“If you wish to drink alcohol after eight o’clock you must do so on deck without light… No fighting on board my ship. If you feel the need to attack another member of the crew, please do so on land.” Then he broke into a smile and his smile was very rude indeed and his voice was as smooth as velvet. “Absolutely no gambling…except with dice or cards. Do not let me catch you gambling. No deserting; if you abandon ship I shall have to hunt you down and kill you, and if you make me do that I shall be very cross indeed. Oh, and most of all, no women on board – or boys, but especially women; they bring with them all kinds of trouble – and their monthly ill humour! We do not want that… God forbid!” (Five Guns Blazing, Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen).
Even scoundrels had their standards. It might seem that life on board a pirate ship was all about drinking rum and singing sea shanties. However, in order to sustain the crew and avoid capture, certain rules had to be followed.
Perhaps the most famous pirate code of conduct comes from Captain Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Black Bart. After one of his crew members made off with his sloop and booty of gold jewellery destined for the King of Portugal, Roberts drew up his Shipboard Articles of 1721. These were his rules:
- Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
- Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
- None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
- The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
- Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
- No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
- He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
- None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
- No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
- The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
- The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.
For anyone breaking the code of conduct, the penalty could be very severe indeed, ranging from flogging or legs in irons to marooning or even death. Breaches of the code were dealt with swiftly, as was the case on naval vessels at the time. In fact conditions in the Royal Navy were so harsh that perhaps for sailors deserting their lawful occupations in favour of a life of piracy, the thought of a democratic and equitable ship might have been rather appealing.
Bartholomew Roberts was shot in the neck during a battle with the crew of HMS Swallow on February 10, 1922. During his career he captured over 470 vessels, making him the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon. For more information please visit my author page: Emma Rose Millar, Author
“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”
Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.
In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.
As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?