Barbary Rovers: Peeps at History - John Finnemore

The Barbary Corsairs

Ever since the time when men began to "go down to the sea in ships, and have their business in great waters," there can be no doubt that pirates and sea-rovers sailed the deep too, eager to harass their honest brethren of the main, and seize by force the riches stored in a peaceful merchant vessel. Our own Saxon forefathers were feared as the most terrible of pirates and sea-robbers, and men of all nations have sailed under the black flag to harry and plunder all that came in their way and were too weak to resist their attack.

Dotted over the map of the world are coasts and groups of islands famous or notorious for having been the haunts of pirates, corsairs, buccaneers, or rovers, to use some of the names by which these wolves of the sea are called. Some of these haunts were dreaded but for a short time where a nest of pirates was swiftly rooted out by ships of war, some were dreaded for a longer period where the rogues could not be so easily attacked, but no haunt of sea-rovers ever held the nations of Europe in terror for so long as the shores where lay the towns of the Barbary Corsairs.

The Barbary shore is that strip of North African coast which lies south of the Mediterranean Sea. To-day it forms the coastline of the States of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripoli. In Corsair times its chief ports were Algiers and Tunis, and of these Algiers was the more important. From these ports swarms of Moorish vessels would sally out to attack the shipping of all nations, to seize the cargoes and enslave all on board. Or if no shipping offered, the Moslem Corsairs would land on some Christian shore to burn the villages and smaller towns, sack the houses, and carry off the inhabitants. But it was not often that they were driven to make a raid for want of vessels to attack. Look on the map for their position, and then remember that in the days of their prime all the wealth of the East was poured into Europe by way of Alexandria and Smyrna. Think of the big, clumsy merchant vessels loading at those ports in the far east of the Mediterranean, and then slowly forging their way westwards towards Sicily, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, France, Spain, or on through the Straits of Gibraltar for the great trading countries of England, Holland, and other lands of northern Europe.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


On they come, those great galleons, huge and stately for their day, but slow even in a fair wind, and helplessly becalmed when the breeze falls.

When the shipmaster views Sicily to the north, his brow wears an anxious and uneasy look. His heart will not beat freely again until he has run the gauntlet of the dangers which lie along that threatening strip of coast to the south, until he has passed through the Straits, and the terrors of the Bay of Biscay will be faced with a cheerful mind as compared with the terrors of the sea-wolves of Barbary.

On he goes. He has passed Tunis in safety. He has passed Algiers.

He will soon be within sight of the Straits. But one morning as the grey dawn creeps over the sea, the lookout hails him from the top and reports a vessel lying to the south-east. The shipmaster goes up, and sees a long low vessel lying on the water like a great snake. It has a single mast carrying a lateen sail, but the latter is furled. He does not like the look of it: the craft seems to his fancy too much like an Algerine galley. He orders his crew to make more sail, for, luckily, the wind is fair. But now there is movement aboard the galley. He, too, has been seen. Up goes the great lateen sail and fills, and the galley bears down towards him. Ha! what is that? The galley now throws out on either side a bank of long oars. It is like a great bird spreading its wings, and with the swiftness of a bird she moves. The oars rise and fall, beating the water in perfect order and with great power, the lateen sail swells with the favouring breeze, and the long, slender galley darts down the wind upon the broad-beamed clumsy merchantman, like a falcon swooping upon a lumbering heron.

Still the people on the trader are uncertain. It may be a Christian war-galley coming down to speak with them. Then a sharp-eyed fellow on board catches a glimpse of turbans, and they know the worst at once. The dreaded Moors are upon them; it is a Corsair galley, and they must fly, or fight for their lives and liberty. They crowd on sail, but soon that is seen to be useless; the rovers are coming up under oar and sail with dreadful speed. They cast their guns loose, for in those rough days every merchantman must go armed against the many dangers of the sea. But the decks are littered, and many bags and sacks and barrels, for which no more room could be found in the hold, have been stowed along the gunwales.

The merchant crew strive hard to clear their decks and load their guns, and meanwhile the Corsair galley is sweeping up to them faster and faster. Now she can be clearly seen. At the prow of the vessel is a high platform, and this is packed by a body of desperate ruffians, coal-black Moors, brown-faced Turks in turbans, or renegades in Greek caps, but every man with his arms bared, his musket primed, and his scimitar or pike ready for action. With a final tremendous sweep of the oars the galley is laid alongside the merchant ship and the fighting men pour a volley among the distracted crew, then leap aboard and lay on with pike and scimitar. Their furious onslaught soon sweeps all before them. In a few minutes the vessel is theirs. Those who resist are cut down, those who yield are swiftly bound. No one is slain for mere love of slaying, for every captive will fetch a good price in Algiers. The Corsairs are full of delight, for they find that the ship carries a rich cargo; and now all is theirs, the ship, its splendid freight, and the men who manned it.

Corsairs chasing a galleon


This is no fancy picture; it is the literal truth. The like of this happened hundreds, ay, thousands of times during the centuries that slipped by while the Barbary coast with its Moslem rovers remained the terror of all Christian shipping. The Corsairs attacked all alike. Their prisons were full of captives of all nations. English, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italians, every speech in Europe could be heard in the mouths of their slaves. Every rank, too, was there. Gentlemen and ladies, travelling abroad for business or pleasure, were often seized on board ships; and these, perhaps with their children, all became captives, and were sold for the benefit of their captors, or were forced to pay heavy ransoms.

Now, you may ask, why did the great countries of Europe allow their people to be treated in this manner? Were the Corsairs so mighty that such powerful nations as England, France, Spain, Holland (at that time very strong on the sea), were all afraid of the pirates and dared not face them? Not at all: not in the least. At any moment these nations could have joined and crushed the Corsairs as easily as a man crushes a wasp with his foot. Of the chief nations any one of them, by putting forth all her strength, could have shattered the Corsair power with ease.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


It is the shame of Europe that this was not done until after centuries of bloodshed and plunder. It was simply because the nations of Europe would not combine against them, that the Barbary rovers were allowed to exist. Nay, more, there were great powers who would have been unwilling to see the Corsairs overthrown. They used the pirates as a tool to further their own ends.

Perhaps there was ill-feeling between two countries. It never went as far as open war, but one desired to do harm to the trade of another. Very well. The first secretly stirred up the Corsairs to attack the ships of the second, or to make a raid upon the hostile shore. Or even if a power did not go so far as to incite the Corsairs against an enemy, its rulers heard with pleasure of great raids upon the people whom they did not love: it was all a weakening of their enemy's strength, and thus gain to themselves. So they refused to lift a finger against the pirates whose evil deeds gave them satisfaction. The Corsairs understood this as well as anyone, and took full advantage of this jealousy and ill-feeling among the Christian nations to plunder all and sundry. Again and again the Crescent trampled down the Cross. Well might the Barbary Corsairs be known as the "Scourge of Christendom."

The Early Corsairs—I

In the year 1492 the Moors were driven from Spain. When the Moorish kingdom of Granada fell, great numbers of Moors left the land of Spain, crossed the Straits to Africa, and made new homes for themselves on the farther shore. It was seven hundred years since their forefathers had crossed from Africa to Spain and conquered fair kingdoms for themselves on Spanish soil. Now Spain had won her own again, and the banished Moors were forced to make the return journey.

They never forgot the vineyards and corn-fields of the rich and pleasant country they had lost. After holding it for seven centuries the Moors felt towards it as to their own, their native land, and their hatred of the conquering Spaniard was deep and bitter. No sooner had they established themselves upon the African shore than they began to think of revenge. They could not hope to harm the Spanish by land—their numbers were too small to think of open battle—but it seemed to them that by sea something could be done.

The Moors were brave, daring, and skilful seamen. They knew every inch of the waters between Morocco and Spain they knew the Spanish shore and—the Spaniards did not know theirs. For the Barbary coast might have been designed for the refuge of the light galleys which the Moorish pirates used. It was a coast full of creeks, of small harbours, of broad lagoons whose waters were of little depth. But everywhere the pirate galleys, which drew little water, could run in and lie in safety, and this was a great advantage when the rovers were fleeing from a heavy Spanish war galley which dared not venture into the shallow water.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


Then, again, the Barbary coast was, and is, subject to sudden and dreadful storms which spring up with little warning. From these storms the rovers, knowing every inch of the coast, would run, and lie hidden in some nook of the shore or behind some sheltering promontory. From some such refuge they watched, in perfect safety, their enemies floundering among shoals and sandbanks, and when the gale had blown over they calmly ran out and picked the bones of the broken and stranded vessel, and clapped into chains those of the crew who had not been drowned.

The vessels of the early Moorish pirates, the brigantines, were no more than large rowing boats. They were driven by twenty oars, ten on each side; and each rower was also a fighting man, with his musket and broad curved sword, the scimitar, resting beside his rowing bench. Another ten or a dozen men for steering and relieving the rowers made up the crew. If the wind was fair, a broad lateen sail was hoisted on the single mast and the oars were shipped.

It was not long after the banishment of the Moors when these tiny vessels became a terror along the Spanish coast. A small squadron of them would sail by night into a hidden bay on the shore of Spain. From each tiny vessel thirty stout fellows would spring ashore. The ships were run up the sand, a dozen men left to guard them, and a couple of hundred pirates crept inland to attack a village in the land which they had lost, a village, perchance, of which they knew every house, every road and path around it.

Looting Spanish town


Every man had his appointed share in the assault, and all orders were carried out with perfect discipline. On a given signal there was a rush upon the sleeping village. Next followed a scene of fearful confusion and uproar. The inhabitants were seized or slain, the houses were sacked, and then the torch was put to every building. Laden with plunder and dragging trains of captives, the Corsairs were lighted back to their ships by the flames of the burning hamlet, and, long before the countryside could be roused against them, their swift ships had faded beyond the horizon. Such were the exploits of the exiled Moors, but a greater terror for Christendom was soon to dawn in the rise of the Turkish Corsairs.

A dozen years after the Moors had settled on the Barbary coast there came to its shores two small ships, seeking a good harbour and a safe place from pursuit. These ships were under the command of a young Turk who had already made a name as a buccaneer, and was to make a much greater one in the future. The most striking feature in this pirate's appearance was his great red beard, and thus he gained the name of Barbarossa, which in Italian means Red-Beard.

Barbarossa settled at Tunis, for he had heard many stories of the rich argosies which sailed past the Barbary coast, and he was eager to dip his fingers into Christian treasuries. In a short time his name was ringing in all ears, Christian and Moslem alike. He set off on a cruise from Tunis, and was lying near the isle of Elba when he saw two great galleys rowing quietly along. These galleys were of the largest size, rowed by many oars with several men at each oar, and were known as galleys-royal. Such a galley was like a small fortress.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


At the prow of it a large platform was built, and this was armed with guns and filled with soldiers. At the stern was another platform called the poop, and here was the commander of the galley with his officers, and another strong guard of troops. Between these two platforms stretched the long, low body of the galley, the "waist" as it was called, and across the waist ran rows of narrow benches on which the oarsmen were seated, five or six men to a single oar, and thirty oars on each fide. The oarsmen had nothing to do but row: they left the fighting to the troops on board, and a royal galley could carry many soldiers.

Two such galleys as these then hove in sight while Barbarossa was waiting for prey, and he ordered his men to row forward and lie on their course. They were galleys belonging to the Pope and were richly laden with goods from Genoa, goods which were bound for Rome. They were well manned with Papal troops and were of commanding strength. We must remember that in those days the Pope was not only the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but was also a great prince who held broad lands and had fleets and armies of his own.

When the Turks on Barbarossa's small galley saw what their leader meant to do they were filled with fright. They begged their captain not to attempt so great an enterprise, but to look for some vessel nearer to their own size. The only answer of the daring captain was to toss most of the oars overboard so that escape was impossible, and his men must either fight or be sunk. On came the foremost galley-royal. She saw the small galley but felt no alarm. The only pirate-ships known in those waters were the tiny Moorish brigantines, and of these she had no fear: no Turkish Corsair had ever been seen so far west as this. But suddenly her crew were aroused. They saw Turkish turbans aboard the strange galley and the drums at once beat to arms. As they did so the vessels slid along-side each other, and Barbarossa, at the head of his men, boarded the great galley-royal, poured in a hail of shot from muskets and bolts from bows, then fell on with sword and spear, and carried the big vessel by assault.

Barbarossa the Turk


This was a great victory—Barbarossa resolved to cap it—he determined to seize the second galley-royal, which was some distance behind. His officers begged him to rest content with the great gains he had made, but nothing could move him. He dressed his crew in the clothes of the Christian captives, set them to work about the galley-royal as if they had been its proper crew, and so drew the second galley, all ignorant of her consort's fate, within easy striking distance. A second fierce rush, and the bewildered troops and seamen were driven under hatches and secured as prisoners. The second galley was his also.

Barbarossa returned to Tunis in triumph with his two magnificent prizes, and the fame of this exploit rang through Europe. From that day the Turkish captain was a hero among the Moslems, an object of dread among the Christians. Barbarossa now had a great number of captives, and these he resolved to use as rowers. In this way he would keep his own men fresh for fighting. So the oars of his galleys were now worked by Christian captives, while his Turkish fighting men lolled at ease on poop and prow. The other Corsairs followed his example, and right away to the nineteenth century the pirate galleys were rowed by Christian slaves. So it was on the other side. When a Christian ship took a Moslem galley, the Turks and Moors were made captive and placed on the rowing bench to drive the navies of Christendom.

The power of Barbarossa grew steadily. He built a navy out of captured ships, he gathered an army, he fought by land and sea, and established his rule along part of the Barbary coast. Then he was called to a great enterprise: the seizing of Algiers.

We have spoken of the Moorish brigantines which ran out of Algiers to harry the Spanish coasts. At last Spain was roused, and a fleet of Spanish galleys attacked the pirates' den, and built a strong fort to keep Algiers in order. The Algerines called upon Barbarossa to rescue them from the Spanish yoke, and the Corsair marched upon the town with a strong body of Turks and Moors. A Spanish Armada was sent to assist the Spaniards in the threatened fort, and a strong army was landed. Barbarossa attacked and routed it; this was a great feat, for at that day the Spanish troops were accounted among the finest soldiery of the world.

