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The Batchelor’s Delight found Man Friday on a Sunday.
It was 23rd March 1684. The model for Defoe’s native hero had been on Juan Fernandez, marooned and solitary, for more than three years. Yet he was remarkably nonchalant when the landing party from the Batchelor’s Delight stepped ashore and ended his long solitude. He greeted the piratical crew as if he had been expecting them, and he had a meal ready - three goats cooked with some white leaves of cabbage palm. It was as though they had come to the island with the express intention of finding him, and he thanked them graciously. In a sense, he was right to do so.
Man Friday’s story is in the fourth chapter of the richly-bound volume which Dampier holds, spine towards the artist, in his portrait by Thomas Murray. When Murray painted the picture, the book was an obvious prop. ‘A New Voyage round the World’ had recently been published, and so great was demand that three editions were printed in the first year. Its far-travelled author was the talk of London society. Dampier’s true-life mix of first-hand adventure, travel and geography was so exotic that it was natural that Defoe, twenty two years later, would take inspiration from Dampier’s absorbing tale. Defoe’s concept of Man Friday was to be shaped by events that Dampier witnessed, beginning on the shores of the Caribbean in the spring of 1680.
A flotilla of seven small ships was anchored in the lee of Golden Island. The anchorage is a few miles north of what is now the border between Colombia and Panama, and was a favourite rendezvous for pirates or, as their unofficial historian called them more genteelly, ‘buccaneers’. 331 heavily armed men had disembarked, ready for a route march into the rain forest. The standard equipment each man carried was a ‘fuzee, pistol and hanger’; that is, a musket, a hand gun, and a short sword or cutlass suspended from the belt. Many wore ‘snapsacks’ on their backs to carry their spare clothing, gunpowder and shot. The ships’ cooks had made three or four ‘doughboys’, small loaves of bread, for each man as his marching rations. For water they anticipated drinking from the numerous streams which drain the mist-covered mountains lying ahead of them.
The intention was to launch a hit-and-run raid on the Spanish mining town of Santa Maria. The town lay on the far slope of the continental divide which forms the narrow waist of Central America. If they did not find enough loot in Santa Maria, they would continue on to the Pacific shore and strike at an even more ambitious target, the city of Panama. The raiders made little pretence of having the correct privateering documents to legitimize such an assault. Their ‘commissions’, one of their leaders put it, would best be read by the light of the muzzle flashes from their guns.
The raiders formed up in seven companies, each company approximating to the crew of the ship that had brought them. In the van came Captain Bartholomew Sharp. He had recently been ill and was still feeling very faint and weak, and had contributed forty men to the expedition. Their marching flag was red with a bunch of green and white ribbons. Next came Captain Richard Sawkins with thirty men forming up behind a red pennant striped with yellow. Captain Peter Harris’ ship had the largest crew, 107 men. Those who were picked to go on the raid, marched as two companies, each with a green flag. Behind them came the man elected as overall commanderof the enterprise, Captain John Coxon. His war band was boosted with volunteers from two of the smallest ships whose captains were staying behind to look after the invasion fleet. The seventh company followed a red banner striped with yellow. On this background Captain Edmund Cook had emblazoned his personal emblem - a hand and a sword.
The colourful quasi-military array masked the fact that the expedition was little more than a smash-and-grab raid by a gang of amphibious brigands. ‘Gold was the bait that tempted a Merry Pack of Boys of us’ was how one ruffian jauntily described their motives. Their rule was to be the ‘Jamaica discipline’: All decisions were to be made by vote of a general council; the men would elect or dismiss their leaders; and they would divide any booty equally and immediately.
Several members of the column had no vote nor any share in the booty. They were the prisoners and slaves, mostly Indian or black. They were treated as pack animals to portage the extra munitions and supplies. Nor did the Indian auxiliaries have any votes. The local Indian tribe, the Kuna, had suggested the attack on Santa Maria and Panama, and only the Kuna were capable of conducting the expedition through the difficult tangle of muddy footpaths leading up over the central cordillera and down the far slope to the South Sea. But very few of the Kuna spoke English. This was a disadvantage when the entire business of the expedition was conducted in English, the votes of the general council were called in English, and the raiders themselves were proud of their Englishness. Two more pirate captains had promised to provide men for the project, but had backed out at the last moment because, as one of the desperadoes scathingly wrote, their crews were ‘all French and not willing to go to Panama.’