Rediscovering ‘Mr. Roberts’: An English Mariner’s Aegean Captivity Narrative (1692-1693)

Colin Heywood - Honorary Research Fellow, Department of History, University of Hull

(presented by Prof. David J. Starkey)



The fourth and final item of A Collection of Original Voyages (London, 1699) is entitled ‘Mr. Roberts’s Adventures among the Corsairs of the Levant; His Account of their Way of Living; Description of the Archipelago islands, Taking of Scio, &c’. William Hack, the work’s publisher, identifies the author as ‘Mr. Roberts’, who was (or had until recently been) serving in the British navy. In 1692 Roberts was on board HM ‘hired ship’ (i.e., privateer) Arcana, when, on 12 June that year, it sank at its moorings at the Aegean island of Nio. Roberts was taken captive by Livornese corsairs, with whom he served for some months until he was able to effect his escape.

Robert’s captivity narrative is divided into two parts. The first gives a vivid account of the misadventures and hardships which he suffered, as well as provides extensive details of the activities of the ponentine (mainly Maltese, Livornese and French) privateers in the sea spaces off the Greek and Aegean coasts and islands. The second section is a detailed Aegean isolario, a late representative of a genre of sailing instructions, which finds its origins in the 15th-century Liber insularum of Cristoforo Buondelmonti.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is a simple one, even if it is not entirely straightforward. It is to both identify the anonymous ‘Mr. Roberts’ and to place him in a context, at once personal and chronological, which will allow an in depth analysis and validation of his work.




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