Other victories he won, and the ire of the King of Spain, the great Charles the Fifth, was kindled against him. Charles dispatched a body of his best troops, ten thousand strong, against the Corsair, and gave orders that he and his bandits should be destroyed.

The Spanish host drew near Barbarossa's camp when he had only fifteen hundred men with him. Barbarossa took his treasure and fled: his troops fled with him. The Spaniards pursued hotly. The Corsair scattered his loot, his gold and jewels, in the way, hoping that the Spaniards would stay to secure the treasure. But the Spanish commander fiercely urged his men forward, and the precious spoil was trodden underfoot and neglected. The pursuers came up with the flying pirates at a point where a river with steep banks lay square across the line of flight. Barbarossa with half his men had crossed, and were in sight of safety: the Spaniards fell upon the rear-guard with the utmost fury. When the dauntless Corsair saw the straits of his men, he at once turned back, dashed across the stream, and hurled himself into the fray. His followers turned upon their pursuers and supported their great leader with desperate courage. But the odds were too great. Scarce a single Turk or Moor made his escape from that fatal field, and Barbarossa, fighting to the last, fell amidst his men.

The Early Corsairs—II

One Barbarossa was dead, but another took his place, and made the name still more terrible. This was the younger Barbarossa, a man as brave as his brother, but with far greater powers as a ruler and statesman. The name scarcely fitted him, for his beard was auburn, not red, but as he had succeeded to his brother's authority, so he succeeded to his title. The younger Barbarossa lived to be an old man, and he rose to a position of great power, winning for himself high renown at sea and a name which is not forgotten to this day in the story of the Turkish Empire. But through all his long life he was first and foremost a Corsair, a Barbary rover, who scoured the seas in search of Christian vessels, and made them his prey.

In a short time after his brother's death the great Barbarossa had won back Algiers in defiance of the Spanish power, and he sent an ambassador to Constantinople to present it to the Sultan. The Sultan was greatly pleased. He appointed Barbarossa the Governor of the country, and sent large forces of troops to assist him. With this aid the Corsair made himself supreme along the Barbary coast, and built for himself a strong fleet. To man this fleet there swarmed to him every Turkish and Moorish desperado from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Levant. Great pirate captains sought him and begged to serve under his flag. Men who had won renown elsewhere flocked to Algiers, drawn by the magic of the name of the famous Corsair.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


It was his custom to send his fleets out in spring as soon as the gales of winter were over. All the summer long his swift galleys kept the narrow seas off the Barbary coast, and even ventured through the Straits and snapped up huge galleons sailing home to Spain, vessels laden with the treasures of the Indies, with gold, and silver, and precious stones. But in their own waters the pirate galleys were almost invincible. Merchant ships, of course, fled from them in terror, and great Christian war-galleys were often loth to engage in battle, unless they were clearly superior in strength. Time and again Barbarossa harried the shores along the northern Mediterranean in search of plunder and captives. He took both in the greatest abundance. The former he stored in his treasury or gave in reward to his followers, the latter he carried to Algiers and forced to work for him, either as slaves on the rowing benches of his galleys, or in tilling the fruitful soil around the city. Vessels of all kinds were brought into Algiers as prizes, from tiny fishing boats to great galleons and warships. On one occasion the cheering populace saw seven royal galleys of Spain brought into their roads, and the greatest of them all was the Capitana, the flag ship, the chief vessel of the Spanish navy. Before long Barbarossa seized the Spanish fort which overlooked Algiers. He made the garrison prisoners, pulled down the fortress, and set thousands of Christian slaves to work to build a breakwater with the stones.

His next great exploit along the Barbary coast was to seize Tunis from a native prince. The prince appealed to Charles V. of Spain, who had his own account to settle with the Corsair, and Charles promised support. In May 1535, Charles sailed for Tunis with a great fleet and a splendid army, and laid siege to the city. There was some fierce fighting, and in the end Barbarossa was driven out of the place with the loss of many men and more than a hundred vessels. Of this feat Christendom was very proud. The great Corsair had been put to flight, and forced to retire to Algiers. But amid all the triumph Barbarossa was busy at his old trade. Feeling sure that no one would expect him at such a moment, he put to sea with the galleys he had left, made a sudden descent on Minorca, plundered a town, seized several rich prizes, and returned to Algiers with six thousand captives and much booty.

Shortly after this Barbarossa was summoned to Constantinople by the Sultan. The latter had made the Corsair, High Admiral of the Turkish navy. Barbarossa took up this great post, and the Barbary coast knew him no more. The story of the rest of his long life belongs to that of the Turkish Empire. In his new position he continued to win greater and greater fame until he died in 1546, an old man nearly ninety years of age, and accounted the greatest seaman of his time.

But though Barbarossa had left the ranks of the Barbary rovers, there were many great captains ready to lead the pirate galleys, with a famous commander named Dragut at their head. Dragut led his raids chiefly along the Adriatic, seizing the galleys of Venice and plundering the shores of Italy. But one day in 1540 he was surprised by a Genoese sea-captain and taken prisoner. The captain made a present of Dragut to his uncle, Andrea Doria, a great Genoese admiral and a life-long foe of the Turkish Corsairs. Doria put Dragut in chains and fastened him to the oar bench of one of his galleys, to toil at the labour of the oar. Three years the pirate captain spent in this wretched case, until Barbarossa, in 1543, ransomed him for 3000 crowns. It was a bad bargain for Christendom. Dragut returned to his old trade, and made his name more dreaded than ever in the western Mediterranean. But while Dragut had been a Captive there had been strange doings at Algiers.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


In 1541 Charles V. of Spain made up his mind to destroy that nest of pirates in Algiers, and make an end of them once and for all. To his vast power the destruction of one small city seemed the most trifling task in the world; the attempt proved to be one of the most shameful disasters ever inflicted on the hosts of Christendom.

Things went wrong from the first. Charles started too late in the year. He launched a great fleet carrying a splendid army in October 1541. Autumn was upon him, and the dreaded winter storms were at hand. Gales buffeted them on the way to Algiers. The troops landed and marched to the city. The weather fought for the pirates as no army could have done. The sea had been so rough that few stores could be landed. The soldiers had neither tents nor cloaks to shelter them from the furious blast of the bitter wind, the pelting showers of cold, driving rain. The water-logged soil became a sea of mud in which the men floundered miserably; their powder was wet; they had little food; they were wet and cold and hungry, and had little heart to fight when the Turks and Moors sallied upon them from the town. The sally was beaten back, and there was some fighting, but nothing decisive.

Then on the morning of the 25th of October there sprang up a most terrible hurricane, which is remembered to this day in Algiers as "Charles's Gale." This hurricane burst upon the great fleet and smote it with awful destruction. Ship crashed into ship. Many were hurled ashore. In six hours one hundred and fifty vessels went to the bottom. Andrea Doria saved the rest by taking them out to sea, where they rode the storm in safety.

The losses of stores, above all, food and clothing, were so great that Charles saw he could not maintain his position before the city. So he gave orders that the troops should strike camp and retire to the ships. The retreat was begun. Great quantities of baggage and artillery were abandoned, for they could not be carried over the sodden soil and swollen rivers which must be crossed to gain the seashore. The unhappy infantry sank knee-deep in the thick mud; they were washed away in scores when attempting to wade the furious mountain torrents. At last they were forced to use the timbers of their own wrecked ships to construct bridges. Upon their flanks hung crowds of Turks and Moors and Arabs, who cut off great numbers of stragglers and harassed the retreat; but at length the unhappy army gained the shore and the shelter of their ships.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


Here a new difficulty arose. So many ships had been lost that there was no room to embark the horses; and these were no common horses. The chivalry of Spain had followed Charles and brought their finest chargers with them, animals of priceless value and the pride of the Spanish breed, at that day as famous in Europe as the English thoroughbred is now. They could not be carried. Charles reluctantly issued an order, and they were, to the grief of their masters, all destroyed. It was an almost fatal blow to the great Spanish breed.

As the fleet put off on the return voyage the wind was rising. Charles was among the last to embark, his heart full of sadness at this overthrow. It is said that the mighty Emperor took his crown from his head and flung it into the sea, saying, "Go, bauble; let some more fortunate prince wear and redeem thee."

Again the ships were assailed by a most dreadful storm, and were driven hither and thither by the gale. Some were wrecked near Algiers and their crews seized by the pirates. It was only with the greatest difficulty that Charles himself made the homeward voyage in safety, leaving many of his soldiers and sailors in the hands of the enemy. "Algiers teemed with Christian captives, and it became a common saying that a Christian slave was scarce a fair barter for an onion."

Harbor of Algiers


The next Christian expedition was an assault upon Tunis, nine years later, in 1550. The famous Dragut had established himself in that city, and a strong army was sent to drive him out, with old Andrea Doria in command of the ships. This time the Christians scored a success. The city was seized and Dragut had to fly. But the Sultan gave him twenty galleys, and the Corsair was soon harrying Christian shores to make good his losses. Doria scoured the seas in pursuit of Dragut, in hopes once more to seize him and chain him to a rowing bench, and regretting bitterly that he had ever let the Corsair go.

Then a wonderful stroke of luck came (16th Century) in the way of the great Genoese admiral.

He heard that Dragut was near the island of Jerba, and he sailed thither, took the Corsair utterly by surprise, and blocked his way of escape. Behind the island of Jerba lay a vast inland lake, a favourite resort of the Corsairs, reached from the north by a narrow passage down which Dragut had sailed. Here he lay in the lake, busily engaged in scraping the keels of his galleys and greasing them that they might slide more swiftly through the water. To his dismay the powerful fleet of Doria hove in sight, and the Genoese planted his ships squarely across the mouth of the northern channel, and chuckled to think he had shut up Dragut in a trap.

Doria did not come into the lake for excellent reasons. His heavy vessels would find it dangerous to attempt the narrow channel whose shoals and sandbanks the lighter pirate galleys had passed with ease. And the famous old admiral was a very cautious man; he never risked seamen or ship except at urgent need, and here he had only to wait till the Corsair was forced to come out. He sent word to Europe that he had safely trapped the Corsair fleet, for though there was a southern channel it was so shallow, so filled with mud and sand, that no one had ever heard of a vessel passing that way to the open sea.

At first Dragut knew not what to do. It was hopeless to think of venturing out of his refuge. He could not hope to pit his galleys against a fleet not only vastly more powerful, but under the command of the most famous admiral of Christendom. So his nimble wits went to work to find a way out of the trap. First of all he landed some of his cannons, placed them in an earthwork and fired briskly on the enemy. He did them little damage, but he did not trouble about that: he wished only to make Doria hesitate still further before attacking, and this object he gained. Meanwhile, his men were working like furies at the southern end of the lake. Assisted by thousands of native labourers called from the country round about they cut a channel and prepared a way of escape. On a given night, as soon as darkness fell, all hands turned to the task. Rollers were put under the keels of the galleys, and they were hauled across the shallows by hundreds of willing hands. Next they were worked along the canal which had been cut, and long before dawn, oars were dipped in the deep water at the southern end of the island, and Dragut and his men were off full speed for Turkish waters and safety.

At daybreak Doria rubbed his eyes in amazement, and looked and looked again. At nightfall he had seen the pirate galleys lying in the lake. Where were they now? Never had the famous old seaman endured a more bitter disappointment. Dragut had now had enough of cruising on his own account. In 1551 he joined the Turkish navy and assisted the Turkish fleet to harry the Christians until he fell at Malta in 1565, during the great assault which the Turks made upon that stronghold of the Knights of St. John.

The Knights of St. John—I

The Corsairs had many bitter and resolute foes, but the most terrible enemies of all were the Knights of St. John. This was an Order of Christian chivalry whose object was the defence of Christendom against the Moslem power, who lived only to uphold the Cross against the Crescent. Among the Knights were to be found famous warriors from every nation in Europe, each grouped with his fellow-countrymen in a kind of regiment, known as a Tongue, because all of a Tongue used the same speech, the English Tongue, the Spanish Tongue, the Italian Tongue, and so on. Every Knight was bound to dedicate his whole life to the Order; he was, as it were, a kind of warrior monk, who must at any moment be ready to spring to his post when the battle-cry of the Order was raised, "Our Lady and St. John!"

The brethren of the Order were soldiers, and seamen too. They marched by land to fight with Turk or Moor, they scoured the sea in their galleys to battle with the Corsairs. Seven galleys had the Knights of St. John, and never more than seven. But vessels more splendid were not to be seen in any navy of that day. Each galley was a galley-royal fitted out and equipped in a style of great magnificence, manned by picked rowers and mariners, with bands of Knights in rich armour, and men-at-arms in burnished mail, gathered on her poop and on her prow. At the poop of each vessel the commander of the galley sat in a great chair with an embroidered canopy above his head. And higher still floated a broad banner bearing a great white cross, the emblem of "the Religion," as the Order was often called. The same emblem was repeated everywhere, on the breasts of the Knights, on smaller flags, on many parts of the vessel.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


A galley of St. John made a brilliant picture in the bright southern sunshine as she floated over the blue sea of the Mediterranean. For she herself was a vivid patch of scarlet on the gleaming water. She was painted a brilliant red, and the Knights wore scarlet doublets over their glittering armour, so that from afar off a galley of the Religion might be known as far as the eye could reach. There was one, and only one, that was not red. This was the Capitana, the great flagship, the admiral's galley, and she was black, black as night, and dreaded even beyond the others as larger and more powerful.

The galleys of the White Cross Knights were the terror of the Corsairs. No pirate galley could tackle one of them single-handed; it was often a hopeless struggle when two or three attacked a red galley. For here were no helpless mariners, who would rather fly than fight, but famous warriors who had spent their whole life in arms, who were sworn to destroy the enemies of the Faith, who hailed a combat with the Moslem foe, even at the most desperate odds, with the keenest joy, and were furnished with every weapon of war. Even Dragut himself had been known to avoid a meeting with the galleys of St. John.

