Had Kidd been fortunate enough on his first visit to Madagascar to find
his pirates there, it is possible but not very probable that his crew
might have done their best to kill or catch their fellow-countrymen,
who were preying on the Indian commerce. On the other hand, had he not
been so unfortunate as to find the pirates awaiting him there on his
way back to Boston, he would probably have been able to bring his two
prizes home safely within a reasonable time and have ended his voyage
to the satisfaction of his employers and with credit to himself. Even
as it was, had he been in command of a disciplined crew, as determined
as their captain was, faithfully to discharge the painful duties they
had undertaken, his finding the pirates at St. Marie’s would have given
him a fair chance of crowning his patient efforts with a success which
might have been handed down to posterity as a proof of the fortitude by
which a great Scotch sea captain had been able to surmount apparently
insuperable difficulties. But it would be hard to find in history, sacred
or profane, an unluckier man than Kidd. The _Adventure Galley_ came back
to Madagascar in a sinking condition, with her crew on the brink of
mutiny, worn out with repeated mishaps, having lost a large number of
their fellows by sickness, disgusted at the ill-luck and strait-laced
proceedings of their conscientious commander, in possession, it is true,
of a rich prize, but in some doubt, owing to his hesitation in retaining
her, whether, when they got to Boston, questions as to the legality of
the capture, to say nothing of their recent misconduct in rifling the
Portuguese ship, might not be raised, ending in their getting no pay
whatever for between two and three years’ heavy and perilous work,
and possibly in their being thrown into gaol by Bellamont for piracy.
Probably they would have mutinied long before, if they could have found
a capable leader with the necessary knowledge of navigation to take
Kidd’s place. As it was, when they found their fellow-countrymen at St.
Marie’s, living on the fat of the land on cargoes taken from the Moors,
under an adventurous and successful commander, Culliford, who had stolen
an East Indiaman from his employers, and was now reaping a rich harvest
from his villainy, it was no wonder that the greater part of Kidd’s men
at once decided to throw in their lot with him, rather than stand by
Kidd in an internecine struggle with their fellow-countrymen, in which
success was more than doubtful, and if attained would necessitate their
carrying their conquered compatriots in chains to an English port,
there to be handed over to the authorities with a view to their being
hung as pirates, for what was regarded by the majority of the seamen
on both sides as the very venial offence of plundering the enemies
of Christianity. The catastrophe which now befell was the inevitable
sequence of what had gone before, and what Kidd found awaiting him on his
arrival at Madagascar.
Let him tell the tale in his own simple words.[8]
“When the Narrator arrived at the said Port, there was a Pirate Ship,
called the _Moca Frigate_, at an anchor, Robert Culliford Commander
thereof, who with his men left the same at his coming and ran into the
woods. And the Narrator proposed to his men to take the same, having
sufficient power and authority so to do. But the mutinous crew told
him, ‘If he offered the same, they would rather fire ten guns into him
than one into the other,’ and thereupon ninety-seven men deserted, and
went into the _Moca Frigate_, and sent into the woods for the said
pirates, and brought the said Culliford and his men on board again, and
all the time he stayed in the said port the said deserters sometimes in
great numbers came on board the said _Galley_ and _Adventure Prize_,
and carried away great guns, Powder, Shot, small arms, sails, Anchors,
Cables, Surgeon’s chest, and what else they pleased; and threatened
several times to murder the Narrator, as he was informed and advised to
take care of himself, which they designed in the night to effect; but
was [_sic_] prevented by his locking himself in his cabin at night, and
securing himself by barricading the same with bales of goods and having
about forty small arms besides pistols, ready charged to keep them out.”
“Their wickedness was so great that after they had plundered and
ransacked sufficiently, they went five miles off to one Edward Welche’s
house, where his, the Narrator’s chest was lodged, and broke it open and
took out ten ounces of gold, 40 pound of plate, 370 pieces of eight, the
Narrator’s Journal, and a great many papers that belonged to him and the
People of New York that fitted them out.”
“About the fifteenth of June, the _Moca Frigate_ went away, being manned
with about 130 men and forty guns bound out to take all nations. It was
then that the Narrator was left only with 13 men, so that the Moors he
had to pump and keep the _Adventure Galley_ above water being carried
away, she sank in the harbour, and the Narrator with the said thirteen
men went on board the _Adventure Prize_.”
Let us try to put ourselves in Kidd’s place, when the bulk of his men
went over to the enemy. Forcibly deprived of his command at the moment
when he saw success within his grasp; deserted by nearly all his crew;
plundered of the greater part of the spoil he was taking home to his
employers; on board the sinking _Adventure Galley_; confined to his
stifling cabin with its barricaded approaches. What course can it be
suggested that he could have taken and have been held blameless by an
English court? What course ought any man to have taken in his place who
sought to do his duty by his owners?
It would have been a mercy to him and to his memory, if the mutineers
had then and there made an end of him. But to have done this, they must
have stormed his cabin, and they dared not try it. They knew his fighting
record. They had been with him in his encounter with the Portuguese
man-of-war. None knew better than they that he would sell his life
dearly. Let us hope, too, that some few of his crew stood by him in
this emergency, with “the forty loaded small arms, besides pistols.”
But although the pirates and mutineers could not make an end of him,
it was equally impossible for him to take the offensive against them.
If neither party could attack, the situation could only be relieved
by diplomacy. The ultimate solution has been handed down to us by the
doubtful testimony of one or two of those who were there. We are left to
conjecture the intermediate stages of the arrangement.
