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Thread: Privateers in the far east around 1790ish?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW areteus's Avatar
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    Privateers in the far east around 1790ish?

    I've tried to do some research into this but am not finding anything clear...

    How feasible is it that these two occurences could exist in or around either the far east or india in a period between 1780 and 1800...

    - An english ship given a letter of marque to act as a privateer in that region

    - another ship crewed by either japanese or chinese sailors operating in more blatant piracy?

    Certain things are flexible in this (date and location can be changed, I just think those are the most likely).

    So far I have found the Sunda Strait campaign which would fit only it seems that the Privateers were purely on the french side with the english forces being Royal Navy or EIC vessels and while the EIC are technically privateers in this I wasn't wanting the ship to be that official...

    So, any help or ideas of where to look to find this situation?

  2. #2
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Japanese sailors would have been rare I believe. I think that Japanese law interdicted foreign voyages. Chinese sea raiding was big though, IIRC there were quite a few acting as mercenaries in civil wars raging in Vietnam at the time. Like Froth Floating by Anthony Someone-I-don't-recall Phd covers that in great detail.

    Thing is the Chinese wouldn't have carried letters of marque recognized by Western powers. The British pretty much considered them pirates, and I doubt the Chinese raiders hewed to the rules too closely.

    French corsairs based in Mauritius were very active. Robert Surcouf (sp) was something of a hero during the Revolutionary wars. There was a certain amount of cooperation with anti-British rulers on the Indian mainland as well.
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    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Thinking a bit further:

    I'm not sure if any Americans got as far as the Indian Ocean during the War of Independence. We were mostly in the Atlantic & Caribbean at that stage. Porter cruised far into the Pacific in the War of 1812, and did a fair bit of damage before he was run down by the RN.

    A noted British privateer in the IO (albeit of an earlier era) was Woodes Rogers. He had a smashing success as a privateer, only to get sued by the EIC for violating their trade monopoly! I think the problem with British cruisers in the East at the time you mention is the paucity of prizes. Preying on the Dutch or Spanish would be more profitable than the few French traders left.

    Don't forget the Ilanuns, Bugis, Moros and other sea raiders in the Philippines and East Indies. If you can find it, Swish of the Kris by Vic Hurley talks a lot about Moro pirates.
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    You have pretty much found it for that era. Tyhe EIC ships were privateers, and the Royal Navy didn't play in that area until after the Napoleonic Wars and not much until the 1850's.

    The pirates were mostly Dayaks and various Malays, but I'm sure that there were some Chinese and Japanese.

    You might have one of the regional Sultans, or whatever ruler, give a letter of marque for a British adventurer to fight the Sea Dayaks. That's what Brooke did a few decades later. Why not toss in another adventurer afew decades earlier?

    You might find this interesting:
    http://www.sabrizain.org/malaya/straits5.htm

  5. #5
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by King Neptune View Post
    You have pretty much found it for that era. Tyhe EIC ships were privateers, and the Royal Navy didn't play in that area until after the Napoleonic Wars and not much until the 1850's.

    The pirates were mostly Dayaks and various Malays, but I'm sure that there were some Chinese and Japanese.

    You might have one of the regional Sultans, or whatever ruler, give a letter of marque for a British adventurer to fight the Sea Dayaks. That's what Brooke did a few decades later. Why not toss in another adventurer afew decades earlier?

    You might find this interesting:
    http://www.sabrizain.org/malaya/straits5.htm
    The EIC kind of had their own navy. They had set up a coast guard to deal with Raja Angria's raiders (to the British they were pirates, the Angrians considered them tax-collectors). I'm not sure what role they played in the wars of the era, but they were active.

    Merchant ships such as East Indiamen were armed and expected to defend themselves, not sure if they were sent out to look for prizes. Thing is, EIC corporate raiders like Raffles had bigger prizes in mind. Instead of ships, he captured whole islands. Hence Singapore and the brief British rule over Java.

