Recent historical research has shed light on the difficult marriage of convenience that Ming China developed with the West with the 16th century arrival of the Portuguese in Chinese waters. Initially, Ming China's reception of Portugal was not just cool, but dismissive. Ming emperors, harking back to the glory days of China's Confucian past felt – or at least tried their best to maintain – that China, as the Middle Kingdom ("middle" as in "between heaven and earth", the reader will recall), was superior to all other countries, and that all other countries were therefore required to pay homage to China.

The result was the Ming Dynasty tributary system, mentioned earlier, whereby envoys from foreign countries arrived in Beijing to offer gifts (tribute) to the Chinese emperor, and in exchange for undercasting their respective countries' Beijing's supremacy, were given lucrative trading rights with China, and received as well numerous gifts from the Chinese emperor, gifts that were typically of greater value than the tribute that the envoy had rendered the Chinese emperor. But to the Ming emperor, the expense was well worth the punctilious demonstrations of subservience.

The problem with this arrangement was that the Portuguese did not play along, partly due to ignorance of Chinese culture and the myths surrounding the supremacy of the Middle Kingdom, and partly due to Portuguese – and European – pride. The Portuguese, as the educated, enlighted Europeans they imagined themselves to be, felt that they were vastly superior to the Chinese, and that if one of the parties was required to show deference to the other, it should be the reverse of what the Ming emperor had in mind! But the Portuguese in particular were carrying a heavy burden that was destined to color their view of all non-Europeans...

The Portuguese arrived in the Far East, as the region was called until very recent times, not only in search of silk, porcelain, tea and spices, they were also on a Christian mission – a crusade – to convert the world's "heathens", who espoused inferior faiths in the eyes of the Portuguese, and who lived primitively and immorally, judged by Biblical standards. The Portuguese felt that they had first-hand experience of this, having spent many years surrounded by, and in conflict with, followers of the Muhammedan faith. And indeed, the Portuguese had Papal authorization for their crusade, for a Papal Bull of 1455 gave any Christian mission carte blanche permission to "subdue and to convert pagans (even if untainted by Muslim influence) who may be encountered in the regions lying between Morocco and the Indies" (note the implication that conversion to Christianity was even more praiseworthy/ desirable/ necessary in the case of a pagan 'tainted by Muslim influence'!).

The first target of Portugal's Christian crusade was the Sultanate of Malacca, aka the Kingdom of Malacca, which the Portuguese took in 1511, unawares that the sultanate was a Ming Dynasty vassal state, i.e., a tributary, since an envoy from the sultanate paid the obligatory annual visit to Beijing bearing gifts (and in return, receiving lavish gifts), and thereby maintaining the overlord-vassal relationship set up with the Ming Dynasty. No third party had the right, under Heaven, to come between the overlord and a vassal! But that is precisely what the impudent – or perhaps ignorant – Portuguese had done, and thus the Portuguese, as unwitting ambassadors for Europe, had already struck out once with the Ming rulers even before arriving in Beijing. The hapless Portuguese would continue striking out, partly out of ignorance and partly out of a feeling of inherent cultural superiority, which was now also backed up by a Papal Bull.

For example, the Portuguese, without the least permission from the Chinese emperor, set up a trading post in 1514 on the Chinese island of Tunmen, erecting even a monument bearing the Portuguese coat-of-arms (which was roughly equivalent to planting the flag of Portugal on Chinese soil!). However, the trading post turned out to be a great success, for both parties. When the Portuguese arrived in the port of Canton (present-day Guangzhou) two years later, in 1516, they raised their ships' flags (including the flag of Portugal) and fired a cannon volley announcing their presence, an act which outraged the local officials as it was unheard of that a supplicant should display such arrogance, though the Portuguese tried to minimize the blunder by declaring that it was a salute to the emperor, to his humble administrators, to the Chinese people, etc., etc.

Finally, when the Portuguese eventually made their way to Beijing to present themselves to the Ming emperor, they delivered their "petition papers", or proposed trade agreement, to the emperor in two versions: one in English, the other in Chinese. The versions did not correspond, the one to the other (the Emperor would be signing the English version believing its contents to be the same as that of the Chinese version, but of course the emperor would not be signing any papers presented by a supplicant; if any papers were to be signed, it would be papers dictated by the emperor to the supplicant!!!), and the Portuguese were accused of trying to dupe the Son of Heaven, even though the Portuguese insisted that the difference in the two documents was not material, but only reflected their understanding of Chinese customs of address, etc.

The emperor had gotten wind of the various impudent actions of the Portuguese in Malacca, in Tunmen and in Canton, and even though his advisors argued for expelling the Europeans on the spot, the emperor excused their behavior, putting it down to ignorance of Chinese customs. Unfortunately, relations between the two parties would get worse, and would lead to outright hostilities, with Portuguese ships firing on Chinese ships and port installations, and with the Portuguese eventually being denied trading rights in China. But the Portuguese returned to their base in Malacca, which they had not given up, and from there they conducted instead smuggling operations between China and the East Indies, as well as legitimate trade operations between Mughal India (see The Spanish subsection a little farther below) and the Levant, as the Middle East was called at that time.

The Portuguese were the only Europeans present in Chinese waters at that early stage, they had a great many ships, they were first-rate shipbuilders and first-rate sailors, they could certainly defend their ships against pirates, they were astute businessmen, and their presence in Chinese waters, even as smugglers, was clearly to the material advantage of the Chinese state, and no one appreciated that fact more than the Ming emperor.

Trade with "vassal state" Japan (we are naturally speaking of the Ming Dynasty tributary system's concept of the overlord-vassal relationship) was turning sour, with the Japanese behaving almost more impudently than had the Portuguese, and certainly not out of ignorance of the "rights" of the Middle Kingdom, so in 1535, when the Portuguese, due to a shipwreck near the port city of Macau, situated at the mouth of the Pearl River Estuary, which shipwreck caused the Portuguese sailors to seek shelter on land in Macau (and note that this was a ship engaged in smuggling!), the Ming emperor, Emperor Jiajing (who ruled from 1521-66) feeling that the time had come to reinstate the Portuguese in his good graces, offered the Portuguese trading rights in Macau, though, just as had been the case in Canton, without permission to establish living quarters on land; the Portuguese traders would still be confined to their ships for living and sleeping quarters (i.e., the Chinese people still required protection from close relations with "barbarian" Europeans!).

This change in fortunes for China-Portuguese relations would eventually lead to the Portuguese being given the exclusive right to conduct trade between China and Japan. This was surely, for both parties, a marriage of convenience, with both parties feeling superior to the other, but with both recognizing the mutual advantage of doing business with each other. In 1557, the Portuguese were finally permitted to erect living quarters on land – a complete mini-settlement in Macau. This was eventually made into a walled village (to protect the Chinese people from the Portuguese villagers, or vice-versa? : )).

