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Hunting the Last Great Pirate (Paperback)

Benito de Soto and the Rape of the Morning Star

Maritime P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > True Crime

By Michael E. A. Ford
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399021500
Published: 30th September 2025


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In 1827 the Duke of Wellington – former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army and British Prime Minister – ordered the withdrawal of British soldiers from the island of Ceylon after years of bloody conflict there. English cargo vessels, including the unarmed English Quaker ship Morning Star, were despatched to sail to Colombo to repatriate wounded British soldiers and a cargo of sealed crates containing captured treasure.

By January 1828 , Morning Star was anchored at Table Bay, Cape Town, before joining an armed British convoy of East Indiamen, heading north. Heavily-laden, she struggled to keep up with the ships ahead.

The notorious pirate Benito de Soto was the master of a heavily-armed pirate ship, lying in wait off Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic to pick-off stragglers from passing convoys. Morning Star was easily overhauled by the pirate and stopped with cannon fire. Her captain and officers were executed and the attackers fled to Spain with cargo stolen from the stricken ship.The women on board and the few remaining men managed to save the ship, enabling her to limp back to London.

Later de Soto buried the treasure and travelled to British-ruled Gibraltar with forged identity documents to sell the spoils. The authorities, however, discovered his identity and he was arrested. Despite the absence of eye-witness evidence that he was the pirate captain, he was convicted of piracy before a British judge and jury and hanged at Gibraltar in early 1830. It is clear that proof of de Soto’s guilt in court was lacking, but astonishingly, when renovations were being carried out at de Soto’s former home village in Galicia, Spain, in 1926, much of the treasures he had plundered from Morning Star were found buried in the grounds there.

Almost 100 years later, British justice administered in London and Gibraltar was vindicated …

The author is to be congratulated for his research and his detailed account in this narrative which is never dull. A very good read and recommended.

World Ship Society - Marine News, November 2020

An interesting story of one of the last traditional sailing ship pirates. The story of Benito De Soto was not the end of piracy but he was one of the last traditional pirates, captured by the British, tried and executed. – Highly Recommended

Read the full review [link=http://reviews.firetrench.com/hunting-the-last-great-pirate/]here[/link=


Review by Allyson Ropp, East Carolina University

Ford’s Hunting the Last Great Pirate is an ingenious approach to telling a pirate history. He contextualizes de Soto and his trial within the political and economic developments of the early nineteenth century. This contextualization offers not just a recounting of his deeds and trail, but an analytical view of piracy’s role in exposing failures in systems throughout the Atlantic world.

Nautical Research Journal 66:1 (March 2021)

Hunting the Last Great Pirate is more than just the story of a deadly encounter with pirates. Ford provides the backdrop of world events at the time, as well as background on the ships and people involved, including the victims, the pirates, and those whose lives and decisions impacted either group. While the criminals were captured, prosecuting de Soto and his men proved far more complicated than anyone expected or desired. Through quotes from contemporary documents and testimonies from some of the pirates, Ford recounts the events in chronological sequence and includes an eyewitness account of what unfolded as the convoy parted ways with Morning Star. He adeptly shares how that abandonment impacted the prosecution and why some officials strove to cover up the scandal. Readers seeking a thorough and surprising account of this incident will discover that this book meets those criteria. In the process, they will come away with a far better understanding of what happened and why.

Read the full review here

Pirates and Privateers

Article: Capture of the last pirate Benito de Soto hanged on the Rock in 1830

Gibraltar Chronicle, 24th August 2020 - words by Alice Mascarenhas

‘Last Pirate – First Book'

The Leveller

Article: ‘Family tree research leads to tale of piracy’ as featured by

The Scarborough News, 10th September 2020 piracy’ – words by Sue Wilkinson

I really enjoyed reading this, I liked that I learned about something that I hadn't heard of before. It was well-researched.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

As featured in

Daily Express 06/07/20

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I Enjoyed everything about this book there was nothing I didn't like about the book. I Like the setting,the writing style,the plot,the plot twists and the characters in the book were amazing.I would gladly reread it again.

NetGalley, Nicole Bannister

About Michael E. A. Ford

Raised in colonial Africa, Michael Ford completed National Service in the Royal Rhodesian Air Force, after which he was called to the Bar in England. Returning to Rhodesia in the 1970s, he appeared as defence counsel in High Court war crime trials that arose during the civil insurrection in the country. Later, he also practised law in Hong Kong. After years living abroad, the family returned to live in England in the 1990s. He and his wife later retired to the Somerset village where they presently live.

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