The Man from Wales


“Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men…They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty.”

Robert Owen, (1771-1858) Book of the New Moral World: Sixth Part, 1841


Robert Owen was a change agent, by words and actions.  Born in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, he became a social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He believed that when people cared about each other it would generate extraordinary outcomes for society.

At the young age of 29, Robert was part-owner of a Manchester cotton mill.  Soon he took over cotton mills in New Lanark in Scotland.  His priority was the workers whose livelihoods depended upon employment within his mills.  He enhanced their housing and sanitation, provided medical supervision, and set up a cooperative shop that sold provisions near cost.  His greatest dream was to educate children.  He established the first infant school in Great Britain based on his deeply held belief that improved circumstances would act as a beacon of hope.

Robert’s ideas remain remarkably relevant for us today.  In his words, “To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate”. (The Social System, 1826)

Robert’s life was dedicated to building a fairer society where all could live without fear of hunger or want, secure in the knowledge that their children would be educated and that their efforts would be valued.  Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels paid tribute to Robert, as the man who gave them the basis for their theories.

“Eight hours’ daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep”.

From the Foundation Axioms of Owen’s “Society for Promoting National Regeneration”


The Pirate Code


The Pirate Code – Article I

“Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment.  He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.”


The celebrated pirate, Thomas Tew, along with his friends Captain James Misson and an Italian Dominican priest named Caraccioli, founded the legendary pirate haven, Libertalia. According to Captain Charles Johnson’s book, A General History of the Pyrates,  Libertalia was situated on a remote area of Madagascar. Here, pirates, ex-slaves, and other outcasts from society supposedly lived a life of ease in harmony with nature and each other.  Most believe this to be an utter fabrication; however, there is evidence that pirate communities did exist and were organized and operated in a comparatively democratic style.

The Pirate Code – Article III

“None shall game for money either with dice or cards.”

On a pirate ship, the captain and his second-in command, the quartermaster, were generally duly elected.  The treasures were divided according to their rank.  They even had a social net to compensate for disability sustained in action.  A loss of an arm qualified for 600 pieces of eight, while the loss of an eye was valued at 100, and so on.

The Pirate Code – Article IXA Pirate Ship

“No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000.  Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock for lesser hurts proportionately.”

Pirate recruits, whether willing or not, were required to sign their name or make their mark, as a sign of allegiance and loyalty to their captain. Once signed, the pirate was given a vote as well as a set of rules to follow. Many of these pirate codes were lost when pirates, on the threshold of capture, destroyed them knowing they would be used as evidence against them.  The most famous code was written by Bartholomew Roberts in 1721, which has eleven articles, four of which are included in this post.

The Pirate Code – Article XI

“The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right.  On all other days by favour only.”

Bartholomew Roberts, 1721


Even pirates had need of music.


The Buccaneers


“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” 
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island


Buccaneers, the very name conjures up visions of daring feats and bold adventures. These were men who attacked the treasure-laden Spanish ships in the Caribbean during the 17 century. Yet, buccaneers had their own rather unusual history.  When Spanish residents moved from the north-eastern coast of Hispaniola in 1605, they left all their livestock behind.  Before long, huge herds of pigs, goats and cattle roamed the countryside attracting hunters. A small group of Arawak Indians taught these hunters how to cure strips of meat over a wooden grate called a boucan. The word became bourcanier in French and eventually buccaneers in English.  Most buccaneers called themselves privateers; indeed, some did sail under the protection of a letter of marque granted by British, French or Dutch authorities.  However, most had little concern over trivial legal matters.

Sir Henry MorganThe Welshman, Henry Morgan, was one of the most successful pirates of the 17th century.  He had the protection of the British government which gave him carte blanche to make raids at his discretion. He amassed enormous personal wealth and lived a life of roguish escapades.  For his efforts, Charles II rewarded him with a knighthood and the title of Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.  Even so, the tides were turning against Sir Henry Morgan. Reports of his unsavoury brutality were spread abroad, but he adamantly maintained they were vicious rumours. He even sued a publisher for suggesting that he was an uncivilized, ordinary pirate.  His last days were anything but an adventure. The life of a dignitary was boring and not to his liking.

With Henry Morgan’s passing, Captain William Kidd took over his mantle as the world’s most infamous pirate. Born in Scotland, 1645, there is evidence to suggest he was the son of a Presbyterian minister.  Captain Kidd will be always remembered as the pirate with a map and buried treasure.  A pirate’s life was uncertain.  There were twists and turns, betrayals and treachery. Captain Kidd was tried as a common thief and suffered the fate of a pirate’s end.  Even now, many believe that he was unfairly treated.

Piracy is a risky business, with endings that may not be foreseen at the beginning of the adventure.

 “It’s better to swim in the sea below
Than to swing in the air and feed the crow,
Says jolly Ned Teach of Bristol.”

