BANDIT LANDS 6: JURO JANOSIK

Attribution below *

The great hero of the Slovak people is an outlaw named Juro Janosik. Born around 1688 of poor parents in the politically unsettled region of Northern Slovakia, the young Janosik fought in one of the rebellions of the peasantry (that of Rakoczy II from 1703-1711) against the repressive aristocracy of the time and place. Janosik later became a soldier in the Imperial army. While serving as a guard in one of the Emperor’s gaols he met a prisoner named Thomas Uhorcik who had for some years been a brigand and resister in one of the robber gangs that roamed Northern Slovakia during this period. Uhorcik would later initiate Janosik into a life of brigandry that would evolve into the legend of the Slovakian Robin Hood.

By 1711 Janosik had left the Imperial army and returned to his home country, where he again met with Uhorcik and was drafted into a gang of brigands. Janosik quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the outlaw life and was elected leader of the gang, his exploits in robbing especially the aristocracy earning him the approval and support of the many disaffected people in the region, and far beyond. His headquarters were in thick pine forests in the mountainous area known as ‘King’s Plateau’, but he operated throughout and beyond the eastern counties of Slovakia and into neighbouring Moravia, Silesia, Poland and Hungary, apparently generating sympathy and support wherever he went.

Despite their being little historical evidence of Janosik giving to the poor, there is a strong tradition that he gave jewels stolen from a Lord Skalka to the ladies of Tarchova. He was also said to possess a number of magical objects, including a belt that made him invincible, a shirt that made him invulnerable to bullets and a general ability to carry out superhuman feats.

In spite of these useful skills and amulets, Janosik was captured in 1712 but, like many an outlaw hero, managed to escape, adding further to the already established legend. Also according with the outlaw hero tradition was the manner of his recapture. Betrayed either by one of his gang or by his girlfriend, he was taken the following year. At his trial Janosik was keen to clear his name of crimes he did not commit, mainly those involving violence or ungallant behaviour. He admitted to those he had perpetrated, none of which had involved killing. He also revealed the names, though not the whereabouts, of his comrades and the location of his treasure. 

The defence made an appeal for leniency but Janosik was condemned to a double punishment: he was first to be stretched on the rack for his lesser crimes, then hanged for his greater ones. Within a day or two of the verdict the sentence was carried out and the great robber, already a national hero, was hanged in front of a vast crowd. According to tradition he died game, performing a lively folk dance in his shackles four times around the gallows, beneath which he was buried after the sentence had been carried out.

Now Janosik’s afterlife could begin. One tradition has it that his body was buried in the crypt of the church in St. Mikulas. Here the hero lies completely preserved until the day when a new Janosik will arise and strike down the oppressors of his people.

Writing in 1929, Cyprian Tkacik observed that Janosik’s home country ‘and many other regions in the Pohron and Malohont districts, abound even today in folk songs, ballads, and stories of his exploits on behalf of the poor and the oppressed’.[i] There are still hundreds of folksongs celebrating Janosik, his life and his myth.[ii]

Janosik is far more than just a robber, he is the very model of the noble thief, robbing the rich, helping the poor, harming none, righting wrongs and ‘gallant, generous, honest, and honorable with his people.’ He has been celebrated in poetry, novels, drama, art, art song, folk ballads, placenames, film, popular iconography and a continuing repertoire of legends about his deeds, his treasure and his heroic status. [iii]  Like a select few outlaw heroes, including Robin Hood and Ned Kelly, Janosik has transcended the role of outlaw hero to become a culture hero, sleeping until the day his people need him.


  • Attribution: Juraj Jánošík (1688–1713), a Slovak Carpathian Highwaymen – a statue in the Smetana Park in Hořice, Jičín District, the Czech Republic.
    Sculptor: Franta Úprka (1868–1929).Čeština:Juraj Jánošík (1688–1713), slovenský zbojník – socha z roku 1919 ve Smetanových sadech v Hořicích v okrese Jičín. Autor návrhu: Franta Úprka (1868–1929). Picture: Ben Skála

NOTES

[i]  Tkacik, Cyprian, O. S. B. ‘Janosik The Slovak Robin Hood In the Light of Documentary Evidence and Popular Legend’, (Parts 1 and 2) Slovenske Pohl’ady (Slovak Review)Vol. XLV, Nos. 1-2, 1929, accessed at http://www.iarelative.com/history/janosik.htm July 04

[ii] Hobsbawm, Bandits, p. 47.

[iii] Tkacik, Part 2.

THE EROS CODE

Talmey list

The language of romantic love was once said to consist of ‘sweet nothings’ meant to be whispered softly into the ears of the beloved. But on the wilder shores of human sexuality is an extensive glossary of words and phrases generally considered rather too rude for polite society. An American sexologist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bernard Simon Talmey, made an intensive study of sexual practices and wrote several books about his findings. To conform to the proprieties of the era, he used Latin to describe what was going on. Rather a lot, in fact.

But readers complained that they couldn’t understand these terms and so, in the subsequent editions of his Love: A Treatise on the Science of Sex-attraction (1919) he provided translations of the Latin. Few of these terms, or the situations they describe, would raise an eyebrow today. Some are completely banal, such as Pernoctare, to ‘spend the night’ and conjux meaning a ‘husband’. Others are suggestive of more adventurous behaviours, mainly referring to male and female genitalia and their excitation, such as cunnilingus and fellatio, defined as ‘sucking (obscene)’. Here’s a sample of Talmey’s code in action.

The girl, a domestic servant, was always moral before her illness. When she began suffering from hysterical attacks, amato liberos in fidem suam commissos exhibebat ad constuprandum et noctu pectators rerum turpium eos faciebat, while the whole household was asleep under the influence of narcotics. When she was discovered and driven out of the house, the formerly modest girl became shameless and finally meretricium fecit.

It basically means that the girl engaged in self-masturbation and ended up as a prostitute, a typically Victorian moral consequence.

However, the range and variety of human sexual activities covered in this book might occasionally challenge even modern readers.

Rosse reports the case of a young white, unmarried woman in Washington who was surprised in flagrante delicto with a large English mastiff, who in his efforts se solvere a puella caused an injury of such a nature that she died from hemorrhage within an hour.

If you’re game, you can read all about it here.

