Everyone has heard of the famous Jack Sparrow and the fictional Pirates of the Caribbean, but how many have heard of Calico Jack Rackham and the real Pirates of the South China Seas. In their day Jack and his crew were renowned for infamous acts of daring, utter disregard for danger and complete contempt for authority and any form of law and order.
Their exploits in the South China Sea made the Caribbean sound like a stroll through Regents Park, of course in the mid 1750’s that was a stroll in daylight and with a bodyguard but even so!
They came to my attention when I was researching Ching Shih who was born Shih Yang 石陽 in 1775 in Guangdong province. She was originally a Cantonese prostitute nicknamed Shih Heang Koo (石香姑) who worked in a floating brothel in Guangzhou and then moved up in the world becoming the most successful pirate of all time. She terrorized the China Seas during the Jiaquing period of the Quing dynasty in the early 19th century and commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates. She fought with many of the major nations, such as the British and Portuguese as well as the Quing dynasty itself.
All of this is historical record, as is the fact that she married Cheng I who was from a family of notorious pirates and their roots could be traced back to the mid-17th century. What is not so well known is that she was the daughter of Calico Jack Rackham and another Chinese Prostitute Ah Toy.
John (Jack) Rackham was born in December 1682 and reputedly hung November 1720, commonly known as Calico Jack, he was an English pirate captain operating in the Bahamas and Cuba during the early 18th century. His nickname was derived from the Calico clothing that he habitually wore back then, calico is a mainly unbleached cotton and has as pale green, grey, buff colour. You may have heard his name because he is most remembered for having two female crew members: Mary Reed and his lover, Anne Bonny. The story goes that Rackham was captured by a Royal Navy pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet in 1720, put on trial by Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, and was hanged in November of that year in Port Royal, Jamaica. Of course that is pure fantasy Lawes and Rackham were in business together and they shared the proceeds of Jacks nefarious doings, Lawes would have hanged Jack without a second thought but he didn’t know where Jacks treasure was hidden, and Jack was smart enough not to tell him.
Now if you have been looking at my time line closely enough you would be thinking “Jack, born 1682, Ching Shih born 1775”, that makes Jack 94 years old when he conceived her.
Well you didn’t think I would be researching any ordinary man did you?
Jack went west, well south around Cape Horn and then west, after his “hanging”, it seemed like the smart move, after all the Royal Navy was clamping down on Piracy in the Caribbean and a Pirate needed plenty of shelter for his ship as well as unlimited targets to prey upon, he had heard of the Philippines and the islands of Indonesia but they were poor areas compared to the fabled wealth of China, and in the South China Sea were islands, harbours and anchorages in abundance. Enough to hide a fleet let alone Jacks small sloop the Kingston, and so that’s where he sailed.
I have a small hand drawn map, of a section of what appears to be modern day Cambodia, this is quite a long way from the sea but there is a notation on the map that indicates it is dated 1750. There is a diary of Johan Fernandez that has a section dated 12th June 1750 to 29th July 1750, this seems to tell the story of an expedition of some English adventurers led by Rackham. I have also read the financial accounts of a Spanish Merchant that relate to financing an expedition into the interior of Cambodia and the thousand fold return on his investment. Many years later there is a book written by someone called Arthur Conan-Doyle entitled the Lost World, it is set in South America but in reality much of his inspiration for fauna and flora was derived from this long forgotten tale in South East Asia. The specifics of that will become apparent as my tale unfolds.
My story begins in mid 1750, Calico Jack has discarded his famous calico clothing and has disguised himself in a rich red coat with a large hood to hide his features. Why he would want to do this, thousands of miles from the place where he is a well known freebooter no one knows. The information I have is sparse and only relates to the current story. I am hoping to track down more information in the near future but it may be dangerous. For some reason a person out there is trying to hide the trail to Jack Rackhams story and I don’t know why.
Jack had left his sloop Kingston anchored in a remote bay and travelled inland with 5 other companions. There was the black witch Annie Duck, of course she was no witch but a hardened criminal from London, her speciality was beating up and robbing men, they rarely called in the authorities, well you wouldn’t would you. Please Sir I have been beaten up and robbed, she was a girl, maybe 19 or 20, that’s not going to do your credibility much good the next time you are having a snifter in the Dog and Sprocket Tavern on a Saturday night. She purported to have a magic dust that she would blow into her adversary’s faces and this would confuse and disorientate them. Powdered hashish will do that. Her blue spotted red bandana had been her trademark head gear for 20 of her 24 years so far and she was armed with a brace of pistols and a small but very sharp knife.
