Created: 14 October 2008 Update: 19 March 2014

& Below, Fortunatus Wright

 

Mother Redcap's circa 1888

Old Mother Redcaps is an 18th Century nickname for an establishment, situated near Egremont, that the customs had rather wished was not there. A den of smugglers, and for sailors avoiding Press Gangs, Mother Redcap had a place in my heart from my teenage years, as I wandered along the foreshore, looking up at the building, still there in the 1960s, that was so mysterious and so compelling. In later years, namely 1999, the site was to become even more poignant when, in the Nursing Home that replaced it on the land, my mother died on May 18th. Growing up in the Swinging 60s on Merseyside, no building held such fascination as this. A Tudor building which looked the part. The tower on its roof, stories of hidden tunnels!!

Mother Redcaps was built in 1595 by the Mainwaring family as a home, on a piece of moor land, just above high water mark of the River Mersey. The Mainwaring family were one of the main families in the Wirral. In the 60s when I last saw her, she resided on the embankment between Caithness Drive and Lincoln Drive, facing Liverpool's Dockland. Its names included The Halfway House, The White House and Seabank Nook, as well as mother Redcap's. Built of Redstone, the lower walls were nearly 3 feet thick and it had two mullioned lower front windows. The outer walls were covered with thick planking from wrecked ships. In due course of time this fell off and was not replaced. The front door was of made of oak, being five inches thick and studded with thick, square headed nails. A Mr Kitchingman found the remains of this door in a cellar when doing renovations in 1888.

Markings on the door showed indication of there having been several sliding bolts. On the windows were found slots which gave evidence of strong shutters having once been fitted. There is, or was, evidence of a trapdoor fitted directly behind the oak front door. This led to a cellar concealed behind the door. In the event of the front door being forced, intruders would burst in and drop to the cellar which was 8 - 9 feet below them. Another passage from the back of the staircase in the passage from the south room to north room also led into the cellar. All this was still in existence in 1888. When the front door opened, the entrance to the south room was sealed, quite elaborate!

 

Behind the stairs was a door leading to the kitchen at the back of the house and, from there, into a back yard. A small stream of good water ran through the rear of the premises. This supplied the house with water and was also used by small vessels moored nearby for their supplies. Also to the rear of the property was a Brew House. In 1840 it was noted for its strong dark ale. Another large cave or cellar was to be found underneath the south room. In 1930, someone noted that it "sounded hollow" beneath a greenhouse. Indeed, part of the yard was actually the roof of this cavern or cellar, being large sandstone slabs, supported upon large beams. On top of this stood a manure pile and a stock of coal, to complete the "disguise".

To facilitate the arrival of "goods", part of the manure pile was removed, and slabs lifted to enable goods to be secreted below. In an old book about smuggling in the Wirral, there is mention of a tunnel leading from here to the "red Noses", a sandstone bluff at what is now New Brighton. This led to a hidden entrance in a large ditch which ran downhill from the direction of Liscard. A large willow provided an excellent, concealed, look out, whilst activities were conducted to the rear. This tree was cut down in 1889. Mr Kitchingman, in 1890, planted a cutting of the tree to the rear, which grew higher than the house itself.

In the south room was found a hidden cavity of sufficient size to hide a man. also, in the same room, were hidden niches where sailors would hide  wages and valuables, as well prize money from captured vessels. The present seawall was built by Mersey Docks & Harbour board in 1865. Outside the house stood a wooden seat. On one end of the seat was a wooden weather vane on a short wooden flagstaff. It was supposed to work with the wind but was in fact a signalling device. When the vane pointed towards the house it was safe to approach. When it pointed away, it meant stay away, danger. This was used mainly by smugglers. At the opposite end of the seat was a post with a sign upon it. A portrait of Mother Redcap holding a frying pan over an open fire with the words:

"All ye that are weary come in and take rest,
Our eggs and ham they are of the best,
Out ale and our porter likewise the same,
Step in if you please and give 'em a name"

Mother Redcap
 

In this image the tower of mother Redcap is quite prominent, on the left hand side.
New Brighton Tower and Pier in the distance


This is how I remember it, beautiful!


