The Devil's Mariner: William Dampier, Pirate and Explorer by Anton Gill - review by Tom Pocock

Tom Pocock

Quite Close Enough

The Devil's Mariner: William Dampier, Pirate and Explorer


Michael Joseph 352pp £20 order from our bookshop

William Dampier sailed the seas between the time of the mariners who feared they would fall over the edge of the world and that of the hydrographical surveys and astronomical observations of the great Captain Cook. In the latter part of the seventeenth century and early in the eighteenth, the sea was recognised as a limitless fishery for quick riches even if the fishing usually meant a short, violent life for the fisherman.

Dampier was one such, and as tough and unprincipled as most. He could have been remembered as just another seaman who took up authorised privateering against enemy ships, unauthorised buccaneering against enemies or neutrals, and piracy against any ships that promised booty, sometimes alternating this with service in merchant ships and the Royal Navy. He deserves to be remembered, however, as a great navigator, who made three voyages round the world, and wrote about them.

Dampier’s books, the first published in 1697 as A New Voyage round the World, have the freshness of naïve maritime painting. His accounts of wild creatures are particularly appealing: monkeys were ‘a great company, dancing from tree to tree over my head; chattering and making a terrible noise and a

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