The third generation to carry the Woodes Rogers name, the family was originally from Poole, Dorset. He was the son of a successful sea captain and was born in Bristol in 1679. Apprenticed 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).
After marrying Sarah, his status in Bristol improved greatly and he became a Merchant Venturer and Freeman of the City. In 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 and possessions.
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 manner’. Soon after, when trying to board an enemy French ship, Woodes Rodgers younger brother John was killed.
More adventures and many prizes later, Woodes Rogers 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 Rogers 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 Rogers 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 Rogers 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, Rogers 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.