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The Sorry Story of Antonio Fedinando

Posted by Maddy Labels:

And his role in the Anglo Scottish Union 1705-07

Many a year ago, in 1705 to be precise, Scotland joined the British union, after an acrimonious period of four or five years, to create Great Britain. What if I told you that the incident which hastened it and that one of the persons who was key to the incident was a person of Malabar origin? Well, it is so and you can now read that story, a story that has been under wraps for ages. In fact the whole story went out of circulation after the turn of the 18th century. Why such an important event never got more attention is queer, though a few books have covered the subject in passing and one somewhat rare to find book covers much of the details. But the event and the write-ups focused on the Englishmen involved and the Scotsmen who precipitated the issue, but not really on the person who was the scapegoat. I will cover his story not because he was innocent, but because I felt the poor man was set up and coerced into doing what he did. Then again, it could be so that he was not wrong after all. So we will get deeper into this story, but first a few paragraphs detailing the background and the times.

For that, we will hover around Scotland and then zoom down to Panama. Later we will move quickly to the Malabar Coast line and then head back to Scotland. We will learn about the Darien scheme, learn a little bit more about some piratical adventures, the financial misfortunes of the Scots, the opportunistic maneuvering of the EIC and debacle at Firth of Forth and Leith sands. In passing we will also learn a little of the part played by the small port town of Kayamkulam or Caliquilon and the EIC factory at Calicut in this misadventure. So let us quickly head to those port towns and the waters. Wear your oilskins, lest you get drenched, listen carefully, but don’t get too close to the action, and stay well away from the danger.

If you recall my previous article, Capn Kidd was around in Calicut during 1698. By May 1701 he had been tried and hanged and pirates (as defined by the EIC) had a bad name in press and with the public. This story is set close to that period and around 1703 again around the same Malabar coastline. But before we set the heading to Malabar, we will go to Scotland.

Around 1690, Scotland, still a kingdom, desired to enter the realm of profitable trade like their powerful British neighbors. Though under the British crown, Scotland had it own parliament and treasury. But the coffers were empty; the harvest had proved a disaster. What else to do than focus on trade? The wise or the not so wise, decided that colonization was perhaps a quicker scheme. Soon a colony was planned in New Caledonia or the Isthmus of Panama. The money required for this venture , as high as a quarter of the Scottish monetary worth was advanced by a number of wealthy nobles (originally a number of anti British countries and private citizens subscribed to the capital, but due to British pressure they dropped out leaving only Scottish capitalists). The company that oversaw all this was called the Darien Company. By 1698 the first ships moved to Panama for the colony set up, but it soon turned out to be a disaster and in 8 months the colony was abandoned. Of the 1200 that left Scotland, only 300 returned with heads hanging low. Pride as you will see runs high in Scotland and the situation as you saw was not very nice. A second expedition also failed and the settlers further lost the war to the Spaniards. Much more intrigues took place, but we are not talking about the misfortunes of the Darien Company here. One of the men who took leadership position in this colonization effort was a Thomas Drummond and his activities were later defined as far from satisfactory. The money was gone, the lords were unhappy, Scotland was in the doldrums and something had to be done quickly to recoup the lost capital. The publicly funded company lost more than £232,000, crippling and demoralizing Scotland. English propaganda depicted the fiasco as proof that the Scots were useless and unfit for sovereignty and the Darien plan soon picked up a new name, the Darien fiasco. The still wise racked their brains and decided, what else, but head out to Malabar and plunder or profit in the name of conventional trade?

Two ships, the Speedy Return and the Continent were sent out to Malabar. The Speedy return was captained by Robert Drummond and the aforementioned Thomas Drummond accompanied him as Super Cargo (manager for trade) & advisor. The Continent was lost off the Malabar Coast in a fire. Instead of selling the Scottish goods for gold, the Speedy Return exchanged it for slaves who were traded in Madagascar for a profit. Here they met a pirate named James Bowen who appropriated the Speedy Return. Nothing more was heard from the Drummond brothers for a long time after this event. A British ship Annabelle was then commissioned by the Scots, but it was soon confiscated by the EIC on the grounds that all English sailors should only work for the EIC (apparently the Captain Ap Rice quarreled with his Scottish owners and led the British to the seizure). Naturally the Scottish ire at these failures was directed against the EIC. The spearhead of all this anti British rhetoric was a Darien company bloke and company secretary named Roderick Mackenzie. It was during this inopportune time, around mid 1704 that a ship named Worcester captained by Thomas Green laden with goods, and coming from the Malabar Coast, sailed into the Leith harbor, blown off course into Scotland.

