In 1682, it was obvious that Charles II would never have any legitimate children, and that the end of his life was near. The next king would be his loathsome brother James II. About 60 recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge therefore decided to seek their fortunes outside England while they could still leave. After many false starts, they won in a card game a new Danish [3-masted] ship, Charlotte Amalia, which they renamed Batchelors Delight. She was a 14-gun merchant ship, about 65 feet (20 metres) long on deck. They hired experienced captain John Cook, replaced by Welsh buccaneer Edward Davis when Cook died. They hired as surgeon Scotsman Lionel Wafer, who had “gone native” in Panama for years, and so knew the health value of having chocolate, ginger, and other tropical goods on a ship. The young men proposed going a-privateering (to them, a nice way of saying “a-pirating”) in the Caribbean. Wafer explained that the west coast of South America would be the most advantageous place to go. For navigator they hired the famous William Dampier.
They spent several years of successful plundering Spanish treasure from Chile to California (in which time, they also managed to discover eastern New Zealand (where they did not land because they saw terrifying moas, giraffe-sized emus, strutting along the beach) and Easter Island, and they were the first English to visit, chart, and document the Galapagos Islands; their account was avidly read by Darwin). In 1687, the crew heard in Panama that Parliament was about to throw out James II and replace him with his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William. Therefore, to lighten the ship, they buried a third of their treasure on Isla Cocos, Costa Rica, and sailed back around Cape Horn, spotting the Antarctic Peninsula in bad weather (the first people ever to see Antarctica). The various crew were dropped off in groups of four in English colonies from Barbados to New Hampshire with their shares of the treasure, so as not to draw attention to themselves. The ship was sold in Philadelphia to members of her own crew, who took her a-pirating in the Indian Ocean, where she disappeared from the record in 1697. Wafer, Davis, and two others were arrested under suspicion of piracy on their arrival in Virginia (someone had recognized Davis). After 3 years in jail at Jamestown, they were sent to London for trial. The judge struck a bargain: noting that they had acquired their loot in time of war against Spain, they could have their freedom if they surrendered a large portion of their loot to King William and Queen Mary. The monarchs gave the men’s treasure (today’s value: about $13 million) to found the College of William & Mary in 1693 in what is now Williamsburg, Virginia. Davis later recovered the rest of his treasure from Costa Rica, just in time to donate some of it to the rebuilding of the College after a fire in 1705. Two portraits of the ship have been found on period maps of the Americas; accurate pictures of specific pirate ships are extremely rare. Like many ships of her day, she set a square spritsail-topsail on a small mast perched precariously on the end of the bowsprit. Surgeon Wafer returned to the then-independent nation of Scotland, which he conned into spending huge sums to found the colony of Caledonia in Panama. This was such a disaster that Scotland asked England for a bail-out; England agreed, provided that Scotland & England be joined in the Union of Great Britain, 1707. All of this to do with this one small ship that measured 65 feet long on deck and 21 feet beam!
Colonial Navy Inc. (non-profit, tax-exempt) plans to build for only $1,000,000 a full-sized operational copy of the Batchelors Delight to take part in a year-round sail-training program with several other historic ship copies of the same size, to be based in Virginia. She is to be built of cold-molded wood-epoxy laminates for strength and longevity, a process that also happens to be very much less expensive. Although the ship is to be used primarily for sail-training, she will be made available for making movies when required. Our Project Director is John Millar, who built the full-sized operational copies of the 24-gun frigate Rose (now in San Diego) and the 12-gun sloop Providence (now in Alexandria VA), so he is the right person to supervise this new ship. Contributions, which are tax-deductible, may be sent to Colonial Navy Inc., 710 South Henry Street, Williamsburg, Virginia, 23185-4113. Please designate Batchelors Delight.
Colonial Navy Inc.’s historic ship line-up: ships Batchelors Delight, General Pickering; barque Surprise; brigs Tartar, Cabot, Andrew Doria; schooner* Royal Savage; ketch Thunder;* sloop Enterprise; cutter Dolphin.