Welsh History, Castles in Wales
  • Welsh Adventurers

Black Bart, Ogle scores first success

Black Bart, Ogle scores first success. (page 6)

At dawn on the 5th of February the' Swallow 'came in sight of three ships at Cape Lopez and recognised them straight away.

According to the admiralty account, Ogle could not simply drive in an assault because a sand bank blocked his way so he had to steer out to sea for a while. The pirates misinterpreted this as fear, thinking this new comer had gone to run and typically gave chase with the captured French ship, re-named 'The Ranger'.

Ogle's lieutenant, a Mr. Sun played mouse to their cat, allowing them to gain then slipping away. 'The Ranger' commanded by James Skyrme, another Welsh pirate had no reason to think this was not just another fat merchantman on the run. Ogle intended to draw the 'Rover' away from the coast and their comrades. He had to get far enough away so that 'The Swallow's 'guns, when eventually revealed, would not be heard ashore.

The rouse worked, by the time ''The Rover''' was close enough to board she was too close to avoid a broadside. The battle ran for a day or so, apparently the navy always with the upper hand. It is said the pirates stood on deck mocking their foes, making gestures and shouting insults, all the while trying to get away. One volley blew Skyrme's leg clean off and yet he refused to leave the deck and fought on his bloody stump!

Eventually the damage was too great and resignation was a credible option. Ogle sent a boat out to take their surrender. As it drew near an explosion was heard from the rear of the 'Rover'. When inspected they found that some of the senior pirates had vowed not to be taken alive, gathered the little gun powder remaining and with a pistol shot from a yet another Welshman, John Morris, blew themselves up. As it happens, there was so little powder all they did was burn and injure each other. They were immediately interrogated. A man thought to be the ship boatswain, Roger Bull was asked why they had taken to suicide. He poured scorn on his captors complaining the worse thing was not the injury but that his best hat had been shot overboard in the blast. A naval surgeon offered treatment but was refused. Bull complained all day saying Roberts would have Olge's guts for garters when he caught him. These outbursts earned him a lashing in spite of his burns. He was dead by the following morning.

A single broadside.

Ogle returned to Cape Lopez some five days after the original sighting. Robert's flagship, 'The Royal Fortune' was still there at anchor with the 'Little Rover' and another, 'The Neptune''. According to the admiralty 'The Royal Fortune'' made a break for open water passing 'The Swallow' allowing Ogle to get off a broadside as she went by. A short running battle began with a single broadside from 'The Swallow' and saw Roberts fatally injured with grapeshot wound to his throat. They claim the crew threw his body over-board before surrendering. Bartholomew Robert's body was not recovered. The crew were transported to Cape Corso Castle and executed. Case closed.

However, eyewitnesses report some strange things happened that February morning at Cape Lopez. To begin with, the pirates had excellent intelligence on the 'Swallow,' one of her crewmen had deserted, joining 'The Royal Fortune'' so they had insider knowledge of how well she performed and they could identify her. The pirates knew they were much faster and could easily have out run her.

On the morning of the 10th, after first sighting 'The Swallow 'the pirates had over an hour to effect an escape but Roberts seemed unbothered. Rather, he sat eating his breakfast of Salamungrundy (pickled fish), thus allowing 'The Swallow' to get so close that an engagement was inevitable. Then, once underway the pirates did not rig 'The Royal Fortune'' to run even though they knew they were out-gunned so a speedy get-away was their best option.

That's not all, there were some very unusual things reported on board 'The Royal Fortune'' that morning. Bart didn't breakfast alone, he had a guest, one Captain Hill, master of 'The Neptune'. Strangely 'The Neptune' was not detained and searched by Ogle who allowed her to get clean away.

Fifty ounces of gold dust.

Pirates would often dress with some verve but on this particular day Bart was flamboyant even by their standards. He was dressed in crimson top to bottom and wore a gold chain with a diamond studded cross. He also had a large red feather in his hat, could he be more visible?

Bartholomew Roberts probably did not die that morning, later reports infer he engineered the whole sham after the fiasco at Porto-Nova. He's known to tell the crew he wished out of piracy but the opportunity to safely extricate himself never presented itself. He did love the way of life, being master of his own destiny but of course it came at a price. He despised the crew for their cruelty and the constant struggle to keep them in check.

Using his relationship with the governor of Guinea, Bart organised protection for himself (remember the The cross of King João, it was given to the governor!) by delivering his crew to Ogle. Sending 'The Ranger' out alone to take on a man-o-war simply divided the crew. 'The Neptune' had not just come by; she was on a mission, there to whisk Roberts away. According to the Naval account, the report of his death was given by a helmsman named Stephenson. He claimed he saw Roberts fall, saw his wounds, and together with some other crewmen killed in action, threw the body over-board.

There was indeed a body thrown over the side but it was not Bartholomew Roberts. Black Bart had escaped with Captain Hill, rowing to 'The Neptune' disguised as an ordinary crewman. They'd dressed a body in his crimson finery and left it with Stephenson in the stateroom. When the time was right, in the confusion of that first broadside from,' 'The Swallow' Stephenson threw it overboard and rushed on-deck to pass-off the story. It worked perfectly. Stephenson was detained but later released. Captain Hill arrived in Barbados some time later, delivering fifty ounces of gold dust to the governor there, payment of sorts for safe passage of his anonymous passenger who went on to Florida, never to be seen again. Nothing more was heard of Captain Hill. Captain Ogle however returned home to a hero's welcome. His hefty reward included a knighthood, career advancement (eventually becoming Admiral of the Fleet) and a country manor at Kirkley Hall in the north of England where his descendants remained until 1922