The Knights were Christian Corsairs. They swept the seas in search of pirate galleys, it is true, but a Moslem trading vessel met with short shrift at their hands. Just as the rovers picked up the merchant ships of Christendom, so they picked up the merchant ships of Turkey, of Egypt, of Syria. They lived by plunder, and they carried to their stronghold at Malta the wealth and the prisoners seized upon Moslem vessels.

The Knights formed the eastern outpost and bulwark of Christendom. Their first station had been at the island of Rhodes, where they possessed a strong fortress, and preyed upon the commerce of Turkey and defied the Sultan. Here the Turks attacked them in 1522. The Knights made a splendid defence, but their foes proved too strong for them, and they were driven out of Rhodes. In 1530 they settled at Malta by permission of Charles V. of Spain, and again they raised a great fortress and built every kind of defence to resist attack, for they knew that the day would come when a fresh assault would be made upon them by the Moslem foe.

Meanwhile their swords were at the service of all who wished to assail Turk or Moor or Arab. They joined in every expedition against the Barbary coast. A body of them marched with Charles on his unlucky attempt upon Algiers. Many lost credit on that unfortunate occasion for the Christian arms, but not the Knights of St. John.

When the Algerines made their sally and drove the troops of Charles before them, it was the Knights of Malta who stayed the rout, and with their cool courage and splendid discipline repelled the fiery charge of the Moorish cavalry. When the enemy were driven back into the town, it was a Knight of St. John who pursued the foe to the very gate, and, as it was closed, struck his dagger into it in defiance of the defenders. In every skirmish, every combat, the scarlet doublets shone in the forefront, and were the last to retire in every retreat. In Algiers their desperate valour was never forgotten, and to this day the spot where they made their great stand is known as "The Grave of the Knights."

There was great joy among the Barbary rovers, in 1565, when they heard that these terrible enemies were to be once more assailed by the full might of the Turkish power. The Sultan who had driven the Knights out of Rhodes, the mighty Suliman, still lived, and had sworn now to drive them out of Malta, and crush them for ever. Suliman gathered a huge fleet of one hundred and eighty great vessels, and placed a splendid army of thirty thousand veteran troops on board, and sent it to Malta: Dragut sailed to join it with a score or more of Corsair galleys.

On their side the Knights had been doing their utmost to prepare for the terrible assault about to be launched. They sent to their friends for reinforcements, and laboured without ceasing at their defences. Yet when the immense Turkish fleet appeared over the horizon on the 18th of May 1565, their hearts must have sunk within them. The Turks were at the height of their power and their fame, and against thirty thousand of their best troops, the Knights could only muster seven hundred swords of the Religion, and eight thousand troops, most of the latter Maltese, who were of little use in the open field.

Siege of Malta


But if there was no hope of victory there was no thought of surrender. Every man was willing to give his life for the Order and for the honour of Our Lady and St. John. When the day of trial was near at hand the Grand Master of the Order called his Knights together to a solemn service. The Grand Master was Jean de la Valette, now in his seventieth year, but as full of fire and courage as when he first entered the Order fifty years before. He knew the Turk as scarce any other man could know that dreaded foe. He had fought at Rhodes forty-three years before. He had been taken captive, had been a slave and had pulled an oar on Barbarossa's galleys. He knew Dragut well, and had seen him chained to the oar bench on Doria's galley. He spoke to Dragut. He said, "Senor Dragut, 'tis the fortune of war." Dragut, always cheerful, looked up with a merry smile, and remembered that Valette had once been in the same plight. "'Tis a change of luck," said the Corsair. Now Dragut was coming against him, and they were to fight their last battle.

Jean de la Valette then called the Order together. He bade each Knight remember his vow of dedication to the service of the Religion. He called upon them to prepare to lay down their lives for the Faith. He adjured every warrior first to make his peace with God, then with his brethren if he should have any private enmity in his heart. He spoke to them as men already dead to the world, men who were about to be offered as a willing sacrifice on behalf of the safety of Christendom. And his words were received as they were spoken. Kneeling before the altar, the White Cross Knights again dedicated themselves to the service of the Faith, and vowed to stand or fall in defence of the honour of their patron saints, Our Lady and St. John.

The Knights of St. John—II

The Knights now took their places in the forts they had to defend against the vast Turkish power. These forts were three in number. Fort St. Michael and Fort St. Angelo lay near the Burg, the town, which was the stronghold of the Order. The Burg lay to the east of the Marsa, the great harbour of Malta, and on the other side of the harbour, at the end of a rocky promontory, stood the third fortress, the outlying fort of St. Elmo.

When the Turks arrived, Mustapha, the general in command of the troops, resolved to attack St. Elmo first and take it, before going on to assail the forts which guarded the town. PiŠli, the admiral of the fleet, did not agree with him. He thought that Fort St. Michael should be assaulted at once. He pointed out that even should St. Elmo be taken, it was only an outlying position, quite apart from the town, and brought them no nearer their object, the seizing of the Burg, the stronghold of the Religion.

Fortunately for the Knights, Dragut was not there. He had been delayed on his voyage to Malta, and he and his Corsairs did not arrive till a fortnight after the Ottoman fleet. Had he been there, Fort St. Elmo would never have been attacked. The great leader always struck at the heart of his foe, and he would have assailed the forts covering the town. As it was, Mustapha had his own way. He landed his troops, threw up batteries on the land side of the fort, manned them with cannon, and had begun to play upon the walls of the fortress before Dragut arrived on the 2nd of June.

Dragut saw at once the mistake that had been made. To assail St. Elmo was to give the Knights time, and time was very precious to them. They were looking for an army of relief from Spain, and the longer the Turks spent before the outlying fort, the nearer drew the moment when the reinforcements would arrive. But for all that, Dragut did not abandon the attack on St. Elmo. Now that it had begun, it must go on. To retire from its walls would look like defeat: it would give heart to the Knights and dispirit the Turks. So Dragut drove the siege forward with the utmost fury, feeling certain that he could destroy the little fort in a few days. The fort was small and its garrison was few: it was held by sixty Knights and about four hundred soldiers; but they were picked men, and they boldly faced the Turkish hosts, intent only upon selling their lives dearly, and holding the foe as long as possible before their walls.

Before long Dragut began to see that this small but dauntless garrison would not be easily driven out of the fort. They worked unceasingly to make good the ravages of his cannonade. He beat down a wall only to find that the breach had been made in vain. A new wall had risen behind it, and the cannonade must begin anew. He hurled a storming party against the gate, and in a tremendous battle of three hours the Turks gained an outwork but no more. So fearful was the Moslem onset that the Knights sent word to the Grand Master that it would be impossible to resist another such attack. La Valette replied that they must withstand it; that St. Elmo must be held till the reinforcements arrived; that he would come himself and head the defence, if need be. Upon receiving this answer the stubborn garrison turned anew to their task.

Dragut now planned to cross the deep moat, the fosse which ran round the walls of the fort. He built a bridge, and he built it in a sailor's fashion. For he fetched up from his ships a number of great spars, and laid them side by side across the yawning gulf. A body of Janissaries, the flower of Turkish soldiery, rushed to the attack, and they were met by a counter-assault of mail-clad knights wielding their huge two-handed swords. For five hours there was a mighty hand-to-hand combat on Dragut's bridge, but even the Janissaries could not stand before the finest swords of the Religion, and the Turks were hurled back for the moment with terrible slaughter. But the combat was soon renewed, and attack after attack was stubbornly delivered and as stubbornly withstood. The Turkish cannonade was unceasing. Day by day the heavy shot beat down wall and parapet until the fort was hammered to pieces, and still the Knights clung to the shapeless mass of stone, and held their post among the ruins. The Turks had suffered dreadful loss, and so had the Order. But time and again the Grand Master sent fresh bodies of troops across the harbour to St. Elmo, and thus reinforced the garrison. Mustapha had been so certain that he would soon seize St. Elmo, that he had not entirely surrounded the place with his trenches, and through the gap he had left, La Valette could send knights and soldiers into the fort.

Knight of Malta


Dragut resolved to stop them. He set his engineers to work, and brought his trenches down to the water's edge, so that none could pass to St. Elmo. A useful piece of work, but the besiegers paid an immense price for it: none other than the loss of their greatest leader. Dragut was shot while giving orders to his men in the trenches, and was carried off to his tent mortally wounded. The fate of St. Elmo was now sealed. Mustapha launched fresh assaults against the little garrison, and for every Turk that fell, ten fresh men sprang forward to take his place; the place of a fallen Christian remained empty. The final assault was delivered on the morning of the 24th of June. The day before there had been a fierce combat, and but few of the garrison had survived, and these felt that the end was at hand. All gathered in the trench where they knew the last rush would come. The sick, the wounded, the maimed had crept there; some were too weak to stand and were seated by their comrades in chairs, but each held his drawn sword and craved but to strike one last blow at the Infidel.

In poured the Turks. By sheer force of numbers they bore down the Christians, and, ere long, not a knight, not a soldier was left alive. They were slain to the last man, dying as hard as they could on that soil which they had defended to the last drop of their blood. St. Elmo had fallen. Dragut heard the news as he lay dying, and rejoiced. But it had been a costly victory. More than eight thousand Turks had been slain before the walls, and this was but a small outlying fort, while the greater forts still stood, grim and frowning, across the harbour. "If the child has cost us so dear, what will the parent cost?" said Mustapha, the Turkish general.

But Mustapha did not delay. He formed his plans at once for a new siege, carried his troops and artillery across the harbour, sat down before Fort St. Michael, and by the 5th of July his batteries were playing on the fortress. He also tried to assault the town from the water. Upon one side of the Burg lay a deep inlet called the Harbour of the Galleys, because it was there that the galleys lay in winter. Mustapha aimed at sending a fleet of gunboats into the Harbour of the Galleys to fire upon the town and the fortifications from that side.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


Now the mouth of the harbour was barred by a stout chain drawn from shore to shore, and this must be severed before the gunboats could sail in. A band of daring Turks swam to the barrier, each man carrying an axe, and they strove to cut the boom. Then out swam a shoal of defenders, mostly Maltese, with sword in teeth, and attacked the Turks. There was a sharp and strange fight in the water and on the boom, and in the end the Turks were driven off and the defence was kept unbroken.

The fighting had been desperate before St. Elmo: it was thrice more desperate before St. Michael. The assailants marched upon the bastions at several points in order to divide the Christian forces. They hurled themselves upon the wall in strong columns, and planted scaling ladders against the parapets. At each ladder the combat was furious. Up the ladders swarmed the splendid Janissaries, the chosen troops selected to head the assault. Few reached the top. Upon the walls stood the Knights and hurled down masses of masonry torn loose by the Turkish cannonade. The great blocks of stone broke the ladders, dashed to the ground the stubborn climbers, and rolled among the throng below.

On came fresh masses of the foe and new ladders were planted, and the escalade began once more. No slaughter could damp the courage of the fiery Moslems, and they swarmed up to the wall in hundreds. But none could pass it. The huge swords of the Knights swept away line after line of the assailants. The great blades beat down the lighter scimitar, and shore their way clean through steel cap and coat-of-mail, and smote the splendid soldiery of the Sultan with terrible destruction. The Janissaries were supported by a great band of Corsair troops. Upon these the Knights sallied and cut them in pieces. The Corsairs fled towards the harbour, but fled in vain. So confident had they been of victory that they had dismissed their ships, and they were driven pell-mell into the sea, where they were slain or drowned in great droves. The reddened waves were dotted with drums and flags, and turbans which had floated from the heads of the drowning Moslems.

Ten such assaults as this were delivered, and the Christian defenders had to keep watch and ward night and day. They never knew at what moment a great array might pour down upon them, and in spite of every precaution they were, more than once, nearly taken by surprise. For instance, the Turks planned a great assault at midday on the 2nd of August. At that burning hour of noon in a southern island such as Malta, midday is quieter than midnight. Every one seeks shelter from the fierce beams of the raging sun, and takes the siesta, the midday rest, which the climate demands. All that sultry morning Mustapha annoyed the defenders with cannon shots and threats which kept them alert and busy. Then he drew off, and the weary Knights set their sentries and lay down to sleep.

At the hour of noon, Mustapha sent six thousand chosen troops against a bastion which had been beaten into ruins by his artillery, and he knew that the breach had not been repaired. The Turks marched at full speed and in perfect silence. Their vanguard was almost at the breach when the sentry discovered their presence. He shouted an alarm, and two Knights and three men-at-arms darted into the breach, and there encountered an advance party of twenty-six Janissaries. There was a furious battle, but the Janissaries could not force an entrance. Fifteen of their number fell before the five heroes who held the passage, and then forces came up from either side and the fight became general. For four long hours the combat raged in the fierce heat, till both sides were worn out; but the Turks retreated with heavy loss, and the fort was saved.

Five days later the Moslems again assailed the shattered defences with the might of their whole army. So tremendous was the stress that every defender was called upon to repel the almost victorious assault. The Grand Master himself laid aside his baton of command, seized pike and sword, and fought in the front of battle like a man-at-arms. For eight hours the struggle went on. Six times the Turks were driven back, six times they were reinforced with fresh troops and returned to the attack. But the Christians had no reserves and were all but worn out. At the last moment two hundred of their cavalry fell on the rear of the Turks and caused a timely diversion. The Turks feared it was the vanguard of the Spanish army expected so long. They retired, and the fort was saved as by a miracle.

Again and again Mustapha hurled his Janissaries on the little garrison, now sadly reduced in numbers. But the Grand Master with the few defenders left under his command managed to resist every effort, until after long, long waiting the Spanish army of relief landed on the island. The Turks heard that the reinforcements numbered but six thousand men, and marched against them. But the new-comers, fresh and full of fight, smote the Turks hip and thigh, and drove them, with terrible slaughter, to their galleys. The attack upon Malta had failed. Mustapha retired, taking with him less than one-fourth of the splendid army he had landed before St. Elmo.