BANDIT LANDS 5 – ‘PIGEON’

Pigeon

 

Australia’s vast and mostly arid northwest had been largely ignored until the 1880s when its almost infinite acres attracted sheep and cattle farming and its seas an embryonic pearling industry. As settlement increased, the newcomers increasingly encroached on the traditional lands of the many indigenous groups in what would become known as the Kimberley region. Some of these groups resisted, others seemed to fade away as the frontier pushed relentlessly north and east. The Bunuba were not inclined to simply walk off their land and nurtured an ongoing resistance that eventually produced an outlaw hero.

Jandamarra (Jandamurra) was already approaching initiation age when his country became the object of commercial and political interest. At around eleven years of age he was taken into employment on a local station to be trained as a stockman. One of the attractions for settling the Kimberley was the availability of cheap indigenous workers for the labour intensive pastoral and pearling enterprises. The settlers hoped that if they got the ‘natives’ when they were young they could at once be dispossessed of their land and trained as useful hands. Jandamarra appeared to be the ideal type of such conversions, quickly excelling at the necessary skills and eventually also becoming a crack rifle shot. Although he was unusually short for a Bunuba man – they were typically six-foot or more – he had great speed and agility, leading to the settlers nicknaming him ‘Pigeon’.

Working and living in the company of the settlers caused Jandamarra to grow up without being initiated into the spiritual secrets that would rightly have belonged to a Bunuba man. Aboriginal belief revolves around the sanctity of the land and everything within it and upon it. Bound up with this spiritual system are interrelated social, economic, political and legal systems. Once the ‘law’ is lost or untaught, so the individual is disadvantaged – potentially lethally – in the Aboriginal world. Although Jandamarra would come to know his country, its gullies, hills, trails and caves intimately, he was never fully a man in Bunuba society.

None of these matters worried Jandamarra, it seems. He was content to work for the settlers and even to become a ‘blacktracker’ or adjunct member of the police force and take part in tracking down other Aboriginal men and women wanted by the law. There were many of these in the Kimberley of the 1880s. As settlement increased, so did resistance to it. Stock were speared, supplies stolen and whites attacked by one or usually small groups of Aborigines. The settlers reacted with violence based on fear as much as racism and there was an ongoing level of attack and counter-attack as Aborigines sought to stem the unstoppable advances of the settlers and they sought to ‘disperse’ them so their stock could graze the grassland and drink from the waterholes.

A noted Bunuba warrior of the time was a man named Ellemarra. Through the late 1880s he offered fierce and ongoing resistance to the settlers, often being arrested but usually escaping again. So dangerous did Ellemarra become that the settlers called for ‘the whole tribe of natives inhabiting the Napier Range to be outlawed’.[i] While there was no official proclamation of outlawry, the settlers were increasingly prepared to take the law in to their own hands and to protect themselves by hunting and gunning down those Aborigines they believed meant to harm them. Ellemarra was among the most wanted of the resisters and Jandamarra, caught between the worlds of white and black, formed part of a police party sent out to bring him in, effectively going against his own people. Ellemarra was flogged and imprisoned. He eventually escaped again but was recaptured and chained with a group of other Aboriginal prisoners. Possibly with the help of Jandamarra, Ellemarra managed to break his chains and escape again.

Now Jandamarra had to again take part in tracking Ellemarra down, under the command of a policeman named Richardson. Jandamarra led the policeman to his countrymen and they were captured in late October, 1894, the largest haul of resisters the police had yet netted. Richardson delayed returning with them in order to gain a greater allowance for being on active duty. It was a fatal mistake.

The Bunuba men naturally placed pressure on Jandamarra to let them go and acknowledge his true Bunuba identity. Eventually Jandamarra accepted their argument released Ellemarra and shot Richardson dead while he slept. The two men then released their comrades, took the guns and ammunition and disappeared into the bush. They soon raised a large group of Bunuba and engaged in a large-scale battle with police sent to track them down for the murders of a number of settlers in November. Ellemarra and a number of Bunuba women were killed in the shooting and Jandamarra seriously wounded. He managed to escape, evading the pursuit through his unparalleled knowledge of the country.

While Jandamarra was in hiding, recovering from his wounds, the government sent police reinforcements to the Kimberley as quickly as was possible at the time. An undeclared war was in progress. It would make Jandamarra a great hero to his people and their struggle. The police had almost convinced themselves that the Bunuba resistance was broken when rumours of Jandamarra’s survival were confirmed in May, 1885. Jandamarra and the Bunuba now conducted a guerrilla war. Police continually came across the outlaw’s tracks, only to lose them in the rocks and ravines.

Bunuba people also misled the police with false information, making the police look like fools, further demoralising them. In October 1895, Jandamarra became over-confident and failed to post a guard around his camp. He and his band were surprised by the police. Employing his legendary agility, Jandamarra disappeared into a convenient cave, but most of his band was captured.

Over the following months Jandamarra concentrated on harassing and demoralising police and settlers by demonstrating his mastery of the country and of stealth. Robbing storehouses, visiting police camps at night, shadowing police patrols, always ensuring they knew that he had been among them. Jandamarra, the uninitiated man now came to be seen by his own people as a lawman, an individual with great spiritual authority and great magical powers. He was said to be able to turn himself into a bird and to fly away from the police. He was also said to be invulnerable because his real spirit was hidden at his hideout and it was only his animated body that crossed his country to taunt the police and the settlers.

This went on for many months, interspersed with moments of violence and the besieging of the police outpost at Lillimooroola station, immediately below the limestone cliffs that marked the easily defended edge of Bunuba country. Towards the end of 1896 the settlers began forcing their cattle deep into Bunuba land, effectively going behind Jandamarra’s front line. The Bunuba resistance went back into action with psychological warfare and attacks on settlers. The police cranked up their attempts to end the conflict, committing more atrocities against the Bunuba, but had no more success than in their previous attempts.

