The History of Sea and Pirate Surgeons, Page 9
Tales of Two Pirate Surgeons
When Pirate Commodore Bartholomew Roberts was killed and his small fleet taken by the British, there were two rather interesting sea-surgeons among the pirates. Both had joined the pirates willingly. Both had signed the articles. And both were complete blackguards according to author Captain Charles Johnson.
It should be noted that the only documents we have to rely on for their stories are Johnson's account and the court testimonies. While Johnson has a splendidly arch way of describing his subjects, he also has a noted bias against them. So this must be considered when trying to understand pirate surgeons George Wilson and Peter Scudamore.
Pirate Surgeon George Wilson
George Wilson has the somewhat dubious distinction of having been captured by Bartholomew
Artist: Howard Pyle (1911)
Roberts' crew of pirates twice. He was first captured while with the crew of John Tarlton's ship. At his trial, Thomas Tarlton told that court that when Wilson was captured by the pirates the first time, he, wanting "to oblige his new Company, had presently ask'd for the Pyrates Boat, to fetch the Medicine Chest away, when the Wind and Current proving too hard to contend with, they were drove on Shore at Cape Montzerado."1
Wilson gives a different account of his first voyage with the pirates, explaining that when he was first captured, Bartholomew Roberts "told him, to his Sorrow, that he was to stay there, and ordered him to fetch his Chest, (not Medicines, as asserted,) which Opportunity he took to make his Escape; for the Boat's Crew happening to consist of five French and One English Man, all as willing as himself, they agreed to push the Boat on Shore, and trust themselves with the Negroes of Cape Montzerado: Hazardous, not only in Respect of the dangerous Seas that run there, but the Inhumanity of the Natives, who sometimes take a liking to humane Carcasses."2
Wilson remained stuck on the Cape for five months until Thomas Tarlton showed up looking to trade. The surgeon "represented his Hardships and starving Condition [to Tarlton], but was, in an unchristian Manner, both refused a Release of this
Artist: Howard Pyle - Marooned (1909)
Captivity, or so much as a small Supply of Biscuit and salt Meat, because, as he said, he had been among the Pyrates."3
Not long after that, a French ship showed up and ransomed him from the natives, however "by Reason of a nasty leperous Indisposition he had contracted by hard and bad living, [he] was, to his great Misfortune set ashore at Sestos [in what is now Turkey] again".4 Note the rather interesting choice of words. One can't help but wonder if Wilson's indisposition was physical or mental the way he states it.
Wilson was finally ransomed by Captain John Sharp of the Elizabeth. Sharp testified that he took "Wilson off from Sestos, on this Coast, paying to the Negroes for his Ransom, the Value of three Pound five Shillings in Goods, for which he had taken a Note [from Wilson in lieu of payment], that he thought he had done a charitable Act in this, till meeting with one Captain Canning, he was ask'd, why he would release such a Rogue as Wilson was? For that he had been a Voluntier with the Pyrates, out of John Tarlton."5
After Wilson was captured by the pirates the second time, Sharp told the court that Wilson asked the pirates if they'd gotten hold of the note that Sharp had taken on his behalf. "Who not being able readily to tell, he reply'd, it's no Matter Mr. Sharp, I believe I shall hardly ever come to England, to pay it."6 Ever ready to apply the old oil, Wilson's counters this in his account to the court by saying that Sharp "generously procured his Release in the Manner himself has related, and for which he stands infinitely obliged."7 He may have been obliged, but he doesn't go so far as to suggest that he intended to pay back his debt.
