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Orinoco to EssequiboThe Adventure of the
Essequibo Gentlemen and Orinoco Privateers

[Based upon Charles Waterton's own account. (1)]

During the war between England and Spain, the privateers from the Orinoco were a constant threat to the plantations on the Essequibo coast.

On one occasion, a party of five or six English gentlemen, amongst them Robert Gordon, a friend of Waterton and later to become Governor of Berbice, went out on a schooner with an American, named Hubbard, to attack a privateer. One member of the party, Mr Lynch, had a foreboding that all would not be well. Just before sailing out to do battle, he gave his watch to a friend and asked that it be sent to his father in Ireland should the worst happen. The Spanish privateer bore down upon the ill-fated expedition and soon had taken possession of the schooner.

These unfortunate gentlemen now risked being treated by the Spanish as pirates - for they had no commission from the British Government. Waterton, who was well acquainted with the Spanish language, volunteered his services to go to the aid of the captured gentlemen.

Waterton's Commission

Charles Waterton was provided with a vessel, and the company of Charles Gordon, brother of Robert. They set off for Barbados to obtain letters and instructions from Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. Waterton had been given instructions from Colonel Nicholson, the Governor of Berbice, on 24th October 1807. On 11th September 1807, Waterton had received from the Governor a commission as lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of Militia.

As he had not been required to repudiate his Catholic faith or denounce the "devil, the Pope, and the Pretender", Waterton felt that his conscience was clear in accepting the commission. (See next column for more about the Pretenders. >>>)

The commission was the first received by a Waterton since the days of Queen Mary l (The catholic Mary Tudor, remembered as the infamous "Bloody Mary").

'We were brought down from our once high estate, and rendered very small (and are yet very small) in the eyes of our fellow subjects. But every dog has his day: To-day for thee, to-morrow for me, as Sancho Panza says.'

Caribbean SeaDuring the journey to Barbados, he noticed that the sailors were constantly at the pumps.
'I took care to put Daniels life preserver under my pillow, in case of need; I had bought it at Portsmouth, on the recommendation of Captain Baker. The schooner went down at anchor, on the night of the day that we reached Barbadoes.'

The Admiral was not there, having set sail for the Saintes, but as he was expected back imminently, they decided to wait at Carlisle Bay.

Waterton relates that,some time before this incident, Captain Rogers of the Windsor Castle packet, had engaged the French privateer, Jeune Adèle from French Martinique. The privateer had fallen in the encounter and his lieutenant, one Monsieur Flagelle, was a prisoner of war in Bridgetown.
Waterton helped Flagelle a little in money matters and other acts of kindness. Flagelle had wanted a career in the merchant marine, but during the war, the activities of the English cruisers had badly affected French commerce by sea; thus he had been reduced to being a privateer. In return for the kindness shown to him, Lieutenant Flagelle gave Waterton a letter requesting that all French men-of-war and privateers in the Caribbean should treat him with kindness should misfortune befall him.

Whilst waiting at Bridgetown, Waterton received news that he need no longer proceed to the Orinoco as the gentlemen had overwhelmed the Spanish crew and retaken their vessel at the mouth of the Orinoco. Poor Lynch's premonition of impending doom came true - during the struggle he was jostled overboard and drowned. After retaking their vessel, the men headed for Tobago, where they arrived just in the nick of time, for their water had run out and they were close to death.

Waterton recounts that he left Barbados with regret: "It was head-quarters, during the war, for the navy and the army. Our troops and tars kept it in one perpetual round of gaiety."

Back in Demerara, Waterton suffered from bouts of the fever and ague, despite his lifestyle of abstinence and sobriety. The attacks resulted from him getting wet during his adventures and excursions, and not changing out of his wet clothes, the sun eventually drying them. He put this practice down to the foolishness of youth.

"La jeunesse est présomptueuse: elle se promet tout d'elle-mème; quoique fragile, elle croit pouvoir tout, et n'avoir jamais rien à craindre: elle se confie légèrement, et sans précaution." (Fénélon)

Youth is presumptuous (or self -assured, if you prefer): it promises everything; although fragile, it believes it can do everything and have nothing to fear. It confides lightly and without precaution.

When he became seriously ill, Waterton would go to stay with his good friend Mr Edmonstone in Mibiri Creek for a change of air. Read more.

~~~~

1."Some Account of the Writer of the Following Essays", by himself. Charles Waterton writing at Walton Hall on 30/12/1837 and published in the First Series of his Essays on Natural History, Chiefly Ornithology, 1857 (new edition).
2. The Cradle of the Deep, Sir Frederick Treves, 1908.

Click image to enlarge.Barbados Harbour
(click image to enlarge) (2)

______

The Pretenders
(see Waterton's Commission in previous column.)

James Francis Edward Stuart

The Old Pretender was James Francis Edward (d. 1766), son of the deposed James II (d. 1701).

James II
James II became known in Ireland as Séamus an Chaca or 'James the be-shitten' as a consequence of his less than adequate role as a leader of men.

Charles Edward Stuart
The Young Pretender, Charles Edward (d. 1788) and his Highland rebels were crushingly defeated by British Government forces - including Scottish loyalists - at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This put an end to the Stuarts' chances, although not quite their ambitions, of restoring the "divine right of kings". Of course, the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites has been romanticised and the exact nature of the conflict somewhat blurred.




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