But within the police ranks was a secret weapon. An Aboriginal member of the force named Micki was from far outside Bunuba country and had no loyalty towards Jandamarra’s fight. He was also considered to have magical powers by the Aborigines. On March 23, 1897 Micki was solely responsible for capturing five of Jandamarra’s band. Jandamarra attempted to free his comrades but was badly wounded. He was pursued through the ranges as he struggled towards his hideout cave at Tunnel Creek, thirty miles east. He made it back inside the cave through one of its many secret entrances, but Micki was waiting for him outside the cave’s main entrance. On April Fool’s Day, the two lawmen faced each other with Winchester rifles. Jandamarra missed and Micki’s shot sent him hurtling down a 100-foot cliff. The police reached the scene, confirmed the body was that of their feared foe and then chopped the head from the torso with a tomahawk. It was reportedly despatched to adorn the trophy wall of a British arms manufacturer.

The Bunuba resistance was finally broken with Jandamarra’s death. But his legend lives on, becoming a powerful oral tradition in the Kimberley. [ii]

NOTES

[i] Quoted in Pederson, H & Woorunmurra, B, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, 1995, p. 49. See also Aboriginal History 9:1, 1985, passim and p. 98, note 26.

[ii] In 2004 a folklife fieldwork project recorded further strong traditions about Jandamarra and his legend from his descendants. See ‘Report on the Western Australian Folklife Project, 2004’ National Library of Australia and WA Folklore Archive, Curtin University.

BANDIT LANDS 4 -‘THE LAMP’

Lampeao2

Lampião and some of his cangaceiros. Lampião is left of centre, to the right of him is Maria Bonita. The distinctive leather hats with upturned brims and leather clothes can be seen. The men have Mauser rifles, a great deal of ammunition and several have long peixeira knives thrust though their waist-belts.

 

Under his cangaçeiro or bandit name of Lampião – ‘The Lamp’ –  Virgulino Ferreira da Silva (1897-1938) followed a nearly twenty-year career of banditry in the Brazilian backlands from before the age of twenty until his grisly death in 1938.

Known as Lampião from his reputed ability to light up the darkness with rapid fire from a lever-action Winchester rifle, his gang’s gang’s first major attack was very much in the Robin Hood mould.

With around fifty men, Virgulino attacked the home of a wealthy aristocratic widow with good political connections. This was profitable and gained the outlaw the immediate attention of the press. His legend now began.

Over the next sixteen years and through several states, Lampião and his various gangs fought pitched battles with police and the volantes, or ‘flying squads’ formed especially to hunt down bandits. They kidnapped police, politicians, judges, the wealthy and the not so wealthy demanding and usually receiving hefty ransoms for their safe return. Towns and farms were plundered, travellers robbed, and sometimes murdered.

As the years passed, Lampião became increasingly savage in his actions, which included torture and humiliation of enemies and informers as well as raping several women. A number of unfortunates were castrated at his orders and he is said to have gouged out the eyes of one poor man in front of his wife and children. He then shot his victim dead through the empty eye sockets. Other atrocities are recorded and documented.[i]

The reality of Lampião’s banditry was therefore very much at odds with the benign image of Robin Hood. Although he professed strict rules about violence and rape, Lampião was feared as a cruel and sometimes sadistic killer, not only of those who opposed him, including peasants, but also of his own men who offended in some way. Over the course of his bandit life Lampião’s power and wealth grew, though most of this seems to have been used in the expensive business of maintaining a band almost continually on the run.

In 1926 he had a flirtation with the politics of his time and place, being given a commission as ‘Captain’ by one group of revolutionaries, together with a promise of amnesty when they came to power. In return, the bandit was to hunt down and eliminate one of their enemies. Lampião soon returned to his bandit ways, but from then retained the title of ‘Captain Silvino’.

Periods of pillage and plunder were followed by times of partying and celebration. Lampião was a noted party-thrower, his wealth allowing him to entertain his friends and allies in style. He was also a flashy dresser in the colourful style universally favoured by cangaçeiros. Distinctive upturned hat, scarf, crossed bandoliers of bullets, rings, boots and liberal applications of eau de cologne and hair pomade, allowing friend and foe alike to smell their presence. The list of possessions made at Lampião’s death included a hat and chinstrap adorned with fifty gold trinkets, rings set with precious stones, gold coins and medallions. His weapons were set with gold and silver and even his haversacks were heavily embroidered and fastened with gold and silver buttons.[ii]

Lampião’s success as a Robin Hood figure despite his cruelties, was largely due to his network of connections at various levels of backlands society and his ability to manipulate the outlaw hero code. He threw coins to the children of the poor and made generous gifts to peasants suffering from droughts and other hardships. He usually kept a tight rein on the carnal instincts of his men and he knew how to use the media. As one of Lampião’s historians put it, the bandit ‘was not unconcerned with his own image’.[iii]

In addition to playing to the press, Lampião has the distinction of being the first bandit to be filmed in action. While Pancho Villa had been filmed in the field for Barbarous Mexico, a documentary released in 1913, he had assumed the more respectable role of revolutionary general for that piece of propaganda. Lampião’s ten minutes of celluloid immortality show him and his men in their natural bandit habitat. Lampião was an enthusiastic collaborator in this public relations initiative.

A number of feature films have since been made based on Lampião’s legend, including one titled Lampião, Beast of the Northeast (1930). His afterlife is also assisted by the folk ballad tradition and an ongoing series of cordels glamorising the outlaw’s life and death, sold cheaply on the streets, initially in regional centres though today freely available in the larger Brazilian cities.

By 1930 the bandit’s fame had reached The New York Times, which in the following year predictably portrayed him as a Robin Hood. While Lampião evinced little interest in helping the poor, he was able to motivate support and sympathy in both high and low sectors of backlands society. Like some other bandits who were seen as possibly useful tools, if properly managed, he was able to call on the intercession of local political figures and power brokers, notably Padre Cicero for favours, money and shelter. His coiteros, or sympathisers, were not only in the upper echelons, though, and the ‘barefoot coiteros’ as the poorer sympathisers were known, assisted by providing the police and volantes with misleading information about the bandits’ movements.

