Sharpe, Bartholomew (DNB00)

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SHARPE, BARTHOLOMEW (fl. 1679–1682), buccaneer, was, apparently, one of the party of buccaneers, French and English, which in 1679 captured and sacked Porto Bello on the Spanish main. He was certainly with the Englishmen who, after separating from the French, assembled at Golden Island, to the east of the Samballas. They had proposed to cross the isthmus and sack Panama, but their numbers, through the defection of the French, being too few, they resolved to cross over, descend the river Santa Maria, take the town of Santa Maria on the way, cruise in the Bay of Panama, and afterwards on the coast of Peru. At Santa Maria the booty was small. On reaching the sea they found a barque of thirty tons, which they seized, and, putting Sharpe in command, sent her to water and provision at the Pearl Islands, while the rest of the party, under the command of one Coxon, went in the canoes towards Panama. A quarrel soon split this party into two; Coxon, with seventy men, recrossed the isthmus, while one Richard Sawkins, taking command of the rest of the men, demanded a ransom from the town of Panama.

Soon afterwards Sharpe rejoined Sawkins, and on 22 May 1680 they landed to attack Pueblo Nuevo, where Sawkins, while leading on his men, was shot dead. On this the buccaneers retired to the island of Quibo, and, after a fresh dispute, Sharpe was elected to the command, about a hundred men seceding and returning across the isthmus to the West Indies. In June Sharpe went south, meaning to attack Guayaquil; but, finding that impracticable, he went to the Isle of Plate, where the buccaneers killed and salted down a great number of goats. Going along the coast, making sundry prizes as they went, on 26 Oct. they were off Arica. The whole country awaited them under arms; they could not venture to land, and bore away for Islay, being very short of water, the daily allowance being reduced to half a pint. It is said that a pint was sold on board for twenty dollars. At Islay they filled up with water; and as the Spaniards refused to ransom the town, they burnt it. They then went on to the southward, and on 3 Dec. landed and occupied the town of Serena. The Spaniards agreed to ransom the town for ninety-five thousand dollars; but instead of paying made an ingenious attempt to burn the ship. With some difficulty the fire was put out, and the buccaneers departed with less than a tenth of what they had demanded. At Juan Fernandez, Sharpe, who had got together about 1,000l. as his share of the booty, wished to go back to the West Indies through the Straits of Magellan; but the majority, who by gambling had lost everything, were determined to stay, and deposed Sharpe from the command, electing in his room one John Watling, ‘an old privateer and esteemed a stout seaman.’ At Arica, however, on 30 Jan. 1680–1, they sustained a disastrous repulse, Watling being killed, some twenty-eight others killed or prisoners—who met with scant mercy—and eighteen wounded. Sharpe was now reinstated in the command, he ‘being esteemed a safer leader than any other.’ The general voice was to return to the West Indies across the isthmus. At the Isle of Plate, however, in the middle of April, things looked brighter, and they resolved to cruise for some time longer. This led to a further secession, and the dissenting party, including William Dampier [q. v.] and Lionel Wafer [q. v.], returned to the West Indies by the isthmus, while Sharpe went for a cruise to the northward, and captured a Spanish ship named the Rosario, having on board a large quantity of silver in pigs, to the value of about 150,000l. At the time the silver was mistaken for tin, and Sharpe took only one pig on board. Most of this was cast into bullets; it was only when the small residue was afterwards disposed of in the West Indies, that the buccaneers learnt what a prize had escaped them. They found also in the Rosario ‘a great book of sea charts and maps’ of the South Sea and the coasts of Spanish America, which was afterwards presented to the king. The volume now in the British Museum (Sloane MS. 44), drawn by William Hack, is presumably a copy of this.

On 16 Aug. Sharpe and his followers resolved to return to the West Indies. Making their way to the southward, they passed round Cape Horn in November, and reached Barbados on 28 Jan. 1681–2. Learning, however, that the Richmond frigate was there, and fearing that they might be seized as pirates, they went to Antigua, but the governor would not allow them into the harbour. At Nevis the authorities were more complacent, and there the party broke up, the ship being assigned to some of the men who had lost all their money in gaming. On his return to England, Sharpe was arrested at the instance of the Spanish ambassador, and tried for piracy; but in the absence of legal evidence was acquitted. His journals and ‘waggoners,’ carefully written and drawn (Sloane MSS. 44, 46a and b, and 47), suggest that he was permitted to live in peace and comfort.

[Ringrose's Dangerous Voyage and Bold Attempts of Captain Bartholomew Sharp and others, in History of the Buccaniers, vol. ii.; Dampier's Voyages, vol. i.; Wafer's New Voyage; Burney's Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea, iv. 91–124.]

J. K. L.