Defense of Fort St. Michael


"No more moving sight can be imagined than the meeting of the new-come brethren of the Order and their comrades of St. Michael's Fort. The worn remnant of the garrison, all told, was scarcely six hundred strong, and hardly a man was without a wound. The Grand Master and his few surviving Knights looked like phantoms from another world, so pale and grisly were they, faint from their wounds, their hair and beard unkempt, their armour stained and neglected, as men must look who had hardly slept without their weapons for more than three memorable months. As they saw these gaunt heroes the rescuers burst into tears; strangers clasped hands and wept together with the same overpowering emotion that mastered relievers and relieved when Havelock and Colin Campbell led the Highlanders into Lucknow. Never surely had men deserved more nobly the homage of mankind. In all history there is no record of such a siege, of such a disproportion of the forces, of such a glorious outcome. The Knights of Malta live for ever among the heroes of all time."

The Rulers of Algiers

The death of Dragut before Malta in 1565 marks the close of the age of the Great Corsairs. There were famous commanders of galleys after that day, there were hosts of rovers left to prey upon the commerce and upon the lands of Christendom, but no Barbarossa, no Dragut, and after the battle of Lepanto in 1571 we see that the Corsairs act on a smaller scale and fly at smaller game.

The battle of Lepanto is a great landmark in the history of Europe. Up to that day the Turks had been all-powerful at sea. Their fleets had ravaged every Christian shore along the Mediterranean, and such was the terror they inspired that powerful navies weighed their anchors and sailed away when masts crowned with a Crescent rose above the horizon. This fear of the Turk was shattered by Don John of Austria in the great sea-fight in the Gulf of Lepanto on the 7th of October 1571. Don John was the son of Charles the Fifth of Spain, and he commanded a powerful fleet drawn from most of the navies of Christendom. The Turks met him in equal strength, but the young captain won a most glorious victory, and almost destroyed the Turkish navy. This great triumph proved a severe check to the Moslem power, above all, to its sea-power, and from this time Christian vessels stood up boldly to their enemy's ships, and proved that the seamen who had been beaten once could be beaten again.

The effects of this victory were felt along the Barbary coast. The Corsairs no longer enjoyed the protection and support of Turkish warships. Turkey had enough to do to look after herself at her own end of the Mediterranean, and the Barbary rovers were left to themselves. The consequence was that the Corsairs of Algiers and Tunis sank from great commanders to petty pirates. They roved the seas as busily as of old. But now they did not sail in fleets to ravage provinces; they did not offer battle to the navies of Christendom. From warfare on the grand scale they came down to plunder pure and simple. They waylaid single ships or small convoys; they raided villages and small coast towns; they carried hosts of captives and rich cargoes of loot into Algiers, but they no longer bore their share in a Siege of Malta, in a Battle of Lepanto.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


The rule of Algiers now fell to a series of governors appointed by Turkey. At first the governor was known as the Pasha of Algiers, and later on as the Bey or Dey of Algiers: there was also a Dey of Tunis. The history of the long line of Pashas and Deys is very uninteresting. It is one long story of quarrels, of disorder, of bloodshed. It was rarely that one of these rulers died in his bed. Either he was murdered by a rival who wished to obtain his place, or he was slain by his own turbulent soldiery, or the fatal bow-string was wound about his throat by order of his Turkish superiors. But whatever figure-head filled the governor's seat, the rovers were as busy as ever off the Barbary coast, and Algiers was always full of Christian captives.

Among these captives were many English, and some of these turned renegades. A renegade is a man who goes over to the enemy, who leaves his own nation and follows the ruler of another. There were renegades of all nations among the Barbary rovers, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, every country in Europe. Many of them had been captured and carried into captivity as children, had grown up among the Corsairs, had won the favour of the captain of a pirate-galley, and had been taken to sea. Thus they had become rovers as naturally as the children of the land. Others were seamen who had no hopes of being ransomed, and to escape the life of a slave had joined the Corsairs and thrown in their lot with them. Many of these renegades rose to high command and great positions in the state, and at the time when England first had official dealings with Algiers, the Treasurer of the Pasha was one Assan Agha. This name sounded Turkish enough, but it proved to cover an Englishman, "sonne of Fran Rowlie of Bristow, merchant, taken in the Swallow."  Young Rowlie had entered, or been forced into, the service of the Pasha, taken a Turkish name, and risen to a great post.

This was in 1580, when Master John Tipton became the English Consul in Algiers. It is believed that Tipton was the first English consul ever appointed to any place. He went to Algiers at first on behalf of the interests of a company of merchants, the Turkey Company, and later, from 1585, on behalf of the nation. There was plenty for him to do. For the last sixty or seventy years many English subjects had lain in captivity at Algiers, and from time to time collections were made among the charitable to redeem them.

Tipton found many poor English captives eager to send word of their sad plight to their friends at home, and he undertook to receive the money for their ransom and to arrange with the authorities at Algiers for their passage to England. Then he had often to interfere on behalf of Christian vessels which had come into the port to do lawful trade. The thievish Algerines would lay their hands on part of the cargo, and anything which once slipped into their fingers, did not easily slip out again. It was not safe for an English ship to venture into Algiers without a safe conduct from the English Government, and in 1583 Queen Elizabeth granted a safe conduct to Edmund Auncell and Richard Thomson to take a vessel named the Unity  to Algiers. The Unity  was to bring home redeemed captives, and without doubt she received welcome and aid from Master Tipton.

Don John of Austria


The first letter from a governor of Algiers to the English authorities was written in 1600, when the Bey wrote to Queen Elizabeth. He said that he had received orders from the Sultan that British subjects wishing to trade with the country should be made welcome and assisted, and that he wished to carry out those orders. But he does not seem to have done much in that direction, for in 1602 the Lord High Admiral of England wrote to the consul at Algiers, and said that many great complaints were made by Her Majesty's subjects of the hard usage and ill-treatment they received when they put in at Algiers, and the consul was directed to use his influence to see that justice was done. This was in April, and in October of the same year the Queen wrote to the Bey making still stronger complaint, and threatening to appeal to his master the Sultan if he did not mend his behavior, and force his people to mend theirs also.

The Captives of the Corsairs—I

And what was the life of these poor captives carried into slavery among the Barbary rovers? Let us suppose ourselves on board an Algerine galley returning home after a successful cruise. She is going merrily over the sea under oar and sail. The oars are pulled by Christian slaves, meagre, half-starved, sun-tanned wretches, with at best no more than a few rags to cover them, and urged to their work by the boatswains. The latter walk along a narrow gangway running up the waist of the galley, and from it they can reach easily to the oar benches on either side. Each boatswain is armed with a heavy whip, and uses it without mercy. Look at the great weals and the fresh, blood-stained marks on the naked backs of the oarsmen! Let one but falter an instant at his heavy task, and the boatswain lashes him furiously or gives him a savage prod with the sharp spike which is set in the end of the whip handle. No slave may resist this cruelty, even if he dared, for he is fast chained to the rowing bench and is utterly helpless.

On the poop is the Reis, the captain, perhaps a great black Moor, or a brown-faced Turk, or a swarthy renegade, but dressed and armed in Turkish fashion, with a scimitar at his girdle and a turban on his head. His crew and his soldiery are packed mostly at the prow, and all stare eagerly towards the land to catch the first glimpse of Algiers. They have had a long cruise, they have taken much spoil, and they long for the welcome they will receive, and the pleasures waiting for them in the city.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


But the pale-faced captives look forward with no such joyous hope. Every beat of the oars carries them so much the nearer to the land where they must live in slavery. The shore now rises fast, and they see a rocky promontory which shines white in the sun. They draw nearer, and see that the patch of colour is a town built on a steep hillside. Row upon row, tier upon tier, the white shining houses of Algiers climb the encircling sweep of hills and look down upon the harbour for which the galley is steering. Now the guns of the pirate vessel begin to roar. Salute after salute is fired, in joy of return and to announce that the cruise has been a success, and soon a delighted crowd throngs the shore to welcome their friends, and to see what is being brought in.

The galley runs into the harbour and an anchor is dropped, to which she may ride. The Reis calls an order, and the rowers fling their oars into the water. A boat goes round the ship, gathers the oars, and tows them away. This is done lest the slaves should snatch at a chance of escape when the galley is nearly empty of their masters, and row off. Now the fresh captives are taken ashore. Men, women, and children, they huddle together for a while on the quay, then they are led at once to the palace of the Dey. The ruler of Algiers has the right to choose one out of every eight for himself, and he takes care to pick the most valuable. If they are seamen who have been seized, he takes the ship's captain, the surgeon, if there is one, the carpenter, and other skilled workmen. If they are landsmen, he takes those who seem most likely to be able to afford a good ransom. If any persons of consequence have been seized, he takes these at once, as a matter of course, and without including them among his eighth part. All these are Government slaves, and are carried off at once to one of the three great government prisons or bagnios.

The other prisoners, as soon as the Dey has made his choice, are led to the slave-market to be sold to private persons. Here they are led up and down, and the buyers bid for them until the auctioneer can gain no further advance. This is the first stage of the selling. Now they return to the Dey's courtyard and the bidding is resumed. The highest bidder here now takes the man, woman, or child he has purchased and carries him or her home, and does with that person, now his slave, just as he pleases.

The price offered in the slave-market goes to the captors of the slave. The difference between that price and the final sum offered in the courtyard goes to the Dey; so that in one way or another the ruler of Algiers filled his treasury finely out of the winnings of his Corsair subjects.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


The Government slaves could at once be known, for they wore a ring of iron on one ankle. They lived in great prisons, the bagnios, where they were locked up every night from dark to dawn. The bagnios were huge buildings, filled with a multitude of low, dark cells, into each of which were crowded fifteen or sixteen slaves. For food they were given three loaves of black bread apiece daily; all else they must beg or gain for themselves. They had to work from daybreak until an hour or two before sunset. They were employed upon all the heavy work of the city. They went to the quarries to cut great blocks of stone for building and repairing. They dragged the stone in clumsy carts to the spot where it was required. The skilled workmen among them built walls, houses, fortifications. Clever workmen were highly thought of, and it was very difficult for such men to obtain their freedom on any terms; only an immense ransom could buy them off.

Some were sent to work at the ovens, baking bread and carrying it into the city for sale. These led a most miserable life, for the heat of the ovens in that burning climate was dreadful, and the places were so filthy that they swarmed with vermin. Others were allowed to keep taverns, and they were obliged to pay over a certain sum to their owner according to the amount of wine they sold. The Dey sent many of the slaves to sea, and it was from these slaves that the renegades were largely recruited.

If a slave gave any trouble to his keepers or to his master, he was promptly clapped into chains. Father Dan, a French priest who visited Algiers to redeem captives, says that he has seen Christian slaves with chains upon both legs, and these chains so heavy that the slave was forced to carry one in a basket on his shoulder, while he dragged the other along as well as he could. A slave who dared to resist the will of his master in the smallest point was liable to the severest punishment, and if his master put him to death by the most terrible torture, nothing could be done. The slave belonged to the master, and the latter was at liberty to do as he pleased with his own. Slaves were crucified, burned to death, beaten to death, and the commonest of punishments, that of the bastinado, was declared by those who had suffered it to be the most exquisite torture that a man can endure. Here is a description of the method of inflicting this punishment by an English captive who experienced it.

"They have a strong staff about six feet long, in the middle whereof are two holes bored, into which a cord is put, and the ends of the cord fastened on one side the staff with knots, so that it makes a loop on the other side; into this both the feet of the person condemned to this punishment are put; then two lusty fellows, one at each end of the staff, lift it up in their arms, and twisting the staff about till the feet are fast pinched by the ankles, they raise his feet, with the soles upwards, as high as their shoulders, and in this posture they hold them, the poor man in the meantime resting only with his neck and shoulders on the ground. Then comes another lusty, sturdy knave behind him, and, with a tough, short truncheon, gives him as many violent blows on the soles of his feet as the council shall order."

The Captives of the Corsairs—II

The treatment of slaves in private houses varied in accordance with the nature of their masters. Some had the luck to be purchased by patrons, as the owners were often called, who were of a mild and gentle disposition, and these, save for the bitterness of losing their liberty, had little to complain of so long as they were obedient and industrious. But many of the stricter sort of Moslems took a great pleasure in ill-treating Christian slaves; first because they were Christians, and second in the hopes of forcing them to renounce the hated faith. Such owners as these drove their slaves to severe toil in the fields and gardens under the blazing sun of Africa. Those who were too old or feeble for this work were sent out with an ass laden with water-skins to sell water along the streets. Others gathered fruit and carried it to market. Women were set to work to clean houses, wash clothes, mind children, and perform the most menial tasks of the household. And these people, be it remembered, had often been persons of rank and authority in their own country.

As one writer remarks: "Everything connected with the subject of Christian slavery in the Barbary States is of the deepest interest. When that institution was at its height there were from 20,000 to 30,000 captives at a time in Algiers alone, representing every nation in Europe and every rank in society, from the viceroy to the common sailor, men of the highest eminence in the Church, literature, science, and arms, delicately nurtured ladies and little children, doomed to spend their lives in infamy. The majority never returned to their native land, and few have left us a detailed account of their sufferings, or a record of the dramatic events passing every day around them."

Guarding christian captives


The miseries of the shore-slaves were great: those of the galley-slaves were far, far greater. When a galley left the port the Christian slaves who pulled her oars were all chained to the rowing benches. This was done lest in the hour of battle against a Christian vessel the slaves should rise upon their masters, to aid their friends in the other vessel and win their freedom. And chained to those benches the poor creatures remained until the cruise was over, even if it should last for months. Upon these narrow seats they were packed so closely, sometimes five, six, or seven men to an oar, that it was not possible for them to sleep at full length, and they crouched together in hopeless misery. Their food was ships' biscuit and water, with an occasional spoonful of rice or gruel. Nor did they get too much of that, for great quantities of food were difficult to carry, and when hard rowing was needed, the whip took the place of provender.