As in other cases of rural banditry, the sympathisers and families of the outlaws experienced harassment from the police, including imprisonment without trial. In the Brazilian situation, this was exacerbated by the inability of the police to act against the wealthier and more influential individuals who colluded, willingly or otherwise, with Lampião due to their powerful political connections. It was not until a degree of inter-state cooperation between police forces and governments developed in the 1930s that Lampião and other cangaçeiros began to feel serious pressure from the authorities.

lamp3

The religious currents of the backlands were also an important element of the cangaçeiro. The endemic poverty and devastating droughts that ravaged the region gave rise to numerous extreme and millennial religious movements, some of which became linked with revolutionary political activity. Lampião and many of his followers were deeply pious and came to display religious tokens and images of Padre Cícero on their costumes. These were partly related to the belief that such tokens made them invulnerable to bullets, a belief shared by most other Roman Catholic backlanders. By the time of his death, Lampião had become ‘almost a beato, a kind of holy person common to northeastern Brazil.’[iv] This belief did not save the outlaw from his almost inevitable end.

The ‘king of the backlands’ as he was often dubbed, met his doom in the usual manner of the outlaw hero. Early one fine morning a party of police crept carefully towards the sleeping cangaçeiros. So confident were the outlaws of their safety that they had not bothered to post a guard. ‘Lampião’ was clearly visible, sleeping close by his outlaw bride, Maria Bonita (originally Maria Déia). Deliberatel,y the police took aim. One of the bandits, more awake than the others, sensed something wrong and raised the alarm. The police opened fire on the surprised and confused band. Many of the bandits escaped but Lampião was targeted and fell in the first burst of bullets. Maria Bonita and a few loyal comrades fought to the death.

As the gun smoke cleared, the triumphant police strode into the shattered outlaw camp, checking that the outlaws were all dead. One took out a long, sharp knife of the kind favoured by the backlands outlaws and hacked off Lampião’s head. Then Maria Bonita’s head was also severed from her body. The grisly trophies were placed in a jar of kerosene and ridden through the district, proof that the police had at last killed the great cangaçeiro chieftain. A soldier cut off the hand of one of the dead outlaws, packing the severed body part in his pack so that he could later strip the rings from the dead fingers. In keeping with the savage nature of the cangaçeiro and the embedded cultural notions of honour and dishonour in backlands, Bonita’s body was further humiliated.[v]

In an alternative version of the great bandido’s death, it is said that he and his men had already been betrayed to death by poison when the police arrived at the scene of the final shootout. In 1959 the head of the peasant unions claimed the bespectacled outlaw as a pioneer of agrarian land reform and resister of official injustice.

In the early 1970s historian Billy Jaynes Chandler, in Brazil to research his book on Lampião, was told that the notorious cangaçeiro was not dead at all, but living his life out quietly on a farm somewhere: ‘the majority of backlanders with whom I talked in rural areas and small towns held this opinion’.[vi] The outlaw’s granddaughter has published her own version of Lampião’s life, death and afterlife, and the commemorative structures marking the place of his death are the site of considerable touristic and carnivalesque interest.

According to an Al Jazeera report of early 2007, the outlaw now ‘features in a new TV mini-series, one of Brazil’s most famous singers will wear a costume of Maria Bonita at this year’s carnival and another samba school will parade with a huge puppet of the legendary north-easterner.’[vii]

Betrayed, butchered, beheaded and beatified, Lampião’s already powerful legend has long outlived him and shows no signs of fading away.

 

NOTES

[i] See Chandler, B., The Bandit King: Lampião of Brazil, Texas A&M University Press, College Station and London, 1978.

[ii] Hobsbawm, Bandits, 2000, p. 92.

[iii] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 68.

[iv] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 208.

[v] Chandler, B., The Bandit King p. 226, quoting an eyewitness he interviewed, note 24.

[vi] Chandler, B., The Bandit King, p. 240.

[vii] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/archive/archive?ArchiveId=18847, accessed February 2007.

LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 2

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Six more weeks they waited, then gave up their companions for dead. Despair and depression were balanced by the need to find ways to stay alive. They moved to another island and built a substantial house using materials left over from an abandoned Maori settlement. They learned to capture and kill the wild pigs and goats that roamed the island and began domesticating them.

Life was maintained but it was monotonous and hard, rescue constantly in everyone’s mind. They prepared signal fires, used Cape hens as messenger birds, forced written pleas for help into seal bladders which were then inflated and set afloat. Scraps of wood were carved with information for potential rescuers and cast into the sea. They made small boats of wood and metal with sails of zinc on which was scratched:

“Ship General Grant wrecked on Auckland Isles 14 May, 1866; 10 survivors to date. Want relief.”

As autumn chilled the air even more their situation seemed hopeless, Sanguily recalled:

… we were sorely afflicted with scurvy, or, as whalers call it, “the cobbler”. The entire party was attacked, and it was only later that we realized how severely our ankle and knee joints were stiffened, and the flesh so swollen that the imprint of a finger would remain for an hour or more. We had heard that the remedy for scurvy was to bury a man all but the head. This we tried in several cases, but it did no good. In closing our mouths our teeth would, on meeting, project straight out, flattened against each other. General weakness and despondency, with a longing for vegetables, was our torment. Severe exercise seemed to be the only remedy. This was our most trying time.

David McClelland, the oldest member of the group, cut his hand on a scrap of copper. The hand became infected and he passed away: ‘All cripples, we bore him to his grave.’ Who would last the longest, they all wondered?

On November 19 a sail was seen. They rushed to light the signal fire but the ship passed without seeing the desperate and despondent survivors. But two days later another sail appeared. They manned their remaining boat and’ pulled with might and main’ for the brig Amherst.

The boat reached the strange vessel, and through our savage appearance at first alarmed the crew, they received us on board. Then were we made welcome to all they could spare. The Amherst, Captain Gilroy, of Invercarghill, manned by Maoris, and bound on a sealing voyage, was the means of our rescue. Captain Gilroy beat up between the islands and anchored off the huts. We were all taken aboard, and treated in the most hospitable manner. No Persian monarch ever enjoyed such a treat as we when tobacco and tea were set before us.

The survivors remained with the Amherst for two months and eventually landed at Invercargill in January 1868. A private subscription was taken to send the Amherst out in search of the boat launched with such high hopes a year before. The search failed. The men in her had made the wrong guess about the direction of New Zealand from Disappointment Island. They sailed west into thousands of kilometres of empty ocean and were never heard of again.

The nine survivors of the wreck moved on with their lives. Some of the gold sunk with the General Grant belonged to Joseph Jewell. His life was saved but his fortune lost. He eventually became a station master on the Victorian railways. Fortunately, Mary was able to make a great deal of money giving lectures about their survival epic. Her ordeal probably accounted for her inability to bear children. In later life they were able to become parents through a surrogate arrangement.

