Manly Peeke of Tavistock. By J. Brooking Rowe, F.S.A., F.L.S.

Plymouth: William Brendon ans Son. 1879

In the early part of the seventeenth century the piratess of the African shores of the Mediterranean were a scourge and a terror, not only to the crews of the trading vessels of European nations, but also to the populations of the towns and villages of hte sea-board. Algerine corsairs made prizes even off our coasts, and many English and Irish were carried away as slaves.

In 1621 King James resolved to make an effort to put a stop to these depredations, and proposed to the chief Christian powers that steps should be taken to destroy the stronghold of the pirates - Algiers, and Spain readily agreed to co-operate. Preparations were made, and the command given to Sir Robert Mansell. Before, however, the arrangements were complete, Spain refused to do as she had promised, and the King, while fearing to abandon altogether the expedition on account of the expectations that had been raised, did a much worse thing, and sent it out with a small force imperfectly equipped, and with especial instructions to the commander, that on no account was the safety of the ships to be risked.

Among the volunteers accompanying Sir Robert Mansell was a gentleman of this county, Richard Peeke, evidently one who, if he had not fought with them, had inherited, in common with many of his companions, the traditions of Drake, Hawkins, and Raleigh. He describes himself as a Westerne man, Devonshire my countrey, an Tauestoke my place of Habitation.

I am unable to obtain any information as to the family or antecedents of this bold man, and unfortunately the parish registers at Tavistock do not commence until 1620.

We have no account of his exploits during the time he served under Mansell. The fleet reached Algiers, surprised the enemy, and attacking the ships and galleys in the port, set them on fire. Neglecting to follow up the advantage gained, Mansell appears to have done nothing further, and the Algerines, recovering from the panic into which they had been thrown, and aided by, as one account says, a great cataract of rain which hindered the working of the English fireworks, were able to extinguish the fires, and mounting batteries upon the shore, not only succeeded in driving off their assailants, but recovered the whole of their ships except two. Mansell, it may be concluded, adhered pretty closely to his commission, and did not risk very much, for he lost only eight men, and brought the whole of his ships home in safety.

Such a foolish display was, as might be expected, productive of the most serious consequences. The pirates, exasperated against England, and despising her as an enemy, resolved to inflict as much injury as possible upon her commerce, and in a few months succeeded in taking no less than thirty-five English merchant ships, with their cargoes and crews, selling the latter as slaves. The whole country was stirred with anger at the failure of this ill-planned and ill-conducted expedition and its results.

Peeke was not one of the eight who lost their lives, but as he says, After I had seene the Beginning and End of Argieres Voyage, I came home somewhat more acquainted with the World, but a little amended in Estate: My Body more wasted and weather beaten, but my Purse neuer the fuller, nor my Pockets thicker lyned.

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