We must not forget that things were just the same in the navies of Christendom. Both sides, Corsair and Christian alike, used slaves, or men in the position of slaves, for this terrible labour of the oar. The Corsairs used Christian captives, the Christians used Moslem captives or convicts, men who were sent to the galleys for their crimes. It was not possible to obtain freemen for such cruel toil under such wretched conditions: none would undertake it save by force. "The Corsairs of Algiers only served their enemies as they served them: their galley-slaves were no worse treated, to say the least, than were Doria's or the King of France's own. Rank and delicate nurture were respected on neither side: a gallant Corsair like Dragut had to drag his chain and pull his oar like any convict at the treadmill, and a future Grand Master of Malta might chance to take his seat on the rowing bench beside the commonest scoundrel of Naples. No one seemed to observe the horrible brutality of the service, where each man, let him be never so refined, was compelled to endure the filth and vermin of his neighbour, who might be half a savage and was bound to become wholly one."

Now and again a galley-slave has written an account of his unhappy days on the oar-bench. Listen to what one of them says: "Think of six men chained to a bench, one foot on the stretcher, the other on the bench in front, holding an immensely heavy oar, bending forward to the stern with arms at full reach to clear the backs of the rowers in front, who bend likewise; and then having got forward, shoving up the oar's end to let the blade catch the water, then throwing their bodies back on the groaning bench. A galley oar sometimes pulls thus for ten, twelve, or even twenty hours without a moment's rest. The boatswain, or other sailor, in such a stress, puts a piece of bread steeped in wine in the wretched rower's mouth to stop fainting, and then the captain shouts the order to redouble the lash. If a slave falls exhausted upon his oar (which often chances) he is flogged till he is taken for dead, and then pitched unceremoniously into the sea."

"Those who have not seen a galley at sea, especially in chasing or being chased, cannot well conceive the shock such a spectacle must give to a heart capable of the least touch of feeling. To behold ranks and files of half-naked, half-starved, meagre wretches, chained to a plank from whence they remove not for months together (commonly half a year), urged on, even beyond human strength, with cruel and repeated blows on their bare flesh; and thus for whole days and nights successively, which often happens in a furious chase, where one party, like vultures, is hurried on almost as eagerly after their prey, as is the weaker party hurried away in hopes of preserving life and liberty."

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


In such a pursuit as this there is one very striking point to be observed: if it is a Christian galley which is in flight, then Christians are pursuing Christians, Moslems are flying from Moslems. In the Christian galley perhaps two hundred chained Turks and Moors are hoping eagerly that their friends will come up and free them from irons and the lash. But the lash is there at that moment, and it will be used without stint or mercy, and the boatswains dart to and fro, eager to mark an unwilling worker. So they pull and pull lest they be flogged to death. So in the Moslem galley. There the Christians hope to see their friends escape, but they, too, must put their backs into their work, or those same backs will be scored to the bone.

Coming of the "Round Ship"

With the dawn of the seventeenth century galleys began to be less used among the Algerines. They did not go out of use altogether, for galleys were to be found both in Christian and Moslem navies up to the nineteenth century. But such keen seamen as the Corsairs soon saw the great advantage of using the sail rather than the oar. They had, of course, always used the sail to help the oar, but now that men had learned how to build and handle a ship so that sails could do the whole work, the pirates hastened to follow so good an example. In their dockyards they became very busy building square-rigged ships, with masts, and spars, and rigging which would carry sails and enable a small crew to work a ship without the aid of the oar.

There were many advantages in getting rid of galley-slaves. A galley could not make a long cruise: it was so packed with people, with sailors, soldiers, and hundreds of oarsmen, that huge quantities of food were needed, and only enough could be stowed away to last for a short time. But sails do not need food, and the hold could then be filled with ample stores to last a crew for a long time. Then, again, the slaves were always a source of danger. They were ready to rise on their masters if they had a chance, and help the other side. So the rovers went to work with a will and built "round ships" or "tall ships," as the sailing vessels were called. In the handling of these new ships they were instructed by English and Flemish pirates, and before long they became dreaded far beyond the limits of their old cruising grounds, when they had nothing but galleys.

English Round-ship


Now they passed the Straits and bore boldly out into the Atlantic. They seized vessels on the high seas as coolly as they had seized them in the Mediterranean, and proved as skilful in handling their new craft as they had been in working the galleys. Between 1609 and 1616 the Algerine rovers captured the huge number of four hundred and sixty-six British vessels, and carried their crews into slavery.

In 1617 the Corsairs fell upon Madeira, laid the island waste, burned and slew and pillaged, and sailed home to Algiers with twelve hundred captives. In 1627 a German renegade in command of three pirate ships actually sailed right away north to Iceland, and carried hundreds of captives back to Barbary. In a letter written home about this time by the English consul at Algiers, he draws a sad picture of the fate of the English captives taken within a few years previously. He says that the Corsairs demand ransoms, and: "They say that unless you send speedily, they will go to England and fetch men out of their beds, as they commonly used to do in Spain."

Within a few years these very words came true. In 1631 a daring pirate, Murad Reis, a Flemish renegade, made a descent on the shores of England. He passed thence to Ireland, and on the 31st of June he landed his men by night and made a raid upon the little town of Baltimore, sacked it, and carried off many of its inhabitants. Father Dan saw these poor folk in Algiers, and he says: "He (Murad Reis) carried off 237 persons, men, women, and children, even those in the cradle. That done, he brought them to Algiers, where it was pitiable to see them exposed for sale; for then they separated wives from their husbands, and infants from their fathers. They sold the husband to one and the wife to another, tearing the daughter from her arms, without any hope of ever seeing her again. I heard all this at Algiers from several of these slaves, who assured me that no Christian could witness what took place without melting into tears, to see so many honest girls and so many well-brought-up women abandoned to the brutality of these barbarians."

Murad Reis was followed by other Corsair captains into British waters, and the pirates became a terror in the narrow seas between England and France and between England and Ireland. The ports in the south-west were haunted by them. They lay out to sea off such places as Plymouth, Exeter, Barnstaple, and waited for merchant ships to leave the port, or fishermen to put out with their nets. In 1636 the Corsairs were so numerous and so closely did they watch the shore and snap up every vessel, great or small, which left the shelter of the haven, that ships lay idle at the wharves, and fishermen were idle ashore. Owners would not risk their ships, seamen would not go in them, and fishermen feared to be made captives if they ventured into deep water to shoot their nets. No knowledge of the coast or the shoals or the currents was of any avail to escape the rovers. The latter had plenty of English and Irish captives, fishermen and seamen, whom they forced to pilot their vessels, and thus their ships were handled as well and safely as those which belonged to the coast.

Pirate captain


A newsletter of 1646 says: "Those roguish pirates which lie upon the western coast have taken from the shore about Penzance, near St. Michael's Mount, sixty men, women, and children. This was in the night, for in the day these rogues keep out of sight for fear of the king's ships." In the same year a petition was sent to the king begging him to deal with the evil. The petition stated that there were more than three thousand poor English "in miserable captivity, undergoing divers and most insufferable labour, such as rowing in galleys, drawing carts, grinding in mills, with divers such unchristianlike works most lamentable to express, and most burdensome to undergo, withal suffering much hunger and many blows on their bare bodies, by which cruelty many, not being able to undergo it, have been forced to turn Mohammedans."

Escapes of Captives—I

It was very rarely that a captive escaped from the clutches of the Corsairs. When we consider the vast numbers of people they seized, many of the prisoners being soldiers and seamen, some of them gentlemen-adventurers, the pick of the bold and daring spirits of a bold and daring age, it seems strange that the accounts of successful escapes from a town such as Algiers are very few and far between. The reason was very simple. The whole city was one huge prison. And it was not the city walls and the city gates which held the bondsmen captive; it was the open country which lay around. For this was filled with savage, native tribes through whom no fugitive could make his way. To make for the hills and the open country was to make for death, for the mountain Moors were thrice as savage and bloodthirsty as their fellows of the city. There remained the sea; but the watch along the shore was so strict, the guard upon vessels and oars so close, that very few ever got clear off by water. Some did, and of these we will read, but first we will speak of those who escaped after capture but while still upon the sea.

The Story of the Four Brave Boys

In 1621 the good ship Jacob  of Bristol sailed for the Mediterranean. All went well until she was entering the Straits of Gibraltar, when she was suddenly attacked by a Corsair ship out of Algiers. There was a desperate fight, but in the end the pirates won, and seized the vessel. The Corsair captain did not wish to return to Algiers, so he resolved to send the prize home. He took all the English crew out of the Jacob  except four boys, John Cooke, William Long, Robert Tuckey, and David Jones. He left these as prisoners in the hands of the thirteen men whom he sent aboard to carry the Jacob  to Algiers.

For some days they sailed towards Algiers, and the four boys were kept fast in the hands of the pirates. Then on the fifth day the wind began to freshen and the sea to rise. The Turks now wished to take in sail, but found they were short-handed. So they freed the boys and ordered them to help. But these brave lads, once free, helped themselves in British fashion. One seized the captain and pitched him overboard. The others snatched such weapons as came to hand and attacked the rest of the crew. They killed two, threw two more into the sea, and drove the other eight below. Next they clapped on the hatches and secured them, and the eight were prisoners.

Now the four boys were masters of the ship, and so well did they handle her, that they sailed her safely into the harbour of San Lucar in Spain. Here they landed in safety and sold their prisoners, the pirates, for a large sum of money as galley-slaves.

The Story of John Rawlins

In the same year (1621) one John Rawlins of Rochester sailed from Plymouth as the pilot of the Nicholas, which had in its company another ship of Plymouth. They had a fair voyage till they came within sight of Gibraltar; then they saw a fleet of five sail trying to come up with them. Those on board the Nicholas  suspected the newcomers were pirates, and so they proved to be, and after a long chase the pirates came up and seized the English ships. The crews were carried to Algiers and sold as slaves. John Rawlins was the last to be sold, for his hand was badly injured, and he fetched no more than seven pounds ten, reckoned in English money.

After a time he was sold again. There was a pirate vessel in the harbour about to set out on a cruise, and she wanted a pilot. Now she was commanded by an English Turk, a renegade, and he wished for an English slave for pilot, and he bought John Rawlins. When the ship left Algiers there were on board sixty-three Turks and Moors, nine English slaves, one French slave, four Dutchmen, who were free, and four gunners, among whom were one English and one Dutch renegade.

The English slaves were so badly treated by their cruel masters that one day John Rawlins broke out: "Oh, horrible slavery, to be thus subject to dogs! Oh, Heaven, strengthen my heart and hand, and something shall be done to deliver us!"

The other slaves bade him be silent, lest all should fare the worse for his rash talk.

"Worse!" cried Rawlins, "what can be worse? I will either regain my liberty at one time or another, or perish in the attempt; but if you would agree to join with me in the undertaking, I doubt not but we should find some way of winning glory with our freedom." His companions again begged him to be silent, but said that if he could hit on a plan they would follow him.

After this the Turks behaved worse than ever. They flogged and reviled the slaves with the greatest fury, even when the slaves were doing their utmost. John Rawlins became more and more resolved to seize the ship and secure liberty. So he made ready strong ropes with broad spikes of iron so that he and his friends might fasten up, at the proper moment, all scuttles, gratings, and cabins. In this way he could shut up the Turks in small parties, and then, if he could become master of the gun-room and the powder, he could blow the Turks into the air, or kill them one by one if any party should break out of its prison.

Little by little he gained over the Dutch gunners to his plot, and they agreed to join him. Now John Rawlins persuaded the captain to steer away northward, because Rawlins wished to draw the pirate ship away from other Turkish vessels which were in company with it. The captain consented, for he did not know a great deal about seamanship, and had heard that Rawlins was a very skilful pilot.

They had been about a month out from Algiers when they saw a sail, and at once the Turks pursued, came up, and forced the vessel to surrender. It was a ship from Dartmouth laden with silk. The Turks took the captain with five of his men, and a boy, on board, and sent ten men to man the prize. Among these men were three who were in the plot, and Rawlins bade them make common cause with the four Englishmen left on the captured ship, and steer for England that night while the Turks slept.

This was done, and the next morning there was no sign of the prize to be seen. The pirate captain was amazed and angry, and bade Rawlins search the seas for the missing ship, but they sailed all day without success. Then John Rawlins told the captain there was a great deal of water in the hold, and it must be pumped out before the ship could sail properly, so the pumps were set to work. And in order to make the water run to the pumps, the guns were moved and the pirate soldiery were gathered on the poop to weigh the ship down by the stern. All these movements furthered the plot. The ship had three decks. The plotters were gathered on the middle deck. The soldiers were now all on the upper deck, and must remain there if the scuttles and hatches were closed. And the slaves were strong enough to deal with those left on the lower deck. The conspirators now waited for the signal gun which John Rawlins was to fire, and upon the report of this gun they were to shout their watchword: "For God, and King James, and Saint George for England." At two o'clock Rawlins fired the gun, and the slaves, with loud cries, leapt to the attack.

"But when the Turks heard this, and the shouts of the conspirators, and saw that part of the ship was torn away, and felt it shake under them, and knew that all threatened their destruction—no bear robbed of her whelps was ever so mad as they, for they not only called us dogs, and cried in their tongue, 'The fortune of war! the fortune of war!' but they tried to tear up the planking, setting to work hammers, hatchets, knives, the oars of the boat, the boat-hook, and whatever else came to hand, besides the stones and bricks of the cook-room, still trying to break the hatches, and never ceasing their horrible cries and threats."

Then Rawlins, seeing them so violent, and understanding that the slaves had cleared the decks of all the Turks and Moors underneath, began to shoot at them through different holes, with their own muskets, and so lessened their number. At this they cried for the pilot, and so Rawlins, with some to guard him, went to them, and understood by their kneeling that they cried for mercy and begged to come down. This they were bidden to do, but coming down one by one, they were taken and slain by their own swords. And the rest perceiving this, some of them leapt into the water, still crying, "The fortune of war!" till the decks were well cleared, and the victory assured.

"When all was done, and the ship cleared of the dead bodies, John Rawlins assembled his men, and with one consent gave the praise to God, using the accustomed services on shipboard. Then did they sing a psalm, and, last of all, embraced one another for playing the men in such a deliverance, whereby their fear was turned into joy. That same night they steered for England, and arrived at Plymouth on the 13th of February, and were welcomed with all gladness."

