On this day in 1704, Captain Thomas Green and his crew of the Worcester petitioned the Scottish Lords for their release. They had been imprisoned – awaiting trial for robbery, piracy and murder – earlier in the month following the ship’s seizure on 12 August.
The Scottish newspapers were already declaring them guilty. Trial by the press is nothing new. The newspapers were reporting both fact and rumour, and were instrumental in turning Scottish public opinion against them. Unfortunately for the men, they became symbols of the English and were a focus for anti-English sentiment in the debate about the Union between England and Scotland.
It is entirely possible that some of the transactions during the voyage were not totally above board and ethical. It is also just as likely that, in a competitive East Indies market, practices such as coded letters and sealed orders were simply attempts to maintain advantage over their competitors. What is certain, they did not commit piracy against the Speedy Return as the press claimed and, it is extremely unlikely, against any other ship. Perfectly normal events such as firing the ship’s guns to salute a port or another ship were misconstrued in reports and court evidence.
Unfortunately for them, from the moment the Worcester arrived in Scottish waters, the fate of the crew was sealed.