George Shelvocke

(1675—1742) privateer and author

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(1675–1742), British privateer. He was born at Deptford (see royal dockyards) and entered the Royal Navy in about 1690, serving through the remainder of the War of the League of Augsburg (1689–97). He became a lieutenant in 1704, and in 1707 was made purser of the Monck, a less honourable though more lucrative position than that of a lieutenant. He came out of the navy in 1713 and fell into great poverty. In 1718 he approached a syndicate which was about to fit out two privateers to operate against Spain and was offered command of the expedition with John Clipperton as his second in command. While the two vessels, the Success and the Speedwell, were fitting out, Shelvocke took matters so much into his own hands that the syndicate of owners reversed the command structure, making Shelvocke second in command to Clipperton.

In February 1719 the two ships sailed with British letters of marque. Shelvocke, in command of the Speedwell, was determined to give Clipperton the slip and succeeded in doing so at the Cape Verde Islands. He then proceeded into the South Seas, and engaged more in piracy than in privateering. It was while the Speedwell was sailing through the Straits of Le Maire that there occurred the well-known incident when Simon Hatley, Shelvocke's second in command, shot a black albatross which had been following the ship for several days, the action which gave Coleridge the theme for his ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.

The Speedwell made her way to Juan Fernandez Island, capturing a number of prizes on the way, and here she was lost, probably through Shelvocke's carelessness. On his return to England in August 1722 Shelvocke was imprisoned, at the instance of the owners, but he escaped and fled to France. He subsequently returned to England, dying at the home of his son in Lombard Street, London. In 1726 he published an entertaining but doubtful account of his expedition with the title A Voyage round the World., The Speedwell Voyage (1999).

From The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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