The wariness of the Chinese rulers of the Ming Dynasty vis-à-vis the outside world would carry over to the Chinese rulers of the Qing Dynasty – in particular, China's wariness of relations with European powers, which would soon arrive in force (viz., the arrival of the Dutch, Spanish, British, French, Prussians, Russians and Americans in China) – with East forever remaining East and West forever remaining West. Even the Ming Dynasty's Confucian-inspired tributary system was handed off to the Qing Dynasty more or less intact, with Qing rulers, as lords of the Middle Kingdom, behaving in the same presumptuous way toward all other countries, provoking the same kind of frustrations, resentments and even open hostilities between the people of the Middle Kingdom and all peoples beyond the Middle Kingdom's boundaries, as had the tributary system under the Ming rulers.


The Second Wave Of Europeans Make Their Appearance In China


The second wave of European traders to make their way to Chinese waters were the Spanish and the Dutch (or Hollanders, if you prefer). They would both play a major role in the China trade of the early Qing Dynasty period, making their appearance in the Far East already near the close of the Ming Dynasty. The other early European visitor – the earliest and initially most influential, as we have seen – Portugal, would eventually see itself edged out by first Spain and Holland, then later by Great Britain, France, Prussia (later to be unified by Bismarck as "Lesser Germany", i.e., present-day Germany, or "Germany less Austria"), Russia and America.

Here in the early 16th century, there was still intense rivalry between the European countries, with each new arrival focused on claiming a piece of this newly discovered world for itself, i.e., for the mother country, and never mind that the land belonged to someone else – to the local inhabitants, firstly, not to speak of the fact that it belonged to the sovereign nation to which the native inhabitants belonged!

This Colonialist land-grab competition between the European countries was tinged with the same Catholic versus Protestant religious schism that divided the European continent itself. Even half a world away, this religious rivalry was being played out as if it were taking place back home in Europe, not in the Far East, with a united front of Catholic countries squaring off against a united front of Protestant countries. But even within each of the two religious "families" of countries, there was a certain amount of rivalry. Indeed, there was quite a lot of rivalry between the British and the Dutch. For example, Holland seemed to be focused almost exclusively on its own interests, and proved themselves quite willing to elbow out Britain wherever possible and by whatever means possible.

There was even an incidence of British-Dutch rivalry involving the Tigre – the ship on which the explorer and ship's pilot, John Davis, was later to be murdered by a crew of shipwrecked Japanese Wokou pirates – and a fleet of Dutch ships after the captain of the Tigre had learned from other Englishmen in the port city of Bantam (present-day Banten) – located on the northwestern tip of the island of Java in a secluded cove that is situated on the northern side of the island, just past the Sunda Straits that divide the island of Java from the island of Sumatra – that the Dutch had been slandering the good name of the British to the King of Bantam, representing the British as little better than thieves and murderers, to be avoided at all costs.

The captain of the Tigre, outraged at hearing this, weighed anchor and moved his ship alongside the largest ship of the fleet of five Dutch ships, a ship some three times the size of the Tigre, and sent word to the Dutch on land that he was prepared to defend the honor of Great Britain, specifically, that the Tigre was prepared to shoot it out with any and all of the Dutch ships if there were any among the Dutch captains ashore who were willing to accept the challenge. None were. There would be other disagreements between the British and the Dutch that would come to blows, including a massacre that was as cowardly as it was ugly, as will be seen in the following.

But the Europeans were not the only seafarers in these waters who would spawn some famous/ infamous pirates – the Chinese had their own illustrious pirate, though of course they didn't see him as a pirate, but rather, as a national hero for reason that will be revealed in the following: Zheng Chenggong, aka Koxinga – one part opportunist and one part nationalist – whose Chinese father was an influential pirate and whose Japanese mother, a native of Nagasaki, was the former servant to a Japanese feudal lord. Koxinga would play a very large role in the story of the Dutch presence in Chinese waters, as will also be seen in the following.

The Spanish

After the Portuguese, the Spanish were the next to arrive in the Far East during the close of the Ming Dynasty, though they would not rely on Chinese home ports, as had the Portuguese (as well as would the Dutch, the English, the French and the rest of the European and North American powers), but used instead their main territorial possession in Southeast Asia, the Philippine Islands, with its capital city Manila, as their "home" port in the Far East.

The Spanish, as was characteristic of all of the Colonial powers, unashamedly claimed the Philippine Islands in the name of their king, Philip II of Spain (the same Philip II who had threatened Catherine de Medici that he would invade France if the heir-apparent, Henry, King of Navarre, ascended the French throne as a Protestant...

Spanish ships, or galleons (the Spanish galleon was a long, sleek, fast-sailing but very seaworthy ship with several masts and decked out with an impressive array of cannons... the Spanish Armada consisted chiefly of galleons, and all other European powers eventually developed their own variants of the Spanish galleon, so popular was the ship, which could also hold vast amounts of cargo) came to play a major role in the China trade that would thereafter evolve, alongside Dutch shipping, as the influence of Portuguese shipping to and from China waned, given that Dutch trade was making inroads in the formerly exclusive Portuguese trading arrangements. Spanish galleons, based either out of the Philippines or Mexico, transported especially untold quantities of exotic Chinese porcelain to Europe and to the New World.

From 1565 to 1898, Spain occupied the territory of the Philippine Islands, Guam, the Caroline Island, and the Mariana Islands, most of which, following the Spanish American War of 1898, was transferred to the United States. This explains both the later American presence in the theatre and the preponderance of Spanish-sounding names of the people who inhabit these islands. Guam and the Mariana Islands are still terrritories of the United States, while both the Philippine Islands and the Caroline Islands enjoy independence. At the height of the Spanish presence in both the Americas and the East Indies, the King of Spain styled himself as the "King of the East and the West Indies".

But Spain would see a damper on its colonial ambitions after it lost its prized naval fleet near the end of the 16th century, the renowned Spanish Armada, to a combined force of British and Dutch navies, aided by privateers (a privateer was the owner of a merchant vessel who was authorized (by a so-called letter of marque, or official document bearing a seal) by his government to attack certain ships (usually pirate ships, but in European waters in the 16th – 19th century, due to the intense rivalry, especially at sea, between the various royal houses, this often included one's opponent's (whoever that was at the time) ships!), the payment for which was the authorization to loot the captured ships or simply to seize them, booty and all, rather than simply sink them). A bit of history is in order...