So as we read, the Scottish leased Annabelle had been impounded, and Mackenzie on behalf of the Darien Company, decided that the British flagged (though not EIC owned) Worcester should be seized in Scotland as compensation, which he did. The officers of the defunct Darien Company (not the Scottish government) seized the ship on 12th Aug 1704. The reason attributed was the attempted clandestine sale of EIC goods in Scotland and the claim that the Worcester carried a counterfeit copy of the Scottish Darien company seal. Captain Green of the Worcester always hoped that the situation would be sorted out, but nothing happened for three months. Before he knew what was happening, he and his crew were put behind bars for piracy and murder. Later it turned out that it was due to Green’s (and other crew’s) drunken boast of piracy, plunder, other nefarious activities and burning of a ship. Rumors started flying that the attacked ship was the yet to return Speedy return with the Drummond brothers. Despite a total lack of real evidence, Green and two of his crew, John Madden and James Simpson, were sent for trial. Many a thing turned up at the trial, many a thing did not. Due to the fact that some amount of hushing up was done after the trail, some aspects are not traceable anymore. It was not that the Judges were unaware of the discrepancies, but the public mood and the level of Scottish resentment of the British were running so high that it was the best decision to allow the massacre of a couple of Englishmen.

Let us see how it went. As I retell the story, I will slip back and forth between Malabar and Leith or Edinburgh in Scotland. I will not get into too many details of the sordid affair, for it was that, but will cover it as an overview and focus on the Malabar aspects mainly.

As Kelly explains - The conviction of Green and the others was secured solely on the evidence of the Worcester's Christian Malabari cook, one Antonio Ferdinando. After joining the ship on the Malabar coast, Ferdinando said he witnessed an engagement between the Worcester and another ship crewed by English-speaking white men which lasted three days. He claimed that, when the stricken vessel was boarded, those in the sloop (a smaller sailing ship attached to the main ship), who then came aboard, did take up those of the crew of the said ship from under deck, killed them with hatchets, and threw them over board . . . Captain Green, Captain Madder, and James Simpson the gunner were three of these who went aboard and killed the men. Ferdinando said he believed about ten men were killed, and that after the struggle was over a few goods were transferred into the Worcester. The prize vessel was according to him, disposed of afterwards in Caliquilon. Ferdinando claimed he received a wound to his arm during the action and that the coat he was wearing in court was taken out of the prize.

Antonio’s testimony was the basis of subsequent convictions of Green and two others. Of course, it was supposed that the prize vessel was the Scottish owned Speedy return and that the murdered included the Drummonds, but as the trial progressed, it turned out that it was not. Nevertheless, the trial moved on in its strange and singular course towards culmination into a guilty verdict for the Worcester’s captain and crew. The British crown tried hard to find supporting evidence for the Worcester crew and though a trifle late produced it for study by the Scottish courts. But the situation was clouded due to the boasts by Green and his crew of the illegal activities they themselves (perhaps) committed in Malabar. Whether it was dealing with pillaged goods or piracy of another ship is not clear from the papers, but they were not involved with the Speedy return. The case finally veered off to general piracy, not a specific act and the crew was convicted.

So now we hear a name – Antonio Ferdinando. Who was he? How did he turn up at the courts in Scotland as a witness? What language was he speaking? Before we get to the answers, let us trace the path of Worcester, after it left Britain. The formal journals themselves, were confiscated and lost in Scotland after the Worcester's seizure, and are not available for analysis, but some details are available from British records.

As I held the book ‘Tragedy of the Worcester’, in its first printing from 1930, in my hands, a rare and difficult to find book, now part of my library, I could feel the anguish of the author Richard Carnac Temple. It provided me some information on Ferdinando, the cook’s mate from Malabar, who according to the Temple, possibly used tales current at the Malabar coast to concoct the allegations against Thomas Green. And there was another person of Indian origin in the ship (perhaps from Bengal), one Antonio Francisco who backed Ferdinando’s story. Three other white sailors Linstead, Haines and Bruckley also confessed, supporting Ferdinando’s version, though Haines retracted his some years later.

The Worcester left England in March 1702 with around 35 people on board. Some two years later, when the Scots seized it as it returned to the isles, 14 of the original crew were dead. All of those14 died at the Malabar coast, which itself is peculiar, due to the high mortality percentage. There were plenty of British representation on the coast by then and the Worcester as you will see called on all of them periodically. There was no real medical calamity on board reasoning their deaths, so did they die fighting? We will have to assume so. Interestingly one of the sailors died after a dog bit him near Calliquilon. The ship also brought back two Malabar slave boys, one of whom was purchased by the Duke of Queensborough, whereas the other was purchased by the Earl of Rothe.

