Monday, May 29, 2017

Joshua Robertson - Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago. Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China. Its maverick skipper was William Swallow, a onetime British cargo ship apprentice and naval conscript in the Napoleonic wars, who in a piracy trial in London the following year told of a samurai cannonball in Japan knocking a telescope from his hand.
Swallow’s fellow mutineers, two of whom were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain, backed his account of having been to Japan.

Western researchers, citing the lack of any Japanese record of the Cyprus, had since ruled the convicts’ story a fabrication. But that conclusion has been shattered by Nick Russell, a Japan-based English teacher and history buff, in a remarkable piece of sleuthing that has won the endorsement of Australian diplomatic officials and Japanese and Australian archival experts. Russell, after almost three years of puzzling over an obscure but meticulous record of an early samurai encounter with western interlopers, finally joined the dots with the Cyprus through a speculative Google search last month. The British expatriate all but solved what was for the Japanese a 187-year mystery, while likely uncovering vivid new detail of an epic chapter of colonial Australian history.  “If you’d said I was going to go hunt and find a new pirate ship, I’d have gone, ‘you’re crazy’,” Russell told Guardian Australia. “I just stumbled on it. Boom. There it was on the screen in front of me.

“I immediately knew and as soon as I started checking, everything just fitted so perfectly.”
The ship anchored on 16 January 1830 off the town of Mugi, on Shikoku island, where Makita Hamaguchi, a samurai sent disguised as a fisherman to check the ship for weapons, noted an “unbearable stench in the vicinity of the ship”... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/28/australian-convict-pirates-in-japan-evidence-of-1830-voyage-unearthed