Monday 16 December 2013

Commodore Sir William James, Foiler of Pirates

Commodore Sir William James, 1st Baronet, FRS (Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, c.1721 – Eltham, London, England, 16th December 1783)

Commodore Sir William James by Joshua Reynolds, 1784
Commodore Sir William James by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784

I hope you've got your sealegs on because today we make the acquaintance of a man who rose from humble beginnings to the heights of naval success. A true tale of rags to riches, William James travelled the oceans to make his name in business and seafaring circles!

The man who would become a Baronet was born into poverty, the son of a miller in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. With no appetite to follow his father into his trade he ran away to sea before he entered his teenage years and his dedication saw him rise swiftly through the ranks. By the age of 17 the young man was in charge of his own vessel in the West Indies. Captured by the Spanish, he was left to drift at sea until he made landfall in Cuba, only to be captured again.

Undaunted by these experiences, James joined the East India Company in 1747 and by 1751 he was Commander of the the Bombay Marine Forces, chiefly concerning himself with the pirates who plagued the company's dealings. His particular target was Toolaji Angria, a pirate leader  of some renown who operated out of the fortress of Severndroog, a stronghold that had been undefeated for decades. James was not concerned by previous failed efforts to bring down the pirates, confident that his own knowledge of the sea as well as the might of his ship, The Protector, would secure him the victory.

In fact James was proven right; his expert navigational skills around the Indian coastline led to a successful attack on the fortress in 1755 and the fortress fell. He also supported Colonel Robert Clive on occasion and was instrumental in securing British dominance over French forces in India.

In 1759 James returned to England and took up a role as chairman of the East India Company, settling with his wife, Anne Goddard, in Soho. He served as MP for West Looe in Cornwall and into 1774 moved to Eltham, his many successes crowned with a a baronetcy in 1778. 

James died at the age of 62 after suffering a massive stroke at his daughter's wedding. Today he is commemorated by Richard Jupp's Severndroog Castle, the building commissioned by the grief-stricken Lady Anne James.

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