Ring o Bells Bidston. I have no idea how much has been altered since it ceased trading but there is a substantial yard to the rear.  (below)

On January 6th 1839, a terrific hurricane lashed the region. Survivors of the Pennsylvania, Lockwood and Brighton were landed on the shore under shelter from the west, the wind being west to north north west; by the Magazine Lifeboat; assisted by the tug Victoria, and were brought to Mother Redcap's. A piece of lead weighing three and a half hundredweight was blown from the roof, being deposited on the foreshore at the low water mark. An account of the USS Pennsylvania can be read here

In 1888, Mr Kitchingman, who was born in Withens Lane, later the Horse & Saddle Inn, retired from Legal work in Warrington and bought Mother Redcap's, which had previously been a fisherman's cottage. He gave the land in front of the house on the express desire that no carriages would be allowed to perambulate along it. The Mersey Dock & Harbour Board were planning to build the embankment right along this stretch, from Seacombe. When Royalty came to open an extension to the Navy League premises, carriages did use the promenade. This so enraged Mr Kitchingman that he left the house for use as a Convalescent Home for the people of Warrington instead of to the district. Being unsuited for this purpose, powers were obtained to set aside the wishes in his will, a Mr Robert Myers bought the house, opening it as a cafe. Bearing the name Mother Redcap's, again.

I think it was maybe the late 1960s when I last saw Mother Redcap's. I was walking along a very dirty, sandy foreshore and I can recall looking up at its dilapidated state, wondering what stories it could tell. Effluence on the sands meant you also had to watch were you walked! Opposite and slightly up river, the Royal Liver Buildings stood in all its black, soot covered, glory as was the Cunard Building and the Mersey Dock & Harbour board (MDHB). A lot has changed since then. The river, running past Mother Redcap's, is quiet. No ships lie an anchor there anymore. Few ship venture beyond this point now. Most are container ships which use the docks at Seaforth, on the mouth of the river. The famous docks have all but vanished, a single ferry boat works her way between Seacombe, Woodside and Liverpool. I doubt if the Mersey has ever been as quiet as this in her history, a pale ghost of a busy past.

I think it is significant that events such as the "Tall Ships Race" is an attraction that draws possibly hundreds of thousands to the region. These ships, which once filled the river with their forests of sails and masts in the days of Mother Redcap's are now the same spectacle that draws in crowds. When I returned to the river, in 2008, to watch these ships leaving the river, I watched from across the bay, from Crosby. The local Councils made a veritable fortune from parking fees on what was normally free parking areas and no parking cones were as numerous as the visitors along both sides of the river, particularly in the region of Mother Redcap's and patrolled by fluorescent coated officials with a greedy look in their eyes. On Seabank Road, above Mother Redcap's, I pulled over to speak on my mobile phone, and I swear these "vultures" must have been perched on nearby rooftops; they suddenly appeared from nowhere!

The plus side to all this change is that the river is now classed as clean. Probably cleaner than it has been for over 500 years. The once dirty foreshore is relatively clean, large formations of dumped rocks have steadied the erosive elements of the tide. Excrement no longer litters the sands, by which children once played with their buckets and spades; but other, even worse, dangers now exist, unknown in my time, insane druggies needles!!

