The “Ganj-i-Sawai”, being pursued by several smaller pirate ships, including “The Fancy” Avery’s pirates waited by the Red Sea to hijack the ships carrying the valuable cargo, treasures, and pilgrims.; but proceeded to kidnap some locals who confirmed that the “Moor[ish]” fleet was making its way to Surat from Mocha. The Mughal Fleet passed by the pirates under the cover of night, but Avery had found this too late, launching an immediate and zealous pursuit. One of their ships, “The Dolphin”, could not pick up significant speed and so was abandoned and burned. Whatever crew was left from this ship was added to “The Fancy”. The other ships that were able to carry on were the “Pearl”, “Portsmouth Adventure” and “The Amity”; the others were similarly left behind. The “Fateh Muhammed”, not knowing “The Fancy” was full of pirates came within a pistol shot of the pirates who overtook its autonomy. The cargo from this ship alone was worth between £50,000—£60,000 pounds, including having carried silver and gold. The “Ganj-i-Sawai” (anglicized; “Gunsway”), was better armed with 40—80 cannons/guns and 400—500 fighting men, and was also personally owned by Emperor Aurangzeb. The battle lasted for 2—3 hours. Tragically, the “Ganj-i-Sawai’s” attempts to set fire to “The Fancy” fell through when one of its own guns exploded killing many on board, causing significant damage. The pirates guns also managed to ruin the mainmast, rooting the ship to its spot. This gave the pirates an immense amount of morale. Afterwards, Avery’s men said they would give mercy on the condition of surrender, however the pirates raped and murdered for at least a week after.
Meanwhile, Fancy was on her way northward, bound for the mouth of the Red Sea. Every’s plan was to patrol the narrow Gulf of Aden where he hoped to seize a rich, Moorish ship on her way to or from India. (English-speaking sailors began around this time to call all Muslim vessels “Moorish.”)
On the voyage from Johanna to the Red Sea, Fancy was joined by two smaller pirate ships from America. It was agreed the two Americans would operate jointly with Fancy, and that Every would serve as overall commander of the little fleet.
In August 1695, Every and his companion ships arrived at their destination and began their predatory patrol. Every soon learned from Muslim fisherman he had captured that the annual convoy of the Great Mogul’s treasure ships was due to leave soon from the Red Sea port of Mocha for the return trip to India. The Arab prisoners said that in addition to precious cargoes of gold, jewels, and silks, the Mogul fleet would also be carrying wealthy pilgrims, returning home to India after visiting the Holy City of Mecca. Every ordered a round-the-clock watch for the Moorish convoy.
Now, as Fancy and her consorts waited for their Mogul prey to appear, two more American ships came into the area. One of them turned out to be the famed Amity, under the celebrated Captain Tew. The newcomers also agreed to join the pirate flotilla under Henry Every’s command.
Day after day the pirate ships cruised, scouring the area for their victims. Although each ship patrolled independently, each kept within range of the flagship, the Fancy.
Then, on a moonless night, the Mogul convoy sailed. Despite the sharp vigil being kept aboard the pirate ships, the Mogul fleet, twenty-five ships in all, slipped past the pirate lookouts unseen.
When the sun rose the next morning the enraged pirates discovered that most of the long-awaited convoy had gotten too far beyond their picket lines to be caught. Every, however, refused to allow disappointment or anger to cloud his judgment. Examining the retreating convoy through his glass, he decided that two of the Mogul ships might still be within range. The nearest of these possible victims was a small vessel, while the other, farther off, was an enormous ship, clearly so powerfully armed that she would outgun any of the pirate fleet—including Fancy—by a wide margin. Nevertheless, Every ordered his ship to pursue the fleeing Moors.
Aboard Amity, which was closer to the two Mogul ships than Fancy was, Captain Tew also decided to pursue. Crowding on all sail, Tew chased after the smaller of the two Moors. Fancy followed.
After a time Amity caught up with her quarry, whose Arabic name was Fateh Mohamed. There was an exchange of fire. Both ships recoiled from the shock. Men screamed oaths. Muskets cracked. Then, suddenly, Amity disengaged. A cannon shot from Fateh Mohamed had killed Captain Tew. The men of Amity, shocked by the death of their captain, turned away.
