Tuesday, July 28

A Highwayman Came Riding...

My Tuesday Talk guest this week: author Anthony Anglorus ...


People ask why I write about highwaymen.

They are unfashionable, they were criminals and for the most part, they have been done to death in the past. But if you look closer, you find that the vast majority of tales about highwaymen are just variations on the theme of a fictitious Dick Turpin.

In fact, the highwayman of note until 1834 was one Captain James Hind.


If you were to refer to highwaymen in 1833, your audience would have assumed you were talking about Hind. What changed? William Harrison Ainsworth released his novel “Rookwood” and it caught the public imagination.

In “Rookwood”, he used Dick Turpin as the shell for a large, romantic tale that included all of Hind and Claude Duval’s personal attributes and, most notably, Nevison’s ride to York. Turpin was in fact the worst kind of thug. He once roasted a man over his own fire to persuade him to reveal where he hid his money - then left him there for the fun of it once the location had been revealed. Any robbery by him typically took a very simple route; rob, rape then kill. Rape was obviously only if there was a woman around, but if the whim took him, he would add in a little torture for the pleasure of seeing his victims’ reaction.

Turpin, then, was in reality a thoroughly unsavoury character, one who would almost certainly be serving a ‘life means life’ sentence were he around today. But what of the others? Claude Duval was, as his name suggests, a Frenchman of some considerable charm and it was reported at the time that it was actually a social cachet for a woman to be able to say ‘I was robbed by Claude Duval’.
But the first of the noble thieves was Captain James Hind.

Born in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire in 1616, James rebelled when his father sent him to train with a butcher who was noted for his brutality. Instead, he borrowed two pounds from his mother and made his way to London.

As always, of course, he was mainly interested in the drink and the wild women. On one occasion, his female drinking partner was arrested on suspicion of theft, and James was taken with her. He was released next morning, but not before he had made friends with Thomas Allen, notorious leader of a highway gang. Allen was released at the same time, and had clearly taken to James for he offered him the chance to join his gang - but he had to pass a test first.
The test turned out to be a robbery on Shooters Hill. James courteously robbed a passing horseman, but to the anger of the rest of the gang, gave the man back some of his plunder ‘that you may return home safely’.

Thomas, however, was hugely amused by this and James became a member of the band of robbers. Over the next few years, they successfully ruled the roads, but James became their planner. He was always careful that they had routes of escape laid out and available to them, and although Thomas was the uncontested leader, all of them took heed of James’s schemes.
When the Civil War reared its’ ugly head, as a man they all volunteered for the Royalist side. In James’s case, he joined his old acquaintance William Compton (who had been a customer of his father’s saddlery business) in Oxford and was instrumental in their success; mindful of his previous occupation, Compton made James a Captain and sent him out to rob Parliamentarian supply wagons.
Once the war was lost, James returned to the open road with Thomas Allen and his gang. The following years were the most fruitful of all, but as I start my narrative within this period, I shall stop at this point.

James Hind was always polite, always mischievous, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from the book. 
As we open, he has just walked into an inn.

“Looking around the room, he observed the landlord taking an order to a traveller seated in the window. It was a little early for the evening influx and the tables were all polished and empty, awaiting occupation.
“Harold!” called James, “When you’re ready.”
The landlord turned. Distinctly rotund, he smiled as he recognised his latest customer.
“James! Indeed, sir, we have missed you.”
“Ah, I have been busy around London. But I’m taking some time to revisit my old haunts.”
He turned towards the well-dressed traveller, who was watching. “John Hind at your service, sir.”
“Francis Cooper, sir. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“May I join you?”
“Of course, sir. It has been a long journey without convivial conversation.”
James sat beside the man, and then observed his companion critically for a moment. A thick blue cloak lay astride an adjacent chair and he was dressed in a fine linen shirt beneath a dour but still high quality waistcoat. “I believe you to be a person of some importance in London, judging by your attire.”
“’Tis true enough; I am a lawyer. The new government is keeping us all busy, and it is many months since I was able to visit my parents up in Burton. But anxious as I am to meet them again, a man must eat!”
James raised his glass. “To good food, good ale, good family and convivial company.” As if on cue, the food arrived at the table and the lawyer tucked in with gusto.
The lawyer reached for his watch, and then frowned.
“I was sure that I had a watch when I sat down.” He checked his other pockets, and then stopped as James laid the watch on the table in front of him. 
“I trust you can offer a suitable explanation, sir!” exclaimed the lawyer.
“A watch in a tavern lost, oh that’s a crime.” Recited James with a smile. 
“See how in drinking men do lose their time. 
The string hung out, and you forgot to lock it,
 and so the watch did slip out of your pocket. 
If you would keep your watch, this you must do, 
pocket your watch but watch your pocket too!”
For a moment, Cooper studied James’ face, and then burst out laughing. “Well, I have no idea what your profession might be, young man, but I feel that you have taught me a valuable lesson this day. Thank you.”
“It is my pleasure, sir,” responded James with a smile.”