The Nederlands (neder-lands = "low countries", but known equally as commonly today as "Holland") was a part of the House of Hapsburg from 1519-81, specifically, a part of the Seventeen Provinces that were administered by Hapsburg Spain under King Charles V, which Seventeen Provinces included, besides the Netherlands, present-day Belgium, present-day Luxembourg and parts of present-day France and Germany. In 1506, the House of Hapsburg split into Hapsburg Spain and the Hapsburg Monarchy, the latter of which was essentially an enlarged version of present-day Austria and Hungary. In fact, from 1867 to 1918, the Hapsburg Monarchy was officially called the Austro-Hungarian Empire.*(2)

*(2) The last Hapsburg and heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (though he never claimed that throne, since his father, Charles I, the last serving Hapsburg emperor, was forced into exile in 1919 in the wake of Axis power Austria's WWI defeat, but never abdicated), Otto von Hapsburg, died on July 4th, 2011in his home in southern Germany, aged 98. Following a ritual that seems today slightly macabre, part of the earthly remains of the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire must be buried in Austria, part in Hungary. Accordingly, Otto von Hapsburg's heart was placed in a silver urn and buried inside a special imperial crypt at the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, central Hungary, while the rest of Otto von Hapsburg was interred, alongside the similar remains of his regal ancestors, in the Imperial Crypt underneath the Capuchin Church ("Kapuzinerkirche", in German, and built, apropos our subject matter's era, at the dawn of the 17th century) in Vienna, Austria.

The peoples of the small countries of the Seventeen Provinces (Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg), part of Hapsburg Spain, chafed under the rule of the Spanish king, desiring their independence. In 1579, they formed the Union of Utrecht, pledging to aid each other in the face of Spanish military action against any or all of them (they were of course still offically a part of Hapsburg Spain), and two years later, in 1581, they unilaterally declared independence from Hapsburg Spain. As could be expected, Spain made war on what it considered the rebellious Seventeen Provinces, an on-again, off-again war that dragged out until 1648, when Spain finally officially relinquished its former Seventeen Provinces. By that time, Spain was only a shadow of the threatening hulk it had formerly been. 

Holland was a nation of seafarers, as were the British and the Portuguese. The British, who aided the Dutch against Holland's Spanish masters, were, however, wary of the insatiable Dutch appetite for trade, so in this sense, Holland was viewed by the British as a direct competitor to British seafarers. Still, Spain was a growing and threatening force that had to be reckoned with – a power that in fact had to be checked, else the British would see their own power at sea diminished and thus their stature as a colonial power diminished. Therefore Britain aided Holland against Spain, albeit, rather lukewarmly.

The most important collaboration between Britain and Holland was the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which markedly and definitively reduced Spain's stature and power, both toward its rebellious Seventeen Provinces – including Holland – and with respect to Spain's colonial ambitions. In fact, it was the sinking of the Spanish Armada that gave the green light to the British and Dutch ventures into the spice trade of the Far East; up to that point, Spain and Portugal, both Catholic countries, controlled all maritime Far East trade originating in Europe.

The British East India Company was founded at the close of the year 1600 (literally, in fact, on New Year's Eve day, 1600), and less than two years later, in 1602, the Dutch East India Company was founded, suggesting that the British did indeed have reason to feel threatened by the maritime trade interests of Holland. In the meantime, Spain, checked in its far-ranging colonial ambitions, focused on options closer to home, and entered into a formal union with Portugal, which might explain how Portugal, after the Spanish Armada was destroyed, gradually lost influence also in the Far East – indeed, Britain would wrest Mughul India from the Portuguese in 1612, now that Portugal had formed a partnership with Spain (the dynastic union, as it was called, between Spain and Portugal, was in force from 1580-1640).*(3)

*(3) The Mughal Empire (CE 1526-1858), which stretched from eastern Iran across Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, the Punjab and all of the Indian Subcontinent, was founded by the Timurids, descendants of Timur, nicknamed Timur-e lang, or "Timur the Lame" (which eventually evolved into the name "Tamerlane" among Westerners), a reference to a battle injury to Timur's foot that caused him to limp thereafter. After 1707, the Mughal Empire began to shrink rapidly (helped greatly by the Portuguese and then by the British!), and by the time of its disappearance in 1858, it was restricted to a mere suburb of Dehli. Among other grandiose architectural splendors that can be attributed to the Mughal Empire is the justly famous and incredibly beautiful Taj Mahal in the city of Agra, erected by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Timur was a Mongol descendant of Genghis Khan and a Muslim who had intermixed with the Turkish nomadic tribes of his birthplace, Kesh, near Samarkand in ancient Transoxiana ("the land across (or beyond, or "north of") the Oxus River", Oxus being the Latin rendering of the river otherwise known as the Amu Darya River), which lay between the Aral Sea to the northwest and the Tien Shan Mountains to the southeast, and between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, on the southwest-northeast axis.

Transoxiana was not only familiar to the Romans, it was also familiar to the Greeks, namely, to Alexander the Great, who, it is believed, perished in the Ferghana Valley located north of the Tien Shan Mountains and just across the Syr Darya River, where many of Alexander the Great's soldiers remained, intermarrying with the locals. (Some of the largest horses that the Chinese emperors had ever laid eyes on, and which were therefore coveted for their cargo capacity, (think: the Silk Road, especially the stretch that crossed the Pamirs, the "Rooftop of the World", west of Kashgar in present-day Xinjiang, and therefore not suitable for camels), came from the Ferghana Valley, and since these horses were unique to the Ferghana Valley, this is seen as a further indication that Alexander's leaderless soldiers had remained in the Ferghana Valley.)

Remarkably, there were no famous/ infamous Spanish pirates in the Far East – and in fact, only a few Spanish pirates elsewhere in the world, though there were a few notable cases in the West Indies and along the coast of South America.

The Dutch

Like the other Europeans, the Dutch first arrived in the Far East in the East Indies, aka the Spice Islands – on the island of Java, to be precise – near the end of the Ming Dynasty, in 1595, and only 7 years after the destruction of the Spanish Armada (which humbled Spain thereafter), and a year later the Dutch were given permission to use the port of Sunda Kalapa (later the city of Jayakarta, the present-day city of Jakarta, capital of Indonesia) for trading purposes, as the other Europeans had been – and would be; in other words, this was an open, non-exclusive port. "Sunda" is of course a reference to the strait that separates the two islands, Java and Sumatra. Sunda Kalapa was the chief port of the ancient Hindu (i.e., Indian) Kingdom of Sunda and exported such items as gold, rice and pepper, the latter being its main export item. More on this (Javanese) thread later, since the Dutch, having gotten wind of the lucrative potential of the spice trade between the East Indies and China, set sail for the latter destination in search of trade agreements.

The Dutch arrived on the Chinese coast a few years later, in 1602, and met with stiff Chinese resistance, though eventually establishing themselves on the Pinghu Islands (aka Pescadores Islands, a Portuguese name meaning "Fishermen's Islands"). The Ming government did not have large vessels capable of repelling a larger vessel of the size of the European vessels, therefore it was always a battle of blackbirds (or crows or any other flock of lesser birds) versus the hawk. To drive the Dutch off of the Pinghu Islands, however, the Ming government landed a large army on the islands and put up such a fierce fight that the Dutch eventually took to their ships and highttailed it. But the Dutch were tenacious, vowing that they would return to the islands.