According to the evidence the _Adventure Galley_ was brought into the
port on the first of April, in company with its smaller prize. The
_Quedagh Merchant_ did not come in until some weeks afterwards. The _Moca
Frigate_, as already stated, went away on the fifteenth of June, leaving
Kidd and thirteen men behind. In the interval some kind of a compact
seems to have been come to, by which Kidd undertook not to molest the
pirates, and Culliford agreed to let Kidd keep the _Quedagh Merchant_
and a certain quantity of the goods on board of her. It is difficult
to see how Kidd in his then position could have made a better bargain
than this for the great men who were employing him. Judging from the
amount of specie and goods which he succeeded after all in bringing to
America, he appears to have done very well indeed for them. Possibly the
canny Scot, notwithstanding the theft of his chest, had more gold and
valuables concealed in his impenetrable cabin than the deserters dreamed
of. Possibly some of his late crew had consciences and were willing to
let him off cheaply. Whatever the details of the arrangement may have
been, it is unlikely that he could in any case have saved himself from
the charge brought against him at his trial, on which the judge laid
great stress, and which has clung to him ever since, that having been
sent out to catch the pirates, and bring them home with him, he had on
the first occasion on which he had met them, promised not to molest them,
an offence which it was alleged at his trial that he had aggravated by
drinking deeply from a tub of “bomboo” with their Captain Culliford.
The word “bomboo” has a fine piratical suggestiveness about it. It
sounds as if it were some weird concoction of strong liquors, which
carousing pirates in their unholy orgies were wont to consume by the
bucketfull. As a matter of fact, it was a very innocent beverage made
of water, limes, and sugar; and it was small blame to poor Kidd that on
emerging from his beleaguered cabin in that hot climate, he was glad
enough to take a long drink of it, when at length a truce had been
arranged. According to the King’s evidence at his trial, he solemnly
undertook over this draught of “bomboo” not to molest the pirates, and
presumably they also undertook not to molest him. The alternative very
possibly was his death from thirst in his stuffy cabin. Culliford’s men
outnumbered his by ten to one. The only evidence besides his own that we
have of this incident was that given at his trial by two of his crew, who
had deserted him and gone over to the enemy. Kidd not unnaturally was
very bitter against these two men,–Bradenham the surgeon and Palmer,
one of his seamen–as appears from the following quotations from the
verbatim report of his trial.
KIDD (_to Bradenham_). “Did you not come aboard my ship and rob the
surgeon’s chest?”
BRADENHAM. “No, I did not.”
KIDD. “Did I not come to you when you went away and met you on the deck,
and said, ‘Why do you take the chest away?’”
BRADENHAM. “No, I did not do it.”
KIDD. “You are a rogue.”
KIDD. “Mr. Bradenham, are you not promised your life to take away mine?”
Mr. Justice TURTON. “He is not bound to answer that question. He is very
fit to be made an evidence of the King. Perhaps there can be no other in
this case than such who are in his circumstances.”
In other words, those of the crew who had faithfully stood by their
captain, and helped him to bring his prize home to America in the
interests of their employers, one of whom was the King himself, could not
be relied on as witnesses. The only witnesses who could be trusted to
swear through thick and thin against Kidd, were two men who by their own
admission had deserted their colours and joined Culliford in open piracy
against the ships of all nations.
To quote again from the verbatim report:
KIDD. “I hope the King’s counsel will not put him in the way. It is hard
that a couple of rascals should take away the King’s subjects’ lives.
They are a couple of rogues and rascals.”
Again, when one of them conveniently feigned ignorance, and an answer
by the other had been suggested to him by one of the counsel for the
KIDD. “It is a fine trade that you must take away so many of the King’s
subjects’ lives, and know nothing at all of the matter.”
Again, speaking this time to the judge:
“It is a fine trade indeed that he must be instructed what to say. He
knows no more of these things than you do. The fellow used to sleep five
or six months together in the hold.”
Once more:
“He tells a thousand lies. The man contradicts himself a hundred times.”
KIDD (_speaking this time to Palmer_). “I would not go with such a
roguish crew as you were. Was I not threatened to be shot in my cabin
by such villains as you, if I would not go along with you? This was the
reason I could not come home. Did you not with the others set fire to
the boat to destroy my ship? My lord, they took what they pleased out of
the ship, and I was forced to stay by myself, and pick up here a man and
there a man to carry her home.”
That Kidd had no option but to stay on at Madagascar after Culliford had
left is obvious. The faithful thirteen who remained behind with him were
clearly an insufficient ship’s company to bring the _Quedagh Merchant_
with her freight safely to America. When he left her off the coast of
Hispaniola, nearly a year afterwards, denuded of the specie and goods
which he had taken from her to Boston, she carried besides her thirty
mounted guns, taken from the _Adventure Galley_, twenty more guns of her
own, stowed away in her hold, some two hundred bales of calicoes, silks,
and muslins, between eighty and ninety tons of refined sugar, forty
tons of saltpetre, and ten tons of iron “in short junks.” No reason,
other than stern necessity, can have induced him to prolong his stay at
Madagascar. He and his men must have wished to get home as soon as might
be. Had they been able to start at once, they might have been in time
to put an end to the suspicions of their honesty, which were already
accumulating in England owing to the protracted absence of news as to
their movements, and the complaint of the East India Company of the
seizure of the _Quedagh Merchant_.
Unfortunately Madagascar was one of the last places in the world in
which Kidd was likely to find the men required to bring his ship home.