The Worcester reached the Malabar Coast on Nov 14th 1702. Between this time and 1704, they were involved in trading activities around Madagascar and Malabar, selling Candy for pepper, asafetida and so on… but related actions were later to cast a slant on their characters.

Ferdinando joined the ship around Nov 1702 when the ship reached Malabar. He sailed with the Worcester since, passing Quilon, Cochin, Calicut, Tellicherry & of course Calliquilon. It was somewhere between Calicut and Tellicherry that Ferdinando, during a couple of clear days in Jan/Feb 1703, claimed he saw Green’s sloop boarded another British flagged ship, manned by English wearing British colors. All of this was deposed through an official interpreter George Yeaman a merchant in Dundee a sworn interpreter.

Kelly explains - The prize vessel was disposed of afterwards in Caliquilon to one Kwaja Kammudi, a Moplah trader. Ferdinando claimed he received a wound to his arm during the action and that the coat he was wearing in court was taken out of the prize. The prosecution used the evidence of Charles May, the Worcester's surgeon, to corroborate Ferdinando's story.

Any story like this will have complications. A document from the shore stated that Ferdinando had boarded the ship only in May 1703. Antonio who was injured in the boarding of the said ship fractured his hand (hit by a shell) and was treated at Cochin, but initially stated that the covered up (plaistered) injury was due to a snake bite (he was threatened by the crew and not allowed to tell the truth – so what were they hiding?). According to him the attack of the ship took over two and a half days and the testimony also states that he was born to Christian parents and joined the ship at Calliquilon though he is not too sure about the date.

The witnesses Francisco and Ferdinando when produced before the court were termed Negros or blacks, not considered real Christians and their names as stated were not considered real. They were for these reasons not considered equivalent to ten pound Scots. Nevertheless, their depositions were the basis for later judgment, Ferdinando’s being the clinching eyewitness testimony augmented by supporting evidence by the others. It appears that he provided his testimony either in Malayalam. Imagine the irony, the destiny of Scotland was decided by a few words in Malayalam!! The translations in court were provided by George Yeaman.

I checked out Yeaman next. What kind of an interpreter was he? As one can see, he was key to the correctness of the testimony. It appears that he had spent 16 years on the coast of Malabar prior to the trial. That means that he came to Malabar in 1684 or so. He returned to Dundee and started a shop ‘Yeamans shore’ in 1700. Yeaman tried a hand at getting into politics subsequently, was successful and continued with various matters until 1715 in many important positions till he died in 1733. His bio is provided by the Scot parliament site below. Perhaps he did know a smattering of Malayalam.

A representative of a long line of merchants and shipowners in Dundee, Yeaman made his fortune in exotic climes. The Jacobite agent Scot referred to him in 1706 as ‘Captain Yeaman, a wealthy merchant, lately come from the West Indies’, while at the trial of Captain Green in Edinburgh the year before, one ‘Captain Eman of Dundee’ had acted as ‘interpreter for the blacks’ on board Green’s ship. It was said that he had ‘spent 16 years on the coast of Malabar, and spoke to them in lingua franca’. Yeaman had re-established himself in Dundee by 1700 and was soon a leading participant in trade, a shipowner and the proprietor of ‘Yeaman’s shore’ along the waterside. He acquired a country seat at Murie, formerly in the possession of the Ramsays.

Later reports provide a little more information on Ferdinando, that he was a devout Christian, with perhaps a father of obscure Portuguese origin, that he said his prayers regularly as a roman catholic, and trained (and provide Christian instructions) the two slave boys on board. One of the key moments of the trial was the display of the coat that Ferdinando wore (Francisco complained that while Ferdinando had one, he had to shiver without one in that lousy Scottish jail where only bread and water was given to these two prisoners). It appears that this coat was taken from a sailor of the ship that Green boarded and was convicted of. The prosecution tried to say that it was nothing more than pieces of an old Scottish rug.

Seventeen of the eighteen defendants were convicted. The verdicts were secured on the evidence of Ferdinando and the other confessors. Green, Madder, Simpson, and two others were sentenced to hang.

