An Officer, a Gentleman, a Cheat.
On the wall of St Marys Church in Twickenham is a monument plaque by Michael Rysbrack in memory of Sir Chaloner Ogle, Bart, Admiral of the Fleet who died on April 20th 1750. Surmounted by an over-abundance of carved cannons, spears, an axe, a plumed helmet, standards and a boat hook, together with the head of a goat, a commemorative anchor, a broken column and a standing child is a lengthy eulogy in Latin. It begins..
H.S.E Vir honorabilis Chaloner Ogle, Es Aur Regiarum classium Praefectus primarius Qui generosam inter Northumbrios stirpem Nobiliate rerum gestarum decoravit.
And rattles on interminably in similar vein until it finishes…
Optimo conjugi Isabella Vidua Moerens posuit.
Unfortunately my own ‘O’ level Latin never progressed much beyond “Amo, Amas, I love a lass who is so tall and slender!” - so all I can squeeze out of it is…
Chaloner Ogle - brave deeds gave honour to his stock - blah
blah-distinguished himself nobly in Northumbria - blah blah - overcome the Chief of the Pirates - blah blah - afflicted widow Isabella put up this memorial to devoted husband…blah blah.
What the plaque doesn’t tell you is that Sir Chaloner Ogle who lived in Gifford Lodge, on Twickenham Green was a bit of a rogue too.
On the 5th February 1722, Captain Chaloner Ogle was commanding the Royal Navy ship “Swallow” off Cape Lopez on the west coast of Africa, when he came across the “Royal Fortune”, the “Ranger” and the “Little Ranger”, 3 pirate ships under the command of Batholomew Roberts, probably the most successful and notorious pirate of all time. In the skirmishes that followed “Swallow” was able to capture two of Robert’s ships - the “Royal Fortune” and the “Ranger” while pirate Roberts was killed by grapeshot as he stood on his deck. Before his body could be captured by Ogle, Roberts’ wish to be buried at sea was fulfilled by his crew who wrapped him in a sail, weighed it down and threw it overboard. Robert’s body was never recovered - which led to some speculation that he wasn’t dead at all but had escaped. This is what happens when you’re the legendary ‘Chief of the Pirates’.
Captain Ogle was knighted for the death of Roberts and awarded the ships “Royal Fortune” and “Ranger”, both of which were packed with gold dust, as prize bounty. Ignoring the conventions of the time Ogle refused to share his newly gained wealth with his crew until he was forced by law to do so three years later. In his defence Captain Ogle claimed to have missed out on the treasure which the pirates had taken away on their third ship, the “Little Ranger”, which had managed to escape the skirmishes off Cape Lopez. By the time Ogle and his men arrived to collect the treasure in the “Little Ranger” the ship had gone, taking with it Captain Hill of the merchant ship “Neptune” who had been trading at the time with the pirates. Several weeks later by some strange coincidence! the “Swallow” and “Little Ranger” both turned up in Port Royal in Jamaica, on the other side of the Atlantic. Although Ogle was legally obliged to arrest Captain Hill and even hang him for piracy this did not happen. It seems likely that following a prior arrangement much of the treasure aboard the “Little Ranger” finished up in Chaloner Ogle’s deep and already well stuffed pockets. Captain Hill was never heard of again.
The death of Batholomew Roberts in 1772 marked the end of what is known as the “Golden Age of Piracy” Although he is largely forgotten now his name and his achievements still resonate through the broad history of piracy. He was a brave and charismatic leader who drew up a strict code of conduct for his men. As his contemporary, Captain Charles Johnson noted, Roberts was a bit of a dandy too…
“Roberts himself made a gallant figure, at the time of the engagement being dressed in a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain round his neck, with a diamond cross hanging to it, a sword in his hand, and two pairs of pistols slung over his shoulders”
Bartholomew Roberts is one of four pirate captains mentioned in R.L Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. In the book Long John Silver says that the surgeon who amputated his leg was one of Roberts’ men…
“It was a master surgeon, him that ampytated me - out of college and all - Latin by the bucket, and what not; but he was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that was, and comed of changing names of their ships - Royal Fortune and so on.”
While Bartholomew Roberts died a gallant death in true pirate style on the deck of his own ship, and is still celebrated to this day, Sir Chaloner Ogle, Bart, Admiral of the Fleet, rich with stolen booty, finished up quietly at home in Gifford House, Twickenham where he died in bed on the 11th of April, 1750, aged seventy, childless and largely forgotten save for a marble plaque high on a church wall erected by his ‘afflicted widow’ Isabella. Barely a year later, in July 1751 Isabella shook off her afflication and married James King, the 4th Baron Kingston.
THE PIRATE SONG
To the mast nail our flag it is dark as the grave, Or the death which it bears while it sweeps o’er the wave; Let our deck clear for action, our guns be prepared; Be the boarding-axe sharpened, the scimitar bared:
Set the canisters ready, and then bring to me, For the last of my duties, the powder-room key.
It shall never be lowered, the black flag we bear; If the sea be denied us, we sweep through the air. Unshared have we left our last victory’s prey; It is mine to divide it, and yours to obey:
There are shawls that might suit a sultana’s white neck, And pearls that are fair as the arms they will deck.
There are flasks which, unseal them, the air will disclose Diametta’s fair summers, the home of the rose. I claim not a portion: I ask but as mine ‘Tis to drink to our victory - one cup of red wine. Some fight, ‘tis for riches - some fight, ‘tis for fame:
The first I despise, and the last is a name.
I fight, ‘tis for vengeance! I love to see flow, At the stroke of my sabre, the life of my foe. I strike for the memory of long-vanished years; I only shed blood where another shed tears, I come, as the lightning comes red from above, O’er the race that I loathe, to the battle I love.
-- from Martyn Day