When they arrived at a small and derelict bridge Jack wanted Fishbait to go first. Not on your life was his response as he failed his guts test, he didn’t like the look of the crocodile eyeing him up and down. We should let the lightest go first to test the bridge will take our weight and before the words were fully out of his mouth all three women stepped forwards having passed their guts tests.
Leading the group over the bridge on the way to the treasure, did I mention the treasure, I can’t remember now but there is a lass with purple hair and she is called Thropett. There is no record if this is her first, or last name. She is just known as Thropett and she seems to distain hand to hand combat because she is also armed with a brace of pistols and a knife.
Following closely behind, is a wild and brash woman, McLeish, she must be of Scottish or maybe Irish decent. She is fearless, the sort of person you don’t want to meet in a dark alley, or indeed anywhere, unless you have the Grenadier Guards at your back, and I don’t mean a platoon of them I mean the whole battalion. In full battle order, bayonet’s fixed, and with a full complement of bullets and cartridges as well, but you probably know women like that so I don’t need to explain.
The other 2 members of the party are the afore mentioned Fishbait, again no first or last name, not even a proper name, he is in the blue coat with the wooden leg and at the rear of the party is Brigstock Jenkins, a well known bully boy around his home town of Bristol, the taverns around the docks still resound to stories about him. None usually showing him in a good light but that is probably a bit unfair and maybe detrimental to the teller’s health if any of the Jenkins family hear of the stories. The docks are deep at high tide and even at low tide a person is likely to drown with a heavy weight tied around one leg.
Thropett crosses the bridge and sees movement, if the account is to be believed it is a small group of half human, half apes. They howl and start to dance, a terrible ferocious stamping of their feet, they shake their weapons, clubs, sticks and large bones. BONES!!! They do not advance to attack the pirates but stand their ground shrieking and chanting. Imagine a football crowd on a Saturday afternoon and you just about have it.
As the rest of the pirates cross the bridge the monkey people stand their ground but don’t move forward to intercept them.
Thropett has passed her guts test on seeing the danger but also passed her Brains test and decided to carry on quietly rather than shoot at and antagonise them.
The pirates continue to advance towards the statues in the distance, they keep a sharp eye on the Monkey Men or maybe that should be Monkey people because the females seem as aggressive as the males.
The only Pirate not concentrating on the Monkey People is Fishbait, he is watching the Crocodile and trying to remember if Crocodiles are fish or not. If not he is safe, but it’s not something he wants to chance his other leg on.
The Monkey Men failed their Guts test 3 times and so didn’t attack, well not yet anyway.
The pirates enter an open space, it has a cobblestone floor and is surrounded by jungle, there is a small and large statue at either end of the space. Off to one side is a small overgrown and ruined tower, Jack recorded that he recognises Nipponese, Chinese and local Cambodian influences in the architecture and ornamentation. Where this place is I’m not sure but there are a number of clues in Jacks account to be able to track and trace the location, I shall endeavour to do so as soon as I can find the time.
I don’t think I mentioned Jack’s account before and maybe I shouldn’t now, so forget I mentioned it in case it comes to the wrong ears, the ones that want to keep Jacks history quiet.
At this point the party appeared to split into two. Jack and Thropett were moving to an arch they had discerned in the thickest part of the jungle but the rest of the crew followed the intrepid McLeish who headed directly to the small temple and the first place that she thought might hold any valuables.
Once the party was out of sight of the Monkey Men they returned to their random wandering the same as all the other encounter markers on the table. Strangely and providentially for the game this was in a roughly parallel course to the one Jack was taking.
Why Jack didn’t go to the temple first is unclear, maybe his instincts directed him away from the obvious and towards something more lucrative we will never know. These instincts, precision honed by years of staying alive in difficult situations were indeed true on this occasion as in the past, for as soon as McLeish moved to enter the temple two of the most fearsome creatures emerged out of the darkness. If I can believe the journal, the creatures were 6 to 7 foot high, hairless, with large green eyes but worst of all they had ivory tusks, short, curved and very sharp, they moved with alarming speed and attacked McLeish’s group without hesitation.
These creatures are Horrific and the group responds in their own individual way. McLeish had her knife in one hand and a pistol in the other but it was on her before she could fire. You don’t grow up in the backstreets of Glasgow by running away and as the creature closed she grew more determined than ever not to run. She stabbed it with her knife but sharp as it was she did no damage but as the creature slashed out at her she felt blood start to flow, her blood and the next minute it closed it’s jaws on her arm inflicting a terrible wound.