Ferdinando as we saw provided the required testimony that went against the Green crew and was subsequently taken back to his cell. Soon after, some say the same day, some say four hours later, some say the next, some say 10 days after, Antonio Ferdinando the sole eyewitness, was dead of poisoning. The person suspected of this murder was none other than the person who precipitated the whole matter, Rod Mackenzie. As a British sympathizer claimed, Ferdinando was seized by guilt and told Mackenzie who visited him that he was sorry to see Green being sentenced to death and that he was forced to say what he said by Dr May, the ships surgeon. Mackenzie soon came back according to Francisco, with a bottle of wine, a glass of which was provided to Ferdinando who drank it with gusto. Soon after he was seized with belly spasms and died shortly as evidenced by Antonio Francisco. Thus came to naught the desire of Ferdinando to lead a better life, wear better clothes and enjoy a future in Scotland. The local press tried to write it off as though Ferdinando came ashore with a hectic fever and died 10 days following the trial, from his pre-existing illness. Thus ended the short life of the Malabari whose actions were was to later change the course of Scotland.

Many a person questioned the testimony of the Malabari cook’s mate. Some opined that he was having flights of fancy, retelling stories he had heard of other pirates, some reconstructed the story as the tale of the Worcester meeting the EIC ship Aurang-Zeb (and just firing gun salutes which was construed as fighting by the delirious Ferdinando) , which was in the neighborhood. Some others like the esteemed Alexander Hamilton, who met Green and his crew in Calicut, did write that he had heard rumors of Greens pirate activities off the coast of Malabar and the tale of Green’s sinking a ship while he himself was in Calliquilon. So it is difficult to take in completely all of what Temple writes in his book, where he concludes that the entire trial was purely a witch-hunt ending up in wrongful conviction of Capt Green and two others, the others having been let free. Circumstantial evidence pointed to a lot of mischief on the side of the Worcester, like evidence of the contraband goods on board, Ferdinando’s coat, the conflicting comments by the crew, Haines blabbering to his new girl friend Anne, Green’s own comments after a few pints. But the question as to which vessel (if one was sunk) sank in Malabar waters during that event is unanswered till now.

Queen Anne intervened personally to secure a stay of execution to allow her ministers time to consider matters. But, on 11 April, the final day of the postponement, events in Edinburgh got out of hand when people started to feel that the Queen might interfere and acquit the convicted persons.

Daniel Defoe – author of Robinson Crusoe, a pamphleteer, wrote -The Streets filld with incredible numbers of men, women and children, calling for Justice upon those ENGLISH Murtherers. The Lord Chancellor Seafield's Coach happening to passby, they stop'di t, broke the Sashes, haul'd him out, and oblig'd him to promise Execution should speedily be done before he could get from 'em... According to the Chancellors promise, soon after, on the same day, being Wednesday, Captain G reen, Madder, and Sympson were brought out, and convey'd to Execution, which was at Leith Road upon the Sands, and all the way was Huzza'd in Triumph as it were, and insulted with the sharpest and most bitter Invectives…


But, as the rope went taut around Green's neck, the mob (80,000 armed men as a witness put it) underwent an apparent change of heart. 'No sooner was the Sacrifice made, and the Men dead', reported Defoe, 'but even the same Rabble, so sickly is the Multitude, exclaim'd at their own Madness, and openly regrated [sic] what they had done, and were ready to tear one another to pieces for the Excess. Although the mob was appeased, Green's execution now became a focal point for anti- Unionist propaganda. In Scotland, opponents of the Union celebrated the outcome as a symbol of national autonomy.

The next batch of the convicted were due to be executed the following Friday, but the anger having been satiated by the three executions, the latter was postponed and eventually the rest of the Worcester’s crew was released. The ship however was given to the Scottish Darien Company and all the goods, including the possessions of the crew, were sold. As Kelly puts it - In England, Green and his men were hailed as martyrs. An unaccountable delay in producing the official trial report in Edinburgh sparked off a vicious pamphlet war. English pens sought to discredit the Scottish judiciary, while the Scots tried any means to deflect criticism until the report could be published. The whole affair hastened the Union of 1707, for it was a choice of Union or war between the two nations.

So whatever happened to the Speedy return? It was earlier pirated off the Malabar Coast by another pirate John Owen and the Drummonds due to their involvement went undercover in Madagascar, living there for many years. But some questioned it. Was the story of the piracy by John Owen a work of fiction by Daniel Defoe to help the English? Was Drury’s book on Owen and the Drummonds death in Madagascar ghost written by Defoe as some felt? That is another matter.

