Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Captain John Gow

GOW, Captain John, alias Smith, alias Goffe

A Scotch pirate, born at Thurso.

Although the short career of this pirate made a great noise at the time, he did little to merit the fame which he achieved. He had the honour of having an account of his piratical activities written by Defoe, and ninety years later was made the hero in a novel by Walter Scott, as Captain Cleveland.

Gow sailed from Amsterdam as a foremast hand in the George galley, commanded by Captain Ferneau, a Guernsey man. Being a brisk and intelligent man, he was soon promoted to be second mate. They called at Santa Cruz in Barbary to take in a cargo of beeswax to deliver at Genoa. Sailing from Santa Cruz on November 3rd, 1724, Gow and a few others conspired to mutiny and then to go "upon the account." The captain, as was his custom, had all hands, except the helmsman, into his cabin at eight o'clock each night for prayers. This particular night, after it was dark, the conspirators went below to the hammocks of the chief mate, the supercargo, and the surgeon and cut all their throats. They did the same to the captain, who was then thrown overboard though still alive.

Gow being now elected captain and one Williams, a thorough rogue, mate, they renamed the vessel the Revenge, armed her with eighteen guns, and cruised off the coast of Spain, taking an English sloop with a cargo of fish from Newfoundland, commanded by Captain Thomas Wise of Poole. Their second prize was a Glasgow ship loaded with herrings and salmon.

They next sailed to Madeira, where Gow presented the Governor with a box of Scotch herrings. About this time Williams, the first mate, insulted Gow by accusing him of cowardice because he had refused to attack a big French ship, and snapped his pistol at him. Two seamen standing near shot Williams, wounding him severely, and to get rid of him they put him aboard one of their prizes. Discussions now took place as to where to sail, and Gow, who was in love with a lass in the Orkney Islands, suggested sailing thither, as being a good place to traffic their stolen goods.

On arriving at Carristown they sold most of their cargo, and one of the crew, going on shore, bought a horse for three pieces of eight and rode to Kirkwall and surrendered himself. Next day ten more men deserted, setting out in the long-boat for the mainland of Scotland, but were taken prisoners in the Forth, of Edinburgh. By now the whole countryside was alarmed. Gow's next move was to land his men and plunder the houses of the gentry. They visited a Mrs. Honnyman and her daughter, but these ladies managed to get their money and jewellery away in safety. Gow's crew marched back to their ship with a bagpiper playing at their head.

They now sailed to Calfsound, seized three girls and took them aboard. Then to the Island of Eda to plunder the house of Mr. Fea, an old schoolmate of Gow's. Arriving there on February 13th, by bad management they ran their vessel on the rocks. The bo'son and five men went ashore and met Mr. Fea, who entertained them at the local public-house. By a simple stratagem, Mr. Fea seized first the bo'son and afterwards the five men. Soon after this, Fea trapped Gow and all the rest of his crew of twenty-eight men. Help was sent for, and eventually the Greyhound frigate arrived and took Gow and his crew to London, arriving off Woolwich on March 26th, 1725. The prisoners were taken to the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark, and there found their old companion, Lieutenant Williams. Four men turned King's evidence—viz., George Dobson, Job Phinnies, Tim Murphy, and William Booth.

The trial at Newgate began on May 8th, when Gow was sullen and reserved and refused to plead. He was ordered to be pressed to death, which was the only form of torture still allowed by the law. At the last moment Gow yielded, and pleaded "not guilty." Gow was found guilty, and hanged on June 11th, 1725, but "as he was turned off, he fell down from the Gibbit, the rope breaking by the weight of some that pulled his leg. Although he had been hanging for four minutes, he was able to climb up the ladder a second time, which seemed to concern him very little, and he was hanged again."

His body was then taken to Greenwich and there hanged in chains, to be a warning to others.



Bo'son to Captain Gow, the pirate. He had the reputation of being a good sailor but a bloodthirsty fellow. Was hanged at Wapping in June, 1725.

MACHAULY, Daniel, or Maccawly, or McCawley

A Scotch pirate. One of Captain Gow's crew. Hanged at Execution Dock at Wapping on June 11th, 1725.

MELVIN, William

This Scotch pirate was hanged, with other members of Gow's crew, at Wapping in June, 1725.


A Swedish pirate, one of Gow's crew. He was hanged at Wapping in June, 1725.

ROB, Alexander

One of Captain Gow's crew. Hanged at Execution Dock, Wapping, in June, 1725. He was not one of the original crew of the George galley, but was taken out of a prize and joined the pirates of his own free-will.


Captain Gow's gunner in the Revenge. Hanged at Execution Dock, Wapping, in June, 1725.

WILLIAMS, Lieutenant James

Welsh pirate.

Sailed as a hand on board the George galley from Amsterdam in 1724. Conspiring with Gow to bring about a mutiny, he took an active part in murdering the captain, the chief mate, super cargo, and surgeon. Gow promoted him to be his mate. He was a violent, brutal man, and a bully. On one occasion, he accused Gow of cowardice, and snapped his pistol in Gow's face, but the weapon failed to go off, and two seamen standing by shot Williams, wounding him in the arm and belly.

The next day Gow sent away a crew of prisoners in a sloop he had taken and plundered, and Williams, heavily manacled, was cast into the hold of this vessel, with orders that he should be given up as a pirate to the first English man-of-war they should meet with. He was taken to Lisbon and there put on board H.M.S. Argyle, and carried to London. When Gow and his crew eventually arrived in irons at the Marshalsea Prison, they found Williams already there awaiting trial. Hanged at Newgate on June 11th, 1725, his body being hanged in chains at Blackwall.


One of Gow's crew in the Revenge. Hanged in 1725 at Wapping.

Crew members who escaped hanging by turning King's evidence

BOOTH, William

One of Gow's crew in the Revenge. Escaped hanging by turning King's evidence.

DOBSON, George

One of Gow's crew in the Revenge. Escaped hanging by turning King's evidence.


One of Gow's crew in the Revenge. Escaped hanging by turning King's evidence.


One of Gow's crew in the Revenge. Escaped hanging by turning King's evidence.

Crew members who also escaped hanging

HARVEY, William

Tried for piracy with the rest of Gow's crew at Newgate in 1725, and acquitted.

READ, Robert

Tried for piracy with Gow's crew at Newgate in 1725, and acquitted.

TEAGUE, Robert

A Scotch pirate, one of Captain Gow's crew. On May 26th, 1725, the crew were tried in London and found guilty and sentenced to death, except Teague and two others who were acquitted.