A ship's captain is taken hostage, April 1748

4th February 2016

 ‘April 1748. A prize, with wine and brandy, and a ransomer of £1000, taken by the Hanover privateer of Guernsey,’ reported in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1748. Ransoming captured prizes was a practice favoured by Guernsey privateers in the earlier years of privateering, often with an eye to selling on a valuable cargo, but frowned upon by the British authorities, who preferred prizes to be brought into port to be officially 'condemned.' When challenged upon the reason for their not having followed the authorized procedure, the Guernseymen would often answer that at the time they had been prevented by 'a contrary wind.'

Formerly it was a practice to ransom British vessels, when captured by the enemy, by delivering to the captor what was termed a ransom bill. This secured to him the price agreed on, and was in effect a bill of sale of ships and cargo to the original owners, as well as a protection to the ship against other cruizers during the same voyage. It was usual to deliver a hostage to the captor. Actions were formerly allowed in English courts on such bills. At length the courts turned against them, and shortly afterwards (1781), the legislature wholly abolished the practice. [Emerigon, B M, Treatise on insurances, trans. Samuel Edgeworth, Butterworth 1851, p. 377.]¹


Colonel De Garis MSS, Partages I (Staff), p. 29. XXII

Bill of ransom

I, Simon Turbé, the undersigned, am willing and agree to be a hostage for the Ransom of the ship The Marquis du Fresne of l’Isle Dieu, master Simon Turbé, and of its cargo, taken as a prize by the privateer the Hanover of Guernsey, commanded by Captain Thomas Le Page,¹ the ransom being of £1000 based on a rate of 22 French silver livres to one pound sterling. It is agreed that this sum will be well and truly delivered into the hands of Mr Pierre de Carteret merchant of Guernsey, armateur of the said privateer, within three months of today's date, and I, the said Simon Turbé, master of the said ship, promise and undertake against all my property, goods, and chattels that I possess now and may in the future, and commit my heirs also, to pay, or cause to be paid, the sum specified above to the aforementioned Mr Pierre Carteret even if I, Simon Turbé, mariner, (that is, I, who have just submitted myself to act as hostage), should die or escape from prison, or if Peace should be agreed before the said sum be paid.

Made on board the said privateer on 4 April 1748 (Old Style) on a latitude of 47 º 47', being off the coast of Brittany. The said hostage will receive an allowance of 20 sous a day from the date of his arrival in Guernsey to the day the money is handed over; and the Captain shall receive his perquisite of 5 per cent.

La marque X de Simon Turbé.

I acknowledge that the above is a true copy of the original Bill of Ransom.
Nicolas Dobrée, Notary Publick.

[From the French.]


'The captor desists from the capture, and transfers the dominion of the thing to the former owners, who by this means purchase it, in some manner, anew.' As soon as a vessel was captured it became a prize, and its ownership was transferred immediately to the captors. If the owners of a captured vessel were not on board at the time of its capture, the captain of the ship, acting in his capacity as master of the vessel, was obliged to offer to buy back the captured vessel on the best terms he could, for the benefit of its (by then) former owners or their insurers. A ransom had to be contracted at sea, or where the vessel was captured. The most common method of effecting a ransom was 'to determine a sum for which the captain of the captured vessel furnishes to the captor a bill of exchange, and gives hostages.' 

Things did not always go the Guernsey privateer's way, however. In the same year, 1748, The Prince of Wales, a very successful Guernsey privateer under Captain Beale, took a French vessel as a prize, ransomed her, and then got caught herself and taken into Rochfort. The ransom was the subject of an appeal to the French king, Louis XV:

A privateer out of Guernsey had ransomed a French barque coming from Bayonne [for Nantes] for the sum of 3800 livres. The privateer was afterwards taken by the king's corvette Amaranthe, [captain Foucault] and the captors found on board hostage and ransom bill. Monsieur the Admiral, in declaring the prize good, decreed the ransom to the king, as forming part of the capture; but the king, by his Ordonnance of 9 August 1748, annulled the bill, and discharged the owners of the barque from payment of the sum of 3800 livres, for which she had been ransomed. [p. 397]


¹ For fuller explanation of ransom, see Section XXI, 'Of ransom,' in this book, pp. 371 ff. For Guernsey's 'addiction' to ransom in in the early 18th century, see Bromley, J S, Corsairs and Navies, London: Hambledon, 1987, pp. 344 ff. 

² Captain Thomas Le Page married Marie Allez, daughter of Jean Allez and Marie Olivier of the Bordage in St Peter Port, at St Andrew's Church on 30 November 1743. He was the son of Thomas Le Page and Judith Canivet of Havilland. (Many thanks to Gabrielle Le Cras for the identification.) In May 1747 the privateer the Double Revenge of Guernsey was captured; its captain was a 'Page.' Certainly Le Page does not appear in the prize records from 1747 until this ransom of April 1748.