The other one made the mistake of attacking young Annie Duck, she is as cools as a cucumber and with a slow sardonic smile shoots it dead. There is a hole the size of a bullet in it’s forehead but a hole the size of a dinner plate in the back of its head.
Out of the corner of her eye she can see Fishbait visibly shaking from the horror but Brigstock is on his knees praying for deliverance. She didn’t know he prayed!
He didn't know either.
Things are not looking good for our band of cutthroats, McLeish is badly hurt, she is still battling and will do so to the last but the two men are in shock and will not lend a hand in the fight, Brigstock is going to continue to pray for a little while longer and Fishbait has lost his nerve altogether.
Jack and Thropett see the danger and run to help, Jack is slowed by his bad leg, an old wound that causes him to be slow to run in to a fight, but is not such an impediment when he has to run from one.
Incapacity from these old wounds comes and goes he maintains stoutly whenever he is asked about it.
Thropett was younger and more nimble and had outdistanced Jack, but once she could see the creatures and how awful they were she looses all her courage and legs it as fast as her little legs will go. She aims to get as far away as possible and is almost at the jungles edge and will continue running until she recovers her nerve.
Annie is not scared at all, she’s seen much worse in the East End of London on a Saturday night and she charges in to help McLeish. She is too late and with a groan McLeish falls to the floor but Annie’s intervention prevents the creature finishing the job and it turns on Annie.
Weakened a little from its fight with McLeish the creature’s attacks are ineffective and Annie is able to stick it with her knife, this weakens it further.
Jack might be a little slow into a fight but once there he doesn’t back down and with a bull like roar he charges in, bad leg or not. Claws and fangs are no match for Sheffield steel and Jack’s cutlass causes severe wounds to his enemy but it is still on it’s feet and fighting.
Attracted by the noise the Monkey Men emerge from the Jungle and start their incessant howling and brandishing again but fortunately don’t attack.
Brigstock finally realises that the power of prayer will not help him and so he must help himself and his comrades, he rises to his feet just as Jack slices the creature almost in half and it collapses in a pool of blood. This enrages the Monkey Men and they charge forward to be met with a hail of lead. That’s if two bullets can be called a hail, maybe a drop of lead, anyway it is enough to stop them in their tracks even though both shots missed. I imagine the loud noise and ensuing smoke discharge was enough to cause them to fall back. Annie has now discharged both of her pistols and there are still six Monkey Men to deal with.
In the distance Thropett can be heard floundering through the jungle still in a blind panic.
With the Horrific Creatures gone Fishbait recovers his nerve sufficiently and he and Brigstock move forward to join Jack and Annie who are facing down the Monkey Men, well Annie is loading her pistols as fast as she can but even though she is especially dextrous this is going to take a little while, so it’s Jack who is actually facing them down. Strangely in his past wanderings he came upon a Peruvian bear who taught him how to do a “Hard Stare” and that seems to be doing the trick at the moment.
Well in reality the Monkey Men failed to activate but I prefer the Hard Stare explanation.
Then Jack instructs Brigstock and Fishbait to fire at the Monkey Men and Fishbait hits his target but Brigstock doesn’t, the wounded Monkey Man falls to the floor howling, well like a Monkey Man I guess. This doesn’t cause the rest of them to back away but again they don’t attack.
Annie finished loading one of her pistols and starts on the 2nd one.
A small troop of 3 Baboons break from the jungle and seeing the tableau in front of them charge straight at the Monkey Men who break and run from these slavering beasts.
1,2,3 attack Monkey Men, 4,5,6 attack pirates.
The Baboons were chasing the Monkey Men but now an inexplicable thing happened. The Monkey Men whose morale had been suspect all through the story suddenly grew bold and stopped running, turning to their attackers and started their howling and foot stamping. This totally disconcerted the Baboons, usually ferocious and knowing no fear they stopped in their tracks and it looked like there was going to be a fight or at least a standoff between them. By now Jacks crew had all loaded their discharged pistols and were quietly confident that once the fight between the animals was concluded they would have no problem dealing with the survivors.
Well that is the game almost over or should I say the story told. Each turn as the randomly moving encounter tokens emerged into sight of the Pirates I checked to see what, if anything it would be and there was only 1 token unaccounted for and only a 1 in 4 chance that it would be something at all.
And then it was a 1 in 52 turn up, the Ace of Spades.
