15 January, 2009

Captain Woodes Rogers where are you now?

Last week a $3m ransom was parachuted onto the deck of the hijacked supertanker Sirius Star, which had been captured by well-armed Somali pirates. No doubt the insurers considered this a reasonable price to retrieve the $100m cargo and crew. The pirates wittily call themselves the Central Regional Coastguard.

The large number of warships of various countries on patrol off the Kenyan coast don't seem able to stop these ruffians from interrupting legitimate commerce. Maybe they could do with some assistance from an old-fashioned privateer such as the redoubtable Captain Woodes Rogers, who made Caribbean pirates' lives a misery in the early 1700's. He is credited with rescuing Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, from his island.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a rare copy of Woodes Rogers' journal has been unearthed in a
Bristol attic. It will be auctioned on 21st Jan and is expected to reach £3,000. Good value.

The painting above shows Woodes Rogers and his family:
"Here he is seen with his family, as his son proudly holds a plan of burgeoning Port Nassau (visible in the background). In reality, events proved less happy for the new British acquisition." Angus Konstam, The History of Pirates. Quoted here.

05 January, 2009


Temperatures are due to drop well below zero Centigrade in London tonight. Not cold enough to freeze the Thames, as in this painting of 1677, but still parky for these parts. We are used to being kept warm by the jets taking off overhead.

1677 was during the period of the so-called Little Ice Age, which brought very cold temperatures to Early Modern Europe. The Thames regularly froze over , and "frost fairs" were held on the ice.

During the Great Freeze of 1683-4 , the diarist John Evelyn wrote that 'Streetes of Boothes were set upon the Thames... all sorts of Trades and shops furnished, & full of Commodities..." (source: Museum of London).

More seriously, many communities in northern and eastern Europe were abandoned to the advancing ice. Something to think about whilst doing your Pieter Breughel the Elder jigsaw in front of a cosy fire....