Hamilton writes - The unfortunate Captain Green, who was afterwards hanged in Scotland, came on board my ship at sunset, very much overtaken in drink and several of his men in the like condition (at Calicut, February 1703). He wanted to sell Hamilton some arms and ammunition, and told me that they were what was left of a large quantity that he had brought from England, but had been at Madagascar and had disposed of the rest to good advantage among the pirates. I told him that in prudence he ought to keep these as secrets lest he might be brought in trouble about them. He made but little account of my advice, and so departed. About ten in the night his chief mate Mr. Mather came on board of my ship and seemed to be very melancholy.... He burst out in tears and told me he was afraid that he was undone, that they had acted such things in their voyage that would certainly bring them to shame and punishment, if they should come to light; and he was assured that such a company of drunkards as their crew was composed of could keep no secret. I told him that I had heard at Coiloan (Quilon) that they had not acted prudently nor honestly in relation to some Moors' ships they had visited and plundered and in sinking a sloop with ten or twelve Europeans in her off Coiloan.

We do not know what happened to Antonio Francisco. Maybe he survived in Scotland and his lineage flourishes. Daniel Defoe went on to write Robinson Crusoe’s tale. Roderick Mackenzie had a miserable end. In August 1707 the family of John Madder was awarded £460 compensation for his death.

But the Worcester had yet another interesting story to tell. On Feb 6th 1703, the Worcester entertained the factor at EIC’s offices in Calicut. On Feb 8th the records indicate this interesting incident – Being Munday, riding at anchor at Callicute, a moor merd belonging to Shackmaker passing by, he saluted us with 5 guns, we returned in like manner and he gave us three for thanks. Moor merd means a Persia-man or Moplah vessel. Shackmaker is Sheikh Maraikkar. Now did that mean that were others who continued to hold the Marakkar title after the 1600 Kunhali?

References

The tragedy of the Worcester – Richard Carnac Temple
The Worcester Affair – James Kelly
Celebrated criminal trails in Scotland – Arnot Hugo
The Tryal of Capt Thomas green and his crew

British Scottish relations – A very brief note

England and Scotland were separate states for several centuries before eventual union, and English attempts to take over Scotland by military force in the late 13th and early 14th centuries were ultimately unsuccessful. England and Scotland were ruled by the same king for the first time in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became the king of England. However they remained two separate states until 1 May 1707.

Quoting from the BBC site - The largest component of customs dues was levied on the colonial trade. But this trade faced significant disruption from Scottish commercial networks which circumvented the Navigation Acts contrived to protect English domestic and overseas trade. English feelings that Scotland was acting as a rogue nation contributed greatly to William’s willingness to sabotage the Darien Venture through which Scotland attempted to establish an entrepĂ´t for the East and West Indies on the Panama Isthmus in the late 1690s. English desires to control the Scots became more acute after the accession of Queen Anne, particularly as the Scots seemed reluctant to accept an eventual Hanoverian succession. Morover, England had insufficient manpower to fight wars, sustain manufacturing and expand its empire. The Scots were a ready reservoir.

Some Scots nobility petitioned Westminster to wipe out the Scottish national debt and stabilise the currency, which was eventually done. United Kingdom thus came into being...

9 comments:

  1. Rhonda

    You mentioned that Roderick MacKenzie came to a miserable end. What happened to him? I have not been able to find any information on him after the hangings.

  1. Rhonda

    You mentioned that Roderick MacKenzie came to a miserable end. What happened to him? I have not been able to find any information on him after the hangings.

  1. Maddy

    Hi Rhonda..
    am traveling, will reply in detail after i get back, if i recall right, he died a pauper..but let me check & explain

  1. Maddy

    OK Rhonda, here goes

    After green's hanging,, the union was hurried through in 1707, and part of the agreement was that the Darrien company be wound up. So rod mac lost his job.. Soon he was faced with multiple charges of peculation and embezzlement related to the Worcester cargo. He was thrown out of the company house and was roundly abused by some of the public as a base murdering dog.. Nothing is known after that though there is some mention of his progeny moving to USA.

  1. Rhonda

    Oh, thank you so much, Maddy! Do you have a source for this? I have been all over the internet and Roderick just comes to a dead end. I guess he or his "issue" moved to the USA by looking at the dates of the MacKenzie's who helped colonize Georgia USA. Mr. Roderick may have actually fled there around 1707.

    I have been commissioned to write the screenplay about the 1707 Treaty of Union and the Scottish production company hired me, an American, because I would be non biased. So you can imagine my joy when I found this post with such detail behind the Worcester!

  1. Maddy

    thanks Rhonda
    just get hold of the book
    The tragedy of the Worcester – Richard Carnac Temple

    the last line about USA is not in there, that comes from a web search

  1. Maddy

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?tn=New+light+mysterious+tragedy+%22Worcester%22,+1704-1705

  1. Maddy

    also check this book
    The Rising Sun: A Novel By Douglas Galbraith

  1. Rhonda

    Thanks so much, Maddy!