Thereafter the Dutch attacked Macau, in 1603, trying to seize the Pearl River Estuary port from the Portuguese. Taking the Portuguese by surprise, they sunk several Portuguese ships (note, and this explains quite a lot, though not everything, for in the Colonial era, it was a dog eat dog world, with each man (country) for himself (itself): the Dutch were Protestants while the Portuguese were Catholics). The Dutch were repelled, but only for a time, though the next Dutch attack on Macau was very effectively repelled by a combined Portuguese and Chinese force. The most mindboggling detail in all of this was that the Dutch seemed not to be aware of – or just didn't care a whit about – the Chinese tributary system, and this ignorance/ disdain would continue to plague Dutch efforts to establish trade with the Chinese, at least for a time.

Preparing to launch a third and more concerted attack on Macau, the Dutch returned to the Pinghu Islands, which the Ming forces had in the meantime abandoned. There the Dutch built a large, fortified trading post and contacted a Chinese official on the mainland regarding setting up trade with the Chinese (the trading post/ fortress on the Pinghu Islands would serve as a depot for goods purchased in the Spice Islands). The official was arrested on the mainland as soon as the name "Dutch" was mentioned, and the Chinese again sent a force to the Pinghu Islands to oust the Dutch, though this time the Chinese commander, believing that the Dutch must have been ignorant of the way that trade was officially conducted in China, spoke personally with the Dutch captain, while also informing him that his Chinese accomplice had been arrested and would be hanged.

One of the things that convinced the Chinese commander that the seeming Dutch impudence must surely be based on ignorance rather than on disrespect was the fact that their Chinese "liaison" had been supplied with a whopping bribery sum in gold nuggets in order to effectuate the proposed trade agreement; if the Dutch intentions had been less honorable, the Chinese commander reasoned, a much smaller bribe would have been offered. Having been apprised of how trade was done in China, and further, having been informed in no uncertain terms that for the time being, Ming China did not wish to "do business" with the Dutch, the Dutch captain, Admiral Wijbrand Van Warwijk, quietly departed the Pinghu Islands on December 15th, 1604, returning to the East Indies. But the China adventure was not over for the Dutch; in fact, it had hardly begun. Moreover, Dutch trading intentions, despite the handsome bribery sum, were not exactly squeaky clean, as it would turn out.

There would go almost a decade before the Dutch managed to secure a modest trading base in the Spice Islands, but they surely didn't just sit on their haunches in the interim (they probably engaged in some illegal trade to China and legal trade between the Spice Islands and India, and surely some legal spice trade between the Spice Islands and the Arabian peninsula, since there were direct sea routes (see below) to Arabia, one through the Gulf of Oman to the port of Basra in present-day Iraq and the other through the Gulf of Aden and on up through the Red Sea to the port city of Jiddah (present-day Jeddah) on the Saudia Arabian peninsula (in fact, Jiddah was the most thriving port in the region during the 16th century – even the Portuguese tried, unsuccessfully, to storm it in 1517).

Spice Routes

Figure 6: East India to Africa & Arabian Peninsula Spice Routes

Ancient Walled City of Jiddah

Figure 7: The 16th Century Gate to the Ancient Walled City of Jiddah

Portuguese Assault on Jiddah

Figure 8: Artistic Rendering of CE 1517 Portuguese Assault on Jiddah

The Dutch, being thus forced off of the Pinghu Islands and being further informed that their presence in Chinese waters was not welcome for the time being, returned to the East Indies, as indicated, in search of new opportunities there, and surely with the thought in mind that they might make a successful appeal to the Chinese leadership later. Returning to the East Indies, the Dutch steered toward the Hindu Kingdom of Sunda, from whence they had sailed a few years earlier enroute to China.

The Indians of the Sunda Kingdom were fearful of the growing power of the Muhammedan sultanate of Central Java, the Sultanate of Demak, therefore they were eager to forge alliances with powerful trading nations like Holland and Britain. They were already close friends with the Portuguese, whom they perhaps respected the most (recall that the Portuguese controlled a large section of India, i.e., Goa, on India's west coast, whose inhabitants speak Portuguese to this day), having entered into a friendship pact with the Portuguese as early as 1522. The Portuguese, encouraged by the Indians of Sunda Kelapa, even built a fort in the port.

However, the Muslims of Central Java were increasingly encroaching upon the Kingdom of Sunda, both at the port of Sunda Kelapa and at the port of Bantam (present-day Banten), located on the northwestern tip of the island of Java in a secluded cove that is situated on the northern side of the island, just past the Sunda Straits that divide the island of Java from the island of Sumatra. The Portuguese were not always in harbor in the Kingdom of Sunda, of course (they had captured Malacca on the island of Sumatra and had made it into a large base), since they were also transporting goods – such as Javan pepper – between the Spice Islands and China, and between the Spice Islands and the port city of Jiddah in the Red Sea.

Unfortunately for the King of Sunda, the Muslims attacked in 1527 with several ships and some 1500 foot soldiers when the Portuguese were away (the Muslims were no fools, of course!) and managed to capture Sunda Kelapa. The Muslims, under the command of a certain Fatahillah, promptly renamed the port city Jayakarta, meaning "Complete Victory"). The Muslims also took the port city of Bantam, renaming it Banten, effectively ending the Hindu Kingdom of Sunda. They installed a sultan there and Bantam became the Sultanate of Banten, which also ruled over Jayakarta.

Thus, in 1610, the Dutch, licking their wounds in the East Indies, were granted permission from a certain Prince Jayawikarta, a loyal follower and subordinate to the Sultan of Banten, to erect warehouses and even houses (i.e., living quarters) on the east side of Jayakarta harbor (in fact, the British would be given permission from Prince Jayawikarta to erect the same setup on the west side of the harbor, in a measure designed to cause each of these foreign trading powers to exert a sort of check, one on the other). Prince Jayawikarta seemed to fear, or at least distrust, the Dutch more than he distrusted the British, which is why he permitted the British a corresponding role in Jayakarta as he had offered the Dutch. Besides, the prince's palace was within easy range of the Dutch cannons, which made him not a little uneasy.

Sure enough, the Dutch caused trouble. A misunderstanding leading to an open conflict occurred between the prince and the Dutch in 1618, wherein the prince, having enlisted the support of British ships, attacked the Dutch ships in 1619. The outcome was not exactly decisive, with key members of the Dutch side escaping with some of their ships, perhaps to resume the fight another day. The prince felt that the British admiral was too old to be a good naval strategist, but in any case, when the gunpowder settled, the prince entered into a contractual agreement with the British. Which got him in hot water with the Sultan of Banten, his superior, who just happened to get along better with the Dutch than with the British, so the prince was summoned to Banten for a dressing-down for having entered into agreements with the British, and at the expense of the Dutch, without seeking the Sultan's approval first.