Patric Caughey returned to Ireland and went into the insurance industry. He was known as a storyteller, often regaling people with yarns of his adventures, whether they wanted to hear them or not.

‘Yankee Jack’ was from the eminent French-Cuban family of Sanguily Garrite. He returned to Boston to follow a less adventurous but safer career as a shop keeper, later marrying an Australian. He and his wife returned to Sydney where she gave birth to several children. William died in 1909.

Two months after the survivors of the General Grant were safely back in New Zealand, the first salvage attempt put to sea. Accompanying the expedition was James Teer. He led them to the ‘cave of death’ where the barque had gone down but the waves were too powerful. They failed to find the wreck, as did the next few attempts in 1870. The first of these was accompanied by another survivor, David Ashworth. He disappeared with five others lost in a whaleboat as they tried to find the fatal cave.

At least a further eight expeditions are known to have searched for the General Grant’s sunken gold. Coins, cannon balls and a range of miscellaneous artefacts have been recovered, probably from a number of the ships wrecked on these bleak islands. But no one has come across 4000 ounces of gold and despite all these attempts, the General Grant herself has not been located.

They say.

LOST TREASURE IN THE CAVE OF DEATH – Part 1

 

Wreck_of_the_American_Ship_General_Grant

Sailing from Boston to Melbourne late in 1865 the 1000 ton barque General Grant lost a man overboard in a gale. The young William Sanguily and others among the crew, thought this was an ill omen. Their ship reached Melbourne without further incident then loaded for London. But then:

By one of those coincidences, which sailors dread, we took aboard part of a cargo that had been intended for the steamer London. This ill-fated vessel had sunk in the Bay of Biscay on her voyage out, and there were many gloomy prophecies that no freight of hers would reach London in any ship.

The superstitious sailors also noticed that the rats had left the General Grant, a sure sign of doom in the lore of the sea. Nevertheless, the General Grant set sail for England on 4 May 1866 with a load of sixty men, women and children returning home from the diggings and a crew of 23 officers and men. Among the wool and hides in the hold was the unwelcome but hugely valuable cargo of gold – four thousand ounces.

After five days of good running, the ship was blown westward towards the sub-Antarctic Auckland Island. Several days of thick fog eventually lifted and land was sighted. But later, the breeze died. Despite the efforts of the captain and crew, around 1 in the morning of May 14 the General Grant smashed into the rocky shores of Auckland Island. She was forced further and further into the pitch darkness of a large sea cave. Crewman Joseph Jewell described the scene:

… such a night of horror I think was never experienced by human beings as we passed in the cave for seven long hours. It was so dark that you could not see your fingers before your eyes, and there we were with falling spars and large stones tumbling from the roof of the cave (some of which went through the deck), and so we remained until daylight.

The helpless crew and passengers huddled at the stern of the ship, still free of the cavern slowly sucking in their vessel. At daylight the mizzen top gallant mast collapsed through the ship’s hill and she began to sink.

The scene at this moment was one of such utter misery as few men ever see, and fewer still survive to tell of. Every sea washed over the stern and swept the deck. The long-boat was crammed with all who could gain a foothold. It was partly filled with water, and several poor creatures lying in the bilge were crowded down and drowned before she was clear of the ship. Women clinging to their children, and crazy men to their gold, were seen washing to and fro as the water invaded the upper deck.

One wretch saw his wife and two children driven by him in this way without making an effort to save them, while the last man who got aboard nearly lost his life trying to persuade the mother to be saved without her children.

The boats were launched into a swelling sea but only a few were able to reach them, most being trapped aboard the General Grant. The lucky few watched helplessly as men, women and children were washed away and the ship disappeared beneath the heaving water, her captain waving farewell from what was left of the rigging as he went down with his ship.

The two boats with their fifteen survivors, including one woman, spent two miserable nights and days in search of a place to camp. They had little food, few supplies and no water. Their clothes were inadequate for the climate and some were without shoes. A landing was eventually made at a place known as Sarah’s Bosom on the ominously named Disappointment Island. Here they confronted the possibility of cannibalism if they were unable to make a fire. Fortunately, they were. Albatross and shellfish made a welcome stew. From that time the fire was never allowed to go out.

The survivors split into two groups, existing as best they could in huts erected by earlier shipwreck survivors and a failed colony. They suffered greatly. There was dysentery, cold and a form of scurvy caused by their survival diet. Passing ships were sighted but they were unable to attract their attention. In October they decided to prepare one of the boats for a desperate attempt reach the New Zealand mainland, almost 500 kilometres away.

On Boxing Day 1866 they finished refitting their boat. Four men volunteered to sail her and they left on 22 January 1867. But without a chart or compass they would need to be both clever and lucky to reach safety.

Eleven souls watched their four companions depart. James Teer, Patric Caughey, Nicholas Allen and David Ashworth had all been passengers aboard the ill-fated ship. Aaron Hayman, Cornelius Drew, William Ferguson, William Newton-Scott, William Sanguily (known as Yankee Jack’) and David McClelland were all sailors, as was Joseph Jewell who was accompanied by his wife, Mary.

They waited hopefully. The weeks passed with no sign of rescue.

The anxious waiting which ensued told more severely on us than all the privation. The feverish excitement of hope caused a cessation of labour one day, and blank despair rendered us helpless the next. One man would accuse the unhappy crew of deserting us, and curse their selfishness. Another would, sobbing, deplore their cruel fate, and realise the noble men who ventured on a hopeless task.

Six more weeks they waited …. See Part 2

BANDIT LANDS 3 – CAPTAIN SILVINO –

antoniosilvino

Faked, but Silvino’s head is on the middle body

 

Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century. A strong sugarcane economy developed along the coast, while the more arid interior was largely ignored until land was required for food to feed a growing population. The serteao or ‘backlands’ were then opened up mainly for beef ranching on large landholdings. Over time, these were increasingly broken up into unviable smaller holdings through the inheritance system, a situation that formed the economic basis for the banditry that became endemic to the backlands. Other factors included the ongoing series of disastrous droughts between 1887 and 1919, together with the weakness of law and order throughout the backland states.