Escapes of Captives—II

The Story of William Okeley

William okeley was taken in the Mary  in 1639. The Mary  with two other ships set sail for the West Indies, but on the sixth day out they were attacked by three Algerine vessels. All three English ships were taken, after a brisk action in which the Mary  lost six killed and three wounded. The crews were carried to Algiers and sold in the slave-market, William Okeley being bought by a Tagareen, that is, a descendant of a Moor from Spain. The Tagareen bade William Okeley find some business by which he could earn his living and pay his master two dollars per month. Okeley opened a wine-shop, and to this shop came several of his fellow-captives to see him when they had opportunity. Among the latter was John Rendall, who, with his wife and child, had been captured at the same time as Okeley.

In a short time it happened that Okeley and Rendall were accused of trying to escape. The charge was not true, but they were both punished, Rendall receiving three hundred strokes of the bastinado. Okeley now made up his mind to escape if possible. He and six other English captives resolved to build a boat. Secretly, and by night, the slaves collected odd pieces of wood and carried them to a cellar under Okeley's shop. Here, by dint of great care and labour, they built a small boat, which they covered with canvas and daubed with pitch and tallow to keep out the water. The oars they fashioned out of the staves of empty wine pipes. Next they got together what food they could find, and filled some goat-skins with water. With the utmost difficulty they managed to smuggle their crazy little skiff down to the shore, and here a great difficulty arose. She would only carry five out of the seven, and two had to turn sadly back to slavery. Okeley and the other four went aboard, and after a terrible voyage of five days they landed, all spent with, hunger, thirst, and the toil of rowing, on the island of Majorca. Thence they made their way safely to England, leaving their frail little boat hanging in a church as a witness of their marvellous voyage.

The Seizing of the Brigantine

Another famous escape was that of a whole band of slaves at once. A brigantine had been prepared for a cruise, and lay in the harbour with only part of her crew to guard her: the rest were to go on board the next day. A number of slaves got wind of this and passed the word among their fellows in that part of the city, and a plot was set on foot to seize the brigantine and attempt to escape. At dead of night the slaves, men of all nations, crept silently to the place of meeting. There were about seventy of them.

They did not dare to go straight down to the quay, for the watchmen would have discovered them and raised the alarm. So they crept, one by one, down through a sewer into the port. Here they were discovered by the dogs, which haunts such a place in large numbers feeding on the city refuse, and the dogs flew at them, barking and howling. But the slaves killed many of the dogs, beating them down with clubs and great stones, avid pushed forward, though the barking of the dogs had already aroused the port.

There was no time to be lost. The guards, both ashore and in the ships, were shouting, "Christians! Christians!" and a strong band of armed watchmen gathered and ran towards the noise. But the desperate slaves were not to be turned back. They dashed upon the brigantine and forty boarded her, and closed in fierce struggle with the guard. In a trice every man aboard had been hurled into the water and the brigantine was theirs.

But to row it through the crowded harbour was impossible, such was the tangle of cables by which numbers of ships were riding at anchor. So the slaves leaped back into the shallow water, put their shoulders under the little ship and literally hoisted it forward, wading with it till they were clear of the cables. Then all on board again, and out with the oars. How they rowed! Never had they toiled under the boatswain's whip as they pulled now for liberty. They won. They gained the open sea, and then pursuit was vain. No slaves could catch these who had been captives and now were free. They gained Majorca and landed in safety. It was a most daring and skilful piece of work, and astonished the Moors beyond measure. When the Dey heard of it, he cried out: "I believe those dogs of Christians will come one day or other and take us out of our houses!"

Another striking escape was that of a Portuguese slave who, while working in his master's garden on an estate outside the town, saw the boat of a British man-of-war lying off the shore. This was in 1669, when an English expedition sailed against Algiers. Fired with the hope of liberty, the slave made a dash for it, cut his way, pruning-knife in hand, through a crowd of enemies and swam out to the boat. One of the English sailors wrote a poem in rude verse describing the events of this expedition, and here are the lines dealing with the escape of the Portuguese:—

"Whilst we lay here, even at noonday,

A Portugall escapt away.

In Garden of his Pateroone (master)

He was a-working about noone;

Our boat he seeing near the shoar,

He straightway did his work give o'er,

And was resolved for to dye

Or game desired liberty.

Through press of Turkes and Moores he then

Did run with pruning-knife in hand,

Most like a valiant man and stout,

And every way did lay about.

By means whereof he free did make

His passage, and we in him take.

Some fifty years of age was he

When thus he gained his liberty,

And was eleven years a slave

Unto a Tagareene base knave."

The writer of this poem, John Balthorpe, had himself been a slave in the hands of the Corsairs, but had been ransomed by his friends, so that he could feel for the poor, brave Portuguese.

The Redemption of Captives—I

There was only one way in which captives could be freed from slavery among the Corsairs, and that was by ransom. The pirates were as eager to receive the ransom as the captive was to be free, for they loved money. As one said, who had lived among them for twelve years: "Give a Turk money with one hand, and he will permit you to pull out his eyes with the other."

Sometimes a captive found means to send a letter home to his friends by a ship which had put into Algiers, and the money was sent to free him; sometimes he was rescued by the Order of the Redemption. This was a religious order, a body of monks which looked upon the redemption of Christians from the hands of infidels as a Christian duty, and the lives of its members were devoted to this service. They collected money from the charitable and sailed for the Barbary coast. There the good fathers landed in their white robes with a blue and red cross on the breast, and faced the Corsairs and strove to free as many captives as their bags of money would ransom.

Father Dan, the French priest of whom we have spoken, made such a journey in 1634 with a number of his fellow-monks. He found twenty-five thousand Christian slaves in Algiers, and he has given us a vivid picture of their miserable condition in the hands of their Moorish captors. The mission was received with civility, but such was the greed of the Algerines that no prisoners could be ransomed. The fathers afterwards went to Tunis, where they ransomed forty-two French captives. The latter were taken to Marseilles and formed the centre of a splendid procession in honour of their release, each rescued slave bearing a chain on his shoulder in token of his former condition and his happy deliverance.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


The most famous captive ever ransomed from the Corsairs was one of the greatest men the world has ever known. This was the great Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. In 1575 Cervantes was returning home after service abroad. He had fought in the mighty battle of Lepanto, and there lost the use of his left arm. His ship was attacked and captured by Corsair galleys, and Cervantes became the captive of a renegade Greek. The Greek found upon him letters from some great persons, among them Don John of Austria, and concluded that he had seized a man of high rank who could pay a heavy ransom. So he put Cervantes in heavy chains and treated him very severely, in order to make him anxious to be ransomed.

But Cervantes, as brave in soul as he was great in mind, never ceased to form plans which would bring him freedom. He had a friend about six miles from Algiers at a place where there was a cavern in a lonely spot by the shore. To this cavern Cervantes conducted small parties of fugitives until he had hidden between forty and fifty slaves, mostly Spanish gentlemen. Such was his skill and resource that he supplied this party with food for months without arousing suspicion. The brother of Cervantes sent a Spanish ship to rescue those hidden in the cave, whom Cervantes had now joined.

The ship came, but unluckily she was seen by some fishermen, who raised and alarm. She was forced to put to sea again and, to the despair of the fugitives, a band of soldiers marched into the cavern and seized them. They had been betrayed by one of their own friends, who had revealed the plot and hiding place to the Pasha of Algiers. Cervantes, with splendid chivalry, at once took all blame on himself. He was taken before the ruler, a man infamous for his cruelty and brutality, and closely questioned. But neither threat of death or torture could shake him from his resolve to protect his companions. He would not say a word which could bring one of them into trouble. His iron resolution and undaunted bravery made a great impression on the Pasha, who now purchased Cervantes from his owner for five hundred gold crowns.

Again and again Cervantes tried to escape. Once he could have got free if he had deserted his companions in the plot, but that was not possible for Cervantes. Often was he threatened with by death, and he says himself that he looked for execution day by day, yet he was kept under strict ward in his master's prison. Then, in 1580, his owner was called to Constantinople. Cervantes, heavily chained, was about to be taken off, when a good monk redeemed him for a sum equal to £100 of English money at that day, and Cervantes was once more free.

There was no Order of Redemption in England to ransom captives, but from time to time money was collected in various ways for the same purpose. Merchant companies gave money for the ransom of English seamen, and in 1624. the House of Lords collected about £3000, while letters were sent through the bishops to the parishes of England calling upon the charitable to give alms for the redemption of unhappy captives. But Algiers never became empty of British slaves. Fresh hosts were swept in at every cruise to take the places of those redeemed, and every ship from Algiers brought many sad letters to England. "Touching petitions reached England from the poor captives themselves—English seamen and captains, or plain merchants bringing home their wealth, now suddenly arrested and stripped of all they possessed; piteous letters from out the very bagnios themselves, full of tears and entreaties for help. In the fourth decade of the seventeenth century there were three thousand husbands and fathers and brothers in Algerine prisons, and it was no wonder that the wives and daughters thronged the approaches to the House of Commons and besieged the members with their prayers and sobs."

Here is one of those touching petitions, wherein a poor captive begs his friends not to forget him in his forlorn and miserable condition:—

"DEARE FRIENDS,—It is now about 6 yeares since I was most unfortunately taken by a Turkes man-of-warre on the coasts of Barbary, captive into Argiere (Algiers), since which time I have written oft to London to Master Southwood of the upper ground, to Richard Barnard of Duke's Place, Richard Coote of the Bankside, to Master Linger a haberdasher in Crooked Lane, and in that to Master Southwood I sent an inclosed to my father, if living, and other letters to my brothers and friends if not dead. I could never hear whether any of you were alive or dead, which makes me think the letters are either miscarried, or all of you deceased, or gone to other places, or else I know you are so much Christians and friends that you would have looked upon me in such a condition. O! my friends, once more I tell you I am a miserable captive in Argiere, taken by a Flemish vessell two years after I left the warres in Gilderland. My Patroone (master) is one Baron, a French  Renegado, that lives in the country, but hires me and another Protestant captive (one Master Robinson, a Norfolk  man) out in Argiere, for this time, and if we goe up to the country, you may never hear of us againe; our misery is that the price of our redemption will be no less than 250l, because we are thought to have good friends in England, and we must both goe off together. Master Robinson hath written to his friends, and we have deeply bound ourselves to each other, that we will engage our friends to us both equally. Ah! Father, Brother, friends and acquaintance, use some speedy means for our Redemption. Many hundred slaves have been redeemed from their misery since we came hither, which makes us hope still we may be the next, and then the next, but still our hopes are deceived. We doe pray you therefore, for the Lord Christ's sake that redeemed you, that you would use all possible means for our redemption. There is now a party in England renowned over the Christian world for their piety in this way. O! make your addresse to those noble worthies in the name of Christ for whose sake we suffer. We did never so well understand the meaning of that Psalme, penned by those captive Jewes, held in Babilonish captivity, as now: By the waters of Babilon we sate down and wept when we remembered thee, O! Sion, when we remembered thee, O! England. O! good friends, we hope these our sighs will come to your eares, and move pity and compassion. We are told there is a merchant in London, one Mr. Stanner  of St. Mary's Axe, that hath a factor in Legorne (Leghorn), and one Mr. Hodges and Mr. Mico, Londoners, that are dealers there who are able to direct you in the readiest way for our redemption. Deny us not your prayers if you can doe nothing else. It will be some comfort to heare from friends. There is a Post in London that conveys letters into all parts, and you may have an opportunity of letting us heare from you, if you please, within a month or six weeks. The Lord direct your thoughts with waies of love, and strengthen us with faith and Patience.—Your sorrowful friend and brother in Christ,


"There subscribes to these besides:—


"From Barbary: September 29, 1646.

The Redemption of Captives

In 1645 the Parliament of England was moved to take the matter up, and sent out Edmond Casson as their agent with money and goods to redeem captives. For the poorer sort of captives he paid goods, such as cloth; for the better sort, money. Casson arrived in Algiers in September 1646. A list is preserved of two hundred and forty-two slaves ransomed by him, with the price paid for each. As a rule he paid for a man 500 double pesetas, a coin worth two francs, that is about £40 a head. But the Algerines were unwilling to sell women, children, and skilled labourers except at a great price, so he had to pay 1100 pieces of money for Alice Hayes of Edinburgh, 1000 for Mary Ripley and her two children, 1392 for Mary Bruster, an Irishwoman, and 1300 for Thomas Thomson of London.

After Casson's visit another very sad letter was received from Thomas Sweet. He relates how his cunning master, unwilling to lose him, transferred him to a Moor of Tunis, and thus removed him from Algiers and the chance of being redeemed by Casson. Sweet was so useful to his master that his abilities stood in his own light. As the unlucky man says: "I doe keepe his bookes of accompts and merchandise, and that keepes me here in misery when others that are illiterate goe off upon easy tearmes for cloath, so that my breeding is my undoing unlesse pitty be shewne."

But it is to be feared that poor Sweet and his friend Robinson never got free. There is no sign of their redemption, and no hint of their names in the lists of ransomed slaves.

A few years later a clean sweep was made of the British slaves in Algiers. It was the time of the Commonwealth, when England was feared and respected abroad as she had not been for many a year, nor was to be for many a year after. Under James I. and Charles I. some feeble, useless expeditions had been made. British men-of-war had appeared off the Barbary coast, parleyed and argued, and then had sailed away, having accomplished nothing.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


But in 1655 the mighty Admiral Blake attacked the Corsairs, and he proved a foe to be dreaded. The great seaman struck first at Tunis. He found the Corsair fleet of Tunis anchored close under the guns of the forts for safety. He ran right in, and, despite the heavy fire of the enemy's guns, he made short work of the pirate ships, burning every one of them. He went next to Algiers, and the Algerines were so full of terror that they agreed at once to all that he wished. For a small sum they gave up every British captive in the place. A number of Dutch captives swam out and reached the fleet. These were not included in the bargain, but the honest British tars could not think of seeing them taken back to slavery. So every man of the fleet contributed one dollar of his pay to redeem the fugitives from captivity.

