Glas, George (DNB00)

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GLAS, GEORGE (1725–1765), mariner, son of the Scottish sectary, John Glas [q. v.], was born at Dundee in 1725. He is said to have been brought up as a surgeon, in which capacity he made several voyages to the West Indies. According to another account he was once a midshipman in the royal navy. He afterwards obtained command of a vessel in the Brazil trade, in which he made several voyages to the west coast of Africa and the Canary Isles. On one of his trips he discovered a river between Cape Verde and Senegal, navigable some way inland, and came to the conclusion that it would be a suitable site for a new trading settlement. He returned home and laid his scheme before government, but his conditions, an exclusive grant of the country for all trading purposes for thirty years, were thought too high. After some negotiations Glas came to an agreement with the commissioners of trade and plantations, by which he was guaranteed the sum of 15,000l. on condition of his obtaining a free cession of the country by the natives to the British crown. On the faith of this arrangement Glas entered into an agreement with a company or firm of merchants, who provided him with a ship and cargo. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Glas sailed from Gravesend in August 1764, and arrived safely at his destination, which he named Port Hillsborough. He had little difficulty in persuading the natives to cede their territory, and a treaty was drawn up and signed by all the headmen of the district. A famine at this time prevailed on the coast, and Glas resolved to proceed to Teneriffe, to obtain grain and other provisions for his settlement. He was obliged to leave the ship with his companions, as they had no place on shore to stay in, and set out in the long-boat, with five men, in November 1764. He arrived safely at Lanzarate, one of the Canary group, where an English vessel was on the point of sailing home, by which Glas forwarded his treaty to the authorities in London. But the jealousy of the Spaniards was by this time aroused, and shortly after his arrival Glas was arrested, by orders from Teneriffe, on a charge of contraband trading at Lanzarate, and was sent prisoner to Teneriffe, where he was treated with great harshness. Among the home office records is a letter from ‘Mr. George Glass,’ dated Teneriffe, 15 Dec. 1764, in which he reports his seizure and close confinement in the castle. He suggests that the Spaniards dreaded interference with the important fishery carried on by natives of the Canary Isles on the African coast between Capes Bojador and Blanco, and asked for his release (Calendar Home Office Papers, 1760–5, par. 1631). A letter to the secretary of the admiralty from Captain Thomas Graves, H.M.S. Edgar, off Senegal, dated 22 March 1765, states that opportunity was taken ‘to enquire into the seizure and detention of Captain Glass by the governor of Santa Cruz, Teneriffe. The governor was not very satisfactory in his reasons for imprisoning that unfortunate poor man. It was then demanded to see him, for he is shut up from ye sight of every one but his own keepers, said to be kept in irons, and denied the use of pens, ink, and paper; but this ye governor refused, and would assign no reason why the poor man was kept under such rigid confinement, even to barbarity, though pressed to it in the strongest and most lively terms’ (Admiralty Records, Captains' Letters, G. 15). Papers representing the case accompanied the letter, and with it is another from Captain Boteler, H.M.S. Shannon, which states that the explanation (ultimately?) given by the Spanish authorities was that Glas came to Allegranza Lanzarate from the coast of Africa without a pass, and was selling contraband (ib.; Calendar Home Office Papers, 1760–5, p. 550). About the same time, March 1765, the settlers at Port Hillsborough were attacked by the blacks, who killed the chief officer and six men. Dreading a renewal of the attack, the survivors made their escape in the boats to Teneriffe, where Mrs. Glas first learned of her husband's detention. Steps appear to have been taken by the British government to obtain his release (ib. par. 2033, no details given), and in October 1765 he was set at liberty. The English barque Sandwich touching at Teneriffe, Glas with his wife and daughter embarked in her for England. Among the crew were a number of Spaniards or Portuguese, who had somehow become aware of the fact that there was treasure on board. Rising one night, when the vessel was off the south coast of Ireland, these men murdered the captain and those of the crew who were not in the plot, and stabbed Glas as he rushed upon deck on hearing the noise. He was killed on the spot. Mrs. Glas and her daughter, locked in each other's arms, were thrown overboard. The murderers then scuttled the ship and escaped with their booty to the shore. But, contrary to their expectations, the ship, instead of sinking, drifted on shore not far off, with the evidence of the tragedy still fresh and reeking. A search was made for the murderers, who were discovered carousing in a roadside public-house, were arrested, tried in Dublin, and executed after confessing their guilt and giving particulars of the crime.

Glas appears to have been a man of some ability. He translated from a manuscript of J. Abreu de Galinda, a Franciscan monk of Andalusia, then recently found at Palma, ‘An Account of the Discovery and History of the Canary Islands,’ which was published by Doddridge in 1764, the year Glas left England, and went through several subsequent editions; and he appears to have had in preparation at the time of his death a descriptive account of north-western Africa.

[Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 308; Calendar Home Office Papers, 1760–5, under ‘Glas.’ A full account of the murder is given in Gent. Mag. xxxv. 545.]

H. M. C.