The "Admiral Edwards" Privateer, and some
of her Exploits

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VII, (1912-1913), Exeter: James G. Commin. 1913, pp. 148-155.


H. Wilson Holman

Prepared by Michael Steer

The exploits of the privateer Admiral Edwards resemble an excerpt from one of  C.S Forester’s Hornblower novels. Notwithstanding Dartmouth's connections with the Crown and respectable society, it was a major base for privateering in medieval and later times. John Hawley or Hauley, a licensed privateer and sometime mayor of Dartmouth] is reputed to be a model for Chaucer's "schipman". The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 117. The "ADMIRAL EDWARDS" PRIVATEER AND SOME OF HER EXPLOITS. - When hostilities broke out between England and her American colonies in 1775, one of the first Acts of the British Parliament was to prohibit all manner of trade with them, and to declare forfeit all ships that should be found engaged in such trade. This was followed in the next year by another Act giving the High Admiral, or the Commissioners acting in that capacity, the right to grant commissions after the 20th February, 1777, to the owner and master of any private trading vessel to fit such vessel out as a ship of war, for the purpose of "attacking, surprising, and taking" all ships belonging to the inhabitants of those colonies that should be met with on the high seas. As similar Acts had been passed against the shipping of France and Spain, and by those countries against England, one may get some idea of the number of privateers, as they were called, which infested the high seas towards the close of the eighteenth century, and the great danger run by all trading vessels, unless under a strong convoy of warships.

The records of the High Court of Admiralty, now preserved in the Public Record Office, supply the fullest information regarding these privateers and their captures.

To begin with, the master of every ship applying for such a commission was bound to make a declaration before the Judge in the High Court as to the size of the ship, her armament, the number of her crew, the nature of her cargo and stores, and her destination. In this connection it is interesting to note that many of these declarations were made before the celebrated antiquary and scholar — Andrew Coltee Ducaral — who was then surrogate.

There was also a Prize Court for the determination of all claims regarding the vessels captured. The Admiralty furnished a list of what were called "standing interrogatories," twenty-two in number, and these were supplemented by several sets of "additional" interrogatories, The questions asked were of the most searching character, including the place of birth and residence of the witness, what Prince or State he served, and whether he was a freeman or burgher of any city. Full details were required as to the captured vessel, the date of the capture, in what part of the world it happened, under what colours the enemy captured it, whether any resistance was made, the number of guns fired, the name of the port into which the captured vessel was carried.

Many questions dealt with the cargo and the conditions of lading, whether the passports, charter parties, or bills of lading were true, or any of them false and colourable. Strict enquiries were made as to the owners, whether the vessel carried any passengers at the time of her capture, and who they were. From this brief description of the nature of the questions asked, it can readily be believed that the "depositions" made in answer to them are extremely interesting.

These depositions are preserved amongst the series known as "Prize Papers," which also include all other documents found in the ship at the time of her capture, such as the master's log book, the manifest, notes by consignees, and bills of lading, besides letters of marque granted by foreign governments, and claims made by owners and shippers for compensation for the ship and cargo.

Amongst the "privateers" commissioned in the year 1779 to harass the shipping of the American colonies was a Dartmouth vessel called the Admiral Edwards. Her captain's "declaration" made on the 3rd November was to the following effect: -

"That the said John Mardon's ship is called the Admiral Edwards, square sterned, hath three masts, and that the ship is employed in trade and her cargo consists of fish.

"That the said ship is of the burthen of 300 tons; that the said John Mardon goeth commander of her; that she carries 22 carriage guns carrying shot of 24 pounds weight, and no swivel guns, 90 men, go small arms, 90 cutlasses, 40 barrels of powder, 100 rounds of great shot, and about 6 hundred weight of small shot; that the said ship is victualled for six months; has 2 suits of sails, 3 anchors, 3 cables and about 1000 weight of spare cordage; that John Williams goes mate or lieutenant, George Roberts gunner, William Smith boatswain, James Brown carpenter, John Johnson cook, and Peter Sharp surgeon of the said ship.

"That the said ship is belonging to the port of Dartmouth, that she is bound on a voyage from the port of Dartmouth to Newfoundland and to return to Dartmouth, and that William Newmand and Roope, Harris, Roope of Dartmouth, merchants, are the owners and setters out of the said ship." (High Court of Admiralty — Letters of Marque, Declarations, vol. xlxvi, p. 94)

The Admiral Edwards probably weighed anchor soon after this, but her first capture of which record is found in these papers was not made until the 20th March, 1780, when she fell in with a Spanish vessel named El Quiros.

