William Dampier, pirate scientist – JSTOR Daily

“It may seem strange to speak in the same breath of piracy and science; violent tales of buccaneer adventures and the growth of Enlightenment ways of knowing, ”writes historian Anna Neil. But it may not be so weird, she argues: “At least since [Francis] In Drake’s time, the buccaneers had been identified as circumnavigators, colonialists and explorers as much as swordsmen and murderers.

This is because the buccaneers (a term used for pirates mainly limited to the Caribbean region) often published diaries of their adventures, in which “writers come and go between dramatic stories of attacks and looting, and natural and historical accounts of the climate, plants, animals and people of the various places they visit, ”writes Neil. And no pirate has kept a better diary than 17th century adventurer William Dampier.

Throughout his adventures, William Dampier noted meticulous observations of the natural world as his shipmates looted, plundered and attacked a few miles away. Caribbean scholar John Ramsaran quotes one scholar, who imagines Dampier “writing his journal, describing a bouquet of flowers or a rare fish, in the intervals between looting a wine shop or looting a village.”

Dampier was meticulous about his journal and diligent about its upkeep. During a heartbreaking trek through the Darien Isthmus in Panama, accompanied by more than 40 mutinous pirates, Dampier kept his journal dry by pushing it into a bamboo tube and stopping it with wax. two ends.

In the pages of his notebook, Dampier expressed a great curiosity for the world and a great desire to eat virtually any animal he encountered. This included the shark (which his men ate “very tastily”), the wallaby (a “very good meat”, similar to the raccoon), the flamingo, and many, many sea turtles.

Dampier’s first book, A new journey around the world, was published in 1697, after nearly two decades of buccaneers across the West Indies. The volume made him famous almost overnight. In it, Neil argues that Dampier deliberately downplayed his pirating actions, while emphasizing his new scientific findings. “Dampier’s journals… attempt to clean up their author’s criminal past by downplaying his acts of violence and presenting him instead as an explorer and science journalist,” Neil writes. “Dampier himself insisted that his trip was motivated more by selfless intention” to satisfy my curiosity [rather] than getting wealth.

Dampier’s rebranding was ultimately a success, as Neil writes:

The scientific community was convinced of this: while other members of the Buccaneer Party defended themselves against accusations of piracy, Charles Montague, president of the Royal Society, had introduced Dampier to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who then charged him to explore the coast of New Holland.

Dampier would lead the first government-sponsored scientific discovery expedition. He had become the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He would also make important contributions to the field of hydrography with precise observations on ocean movements. Dampier was a man who wanted to travel as far as possible and learn as much as he could. And, despite subsequent attempts to distance himself from his shady past, it seems that along the way, he was perfectly happy to seek his fortune as a pirate.

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By: Anna Neill

Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 33, n ° 2, Colonial Meetings (Winter 2000), pp. 165-180

Johns Hopkins University Press. Sponsor: American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS).

By: John A. Ramsaran

Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 5, n ° 4 (June 1959), pp. 272-275

Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

By: Alex George

The Great Circle, Vol. 37, n ° 1, special issue: William Dampier (2015), pp. 36-52

Australian Association for Maritime History

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