Fateh Mohamed sailed on. But she did not escape.
Every’s speedy Fancy overtook her. His tough crew swarmed aboard her. The Fateh Mohamed’s crew, outnumbered and outgunned, this time decided not to fight. Every’s men quickly ransacked the Mogul vessel, bellowing with joy when they discovered that the Fateh Mohamed carried some £50,000 in gold and silver, which they quickly transferred to Fancy.
Now Every exhibited the daring and steely resolve that was also part of his character. He saw that the other Moorish ship—much larger than the Fateh Mohamed—was still within range. It seemed to him that this great ship now lumbering toward the horizon might be carrying a cargo even more valuable than the treasure they had just taken from the Fateh Mohamed, for surely a ship so large and so heavily armed must be transporting the dearest treasures of the Great Mogul himself. As formidable as this Moorish giant might be, Every told himself, she was also the sort of prize that freebooters could hope to encounter only once. He sensed the chance of a lifetime—and he seized it without hesitation.
He broke out every scrap of sail. Fancy began the chase.
In fact, the ship Every was pursuing was the Gang-I-Sawai.
She was, in the words of Indian historian Khafi Khan, “the greatest ship in all the Mogul dominions.” She carried sixty-two guns and five hundred soldiers. She also carried six hundred passengers among whom were a number of high-ranking officials of the Great Mogul’s court who were returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca. She was also carrying, in her capacious holds, 500,000 gold and silver pieces. Her destination was the port of Surat on India’s west coast.
Inexorably Fancy closed the gap between herself and the giant Mogul ship. Before long the men aboard the Fancy could make out the gaping muzzles of the Gang-I-Sawai’s cannon and the heavily armed, turbaned soldiers crowding her decks. But despite being outgunned and outnumbered better than four to one, the crew of Fancy prepared for action, confident of their ability to overcome their Moorish enemy.
As her ponderous quarry came into range of Fancy’s cannon, Every broke out his flag of silver chevrons as a sign that he was willing to give quarter if the Moors surrendered. There was no response to his signal. Every then ran up a plain red flag, the “bloody flag” as his men called it, signifying that the offer of quarter was withdrawn.
The battle was on.
Fancy fired a broadside. The Muslim guns replied. But as the Moorish broadside was fired, one of the Gang-I-Sawai’s cannon suddenly exploded, killing a number of her well-trained gun crews and sending lethal fragments of metal scything across her decks, compelling her soldiers to take cover in confusion and terror. Fancy fired again. A lucky shot crashed into the Mogul ship’s mainmast, disrupting her rigging and slowing her even more. With her rigging badly damaged, the Gang-I-Sawai soon became almost unmaneuverable.
Fancy now broke off firing and swung in alongside her much larger quarry whose gunports towered over her. As soon as the two ships touched, Every’s crew, cutlasses and pistols at the ready, scrambled up the sides of the Gang-I-Sawai and hurled themselves against the Muslim soldiers who awaited them.
The pirates’ ferocity made up for their lack of numbers. With cutlasses ringing on steel scimitars, the pirates fought for the ship for two hours.
Smoke, explosions, and the screams of dying and wounded men filled the air. The decks of the Gang-I-Sawai ran with blood as the Indian soldiers fiercely resisted the pirate onslaught. At one point in the confusion of battle, the Gang-I-Sawai’s captain, Ibrahim Khan, fled below to a cabin where he had secreted a number of Turkish girls whom he had bought in Mecca to add to his harem. Apparently intending to safeguard his property from the marauding pirates who were still battling his troops on the decks above, the Mogul captain wrapped turbans around the girls’ heads, hoping thereby to fool the infidel outlaws into believing they were boys. But the pirates, who burst into the cabin in the wake of the captain, were not fooled by the ruse. They dragged the girls up on deck where the pirates were now gaining the upper hand in the bloody battle.
By degrees the fighting diminished as more and more of the Muslim soldiers and sailors threw up their hands in surrender. Finally, the fighting ceased altogether.
