On This Day
1695 – Henry Every perpetrates one of the most profitable pirate raids in history with the capture of the Grand Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai. In response, Emperor Aurangzeb threatens to end all English trading in India.
The Ganj-i-Sawai (Persian/Hindustani: گنج سواہی, Ganj-i-Sawai, in English “Exceeding Treasure”, often anglicized as Gunsway) was an armed Ghanjah dhow (trading ship) belonging to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb which, along with her escort Fateh Muhammed, was captured on 7 September 1695 by the English pirate Henry Every en route from present day Mocha, Yemen to Surat, India.
Capture by pirates
In August 1695, Henry Every, captaining the 46-gun, 5th rate frigate Fancy, reached the Mandab Strait, where he teamed up with five other pirate ships, including Thomas Tew’s 8-gun, 46-man sloop-of-war Amity, Richard Want in the Dolphin, Joseph Faro in Portsmouth Adventure, Thomas Wake in Susannah, and William Maze in the Pearl. Although a Mughal convoy of 25 ships bound for India had eluded the pirate fleet during the night, the following day they encountered the Ganj-i-Sawai and her escort Fateh Muhammed, both stragglers passing the straits en route to Surat.
Every and his men attacked the Fateh Muhammed, which had earlier repulsed an attack by Amity, killing Captain Tew. Perhaps intimidated by Fancy’s 46 guns or weakened by their earlier battle with Tew, Fateh Muhammed’s crew put up little resistance, and Every’s pirates sacked the ship and came away with £60,000 worth of treasure.
Every now sailed in pursuit of the Ganj-i-Sawai, overtaking her about eight days out of Surat. The Ganj-i-Sawai was a fearsome opponent, mounting 40 to 60 guns and a musket-armed guard of four to five hundred as well as six hundred other passengers. But the opening volley evened the odds, as one of the Indian ship’s cannons exploded, killing some of its gunners and causing great confusion and demoralization among the crew, while Every’s broadside shot his enemy’s mainmast by the board. The larger Fancy drew alongside, and a number of her 113-man crew clambered aboard, overpowering the crew, passengers and slaves of the Ganj-i-Sawai.
The victorious pirates then subjected their captives to several days of horror, raping and murdering prisoners at will, and using torture to force them to reveal the location of the ships’ treasure. The pirates raped women on the ship, and some of the women committed suicide by jumping into the sea. The other survivors were left aboard their ships, which the pirates set free.
The loot from the Ganj-i-Sawai totalled between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces. Several crews went home empty-handed: Tew was dead, Want and Wake’s ships were too slow and never made it to the battle, Faro made it to the Ganj-i-Sawai but never engaged, and Maze was present but Every took back their share of the loot after the Pearl’s crew tried to trade clipped coins to the Fancy’s men. Every and the surviving pirate captains set sail for Réunion, where they shared out £1,000  and some gemstones to every pirate in the crew.
In popular culture
The Ganj-i-Sawai Heist and its loot feature prominently in the 2016 video game Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
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