as a warning to future pirates.
Kidd has been portrayed in popular culture in films, stories, video games and in songs.
This stamp shows HMS Swallow sinking a pirate ship in the Macassar Strait. Swallow was specially modified to chase down pirates in the Pacific and elsewhere.
The Macassar Strait, an 800 km channel between Borneo and Malaysia, has long been a favourite haunt of pirates since the 14th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the lucrative spice trade became the target of pirates in the strait. However, by the 1870s, piracy had come to an end with the Dutch and British joining forces to curb piracy in the Macassar Straits. British and Dutch naval vessels were vastly superior to any vessel the pirates sailed.
Blackbirding is a term used to describe the coercion through trickery and kidnapping of people to work as labourers. It probably comes from a contraction of “blackbird catching”; “blackbird” being a slang term for local indigenous people. This started in 1860 in the Pacific to supply workers to mine guano deposits on islands off Peru.
In the 1870s the blackbirding trade focused on supplying labourers to the sugar plantations of Queensland, Australia, and Fiji. Blackbirding continues to this day in some developing countries, such as those in Central America. During the 1850s to 1870s, so many ships entered the blackbirding trade that the British Navy sent a number of warships from the Australia Station to the Pacific to suppress the trade, these included HMS Beagle, HMS Basilisk and HMS Blanche. They were not entirely successful in halting this trade.
William Henry “Bully” Hayes was a notorious American-born ship’s captain who engaged in piracy and blackbirding in the 1860s and 70s. Hayes operated across the width of the Pacific until his murder in 1877.
He has been described as a South Sea Pirate and the “last of the buccaneers.” However it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction and legend in his life. He has also been described as “a cheap swindler, a bully, a minor confidence man, a thief, a ready bigamist” and there is no evidence that he took a ship by force in the tradition of a pirate or privateer.
He is believed to have left New York as a passenger on the Canton in 1853, although when the ship reached Singapore it was captained by Hayes. It was then sold by him shortly after arrival. He then operated in East Asia carrying out various frauds on ship’s chandlers over mortgaging ships, providing false papers in payment for cargo and selling cargos for his own account rather than the account of the owner of the cargo.
He arrived in Freemantle, Western Australia in 1857 as the captain of a ship. However, Singapore ships chandlers caught up with him in Perth and forced the sale of his ship, forcing him into bankruptcy.
In 1857 he married a widower, Amelia Littleton, bigamously as he supposedly had a wife in the USA.
Hayes built up debts in Adelaide and escaped his creditors by ruse fleeing to Melbourne where he gained command of the Orestes sailing to Vancouver. He was thrown off the ship in Honolulu by the ‘Supercargo’ for swindling passengers. He proceeded to gain command of another ship with a cargo obtained by fraud. He sailed back across the Pacific, having abandoned Amelia in San Francisco. On the return trip to Sydney, he lost the ship off the Navigator Islands and with a skeleton crew and the women and children, reached Savai’i, Samoa. The crew and Hayes were returned to Sydney where Hayes managed to evade a charge of having indecently assaulted one of the passengers, a 15yr old girl.
In the late 1860s, Hayes operated in the Pacific “recruiting” Pacific Islanders to provide labour for plantations in Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa and Australia (blackbirding). He was arrested in Samoa but escaped and joined a fellow American, Ben Pease on his ship, a man with a similar reputation for skulduggery. Hayes arrived back in Apia in sole command with rather vague explanations as to what happened to Pease, presumed murdered.
He renamed the ship Leonora, after his favourite daughter, and continued to trade in coconut oil, copra and blackbirding. He was again arrested but was released as there was no proof or witnesses to support a prosecution.
Hayes has a long history of charges against him for sexual assault of underage females in Australia and New Zealand, all of which he seemed to evade.
In 1874, Louis Becke sailed a ketch to Apia to deliver it to Hayes. He then joined Hayes on the Leonora as a passenger until it was wrecked in 1874 during a storm while in the harbour at Kosrae, Micronesia. After being wrecked, Hayes brawled with European Traders and with his crew and subsequently he departed; Becke chose to stay with the islanders. Later in the year Hayes was again arrested, but escaped in a 14-foot boat built of timber from the wreck of the Leonora.
Hayes reached Guam where he purchased a schooner on credit and accepted a commission to help convicts escape from prison. He was again arrested and ended up in jail in Manila. He was eventually freed and landed in San Fransisco without funds in early 1876. There he persuaded a couple, the Moodys, to fund the purchase of a schooner, the Lotus. Hayes tricked Mr Moody to go ashore and he then sailed off to Apia with Mrs Moody still on board.
It was in Apia that he was killed. The commonly accepted version of his death is that the ship’s cook, Dutch Pete, responding to threats from Hayes, killed him. There is another interpretation of his death where Dutch Pete and some of the crew plotted to kill Hayes and then search for the money that he had supposedly buried on Kosrae following the wreck of the Leonora.
A number of films and novels are based on the adventures of Bully Hayes, including “Nate and Hayes” a pirate adventure film starring Tommy Lee Jones as Hayes; it was a flop at the box office. Much of Hayes’s legend is due to the writing of Louis Becke who used his time with Hayes in the Pacific to write of his experiences, some true, others fictional.
Although the Skull and Cross Bones flag has been portrayed as the common flag of pirates, there were many different pirate flags in use, including this one flown by Blackbeard. Pirates usually flew flags that would not identify them as pirates until they attacked a merchant ship at which time they hoisted their pirate flag. The design of pirate flags was intended to intimidate and terrify the crews of ships they were attacking.
As a side-note, the Royal Navy Submarine Service adopted the Skull and Crossbones flag and flew it to signify successful missions. In 1900, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, First Sea Lord, stated that submarines were “underhanded, unfair, and damn un-English.” He intended to convince the Admiralty that the crews of captured enemy submarines should be hanged as pirates.
This was a punishment that was an alternative to immediate execution. As a punishment, a sailor would be deposited on a deserted island and left there with few provisions. This often resulted in a much more drawn out death than would be dealt on board ship. However, some enterprising sailors who were marooned, built small sailboats to escape to civilization; as did Edward English and his three crew members.