The shipless Dutch contingent that had remained in Jayakarta harbor without support from their fellows who had escaped and disappeared, were on the verge of surrender to the British when the Sultan's action saved the day for them. Beside the Dutch themselves, there were a number of other European and even Japanese mercenaries, among them mercenaries from Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Scotland, all of whom formed a part of the Dutch contingent at Jayakarta. The prince was severely reprimanded and relieved of his duties (he died some years later in disgrace, in Banten), while the Dutch were reinstated at Jayakarta. The Dutch and their mercenaries held a grand party to celebrate their good fortune, and in the process renamed the port city, among themselves in any case, to Batavia, a reference to a Dutch ethnic group by the name of Batavier. Among Europeans, Sunda Kelapa cum Jayakarta was known for the next 300 years as Batavia. The conflict at Sunda Kelapa cum Batavia between the British and the Dutch was nothing compared to the Amboyna massacre.

The Amboyna Massacre

The British and the Dutch, at loggerheads since their arrival in the East Indies (each had formed an East India Company, with the British East India Company ruling over Colonial India as were it a government), saw the Dutch especially trying to shut out the British, going so far as to spread calumnious lies about the British to the peoples of the East Indies, as we have seen in the above, though the two trading nations eventually entered into a pact whereby they shared trading routes and trading stations, but where each had jurisdiction over its own trading station while permitting the other to use the trading facilities there. This led to a misinterpretation of the agreement, where the British believed that the jurisdiction did not extend to personnel, only to each other's facilities, while the Dutch felt that the jurisdiction extended to personnel as well, meaning, for example, that British traders in Dutch trading stations were subject to Dutch law and Dutch discipline.

Thus, in 1623, an incident occurred on Ambon Island (one of the present-day Maluku Islands in Indonesia), controlled by the Dutch, where the Dutch accused the British traders of being in league with Japanese interests with the aim of ousting the Dutch. The Dutch had captured one of the key Japanese players in this debacle and had tortured him into confessions, confessions which the British Crown would dismiss, saying that the confessions were made under torture. The Japanese had implicated all of the key members of the British trading team on the island, and these were also rounded up, tortured (curiously, the method of torture was waterboarding, where a towel is placed over the face of the victim and water poured over it, simulating drowning), and signed confessions. Most of these British prisoners – ten of them to be precise – were later executed (beheaded!), while the severed head of their executed leader, Gabriel Towerson, was hung on a mast in full display, as a warning to other potential conspirators.

It took years for the little party of British traders from the Ambon Island incident, who had been acquitted of any wrongdoing, to finally be taken seriously in their claim that the Dutch had committed a judicial crime against those of their comrades who had been beheaded on Ambon Island, and this first occurred after the party had returned to Britain. The British Crown, on learning of the incident firsthand, was outraged at the Dutch massacring of their citizens, the circumsances surrounding their confessions and the barbarity of the punishment. The Amboyna Massacre, as it came to be known, led to a series of wars between Britain and Holland during the second half of the 17th century known as the First (1652–54), Second (1665–67) and Third (1672–74) Anglo-Dutch Wars (see the Note on the Anglo-Dutch Wars at the end of the article).

Return To China

The Dutch would return to China and would occupy (seize!) Taiwan, as the map of Taiwan below indicates (in the map, the pink section represents the initial Dutch area of occupation, while the green section on the northern end of the island represents a Spanish outpost that the Spanish were eventually forced by the Dutch to relinquish, in 1642, though the Dutch would themselves eventually not only be forced off the northern tip of Taiwan, but forced off the entire island, and not by another European power... ).

17th Century Dutch Occupation (Colored Areas) of Formosa

Figure 9: 17th Century Dutch Occupation (Colored Areas) of Formosa

Like the Spanish, there were no notable Dutch pirates who operated in Chinese waters, but, unlike the Spanish, there were numerous Dutch pirates who operated in the West Indies, along the European coast, and along the Barbary Coast, i.e., along the arc of coastal waters that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean just west of Morocco through the Mediterranean Sea just north of Algeria, Tunesia and Libya – in other words, the coast just off the ancient homelands of the Berbers, hence the name of the coast. There was, however, a famous Chinese pirate who would have a tête-à- tête with the Dutch on Formosa...

The Third And Largest Wave Of Europeans Make Their Appearance In China

The last wave of Europeans to appear in Chinese waters in search of trade opportunities included the nation, or rather, the empire, that would shape China more than had all of the other European nations, perhaps combined: Great Britain. The wave would include the French, the Prussians/Germans, the Russians and eventually also the Americans, but neither the numbers nor the influence of these other nations could compare with the numbers and influence of the British presence in China, and, indeed, throughout the Far East.

The trade that the British presence would spawn, including even the opium trade, would bring immense wealth to China, especially to the various port cities where the British and others, beginning with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, would be ceded trade and territorial concessions in the form of treaties imposed upon the Qing government after China lost a couple of brief but humiliating wars, the First (1839–42) and Second (1856-60) Opium Wars, with Great Britain. The Treaty of Nanking was the first of a long list of humiliating treaties involving trade and territorial concessions that would be forced upon Qing China in the wake of these disastrous wars, the treaties being known collectively by the Chinese people as the Unequal Treaties, while the period in question is often referred to by historians as China's Colonial Era (as a historical footnote, it was these humiliations that led to the fall of the Qing, the last of China's Imperial dynasties, and ultimately, one might also conclude, to the victorious Chinese Communist Revolution).

Hong Kong, for example, was built on the wealth generated by the opium and coolie trade, but Macau, Qingdao and Shanghai would also profit from the presence of European traders, since the foreign traders opened up world markets to Chinese goods in quantities that totally dwarfed the earlier market in silk wares. This immense wealth quite naturally also attracted pirates, and if these had been a nuisance in an earlier era, they would, after the arrival of the British, become a genuine plague.

The pirates would eventually be defeated, mainly because the Europeans and the North Americans did not let themselves be restrained by niceties – they heavy-handedly pursued the pirates in their strongholds, or bases, along the coast and along the shores of large rivers and estuaries, blasting, where the pirates would not surrender, their settlements and villages to matchsticks with their formidable cannons, and thus, by setting heavy-handed examples, causing neighboring pirate villages, once they had learned what was in store for them, to surrender.

The Trade Imbalance

The British sailed tons and tons of Chinese tea to Great Britain and to British colonies all over the world. It was good business for the Chinese Qing government, such good business in fact that it created an enormous trade imbalance. The Chinese market was as closed to British goods, so there was little that the British could offer the Chinese of legal commerce that would address the trade imbalance. Appeals to the Qing government fell on deaf ears. In the end, the British solved the trade imbalance problem by illegally importing opium, which, in the space of but a few years, turned a trade imbalance in China's favor into a trade imbalance in Britain's favor.