Yet the Algerines were soon at their old tricks, and only four years later, in 1659, the Earl of Inchiquin, with his son Lord O'Brien, were seized in a vessel off the Tagus, and carried to Algiers. Nor did this great nobleman, a close friend and follower of Charles II., regain his liberty until he had paid down a ransom of 7500 crowns.

Some years before Lord Inchiquin was seized, and while he was ruling part of Ireland as Lord President of Munster, a clergyman, the Reverend Devereux Spratt, came to him to ask for a pass to cross over from Ireland to England. The pass was granted and Mr. Spratt set sail, only to fall straight into the hands of the Corsairs. He says in his Journal: "I embarked in one John Filmer's vessel, which sayled with about six score passengers, but before wee were out of sight of land wee were all taken by an Algire piratt, who put the men in chaines and stockes."

In Algiers this clergyman had the good fortune to be sold to a kindly master, who allowed him so much liberty that he was able to preach and minister to his fellow-captives, "amongst whom," as he says, "it pleased God to make me an instrument of much good. I had not stayed long there," he goes on, "but I was like to be freed by one Captain Wilde, a pious Christian, but on a sudden I was sold and delivered to a Mussleman (Mussalman, Moslem) dwelling with his family in Ye (the) towne, upon which change and sudden disappointment I was very sad; my patron asked me the reason, and withall uttered these comfortable words, 'God is great!' which took such impression as strengthened my faith in God, considering thus with myself, 'shall this Turkish Mahumitan (Mohametan) teach me, who am a Christian, my duty of faith and dependence upon God?'"

After a time Captain Wilde obtained Mr. Spratt's ransom, having collected money among the merchants at Leghorn in Italy. But the poor captives were aghast when they found they were to lose the good clergyman. "Upon this a petition was presented by the English captives for my staying among them; that he (Captain Wilde) showed me, and asked what I would do in ye case. I toald him he was an instrument under God of my liberty, and I would be at his disposing. He answered, 'Noe, I was a free man, and should be at my own disposing.' Then I replyed, 'I will stay,' considering that I might be more serviceable to my country by my continuing in enduring afflictions with the people of God than to enjoy liberty at home."

For two years this excellent man continued to live and work among the captives. Then an order was issued that all free men must leave Algiers, and he returned to London, and finally to Ireland. Among those to whom he ministered in Algiers were William Okeley and his friends, and Mr. Spratt knew all about the little canvas boat in which Okeley escaped. Indeed, he nearly got into trouble himself over it. He says: "I was much suspected to have a hand in contriving ye boate, but Providence ordered that I was never questioned, although a Moore who dwelt over against ye meeting house (the place where the boat was built) seeing me one day upon the Mole (harbour) viewing their ships, frowned and grinded his teeth at me."

Tribute Money

There is nothing more disgraceful in the history of Europe than the manner in which the most powerful Christian nations fawned upon the Barbary rovers, gave them money and arms, permitted them to harass trade, to make innocent people wretched in captivity, to wage war upon every nation which did not buy off their enmity. And all the time the Corsairs could not have stood for one hour against the might of England, France, or Spain if the full power of any one of those nations had been turned upon them. The eighteenth century came in and ran its course, and things remained just the same. Towards the close of the century, in 1798, the American Consul, speaking of the Dey of Algiers, remarks in astonishment: "Can any man believe that this elevated brute has seven kings of Europe, two Republics, and a continent tributary to him, when his whole naval force is not equal to two line-of-battle ships?"

Well might he call the Dey an "elevated brute." In 1671 the soldiery began to choose a fresh Dey out of their own ranks, though the Pasha was still appointed by the Sultan. After 1710 both offices were held by the soldier chosen by his comrades. In this way it was easy for a daring, resolute ruffian to grasp the sceptre of Algiers. Dr. Thomas Shaw, who was Consular Chaplain at Algiers from 1720 to 1732, says: "The Dey is chosen out of the army, each order of it, even the most inferior, having an equal right and title to this dignity with the highest. Every bold and aspiring soldier, though but yesterday from the plough, may be considered here as heir-apparent to the royal honours, and with this advantage, that he is under no necessity of waiting till sickness or old age cuts off the present ruler: it is enough that he is able to protect himself with the same scimitar that he sheathes in the body of his predecessor."

Dr. Shaw gives some instances of the lowest of men rising to the rule of the city, and some of them were not in the least ashamed of their origin. Once the French Consul went to the Dey with a complaint, and the Dey did not like the way in which he spoke. Quoth the ruler: "My mother sold sheep's feet, and my father neats' tongues, but they would have been ashamed to expose for sale so worthless a tongue as thine." Another Dey remarked with delightful frankness to the English Consul: "The Algerines are a company of rogues, and I am their captain!"

Thus it was very often to the court of an ignorant savage that consuls were sent by European nations, and the post of a consul was no easy affair. In the first place he had to see to it that the tribute offered by his nation was paid promptly, or he would suffer for it. The least that would happen was that he would be thrown into prison and put in heavy chains until the tribute should arrive. This happened actually in the nineteenth century. In 1808 the Danish tribute was late. The Danish Consul was seized, heavily ironed, put in the common prison and made to labour with the slaves. The other consuls obtained his release, but his wife died from the shock. A Dutch Consul died under similar treatment.

Three nations did not pay tribute, England, France, and Spain; that is to say, they did not offer open tribute in name. But they made consular presents to the Dey, and that came to pretty much the same. The consuls gave money, arms, warlike stores, and jewels, and these, though called "customary presents," were just bribes and blackmail, pure and simple. The Dey showed by his conduct that he looked upon them as payments rather than presents. He did not hesitate to say that they were too small for his acceptance. He demanded more and more. Before the consul's face he would toss over a gold watch, glittering with jewels, to his cook to show his contempt for the best that was offered him. And the unlucky consul often had to make up what was short out of his own pocket, or the Dey would throw him into prison and sack his house.

When the warships of a hostile navy appeared before the Corsair town, the consul of that nation must either get aboard to his friends or lie in a position of the utmost danger. The fury of the Dey was turned upon him at once. He would be fortunate if he escaped with being sent to prison and having his goods plundered. Very often he lost his life. In 1683 the French shelled Algiers. The French Consul was a good priest who had laboured among the captives for thirty-six years. The Dey ordered that he should be blown from the cannon's mouth, and it was done. In 1688 the new consul died by the same death: he and forty-eight other Frenchmen suffered in the same barbarous manner.

If the consul escaped the Dey, he had always to reckon with the mob. A vessel came flying into the harbour, the only one to return of a Corsair squadron. It brought bad news. Its consorts had all been destroyed or captured by a Christian fleet. At once the mob, furious at the loss of their friends, rose against the consul of the offending nation, and attacked his house. In 1675 Mr. Samuel Martin, the English Consul, was in sore straits. The consul before him had been torn in pieces by the mob in front of the Dey's palace, and Mr. Martin stood in fear of the same fate. In 1676 the mob assailed him, but he was smuggled out of their way and placed aboard ship for safety. But his house was seized and his family turned into the street without a lodging. In 1677 matters began to go worse. An Algerine vessel came into the harbour in a badly damaged state, with heavy loss of men, killed in an encounter with an English warship, and bringing news that the English had seized several Corsair ships.

The mob rose on the consul once more; some were for killing him at once, others for putting him in chains. In the end he was lodged in prison and was kept in strict confinement. To add to other troubles, the plague began to rage in the town. As poor Samuel Martin says, when writing home to his chief: "Your Honour may easily judge my condition miserable enough, threatened by Pestilence, prisons, chains, furys of Desperadoes, and famine is not far from my door, for Heaven knows it is not seldom that I want money to buy bread."

And what did the powerful monarchs do, these kings and emperors whose consuls had been treated in so unjust and barbarous a fashion? Nothing at all, or nothing to any purpose. Very, very rarely was a consul supported by his superiors at home against the Dey. A Dey bade a consul remove shoes and sword, and reverently kiss his hand when admitted to an audience—the hand of a common cut-throat. The consul—an English gentleman—refused. The Dey complained of him and had him recalled. George III. meekly sent another consul with special orders "to conduct himself in a manner agreeable to you (the Dey)." A consul ruined himself by making large presents to the Dey and his court, or by ransoming captives, and his Government very often left him in the lurch and he was beggared completely.

Again the question arises, Why this cowardly submission of great powers to a band of savage ruffians? Why were they permitted to beard Europe in this disgraceful fashion? Why were they allowed to search vessels on the high seas, taking for their own all those who were not protected by treaty, and often setting at nought a treaty in their greed for plunder? And in making treaties they would only admit to peace one or two nations at once, in order that plenty might be left for them to rob. Why was all this allowed?

The answer is still the same. The nations of Europe were watching each other with jealous fear, and now one, now another, made use of the Corsairs to attack and harass a rival. Well on in the eighteenth century Louis XIV. of France, Louis the Great, said, "If there were no Algiers, I would make one." England used the Corsairs, so did the Dutch, so did other nations. Each nation flattered and wheedled and bribed the pirates to leave its shipping alone and destroy the vessels of its enemies. Now and again a nation which was out of favour with the Corsairs made a display of assault upon Algiers, "at which the Dey laughs in his sleeve, or even openly, for he knows he has only to persevere in his demands and every government in Europe will give in. Consuls may pull down their flags and threaten war; admirals may come and look stern, and even make a show of a broadside or two; but the Dey's Christian Brother of St. James's or the Tuileries —or their ministers for them—have settled that Algiers cannot be attacked: so loud may he laugh at consul and man-of-war."

America and the Corsairs

The nineteenth century was well in before any resolute attack was made upon the power of the Corsairs. It was fitting that the first blow should be struck by the new land of liberty, the United States of America. Before they became a nation, the Americans had suffered severely from the Corsairs. Many of them lay in captivity in Barbary, and one letter says: "The Turks have so taken our New England ships richly laden homeward bound, that it is very dangerous to go. Many of our neighbours are now in captivity in Algiers, The Lord find out some way for their redemption!" At first the United States paid tribute like the rest. But before long the Americans became restive at the idea of bribing these rascally pirates to leave their shipping alone, and in 1803 an American squadron was despatched against the Corsair city of Tripoli. But while chasing an enemy's vessel one of the American men-of-war, the Philadelphia, ran aground near the city. Out swarmed gun-boats and galleys to attack the stranded ship, and she was taken after a sharp fight. Officers and men were carried ashore and clapped into prison, and the ship was got safely off the reef and towed into the harbour.

This was a terrible blow to the American squadron, but the commander, Preble, resolved that, come what might, the Philadelphia  should not remain in the hands of the rovers. He could not hope to bring her out of the harbour, so he planned to destroy her. He sent in a small vessel, a ketch, manned by seventy stout fellows, and commanded by a gallant young seaman, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur. It was a desperate piece of work which lay before them. The captured ship lay under the guns of many batteries ashore, and near at hand rode three large ships and twenty gunboats and galleys filled with enemies.

But the noble fellows aboard the ketch faced the danger with the utmost coolness and daring. They ran the ketch into the harbour by night, worked it up to the captured frigate, made fast to the latter, and then leapt aboard. Within ten minutes the vessel was theirs and the pirate crew had been driven into the water.

Now the boarding party went to work swiftly and steadily. The ketch was loaded with all sorts of combustibles. These were carried to the Philadelphia, piled here and there in selected places, and set on fire. So quickly and thoroughly was this done, that in a marvellously short space of time the frigate was one mass of flame and the Americans were tumbling at full speed back into the ketch. Amid the confusion and uproar they made a successful escape, and returned to their ships in triumph.

It is strange to think that Nelson with his splendid sea-captains and all-conquering men-of-war, was off this coast about this time, and yet the Barbary rovers continued to flourish and to plunder English ships almost under his very guns. But he was too closely engaged in the great struggle with Napoleon to deal with the Corsairs, and after his death Collingwood did nothing. It is true that Collingwood sent the Dey a watch as a present, but that potentate merely tossed it over to his cook. A few broad-sides, such as those fired at Trafalgar, would have been a more suitable offering.

At last the long French wars were ended at the great battle of Waterloo, and the Peace of Ghent in 1814 gave the world time to breathe freely once more. Now men began to think that this open sore of the Mediterranean had existed long enough, and should be cut out. Again the first to take decisive action were the United States. They had been at war with Great Britain, and the Peace of Ghent set them free to deal with the Corsairs. They sent a squadron to Algiers, where many Americans lay captive, and the Corsairs of Algiers remembered what had happened at Tripoli. Within two days after the arrival of the squadron a treaty was made. The Algerines agreed to forfeit all tribute in future, to restore property wrongly seized, and to liberate all American slaves.

The presence of this squadron in the bay was the innocent cause of terrible suffering to a fresh batch of captives. Some Algerine vessels had been cruising along the shores of Italy and flying British colours. Seeing this friendly flag the inhabitants felt no alarm, and were easily persuaded to go aboard the ships. In this way the Corsairs decoyed about three hundred and fifty people, and kidnapped every one of them. On the return journey the Algerines heard that the American squadron was off the coast. They at once made for land, for they dared not push forward for Algiers lest they should be taken. They put in at Bona, a port about 300 miles east of Algiers, and here they landed their captives, and drove the poor creatures by road to the city. It was a fearful march. Driven on like cattle, the weaker fell until fifty-one had perished on the way. The rest were brought before the Dey, literally naked and almost dead from hunger, fatigue, and brutal treatment: one actually fell and died in the Dey's presence. Mr. Shaler, the American consul, saw them, and he remarked that the horrors of the negro slave trade were tender mercies when compared with the sufferings which were inflicted upon the inhabitants of Italy and Spain by these detestable barbarians.

