Of Pirates and Plants


‘About four o’clock in the afternoon the captain and pilot came hurriedly down to my cabin and informed me that they saw a number of Jan-do [pirates] right ahead, lying in wait for us…. I therefore considered it prudent to be prepared for the worst.

I got out of bed, ill and feverish as I was, and carefully examined my fire-arms…. I also rammed down a ball upon the top of each charge of shot in my gun, put a pistol in each side pocket, and patiently waited the result…

..All was now dismay and consternation on board our junk, and every man ran below except two who were at the helm. I expected every moment that these also would leave their post; and then we should have been an easy prey to the pirates. “My gun is nearer you than those of the Jan-dous,” said I to the two men; “and if you move from the helm depend upon it I will shoot you”. The poor fellows looked very uncomfortable.

The pirates now seemed quite sure of their prize, and came down upon us hooting and yelling like demons, at the same time loading their guns, and evidently determined not to spare their shot. This was a moment of intense interest….

The nearest junk was now within thirty yards of ours their guns were now loaded, and I knew that the next discharge would completely rake our decks. “Now,” said I to our helmsmen, “keep your eyes fixed on me, and the moment you see me fall flat on the deck you must do the same”…. We had scarcely done so, when bang! bang! went their guns, and the shot came whizzing close over us, splintering the wood about us in all directions…. “Now, mandarin, now! they are quite close enough”, cried out my companions, who did not wish to have another broadside like the last. I, being of the same opinion, raised myself above the high stern of our junk; and while the pirates were not more than twenty yards away from us, hooting and yelling, I raked their decks fore and aft, with shot and ball from my double barrelled gun.

Had a thunderbolt fallen amongst them, they could not have been more surprised. Doubtless many were wounded, and probably some killed…

They were so completely taken by surprise that their junk was left without a helmsman… and, as we were still carrying all sail and keeping on our right course, they were soon left a considerable way astern…. Another was now bearing down upon us as boldly as his companion had done…. I determined to follow the same plan with this one, and to pay no attention to his firing until he should come to close quarters. The plot now began to thicken; for the first junk had gathered way again, and was following in our wake… and three others, although still further distant, were making for the scene of action as fast as they could. In the mean time, the second was almost alongside, and continued giving us a broadside now and then with their guns….

My poor fellows who were steering kept begging and praying that I would fire into our pursuers as soon as possible, or we should all be killed. As soon as they came within twenty or thirty yards of us, I gave them the contents of both barrels, raking their decks as before. This time the helmsman fell and doubtless several others were wounded…. their junk went up into the wind… and was soon left some distance behind us…. Two other piratical junks which had been following in our wake for some time, when they saw what had happened, would not venture any nearer; and at last, much to my satisfaction, the whole set of them bore away.’

 The explorer in question was Scotsman Robert Fortune, and his boat was loaded with a fantastic herbaceous plant haul that included this marvellously beautiful white-flowered form of ‘Anemone japonica’ that he’d found growing on the graves of Shanghai.  The usual wild form is pink,  and it arrived in Europe a decade or two later.  It too is lovely, but a tremendous thug.  I am busy trying to extirpate it from the garden, but find it impossible to resist the spread of this most perfect one…  So beware!

If you like plant stories, there are even wilder ones that this in ‘Plants that Shaped our Gardens’, available as a hardback from Amazon….  🙂

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About david stuart

garden writer and journalist, and occasionally a designer, with a garden in the Scottish borders, and his pal's gardens in Edinburgh, London, and Lincolnshire. They keep both of us very, very busy. Books I've written listed on my website, and dozens of articles and garden and plant pictures. Currently working on several new projects. One of these was to return to painting - see the blog - and which is proving exciting! www.david-stuart.co.uk
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