Red Sea raider Henry Every (or Avery) is reckoned by some to be the most successful pirate who ever lived. Shameless puffery? Perhaps not. In September 1695 Every’s ship, the Fancy, attacked the Ganj-i-sawai (Exceeding Treasure), an 80-gun floating fortress cruising the Red Sea. After a furious fight, Every captured the ship, which was the property of the Great Moghul himself. The plunder was spectacular: its value has been estimated at between £325,000 and £525,000. Using average earnings as a yardstick to inflation, this was the equivalent of £620 million to £1 billion in modern currency. Besides gold and silver, the prize includes many precious stones, and a diamond-decorated saddle and bridle.
The Fancy sailed for Réunion, where the crew divided the booty. Each man got £1000, plus some gems. Every took double shares as captain, but was rumoured to have cheated his crew by slipping extra stones into his pockets.
The capture and looting of the Ganj-i-sawai had caused outrage and fury. The Great Mughal held the British East India Company responsible. British officials were imprisoned, and some died of ill-treatment while incarcerated. The British government put a price of £500 on the head of every man in Every’s crew, and the British East India Company offered the same amount.
Meanwhile, Every and his crew had become fugitives in the Bahamas. Despite the huge reward, Every managed to escape, taking a ship to England. On the voyage he slipped from the pages of history and into legend. Some say that Bristol Merchants cheated him of his fortune, and that he died penniless. And there is a persistent rumour that in 1727 or 1728 he was buried in Bideford churchyard, with the pseudonym “Bridgman” carved on his headstone. The most colourful version of his fate has it that he married a beautiful Indian princess from the ship he raided, and became the ruler of a kingdom on the African island of Madagascar.