Saturday, 28 May 2011

Captain Kidd and the Legend of the Maltese Gold

Part three of an exciting adventure at sea featuring the dastardly pirate Captain Kidd.
Having secured a privateers pass and come into possession of a most interesting map, Kidd has dropped anchor at the pirate haven of St Mary’s Island in Madagascar looking for a crew. 
And where better to start than his old haunt The Burnt Oak…

Kidd turned to see the grinning face of John Hoar. He sat at a table in the far corner of the room.
“Are ye not going to clap me in irons?” he laughed, holding his arms out towards Kidd.
“My pistols are on the table Billy. I’m easy money.”
The congregation of gathered drunkards continued singing and fighting, pretending not to listen to the exchange. Kidd walked over to the table.
“Aye. Too easy. You’ve nae need for yer pistols wi Dirk Chivers waitin’ tae see me aff.”
Hoar laughed.
“Join me for a drink Billy. It’s good grog at the Burnt Oak. And it’s on me and old Shivers. We’ve had a good few months.”
Dirk Chivers stepped out from the dark, smiling, but with his guns still drawn.
“Really?” said Kidd “I heard you were damn near scuttled in Calcutta.”
For the first time, Hoar’s grin faltered.
“A spot of bad luck there right enough. We’re here with the Soldado for repairs.”
Chivers passed a bottle to Kidd.
“Joking aside Billy, we’d heard you were sailing under Royal Decree, that you’d traded booty for bounty and were going to be arresting your fellows.”
Kidd glanced around the bar; he could just overhear the usual muttered promises of good fortune, settling of old scores, but more than that, he could see a roomful of well armed villains and all of them were paying him too much attention.
There was John Cornelius, Redpath, Pew, even Vallo, all glaring and agitated.
Hoar looked around and smiled once more.
“Why we’d heard you were out looking for Every and Tew.”
“Aye? And why would ah be out at sea looking for deid men?”
“Maybe they weren’t dead til ye found them Billy. The bounty’s paid either way.  It’s a bold man turns his coat and then drops anchor at St Mary’s.”
“Naw.” Said Kidd “It’s an eejit. Look John. Ahm no here fur trouble, but if ye start it I’ll happily finish it.”
“Now now Billy. Don’t let that temper of yours get the better of you again.”
Kidd decided to seize control of the situation. He jumped onto the table and turned to face the room. Every eye was suddenly on him. And most of the guns were too.
“I’m sailing as a Privateer, like you John Hoar, or you Singleton. I’ve nae wish tae run anyone in. What ah do huv is a ship in need of crewmen. Any and all are welcome, we sail for the Red Sea. No purchase. No pay.”
While this outburst had clearly got the pirate horde interested, Kidd realised he was going to have to do more to convince them.
“I’ve heard tell of an island, but two weeks from here, and it’s there, that near 150 years ago La Valette, grandmaster corsair, Knight of Malta built his own wee church. And as he was a very noble and reverential man he decked it all out in the gold and muslim cloth he’d looted in the name of the Lord. Gentlemen, they say damned souls such as ourselves should seek forgiveness. And where better to find it than a Church? Booty in equal shares men. And the grog’s on me! We sail!”

Three days later, Kidd and the Adventure Galley were back at sea with a full crew and ships articles signed and sworn. It was late evening and the seniors had gathered in Kidd’s quarters to hear more of their prize and the Knights of Malta.
“Now the Knights don’t consider themselves tae be pirates as such. Naw, that’s beneath men as holy as themselves. So when they’re raidin’ ships and lootin’ galleys, its for the good of the order and their ongoing defence of Malta and Tripoli. They’re nuthin’ but Corsairs paradin’ crosses. And whit’s worse lads, there’s nae dividin’ up o’ the booty, it aw goes right back tae the order. And any Captain tryin’ tae keep his spoils is slaughtered withoot a thought.”
The crew were clearly unhappy with this undemocratic system of loot distribution. 
“What about this Valette?” asked McPhee “How did he end up with so much booty?”
“Well, La Valette wis a nobleman by descent and became part o’ the secret order o’ Knights Hospitaller in 1515. He defended Rhode frae the Ottoman and was one the legendary raiders of the Barbary Coast. He fought his way tae the top o’ the order tae become the Grand Master Then, he encouraged the rest o’ his Knights tae strike out wi’ their own ships, allowing for a more…profitable system of shares fur the knights and the order.”
“So there was plenty more for him then eh?” laughed McPhee.
“Oh aye. For him, and for his second in command, Brother Romegas, the greatest seaman o’ the Knights o’ Malta. Any ship he didnae capture, he sank. The two were heroes of the Siege o’ Malta – Romegas at sea, La Valette on land. After the siege, the two turned back tae piracy, Valette directin’ frae a discreet distance, and Romegas pillagin’ the Barbary coast wi’ a vengeance. They kept their loot secret frae the Pope and built their ain wee place o’ worship. And that’s just where we’re headed now boys.”
“A church made of gold! Praise the lord!” said Mitchell.
“Now the church is treasure enough in itself. Ahm interested in somethin’ else. There’s a paintin’ in there – an ordinary lookin’ picture of a Templar knight. It’ll be hidden. There’s an extra share fur any man finds this fur me. There’s only one problem. These waters are still sailed by the Knights. And I’d be surprised if La Vallette’s wee church isnae guarded.” 

