Buccaneers and pirates

When, as a schoolboy, I read that a government in England had bestowed a knighthood upon the admiral of a fleet which had persistently robbed Spanish ships on the high seas, I was intrigued. Was that not piracy? The Spanish ships had been carrying the loot from the cultures of Central and South America.

The British did carry out their own looting, especially from the wealthy princes of India. Looting was obviously a cheap form of expropriation. I have read that many a crown in Britain carries most impressively large precious stones (no doubt ‘gifted’). This reminds me that, while honourable men like Nehru had been jailed for seeking independence for India, the Viceroy of India (an Englishman) had donated a very large sum of money to the Kaiser of India (the King of England) to help in the war effort against Hitler.

Whether the buccaneers from other, equally small, colonising European nations reaped comparatively large amounts of decorative wealth, I do not know.

However, I do remember my elders speaking about the brutality of European colonisers in Asia. Yet, I remember being taught (from a British curriculum) how some nice English people had been killed by brutal Indians in the Black Hole of Calcutta, an event denied by the Indians. Nehru then reminded us (in his “Glimpses of World History”) about the massacre by General Dyer of Indians protesting peacefully for independence. Remarkably, we were also taught that the Indians lived on the ‘smell of an oily rag.’

The main purpose in sailing onto dangerous seas in necessarily small ships manned by courageous men is trade. Indian traders, followed later by Arab traders, reportedly sailed (using the so-called trade winds) all along the coast, allegedly all the way to Europe. I think that it was Nehru who wrote that Vasco da Gama had been shown the route around the southern tip of Africa by Indian sailors he had met in Lisbon.

Did the Indians, Arabs, Chinese and African traders set up trading posts in the lands of other peoples (as did the European traders), expand into fortresses, and then proceed to conquer adjacent lands, and dominate – ‘lord it’ – over the ‘native’ peoples?

With the powerful armaments available, did not the Europeans ‘progress’ from trader to buccaneer, to coloniser? The agents of the East India Companies in situ apparently did well as buccaneering colonisers. I remember reading that the tinted sons of the more successful of the buccaneers sent their sons to good schools in England; and that there then arose such quaint phrases as ‘ having a touch of tar’ and there being ‘a nigger in the woodpile.’ And the great Churchill was reported to have described Gandhi as ‘that nigger’ when the latter was negotiating for independence.

Most strangely, during my first month in Australia, apart from asking me whether we sat on furniture, and other question of like intent, a fellow student, who spoke with a ‘plum in his mouth,’ said to one all that the ‘nigger Gandhi ought to be shot’! No one responded.

He was only the son of an Irish-Australian surgeon. How pretentious could one be, even to a former colonial subject?