1857


1958 - 59
  


The present Mother Redcap Nursing Home. Image: Gavin Roach

(my mother passed away here in 1999)

On the shore in front of the house was a wooden seat made from timbers taken from wrecked ships. On one end of this was a short flagpole topped by what appeared to be a wind vane. In reality it was used by the smugglers to signal danger when the vane pointed away from the house. On the other end of the seat another post held a picture of Mother Redcap holding a frying pan over a fire, and underneath were the words opposite:  

In 1690, William III had his troops camped on The Leasowes awaiting ships to take them to Ireland. It is said that at that time despatches were conveyed to Chester from Meols and then to Mother Redcap's and then by fishing boat to Stoke and Poole instead of from Meols to Parkgate. (Stoke was apparently Seacombe, or very nearby Seacombe). Poole could have been another small region further up river. (Parkgate was not the landlocked town we know today, having been a thriving port and well known, and used, in Nelson's days). Earlier mention of the Privateer, Redcap, was made. She was used to take despatches from King James' supporters up to Stoke and Poole on the secluded reaches of the Mersey where many Ronan Catholic families dwelt. It is noted that "on one occasion 3 persons of some distinction were hurriedly landed at Mother Redcap's from a ship, horses ready, they galloped off towards "The Hooks". Very soon afterwards an armed boat crew landed from up river and made a hurried search". The Hooks were later identified by me as being in the region of what is now Duke Street bridge on the docks.

The explanation being that certain refugees had made good their escape from Ireland and had intended to proceed up river to Stoke or Poole. An armed boat was lying in wait up river from Seacombe, discovered the ship discharging her passengers and had raced to intercept.

Around 1750 a strange dispute took place at Mother Redcap's. A dead body had been found on the foreshore and taken to the house and in via the rear door and, later, passing out through the front door. "Certain people" claimed that if 12 bodies passed through a premises during a year, it gave right of way for the living to pass though at any hour, day or night. An attempt was made, once only, to gain access and a fierce fight ensued. After much discussion and advice, legal etc, the claim was refuted. It was almost certainly HM Customs and Coastguard trying it on!

Another tale has mother Redcap described as a "comely, fresh coloured, Cheshire spoken woman" and that at one time she had a niece to assist her. Her niece was "very active but offhand in her manner, who married a Customs Officer".

The first ever steam voyage from Liverpool to the USA left Liverpool in 1838. The Royal William, 617 tons, left the Mersey on 5th July. A party of the Liverpool Dock Trustees and ship owners assembled at Mother Redcap's to witness the departure. A cannon was fired from here as the ship passed. Overheard at this meeting was the belief that the ship would not get beyond Cork.

It is recorded that Mr Kitchingman's father, when aged 20, saw both the seat and the signs when he stayed there awhile in 1820. Many years ago I remember seeing an image of this sign, but I can't recall where this was, possibly in a library? Somewhere in the Wirral is a copy of this sign!!

Adam's Weekly Courant of 2 January 1757 records the wreck of the ship Cunliffe, from Virginia, laden with tobacco, etc. She took the ground on Mockbeggar Wharf; was floated off but "a violent storm" arose and drove her ashore on the main opposite Wallasey Church, where doubtless the inhabitants gave her their unwelcome attention. We gather from Mr Kitchingman's notes that contraband was temporarily hidden in Mother Redcaps and surrounding grounds. The goods were removed later secretly over the moor, through or round the then small village of Liscard, along a lane (now Wallasey Road) and down the old lane, now the footpath to Bidston, right on to the Moss where the road as such ended. It was a most difficult and dangerous passage to Bidston, the only way being round by Green Lane, Wallasey, and past Leasowe Castle. Many people who attempted to cross the Moss without a guide, as late as 1830 became bog foundered and had to be rescued. The Moss, undrained till the making of the Birkenhead docks in 1844, was full of cross pools, morasses and long, winding inlets forming a kind of labyrinth. There was only one reliable but tortuous passage over it.