The opium trade, even though an illegal form of commerce, pumped vast quantities of money into Hong Kong especially, and this itself drew many Chinese peasants from the surrounding upland to Hong Kong – and similar Western trade drew upland peasants to China's other treaty ports – since there was much legal commerce that was funded by the illegal commerce. And in any case, legal or illegal, it all required armies of dock workers to load and off-load all these goods, not to speak of the multiplicator effect on all other businesses, from carpenters to bricklayers, from bakers to butchers, from hotels to restaurants and opium emporiums, and, of course, from armies of rickshaws to batallions of prostitutes.

Moreover, since Hong Kong the magnet drew peasants in droves, all hoping to find a livelihood in Hong Kong – but of course there weren't enough jobs for the droves that arrived – this surplus of willing workers became a reservoir of cheap labor, which would expand over time and would eventually be shipped – by the same ships that would be freighting porcelain and tea to America and Europe – to the four corners of the earth, or wherever there were large building projects that required armies of cheap laborers. Many of the departing coolies returned as wealthy men, comparatively speaking, and they invested their new-found wealth in enterprises in Hong Kong, where they could live out the sunset of their lives in opulence, relatively speaking.

The Piracy Game At The Height Of The Colonial Era

All this commerce, legal and illegal, also attracted thieves, in the form of pirates. These were as diverse as the nationalities that were now assembled along China's coast, including many European and American pirates. The pirate ships had also become much more advanced, even with an edge over the typical British Navy ship in many cases. For example, a popular pirate ship was the lorcha, originally developed by the Portuguese in ca.1550, but now with an improved, European-style hull that might be of Dutch, Spanish, British or Portuguese origin, and outfitted with cannons that often had a longer range than even British or American naval cannons, though the accuracy of a typical pirate cannoneer was inferior to that of a navy cannoneer.

Model of a Lorcha

Figure 10: Handsome Replica (Model) of a Lorcha

Some of the pirate captains were European and at least one, maybe two, were American. As well, some members of the pirate crew were European and North American. Piracy, by the beginning of the 18th century – or at the height of the Colonial Era – was a lucrative business. The pirate captain, especially if European or North American, could easily arrange the financing of a pirate jaunt under the guise of serving as a privateer (in Europe, the privateer was generally called a Dunkirker), i.e., as one who had been issued a so-called letter of marque by a state government that authorized the bearer to attack certain boats (in the East Indies, pirate ships, while in Europe, it was as often as not the ships of a rival state!) and to plunder them (think of a bounty hunter whose "bounty" was the stolen goods and treasures on board the captured pirate ship, and with the additional difference that a privateer need not take prisoners).

With a letter of marque in hand, an authorized privateer could arrange to borrow a sufficient sum to purchase the requisite ship and have it equipped, both with the best cannons and with a sufficient crew, then, once at sea, the "privateer" could simply attack any ship in sight, killing the crew, looting the ship, then burning it or sinking it. The ease with which an aspiring pirate could finance his devious venture surely attracted many to the "profession". They generally paid their backers – those who had put up the funds for the purchase of the ship and its provisioning – the agreed-upon sum plus some, which would make it easier to borrow again should the pirate be so unlucky as to forfeit his ship, but not his freedom, to the long arm of the law.

The common modus operandi of a pirate was to have 3-5 members of his crew book passage on a merchant ship (this itself implies that the pirates had informers/ spies in all of the major ports, so that they knew which ships would be transporting which goods) – and note that merchant ships typically carried passengers, much like ferries today carry both laden and unladen vehicles as well as passengers – and when the pirate ship would approach the laden merchant ship, the co-conspirators on board the merchant ship would go into action, thwarting the ship's crew from defending itself (setting a fire, igniting explosives, etc.), or going on the attack themselves (with weapons concealed in carried-on baggage), eliminating key members of the merchant ship's leadership even before the pirate ship could pull alongside the crippled merchant ship.

This eventually led to a practice which today would be called racial or ethnic profiling, namely, the targeting all of the members of a given race or ethnic group. In the case at hand, Chinese passengers were targeted, or singled out for special, humiliating treatment in the form of being locked inside an iron cage, like circus animals, on the main deck until the ship arrived in the port of destination, then they were let out. If there were too many to fit inside the iron cage, they were put into the hold, the ladder removed, and the trap door shut and locked. These precautions were deemed necessary in order to counter the pirates' practice of planting co-conspirators among otherwise law-abiding Chinese passengers.

Earlier – early in the 17th century – when the Qing government, with the help of the Portuguese, drove out the Wokou pirates from Chinese waters, many of these pirates would resettle farther southward, where there was already a burgeoning population of East Indian pirates (initially they operated out of Vietnamese waters, still preying on the China trade). This pirates' nest would continue to thrive and even expand, since rooting out piracy from the waters of the East Indies was a problem of a completely different magnitude, given, as indicated, the "topography" there, which was rigged in the pirates' favor (see the paragraph below). In fact, in later centuries, especially after the arrival of the Dutch and the British, whose Far Eastern trade would represent a quantum leap in wealth generation for the entire area (one can safely say that the modern states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were conceived, if not born, during the Colonial Era), pirates of all "flags" would come to operate freely, anywhere from Hong Kong in the north to the Straits of Malacca in the south.

In the Straits of Malacca in particular, ships were especially vulnerable to piracy, since they were forced to sail slowly due to the treacherous waters, there numerous small, often uninhabited islands in these and other East Indian waters where the pirates could lie in wait, ready to pounce, and there was very little local government that could police this type of behavior. The result was that it was all but impossible to rid shipping of the scourge of piracy by conventional patrolling methods, which, not surprisingly, soon led to less conventional methods... 

After the British and the Americans had been operating in the waters of the Far East for some time, they realized that it was indeed impossible to uproot the piracy in the area by conventional means, therefore they – the Americans in particular – began to deliberately target the bases – the makeshift settlements and villages – of the pirates, or, to use an appropriate analogy, they went after the hornet's nest, not the hornet. The British strategy, conceived by Rear Admiral Edward Owen, who served in the Far East during the first half of the 1830s, had a slightly different but similarly "hardware-oriented" nuance: the British allowed captured pirates to go free, but destroyed/ set fire to their pirate ships. Alas, this excellent but incomplete (without work, idle pirate hands will quickly return to profitable piracy!) British anti-piracy strategy ended with the departure of Admiral Owen, who, like all high-ranking military personnel serving anywhere anytime, was eventually given an assignment elsewhere. However, in some instances, in the East Indies in particular, the British followed the robust American lead...  