In the wake of the noise of combat, an eerie silence now descended over the Gang-I-Sawai. The dead lay everywhere. Wreckage littered the decks. The Gang-I-Sawai creaked in the sudden quiet. Every’s men had gained the victory but at the cost of fifteen to twenty dead comrades—a fact that so infuriated them that they began a vengeful orgy of murder, rape, and torture as they ransacked their prize.
Every’s men had little compunction about meting out brutal treatment to their captives. Muslims, in their view, were only “black heathen,” sinners who denied Christ and therefore deserved the harsh treatment they got.
Every’s men stripped their captives, both men and women, of all their clothing and possessions. They tortured any captive they suspected of withholding valuables. In some cases the infuriated pirates simply killed their victims after taking their money. A number of the women, however, were dragged off to be gang-raped. One of those treated in this manner was the elderly wife of a high-ranking Mogul official who also happened to be a relative of the Great Mogul himself. Some of the women died under their savage treatment. Some threw themselves overboard rather than submit to ravishment. Some, feeling themselves shamed forever, later stabbed themselves to death with daggers.
Throughout the butchery, Every himself remained aboard the Fancy. He knew better than to take part personally in these brutalities. In any case, he was not temperamentally given to such outbursts of vengeance-seeking, although he had participated in the thick of the battle for the Gang-I-Sawai.
As the rage of the pirates spent itself, and as cooler heads began to restore order, it became clear that—as Every had anticipated—the Gang-I-Sawai was a mother lode of booty. The loot that was now piling up on her bloody decks included gold, silver, ivory, jewels, damasks, and even a saddle set with rubies, which had been intended for the Great Mogul himself.
Now Every, taking command again in the aftermath of his crew’s explosion of violence, ordered all this wealth—and the surviving women as well—transferred to the Fancy.
When this was accomplished, Every ordered the Gang-I-Sawai cut loose to join its consort, the previously pillaged Fateh Mohamed, for the long, lugubrious voyage home.
Eventually both ships put in at Surat, the Great Mogul’s chief port and the East India Company’s main trading station in India. The tale of the pirate terror that the two ships’ survivors told outraged the Great Mogul. The Mogul’s fury, in turn, sent a chill of fear through the men of the East India Company who depended upon his goodwill for their continued prosperity.
Although the Muslim Indians were sympathetic toward the civilian victims of the pirate terror, they wasted little sympathy on the soldiers and sailors who had lost the Gang-I-Sawai.
Mogul historian Khafi Khan viewed the pirate victory as a disgrace for Mogul arms and he blamed the ship’s captain for not putting up a better fight. “The English are not bold in the use of the sword,” he wrote, “and there were so many weapons aboard that, if any determined resistance had been made, they had been defeated.”
Meanwhile, Fancy, after rejoining the other ships of Every’s fleet, set off southward for safe waters where Every planned to share out the loot and plan his next move.
Fancy and her consorts eventually made landfall at the island of Bourbon (later to be renamed Réunion) almost 2,500 miles away from the scene of the battle. At this time Bourbon, although claimed by France, was virtually devoid of French presence, let alone French law.
Here Every and his men divided the plunder from the Gang-I-Sawai and the Fateh Mohamed. The East India Company later estimated Every’s loot at some £325,000—a truly imperial haul.
Each man in Every’s company received more than £1,000, plus a number of jewels. The apprenticed seamen who sailed in the fleet, most of them boys between twelve and fifteen years of age, received £500 each. Every himself was awarded the pirate captain’s usual double share. There is no record of the fate of the women taken from the Gang-I-Sawai. More than likely they were left stranded at Bourbon.
Now, with the loot divided, Every’s fleet broke up, with each ship going its own way. Every himself wanted to take Fancy to the Bahamas. He knew of a local governor there, he said, who would help them sell their stolen goods for cash. But members of Every’s crew wanted to go to Brazil instead. As usual Every finally won the argument, although about fifty of his men elected to remain in Bourbon rather than voyage farther. To fill their places Every took aboard a consignment of black slaves. Then, in April 1696, he set off for the Bahamas.