third generation to carry the Woodes Rodgers name, the family
was originally from Poole, Dorset. He was the
son of a successful sea captain and was born in Bristol in
locally as a “nautica” (sailor), he married Sarah
Whetstone, daughter of Bristol Admiral Sir William Whetstone
(who incidentally used the first HMS Bristol as his flagship
in the West Indies in the early 1700s).
Rodgers (right) receives a map of
from his son, in a painting
After marrying Sarah, his status in Bristol improved
greatly and he became a Merchant Venturer and Freeman of the
1708 he was made Commander of a venture being backed by leading
members of Bristol Corporation. He had a letter of marque
enabling him to legitimately attack Spanish and French trade
After exploring the Falkland Islands the ships then
rounded Cape Horn. Dampier, as pilot, had carried the expedition
so far South that men on both ships were nearly frozen
to death. After turning North he then managed to overshoot
the island of Juan Fernandez. After they rescued Alexander
Selkirk the expedition went about its business of attacking
trade and commerce in the South Seas.
One of the most successful raids was on the rich
city of Guiaquil, where apparently Rodgers men liberated
the Spanish ladies of their gold chains in ‘a most genteel
after, when trying to board an enemy French ship, Woodes Rodgers younger
brother John was killed.
More adventures and many prizes later,
Woodes Rodgers managed to finally secure a Treasure Ship at a
personal cost of a bullet in the mouth. Then, despite being heavily
outgunned, the party tried to attack an even bigger Treasure
Ship, with Rodgers receiving yet another injury, a huge splinter
in his heel. After
this, the decision was made to sail home by crossing the Pacific
and stopping off at Batavia (Java) for Woodes Rodgers to receive
much needed surgery.
The captured Treasure Ship was renamed “The Batchelor”,
after one of the voyage,s sponsors, Alderman Batchelor of Bristol
(apparently not because of the Bachelors Delight). There was
a dispute over who would command her and Rodgers managed to
get Selkirk appointed master over the unpopular Dr Thomas Dover.
Once home the heroes-welcome the crews expected, and deserved,
dissipated into litigation, causing even more hardship. Many
of the men were press ganged and Rodgers lost his home in Queen’s
Square for a while. To try and raise some funds, and probably
to state his side of events, Woodes Rodgers published a book
based around his captain’s log which proved to be a best
seller and hugely influential.
By 1718 Woodes Rodgers was off on his next
adventure, this time being made the first Royal Governor of
the Bahamas. This
was something of a poisoned chalice as the islands had become
a pirates’ republic, home to some of the most ferocious
pirates ever. Our man was required to take their pardon
or fight them. Not only did he re-establish the
colony for the British, he even managed to get the pardoned
pirates to fight off the Spanish.
Within a few years though, Rodgers left the colony after
using all his own and his backers’ money trying to make the
colony succeed. He returned home destitute and his fortunes fluctuated
greatly. Probably a stint in debtors prison being his lowest
moment and having his family’s portrait painted by the
great William Hogarth the highest.
All this was prior to his final stint
as Governor of the Bahamas in 1729. He carried on with
his colonial duties, setting up the island’s first General
Assembly and trying to attract more trade and people to the
during these periods of governorship, Woodes Rodgers made enemies
and this may account for his mysterious death in 1732 when
he was possibly poisoned. Just as mysteriously he has no corner
of a foreign land, his grave is unknown.