The majority of such English-speaking men as were there were by no means
desirous of bringing themselves within the grasp of the law. In the
course of the next five months, to quote his own words, “he picked up
here a man and there a man,” and “some passengers presented that were
bound for these parts,” _i. e._, America. At last, still under-manned,
he started on his homeward voyage, and reached Anguilla in the West
Indies in April, 1699. By this time he had been condemned unheard by the
home authorities; and the hue and cry had been raised against him and
such of his crew as had remained faithful. The lords justices had sent
instructions to the governors of all the English colonies in America “to
apprehend him and his accomplices, whenever he or they should arrive
in any of the said plantations,” and “to secure his ship and all the
effects therein, it being their Excellencies’ intention that right be
done to those who have been injured and robbed by the said Kidd, and
that he and his associates be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the
law.” Consequently when, in all innocence, he sent his boat on shore,
to quote again from his own artless narrative, “his men had the news
that he and his people were proclaimed pirates, which put them into such
consternation that they sought all opportunities to run the ship ashore
upon some reef or shoal, fearing the Narrator should carry them into some
English port.”
“From Anguilla,” he tells us, “they came to St. Thomas, where his
brother-in-law, Samuel Bradley, was put on shore being sick, and five
more” (out of his small crew) “went away and deserted him. There he heard
the same news, that he and his company were proclaimed pirates, which
incensed the people more and more.”
“From St. Thomas he set sail for Moona, an island between Hispaniola
and Porto Rico, where they met with a sloop, called the _St. Anthony_,
bound for Antigua from Curaso. The men on board then swore that they
would bring the ship no further.” By this time some commanders would
have hesitated. Not so Kidd. He held to his purpose to remain true to
his employers whatever the cost to himself might be. He tells us, and
his evidence is not contradicted, that he “then sent the said sloop,
_St. Anthony_, to Curaso for canvas to make sails for the prize, she
not being able to proceed, and she returned in ten days, and after the
canvas came he could not persuade the men to carry her to New England.
But six of them went and carried their chests and things on board of the
Dutch sloop, bound for Curaso, and would not so much as heel the vessel,
or do anything.” The remainder of the men not being able to bring the
_Adventure Prize_ to Boston “he secured her in a good safe harbour
in Hispaniola and left her in the possession of Mr. Henry Boulton of
Antigua, Merchant, with three of the old men and fifteen or sixteen of
the men that belonged to the said sloop _St. Anthony_ and a brigantine
belonging to Mr. Burt of Curaso.” He then “bought the said sloop, _St.
Anthony_, of Mr. Boulton for the owners’ account: and after he had given
directions to the said Boulton to be careful of the ship and lading, and
persuaded him to stay three months until he returned, he made the best of
his way to New York.”
Bellamont was not at New York, but at Boston. An old friend of Kidd’s,
Emmot by name, came on board the sloop from New York, and to him Kidd
told his simple tale, handed over to him the two invaluable French passes
to take to Bellamont, as evidence that the two prizes, in respect of
which he had been charged with piracy, had been lawfully taken under his
letters of marque. On the thirteenth of June, Emmot came to Bellamont
at Boston with these passes, and two days afterwards Bellamont sent Mr.
Duncan Campbell, the Postmaster of Boston, to invite Kidd to come into
the port of Boston. On the nineteenth Campbell returned, and gave in a
memorial,[9] still extant, of all that had passed between him and Kidd.
This memorial is of interest, as showing the effect produced on
Bellamont’s emissary by his first interview with Kidd. Had he been
prejudiced in Kidd’s favor, it is unlikely that he would have been
selected by Bellamont for the purpose of ascertaining whether Kidd was
guilty of piracy or not. On the same day he was sent back by Bellamont to
Kidd, with the following letter:
BOSTON, 19 June, 1699.
“CAPTAIN KIDD,–Mr. Emmot came to me last Tuesday night telling
me he came from you: but was shy of telling where he parted
with you. Nor did I press him to it. He told me you came by
Oyster Bay in Nassau Island and sent for him to New York. He
proposed to me that I would grant you a pardon. I answered that
I had never granted one yet, and that I had set myself a rule
never to grant a pardon to anybody without the King’s express
leave or command. He told me you declared and protested your
innocence and that if your men could be persuaded to follow
your example, you would make no manner of scruple of coming
into this port, or any other within His Majesty’s Dominions.
That you owned there were two ships taken, but that your men
did it violently and against your will, and had used you
barbarously, in imprisoning you and treating you ill the most
part of your voyage, and often attempting to murder you. Mr.
Emmot delivered to me the two French passes taken on board
the two ships your men rifled,[10] which passes I have in my
custody, and I am apt to believe they will be a good article to
justify you, if the late peace were not by the Treaty between
England and France to operate in that part of the world at the
time the hostility was committed, as I am almost confident it
was not to do. Mr. Emmot told me that you showed a great sense
of honour and justice in professing with many asseverations
your settled and serious design all along to do honour to
your Commission and never to do the least thing contrary to
your duty and allegiance to the King. And this I have to say
in your defence, that several persons in New York, who I can
bring to evidence it, did tell me that by several advices from
Madagascar and that part of the world, they were informed of
your men’s revolting from you in one place, and I am pretty
sure they said was Madagascar, and that others compelled you
much against your will to take and rifle two ships.
“I have advised with His Majesty’s Council, and shewed them
this letter, and they are of opinion that if you can be so
clear as you (or Mr. Emmot for you) have said, _that you may
safely come hither, and be equipped and fitted out to go and
fetch the other ship, and I make no manner of doubt but to
obtain the King’s pardon for you, and for those few men you
have left who I understand have been faithful to you, and
refused as well as you to dishonour the Commission you have
from England._
“_I assure you on my Word and Honour I will perform nicely
what I have promised_, though this I declare beforehand that
whatever goods and treasure you may bring hither, I will not
meddle with the least bit of them: but they shall be left with
such persons as the Council shall advise until I receive orders
from England how they shall be disposed of.”