At a dangerous place was laid a large pair of whale's jawbones across the water, which with rude crossbeams formed of tree stems made a bridge. There were no posts or rails, and the jawbones had to be found almost by instinct. This spot was said by the superstitious to be haunted, and many persons would not cross the Moss, particularly the jaw bones, where it was said that two people had been drowned at different times and haunted the spot. The superstition was fostered and spread by the smugglers, and the place was for years afterward known as the jaw bones. They were to be seen in 1840, but soon afterwards decayed and felt into the Moss. Gavin Chappell tells us:

The smugglers concealed their contraband in the cottage. When the coast was clear, they moved it secretly, probably at night, over Liscard Moor behind the cottage and through or round Liscard, along Wallasey Road and down Breck Road, then down the old footpath to Bidston and out on to Bidston Moss where the road ended. This was a hazardous route, but the only way round was via Green Lane, Wallasey, and past Leasowe Castle.

After crossing the jaw bones a track led to the left towards Wallasey Pool to an old farm afterwards known as Hannah Mutche's Farm, situated at the east end of the Moss and surrounded by a moat. This old farm was the haunt of the contrabandists and a noted hiding-place from the Press-gang, the sailors escaping there from Mother Redcaps. It is thought by some that the old Moss holds forgotten money and valuables. From the jaw bones (which was a kind of marshalling place) in a southerly direction, a track led towards Bidston along which contraband was taken sometimes and delivered at the Ring-o Bells at Bidston, where there were places of concealment in the farm buildings. The farm to the west of Bidston Church was formerly the Ring-o-Bells Inn. Note: there are a few Mutch graves in Bidston churchyard.

If it were reported (secret signs) at the "jaw bones" or on the Bidston side of the Moss that it was not safe to proceed to Bidston, the contraband was diverted to the westward along the edge of the Moss and taken to the old Saughall windmill. This was a most remarkable structure, built of wood with strong oak beams and gaunt, primitive sails standing on a rough base of stone, with a large wheel on the ground for turning the mill round. The mill stood entirely by itself, a little way from the edge of the Moss but a full mile away from the village of Saughall Massie. Secret meetings of various kinds, political and otherwise, were held in this old mill, which was the home of numerous ravens and said to be haunted. It was repaired and in use, and is shown in the Ordnance Map of 1840, but shortly after was demolished and later still a large house built on the site.

From Bidston a packhorse track continued in a southerly direction under the skirt of Bidston Hill and Wood to Noctorum, then southward along a narrow, packhorse road (too narrow for carts) and along a rough stone causeway, the stones of which are still to be seen for half a mile between Prenton and Storeton. Another hiding-place may have been a cave in the Yellow Noses, for the walls were profusely decorated with incised dates and initials, the earliest one being 1619. This cave had a narrow opening, which was obscured by a landslide some years before the promenade works made entry impossible. The cave was accessible from the garden of the house above, called Rock Villa. In the cavern proper is a well, which no doubt proved valuable to those who frequented it, and the air is quite fresh even at the furthest end, showing that there must be an outlet. There are several interesting stories of tricks being played by the smugglers on preventive officers but it is difficult to get authentic particulars. One is told of information being given to a preventive officer at Mother Redcaps that two kegs of rum were about to be taken in a donkey-cart to Bidston via the Moss. As he lay in wait near Liscard, the donkey-cart came along and was pounced upon by the waiting officer, but on examination the kegs were found to contain ale which was stated to be for the Ring-if-Bells (2008 image left) at Bidston where a shortage had occurred. The rum had been removed from the kegs and sent on in cans by another route to be replaced in the kegs on arrival.

On another occasion a ship with tobacco on board was wrecked, and the watching officers saw two men run from the part of the wreck on the shore, along the beach northward, with two small bales as though they were about to depart for the Wallasey side. It took some time on the soft sand to overtake them, and when they were caught the packages were found to contain cabbage leaves and ferns. In the meantime their friends had made free with the real tobacco in the wreck. On another occasion one of the wreckers crept down the beach from the Moor at the north end some distance away and lay down in his clothing in the water at the edge of the receding tide. The attention of the only officer, who was ins Mother Redcaps drinking, was called to the supposed drowned man. He ran along the sand to the body and began by taking the mans watch and was about to rifle the pockets when the apparently drowned man sprang up and knocked him down. Meanwhile a cask of rum and some other goods had been removed from the Redcap cellar by his confederates and started on their way to the Moss. No blame was attached to the drowning man, who said he had fallen down in a fit and thought he was being robbed by some stranger.
See also Chapter 12 "The Rise & Progress of Wallasey -The Wreckers".