Depositions were made by' three of those on board the captured vessel: Isidro Garcia, the first mate; Lorenzo Suarez, the steward; and Sabastian de Amesaga, a passenger.

There is also the record of the claim put forward by Captain John Mardon that the prize was lawfully his.

As these statements all agree in the main points, the information they supply may be woven into the following narrative: -

"The Quiros was a vessel of 172 tons, and carried a crew of 50 men, all of them Spaniards. She mounted 14 guns, and her further armament consisted of 18 muskets, 12 cutlasses, about 4 hundred weight of powder, about 360 cannon balls, and about 100 musket balls. She carried no cargo, having been always employed as a King's Packet, carrying dispatches to and from Corunna, Porto Rico and Havannah, in which employ she hath made eight voyages." (High Court of Admiralty — Prize Papers, Bundle 435.)

Having left Havannah on the 19th February, 1780, she was homeward bound and close to her destination when she was chased by an English frigate, but managed to get away. Eight days later the Admiral Edwards was sighted, and after a running fight of about two hours the Quiros struck her flag on the 20th March, 1780. There is no evidence as to the casualties in the fight or the damage that the ships received, but evidently the Spaniards only yielded to superior force.

A prize crew was put on board and the vessel carried to Falmouth and later to Dartmouth.

Some 29 documents, all in Spanish and French, were found on board and are amongst the records.

They include a commission from the King of Castille, dated from Corunna the 3rd June, 1779, a printed document noticeable for a very artistic border; and also a log book, the covers of which are a wall paper of red and blue flowers. This was evidently made in Paris, as on one side are the words,a Paris Chey les Associe, No. 33." This was clearly not the log book in use at the time of the capture of the vessel (as the entries in this book only come down to August, 1778), which was probably destroyed either at the time of the capture or some days before, when the witnesses stated that, fearing capture by the English frigate, the mail which the Quiros carried was thrown overboard.

Four days later the Admiral Edwards, still cruising off the French and Spanish coasts, fell in with another vessel, which was captured without resistance. Her name was the St. Anne L’ Experiment, and her chequered history is given in an attestation made by a Spanish merchant of Corunna. This was to the effect that he had bought the vessel from the Spanish Government, by virtue of a power of attorney, for a Mr. Juan Calef, merchant and inhabitant of the city of Nunberry (?) in North America. In this document she is called a "Tartana," and was then named Nostra Signora de Montenegro; she had been captured by the English, and afterwards re-taken by a French frigate belonging to the combined fleets of France and Spain and carried to Corunna. A sum of 10,700 rials "of Vellon" was the price paid for her, and her purchaser re-christened her the St. Anne L'Experiment and fitted her out for a voyage to North America. When she was sold at Dartmouth later on she is described as being of 120 tons, with one mast and one deck, so she was probably a large cutter. Her cargo consisted of salt, wine, brandy, raisins, almonds, iron, earthenware, linen stockings, and a hogshead full of soldiers' clothing, which the witnesses believed were destined for the American Army. In addition to her crew of 9 men, she carried no less than 11 passengers, all of them Americans. Her armament consisted of only 4 guns and 4 swivels, besides several muskets, pistols and cutlasses. The St. Anne L’ Experiment sailed from Corunna about the 10th of March, 1780, and had already had an exciting passage, having been chased into Corcovian in Spain by an English cutter, and compelled to remain there five or six days. She resumed her voyage only to fall a prey to the Admiral Edwards. That desperate efforts were made to avoid capture is shewn by the statement of one of the crew that her four guns were thrown overboard during the chase, no doubt to lighten her.

To the 'Interrogatory' as to what papers were on board at the time of her capture, Perdero Galda, the mate, declared that great numbers of papers or letters were thrown overboard by one of the passengers on board, who went by the name of Raleigh, but whose right name was Captain Cunningham.

With the exception of two men, the passengers and crew of the captured vessel were transferred to the Admiral Edwards and a prize crew put on board, by whom she was navigated to Dartmouth. (High Court of Admiralty, Prize Papers, Bundle 273, Pt. 2.)

The St. Anne L’ Experiment having been previously captured by an English vessel, Captain Mardon only received one moiety of the value of the ship as salvage, but the Prize Court awarded him the goods, wares and merchandize on board her as his good and lawful prize. (High Court of Admiralty Prize Sentence, vol. 44, pp. 167, 168.)

There is, unfortunately, no clue to the value of the cargo; but the vessel was eventually sold for £260.

