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Legend of an Australian Pirate Ship in Japan Confirmed

Convicts in Australia hijacked the British ship the Cyprus in 1829. When they were eventually captured, William Swallow, leader of the pirates, and some of his men were put on trial. They gave an account of sailing to Japan in 1830, but no one believed them. Almost 200 years later, the story was considered a legend -until now. Nick Russell searched through 19th century Japanese writings and found and translated an account from samurai Makita Hamaguchi that confirms a Western ship showed up at Shikoku island on January 16, 1830.  

Hamaguchi wrote of sailors with “long pointed noses” who were not hostile, but asked in sign language for water and firewood. One had burst into tears and begun praying when an official rejected an earlier plea.

A skipper who looked 25 or 26 placed tobacco in “a suspicious looking object, sucked and then breathed out smoke”.

He had a “scarlet woollen coat” with “cuffs embroidered with gold thread and the buttons were silver-plated”, which was “a thing of great beauty, but as clothing it was gaudy”.

Hamaguchi’s watercolour sketch of the coat has what Russell said may be a telling detail on the sleeve: a bird that could be a swallow, the skipper’s own stamp on a British military officer’s jacket taken as a souvenir in the mutiny.

The skipper gave instructions to a crew that “in accordance with what appeared to be some mark of respect” followed orders to remove their hats “to the man, most of them revealing balding heads”.

They “exchanged words amongst themselves like birds twittering”.  

Japan was isolationist at the time, so a few days later, orders came down to repel the foreigners. After some cannon fire, the ship left. Read more of how the Japanese saw the strange foreign pirates at the Guardian. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive)


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