PRESS GANGS

The Royal Navy was not the elite volunteer Force we know of recent years. Life was hard, very hard, with bullying common. Merchant ships ran the gauntlet of Naval Press Gangs, not only locally, but across the world. Merchants would be boarded almost anywhere and sailors "pressed" into service with the Navy leaving the ship with barely enough sailors to make the trip home. Even when in home waters, they were not safe, many a merchant limped into harbour with a skeleton crew.  Ship owners, mindful of this, would have spare men available, carpenters, riggers and longboatmen etc, who would be taken out, into Liverpool Bay, to take over merchants to bring them in to dock.

However, more of a danger existed when the sailor that did dock, made it to shore. When a ship docked at Liverpool, for example, the sailors would come ashore and head for the Taverns and brothels so long associated with docklands everywhere. After a few drinks he would leave a particular tavern to head back to his ship. Waiting in the dark alleys would be maybe a Royal Navy ensign or Midshipman with a couple of burly crewmen. Marlin spike on the head, and another volunteer had joined the Royal Navy, waking up in the bowels of a frigate or suchlike.

(It is fairly well known that Glass bottom Tankards were first designed to protect the drinker from the press gangs of the English Navy. The common misconception is that the reveller could look though the base of the tankard and see the press gang coming toward him. In actuality the Kings regulations stated that the press gang master could not assault you and take to as a new recruit, He had to see you take the "Kings Shilling".A common tactic of the Press gang master was to ply a potential recruit with ale...several pints later the unsuspecting victim would find a shiny new Silver Shilling coin at the bottom of the his tankard. The Glass bottom was to look upwards rather than through - hence the common drinking salute Bottoms UP! - Indeed, when we are next asked to "raise our glasses" in toast to the pride of the English Navy we would do well to look in the right direction.)

Such was the dread of this, that sailors would take to the boats that they might conceal themselves in Cheshire. The men would "abandon ship" in Liverpool Bay, rowing ashore near the "Red Noses" on what is now Kings Parade, New Brighton, to hide in the wilds of Cheshire. When their ships were ready to sail, they would return. A visitor to Mother Redcap's at this time describes it "as a little low public house known as Mother Redcaps, from the fact that the owner wore a red hood or cap". This is not by all accounts the definitive reason for the name, it may be just the writer's observation? But this is the generally accepted reason for the name. Red noses was rumoured to house tunnels which led to Mother Redcap's, and quite possibly, other destinations inland. Naturally, any further investigation was discouraged. This was not without risk. Wallasey Parish Church (St Hilary's) Register records the death by drowning of William Evans, escaping a cutter on 29th March 1762 and of John Goss, sailor, drowned from the Prince George. The Prince George was a Naval tender used to ferry those "pressed man" into service on board waiting ships, lying in Liverpool Bay. John Goss could either have been a regular sailor or someone trying to escape. The reason for his death by drowning is not known. Mother Redcap was, by all accounts, so "far out of the way" that the only approach was by boat. But, the smugglers knew the ways across the Moor behind.

The End ........................ vandalised and derelict

Return To Mother Redcaps - a poem by Christopher George

And it's men to your oilskins and women your shawls,
There'll be brandy and whiskey and rum for us all!...
And what did we care if we killed two or three?
We'll still go a-wreckin' down at Wallasey!
"The Wallasey Wreckers" by The Wreckers

The old wreckers' inn on the shoreline,
long gone but you recall it from childhood
as you visit your mother in the home on the hill
above river: smell of an accident, urine and feces

in the fluoresced halls. Mum's every need cared
for, starched pillowcases and a starchy matron
with gold watch pinned to her blouse. All planned,
accounted for: her medication times

and supper at 6:00 pm, pills and food in plastic
compartments--all decreed, regulated, measured.
Mum's life, or what's left of it, tidied away, plotted
on charts in actuarial plats. You wonder

what happened to the parrot gabbling on your
shoulder, that lithe hilarious youth wading
in the cold tide laden with chests brimming
with spade guineas and pieces of eight.

