WILLIAM DAMPIER, OR A SEA-KING OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
William Dampier was born in 1612 at East Coker, and by the death of his parents was from his childhood left to his own control. Not possessing any great taste for study, he preferred running wild in the woods, and fighting with his companions, to remaining in his place on the school benches. While still young he was sent to sea as cabin-boy on board merchant ships. After a voyage to Newfoundland and a campaign in the East Indies, he took service in the Naval Marine, and being wounded in a battle, returned to Greenwich to be nursed. Free from any prejudices, Dampier forgot his engagement when he left the Military Hospital, and started for Jamaica in the position of manager of a plantation. It did not require a long trial to discover that this occupation was not to his taste. So he abandoned his negroes at the end of six months, and went on board a ship bound for the Bay of Campeachy, where he worked for three years at gathering in woods for dyeing.
At the end of that period he is again found in London, but the laws and the officers charged with compelling their observance are too strict for his comfort. He goes back to Jamaica, where he speedily puts himself into communication with those famous buccaneers and corsairs, who at that time did so much harm to the Spaniards.
These English or French adventurers, established in the Island of Tortuga, off the coast of San Domingo, had sworn implacable hatred to Spain. Their ravages were not confined to the Gulf of Mexico: they crossed the Isthmus of Panama and devastated the coast of the Pacific Ocean from the Strait of Magellan to California. Terror exaggerated the exploits of these pirates, which however presented something of the marvellous.
It was amongst these adventurers, then commanded by Harris, Sawkins, and Shays, that Dampier enrolled himself. In 1680 we find him in Darien, where he pillages Santa Maria, endeavours in vain to surprise Panama, and with his companions, on board of some wretched canoes stolen from the Indians, captures eight vessels well armed, which were at anchor not far from the town. In this affair the losses of the corsairs are so great in the fight, and the spoil is so poor, that they separate from each other. Some go back to the Gulf of Mexico, while others establish themselves upon the island of Juan Fernandez, whence shortly after they attack Arica. But here again they were so roughly handled that a new secession takes place, and Dampier is sent to Virginia, where his captain hoped to make some recruits. There Captain Cook was fitting out a vessel, with the intention of reaching the Pacific by the Strait of Magellan, and Dampier joins the expedition. It begins by privateering upon the African coast, in the Cape de Verd Islands, at Sierra Leone, and in the River Scherborough, for this is the route habitually taken by the ships going to South America. In 36° south latitude, Dampier, who notes in his journal every interesting fact, remarks that the sea is become white or rather pale, but of this he cannot explain the reason, which he might easily have done had he made use of the microscope. The Sebaldine Islands are passed without incident, the Strait of Le Maire is traversed, Cape Horn is doubled on the 6th February, 1684, and as soon as he can escape from the storms which usually assail ships entering the Pacific, Captain Cook arrives at the island of Juan Fernandez, where he hopes to revictual. Dampier wondered if he would find a Nicaraguan Indian there, who had been left behind in 1680 by Captain Sharp. "This Indian had remained alone upon the island for more than three years. He had been in the woods hunting goats when the English captain had ordered his men to re-embark, and they had set sail without perceiving his absence. He had only his gun and his knife, with a small horn of powder and a little lead; when his powder and lead were exhausted he had contrived to saw the barrel of his gun into small pieces with his knife, and out of them to make harpoons, spears, fish hooks and a long knife. With these instruments he obtained all the supplies which the island afforded: goats and fish. At the distance of half a mile from the sea, he had a small hut covered with goat skins. He had no clothes left, but an animal's skin covered his loins." We have dwelt at some length upon this involuntary hermit because he served Daniel de Foe as the original of his "Robinson Crusoe," a romance which has formed the delight of every child.
We shall not relate minutely all the expeditions in which Dampier participated. Suffice it to mention that in this campaign he visited the Gallapagos Islands. In 1686, Dampier was serving on board of Captain Swan's ship, who, seeing that the greater part of his enterprises failed, went to the East Indies, where the Spaniards were less upon their guard, and where the corsairs reckoned upon seizing the Manilla galleon. But when our adventurers arrived at Guaham, they had only three days' provisions, and the sailors had plotted if the voyage should be prolonged, to eat in turn all those who had declared themselves in favour of the voyage, and to begin with the captain who had proposed it. Dampier's turn would have come next. "Thus it came to pass," says he very humourously, "that after having cast anchor at Guaham, Swan embraced him and said: 'Ah Dampier, you would have made them but a sorry meal.' He was right," he adds, "for I was as thin and lean, as he was fat and plump." Mindanao, Manilla, certain parts of the Chinese coasts, the Moluccas, New Holland, and the Nicobar Islands, were the places visited and plundered by Dampier in this campaign. In the last-named archipelago he became separated from his companions, and was discovered half dead upon the coast of Sumatra.