The robust (make that "forceful"!) American anti-piracy strategy continued, personally backed by a string of US Presidents, from James Monroe , the 5th US President (1817-1825) to Andrew Jackson, the 7th US President (1829-1837) to Martin Van Buren, the 8th US President (1837-1841); the 6th US President (1825-1829), John Quincy Adams, the eldest son of the 2nd US President (1797-1801), John Adams, was more concerned with the slave trade between Africa and the West Indies, a trade that was conducted almost exclusively by the Dutch West India Company, though others, including the Spanish, were active in this same trade.

In fact, as a former US president, John Quincy Adams, also a practicing lawyer, represented the West African slaves who had mutined against a Spanish ship, the Amistad, in 1839, before the US Supreme Court, winning the freedom of the slaves in question (they had been kidnapped near present-day Sierra Leone, transported to Cuba and passed off as Cuban slaves, where they were bought by Spanish slave traders who arranged for the slaves' transport to Haiti, on board the Amistad), a rare judicial outcome that was surely owing primarily to the prestige of the lawyer for the defendants.

The forceful American anti-piracy strategy of the first half of the 19th century was a very effective if somewhat brutal means of routing pirates from the all-important shipping lanes of the Far East, especially from the Straits of Malacca. But by the middle of the century, other political developments had caused the Americans to abandon the "pepper trade" of Sumatra and thus end the risk of encountering Malay pirates in the Straits of Malacca: the Dutch had in the meantime (in 1846) seized the island of Sumatra and – typically, one is tempted to say – instituted trade restrictions with Sumatra that effectively monopolized the pepper trade on Sumatra in Holland's favor; whereas the British would have gone to war with Holland on just such an issue, the Americans, not yet a military force to be reckoned with (that would first begin to emerge after WWI, and would blossom exponentially during WWII), tucked their tails and hoisted their sails.

The single event that spelled the end of the rampant piracy of the late 19th century was the introduction of steam-powered ships, for, besides the treacherous stretches of water that required slow sailing combined with a natural environment that provided a myriad of hiding places for the pirate – and, one should add, the lack of a strong central government that could prosecute the pirates (the same lack of a strong central government capable of prosecuting pirates, not to speak of being able to offer more legitimately gainful employment, lies at the heart of the Somali piracy problem of today) – there was the wind, or its glaring lack on certain days and during certain seasons, which could paralyze a ship, rendering it a sitting duck for the agile East Indian proa or the smaller versions of the sleeker lorcha, both of which boats could, if necessary, be rowed by hand.

In the following we will concentrate on the separate efforts of Britain and the USA to eradicate the pirates' "hornet's nests" in the Far East in response to atrocities infliced upon their respective merchant ships, wherein pirates not only regularly plundered British and Americans merchants ships, but they would also almost invariably kill numerous members of the respective crews; for the British and the Americans, enough had finally become enough, the hour of reckoning had arrived! We will also briefly mention some of the more notable pirates of the era who operated in the theatre in question (i.e., from the South China coast to the Straits of Malacca), describing their exploits as well as their eventual fates.

The Battle of Leotung

The Zhu ("Pearl") River Estuary, leading from Guangzhou (aka Canton) down to Macau on the west-southwestern side of the mouth of the estuary, and to Hong Kong on the opposite side, was a favorite haunt for pirates, due to the sheer volume of shipping in the estuary combined with the estuary's many small islands where pirates could lie in waiting, undetected. On the 18th of August, 1855, Britain's Royal Navy ship, the HMS Bittern, a brig (i.e., a two-masted ship), armed with a single 12-pounder (cannon) and five 6-pounders was proceeding up the Pearl River Estuary accompanied by two steamers (steam-powered ships, not sail ships), the Confucius and the Pavushan, the latter of which was not armed but which served as a tug-boat for the Bittern, since the waters here were too shallow for the normal sailing of a vessel of the size and displacement of the HMS Bittern. The Confucius was armed, but was running low on coal (the primary fuel of steam), and therefore had to break off the voyage.

In an area approximately centered in the roughly north-south oriented estuary, at a location called the Gulf of Leotung (see the map immediately below), the British spotted a bevy of some 40 or so pirate ships, two of which were lorchas. These latter, it turned out, were fitted with 18-pounders, technically making them more formidable than the single 12-pounder of the Bittern, though the pirate cannoneers lacked accuracy, a detail that would prove fatal for their ships. The pirates could have taken aim at the Pavushan, incapacitating it and thus forcing the Bittern to rig its sails and maneuver the big ship through treacherous waters with all the risk that this would entail, but on the other hand, the Bittern was the better equipped of the two ships with regard to armaments, so the pirates took aim at the Bittern, hoping to cripple if not destroy it before the Bittern's guns were within range of the pirate ships.

Old Canton-Macao-Hong Kong Pearl River Estuary Map

Figure 11: Old Canton-Macao-Hong Kong Pearl River Estuary Map

The only damage that the lorchas' 18-pounders managed to inflict upon the Bittern was to tear some holes through the Bittern's sails and to wreak some minor damage upon its masts and rigging before the British ship was within range of the lorchas, and the crew of the HMS Bittern trained their 12-pounder on the lorchas, from whence the long-range cannon fire had erupted. To make a long story short, the HMS Bittern quickly sank the two lorchas and six other pirate junks before the remainder of the pirate junks fled. It was estimated that 300 pirates perished in this exchange of cannon fire; the British took no prisoners. None of the crew of the HMS Bittern were harmed, and apart from the minor damage to its sails, masts and rigging, the Bittern came out of the exchange relatively unscathed, proof – one can only conclude – that bigger guns are no match for better gunners!
Some historians have conjectured that the pirate fleet that the HMS Bittern encountered in the Gulf of Leotung might well have been the pirate fleet commanded by that most famous American pirate, Eli Boggs. In any case, Boggs would be hunted down and captured by another reputed American pirate, Bully Hayes, who was apparently helping the HMS Bittern to track down Boggs. The HMS Bittern on that later encounter ran into Bogg's fleet just north of Shanghai and tried to get in close, but because the water there was too shallow, the HMS Bittern could not pursue the pirates.

This is presumably precisely why Bully Hayes was on board the Bittern; Hayes, in a smaller, flat-bottomed craft, then set out from the Bittern while the latter ship made sure that Boggs' fleet could not escape into open water. Hayes soon reached Boggs, whom he somehow captured (it cannot be ruled out that Hayes, given that he was known to be more of a trickster than a commando, hoisted a white flag, duping Boggs), thus earning the reward that was on Boggs' head (listed at $1000, but it was most likely denominated in South American dollars – in particular, in Mexican silver dollars, which was the currency of Hong Kong at the time – more on Eli Boggs and Bully Hayes below). 