From the 1870s until the 1940s, Brazil experienced a form of rural banditry known as the ‘cangaço’, a term meaning the yoke of oxen, possibly a reference to the bandits’ habit of carrying rifles slung behind their necks. Endemic in the spare and arid northeast of the country the cangaço was characterised by armed bands of men who roamed the countryside robbing farms and travellers, sometimes abducting them for ransom, extorting from local businesses with ‘protection’ rackets and even invading regional cities. The cangaçeiros, as these bandits were known, were led by men to whom the gang members pledged loyalty unto death. Many of these leaders achieved notoriety and even celebration as outlaw heroes, including Jesuíno Brilhante, Adolfo Meia-Noite, Sinhô Pereira e Luiz Padre and Antônio Silvino.

Manuel Batista de Morais was a member of a respected ranching family with a history of cangaçeiros activity. This included the Robin Hood figure of the early outlaw hero, Jesuíno Brilhante, and that of Manuel’s great uncle, Silvino Aires de Cavalcanti e Albuquerque, who eluded the authorities for a quarter of a century. In 1897 Manuel murdered two men in revenge for his father’s death. Revenge murders were a common element of backland society. These were a product of the exaggerated sense of personal and family honour mixed with machismo that characterised the culture, aggravated by perennial disputes over land tenure and ownership of stock, a common frontier tension point that also played an important part in American and Australian outlawry. These murders meant that Manuel became a cangaçeiro and he joined his great uncle in the bandit life. After Silvino’s eventual capture in 1899, Manuel took his great uncle’s name as his own bandit pseudonym and also took over as leader of the gang that he had once commanded.

Good-looking, strong and an expert marksman, ‘Captain Silvino’ as he was popularly known in standard outlaw style, operated until his betrayal in 1914. He was known during his time as a ‘gentle cangaçeiro’ who mostly robbed the rich, including the British-owned Great Western Railway Company that became a major feature of the backlands economy from 1900. His raids on this enterprise were widely, if probably inaccurately, regarded as attempts to defend the backlands from the incursions of yet another colonising power. He was careful to distribute some of his booty amongst the poor, he righted wrongs related to boundary and domestic disputes and was usually seen to be scrupulous in respecting the honour of women.[i] Like many successful outlaws he was careful to maintain his image as a noble robber, both in his more public actions, such as burning the captured mailbags of the Great Western Railway, and in his considerable and considered dealings with the press. His legendry included a supernatural ability to disappear and reappear in order to escape pursuers. He was also portrayed, and largely seen as, a friend of the poor, as a contemporary newspaper account put it:

‘… he protects the people, the anonymous masses with whom he divides his pillage and in whose bosom he does his best source of support … . He does not dishonour families and he has a mania for harming the public authorities …’[ii]

After his capture Silvino was imprisoned, spending the next twenty-three years in gaol. He was pardoned in 1937 and given a government position, returning to the Paraíbo backlands, where he died in 1944. Despite his unromantic post-outlaw life, such had been his fame as a cangaçeiro that his Robin Hood legend continued during these years and developed further after his death, celebrated in cordel – small, cheap and very popular booklets –in ballads and in Brazilian oral tradition. He was also the subject of romanticised fiction and popular biography until at least the 1960s.[iii]

NOTES

[i] On this point, see Lewin, L., ‘The Oligarchical Limits of Social Banditry in Brazil: The Case of the ‘Good’ Thief Antônio Silvino’ in Slatta, R. (ed.), Bandidos: The Varieties of Latin American Banditry, Greenwood Press, NY, 1987, pp. 85-86. (Originally published in Past & Present 82, February 1979, pp. 116-46).

[ii] Quoted in Lewin, p. 77.

[iii] Lewin, note 5, p. 92, notes 10 and 19, pp. 93-4.

REBECCA AND HER DAUGHTERS

RebeccaRiots

By Illustrated London News, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8007931

 

In rural west Wales, a woman known as ‘Rebecca’, together with her ‘daughters’, violently resisted paying toll fees. From 1839 to 1843, and sporadically for long after, gangs of mainly tenant farmers, dressed in women’s clothing and with blackened faces, responding to the call of a hunting horn, attacked and often destroyed toll booths and other infrastructure on the many privately-owned toll roads. To get their produce to market, the farmer needed to pass back and forth along these roads and also traditionally collected lime from them to improve their soils. As well as the toll road issue, many Welsh farmers and those who depended on them for employment were experiencing hard times and the payment of tithes, or taxes, to the Anglican church, while most Welsh people were chapel-going Methodists or other ‘dissenters’.

‘Rebecca’, or just ‘Becca’, was the name of the mythical leader under which they united. ‘She’ was often mounted on a horse during the toll gate attacks, an acknowledgement of the connection between the Rebecca movement and the traditional custom of the Ceffyl Pren (wooden horse). This was a form of public humiliation of wrongdoers by a local community, involving the parading of the miscreant through a village tied to a wooden frame, or ‘horse’. A ‘jury’ and ‘Foreman’ of men dressed in women’s clothes and with blacked faces administered the ceffyl pren, which was used as the organisational structure for the Rebecca riots. The symbolism of the connection was clearly one of righting perceived wrongs.

As with many other forms of protest and revolt, threatening letters were often sent to those the rebels identified as the source of their problems. This one was addressed to the people of St Clears, Carmarthenshire, in December 1842:

Take Notice

I wish to give you notice especial to those which has sworn to be connstable in order to graspe Becca and her children but I can sure you that it will be to hard matter for Bowlin and company to finish the job that they began and that is to keep up the Gate at Llanengel and [?] gate. Now take this few lines as information for you to mind yourselves, you that had any conection with Bowlin Messrs M. C. Lics, Mr Thomas Blue Boar, all thine property in one night shall be in conflagration if they will not obey to this notice. And that to send them vagabons away wich you are favourable to. I alway like to be plain in all my engagement – is it a reasonable thing that they impose so must on the country only picking poor labours and farmers pockets, and you depend that all the Gates that are on these small roads shall be destroyed. I am willing for the gates on the Queens Road to stand it is a shamefull thing for us welchmen to have the sons of Henegust have a dominion over us. Do you not remember the long knives which Henegust hath invented to kill our fore fathers and you may depend that you shall recieve the same, if you will not give up, when I shall give you a visit and that shall be in a short time, and now I would give an order to leave the place before I will come, for, I do determin that I will have my way all through. As for the constable and the policemen, Becca her children heeds no more of them than the Grass-hopers which fly in the summer there are others which as marked with Becca, but they shall not be named now but in case they will not obey to this notice she shall call about them in a short time.