Kidd’s reply to this letter was as follows:
“24 JUNE, 1699.
“I am honoured with your Lordship’s letter of the 19th instant
by Mr. Campbell, which came to my hands this day. For which I
return my most hearty thanks. I cannot but blame myself for
not writing to your Lordship before this time, knowing it was
my duty: but the clamours and false stories that have been
reported of me, made me fearful of visiting or coming into any
harbour, till I could hear from your Lordship.

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“I note the contents of your Lordship’s letter, as to what Mr.
Emmot and Mr. Campbell informed your Lordship of my proceedings
I do affirm to be true, and a great deal more might be said of
the abuses of my men, and the hardships I have undergone to
preserve the ship and what goods my men had left. Ninety-five
men went away from me in one day and went on board the _Moca
Frigate_, Captain Robert Culliford, Commander, who went away
to the Red Sea; and committed several acts of piracy, as I
am informed; and am afraid (the men formerly belonging to
my _Galley_) that the report is gone home against me to the
East India Company, that I have been the actor. A sheet of
paper will not contain what may be said of the care I took to
preserve the owners’ interest, and to come home to clear my own
innocency. I do further declare and protest that I never did
in the least act contrary to the King’s Commission, nor to the
reputation of my honourable owners, and doubt not but that I
shall be able to make my innocence appear; or else I had no
need to come to these parts of the world; if it were not for
that and my owners’ interest. There are Five or Six Passengers
that came from Madagascar to assist me in bringing the ship
home, and about ten of my own men, that came with me would not
venture to go into Boston, till Mr. Campbell had engaged Body
for Body for them that they should not be molested while I
stayed at Boston, or till I return with the ship. I doubt not
but your Lordship will write to England in my favour and for
these few men who are left.
“I wish your Lordship would persuade Mr. Campbell to go home
to England with your Lordship’s letters, who will be able to
give account of our affairs and diligently follow the same
that there may be a speedy answer from England. I desired Mr.
Campbell to buy 1000 weight of Rigging for fitting of the ship
to bring her to Boston, that I may not be delayed when I come
“Upon receiving of your Lordship’s letter, I am making the best
of my way to Boston. This with my humble duty to your Lordship
and Countess, is what offers from, my Lord, your Excellency’s
most humble and dutiful servant,
On the first of July he brought the sloop and the remnant of his crew
into the port of Boston, conscious of his integrity and relying on the
word and honour of Bellamont. It may well be doubted whether any man in
equally trying circumstances has ever been truer to his trust.
Kidd’s expedition having originated in the desire of the government to
placate the East India Company, it is only reasonable to surmise that
the Company received some early official intimation of what was being
done on their behalf. To what extent they were informed officially of the
details of the government scheme is of comparatively small importance.
The great wealth at their disposal and the prodigality with which they
expended their secret service money in those days, leave no room for
doubt that at a very early stage of the proceedings they made themselves
acquainted with the essential facts. Their factories were exposed to
imminent danger from the irritation of the Great Mogul at the continuous
robbery of his subjects’ goods by English-speaking seamen on his coasts.
The Company must have taken the keenest interest in the measures designed
for the repression of this piracy. With their practical knowledge of
the difficulties to be encountered, it is unlikely that they at any
time regarded the adventurers’ project as a very promising one. When
they heard of the failure of the Admiralty to protect Kidd’s carefully
selected crew from the press gang, and realised that the bulk of the
ship’s company would have to be got from New York, it is impossible that
they can have entertained any illusions as to the probability of its
Kidd’s crew was pressed at the Nore on the first of March, 1696. By one
of the curious close coincidences of date which speak for themselves
in this case more convincingly than any words can do, the Company on
the following day addressed a petition to the Admiralty, praying to be
allowed to take the business of dealing with the pirates into their
own hands. In this petition they urged that “Your Lordships will please
to empower the petitioners’ ships and officers to seize and take all
pirates infesting those seas within the limits of the Company’s charter
and likewise empower them to erect a Court of Admiralty in those parts.”
This proposal except for a very excusable technical error contained in
it, which if not corrected, would have enabled the Company, instead of
the Admiralty, to create a Court of Admiralty, was not unreasonable. It
was referred by the Admiralty to their judge, Sir Charles Hedges, who
promptly reported in the following terms on the steps necessary to carry
it into effect: “That the more regular way will be for your Lordships
to take a Commission under the Great Seal of England giving power to
the Lord Admiral or Commissioners for executing the office of High
Admiral to grant commissions to any of the Captains of the East India
Company’s ships for the taking of the ships of pirates, wherein it shall
be expressed what parts or shares the King shall see fit to reserve to
himself or bestow upon the Captors and Company.”
“That your Lordships may be pleased to erect a Vice-Admiralty at Bombay
or any other place that shall be thought expedient in the same manner as
is done in the West Indies, which being established by a commission in
the ordinary form, that will be sufficient to empower such Vice-Admiralty
there, to proceed against ships as fully as any Vice-Admiralty in England
or the High Court of Admiralty can do.”
Why no action was taken on this proposal of the Company as modified by
Sir Charles Hedges, is not clear. Possibly the Admiralty hesitated to
hand over to the captains of the Company’s ships work which they thought
more properly belonged to the King’s navy, and which when the French
war was ended was very soon performed by Captain Warren’s squadron.
