The Pirates Fight A Portuguese Man Of War
From 'The Life, Adventures, And Piracies Of The Famous Captain Singleton' by Daniel Defoe (1720)

HAVING done this, we stood on upon the Brazil coast, southward, till we came to the mouth of the river Janeiro: but, as we had two days the wind blowing hard at S.E. and S.S.E., we were obliged to come to an anchor under a little island, and wait for a wind. In this time, the Portuguese had, it seems, given notice over land to the governor there, that a pirate was upon the coast; so that, when we came in view of the port, we saw two men-of-war riding just without the bar, whereof one we found was getting under sail with all possible speed, having slipped her cable, on purpose to speak with us; the other was not so forward, but was preparing to follow; in less than an hour they stood both fair after us, with all the sail they could make.

Had not the night come on, William's words had been made good; they would certainly have asked us the question, what we did there? for we found the foremost ship gained upon us, especially upon one tack; for we plied away from them to windward; but in the dark losing sight of them, we resolved to change our course, and stand away directly to sea, not doubting but we should lose them in the night.

Whether the Portuguese commander guessed we would do so or no, I know not; but in the morning, when the daylight appeared, instead of having lost him, we found him in chase of us, about a league astern; only, to our great good fortune, we could see but one of the two; however, this one was a great ship, carried six and forty guns, and an admirable sailer, as appeared by her out-sailing us; for our ship was an excellent sailer too, as I have said before.

When I found this, I easily saw there was no remedy, but we must engage; and, as we knew we could expect no quarters from those scoundrels the Portuguese, a nation I had an original aversion to, I let Captain Wilmot know how it was. The captain, sick as he was, jumped up in the cabin, and would be led out upon the deck (for he was very weak), to see how it was. Well, says he, we'll fight them.

Our men were all in good heart before; but, to see the captain so brisk, who had lain ill of a calenture ten or eleven days, gave them double courage, and they went all hands to work to make a clear ship and be ready. William the quaker comes to me with a kind of smile: Friend, says he, what does yon ship follow us for? Why, says I, to fight us, you may be sure. Well, says he, and will she come up with us, dost thou think? Yes, said I, you see she will. Why then, friend, says the dry wretch, why dost thou run from her still, when thou sees she will overtake thee? will it be better for us to be overtaken further off than here? Much at one for that, says I; why, what would you have us do? Do! says he, let us not give the poor man more trouble than needs must; let us stay for him, and hear what he has to say to us. He will talk to us in powder and ball, said I. Very well then, says he, if that be his country language, we must talk to him in the same, must we not? or else how shall he understand us? Very well, William, says I, we understand you. And the captain, as ill as he was, called to me, William's right again, says he, as good here as a league further. So he gave a word of command, Haul up the main-sail; we'll shorten sail for him.

Accordingly we shortened sail; and, as we expected her upon our lee-side, we being then upon our starboard tack, brought eighteen of our guns to the larboard side, resolving to give him a broadside that should warm him; it was about half an hour before he came up with us, all which time we luffed up, that we might keep the wind of him, by which he was obliged to run up under our lee, as we designed him; when we got him upon our quarter, we edged down, and received the fire of five or six of his guns; by this time you may be sure all our hands were at their quarters, so we clapped our helm hard a-weather, let go the lee-braces of the main top-sail, and laid it a-back, and so our ship fell athwart the Portuguese ship's hawse; then we immediately poured in our broadside, raking them fore and aft, and killed them a great many men.

The Portuguese, we could see, were in the utmost confusion; and, not being aware of our design, their ship having fresh way, ran their bowsprit into the fore part of our main shrouds, as that they could not easily get clear of us, and so we lay locked after that manner; the enemy could not bring above two or three guns, besides their small arms, to bear upon us, while we played our whole broadside upon him.

In the middle of the heat of this fight, as I was very busy upon the quarter-deck, the captain calls to me, for he never stirred from us, What the devil is friend William doing yonder, says the captain, has he any business upon deck? I stepped forward, and there was friend William, with two or three stout fellows, lashing the ship's bowsprit fast to our mainmast, for fear they should get away from us; and every now and then he pulled a bottle out of his pocket, and gave the men a dram to encourage them. The shot flew about his ears as thick as may be supposed in such an action, where the Portuguese, to give them their due, fought very briskly, believing at first they were sure of their game, and trusting to their superiority; but there was William, as composed, and in as perfect tranquillity as to danger, as if he had been over a bowl of punch, only very busy securing the matter, that a ship of forty-six guns should not run away from a ship of eight-and-twenty.

This work was too hot to hold long; our men behaved bravely; our gunner, a gallant man, shouted below, pouring in his shot at such a rate, that the Portuguese began to slacken their fire; we had dismounted several of their guns by firing in at their forecastle, and raking them, as I said, fore and aft; and presently comes William up to me: Friend, says he, very calmly, what dost thou mean? Why dost thou not visit thy neighbour in the ship, the door being open for thee? I understood him immediately, for our guns had so torn their hull, that we had beat two portholes into one, and the bulk-head of their steerage was split to pieces, so that they could not retire to their close quarters; I then gave the word immediately to board them. Our second lieutenant, with about thirty men, entered in an instant over the forecastle, followed by some more, with the boatswain, and cutting in pieces about twenty-five men that they found upon the deck, and then, throwing some grenadoes into the steerage, they entered there also; upon which the Portuguese cried quarter presently, and we mastered the ship, contrary indeed to our own expectation; for we would have compounded with them, if they would have sheered off, but laying them athwart the hawse at first, and following our fire furiously, without giving them any time to get clear of us, and work their ship; by this means, though they had six-and-forty guns, they were not able to point them forward, as I said above, for we beat them immediately from, their guns in the forecastle, and killed them abundance of men between decks, so that, when we entered, they had hardly found men enough to fight us hand to hand upon their deck.

The surprise of joy, to hear the Portuguese cry quarter, and see their ancient struck, was so great to our captain, who, as I have said, was reduced very weak with a high fever, that it gave him new life. Nature conquered the distemper, and the fever abated that very night; so that in two or three days he was sensibly better, his strength began to come, and he was able to give his orders effectually in everything that was material, and in about ten days was entirely well, and about the ship.

In the mean time, I took possession of the Portuguese man-of-war; and Captain Wilmot made me, or rather I made myself, captain of her for the present. About thirty of their seamen took service with us, some of whom were French, some Genoese; and we set the rest on shore the next day, on a little island on the coast of Brazil, except some wounded men, who were not in a condition to be removed, and whom we were bound to keep on board; but we had an occasion afterwards to dispose of them at the Cape, where, at their own request, we set them on shore.