This description of the fascinating and diverse life of William Dampier offers some insights as to the extraordinary lives some people led in those days.
Today Dampier is well known as a famous explorer and naturalist, but the life he led encompassed much more besides. His connection to our story is that late in life he was employed by Woodes Rogers as navigator in Rogers’ privateering voyage around the world between 1708 and 1711 – with the Duke and Dutchess vessels from Bristol. This was Dampier’s third and last circumnavigation of the world.
He wrote books about each of his world voyages, which became best sellers of his day. He was well known and dined with Samuel Pepys at his home before setting off on his second round the world voyage in 1699. In 1709 he was with Woodes Rogers when they came upon Alexander Selkirk (of Robinson Crusoe fame) who had been marooned four years earlier on Juan Fernandez Island, and he may have already known that he was there.
William Dampier was born in East Coker, Somerset, around 1656 and orphaned early in life. At 17, he sailed for Newfoundland, but that was too cold an experience so he took another ship to the East Indies before joining the Royal Navy circa. 1673.
Proceeding to Jamaica he became an under-manager and then manager of plantations. He next became, in turn, a logwood cutter; a privateer; a sea trader in the West Indies (which enabled him to buy a small estate in Dorset); a buccaneer who marched and raided settlements across the Isthmus of Panama with the intention of heading along the Pacific coast of South America to raid the Spanish silver mines. Plans changed and he then sailed with other buccaneers to Virginia for more adventures; trips to Africa and back into the Pacific around Cape Horn, early in 1684, and eventually returning to England in 1691.
Along the way on that voyage he also indulged his love and driving passion as a naturalist, writing extensively on the giant turtles, flora and fauna he found on the Galapagos Islands and another exploration in the north-west coast of Australia.
From 1699, his life and fortunes took a downhill turn; he failed as Captain of his Royal Navy vessel the Roebuck, he and his crew having to be picked up and brought home by an East India Company boat after the vessel was lost near Ascension Island. A subsequent privateering venture in 1703 also exposed his inadequacies as a Captain/ Commander, he simply could not get on with his fellow officers and the two ships he commanded eventually split up. He returned to England, after a spell of piracy and gaol, in 1707.
He returned to England in 1707, an impoverished man; he was appointed navigator for Woodes Rogers from 1708 to 1711. He played his part effectively on the voyage returning to financial difficulties. He died, in debt, in 1715; before Woodes Rogers had finally been able to settle up on the payments to his crew for the voyage.