Possibly they felt a delicacy in doing anything that might diminish the
great ministers’ chances of gain from Kidd’s adventure. What seems to
have happened is that the Company’s petition was officially shelved for
nearly four years, when Captain Warren having in the meanwhile been sent
out with five men-of-war to suppress the pirates, it was referred to
the committee of the House of Commons, who had then been appointed to
consider further the large question of the state and condition of the
trade of England, by whom, if considered at all, it would have to run the
gauntlet of many implacable enemies of the Company, and in particular of
certain ardent protectionists of that day who never missed an opportunity
of holding forth on the injuries to which English industries were exposed
by the importation by the Company of Indian silks, calicoes, and muslins.
Apart, however, from any question of the probable success of Kidd’s
expedition, or the desirability of giving the Company a free hand to
deal themselves with the pirates, the terms of the grant of the spoil to
the adventurers, with which the Company had evidently made themselves
familiar, were calculated to place them in a very awkward position with
the Great Mogul. What they had to protect themselves against, was a
summary expulsion from his dominions; and they must have realized that
even if Kidd succeeded in catching his pirates, it would be a very
unsatisfactory reply to the demands of that great potentate for the
immediate restitution of the stolen properties, to assure him that the
thieves had been carried to England, where it was to be hoped that some
of them might in due course be convicted, and possibly hung; but that
the stolen goods had in the meanwhile been appropriated by some of the
King’s great ministers. It was not impossible that the next demand of
the Great Mogul might be that these great gentlemen together with such
of the directors of the Company as had acquiesced in this arrangement
should at once be handed over to him to be dealt with according to their
deserts. It is not, therefore, surprising to find that on the twentieth
of August in that year, whilst Kidd was still at New York trying to
pick up his crew, the Company presented a further petition to the Lords
Justices, praying that “such of the species of gold, silver and jewels as
have already been or shall hereafter be seized in the custody of any of
the pirates or any other persons who cannot make a legal title thereunto,
may not be disposed of, but put into the possession of the Company, in
order to be preserved for the use of the proprietors in India, that the
Government may see that His Majesty as well as the Company have done
their utmost endeavours to seize the said pirates and to make restitution
to the persons injured so far as it is in their power.”
In taking this course the Company must have realized that it would be
very distasteful to the King and his four great ministers, who were
proposing themselves to appropriate the bulk of the spoil. But they
also knew that these great men had placed themselves hopelessly in the
wrong; and that there were plenty of their enemies in the House of
Commons who would be only too eager to expose the scandal, when the
time came for them to do so. This consideration seems to have had some
weight with the Lords Justices, and prevented them from shelving this
petition as unceremoniously as the Admiralty had done the former one.
Anxious to appease the Company, and at the same time to safeguard the
rights of the adventurers, they decided at a meeting at which the Duke
of Shrewsbury, one of the adventurers, was present, to send a peremptory
but guarded dispatch to the governors of all the American plantations,
requiring them “to take all possible care, and use all due means for
the seizing and apprehending all such pirates and sea robbers and such
as may be reasonably suspected for the same, either by reason of the
great quantities of gold and silver of foreign coins they usually have
with them, or by other probable circumstances; and to cause them to be
straightly imprisoned, and their ships, goods, and plunder to be kept
in safe custody; until upon returning to us a full account of the said
persons, ships, goods and plunder, with the evidence relating to them,
His Majesty’s pleasure shall be known and signified concerning them.”
Amongst the signatories to this despatch the name of the Earl of Romney,
another of the adventurers, appears.
As might have been expected, this dispatch produced little if any
practical result. During the next two years the Company continued to
receive repeated reports of the depredations of the pirates, and the
excitement created thereby amongst the natives of India, who had in
some cases seized the Company’s factories and put the factors in irons.
Meanwhile the absence of any news from Kidd had not unnaturally aroused
the suspicions of the Company. Culliford, the captain of one of their
own East Indiamen, the _Moca Frigate_, had run away with their ship
from Madras and joined the pirates; and it may have seemed to them
by no means improbable that Kidd with his American crew had done the
like. At length they received some vague intimation, confirming their
suspicions; and in August, 1698, they informed the Lords Justices “that
they had received _some_ information from their factories in the East
Indies that Kidd had committed several acts of piracy, particularly in
seizing a Moors’ ship called the _Quedagh Merchant_.” As they produced
no evidence from their informants at Kidd’s trial in support of these
allegations, although they had ample time and opportunity for obtaining
it during his two years’ imprisonment, it is not unfair to assume that
the information which they received on this occasion was not such as they
cared to submit to an English Court of Law. But such as it was, the Lords
Justices did not hesitate to act at once upon it, and to assume without
further inquiry not only that Kidd was guilty, but that he was already
a notorious pirate. On the twenty-third of November, 1698, whilst Kidd
was stranded at Madagascar, they sent the following circular to Rear
Admiral Benbow, and the governor of every American Colony: “The Lords
Justices having been informed by several advices from the East Indies
of the notorious piracies committed by Captain Kidd, and of his having
seized and plundered divers ships in those seas, as their Excellencies
have given orders to the commander of the squadron fitted out for the
East Indies that he use his utmost endeavours to pursue and seize the
said Kidd, if he continue still in those parts, so likewise they have
commanded me to signify their directions to the respective governors of
the Colonies under His Majesty’s obedience in America, that they give
strict orders and take particular care for apprehending the said Kidd
and his accomplices, whenever he or they shall arrive in any of the said
plantations, as likewise that they shall secure his ship and all the
effects therein, it being Their Excellencies’ intention that right be
done to those who have been injured and robbed by the said Kidd, and that
he and his associates be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law.