The Qualms Of Quallah Battoo

When the Americans first arrived in Chinese waters near the close of the 18th century, they were loath to offend their Chinese hosts with a militaristic display (perhaps they knew of the Dutch excesses in that regard!), therefore they sailed without an escort that could protect them from the pirates. The first such trip, from New York City to Canton (present-day Guangzhou) and back, was lucky in that regard, and also highly successful otherwise, that is, commercially.

The Empress of China departed NYC in early 1784, only a year after the close of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83)  and arrived in Canton later that year. The Empress of China and its voyage was more of a diplomatic mission than a commercial enterprise – that is, the Empress of China was not a merchant ship, but an official vessel of the Unites States government – but of course it was also on a mission whose aim was ultimately a commercial one.

In the years that followed, piracy became a plague in the Far East, also for the US, and since the US was keenly interested in the lucrative China trade, it quickly adjusted its China trade strategy, providing military escort to merchant ships. Apart from the voyage to Canton, the early American visits to the Far East were to the East Indies, i.e., it was the "pepper trade" that initially attracted the Americans, just as it was the pepper trade that had initially attracted practically every other Western nation that would arrive in the Far East. It was here, in the East Indies, that the Americans would develop a robust strategy aimed at targeting the hornet's nest rather than the hornet...

In February 1831, the unescorted American merchant ship, the Friendship, was anchored up off the Sumatran coast near the port town of Quallah Battoo (present-day Kuala Batu). While the Friendship's captain was in Quallah Battoo trying to negotiate with the local Raja, or chieftain, for provisions – or for who knows what – Malay pirates from across the Straits of Malacca (Sumatra belongs to present-day Indonesia while the Malay peninsula belongs to present-day Malaysia) silently boarded the Friendship and killed a number of the crew and wounded others, while a handful of the Friendship's crew jumped overboard and swam for land, when they were met by their captain, who, by this time, was on the way back to his ship, having observed that it was under pirate attack.

A Raja from a neighboring village intervened, rescuing the captain of the Friendship and the remainder of his crew, less those who were on board the Friendship. The Americans then made their way to the nearest port town, the town of Muckie, about 40 kilometers from Quallah Battoo, where they knew there were other American vessels. Arriving back at Quallah Battoo, the reinforced American contingent discovered that the Raja of Quallah Battoo would not release the Friendship nor return its cargo, which had been off-loaded on the beach at Quallah Battoo, suggesting the obvious: that the Sumatrans of Quallah Battoo were in league with the Malay pirates. The Americans took their ship back by force, but discovered that it had been stripped even of its instrumentation. The booty, including the Friendship's instrumentation, was left on the beach of Quallah Battoo in the possession of the town's Raja, who would eventually pay a high price for it.

When US President Andrew Jackson learned of the treachery at Quallah Battoo in the summer of 1831, he sent a 44-gun frigate (a ship with three masts, all fully (sail) rigged), the Potomac, to recover the stolen property and to punish the guilty, if the story told by the captain of the Friendship, Charles Endicott, was indeed true. That is, Commodore John Downes, commander of the Potomac, was to first ascertain the facts, then take appropriate action. Instead, Downes arrived guns ablazing, as it were, convinced of Endicott's version of events. A contingent of marines and sailors were quietly set ashore near Quallah Battoo and they proceeded to lay waste to the four simple forts that protected the town, and in which the Malay pirates were quartered.

Within hours, the Raja of Quallah Battoo and 100 of the Malay pirates lay dead (how the Raja happened to be in the company of the pirates on that particular occasion is anyone's guess, but since the Raja was in league with the pirates, he may have been planning new attacks with them – in any case, very unlucky timing indeed for the Raja!). Only 2 Americans perished, though an additional 11 were wounded. When the Americans returned to their ship, Downes ordered that Quallah Battoo be shelled. After a number of broadsides were fired into the town, its remaining leaderless inhabitants streamed out, surrendering. The villagers of Quallah Battoo were warned that if they ever again attacked an American ship, the same fate would befall them again.

The next day Downes proceded to the neighboring coastal village – which had, in the meantime, learned of the fate of Quallah Battoo – and delivered a warning that any village along the coast of Sumatra that engaged in piracy against American shipping would receive the same treatment as Quallah Battoo. The villages all surrendered, promising not to attack American shipping.

Alas, the threat did not deter the Sumatrans and their Malay compatriots for long, for in late 1837, another American merchant ship, the Eclipse, was attacked by pirates in the same area. The largest and therefore dominant town in the area, whose Raja was therefore the area's most important figure, or power broker, was still Quallah Battoo. A new US president, President Martin Van Buren, dispatched the Columbia, a 50-gun frigate, and the John Adams, a 30-gun sloop to the area (a sloop is generally a smaller ship with a single, off-center (i.e., forward-displaced) mast, with a single mainsail behind the mast and smaller, navigational sails in front – see immediately below – though a military sloop, called a Sloop of War, is a 3-masted affair (see farther below), modelled perhaps after the Bermuda sloop (shown in the Thomas Tew subsection farther below)).

A Classical, Single-Masted Sloop

Figure 12: A Classical, Single-Masted Sloop

Commodore George Read, captain of the Columbia and commander of the mission, tried diplomacy first, anchoring up off the coast of Quallah Battoo and coming ashore to speak with the new Raja.

Sloop of War

Figure 13: Sloop of War

After two days and two trips to Quallah Battoo to parley with the Raja, Read got the distinct impression that the Raja was insincere, and that maybe he was stalling for time, perhaps hoping for reinforcements. Having read the tea leaves, as it were, Read decided to act. On Christmas Day, 1838, the Raja of Quallah Battoo was greeted with a Christmas Day fireworks that he wasn't expecting, as the Columbia and the John Adams shelled the town. After a half hour of this display, the inhabitants of Quallah Battoo surrendered. Read departed Quallah Battoo leaving the same warning ringing in the ears of the town's inhabitants as had Commodore John Downes six years earlier. Read then proceeded to the port town of Muckie, which he also shelled in like manner, and with the inhabitants of Muckie surrendering quickly, promising not to attack American ships in future.

A third village, the port town of Susa, was in Read's sights, but when Read arrived and saw how pathetic were conditions in Susa, he desisted, delivering instead the warning that he had delivered to the other two port towns.

In fairness – and in sadness – the truth of the matter was that the ordinary people of these impoverished islands saw little of the pepper trade wealth that accrued to their leaders, which is why they resorted to piracy as a means of earning a living (it is no accident that one of the latest, hitherto unknown tribes on planet Earth was discovered on the island of Borneo, Indonesia). No one, not even the Americans, seemed to be aware of this general anomaly at the time, meaning, at the time, that the military solution was believed to be the panacea to all such problems. Thanks to some clever economists, mankind has since come to the realization that where there is an economic element that serves as the primus motor for piracy, the long-run solution has to be a political-economic one.

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