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February 2, 2012

Susannah Lalliment meets the American pirates

Despite her conviction, Susannah Lalliment was lucky. The far off colonies of the Empire had too few loyal subjects, and the parliament had an idea of how to get more people there. Susannah’s death sentence was commuted to banishment, life on the other side of the world.

In October, after a few months in the London prison, she was put with dozens of other women on board the “Emu.” (The believable numbers of convicts on board the Emu vary from 40-60. One source even claimed 200, but they got the name of the ship wrong.)

October 1812, The Emu departs for Australia

The Emu was no cruise ship. She carried 11 guns (although she only admitted to 10), and she had a “patent defense” system to stop anyone from boarding. There were a couple dozen sailors on board the well armed vessel. They were ready for pirates.

Though the French, in the words of Shafic Ghorbal, were “without a navy worthy of the name”, there were still active privateers and pirates out to harass British vessels.

The Danes gave the Brits a run for their money. Pirates from small states around the world looked for easy prey, capturing crews and holding them for ransom, or worse. And in June, nearly a month before Susannah had been sentenced, the United States had declared war on Britain.  British ships were the cause of American anger, and they’d soon be the focus of it.

The Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain had a long tradition of privateering. They did “commerce raiding” on the Spaniards since the times of Elizabeth. Legalized piracy, or privateering was an art that the Anglo-Saxon had never quite abandoned since his days in the Jutland peninsular. And now that her former colonies in America had declared war on Britain, British civilian ships were fair game for the Anglo-Saxon privateer.

The newspapers let sea captains know what to expect. On Tuesday October 20, 1812, about the same time that the Emu left England, the “Morning Chronicle” warned its readers of American privateers in search of British booty. Among the privateers sent out from New York were five brigs and four schooners, including the Retaliation of 9 guns, the Anaconda of 18 guns, and the Holkar, listed as having 16 guns. (Not to be confused with a ship of the same name which captured ammunition in the American Revolution.)

Most British ships traveled in a convoy, and Susannah’s prison ship, the Emu, was no exception.

The Emu left Portsmouth under the protection of the 185 ton brig James Hay, commanded by Captain William Campbell.  But the Emu’s commander, a Lieutenant Bisset, didn’t stay with his babysitters for long. At Lisbon, Bisset took his ship away from the confines of the convoy. The Emu was now on her own, with a skeleton crew, far outnumbered by the prisoners on board.

October 1812, The Holkar Recruits in New Haven

Newspapers disagreed on just how many guns the Privateer Holkar had. Considering her speed, she probably had fewer than the 16 which most historians credit her with.

In Connecticut, a tale is told about the Holkar’s first days at sea. Unable to recruit a big enough crew to man her 16 guns in New York, Captain Rowland the took the Holkar to New Haven, Connecticut, in search of more hands. To get attention, and to show off the power of their new ship, the crew fired round after round from all 16 cannons, (if there were that many), frightening some of the townspeople who thought that the port of New Haven was under attack.

At first, a distaste for this legal form of piracy made recruiting for the Holkar next to impossible. After a few days passed, however, the Holkar found among the population of New Haven some of the older sea dogs who were perhaps too aged to get jobs on ordinary ships. If it were only patriotism that were motivating them, young men might have served in the regular navy, but the older men were willing to take greater risks (and sacrifice some of their virtues) for money.

Soon, the batch of desperadoes were off, and they met up with ship after ship, and took several prizes. These included the Dorcus, and an unnamed 14 gun brig, as well as two trading vessels, whose booty was sold to pay off the Holkar’s crew. None of these victims seemed to make the British newspapers, perhaps they were thought to be lost at sea. Soon, however, the “twelve” gun brig Emu spotted the “sixteen” gun brig Holkar. The Emu’s commanding sailor was ready for a fight.

18th November, 1812, The Holkar meets The Emu

The “Captain” of the Emu, Lieutenant Bisset, was “an arrogant lieutenant of the British Navy.” Bisset knew that the privateers were in the tradition of boarding their prize, and the ship was built in such a way as to make boarding nearly impossible. If he and the crew of the Emu put up enough of a resistance, perhaps the Holkar would leave them alone.

Perhaps to the disappointment of the old sea dogs on the Holkar, (as to fans of naval battles) the Emu put up no resistance. With the exception of Bisset’s first mate and one other, the crew of the Emu refused to fight against the Yankees.

Did they refuse because they sympathised with the American cause, or because they feared for the safety of Susannah Lalliment and the other women on board? The records I’ve found don’t answer that question. Either way, the quick surrender showed that the Emu’s crew didn’t think of the American privateer as “pirates”, but more as chivalrous warriors who would treat their prisoners well. While they were right about Captain Rowland’s intention, the crew of the Emu could not have guessed what would happen next.

10th January 1813, the fall of the Aurora

Captain Rowland and his Holkar needed the money, as we’ve said, so they carried on raiding. Next, they captured the Aurora on 10th of January, 1813. Towing all these ships were a bit taxing, so they decided to give the female prisoners on board the Emu their “liberty” while they took some of the men back to America as prisoners of war.

15th January 1813, Susannah Lalliment is “set free”

The Holkar liberated the female convicts by marooning the poor girls on an island off the coast of Africa. The captives on the Emu were left with enough provisions, or food, for six months, and the
island had no lack of water. It wasn’t totally deserted either, there was a mission run by Portuguese nuns.

However, apart from the nuns, not many ships stopped by St. Vincent island in Capo Verde in 1812. The convicts had very little clothing, no were to escape to. If only the Holkar had taken Susannah to America, instead of deserting her with convicted felons. Before long, the provisions of the castaways would run out. Meanwhile, the Holkar was still on a cruise.

(The fate of Captain Rowland...)

(References will be given at the story’s conclusion)

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