Benjamin Franklin on Blackbeard, the Pirate

All The Queen’s Men


“If England had not used the services of privateers and pirates during its long struggle with Spain, there is some likelihood that people today in North America would be speaking Spanish rather than English.” 
Robert Earl Lee, Blackbeard the Pirate

A Ship

They were called the “Sea Dogs.”

Queen Elizabeth I was surrounded by dynamic, brilliant, intrepid and creative men.  They were her privateers, independent, but used as an auxiliary navy to plunder Spanish ships. If the Spanish took exception, the Queen could deny that she had any hand in the mischief.

Sir John Hawkins, the leader of the Sea Dogs, engaged with the Spanish ships in the Caribbean. His résumé included slave-trading pioneer, treasure-hunting pirate, high-ranking naval commander, spy and war hero.  He reformed the navy and improved the pay and conditions for sailors.

Sir Francis Drake, sea captain, slaver, and politician, is usually remembered as a hero, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth, who awarded him with a knighthood.  He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588.  On the other side of the channel, the Spanish knew him as the ferocious pirate, El Draque – the Dragon.  Perhaps his greatest feat was to be the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

Sir Walter Raleigh was destined to be one of the most celebrated figures in British history. A privateer, explorer, poet and favourite of the Queen, he was the first to attempt colonization in  North America.  He was unsuccessful, but his efforts opened the way for others to follow.

With the passing of Queen Elizabeth I, peace was made with Spain.  The Sea Dogs continued their piratical activities on the Barbary Coast, to the embarrassment of the English Crown.  The time of the Privateers was coming to an end.  Once the force behind British imperialism and expansion, they became, in the end, a threat to national security.  As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil.”

“And what is the sea?” asked Will. 
“The sea!” cried the miller. “Lord help us all, it is the greatest thing God made!”
Robert Louis Stevenson


Letters of Marque


“The sun shines on me just the same as on the other; and I should like to see the clause in Adam’s will that cuts me out of my share in the New World!”

Francis I of France, 1494

 The Sail

Christopher Columbus may have been the discoverer of the New World in 1492, yet his previous employment was that of a pirate under the French flag, looting Venetian galleys that sailed from Lisbon to England.  His jaunt across the Atlantic Ocean opened the window to the riches of a freshly discovered continent.  In 1519, Hernán Cortés laid claim to the gold belonging to the Aztec Empire and packed it into three ships to take back to his king, Charles V of Spain.  His grandiose gesture was foiled near the Azores when his ships were attacked by French privateers under Jean Fleury of Honfleur.  It was Jean Ango of Dieppe, Fleury’s patron, not the court of Madrid, that was the first to share in the wealth of the New World.  To Spain’s chagrin, France said that since they were at war, the seizure was legitimate. After all, the licensing of armed private vessels, also known as privateers, was an internationally recognized and accepted practice.

With a letter of marque from their government, privateers were given permission to attack the ships of any other country.  It was a profitable partnership, in a high stakes game. France, Spain and England participated with enthusiastic expectation.  In reality, the privateer system worked only for a few, and was nothing more than a state-sanctioned form of piracy.  We all know their names from our school days, but behind their titles of “sir” were men who sought fame and fortune.  In the end, privateers were only pawns in the great chess game of a global power struggle. Perhaps we should leave the last word to Sir Francis Bacon, a famous critic of the privateer system.

“Money is a great servant but a bad master.” 
 Francis Bacon

Black – The Queen of Colours


“I’ve been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colours was black.” 
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Black Contrast

Black is the colour of night, of ebony and outer space.  Its power to envelop our world gives it a secretive, mysterious and enigmatic appeal.  Technically speaking, however it is not considered a colour at all; rather, it is the absence of or complete absorption of light.   Black achieved massive iconic appeal over the centuries and has come to symbolize night, sobriety, denial, authority, perfection and purity, wisdom and maturity.

Black was one of the first colours used by Neolithic artists on their cave drawings, a tradition carried on, but refined,  by the ancient Greeks.  Egyptians connected the colour black with the fertile black soil of the Nile Valley and their potent god of the underworld, Anubis, who took the form of a black jackal. Nótt, the goddess of the night for German and Scandinavian peoples, traversed the sky in a chariot drawn by a black horse.

Creating the colour black brought out the creative talents of our ancestors. Romans produced “Vine black” by burning cut branches of grapevines; they also burned and dried crushed grapes. On the other side of the world, the Polynesians burned coconuts to achieve the same results.  Soot collected from oil lamps produced what was appropriately named “Lamp black.”  Then there was “Ivory black” that was a concoction of charcoal power, oil and ivory.  “Mars black” was named for the god of war and patron of iron because of its content of synthetic iron oxides.

Black stands apart from the spectrum of the rainbow.  It serves as the contrast that enhances the beauty of all the other colours in nature. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to it singleness of purpose, its implacable statement of solidarity.

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” 

Johnny Cash, The Man in Black