Good winds and calm waters saw The Adventure within sight of the island in ten days. Almost immediately, a cry went up from the nest.
“Maltese Cross! A galley off port!”
“It’s the Knights!” cried Kidd “Gunner Moore, ready the cannon. McPhee keep us right of land. There’ll be nae quarter given. We need to hope we can outsail them boys. Get those oarsmen earning their keep”
The Adventure was too big a vessel to be as quick as was needed and in no time, the maltese ship was bearing down.
“We’ll never outgun them Cap’n.” cried McPhee.
“Hopefully we won’t need tae.” Said Kidd “Gunner Moore, on my mark. Collins, McGinley, Flynn be ready at the yard arm with torches. We’re gonnae huvtae board.”
The maltese cannons were already firing as the two craft drew nearer.
“Are ye ready Mr McPhee? Hard tae port on my mark.” Said Kidd “Now!”
The Adventure swung hard, sixteen cannon blasting as she turned. Kidd and his men swung too, spinning wildly above the deck of the maltese galley and torching the sails and deck as they flew. The cannon fired again, splintering the hull of the enemy ship. There was an exploson as the gunpowder stores of the maltese galley were consumed by the fire, and the vessel cracked in two. A cheer went up from the crew as the burning mast sank beneath the waves.
“Let’s naw get too chirpy. There’ll be mair tae follow.” Said Kidd “We’ll take a boat tae the island, anchor the Adventure aff the north east coast, that should keep it frae view. Signal flags and cannon if there’s any approach from the Maltese while we’re ashore. Move!”

Five men had accompanied Kidd to shore; Miller, Grieve, Douglas, Mitchell and young Jack.
“Where to Captain?” asked Miller.
Kidd glanced once more at the worn cloth map.
“The church is set in a valley on the west side of the island. We can only get tae the valley through Romegas Cave, there.”
The cave was set midway up a mountain, directly ahead.
“The cave skirts round the outside o the mountain and spirals down tae the valley on the other side. And that’s why we brought aw that rope boys. We’re in fur a climb. Jack you’re a fit lad, so you’re up first wi the rope fur the rest of us.”
Jack scuttled ahead and began the ascent to Romegas Cave.
“Ah’ll be wantin’ two of ye to stay here on point ready fur us tae leave in a hurry. Douglas and Grieve you’re it. Miller and Mitchell follow me up tae the cave.”

Jack had secured and lowered the ropes, but was not answering to the calls of his crewmen. Kidd hauled himself up onto the ledge by the cave entrance. There was no sign of him. Kidd turned to look down at his fellows.
“Get a move on boys. We’re a cabin lad shy and have a feelin’ he’s naw jist nipped aff fur a snooze.”
Kidd stared into the cave and listened intently for any sounds of life. Nothing. Nor was there any sign of a struggle at the cave mouth.
Mitchell and Miller finally heaved themselves onto the ridge.
“No sign Cap’n?”
“None. Mitchell you’re at port, Miller starboard. Keep yer guns drawn and yer wits aboot ye.”
Torches lit, the three pirates began their descent into Romegas Cave.
“Jack!” called Mitchell “Jack you there?”
“Whit in blazes do ye think yer daein?” hissed Kidd.
“Calling out for wee Jack in case someone has him.”
“Aye. And dae ye want them tae get us too? Shut yer mooth and keep movin’.”
“But Jack…”
“Nice wee lad. Awful shame. We’ll buy a new cabin boy back at St Marys. We’ll call him Jack. Now move.”
Kidd prodded Mitchell with his pistol and they clambered further into the cave.
A sudden wind extinguished two of the torches, forcing the three to edge forward more slowly.
“There’s a pit here Cap’n. Quite a drop.”
Kidd stared down into the dimly lit chasm.
“That’s a lot of bones down there. Okay Miller, rope.”
Miller unravelled the rope and threw one end to Mitchell who tried tossing it across the pit. It failed to penetrate the darkness and tumbled down towards the bones below.
There was a distant whistling sound, it echoed eerily through the caverns empty spaces, gradually increasing in volume, becoming more distinct; a wail, a cry of pain which built to an unbearable howl. 
With it came a wind which whipped around the pirates almost seeming to be pushing them to the ground. Kidd gripped the cave edges and held on as Miller and Mitchell tried to run. The wind swept the dirt and rubble of the cave up into the air, and slowly Kidd began to perceive shapes in the darkness; knights, unearthly knights. 
Miller and Mitchell must have seen them too, and tried all the harder to reach the cave mouth, but the knights had the wind on their side. The two men struggled and screamed as they were dragged over the edge of the pit by the strange howling shapes. Kidd steadied himself against the wall and took a swig of rum. 
“Spirits now is it?” 
Suddenly, there was the unmistakeable thud of distant cannon fire. The Adventure was signalling. Kidd edged slowly back to the cave entrance and peered back down to shore, sure enough there were ten boats coming ashore, each filled with angry maltese pirates. Douglas and Grieve were already clambering up the rope towards him.
There was another, much louder thud, the cave shuddered and shook with the impact. 
“They cannae have cannon wi this sort of range!” cried Kidd.
The cave shook again, rubble crumbling from the stone walls. Grieve hauled himself up onto the ridge, gasping.
 “Capn, there’s smoke and ash blowing right out the top of this mountain!” he cried “We’re sittin inside a volcano!”
“Aye.” Said Kidd “That’d be aboot right.”

Our corsairs corralled in cursed caves! Trapped by trembling volcanoes! Grabbed by old ghosts! How will Kidd and his cronies escape this latest catastrophe! Don’t miss the next exciting instalment of “Captain Kidd and the Legend of the Maltese Gold” 

This story was originally published in our 2006 book downriver, which was published with the support of heritage lottery fund. A number of our publications are available free online including our Captain Kidd Man and Myth Booklet on Scribd, along with another we published about Port Glasgow's connections to the Slave Trade.

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