Early in August 1625, three sailors, Nicholas Nurrey, Robert Rapson and Thomas Marryner arrived in Poole with an ominous tale to tell. A meeting was hastily arranged with the Mayor John Harward and three Justices of the Peace, and the men were soon relating their story. A few days before, the three, together with 12-year-old ship’s boy, Nicholas Jerrard, had been sailing to ‘Croysick’ in France (probably the Breton port of Le Croisic) aboard the 20 ton Anne of Poole. South southwest of Plymouth, between Deadman’s Point and Looe they were surprised and taken by Barbary pirates, then commonly known as ‘Turks’. Nurrey told how they had ‘beate him verye cruellye and toke away from him such commodityes as were abord him wth their victualls, apparrell and their boy, Nicholas Jerrard’.
The pirate ship was not alone but part of a flotilla of six ships which sailed in pursuit of two Scottish merchantmen keeping company with the Anne. What is more, the ‘Turkish’ ships were large and well armed, two of them being about 160 to 180 tons and another two having 20 guns apiece. The pirates had already taken a considerable toll among English merchant ships. Rapson and Marryner described how once aboard the pirate ship, ‘they saw some three skore English captives lyeing in chaynes in ye hold’ who had been taken in the Channel from Bristol ships, a Barnstable vessel sailing from Virginia, and fishing boats ‘driveing uppon the streame’.
At the helm of the pirate vessel was another English captive whose ship had been taken the previous season when sailing out to Newfoundland. He told Thomas Marryner ‘that there were twentye sayle of Turks att sea about this coast & the coast of ffrance or hovering betwixt Bellyle and Ushant to make their praye on all his Maties subiects tradeing to and fro twixt England and ffrance especially on the newfoudlandmen expected homeward wthin this moneth, threatening that wthin these 2 yeares they would not leave ye king of England sayles to furnish his shipps to sea.’
How the crew (except for the unfortunate boy Nicholas Jerrard) escaped being taken captive, we do not know, but perhaps the pirates had taken as many captives as they could manage. John Harward lost no time in writing to the Privy Council with the news of the situation, warning the authorities that unless measures were taken the returning Newfoundland fleet of 250 sail with 4,000 to 5,000 men on board would be surprised and fall victim to the pirates. His message joined a chorus of protests from Channel ports suffering shipping losses. The mayor of Plymouth, for instance had fears for the ships sailing from Virginia and Newfoundland, adding a grim statistic. In the space of only 10 days, 27 ships and 200 men had been taken by Barbary pirates.
piece contributed by Jenny Oliver