Faithfull to Death
with the county
Becca & children

Trwn [?]
Dec, 16th 1842

Sometimes serious violence occurred during these midnight visitations, though nothing on the scale promised in the letters that usually preceded them. William Rees, toll collector on Trevaughan Turnpike Gate described his visit from Rebecca and her daughters in August 1843:

… between one and two o’clock on Sunday morning last he was disturbed by a man knocking at his door who enquired the way to Llanvallteg Bridge, which he told him and that immediately afterwards he heard the sound of horses, when about twenty five or thirty men disguised, (having white frocks on and their heads tied on with coloured handkerchiefs under their chins) came to his house and compelled him by threats, pointing at the same time three Guns at his breast to deliver up his Books, which they carried off. The Books contained among other accounts, the names of several persons who had refused to pay toll at the said Gate, he is unable to identify any of them, but the person nearest to his house window rode a grey horse.

This was a typical Rebecca visitation. The wise toll keeper did as he was told and did not interfere if the rioters pulled down his toll booth. In this case, Rebecca and her daughters seem to have been mainly interested in removing evidence of those who had refused to pay their tolls and who would otherwise have been prosecuted.

The authorities mounted mostly ineffectual attempts to forcibly put the riots down. Eventually, the toll gate system and problems with the poor laws were modified and the general economy improved. Nevertheless, some Rebaccaites were imprisoned and others transported.

Later in the century, and even into the early twentieth century, the name Rebecca and similar tactics were used by those protesting against restricted fishing rights along inland streams.

 

Rebecca_Riots_-_Punch1843

Unknown author – http://www.ngfl-cymru.org.uk/vtc/rebecca_riots/eng/RebeccaRiots/
Punch cartoon from 1843 depicting events inspired by the Rebecca Riots of South Wales

 

SOURCES

National Archives, Rebecca letter, 16 December 1842 (HO 45/265 f1

National Archives, Statement of William Rees, toll collector, 15 August 1843 (HO 45/454 f.415)

 

UNPLEASANT LETTERS FROM NED LUDD AND CAPTAIN SWING

Ned Ludd

 

The businessman who received the following note from Ned Ludd would have been in no doubt that the writer intended to do serious harm.

Mr H

at Bulwell

Sr,

Sir if you do not pull don the Frames

or stop pay [in] Goods onely for work

extra work or m[ake] in Full fashon

my Companey will [vi]sit yr machines

for execution agai[nst] [y]ou–

Mr Bolton the Forfeit–

I visitd him–

Ned Lu[d]

Kings [illegible]

Nottinghm—Novembr 8 1811

It was one of many similar semi-literate threatening letters sent to factory owners and employers of weavers by Ned Ludd. The letter commands Mr H to stop paying his weavers in ‘truck’, meaning in poor quality goods instead of cash, one of the frequent complaints of the workers. Or else…

Another letter from a Nottinghamshire knitter was sent to Richard Dennis, farmer and framework knitter, in 1819:

Richad Denniss

If you keep that Rouge in you house Ned shall viset you and we shall be acpt too give you A little could led and you cattle too if you dont get shoot ove him very soon and Need will set you all on Fire And you Promess Need will send them too Hell and Hall ove you too and you sheep Ned will ham string And if you don thay will send me word in the course ove of day

March the 12

I GENRALL LUD.

But Ludd, also sometimes titled ‘General Ludd’, as here, and ‘Captain Ludd’, did not exist. He was a mythical leader of a diffuse group of mainly northern English insurrectionaries angry at the threat to their livelihoods posed by the introduction of labour-saving machines into the framework knitting industry. ‘Luddites’, as they came to be known, formed clandestine groups who swore secret oaths and destroyed and damaged the feared new machines that were taking their jobs. The sabotage tactics of the Luddites failed, many were executed, imprisoned or transported. But their actions, and consequences, did bring their plight to the attention of the wider public.

In 1830, much the same situation, this time in agriculture, triggered the most serious rioting, mostly across southern England. Led by a ‘Captain Swing’, rural workers rose in large numbers to break threshing machines and to demand what they thought were their rights. They also said so in caustic correspondence, such as this note delivered to King’s College, Cambridge on December 8, 1830:

Dr Agnus

The college that thou holdest shalt be fired very shortly. Thou shalt here further from me when it is in flames.

Swing

Head Quarters

A more detailed and oddly polite letter detailing the rioters’ grievances arrived at the Goodwood estate of the Duke of Richmond in December 1830:

We beg to say that if the sentences of the men in kent & all others for rioting is not reduced to 3 months imprisonment & all those taken heairafter to 1 months ditto all the woods to a hedge stick on the duke of richmans estate with that of the other ministere [of] the crown lands magestrates constables &C engaged in takeing & triing the said men shall be all burnt up even to a furse bush but we promis faithfully if you comply with our request we will refrain from it all we want is Work & fair wages don’t think that the reward will induse our party to split we have all put our hands to the match so we cannot fear each other and are determind to carry on or have our starveing Contramen at liberty there is only 2 things to be done & then we shall have pease & plenty that is machinery put down and the Clergy paid out of the publick revenew and an income tax put on to take this burden of the farmer in lieu of the tithes’

swing 2 goodwood-mss-1446-fa18-backThese revolts were all put down with the ruthless force usually unleashed by the British establishment against those who dared challenge it. Rioters were perceived and presented as dangerous revolutionaries and criminals rather than starving workers. Some were shot, some hanged, many imprisoned and transported. Mechanisation of their livelihoods proceeded apace.

Neither Ned Ludd or Captain Swing existed. They were convenient fictions drawn from the traditions of underclass revolt stretching back to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 in which a shadowy character named ‘Jack Straw’ appeared. At least one of the rebels in this revolt took this name, but historians are uncertain if such a person ever existed. His name is certainly suspiciously folkloric!

