Photo of Kinsale Harbour by P.J. McKenna
On the approach to Kinsale Harbour, there is a cliff called Hangman’s Point. The name tells you exactly what you’d expect; a few centuries ago, you might see a body dangling from the scaffold.
When Captain William Baugh sailed into the harbour in 1612, he may have looked nervously towards Hangman’s Point. Baugh and his pirate crew had been terrorizing ships from Orkney to North Africa. King James I offered an amnesty for reformed pirates, and Baugh agreed to come ashore to negotiate with the Admiralty and thereby avoid the noose. But Baugh was far from reformed. His ship, The Lion, was laden with newly-stolen plunder.
A pirate captain was essentially the leader of a criminal gang, requiring the same mixture of ruthlessness and charisma. Life on board any ship was harsh, but at least a pirate crew had a democracy of sorts: the crew typically signed a code of conduct, got an agreed share of the booty, and could vote their captain out if they wished. This was no consolation to the victims of their brutal raids, who considered themselves lucky if they escaped with their lives.
On the journey towards Kinsale, Baugh had spotted three French ships and the temptation was too much. His crew attacked the ships, adding fabrics, gold and silver plate, and precious stones to their own cargo. The estimated value of Baugh’s share was close to £4000 as The Lion entered Kinsale Harbour.
The constable of the fort at Kinsale was Henry Skipwith, and he knew how this game was played. He got 800 pieces of eight for his cooperation, and his wife received gifts of silverware, linen, and canvas. The rest of the local community were sweetened by Baugh’s generosity as he negotiated the conditions of his pardon. French diplomats in London protested, but to no avail. Baugh took advantage of this time to romance Skipwith’s daughter, and the young woman was reportedly quite taken by this dashing English pirate.
Among those recipients of Baugh’s bounty was locally-based British naval officer, Sir William St. John, who by some accounts had been in league with Baugh all along. But St John proved that the pirate code was more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and he sailed off with the ship and much of the plundered goods.
Captain William Baugh was left destitute in Kinsale and died in a debtor’s prison, cursing the name of William St. John.
Almost a century later, a lawyer named William Cormac lived across the bay from Hangman’s Point. His indiscretion with a maidservant gave him a daughter named Anne, and the three of them escaped the wrath of his wife’s family by sailing to North Carolina. Red-haired Anne proved quite the handful; at 16 she married a small-time pirate, James Bonny, although she would later leave him for the more flamboyant “Calico Jack” Rackham.
Kinsale girl Anne Bonny became one of the most notorious pirates of the 18th century Caribbean.
Pirates of the Kinsale Coastline Irish Independent review of “Kinsale Harbour – A History” by John Thuillier
Anne Bonny, Badass of the Week (strong language)