Thursday, 15 March 2018

Angria the Pirate - Dundonian Scourge of the Indian Ocean?

On the face of it,  regarded phonetically, Angria seems a good name for a historical pirate and the name is associated with a particular seafarer in the Indian Ocean of the 18th century who successfully defied the might of the English East India Company for nearly four decades.  The original behind the character was Kanhoji Angre (otherwise Conajee Angria), who was certainly a native of the Indian sub-continent.  He was admiral of the Konkan navy on the western side of India and died undefeated in 1729.  What are we to make of then in the claims in various sources that a British naval commander encountered Angria the Pirate in this region in the year 1750 and found out - astonishingly - that the apparently Asian seaman had an incredibly detailed knowledge of his home town.

   According to the account in Dundee Delineated (1822), in the year 1750, a certain Captain Crichton of Dundee was 'captured by Angria, the famous East India Pirate' and the following strange conversation between the two men took place:
Angria. - Where do you originally come from?
Crichton. - From Dundee, in Scotland.
Angria. - Ay! ay! from Dundee!!! Then pray, where does the Cross of Dundee stand?
Crichton. - Near the west end of the large square, opposite the new Town-house.
Angria. - How many steps are in it?
Crichton. - Six steps, and all go round about it.
Angria. - Quite right.  Where stands Monk's holm?
Crichton. - On the south side of the Nethergate, and east from the Hospital, opposite to   Girzie Gourlay's stable.
Angria. - Right again.  Where stands the Machlin Tower?
Crichton. - Just at the west end of the broad of the Murraygate, on the north side, where  they have lately erected a public Well, - to be called the Dog Well, from Archibald Doig, a merchant, who has been at the expense of erecting a dog on the top of it, cut out of a solid stone.
Angria. - I am much obliged to you for this information, being news to me.  But, pray, where stands St Pauls?
Crichton. - On the south side of the Murraygate, immediately opposite the Machlin Tower.
Angria. - Do you know St Roche?
Crichton. - Yes.  We call it Semmirookie.  At the east end of the Cowgate, on the north side, near the Den burn.

     Upon which Angria answered. - Well, Captain Crichton, because we are townsmen, I give you your liberty and your ship in a present.


   Before looking at the background of this extraordinary story, it's as well saying that the truth or otherwise of this legend has entirely eluded me so far.  Following the death of Kanhoji in June 1729, the dynasty was inherited by his eldest son Sukhoji who ruled until his death in 1733.  The Angrian territories were later divided between other brothers and half-brothers, which was the situation still when Captain Crichton encountered his Scottish 'Angria' in 1750.  

   The story of the encounter between Crichton and Angria, whether fictitious or not, was repeated in various printed sources in the 19th century, such as Charles Rogers' Traits and Stories of the Scottish People, and even made it into the footnotes of the Dundee poet Joseph Lee's Tales O' Our Town in 1910.  nearer to the time of Dundee Delineated was James Edward Alexander's work Travels from India to England (1827), which reports:

We passed the island of Severndroog, of Golden Rock, the strong hold of the famous pirate Angria, who (which is not generally known) was a native of Dundee, in Scotland.  He was originally the admiral of the Mahratta fleet, and afterwards cruised on his own account.  He and his descendants were the terror of this coast for many years, and caused it to bear the appellation of "the Pirate  Coast".
    The truth behind the matter eludes me.  Strangely, and probably coincidentally, Charlotte Bronte's juvenile adventure tales set in a fictional land called Angria, features a character named 'Sir John Martin Dundee'.  

   Did a Dundonian really serve with the successors of Angria and possibly even adopt his family name.  Like the origins of that other Dundonian pirate Captain Kidd, the truth is out there somewhere, but buried as covertly as an old sea dog's treasure chest.

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