You are to be careful, therefore, to observe the said directions, and if
the said Kidd or any of his accomplices be seized within the provinces
under your government, you are forthwith to transmit an account thereof
hitherto, and take care that the said persons, ships and effects be
secured, till His Majesty’s pleasure is known concerning them.”
It would appear from the wording of this extraordinary and unjustifiable
circular that the great men, who had sent Kidd out, had by this time
abandoned hope of getting any gain out of their adventure, and that their
main desire now was to clear themselves of the suspicion that they were
conniving at the alleged piracies of the distinguished officer, whom
they had induced against his own misgivings to enter their service, and
who now was steadfastly doing his best for them in the face of grievous
difficulties at the other end of the world. It may well be that at this
time they believed him to be guilty. It may even be that they continued
in this belief when report after report came to hand of the piracies of
other English seamen in the East, notwithstanding the marked absence
in those reports of any mention whatever of Kidd or of the _Adventure
Galley_. Whether they continued to believe in his guilt after his own
narrative had been made a Parliamentary paper, and he had been examined
before the House of Commons on it, is a very different question. Neither
they nor the Company were represented at the trial, nor was any evidence
then tendered on their behalf. It was their interest to make Kidd their
scapegoat; and the interest of the Company that some one, guilty or
not, the higher in rank the better, should be publicly hung in infamy,
as a warning to mariners engaged in the Eastern piracy. It was nobody’s
interest in England that Kidd should be acquitted, unless as a condition
for such acquittal he could be induced to make compromising revelations
against his employers. And this, as will be seen, he resolutely refused
to do in the face of strong temptation.
To return now to his relations with Bellamont, who though appointed
Governor of New England as far back as June, 1695, had not apparently
started for America until more than two years afterwards; and had
profitably employed the interval in obtaining further favours from the
government. Not contented with the pension of five hundred pounds
per annum which had apparently been given him on his dismissal by the
late Queen, in 1693, from his post as her Receiver General, he seems
to have succeeded in May, 1696, in obtaining a further grant of one
thousand pounds a year out of the forfeited estates of Lord Kilmeare,
and in March, 1697, to have been made colonel of a regiment of foot. In
the following June it was announced that he would at last start to his
government in the _Deptford_ frigate, but he delayed his departure until
October, by which time he had succeeded in extracting from the Treasury
a further sop in the shape of “twelve thousand pounds, paid him in mault
lottery tickets.”[11]
On the first of July, 1699, Kidd, as already mentioned, landed at Boston,
relying on Bellamont’s word and honor, and assurance that he believed
that the two French passes, which had been handed to him by Emmot,
would justify the seizure of the two prizes taken, and that he made no
manner of doubt that he could obtain the King’s pardon for Kidd and for
the few men left who had continued faithful. It is easy to understand
the relief the old man must have felt in setting foot in a civilized
country once more after all his troubles, with the knowledge that he
had served his employers so well, and the expectation that he would now
receive recognition and reward for all he had gone through on their
behalf. Towards the end of his voyage his wife and family from New York
had come on board, having been informed of his whereabouts by his old
friend Emmot; and all of them were probably looking forward to a warm
reception on their landing. If so, they were soon disillusionized. The
Governor declined to see Kidd except in the most formal manner and in
the presence of witnesses. The truth was that he had placed himself in a
very awkward position with the home authorities by inducing the King’s
ministers to embark in this unlucky adventure, and that he and they
had long since come to the conclusion that the safest course to take
to exonerate themselves from the consequences was to make a scapegoat
of Kidd. Bellamont had been playing a very double game, not only with
Kidd, but also with his own council. His own admissions in his letters
written to the authorities in England before the end of that month, leave
no doubt on this point. His consignment of Kidd to gaol was a foregone
conclusion; and the only difficulty he had to get over, and it was an
insuperable one, was how to do this with some appearance of decency. At
the time when with specious promises he was persuading his victim to
come to Boston, he was well aware that it was his duty to arrest him
immediately on his landing there, in pursuance of specific instructions
from England, which he had carefully concealed from his council. The
letter to Kidd with all its assumed belief in Kidd’s innocence, and his
own solemn assurances on his word and honour that he could obtain the
King’s pardon for him and his men, was a trap laid for Kidd without
the knowledge of his council, to whom he had submitted the letter for
approval. His intention throughout had been to get hold of Kidd and
send him to England, to be dealt with there in such manner as might
be most convenient to the government. In his letters he has not only
confessed this, but has even found it necessary to excuse himself to his
superiors and give the reasons which he considered justified him in not
arresting Kidd the moment he landed. “It will not be unwelcome news to
your Lordships,” he writes, “that I secured Captain Kidd last Thursday
in the gaol of this town. I thought myself secure against his running
away, because I took care not to give him the slightest umbrage of my
design of seizing him. Nor had I, until the day I produced my orders from
the Court to arrest Kidd, communicated them to anybody. But I found it
necessary to produce my orders to my Council to animate them to join
heartily in securing Kidd. Another reason why I took him not up sooner,
was that he had brought his wife and family hither on the sloop with him
who (_sic_) I believed” (poor wretch!) “he would not readily forsake.” At
the same time whilst thus excusing himself for not arresting Kidd more
promptly, Bellamont seems to have felt that some explanation was called
for to justify his arresting him at all. “Your Lordships may observe,” he
writes, and it requires a very microscopical scrutiny of his hypocritical
letter to observe it, “that the promise made Kidd in my letter of a kind
reception, and promising the King’s pardon for him, was conditional, that
is, provided that he was as innocent as he pretended to be. But I quickly
found sufficient cause to suspect him to be very guilty by the many lies
and contradictions he told me.” What these lies and contradictions were,
he is very careful not to say. Kidd’s own narrative, corroborated by
the depositions of several of his crew, are perfectly intelligible and
straightforward documents, far more intelligible and convincing than
Bellamont’s lame reasons for thinking him guilty. The first of these was
that Kidd had communicated in the first instance with his old friend
Emmot, who Bellamont says was “a cunning Jacobite and my avowed enemy.”
