July 29, 2015

The Emu, kidnapped by the American pirate

Susannah Lallemont, was condemned to death (some sources say that Susannah was only 16.)  Still, “the prisonner was recommended to mercy, on account of her age.”

Perhaps “mercy” meant that her death would not be as gruesome as some.

Perhaps it was lucky that the empire “needed” colonists. Susannah was repreived to a life of “transportation”, and she was exiled to Botany Bay.

Susannah Lallemont was packed on board the Emu, with a crew of 25 men and 49 other convict women. Some were wanted for burglary, others for different kinds of theft. They likely didn’t know which crimes the others were convicted of, it could have been stealing a sheep, it could have been murder.

These other women were also condemned to death, for crimes like murder, or stealing the clothes off an eight year old child.

The emu was no cruise ship.  Officially, she carried 10 guns.

American sailors had been forced into the British service, American ports had been closed to trade, and as one British paper put it the “United States was not acting like loyal colonists.”

James Madison had declared war on Britain, and some American enthusiasts know the story of a few frigates which were sent to fight.

What the history books don’t usually tell us about is the private naval vessels which were not under military command.  A daring businessman could buy Letters of Marque.  And on… five of these privateers, or “pirates” as Susannah’s biographers called them, set off to sea.

Among them was a brig called the Holkar commanded by Captain Rowland.  It shared a name with one of Britain’s most formidable enemies, a chief in Pakistan who had died the year before. According the the Lloyd’s list, it had 15 guns.  This number may have been exaggerated to intimidate it’s prizes.

The privateers got their money on commission.  The bigger the boat you took, the more money you made.  The greater the number of enemies you fought, the more money you made.  So when Captain Rowland and his crew  saw a ten gun British transport with a relatively large number of sailors and ten or twelve guns (depending on who you ask), it was a tempting offer.

For those who like battle details, unfortunately there weren’t any.

The Emu, according to historian Edgar Stanton Maclay “was commanded by an arrogant lieutenant of the British navy, who could not persuade his crew to fight the Yankees.”

The Holkar took other ships on the same cruise, the Richard, a schooner, a 14 gun Brig, and two trading vessels.

When these “pirates” didn’t have much time for their captives.  They dropped Susannah, the other female convicts, and the crew off in a tropical paradise of St. Vincent in the Carribean, and left them enough provisions for four months.

When the story reached England, the Holkar had grown two more guns than the previous report, for a new total of 18.  (There was no mention in the British newspapers of the Emu being given up without a fight.)

The crew and the female captives were “rescued” from their terrible fate, and Susannah once again set off for a life of banishment and years of forced labor in Botany Bay.  On her journey thither, she spoke to one of the sailors.  He agreed to “jump ship” once they got there, when they would be married.

At the age of 48 (or perhaps fifty, if the old bailey was telling the truth) she died in childbirth.

The biographies of Susannah don’t tell us what became of the Holkar “pirates”, but we know.

As for Captain Rowland, he continued capturing boats until he came across a British frigate, the Orpheus.  Frigates tend to have fourty guns, but the Orpheus had….  The orpheus was commanded by Thomas Hardy.

At first, Holkar fought against the massive ship.  He succeeded, according to … in repelling the Orpheus.

However, in this action, his crew had noticed fifteen bodies in British uniforms floating in the water.  Among them was a captain of marines, Captain Collins.

The Orpheus again made for the Holkar.

Captain Rowland knew that vengeance from the frigate would be nasty, and so to save the lives of his men, he landed and had them flee, leaving the Holkar behind.

Privateers were the only people paid on commission.  The British navy got prize money when it captured or destroyed a ship.  Ships were put into classes.  If they had a certain number of crew, or a certain number of guns, you could get more commission for capturing or destroying them.

So it’s little surprize that, after the Holkar was destroyed, the British papers reported her as having 20 guns.  Had the Holkar only 15, or 11 as official American records said, then Captain Hardy and his crew wouldn’t get as much prize money for destroying her.

When the Holkar got to port, Captain Rowland had 25 British prisoners with him. Having named the Holkar for the historic brig of the revolution, Rowland seemed to be a man who knew and appreciated his history. Other brigs were named after living naval heroes, like the Decatur. And it was Decatur’s father who uttered the once famous word “my sons are the property of their country!”

Those sons proved to by heroic and loyal to a fault. It was therefore a great compliment when Captain Holkar said that his captives were “British property.”

Rowland’s comment would later cost the captain of the Holkar his life.

Meanwhile, Susannah was left stranded. The women had four months provisions in food, and the island had no lack of water, but they had not much in the way of clothes.

“on board the Holkar were 25 British prisoners” according to “Niles’ weekly Register.”{18}

{18}”Events of the War” in Niles’ weekly register, Volume 4, 1813, p. 194, Saturday, May 22, 1813.

“The trim American privateer Holkar, showing 16 gun muzzles and manned by 137 bold seafarers, sighted the British brig Emu buffeting her way to the infant Australian colony in November 1812.” Rupert Lockwood, America invades Australia. Current Book distributors, 1954.

A later myth was told about Commander Dance having captured the Holkar. It was of course, intended for “juvenile readers.” Sir Thomas had put Dance on the coast of America… and Dance was sent to destroy her.

The American crew, Captain Rowlands, was waiting on the beach with rifles, ready to defend her. (The stereotype spread at that time by poor losers was that Americans, due to living out in the wild, were all born sharp-shooters. So, juvenile readers would have had goose bumps to hear that their hero Dance was faced by Americans with rifles, hiding perhaps in the trees.)

Well, in this juvenile story, Dance boarded the Holkar and went below deck. There, he saw a train of gunpowder (just like in the cartoons) which was lit, and almost all of it had been burnt up, so that the flame was nearly at the magazine, where the rest of the powder was stored. If it hit the magazine, it would blow up not only Dance and his party who entered the Holkar, but all the men in boats around. (Unlike in the cartoons, they could not survive such a blast.)

Apparently, Dance then “with coolness and intrepidity” put the flame out with his finger. Well, his finger did get burnt, but even if the story were true, I don’t see that as being particularly brave. I mean, burn your finger or get blown to bits? Really, most people would sacrifice the finger.

My guess is the reason that this story didn’t get much reported is because either Dance or his friend Captain Christopher Claxton made it up.

Christopher Claxton (Capt.) The naval monitor:
(London:1833 A.J. Valpy, Red Lion Court)

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