A Pirate “Takes” a Wife

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Marmalakè, Pirate of Micone. Watercolor portrait by Joseph Partridge, 1827-1828. (Accession#1940.687.01/QW160)

As promised, here is the rip-roaring story of how Manolis Mermelechas, a pirate of Mykonos, Greece, “took” his wife (and I mean “took” literally, not figuratively!).  Pay attention Hollywood…there’s a great plot for a pirate movie here!

Just in case you didn’t read my last post (which is too bad because Kevin Foster described it as a “ripping great yarn!”), Manolis Mermelechas was a native of the Greek island of Psara who fought against the Turks during the Greek War of Independence.  After the Turks invaded and captured Psara in 1824, Mermelechas and his men shifted their base of operations to the pirate haven of Mykonos and continued their attacks on Turkish merchant vessels (and the ships of other countries, hence the designation as pirates!).  On one cruise, Mermelechas and his men seized a Turkish merchant ship off the town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. It ended up being a capture that changed Mermemlechas’ life forever.    Read more

A ‘Bucko’ No More

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On ‘Talk Like A Pirate’ day in September 2019, we posted a message on Twitter showing a watercolor portrait of an ornately dressed man named “Marmalakè.” The artist had identified him as the “Pirate of Micone.” Our team had some fun with the image and described Marmalakè as a “bucko” and “a meditating pirate.”  That odd tweet caught the attention of Antonis Kotsonas, an assistant professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University. Antonis was researching the activities of the United States Mediterranean Squadron during the latter years of the Greek War of Independence and believed the portrait might depict a Greek pirate named Manolis Mermelechas.

Along with the portrait, Antonis was interested in a group of watercolor landscapes of Greek islands painted by artist Joseph Partridge.  The images had been painted between 1827 and 1830 while Partridge was serving as a marine aboard the sloop of war USS Warren.  Those years corresponded with the final years of Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  The war had been raging since 1821 and by 1826 had wrought such economic hardship that many Greek seamen had turned to piracy as a form of survival–not just for themselves, but for the communities they lived in as well.  In early 1827 Warren, captained by Master Commandant Lawrence Kearny, a man with extensive experience combating piracy, was sent to the Aegean to help protect American merchant ships and conduct antipiracy operations.    Read more

Parthian and the Pirates

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“H.M. Sloop Parthian Capturing a Spanish Pirate.” Watercolor by Nicolas Cammillieri of Malta, circa 1825-1830. (Accession# 1951.763.01/QW750)

This week, while trying to identify prints in our collection that showed dghasa, a beautiful little craft native to Malta, I stumbled across a really interesting watercolor painted by Nicolas Cammillieri. The artwork is titled “H.M. Sloop Parthian Capturing a Spanish Pirate.” The computer record didn’t contain any information about the event depicted but I figured there must be an interesting story behind the artwork–and I was right!

It all started when Lloyd’s List reported that on May 15, 1824 two British merchant vessels, the brig Pilgrim of Greenock, captained by J. Wilson1 with twelve crew, and the barque Shannon, captained by 31-year-old Isaac Peart with sixteen crew, had sailed together from Campeche, Mexico for Bristol and Cork but neither had arrived at their destination.  They were believed to have foundered in the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of all hands.    Read more

Frames of Destruction

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Iron spear from a chevaux-de-frise for river use (Accession#1944.04.01/A37)

During my time at Mariners’ I have frequently been intrigued by an odd looking object in one of our storage areas but time wasn’t always available to learn more about it.  That recently changed for one object when I spent several months researching the history behind a piece that has always intrigued me—a large, bent, barbed, piece of iron–the spear of a chevaux-de-frise.

For those of you thinking “chev-o-de-what?”, chevaux-de-frise are those long lines of angled sharpened posts you sometimes see on historic battlefields.  They were used as obstructions to prevent cavalry from overrunning a defensive line.  For those of you who already know what they are and are asking yourself “how can one of those defend a river?”, that’s where the interesting story lies!    Read more

With a Zoologist’s Eye

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Mayor published his first zoological article, “Habits of the Box Tortoise” in 1890. At the time he was studying advanced physics at the University of Kansas making it obvious where his real interest lay. [Yes, I know this isn’t a box turtle, but it sure shows Mayor’s skill at rendering animals doesn’t it???] Alligator Terrapin. Chelydra Serpentina by Alfred Goldsborough Mayor. Courtesy of the Mayor Family.

Top image: Alfred Goldsborough Mayor. Courtesy of the Mayor Family.

What happens when a zoologist/biologist applies his powers of observation for studying animals to the study of boats? For Alfred Goldsborough Mayor it meant producing a body of work that has given researchers and museums some of the best historic documentation available on the construction of a variety of Pacific island sailing canoes.   Read more