The Golden Galleon – Tim Thompson
A new painting by renowned marine artist Tim Thompson has arrived in the Boston Gallery. The 30 x 48″ masterpiece depicts two pirate ships attacking a pair of large, gold laden Spanish galleons off the Florida coast. The Spaniards have been parted from the convoy by a storm. The foreground ship (being the most powerful) shortened sail to stand by her partially dismasted consort. A fierce cannonade has ensued and shot tears through the sails and the rig of the galleon.
Tim Thompson – The Golden Galleon
Famed in Pirate legend, the Spanish Main lured adventurers and pirates with the new promise of untold riches. The Spanish Main was Spain’s empire in the New World or North and South America. After Christopher Columbus landed on an island in the Caribbean in 1492, the New World (or western hemisphere) was found to contain treasures beyond European’s wildest dreams. Spanish conquistadors, or conquerors, ruthlessly plundered the wealth of the Aztec and Inca nations of Mexico and Peru throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Due to which, vast quantities of gold and silver were shipped back to Europe. The Spanish treasure ships soon attracted attention or privateers and pirates eager for a share of the booty, prompting the beginning of piracy on the Spanish Main.
Treasure from the Spanish Main amazed the people of 16th century Europe. The Spanish writer Bernal Diaz marveled at items like a gold disk “in the shape of the sun as big as a cartwheel.” Soon Spain’s many enemies also set sail to get a share of this rich booty. Among the first on the scene were the French and English privateers. Their success encouraged many adventurers to make trips to the Main. Desperate to return home rich, some crossed the thin line between privateering and piracy, attacking ships of any nation.
Pirates or Privateers?
English adventurers Thomas Cavendish (1555-1592), Drake, and Hawkins were celebrated privateers. Though each held letters of marque or reprisal. Cavendish was the only one who confined his raids to wartime. The Spanish and other nationalities regarded all three as pirates.
A galleon usually had a crew of about 200 men and an armament of up to 60 canons. Although well built with a strong wooden hull and powerful rig, these great ships were difficult to maneuver and in spite of their guns, galleons often proved no match for small, swifter pirate vessels.
Early privateers sailed in tiny ships such as 50-100 ton barks with crews of just 40 or 50 men. Later, they used larges merchant ships of 100-300 tons. The ships were very crowded because they carried extra crews to sail any captured prize ships.
The treasure came from all over the South American continent and beyond. The solids gold jewelry of the Aztecs was exquisitely beautiful, however Spaniards crushed or melted most of it down to save space on the treasure ships.
Spanish treasure ships were most vulnerable to attack in the early stages of their voyages. Privateers and pirates knew the ships had to head north from the Caribbean to find a favorable wind before returning home to Spain. Waiting off the North American coast, Florida in particular, the privateers and pirates could take the Spanish by surprise.
England’s King James I opened a bloody chapter in the history of the Spanish Main in 1603. The end the chaos of privateering raids in the Caribbean, he withdrew all letters or Marque. This had disastrous consequences. Bands of lawless buccaneers soon replaced the privateers. Originally hunters from the islands of Hispaniola, the buccaneers banded together into a loyal brotherhood when the hated Spanish tried to drive them out. They began by attacking small Spanish ships then went after larger prizes. Convicts, outlaws, and escaped slaves swelled their numbers. The buccaneers obeyed no laws except their own and their leaders maintained discipline with horrible acts or cruelty.
The scene in the Golden Galleon depicts two pirate ships attacking a pair of large, gold laden Spanish galleons off the Florida coast. The Spaniards have been parted from the convoy by a storm. The foreground ship (being the most powerful) shortened sail to stand by her partially dismasted consort. A fierce cannonade has ensued and shot tears through the sails and the rig of the galleon.