    Edit: Good link! The Sumatran pepper trade with New England is an interesting subject!
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  6. #6
    God of the Oceans
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hardy View Post
    The EIC kind of had their own navy. They had set up a coast guard to deal with Raja Angria's raiders (to the British they were pirates, the Angrians considered them tax-collectors). I'm not sure what role they played in the wars of the era, but they were active.

    Merchant ships such as East Indiamen were armed and expected to defend themselves, not sure if they were sent out to look for prizes. Thing is, EIC corporate raiders like Raffles had bigger prizes in mind. Instead of ships, he captured whole islands. Hence Singapore and the brief British rule over Java.

    Edit: Good link! The Sumatran pepper trade with New England is an interesting subject!
    Technically the EIC navy was all privateer. It was a company that was running the thing under contract for whatever they could make from the business. And they weren't out for islands in the period that you are interested in. You ,ight want tp ;look at what they did during the Napoleonic Wars. I just saw a mention of the British conquering Java.

    You might also look at what the Dutch were doing. They owned Indonesia and the Spice Islands, but I know little of what they did.
    Last edited by King Neptune; 01-16-2013 at 03:47 AM.

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    A Gentleman of a refined age... thothguard51's Avatar
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    If I remember right, the Portuguese very big in the area and the Catholic Church sort of give them the trading rights to most of the far east? The English were considered pawns of the French at the time and were thus declared as pirates. Also, most Asian countries on sailed in sight of land as they did not have the large ships or armaments that the Europeans had. They were still considered a feudal society, so none of the nations had large fleets.

    James Clavell's Japan series may be of help as they do deal with trade routes and the politics of the time periods.

    Shogun...1600's.
    Tai-Pan...1841
    Gai-Jin...1862

    You might be able to piece together what shipping, sailing and the politics were like between the first and second book in the series. As I recall, Pirates were frowned upon and just to be accused of being a pirate was a death sentence.

    Hope these help...
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  8. #8
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by King Neptune View Post
    Technically the EIC navy was all privateer. It was a company that was running the thing under contract for whatever they could make from the business. And they weren't out for islands in the period that you are interested in. You ,ight want tp ;look at what they did during the Napoleonic Wars. I just saw a mention of the British conquering Java.

    You might also look at what the Dutch were doing. They owned Indonesia and the Spice Islands, but I know little of what they did.
    That's a pretty good way to put it, the shareholders wanted to make profit from the company, but individuals had a lot of scope to profit personally, which they typically used to the hilt. There were frequent conflicts of interest.

    In parallel to the EIC's ground forces, they also had an EIC Marine. Their job was to safeguard EIC merchant vessels, not go gallivanting about for loot. Dunno if that was strictly observed (see above). The EIC's land forces were mercenaries with a propensity for pillaging defeated foes, so I can't imagine the swabbies were immune to the lure either.

    The Dutch equivalent of the EIC was the VOC, but they were going broke by the 1790s. The Dutch relied on their own Koninklikje Marine and various local forces, plus European troops. It was a bit ad-hoc in those days, the famous KNIL was not yet organized. They were unable to stop the British invasion in 1808.

    The Dutch were involved in frequent succession wars inthe states on Java. Mataram was a trouble spot up to the 1780s. The VOC had spread out, but still a lot of the archipelago was independent until the late 1800s.

    There's a useful timeline, but it's a bit outside the scope of Arteus' original question.

    http://www.gimonca.com/sejarah/sejarah.shtml
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW areteus's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the info, this is all good stuff and does help a lot. I'll go through it properly later...

    With reference to oriental crews not getting letters of marque, that's perfect because they don't have to have them for my story. it just needs to be a crew of mostly oriental sailors doing piracy in the area. It's the english captain who needs to have a letter of marque and I actually think I may have a way to explain that anyway...

    From what I was reading last night, the EIC navy were privateers under the strict definition of the word (as opposed to the slight misconception of the word that most people, including me until last night, had of them being 'official pirates'). They were not part of a crown's navy (they were owned by a private company) and they took a share of the prize from any vessel they captured. Whether they were called a navy or not is irrelevant, they were a privateer navy.

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