© 2006 Christopher T. George. Printed by kind permission of author.

Description of Mother Redcaps by Gavin Chappell in his book
Wirral Smugglers, Wreckers & Pirates

Mother Redcaps was built of red freestone, and the walls were practically three feet thick. There were two mullioned windows at the front, and the walls were covered by thick planks of wood from wrecked ships. Eventually this timbering fell off at some point before 1857, when the first painting of it was made, and it was never replaced. There was a front door made of five inch thick oak, studded with iron nails, and seems to have had several sliding bars across the inside. Just inside the door was a trapdoor leading down to the cellar under the north room, a rough wooden lid with hinges and shackles. lf an intruder forced the front door this would withdraw the bolt of the trapdoor, precipitating the unwelcome visitor into the cellar, eight or nine feet below.

lt was also used for the more mundane purpose of depositing goods. If a visitor had successfully negotiated this initial obstacle, they would have the options of entering a room to the north or another to the south (although this entrance would be covered by the open front door), or going straight up a staircase directly ahead of the door. The main entrance into the cellar was behind this staircase, where seven or eight steps led down. At the top of the cellar steps, a narrow doorway led out into the yard at the back. Behind the stairs was also a door leading into a kitchen at  the back of the house, from which the yard was also accessible. The beams in the two main rooms of the house were made of oak, and the chimney breasts were very large inside. There were cavities near the ceiling, over the oak beams that had removable entrances from the top of the chimney breasts inside the flues.

In the south room was a small cavity, just large enough to conceal a small man. ln the wall were other smaller cavities where Mother Redcap kept the earnings and prize money of privateer crews while they were at sea. In the yard was a well, twelve foot deep, dry and partly filled in with earth. On the west side of the wall of the well (facing inland) there was a hole that seemed to lead into the garden but probably led to a mysterious passage. Also at the back of the house was a small stream, supplying the house and also used by the boats that anchored nearby. A brew-house was also to be found in the yard, and the place was noted for its homebrewed ale as late as 1840. At the south end of the house there was another cave or cellar, and a mosaic was placed over sandstone flags that covered this cavity. A square hole with steps, made to look like a dry pit well, was the entrance to this cellar. Much of the yard seems to have been hollow, flagstones on beams covering a large subterranean space. A manure heap and a stock of coal were piled on top of it; the coal was brought in small boats called "flats" and Mother Redcap sold it to the people of Liscard. When contraband was concealed inside the cave, the coal and barrels were moved to cover the entrance. At the end of the cave was the mysterious passage mentioned above. Some sources state that it led to the Yellow Noses, over a mile away in what is now New Brighton, and also that another passage went to Birkenhead Priory (see next chapter). More conservative accounts say that it led to an opening in a ditch that led to a pit about halfway up what is now Lincoln Drive, in the direction of Liscard. On the edge of this pit grew a willow tree which was used as a lookout post from which one of Mother Redcaps confederates could survey the whole entrance to the Mersey.  The shore in front of the house was made up of pebbles and star grass, and had stone sidewalls running down to the strand on either side, to counter the flood-tide. The north wall, which was very strong, was used as a shelter for boats and had thick wood posts on its top where boards could be slid to increase the walls  height. Despite these precautions it was not unknown for the cellar to be flooded at high tide when there was a north-west gale. 

All ye that are weary come in an take rest,
Our eggs and our ham they are of the best,
Our ale and oar porter are likewise the same,
Step in you if you please and give 'em a name.
Mother Redcap.