The second reason assigned is, “I thought he looked very guilty.” It is
not improbable that poor Kidd was taken aback by his cold reception; but
it is safe to assume that whatever his demeanor had been, it would have
been regarded by the Governor as a sure sign of his guilt. Sometimes
during his examination he seems to have been cheerful and breezy. With
what result? The Governor reports, “Kidd did strangely trifle with me
and the Council three or four times that we had him under examination.”
Finding that his jocular efforts were not appreciated, Kidd not
unnaturally became grave. But the result was still unsatisfactory. “He
being examined two or three times by the Council and also some of his
men, I observed,” says Bellamont, “that he seemed much disturbed.” The
last time he was under examination, his appearance seems again to have
changed, but still, as ever, for the worse. Probably by this time he had
grown restless and restive. “I fancied,” Bellamont writes, “he looked
as if he were upon the wing and resolved to run away.” But after all,
the chief offence for which the poor man was at last consigned to gaol,
was not committed by him, but by his evil genius, Livingstone, who asked
Bellamont to return him the bond he had entered into for Kidd’s good
behaviour. “I thought,” says Bellamont, “this was such an impertinence
that it was time for me to look about me and secure Kidd.” On this last
point the version of the anonymous person of quality is substantially the
same as Bellamont’s. “Above all,” he writes, “Livingstone’s behaviour,
who was come to Boston, and very peremptorily demanded from the Earl
the delivery of the bond which he had entered into for Kidd’s honest
performance of his duty in the expedition (as if that was to be taken for
granted) gave the Earl of Bellamont good reason to conclude that no time
was to be lost. Therefore he caused Kidd to be seized with divers of his
crew.” A lamer set of reasons for throwing a faithful subordinate into
gaol it would have been difficult for the most unintelligent official to
The reply of the Lords Justices to Bellamont’s letters was the
dispatch of a man-of-war, the _Rochester_, to bring back Kidd and his
fellow-prisoners to England. This ship set sail before the end of
September; but came back to Plymouth in November for repairs. Her return
led the opposition to believe that the sending of her out had been merely
a pretence, and it was alleged that a great number of other ships that
had gone out in her company had been able to proceed on their voyage and
to reach New England safely. The wildest rumours were in circulation.
The prevailing popular opinion seems to have been that the four great
ministers had sent Kidd out in the _Adventure Galley_ to commit acts of
piracy on their behalf; and that they had naturally selected for this
purpose a past-master in the art of piracy. Some would have it that
Somers, to prevent unpleasant disclosures, had already set the great
seal to his pardon. Evelyn, in his diary of the third of December, says:
“They” (_i. e._, Parliament) “called some great persons in the highest
offices in question for setting the Greate Seale to the pardon of an
arch pirate, who had turned pirate again, and brought prizes to the
West Indies, expecting to be connived at on sharing the spoil.” Burnet,
writing in much the same strain, says, “It was maliciously insinuated
that the privateer turned pirate in confidence of the protection of those
who employed him, if he had not secret orders for what he did.” It is
difficult to say whose reputation suffered more at this juncture–Kidd’s
by his association with the four unpopular ministers, or the four
unpopular ministers, by their association with Kidd.
On the completion of her repairs, the _Rochester_ set sail again from
Plymouth for New York. She carried a letter from the Lords Justices
to Bellamont, approving his zeal and conduct in the whole affair, and
requiring him to put the pirates and their goods on board of her. The
delay in bringing Kidd to England, whether designed or not, was most
unfortunate for him and most opportune for the ministers. The opposition
seem to have had some inkling that Kidd’s return was being purposely
delayed with the object of enabling the government to deal with him
without consulting Parliament. To allay these suspicions, a certificate
was produced signed by all the officers of the _Rochester_, from which,
according to Bellamont’s apologist, it appeared that they had proceeded
on their course to America “as far as their ship was able to bear the
beating of the sea and then resolved to return to England.” “When they
were returned to England,” he says, “by a like certificate they affirmed
the same thing, and that the result was taken merely for securing the
ship and the company’s lives.” “The captain,” he adds, “by his letter to
the Secretary of the Admiralty says they were got 500 leagues before they
met the storms. And orders being sent by the Admiralty to Mr St Lo, the
Commissioner of the Admiralty at Plymouth, to examine into the truth of
the matter, he certified the Lords of the Admiralty that in pursuance of
their commands he, with the assistance of the officers of the Yard, had
made a thorough survey of the ship and (mentioning the several particular
defects) they unanimously found there was a necessity for her coming
These official assurances by no means satisfied the Commons. On the
sixteenth of the following March they presented an address to the King,
praying that Kidd might not be tried, discharged, or pardoned until the
next session of Parliament, and that Bellamont might be required in the
meantime to transmit over to England all commissions, instructions, and
other papers taken with or relating to him.
