Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Pirate Offers Thousand Pounds: Schooner Days MCLXXXIV (1184)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 4 Sep 1954
Full Text
Pirate Offers Thousand Pounds
Schooner Days MCLXXXIV (1184)

by C. H. J. Snider

In Orkney, 1725

Round One of the battle of brains in Orkney ended distinctly in Fea's favor. He had five of the pirates and their only boat under lock and key. He lighted balefires on the hilltops to hasten his help and watched the long February night through for Gow's next move.

JOHN GOW, pirate, as already told, was in a jam under Calf Island opposite Eday, his 32 guns immobilized by the position of his embayed ship, Revenge, his longboat and even his last "small boat lost.

Across the Calf Sound, in Eday, at Carrick House, which Gow had come to ravage, his schooldays friend James Fea held the boat and its pirate crew close prisoners. Fea had only five men, but they were now well armed, and help would be on the way by the morrow. Alarm fires blazing on the hilltops of Eday were summoning it. It was too bitter cold to swim across the Sound in February, and the tide ran too strong for the boatless pirates in the Revenge to attempt to cross on a raft.

The gong sounded for Round Two in the battle of brains.

Gow fancied himself as a letter writer. He had been better at composition at school than Fea. He had told Fea he could not commit himself to writing. But perhaps he could flatter him into a trap by making an exception in favor of his old school friend. He began to compose a letter. But before he had finished it the wind, which had been blowing a heavy gale, veered to a point where, by clever management at high water, the Revenge could get out to sea if she were only started off properly.

Cursing Fea and all and sundry with the utmost heartiness, Gow abandoned his intention of robbing him and concentrated on his own escape. Sheeting home his close-reefed topsails and bracing his yards to give the Revenge the proper cant, Gow set "Chips" Murphy, the Revenge's carpenter, to cut the cable when he gave the word.

"Cut, cut ye fool, cut!" yelled Gow as her head began to swing.

The young fellow struck with his ship-axe, once! twice!! thrice!!! He was of course drunk, for these pirates were never sober, but it was blowing hard and the water was rough and the ship was rolling. Three blows only stranded the cable. It held until she had swung so far that her sails were filled the wrong way, and her head was pointed to the shore instead of out to sea. If it had held a little longer they might have swung the yards and brought her round again. But at the critical second the last strand parted and the Revenge drove madly on to the Calf Island shore. At the top of the tide. She would be high and dry at low water.

"We are all dead men!" shrieked Gow. There was a good deal in what he said.

So ended Sunday, Feb. 14th, 1725. St. Valentine's Day. According to Gow's plans before he thought of robbing his schoolmate, on this day he should have been the just-married spouse of the richest heiress in Kirkwall, Mistress Sheinah Gordon.

Round Two of the battle of brains had ended with Gow down: but not for the count.

After further recourse to his two-gallon gin bottle he completed his letter, and with daylight Monday morning he had a man overside and on to Calf Island, with a white flag. Gow had wild hopes of trapping Fea into helping him to escape or of holding him as a hostage. His letter seemed honest enough. He had written:

"Hon. Sir,

"According to your promise I expected James Laing with boats and men to my assistance, but have neither seen nor heard of him since his being on board. I sent my boat ashore to beg your assistance; if they have done oyrwayes is contrair to my orders. I earnestly desire you'll send some boats to assist me. If your people are afraid I'll come on shoar myself till they return. If you have a great boat, would be usefull for taking in the best of my cargo to lighten the ship. If you'll grant me your assistance I hereby oblige myself to pay you to the value of one thousand pound sterling; qch [which] if it be my misfortune to be shipwreked, the Government siezes all; and I'll take care they shall be nothing the better—only the guns; for I'm resolvd to set fire to all, and all of us perish together. Therefore begs you'll advise for own advantage together with my safety. Your men shall have twenty pence a day for every day they assist me.

"I am. hond. Sir, your humble Servant,


The "Ino" of course is the old fashioned abbreviation for John, which we spell Jno. Next round next week.

Snider, C. H. J.
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Date of Publication
4 Sep 1954
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  • Scotland, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 59.23341 Longitude: -2.75109
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Pirate Offers Thousand Pounds: Schooner Days MCLXXXIV (1184)