Fortunatus Wright

More of a 'pig sticker' than a sword, this was his sword. Image: Gavin Roach

In 1732 he married Martha Painter of his home village Wallasey in Wirral, and they had a number of children, including a daughter, Philippa. Martha died shortly after, and in 1736 Wright married Mary Bulkeley, daughter of the Anglesey squire and diarist William Bulkeley. Mary had been staying with relatives in Dublin since 1735. A disappointment to her father, his disappointment greatly increased when his daughter wrote to him requesting speedy consent of her being marryed to [Fortunatus] Wright forthwith whereby she may prevent all further trouble..She was carrying his illegitimate child. Wright wed Mary in Dublin, and then visited Bulkeley, He notes in his diary that Wright shows a fondness to his wife always playing with her, and kissing of her. Shortly afterwards, Fortunatus Wright took his new wife back to Wallasey to meet his family. Sadly, Mary miscarried shortly after. Although Mary gave birth to a daughter, Ann, the next year, the marriage rapidly became unhappy, and Bulkeley refers in his diary in 1741 to the barbarous usage and insults received by my Daughter from her husband who thereupon went a rambling towards Dublin. On returning next February, Fortunatus Wright set out with his wife for Wallasey, but it seems they quarreled again, and he abandoned her in Beaumaris. Like any Byronic hero-villain, he headed for the Continent. In Italy, he was challenged at the gates of Lucca, but refused to hand over two pistols to the guards. He aimed one at the soldiers, threatening to kill them. A colonel took Wright prisoner and kept him under guard in his inn. Three days later, he was escorted from the city-state and forbidden to return.

He settled down as a merchant in Leghorn for four years, during which time he knew John Evelyn, great-grandson of the famous diarist. Meanwhile, the War of the Austrian Succession, which Britain and France soon entered on opposing sides, had begun. In January 1744 Fortunatus Wright became personally involved when a French privateer took his ship, the Swallow, and ransomed her at sea. This stirred Wright to fulfil his patriotic duty or perhaps his motive was simply revenge. He fitted out the brigantine Fame to cruise against the enemies of Great Britain. In December 1746 The Gentlemens Magazine reported that Wright had captured sixteen French ships in the Levant, worth £400,000. On 19 December Fame seized a French ship with baggage aboard belonging to the Prince of Campo Florida. The Prince was angry, as was Goldsworthy, English Consul at Leghorn, who urged Wright to set the prize free. Wright refused, but agreed to refer the matter to the naval commander-in-chief, who decided against him. The prize was released.

In 1747 the Sultan complained that Wright had seized Turkish property aboard French ships. Goldsworthy demanded an explanation. Wright replied that the ships in question had French passes and hoisted French colours while fighting him. The British Government ruled that Turkish property aboard French vessels was not prize. Wright refused to allow this order to be retrospective, and declined to give up the money. Orders came from England to arrest him and send him home. The Turks imprisoned Wright in Leghorn Fortress but for six months refused to hand him over to Goldsworthy. In June, Goldsworthy was ordered to free Wright because the privateer was prepared to stand trial. But by this time the war was as good as over. In August, Mary set sail from Liverpool to join her husband at Leghorn, but it does not seem that she received a happy welcome. Wright had settled down in Leghorn as a merchant, although the law case dragged on, and he profited less from peace than he had from war. He vented his frustration on his wife, and her father received a letter in 1751 complaining of his cruel conduct. Back in England, in 1755, Philippa, Wrights daughter by his first marriage, married Charles Evelyn, son of John. Meanwhile, however, the clouds of war were gathering across Europe once again

The Seven Years War, in many ways a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession, broke out in 1756. Wright built a vessel, the St George, to bring the war to the French. A French privateer had been cruising off the harbour for a month: Louis XV had promised a generous reward to whoever took Wright, dead or alive. Wright applied for a permit for four small guns and twenty-five men. Obtaining it, he sailed out of Leghorn with four merchant vessels. Outside Tuscan waters, he bought more guns from the merchants and got fifty-five of their men to come aboard his ship. Next morning, the French privateer bore down on them.