Sharp's testimony mentions something else that proved to
Artist: Howard Pyle
Then the Real Fight Began (1911) be difficult for Wilson to explain in court. When the Elizabeth was captured and Sharp became a prisoner of Roberts' crew he discovered Thomas Tarlton, the captain who refused to ransom Wilson the first time, had been captured by the pirates. "Tarlton was immediately on Wilson's Instigation, in a most sad manner misused and beat, and had been shot, through the Fury and Rage of some of those Fellows if the Town-side, (i. e. Liverpool) Men, had not hid him in a Stay-Sail, under the Bowsprit; for Moody and Harper, with their Pistols cock'd, searched every Corner of the Ship to find him, and came to this Deponent's [Sharp's] Hammock, whom they had like fatally to have mistaken for Tarlton, but on his calling out, they found their Error, and left him with this comfortable Anodyne [pain relieving medicine], That he was the honest Fellow who brought the Doctor [Wilson]."8
Wilson naturally explains it differently, suggesting that while he "thoughtlessly used some Reproaches of him, for his severe Treatment at Montzerado, but protests without Design his Words should have had so bad a Consequence".9 Wilson then blames Roberts for causing Tarlton to be beat for "contrary to any Intention of his it should so happen, because as a Stranger he might be supposed to have no Influence, and believes there were some other Motives for it."10
The deposition from Adam Comry, the Elizabeth's surgeon revealed similar aspects of Wilson's character
Bartholomew Roberts (1724)
and were particularly damning to his claim to be unwilling to be among the pirates.
The Prisoner was very alert and chearful, [Comry] says, at meeting with Roberts, hailed him, told him he was glad to see him, and would come on Board presently, borrowing of the Deponent [Comry] a clean Shirt and Drawers, for his better Appearence and Reception, he signed their Articles willingly, and used Arguments with him to do the same, saying, they should make their Voyage in eight Months, to Brasil, Share 6 or 700 l. a Man, and then break up.11
When asked about this testimony, Wilson denied most of it, explaining that "if immaturity of Judgment had occasioned him to slip rash and inadvertent Words, or that he had paid any undue Compliments to Roberts, it was to ingratiate himself, as every Prisoner did, for a more civil Treatment, and in particular to procure his Discharge, which he had been promised, and was afraid would have been revoked, if such a Person as Comry did not remain there to supply his Room".12
Other witnesses said that Wilson "seem'd thoroughly satisfy'd with that Way of Life, and was particularly intimate with Roberts; they often scoffing at the Mention of a Man of War, and saying, if they should meet with any of the Turnip-Man's Ships, they would blow up, and go to H_ll together."13 Having such a relationship with Roberts didn't seem to blind the captain to Wilson's inherent faults as a surgeon, however. According to these witnesses "even Roberts told him, (on the Complaint of a wounded Man, whom he had refused to dress) that he was a double Rogue, to be there a second Time, and threat'ned to cut his Ears off."14
Wilson did have a couple of character witnesses from among the men who had been judged not guilty, although their testimony sounds a bit tepid.
"Samuel Morwel says, that he has heard him [Wilson] bewail his Condition, while on Board the Pyrate, and desired one Thomas, to use, his Interest with Roberts, for a Discharge, saying, his Employ, and the little Fortune he had left at Home, would, he hop'd, exempt him the further Trouble of seeking his Bread at Sea."15
Nicholas Butler reported that in the 48 hours he was with the pirates, Wilson had deplored "the Wretchedness and ill Fortune of being confined in such Company."16
Wilson also explained that he was young and rash, had been with the pirates for only a month, did not use any weapons or fight on behalf of the pirates and had reported a planned mutiny by the pirates who were captured put on board the HMS Swallow. Wilson was judged to be guilty, but since the Swallow's commander agreed that Wilson had reported the planned mutiny, his "Execution [was] respited till the King's Pleasure be known."17
1Captain Charles Johnson, The general history of the pyrates, p. 314; 2Ibid, p. 315; 3Ibid,. p. 316; 4Ibid.; 5Ibid., p. 312; 6Ibid., p. 313; 7Ibid, p. 316.; 8Ibid., p. 312-3; 9Ibid., p. 316; 10Ibid.; 11Ibid., p. 313; 12Ibid., p. 317; 13Ibid., p. 314; 14Ibid.; 15Ibid., p. 315; 16Ibid.; 17Ibid., p. 317