With a crashing and bashing through the Jungle came a Dinosaur. The biggest scariest animal any of the crew had ever seen, but fortunately not Horrific.
I know this will sound incredible, but re-reading Jacks Journal I am convinced he at least believed in the creature, it is possible he had been at Annie’s stash but I don’t think so and neither did Conan Doyle many years later when he used Jacks account for his own book The Lost Worlds.
They turn to face the beast, McLeish lying on the cobbles can see it as well, she urges Jack to help her to safety before the Dino decides who to eat first. Looking at their faces she realises this is going to be a forlorn request, only Brigstock looks in the slightest bit compassionate.
Panning back, these are the options for Jack, try and crowd into the small temple, but it looks pretty small and they might not all get inside, it is closest though. There is a ruined stone tower directly away from the Dino and they might make it there before it chases them down, or there is another option, at the far side of the cobbled area is the much larger temple, they should all be able to get inside, if they make it there. Of course with the final option one of the pirates has a wooden leg and McLeish can’t walk and will have to be carried.
In Jacks journal he recounts his conflicting thoughts but quick as a snake he issues his commands, that’s why they follow him, when the chips are down he knows whether to put salt or tomato ketchup on them first.
He recounts that he knew Brigstock carried a torch for McLeish and so with a quick command to Brigstock to get her inside the nearest temple, and a quick “follow me” to Annie and Fishbait he set off for the larger temple.
Strangely his old leg wound didn’t slow him down at all and he made it to the Temple entrance first, that’s also why they follow him, Annie Duck though was close on his heels.
Fishbait, knew enough about animals to know that if they had 2 long legs and walked on land they were not fish. It was a long way for a one legged man to run but he did his best, he didn’t want to end his days being known as Dinobait. He knew he would be slowest (Jack might have known that too) so he edged a little away from the straight route to the temple and made it to the temporary but illusory shelter of a lion statue.
Brigstock bent down to lift McLeish onto his shoulder, she is only a slip of a woman but she must have had something heavy in her pockets because he couldn’t raise her off the floor. Oh Bugger!
It had been going so well, the Pirates activated first, the Monkey Men and Baboons didn’t activate at all so just shrieked at each other, and the Dino was a little confused by what he saw on entering the clearing and activated last.
FOOD was about all it thought, but which food to take first, sometimes life is so full of choices, his choice was 1,2 3 the nearest 4,5 the fastest, 6 the slowest.
He rolled a 1 and went straight for Brigstock who rolled a pair of 6’s for his guts test, high is bad, low is good, he set off like a scalded cat directly away from the Dino.
The Dino would have caught him but his route, directly away from the Dino went straight between the two groups of animals that were shrieking and growling at each other.
When the Dino arrived at the Baboons and Monkey Men they tested for their Guts, both groups passed, and then tested for their Brains and both groups failed, brave and stupid is usually a bad combination.
They attacked it, 5 Monkey Men and 3 Baboons against 1 Dinosaur, but it had a huge mouth, full of teeth and one by one it killed the small creatures.
Eventually the survivors ran away.
Leaving it to feast to its heart’s content.
Sorry I just couldn’t resist this picture.
Jack, Annie and Fishbait, watch and wait as the Dino eats its fill, McLeish lays quietly, calculating how big a stomach the Dino has and how much food there is available to it before it reaches her, will the beast be filled first.
Let’s hope so, for her sake.
Well - Jack Racham’s Journal is yielding more unbelievable stories with every section I read, hopefully anyone following my account of this first episode will be agog to hear what happens next, or then again, maybe not.
As the credits roll I should like to thank Frank from Nickel and Dime Studios for sending me some lovely pieces of jungle terrain as well as plenty of plant life for me to create more. Thanks Frank and just send the advertising money to the usual offshore account.
Additional thanks are due to my two internet wargaming buddies who helped me out with the decisions made by Jack when the Dino appeared. As is usually with many of my games I create a cast of potential extras who may or may not make it into the final film or book or story. I do this by the simple expedient of going through the boxes of figures and pulling out likely ones for the general idea and feel of the game I’m trying to create. In this case the Dino came to mind as I don’t think he’s ever been on the table. When the Ace of Spades came up I realized I hadn’t created a character card for it and it seemed to me that knowing it’s potential would influence Jacks/my decisions and so I asked them for a plan, which worked perfectly, (unlike most of their plans)
I’m afraid my word and picture count is going back up again, I must keep it under control so if anyone made it this far, well done you deserve a reward, not sure where you will get it from though.