He was also reluctant to kill or injure - he is perhaps unique in being able to say that he never killed anyone during a robbery. So for me, this was a tale worth the telling, and I chose to start the book just before the end of the second civil war -so much happened in this period!



Midwest Book Review were the first to publish a review, and I was delighted to read it as my book was described as a “Rollicking Good Read” - which is what I wanted it to be.

“The Prince of Prigs” is published by Bygone Era Books and is available from all normal outlets as paperback for £13.95/$19.95. 
E-book prices are £4.68/$6.99.

I shall be at Decatur book festival 4-6 September - in full highwayman attire!

[Helen] Thank you Anthony - wishing you all the best with your book 

Here's my favourite song as a contribution to this topic! 


Previous article by Helen: The startof piracy in the Caribbean 

Friday, July 24

The start of Caribbean Piracy and the 1715 Spanish Fleet

(Tuesday Talk - on a Friday :-) 

On 24th July 1715 twelve heavily laden galleons set sail from the New World (Mexico) heading home to Spain after many months of delay. They never made it.

The Flota de Nueva EspaƱa (the New Spanish Fleet) had initially sailed to Veracruz in Mexico carrying mercury which was an essential substance for refining silver cobs. The intention was to return to Spain, rendezvousing in Havana, Cuba, with a second fleet, the Esquadron de Terra Firme which sailed from Spain to South America and back again. The returning ships would be carrying Peruvian and Colombian treasure from Panama and Cartagena. The entire fleet was a floating treasure chest of magnificent proportion: chests of silver and gold coin, gold bars, gold dust, jewellery, tobacco, spices, indigo and cochineal as well as emeralds, pearls and Chinese porcelain. It is possible that the combined value of the registered cargo (not including any contraband that was also more than likely to have been aboard) nears something like a modern equivalent of about £1,500,000,000.


The Squadron of Tierra Firma was under the command of Captain-General Don Antonio de Escheverz y Zubiza, and the New Spain Fleet by Captain-General Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla. The flagships were both called Capitana, one being a captured English ship formerly named the Hampton Court. Other known ships (although some names have been disputed) were the Almiranta, the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, Urca de Lima, San Miguel, the El Ciervo, the Refuerzo. and a smaller merchant vessel. Sailing with them, a French ship Griffon, under the command of Captain Antoine Dar.

All of them were overloaded, top-heavy, and clumsy – and had delayed too long. More delays occurred in Havana, and the convoy of twelve ships did not weigh anchor until well into the known hurricane season. The route was the usual tried and tested one up the Bahama Channel: follow the Florida coast making use of the Gulf Stream, which eventually veers across the Atlantic not far from where the fleet was lost.



Seven days after departing from Havana in the evening of July 30th, a hurricane blew in, wrecking the fleet along the Florida coast, with the single exception of the Griffon which sailed on unscathed. Over one thousand people lost their lives, including Ubilla and his officers.



Some of the ships sank in deep water, some broke up in the shallows. The more fortunate ran aground close to the beach. About 1,500 reached the safety of shore by swimming or floating on wreckage. The survivors improvised makeshift camps while a party was dispatched to fetch aid from St. Augustine, but many of those who had scrabbled ashore succumbed to exposure, thirst, shock and hunger before help could arrive. When the terrible news reached Havana, salvage ships were dispatched. Probably not for the immediate benefit of those wretched survivors, but out of concern for the lost cargo.