To some extent, the threatening letters, the dressing up and the blackened faces of the rioters can be seen as part of the ‘theatre of protest’. This does not mean that the rioters’ issues were not genuine and serious, but that there was an underlying assumption that the societal ties between workers and their employees would deliver justice. Naïve as this seems, a ‘moral economy’ as historian E P Thompson famously perceived, underlay the economic transactions between workers and employers.

The tragedy of this perception by the rioters – weavers or farm labourers – was that it was no longer true (if it ever was in any effectual rather than symbolic sense). Their bosses had moved on from the traditions and assumptions that underlay the moral economy ideal and embraced the improving agrarian mode of capitalism. Now, workers were no longer essential parts of a rural community but simply one element in a broader, more predatory economy in which calculations were made on the basis of profit and loss and not any obligation that the better-off might once have had towards their less affluent neighbours.

 

SOURCES:

Home Office archive (HO 42/118

The Nottingham Review 6 August 1819 – the sender of the letter had a grudge against the ‘Rouge’ mentioned

National Archives Catalogue ref: HO 52/6

‘Swing Riots letter’, 2 Dec 1830, West Sussex Record Office, Goodwood Mss 1446 fA18

 

 

 

BANDIT LANDS 2 – WITH HIS PISTOL IN HIS HAND: GREGORIO CORTEZ

Gregorio_Cortez_Pictured_in_1901

Gregorio Cortez Pictured in 1901

 

Perhaps the most surprising fact in the extensive folklore that surrounds the figure of Cortez is that his outlawry lasted only ten days. Action-packed though those ten days were, they would perhaps only have given rise to such a legend in a region like the Border. While the existing legendry of Cortinas was strong in the years immediately after the earlier bandit’s death, the discontents and tensions that originated the legend and kept it alive were also still smouldering.

The incident that turned Gregorio Cortez from an obscure small farmer and vaquero was not unlike that which had set Cortinas upon his influential path. Nor was it unlike the situation in other places, such as Australia, where stock theft was the background to many bushranging outbreaks. Cortez and his family had been involved in stealing horses, which explains why Sheriff W Morris and two deputies wanted to question him about a missing horse one day in June, 1901. The lawmen arrived at the small plot Cortez and his brother, Romaldo, rented near Kennedy. According to the court evidence there were language difficulties during the questioning which led the Sheriff to draw his pistol and fire on the brothers, wounding Romaldo. Cortez returned fire and killed the Sheriff.[i] Cortez fled on foot and began walking towards Austin, eighty miles away.

A manhunt was quickly initiated and Cortez’s wife and children, his mother and sister-in-law were illegally gaoled, a tactical error frequently made by authorities during episodes of outlawry. During the manhunt Cortez shot and killed another two lawmen and embarked on another walking feat, this time a 100-mile journey from Belmont towards Laredo. With the newspapers referring to Cortez as ‘an arch-fiend’ and a $1000 reward on his head, Mexican-Americans instead saw Cortez as one of their own making a heroic stand against American oppression and injustice. At the same time, Anglos in a number of towns rioted and a number of Mexican-Americans were killed. Despite this there was some admiration in the English language press for Cortez’s endurance and his ability to elude pursuers through his excellent knowledge of the country. Eventually he was captured on June 22, 1901 when a friend led the posse to his hiding place. The Judas in this case was the ironically named Jesús González, later vilified by some Mexican-Americans as a traitor.

There followed a number of trials and verdicts and a lynching attempt on Cortez. He eventually began serving a life sentence for the murder of the Sheriff in 1904. Cortez had become a cause celebre, his case attracting attention throughout the Hispanic world. Agitation for his release continued until 1913 when he was freed on a conditional pardon. He then fought in the Mexican revolution and died of pneumonia in February 1916.

The legendry of the man ‘with his pistol in his hand’ is extensive and still powerful in the folk traditions of the Border. Américo Paredes documented and interpreted these, noting his Robin Hood-like attributes:

In some of his feats the Cortez of the legend resembles folk heroes like Robin Hood. Like Robin he surprises his enemy and provisions himself from them, taking food, arms, and other necessaries and letting them go unharmed. In a way reminiscent of Robin Hood, Pancho Villa, and the Saxon King Alfred, Cortez comes into town in disguise while the chase after him is on, mingles with the townspeople and listens to the tales told about him.[ii]

The corrido of Gregorio Cortez, in its numerous variants, concentrates mainly upon the bravery of Cortez in the face of the hated Texas Rangers, the rinches:

Then said Gregorio Cortez,

With his pistol in his hand,

‘Don’t run you cowardly Rangers,

From a real Mexican.’[iii]

In 1982 a feature film on the outlaw’s life and legend reached the silver screen, as the mass media picked up on another suitable storyline. This was just another stage in the evolution of the Cortez legend, one that graphically demonstrates the interaction of fact and folklore, as noted by Paredes:

            … one of the most striking things about Gregorio Cortez is the way the actual facts of his life conformed to pre-existing legend. In his free, careless youth, in the reasons for his going outside the law, in his betrayal, his imprisonment, and release and even in the somewhat cloudy circumstances surrounding his death – the actual facts of Cortez’s life (so far as we know them) follow the Border-hero tradition that was already well established before Cortez made his celebrated ride.

Paredes goes on to describe how the facts of Cortez’s life fitted the outlaw hero legend, and vice versa:

It was as if the Border people had dreamed Gregorio Cortez before producing him, and had sung his life and deeds before he was born.[iv]

The brevity of his outlaw career meant that Gregorio Cortez had little time to generate and nurture a Robin Hood reputation for himself. Nevertheless, his legend developed quickly among his supporters and sympathisers. He is compelled to go outside the law by unjust treatment; he acts only against the representatives of the oppressive American laws; he skilfully eludes his pursuers and is finally betrayed by a friend. He is certainly brave, even though he does not die game. In the circumstances of his time and place, even his ten-day defiance of authority was sufficient to turn him into an outlaw hero among the disaffected Mexican-American population of the border region.

 

SOURCES

[i] Mertz, R., ‘No One Can Arrest Me: The Story of Gregorio Cortez’, Journal of South Texas 1, 1974.

[ii] Paredes, A., With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero, University of Texas Press, Austin, (1958), 1990, p. 120.

[iii] Paredes, p. 164 (variant C)

[iv] Paredes, p. 125.