Bucaniers of America
Bucaniers of America (London, 1684)
A section of the exhibition is dedicated to the discovery of new species by explorers and the often strange and unusual accounts given to describe them. The description in this book is that of an animal that the author calls 'sea cows'.
"Written originally in Dutch, by John Exquemelin, one of the Buccaneers, who was present at those Tragedies; and thence translated into Spanish, by Alonso de Bonne-maison, Doctor of Physick, and Practitioner at Amsterdam. Now faithfully rendered into English".
On 2nd May 1666 the Dutch author set forth towards the Western Islands, in a ship called the St. John, in the service of the West India Company ofFrance. The following is an excerpt from the book itself that discusses the book and the author:
"…this piece, both of natural and Humane History, was no longer published in the Dutch Original, than it was snatch't up for the most curious Library's of Holland; it was translated into Spanish; it was taken notice of by the learned Academy of Paris; it enlargeth our acquaintance of Natural History, so much prized and enquired for, by the learned of this present age, with several observations not easily to be found in other accounts already received from America.
...we are obliged unto this present author, who though a stranger to our Nation, yet with that candour and Fidelity hath recorded our Actions, as to render the metal of our true English Valour to be the more believed and feared abroad, than if these things had been divulged by our selves at home.
... Besides the merit of this Piece for its curiosity, another point of no less esteem, is the truth and sincerity wherewith every thing seemeth to be penned. No greater ornament or dignity can be added into history, either humane or natural, than truth...he writeth not by hearsay, but as an eye-witness...such plainness of words, such conciseness of periods...void of passion or natural reflections, as that he strongly perswadeth all-along to the credit of what he saith”.
One of the famous buccaneers that the book deals with is Henry Morgan, who was born in Wales. The English authorities encouraged the activities of the buccaneers because they knew that Britain's future prosperity rested on her ability to expand trading markets. The Spanish had claimed the New World and Spain had become dependant upon the gold and silver it produced. They sought to control trade and limit it to Spanish ships. At the time in question, it was not unknown for the Spaniards to capture British ships in the West Indies and to enslave their crews. The Spanish Armada had sailed to attack England only seventy or so years previously and the perceived threat from Spanish Catholicism was probably greater than the more recent worry about eastern European communism. England had no colonies where slaves toiled in gold mines and knew that only the outposts of the enfeebled Spanish empire prevented it from exploiting new opportunities for trade.