The first task was to initiate a salvage operation. Much of the treasure was recovered from the holds of the ships which had run aground in the shallows. The salvage encampment grew and a storehouse was erected among the dunes behind the beach bordering unexplored jungle.

Various wars and skirmish between Spain, Holland, France and England – in different combinations with different allies and enemies – had ground to a halt. In the Caribbean, Port Royal, Tortuga and Nassau, and along the North American coast of the Colonies, men sat idle, with no money to spend in the brothels and taverns, with nothing to do. In the harbours, ships lay at anchor slowly rotting.

Word spread of the disaster off the Florida coast, and many of those bored men suddenly had the same idea: get a boat, get rich quick. Like moths to a flame they surged to the shallows in the hope of picking up a fortune – literally.

And then, in 1716, Henry Jennings appeared on the scene.


Captain Jennings (died circa 1745) first appeared as a privateer based in Jamaica, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), a major European conflict which had been triggered by the death of childless Charles II, the last Habsburg King of Spain.

He figured that scrabbling around in the shallows, risking sharks or drowning, was a silly game. He had the better idea of letting the Spanish do the work, then taking between one-hundred-and-fifty to three-hundred men to raid the warehouse at the salvage camp. He returned to Jamaica carrying an estimated 350,000 pesos (a lot of money!) En route he attacked another Spanish ship, amassing more loot, and met up with "Black Sam" Bellamy, committing more acts of piracy together against French ships.

Jennings was declared a pirate and fled to New Providence in the Bahamas. In  Nassau he became the unofficial mayor of the expanding pirate colony, taking the King’s amnesty declared by the newly appointed Governor of the BahamasWoodes Rogers, and eventually  retired to Bermuda as a wealthy plantation owner.

It is the sinking of the Spanish Fleet and Jennings’ daring-do along the Florida coast that inspired my initial idea for Sea Witch. ‘What if’ I thought, ‘it wasn’t Henry Jennings’ idea to raid that warehouse? What if my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne was the brain behind the scheme?’ The idea took flight and became a central part of the first Sea Witch Voyage. You can read an excerpt here:


As for the treasure ships, the Spanish continued salvaging what they could until 1719, then gave up. It is possible that around £300,000,000 still remains on the sea floor, the occasional haul being found by professional marine archaeologists and treasure-hunter, or by lucky holiday-makers.



images: Stock Images via courtesy Cathy Helms www.avalongraphics.org 

Tuesday, July 21

A Secret Valley in British India

My Tuesday Talk Guest : Stuart Blackburn

Colonialism came late to the Apatani Valley in northeast India. British officials first visited in 1897 and only stayed three days, followed by even shorter visits in the 1930s. A temporary government outpost was set up only in 1944. A few years later, after Independence, the Apatanis’ resentment against the outsiders boiled over into a futile attack on another outpost nearby. The British officer in charge of the region—colonial structures remained in place well into the 1950s—ordered retaliation.  Two villages, including hundreds of granaries, were burned to the ground, forcing the population to live in the forests for months.

The Apatani valley in 1944
It took this half century—from the first visit in 1897 to the humiliation of 1948—to defeat local authority structures in the valley. And soon a complete administrative system of government departments, courts, jails, schools, hospitals and army barracks swept across the valley. 

At home in Brighton
In 1999, when I first went to the Apatani valley (now in the state of Arunachal Pradesh), it was still a highly restricted area not only for foreigners but also Indian citizens. After the war with China in 1962, the entire northeast was declared a ‘security zone’ under special powers. But there were also half a dozen or so insurgencies by local populations against the government in Delhi. The tribes in the northeast (the label ‘tribe’ is not controversial; people proudly use it to distinguish themselves from the ‘Indians’ in the plains) were and still are a world apart from mainstream India. Most speak a Tibeto-Burman language, practice some form of shamanism and have contempt for the caste system. 


Armed conflict between the hill tribes of the northeast and the outsiders began as soon as the British
pushed into Assam in the early 19th century. After two wars subdued the Burmese rajas who then ruled the area, officials in Calcutta and London began to search for a route northeast, to secure the border with Tibet against other players in the Great Game East, to link up with British rule in Burma and to exploit the opium market in China.