In the battle, Wright lost his lieutenant and four men, but a lucky shot carried away the prow of the French privateer on which thirty men were trying to board the St George. Two other enemy privateers appeared and stopped Wright from pursuing their colleague. Wright brought the merchants back to safety. The English merchants in Leghorn rewarded Wright, but the Tuscans detained him for breaking the agreement. The Governor ordered him to come within the harbour or be brought in under force. Wright refused. Two ships anchored alongside the St George and took charge. The English captains were angry, but Wright chose to place himself in the hands of Sir Horace Mann, British Resident at Florence (capital of Tuscany). Leghorns governor charged Wright with deceiving the authorities and disobeying orders to come within the harbour. Mann pointed out that the battle took place twelve miles off; besides, the Frenchman was the aggressor. As to their orders, they had no business to give them.

Admiral Hawke, naval Commander-in-Chief, sent Sir William Burnaby to demand Wright be given up. Wright was released and carried off in triumph. Next, he put into the port of Malta. The Maltese proved as partial to the French as the Tuscans, and Wright was not allowed to buy slops and bedding for his men. He was ordered to send ashore the English mariners he had received on board the St George. Wright refused. A galley came alongside, the captain being under orders to sink Wright if he lifted anchor, and to board and kill everyone if he resisted. They dragged the mariners Wright was protecting from the privateer. The St George left Malta without stores. A day later it was pursued by a large French privateer that had been in the harbour. Wright played with the larger ship, sailing round her,  the St George was twice her speed. In the next two months Wright harried French shipping, winning many prizes. Louis XV fitted out two ships, while the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce prepared another ship, to seek and destroy Wright. The Hirondelle of Toulon also set out after him and they fought in the Channel of Malta. Wright defeated the French ship and both put into Malta to refit. His own vessel had taken several shots under the waterline, but the Maltese refused to allow Wright to heave down. Mann had been working hard to convince the Tuscans that their restrictions on British shipping were ruining trade. He obtained permission for Wright to send his prizes to Leghorn, and wrote to him to inform him that he could return safely. It is not known if Wright ever received this letter.


On April 1 Burnaby released Wright from Malta. They sailed for Leghorn, where a French man-o-war and frigate were attacking English shipping. But on April 16 the ship met with a great storm. Wright and sixty men all went to the bottom. Later in the same month, a letter from Leghorn to a Liverpool merchant claimed that Wright was well and had taken another prize since leaving Malta. He had also been seen in Messina with a prize. Despite this the fate of the hero remains a mystery to this day.

Mary was cheated of Wrights fortune by Philippa Wrights husband, Charles Evelyn. Destitute, her children made their way back to their grandfathers house in Wales, followed by Mary. After this, William Bulkeley wrote of nothing in his diary except the weather until his death. In his History of England, Tobias Smollett called Fortunatus Wright this brave Corsair, while Gomer Williams referred to him as the ideal and ever-victorious captain around whose name and fate clings the halo of mystery and romance. In his day he was famed as the privateer who defied the French and won rich prizes. His philandering and his troubled second marriage were revealed when Bulkeleys diary was discovered in the early twentieth century. Wright is even remembered in Finnegans Wake. But in Wallasey, the town of his birth, Fortunatus Wright is entirely forgotten.

Sept 2009: Note: Fortunatus Wright is now featured in Gavin Chappell's new book Wirral, Smugglers, Wreckers & Pirates. A Countyvise publication. ISBN 978-1-906823-20-7

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Reference but not sources

http://www.nelsonsnavy.co.uk/broadside7.html

http://www.old-merseytimes.co.uk/pressgangs.html

A new book on Smuggling on the Wirral - click here

Footnote: Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortunatus_Wright