The King’s reply to this address was communicated to the House on the
eighth of April, 1700, by Mr. Secretary Vernon, who informed the Commons
that he had presented the address to His Majesty, and that His Majesty
had commanded him to acquaint the House that His Majesty having received
an account of the arrival of Captain Kidd in the Isle of Lundy, by a ship
which the Lords of the Admiralty had sent to fetch him, which was bound
for the Downs, His Majesty had ordered a yacht to be sent to the Downs
in order for the bringing of him up, and that the commissioners of the
Admiralty were likewise directed to send their marshal to take him into
This reply, so far from appeasing the opposition, seems to have added
fuel to the flame of their indignation. Why could not the King assent at
once to their address? Why had the _Rochester_ gone out of her course
to the Isle of Lundy, unless it were to defer the bringing home of
Kidd until Parliament had risen? Accordingly, a few days afterwards, a
further resolution was moved that “An humble address be presented to His
Majesty to remove John, Lord Somers, Lord Chancellor of England, from his
presence and counsels for ever.” The motion was defeated by a majority of
one hundred and sixty-seven to one hundred and six. But the fact that one
hundred and six members voted for it, shows the bitterness of the party
feeling against Somers, and the widespread suspicions of his honesty that
prevailed amongst his political opponents. It need hardly be said that
these suspicions were not allayed by the well-timed arrival of Kidd and
his fellow-prisoners in London on board the King’s yacht, on the very
day after Parliament had risen. The result of this second curious close
coincidence of date which has occurred in the course of this narrative,
was that Kidd had arrived too late to be examined by the members of the
House. He was therefore privately examined by the Admiralty officials,
sent to Newgate, and ordered to be kept a close prisoner.
The desire of the House of Commons that Kidd should not be tried,
discharged, or pardoned until the next session of Parliament was
most unfortunate for him, because it necessitated his being kept in
confinement with his fellow-prisoners at Newgate for more than a year.
But it cannot be regarded as unreasonable, seeing that the necessary
documents relating to him had not yet been laid before the House; that
time was required for the collection of evidence against him from
abroad; and that such of the facts relating to him and his employers as
had already been disclosed, afforded some ground for suspecting that
the four inculpated ministers were far from blameless. It is the one
satisfactory feature in this very unpleasant case, that no discredit
attaches to the action of the House of Commons in respect of its
treatment of Kidd, either in this session or the next.
On the sixth of March in the following year (1701), the House, having
reassembled, ordered that the examinations of Kidd and all papers
relating to him, transmitted by the Earl of Bellamont (who, it may be
mentioned, was now dead), be laid before them by the Admiralty. On
the next day, they were presented; and it was ordered that such of
them as came from the Admiralty sealed up, be opened, and the private
examinations of Captain Kidd before the Admiralty were accordingly opened
and read. It appeared from them that Kidd had denied that he had ever
seen Shrewsbury or Somers; or had heard more of them than that they were
two of his owners; that he admitted that Bellamont had introduced him to
the Earl of Orford, and that Colonel Hewetson had carried him to the Earl
of Romney, which was all he knew of them.
The papers delivered up by the Admiralty related not only to Kidd,
but also to atrocities which had been committed in the East Indies by
pirates, who had nothing to do with him, and which had apparently been
mixed up with his narrative, with the object of obscuring the case and
creating a prejudice against him. The Commons appointed a committee to
sort them, and to report to the House which of them related to Kidd.
On the twenty-seventh of March this committee reported that they had
done this; and their chairman, Sir Humphrey Mackworth, delivered them
in at the clerk’s table, divided into two parcels, one containing the
papers relating to Kidd, and the other the papers that did not relate
to him. Then Kidd’s private examinations before the Admiralty were again
read; and Kidd, being brought in by the keeper of Newgate, was called
in. A petition from Cogi Babba, which had been presented to the House,
was also read. This petition is noteworthy as being the only complaint
to the House made by those who were alleged at his trial to have been
plundered by him. It purported to be presented by Cogi Babba, on behalf
of himself and other Armenians, inhabitants of Chalfa, the suburb of
Spahow, and subjects to the King of Persia. It merely set forth that the
petitioners had freighted a ship called the _Karry Merchant_ (better
known as the _Quedagh Merchant_–and referred to in the French pass as
_Cara Marchand_), from Surat to Bengal, where the petitioners loaded her
at prime cost to the value of four hundred thousand rupees, besides forty
thousand rupees, the cost of the ship, which was all taken and carried
away by Captain Kidd, on the ship’s returning to Surat about February,
1697; and it merely prayed that Kidd might be examined touching the
premises, and the petitioners relieved concerning the same.
After the reading of these papers Kidd was examined and withdrew, and was
remanded to Newgate; and it was decided that the House would the next day
take into consideration the patent, commission and instructions to Kidd,
which they did with the result that a motion was made that the grant
passed under the Great Seal by Somers to Bellamont and others of the
goods to be taken from the pirates before their conviction was illegal
and void. The question being put, one hundred and eighty-five members
voted in favour of the motion and one hundred and ninety-eight against it.
The House then decided that Kidd should be put on his trial in the
ordinary course; and on the sixteenth of April, about three weeks before
it took place, being informed that he had sent to the Admiralty that he
might have the use of his commission and some other papers at his trial,
ordered that “the said Commission and _such other papers as Captain Kidd
desires_ be delivered by the Clerk of this House to the Secretary of
the Admiralty.” Had this order been complied with, and the papers been
accessible to Kidd or his legal advisers, he would have had a complete
answer to the charge of piracy brought against him. For they included
the precious French passes, which had justified his seizure of his two