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Pirate Killers (Paperback)

The Royal Navy and the African Pirates


By Graham A Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781399013567
Published: 14th October 2021



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One hundred and fifty years ago the Royal Navy fought a daring campaign against ruthless pirates and won. On West African shores they killed ‘The King of the Pirates’, Bartholomew Roberts and captured his fleet. Scores of his men were executed by the Admiralty Court.
On the Barbary Coast of North Africa pirates preyed on shipping in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic as they had done for centuries and they terrorized the populations of the coastal towns. To them, piracy was a way of life, and the great sea-powers of the day couldn’t stop them. Then, in one of the most remarkable – and neglected – anti-piracy operations in maritime history, the Royal Navy confronted them, defeated them and made the seas safe for trade.
This is the subject of Graham A. Thomas’s compelling new study of one of the most pernicious episodes in the history of African piracy. As he tells this compelling story, he uncovers the long tradition of piracy and privateering along the African shore. Vividly he describes attacks not only in the Mediterranean but also on the other side of the continent, along the shores of West Africa and around Madagascar. But perhaps the most telling sections of his narrative concern critical engagements that stand out from the story – the daring rescue of the British merchant ship The Three Sisters by HMS Polyphemus in 1848 and the actions of the battleship HMS Prometheus against the Rif pirates a few years later.
His account is based on documents held at the National Archives and other original sources. It gives a fascinating inside view into the way in which the Royal Navy responded to the menace of piracy in the nineteenth century.

Is it possible to read lightly about killing pirates and slavery? Let your reviewer reject his earlier ‘woke’ credentials by giving an emphatic ‘yes’ and stating that this book is an excellent opportunity so to do.

Read the full review here

Naval Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One thing that never disappoints is a book that is well-researched. Pen and Sword has a proud history of producing books that are enjoyable to read!

Pirates - every kid wanted to be one, and we all wish that there were days that we could hoist that black flag while sailing off in the sunset. Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence of the "pirate craze" where there are several books all centered around pirates, their daring deeds, and for some of them - historical notoriety through time.

Graham Thomas takes this history and gives us a fabulous look at the effort to end piracy. The Royal Navy waged a grand campaign against those that they were determined to eradicate and put a stop to the age of Piracy.

Set sail with this amazing book, and get lost in history.

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

I love learning about Pirate History (possibly obsessed) and have recently had a fascination with the pirates from the Barbary Coast so this book immediately drew my attention.

It is impeccably written and it is clear a ton of thought and research went into this. It took me a while to get through as there is a ton of information in here and I read it in short chunks but it was fascinating and I felt that I gained a lot of insight.

I really enjoyed this and think it is well worth the time investment.

NetGalley, K Cole-Graham

Before picking up this book, I knew nothing about the Royal Navy's campaign against pirates on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, so this was a real eye-opener for me. "Pirate Killers" is an interesting read, is written well, and has clearly been researched thoroughly, using various original documents and sources. Definitely one for pirate enthusiasts!

NetGalley, Dawn Lewis

Graham A. Thomas in Pirate Killers: The Royal Navy and the African Pirates has written a deeply researched exciting tale of the efforts of the British Royal Navy to annihilate the pirates of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. They were of course successful, but the actions were neglected unfairly by history.

Mr. Thomas covers the long history of piracy along the African coast, covering not just the Mediterranean, but also West Africa and acts of piracy along Madagascar. Drawing on documents and journals Mr. Thomas mixes stories of pirate actions, and attacks with the economic reality of why piracy existed, was allowed to continue so long, and the final straws that made the Royal Navy end the practice. The writing never drags, the characters are fleshed out, in what ways they can be, some pirates, and even some fighting men were as mysterious in their times as they are today. A fascinating read for those who like history, especially naval history, or for fans of fictional naval adventures as written by Alexander Kent, Dudley Pope, and Patrick O'Brian.

NetGalley, Dan O'Leary

The stories are full of good quotes and first hand accounts. The author does an excellent job of explaining the politics and economic reasons behind what drove these events. A very good read.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

A few years ago, I chanced upon a book about Pirates I was unfamiliar with. Its title was something along the lines of Pirates of the Barbary Coast. Maybe not. While informative to a degree, it was largely boring and left me uninspired. Thomas' book managed to tell the stories of Pirates in the same area while continuously exciting me. There were moments where it was so thrilling that I sat in the car outside the Library I work for reading, hating the fact that I would have to close it and go to work.

NetGalley, Alexander McCue

From the Barbary Coast of North Africa pirates had preyed on shipping in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic for centuries and they terrorized the populations even of the coastal towns. To them, piracy was a way of life, and the great sea-powers of the day could do little about it. Then, 150 years ago, in one of the most remarkable and neglected anti-piracy operations in maritime history, the Royal Navy confronted them, defeated them and made the seas safe for trade. Based on original sources held at the National Archives, this a fascinating view into the way the Royal Navy responded to the menace of piracy in the nineteenth century.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin Blog

An enlightening account of piracy around a single continent and how the men and officers of the British Royal Navy played a vital role in curbing these sea robbers of the past, as well as how they continue to risk their lives to protect seamen and ships off Somalia toady. Much of the material will be new to readers interested in piracy; those books that have covered some of these topics rarely go into the depth as Thomas does. This isn't an academic study, but one lay readers interested in piracy around Africa will find fascinating.

Pirates and Privateers - July 2011

About Graham A Thomas

Graham A. Thomas is a historian specialising in the history of the British army and air force in the Second World War and Korea. He is currently the editor of the British Army Review, a quarterly journal on the doctrine and history of the British army. His publications include Furies and Fireflies Over Korea, Terror From the Sky: The Battle Against the Flying Bombs and Firestorm: Typhoons Over Caen. He has also written several books on naval and maritime history, including Pirate Hunter: The Life of Captain Woodes Rogers and Blackbeard: The Hunt For The World's Most Notorious Pirate.

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