Ships that feature in Slave to Fortune

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Crescent Moon - High Res

Crescent Moon – Montague Dawson © Felix Rosenstiel’s Widow & Son, London

This page provides information about the various ships that feature in Tom’s memoir.

The Sword

At the beginning of his memoir, Tom’s kidnappers – a crew of Barbary Corsairs led by the notorious captain Murat Rais – force him onto their ship, which is waiting just offshore. Their ship’s Arabic name is the Saif al Din, meaning Sword of the Faith, but most of her renegade European crew refer to her simply as the Sword. Tom describes her as a three-masted vessel, possibly similar to the one pictured above – which shows a late 17th century ship. The artist, Montague Dawson, was thought to have been inspired by the notorious pirates and privateers of the 17th century.

We know from Tom’s description of her that the Sword had an interior lower (gun) deck, with a quarterdeck and poopdeck above the main deck. She had a bricklined galley (kitchen) in the bow of the gun deck. Her hold was divided in two, with the unfortunate captives held in the fore section. Her crew appear to be a mixture of English, Flemish and Dutch renegades (i.e. Christians converted to Islam). It is possible that she is a converted merchant vessel or a privateer. Other possibilities include a polacca, which is a type of vessel more typical of Mediterranean waters but there is some documentary evidence that Murat Rais was aboard a polacca when he raided Iceland in 1627.

The Santillana del Mar 

While on his voyage south aboard the Sword, Tom witnesses the capture of a Spanish galleon, the Santillana del Mar,  returning from the New World laden with silver. Once captured, the Santillana is sailed by a prize crew to Algiers where her cargo is unloaded and her crew sold off as slaves.  A modern replica of a Spanish galleon, La Pepa, provides a good idea of what the Santillana would have been like. She is pictured below. I encountered her by chance in Barcelona in 2012.

La Pepa, a 17th century Spanish Galleon

La Pepa, a 17th century Spanish Galleon

The Yunus (Dolphin)

After several years in captivity in Algiers, Tom sets sail with his master aboard a merchant vessel named the Yunus, which means Dolphin in Turkish. They are escorted by a Corsair galley (which may have been a galiot or chebec/xebec) named the al Wahid (the Peerless in Arabic) but are fatefully separated during a storm. The painting below shows two Algerian galiots fighting against a Spanish Xebec in the centre. Note their use of lateen (triangular) sails as well as oars for propulsion. Their rowers are likely to have been galley slaves (one of the worst fates that could await those captured by the corsairs).

Algerian galiots fighting a Spanish Xebec, 18th Century

Algerian galiots fighting a Spanish Xebec, 18th Century


The Gloriosa

Following the storm, the unfortunate Yunus finds herself blown well off course and into the path of the Gloriosa, a ship of the Order of St John – experts in maritime warfare. The Gloriosa is carrying Sir Edward Hamilton, a knight of the Order, from France to Malta.  Edward leads an opportunistic attack on the Yunus, capturing everything and everyone aboard, including Tom. Unusually for ships of the Order, the Gloriosa is described as a galleon rather than as a galley, the classic vessel of the knights. The map of Valletta and the Three Cities, 1629 shows that the order were in possession of vessels such as galleons and carracks (such as the one approaching Fort St Angelo in the map) as well as their traditional fleet of oar-propelled galleys.

The Santa Maria Formosa

The Santa Maria is a Venetian merchant vessel. Tom and Edward find her in Malta and rent a cabin aboard her to take them to Venice. Captain Zen leads a cosmopolitan crew of skilled and disciplined sailors drawn from across the Mediterranean. Zen makes an impromptu – and, as it turns out, fateful – overnight stop in the Adriatic port of Ancona, ever in pursuit of boosting his profit through further trade.

The Pride of Rye

The Pride of Rye is an English merchantman, possibly a ‘fluyt’, (joint) owned by Linus Lapthorn and captained by Richard Ratsey. Rye is a small town on the south coast of England. Lapthorn is a merchant with interest in the Virginia tobacco trade (and has another ship working that line). The Pride has been in Venice picking up cargo including wine to transport to Portsmouth (which provides a ready market owing to its war preparations). Tom and Edward hire a cabin from Lapthorn to take them to Portsmouth. The painting below by Canaletto shows an English vessel (from a later period) off the customs house (dogana) in Venice – recreating the scene in Tom’s memoir in which armed customs officials board the Pride hunting for two fugitives.

Entrance to the Grand Canal from the Molo, 1737

Entrance to the Grand Canal from the Molo, 1737

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