Throughout the long 19th century, the British Indian army (sepoys, or Indian soldiers, commanded by British and Indian officers) fought a low-level war with the many tribes living in the hills north of Assam. Most of the encounters were small-scale skirmishes, with few casualties, but sometimes dozens were killed and on one occasion a hundred. And the sheer cumulative effect—one tribe clashed with the outsiders three dozen times in two decades—was devastating. 

Tribesmen prepare for an attack, 1944
The Apatanis escaped most of this unwelcome contact with the outsiders. They were fortunate in that they lived at 5000 feet, midway between Assam and Tibet, in a valley ringed with high mountains and accessible only by a narrow pass. Before 1897 colonial sources mentioned the Apatanis and their valley, reporting them as ‘very superior to the tribes of the family’ and ‘very peaceably disposed people.’ The then definitive handbook on the region declared that the Apatanis (known then as Apa Tanangs) were a ‘humane people.’
All this, however, was based on hearsay.  No westerner had yet breached the green barrier.

In fact, it took a murder to bring them there. After a man from another tribe had been killed in Assam by Apatanis (temporarily working on a tea estate), the British were obligated to investigate.  Unfortunately, the suspects had already retreated back to the valley.

The task of finding the guilty party fell to Mr R B McCabe, the British civilian officer in charge of the region, and he led the 1897 expedition of 300 soldiers and 400 porters to the valley. After climbing for more than a week, he rejoiced when he entered the valley:

The sight is one I shall never forget, as we suddenly emerged on a magnificent plateau…Our hearts warmed at the sight of primroses, violets, wild currants, strawberries and raspberries.  And I felt disposed to almost believe some of the wonderful stories we had heard of the fabulous wealth of this country.’

Later visitors commented that the ‘hidden land’ was a sort of Shangri-La, a fertile rice bowl six miles long and two across. The people, about 10,000 at the time, might be backward but they had devised an ingenious system of irrigation using sluices and channels. They were quiet and industrious people, who tended their valley like a garden, not only the paddy fields, but bamboo groves, pine tree plantations and vegetable gardens. One British woman, an anthropologist, wrote in 1948 that the valley had ‘brush-fenced lanes which might have been in Cornwall’ and soft hills that reminded her of Devon.

But in 1897 RB McCabe had come about a murder. Pushing aside his thoughts about primroses, he marched his men into the first village and past a crowd of Apatanis carrying spears. Having planned to sleep in local houses, he found them dirty and lacking water, so he carried on   and camped on a barren stretch of land. No one told him that it was a burial ground.

Apatani shaman at work, 2003
The next morning he sat down to negotiate with the Apatani leaders, principally with their shaman spokesman. The parley lasted two full days, and McCabe, who had been in the northeast for more than twenty years, later admitted that he had never had to show such patience and restraint. He made his own statement quickly, citing the murder and demanding that the guilty party, as well as a stolen gun, be handed over. Then he was subjected to hour after hour of oratory by his opposite number, the shaman.


McCabe (on ground, left, with beret)
and Apatanis negotiating, 1897
He couldn’t follow what was being said in the Apatani language, but it remained incomprehensible even when it had been translated into Assamese and then into English.The problem was that the shaman spoke in a special kind of language, not conversational Apatani, but a ritual speech that even ordinary Apatanis did not understand. And when it had been rendered into English, McCabe heard only broken phrases, fragments and mysterious metaphors.

In the end, the Apatanis were ordered to hand over the gun and six captives from another tribe. No murderer was named or found. The Apatanis made a valuable gift of three mithuns (ox-like animals) to their first-ever western guests. Then came the irony. Realising that he couldn’t take the animals back down to the plains (they would delay a tight schedule and stretch rations), McCabe promptly gave the mithuns back to the Apatanis, who slaughtered them and they all ate a feast.

All this, however, was based on hearsay. No westerner had yet breached the green barrier. Armed conflict between the hill tribes of the northeast and the outsiders began as soon as the British pushed into Assam in the early 19th century. 

This encounter between the British officer and the Apatani shaman is at the heart of my new novel, ‘Into the Hidden Valley.’ It is based on my ten-years of fieldwork in the valley documenting oral traditions, including shamanic chants. 
Two academic monographs on Apatani oral stories and my other books are available on Amazon.



Into The Hidden Valley : Available for pre-order



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