Having weakened his company by putting prize crews on board these vessels, and having on board the Admiral Edwards a large number of prisoners, Captain Mardon was obliged to confine his attention for the future to small game; consequently his next two captures consisted of a sloop of 45 tons called the Chance, which was captured on May the 3rd, 1780, and the schooner of 70 tons called L'Esperance, taken on June the 16th. The Chance carried a crew of 10 men, and was bound from Boston to Cadiz with a cargo of tobacco, rice, sugar, and hand spikes. L’Esperance was on a voyage to Virginia with a miscellaneous cargo, including salt, wine, linen shirts and thread stockings. Neither vessel made any resistance to their powerful enemy. (Admiralty Prize Paper, Bundles 295 and 322.)

The term of the commission having now expired, the Admiral Edwards returned to England and was recommissioned for another six months under a new commander, Elias Ford; she carried the same complement, and the same men served on her in the capacities of mate, gunner, boatswain, carpenter, cook and surgeon; but on this occasion her cargo (?) was described as provisions and dry goods. There is no evidence to shew what became of Captain Mardon.

This second cruise began in July or August, 1780, and resulted in the capture of two vessels. The first was an Italian vessel called the Citta di Niyya, of 300 tons. As she carried 24 guns she was more heavily armed than her captor, but her crew only numbered 21, and they appear to have been a poor lot.

The details of the voyage are thus set out in her captain's deposition: - The ship sailed from Nice in the month of May with a cargo of barilla, raisins and marble stones, with which she came to London and there discharged the same, and took in a quantity of bale goods, iron, lead, copperas, cocoa and ginger, with which she sailed in November last for Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and there took in about 1020 barrels of herrings and about 19 or 20 tons of cheese, with which cargo she sailed for Nice, Leghorn and Naples in the month of December.

The story of the capture is graphically told in the sworn information of Samuel Row, sailing master, and William Pennybridge, Matthew Lynce and Daniel Whitby, three mariners belonging to the Admiral Edwards, which is here given in full: -

"Appeared personally Samuel Row, sailing master, and William Pennybridge, Matthew Lynch and Daniel Whitby, three mariners belonging to the private ship of war called the Admiral Edwards, belonging to Dartmouth, commanded by Elias Ford, and voluntarily made oath, that being on a cruise in the said ship on the 19th day of December, now last past, about seven o'clock in the morning, they saw a ship to windward, whereupon they made sail and gave chase to her, Cape St. Vincent then bearing north-north-west, distant about nine or ten leagues, the chase being then on her starboard beam.

That about twelve o'clock they hoisted French colours on board the Admiral Edwards and fired a shot to windward, which the chase did not answer. That about four o'clock in the afternoon they hoisted English colours on board the Admiral Edwards and fired another shot, that the chase made all the sail she could to get nigh the land but never showed any colours. That about eight o'clock the same evening it fell calm, whereupon the people on board the Admiral Edwards got out their sweeps and rowed alongside of the chase and hailed her, but getting no answer they fired another shot, to which getting no return, they hoisted out their boat and about half-past nine o'clock that night boarded her. That on going on board they found the vessel entirely deserted, but her guns loaded, matches lighted, and every preparation made for engaging. That no boats were then in sight, nor was any boat belonging to the ship then on board. That thereupon they took possession of her, and the next day they discovered by papers which were left on board that her name was the Citta di Niyya, and appeared to be bound from London to Nice, Leghorn and Naples, upon which they bore away with her for England about nine o'clock in the morning, supposing that the said ship had been seis'd or taken by the French or Spaniards, and that they had deserted her on finding themselves pursued by a ship under English colours. That they arrived with the said captured vessel at Dartmouth aforesaid this morning, the 4th day of January, 1 78 1." (Admiralty Prize Papers, Bundle 289.)

The explanation given by the captain of the Citta di Niyya for deserting his ship was that he thought the enemy was a Gallee rover or Barbary pirate.

A claim was entered by the owners for the restitution of the vessel, and the Prize Court decided in their favour, and gave no salvage to the captor. Her cargo, according to the manifest, was valued at 4,749 dollars.

The record of the Admiral Edwards closes with the capture of a heavy armed Spanish privateer called the San Josef y Santa Rita, which was fallen in with on the 4th January, 1781, two degrees east of Teneriffe. She was an 140 ton ship, carried 66 men, and belonged to the King of Spain, who bought her some time in the year 1777 for 4,500 dollars. (Admiralty Prize Papers, Bundle 450.)             H. WILSON HOLMAN.