by Peter Le Sueur OBE
MANY years ago St Aubin's harbour had a set of cannons acting as bollards, these cannons were supposed to have come from a decommissioned Jersey privateering ship. Privateering was a sort of Government Licensed Piracy, applying only when the UK was at war with another country.
Privateers were given letters of Marque by the British Government to permit them to attack and seize Naval or Merchant ships of the enemy power. The British Crown received 20% of the value of the prize captured with about 54% going to the ship owner and the remaining 26% going to the Captain and crew.
Jerseymen, being ever financially resourceful, realized that there were rich pickings to be had and from the time of Drake to the time of Nelson (about 250 years) made the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay dangerous for enemy shipping.
During this period 135 captains and 144 vessels were involved in privateering against the French, Spanish, Dutch, the America and even Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War. The size of the vessels ranged from small vessels without cannon with the crew using cutlasses, muskets and pistols, to the 600 ton 40 gun "Tartar" with a crew of 230.
Some of the names of the vessels involved seemed strange for privateers with vessels called "Charming Nancy" and "Lovely Emily". Other names like "Success", "Surprise", and "Vulture" were more appropriate for their profession.
In 1778 the French commander in Cherbourg complained that 'in St Helier's seaways were more than 150 French prizes' which may have prompted the French invasion of 1781.
To offset these gains vessels were lost sometimes to the enemy, and in the French revolutionary war of 1793 up to 42 Jersey vessels were captured by the French while up to 900 Jerseymen languished in French jails. Some of the stories of Jersey privateers would put an Errol Flynn swashbuckling movie about the Spanish Main to shame!