The Battle of Algiers

But Algiers was now about to receive the most terrible blow that its history can record. For hundreds of years this "famous and warlike city," as its people loved to call it, had lain basking in the African sun, the home and nest of insolent robbers who treated all Christian nations as dirt beneath their feet. And now England was roused. She struck late, but she struck hard, and Algiers reeled under the crushing blow. In 1816 the anger of Europe was roused by a raid of Corsairs from Tunis upon one of the Sardinian islands, which they ravaged in their accustomed fashion. At that time England had sent Lord Exmouth with a British squadron to deal with the Barbary States, and he obtained from the rulers of Tunis and Tripoli a promise that Christian slavery should cease in their cities. He then went to Algiers and made a like demand. The Algerines laughed him to scorn and openly insulted the admiral himself, who had gone into the town to treat with the authorities. Two British officers who had gone on shore were seized by the mob, dragged from their horses, and led off to the Dey's palace with their hands tied behind their backs. Mr. M'Donell, the British Consul-general, was placed under guard, and his wife and family were treated with great rudeness. The ladies were at Mr. M'Donell's country house, and thence they were driven into the town on foot like slaves.

Lord Exmouth knew not what to do. He had no power at that moment to proceed to open warfare with the Algerines, and he sailed home, without doubt in deep vexation. He had hardly returned to England when news came that many Italians, living under British protection at Bona, had been put to death by order of the Dey of Algiers. Lord Exmouth was at once ordered to punish the Corsairs for this cruel massacre, and in August 1816 he was back before Algiers with a powerful fleet. A Dutch squadron of six ships also joined in the attack, and rendered a first-rate account of themselves. Lord Exmouth knew that the consul and his family would be in great danger when the Algerines saw the hostile fleet, so he sent a ship, the Prometheus, ahead to bring off Mr. M'Donell and his family.

[Illustration] from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore


The Prometheus arrived at Algiers to find the Dey and his officers and, indeed, the whole city, full of suspicion. They had got wind of the expedition, and Captain Dashwood, in command of the vessel, saw that the coming of the Prometheus had deepened the feeling, and that all suspected what he was about to do. The first object was to secure the safety of Mr. M'Donell's family, his wife, daughter, and baby. The two ladies came down to the shore dressed as midshipmen, and in this disguise they gained the first boat in safety and were rowed to the ship. The baby came behind in charge of the ship's surgeon, who had undertaken to make sure that it should not cry and so betray its presence. To carry out his object, the surgeon gave the baby something to make it sleep very soundly, and then he packed it in a basket of fruit and vegetables, and carried the basket as if it only contained provisions for the ship.

But, unluckily, as the basket was taken past the sentinel at the Marine Gate, the baby woke up and began to cry. The sentinel gave the alarm, and the second boat was stopped and seized. Baby, surgeon, three midshipmen, and fourteen sailors were seized and carried before the Dey. Officers and men were thrown into dungeons, but, wonderful to relate, the Dey sent the baby on board next morning, "a solitary instance of his humanity," as Lord Exmouth remarks. Mr. M'Donell himself remained a close prisoner in the hands of the Algerines.

When the fleet arrived, Lord Exmouth sent in a flag of truce and made his demands for satisfaction to the Dey. No reply was made, and the British fleet attacked at once. The battle began at a quarter to three in the afternoon, and the firing did not cease till half-past eleven. The cannonade was terrific on both sides. Lord Exmouth took his ships right in under the batteries, and hammered them and the town with tremendous force. His guns were splendidly handled and the spirit in the fleet was magnificent. As he says in his despatch: "The battle was fairly at issue between a handful of Britons, in the noble cause of Christianity, and a horde of fanatics assembled around their city, and enclosed within its fortifications, to obey the dictates of their Despot. The cause of God and humanity prevailed; and so devoted was every creature in the fleet, that even British women served at the same guns with their husbands, and, during a contest of many hours, never shrank from danger, but animated all around them."

Some of the British men-of-war suffered very severe loss, for the Algerines fought their guns in most stubborn fashion. In the end the over-powering fire of the British fleet beat down all before it, and the Algerine shipping was set ablaze by discharges from the mortar and rocket boats. Only one large Corsair ship escaped destruction by the guns, and that was because it had already been destroyed by boarders. This was the frigate nearest the fleet. Lord Exmouth says: "I had long resisted the eager entreaties of several around me to make the attempt on the outer frigate, distant about a hundred yards, which at length I gave in to. The frigate was instantly boarded, and in ten minutes was in a perfect blaze. A gallant young midshipman, in rocket-boat No. 8, although forbidden, was led by his ardent spirit to follow in support of the attack; in which attempt he was desperately wounded, his brother officer killed, and nine of his crew. . . . The enemy's batteries around my division were about ten o'clock silenced, and in a state of perfect ruin and dilapidation. . . . All the ships in the port were in flames, which extended rapidly over the whole arsenal, store-houses, and gunboats, exhibiting a spectacle of awful grandeur and interest no pen can describe.

The whole was conducted in perfect silence, and such a thing as a cheer I never heard in any part of the line; and that the guns were well worked and directed, will be seen for many years to come, and remembered by those barbarians for ever."

A most graphic account from a spectator in the city is given by Mr. Shaler, the brave and kindly American Consul-general, who was a good friend to British interests from first to last. When the attack was near at hand the consuls left the city with the exception of Mr. Shaler and the Danish Consul, who stayed with him, and at his house. The unlucky M'Donell was, of course, in the hands of the Dey. Mr. Shaler's house was on the seashore, within point-blank range of the British cannon, and fully exposed to the utmost fury of the bombardment. Here he stayed and watched the battle from beginning to end. He notes in his diary:—

"Tuesday, August 27.—At three o'clock the British admiral took his position in most gallant style within about fifty yards of the Mole (harbour) head, the other ships taking theirs in succession in like manner; at this moment the Algerines opened their fire on the admiral, and the battle instantly became general. At about twenty minutes past three the Marine batteries appear to be silenced. The cannonade endures with a fury which can only be comprehended from practical experience; shells and rockets fly over and by my house like hail. The fire is returned from several batteries, and from one of four heavy guns directly under my windows. At half-past seven the shipping in the port is on fire. At half-past eight the cannonade endures with unabated fury on the part of the English, and is returned from the batteries iii this quarter. The upper part of my house appears to be destroyed, several shells have fallen into it, whole rooms are knocked to atoms; at nine, the fire slackened; at half-past eleven it ceases entirely. At one, from my terrace everything in the harbour appears on fire; two ships wrapped in flames have drifted out of the port. Heavy thunder and rain. The lightning enables us to discover the combined fleets at anchor in the bay."

Lord Exmouth now held the fate of Algiers in his hands, and he offered terms of peace. The terms were too easy. The Algerines had had a tremendous drubbing, and now their power should have been broken once and for all. It was not done. The Corsair navy had been destroyed: they ought to have been forbidden to build another ship. Their batteries had been silenced and beaten to pieces: they ought to have been forbidden ever to mount another gun. They were left free to build and repair, and remount. They were forbidden to hold Christian slaves for the future. They were told that all prisoners of war must be held for exchange, and, when hostilities were over, must be restored without ransom according to the custom of civilised nations. They were ordered to deliver up all Christian captives in Algiers. This was done, and every captive was set free. Among them were slaves who had been in captivity for forty and fifty years, and had long since forgotten any home save the foul prison dens of Algiers. Finally, the Dey of Algiers was compelled to offer a public apology to Mr. M'Donell, the British Consul.

Walls of Kasbah, Algiers


"The sufferings of the unfortunate Consul had been very great. For several weeks he had been imprisoned in one of the lower apartments of his own house, deprived of all communications with other Europeans, and even of fresh air, during the greatest violence of the summer heat, his only sustenance being one meal a day brought to him by his guards. On the day of the bombardment he was dragged half-naked to the Kasbah, his hands tied behind his back. He was confined in a dilapidated and roofless dungeon, chains were riveted by a blacksmith to his wrists and ankles, and fastened to a staple in the wall. To the roar of the artillery succeeded that of thunder and torrential rain, to which he was exposed all night. Next morning, two small loaves were given, as the only nourishment for himself and two malefactors who shared his captivity, and it was not till 4 p.m. that he was released from this state of suffering on the Dey's becoming convinced of the danger of persevering in the course he had so wantonly adopted. During his absence his house was plundered of plate, jewels, and other property to a considerable amount."

Lord Exmouth publicly thanked Mr. M'Donell for his valuable services and his manly firmness in face of such barbarous treatment. Mr. M'Donell was now replaced in the consulate, and the fleet sailed away from Algiers on the 4th of September.

The Fall of the Corsairs

England had dealt a shattering blow at the Corsair power, but the evil, though scotched, was not killed. The Algerines repaired their broken fortifications, raised some of their sunken gunboats, built others, and crept abroad once more to attack the vessels of smaller powers.

The soldiery of Algiers were of opinion that the Dey had not handled affairs well at the time of the bombardment, and though he had displayed the greatest courage on that terrible day and night, they murmured at him. In the end they strangled him in 1817, and set up another Dey, named Ali, who proved one of the greatest monsters that had ever ruled in Algiers. Ali put an end to murmuring by cutting off the head of everyone who spoke against him, and he discovered offenders by means of a host of spies. At the same time he affected a great love of books and sought the name of a scholar. Mr. Shaler remarks that when Ali received the foreign consuls, the latter had to pass a score of corpses before reaching the Dey's presence, when they were sure to find him magnificently dressed, with a book in his hand, as if their entrance had disturbed him in his studies.

At this time the plague was raging in the city, and Ali took a great delight in spreading this awful distemper. He sent out plague-stricken cruisers, and bade them attack or visit the ships of other nations. In this manner the fell disease was carried far and wide. He even tried to get rid of Mr. M'Donell, whom he disliked, by this dreadful means. He ordered a poor wretch, who was suffering from the plague, to throw his cloak over the consul's shoulders. This was done, but Mr. M'Donell escaped the infection. This tyrant came to a most fitting end; for the plague struck him, and he died of it early in 1818.

Little by little the Algerines regained their old impudence. In 1819 they were ordered by England and France to refrain from piracy. They refused, and threw up earthworks in face of a combined English and French fleet. No attack was made, and the Dey boasted that he had set Europe at defiance. In 1823 the old custom of ill-treating consuls was resumed. The Algerines quarrelled with the Kabyles, a native tribe of the district, and they sought to seize all Kabyles in the city to hold as hostages for the good behaviour of their brethren in the country. Now there were many Kabyles engaged as servants by the consuls, for they are a people famous for their fidelity to their masters.

The Dey sent round to the consuls, ordering them to give up all Kabyles in their service. The English Consul, Mr. M'Donell, at once refused. The Dey had no right to take his servants from him, nor would he on any account deliver up to prison, chains, and ill-treatment, the men who had given him faithful service. The Dey sent a troop of soldiers to enforce his demands. Mr. M'Donell at once sealed his doors and ran up the British flag. By the Dey's express orders, the seals were broken, the house entered, and searched in the most insolent fashion, the soldiers even entering the apartments of the consul's wife and daughters. This was the greatest possible insult which the Dey could offer, for in a Mohammedan country the rooms occupied by the ladies of the house form a most sacred asylum.

The next step of the Dey was an open defiance of the Treaty of 1816. A Spanish prize was brought in and the crew sent to the bagnio as slaves. The people of the city were full of delight at this return to old customs, and there was general rejoicing when the Dey declared that Christian slavery should now begin again in Algiers. In a short time a British squadron appeared off the coast, and the commander entered upon a long parley with the Dey, and even did a little shooting, but all to no effect. The Dey said he would not have Mr. M'Donell any longer as English Consul, and he had his own way. Mr. M'Donell was recalled, the squadron sailed away, and the Dey was left to himself, filled with the pride that goeth before a fall.

A year or two later, in 1827, came the beginning of the end. A quarrel arose between the Dey and the French Consul. The consul made a bitter speech, and the Dey struck him with a fan. This led to trouble with France. A French squadron was sent to blockade Algiers, and lay for two years off the coast, but did not entirely prevent vessels from reaching the port. Now and again French prisoners were taken, and treated in so brutal a manner that a feeling of great indignation grew up in France. The Moors cut off the heads of the captives and exhibited them for a time in front of the Dey's palace. Then the heads were flung out of the city gates, and the mob kicked them about as footballs. On one occasion, Dr. Bowen, the surgeon of the British Consulate, hearing that this brutal sport was going on, went to the place and collected fifteen heads and had them properly buried. On another occasion eighty-five French heads were brought in at one time, and the bearers obtained rewards, the Dey giving one hundred dollars for each head.

Finally, the patience of France gave way under a most intolerable insult. In August 1829 a French envoy visited the Dey to offer terms. The Dey dismissed him, and as the envoy was retiring under a flag of truce the Algerine batteries opened on his ship and poured a hail of shot upon it while the flag of truce was still flying. To avenge this open insult to their nation the French prepared a strong army and a large fleet, and in June 1830 the expedition arrived before Algiers.

The Corsairs prepared for their last struggle, hoping to beat off this expedition as they had beaten off so many others. But their day was over, and their race was run. They had held their ground far too long for the fair fame of Europe, but France was now resolved to make an end of them, and she did. The French transports landed a strong force near Algiers, and the first engagement was fought on the 19th of June. The French won, inflicting severe loss on the enemy. The invaders now pressed steadily towards the walls of the town, beating back the Algerines who had swarmed out to defend their city. The Corsairs fought well, and proved game to the last, but the French were altogether too strong for them. By the 29th of June the French had seized the hills which overlook Algiers, and had placed themselves in a most commanding position. On the 4th of July the French guns began to play on the Emperor's Fort, an out-lying fort a short distance from the town. The fire was so severe that the Algerine troops abandoned it after setting fire to the powder magazine. The magazine blew up and shattered the fort, and almost before the smoke had blown away the French were in, and planting their banners on the ruins.

The Dey saw that all was over, that he could not hope to keep the French out of the city, and he made a prompt surrender. The French gave him good terms. They promised safety for life and property in Algiers, on condition that the town was given up next day. This was done. At one o'clock in the afternoon of the 5th of July 1830 the French troops marched into Algiers as conquerors, and took possession of the Dey's palace and the forts.

A few days later the Dey and his family left Algiers in a French frigate for Naples. As the last Mohammedan ruler was carried out of the bay, he must have looked back with a sigh to see the French flag floating proudly at every spot where he had known the Crescent to wave. The hated Christian was at last the lord and master of the pirate city. Algiers was a French possession, and the long and blood-stained story of the Barbary rovers was ended for ever.