Love, liberty and pirates: The possible adventures of Jane Trinidade

Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s Heritage and Education Centre holds a wealth of research material, from the library which, amongst other things, holds the full collection of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships (1764 to date) to the archive of classification-related documents and many physical objects.


Some of the documents held in the Lloyd’s Register archive

Members of the public regularly visit and consult the library, and we thought that we would follow the research of one visitor in particular. Ben Dobson came in two weeks ago on the trail of the ship Liberty. He found references to her in the Register in 1839, 1844 and 1847 amongst other dates. Later in the week Eloisa and I searched through the archive to see if we could find more information relating to Liberty. We discovered her original survey reports, which you can see here: 

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The 1838 report on Liberty has two sides: below are some close-ups


General Survey details for Liberty, September 1838


Signature of Liberty surveyor John Corner


Surveyors’ General Remarks on Liberty

Liberty was a smack built at Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast in 1838, and surveyed by Lloyd’s Register surveyor John Corner at Newport in September 1838. The surveyor performed the usual thorough job, taking measurements and noting materials (Liberty was made from English oak). Liberty was registered at Padstow, and her master is listed as W[illia]m Johns.


The 1847 entry in Lloyd’s Register for Liberty

Our visitor, Ben Dobson, was interested in Liberty because of her connection with the Johns family; he had discovered a fascinating tale about one member of that family, Jane, and her possible kidnap and rescue from slavery by her family using the ship Liberty.

Read the extract from Ben Dobson’s talk (given at a Cornish Story Café event in Crantock on Monday 12 October) to find out more:


 A talk by Ben Dobson

On 25 July 1821, Jane Gertrude Johns married a Portuguese man at Mawnan near Falmouth in Cornwall. Jane was one of a very large family born to William and Jane Johns from Crantock on the North Coast of Cornwall, just south of Newquay.  There are indications that Jane may have had as many as 26 brothers and sisters, although many of these died in infancy.

Crantock used to be a busy port as it was situated on the river Gannel that provided a relatively safe anchorage for shipping that transported lead ore from the nearby mines of Newlyn East and iron ore from the mines near present-day Perranporth. The ore would be shipped to South Wales and the ships’ would return with coal to power mine steam engines. 

Jane’s husband was called José Lamanzo da Trinidade and he came from Évora, a city in central Portugal. It is interesting that the marriage was not witnessed by any close members of the family, although one of them was a Martyn (a common Crantock name). Legend has it that it was a “rushed” affair and there are even suggestions that José was already married.

Little else is known about José, but the speculation is that he was either associated with the wine trade or else a mariner. Certainly Falmouth was at the heart of the wine importation business and was a very active port at this time.

What is not clear is why Jane married in Mawnan rather than her birth village of Crantock although it does appear that her parents moved to Meudon Farm in Mawnan around 1812/13 (which coincides with a major fire in Crantock that destroyed the family farm).   The 1841 census identifies 3 properties in Meudon, a farm labourers cottage, the farm and the manor that was the home of the Fox family that had major interests in shipping and served as Consuls for many overseas countries, including Portugal.

We know that José and Jane Trinidade stayed in the Mawnan area after their marriage, because on 18th June, 1822, a son (Joseph Lorenzo da Trindade) was buried in Mawnan, aged just 1 month.  And it is around this time that we lose track of José and Jane and family legend kicks in!

The next definitive “sighting” of Jane is in 1841 when the first census of Cornwall is published. This clearly identifies that William Johns (her father, 65) is now living in Tregunnel as a farmer with Jane Trinidade (aged 40) described as a married daughter, Charles Johns (20) an apprentice shipwright (possibly a son, although surprisingly he is not described as such), Charlotte Johns (daughter?) (22), Elizabeth Lawes (50) (You do wonder if this could be Elizabeth Lawer – a sister to William’s wife Jane,?), Silas Martyn (4) (Who were his parents?) and a servant, Elizabeth Chegwidden.

So what happened between 1822 and 1841?

The family legend is:

That they went abroad and that he either sold her, or that they were captured by Barbary pirates and eventually Jane found her way to a Moroccan (or Algerian) harem where she was kept prisoner as a concubine. Somehow she managed to get word to some sailors from Bristol who brought the news back to Cornwall.  Her brother, Thomas (actually it is far more likely that it was William) sailed out and she managed to escape from the harem in a barrel and was smuggled to the docks where her brother was waiting.  He then brought her home to Crantock where she landed in secret.  Some stories say she gave birth to a baby on her return, who only survived a few days, and that she lived in Crantock until she died in 1872 at the age of 72 and there is even a surviving picture of her.  She never spoke of her adventure to anybody and so the story never got properly recorded.  There is some jewellery that she is understood to have brought back with her and a clay pipe that was supposedly being smoked by her guard at the time of her escape.

It is a matter of fact that the John’s family had a new ship, the smack Liberty built in 1838 in Ilfracombe and this was supposedly to commemorate her safe return. Lloyd’s Register has managed to unearth the original first survey report of this ship.  This was done at Newport in September 1838 before a voyage to Falmouth.

The Liberty was built by Harris & Chaldern (?) from English Oak with iron bolts and had a displacement of 47 tons, a length of 47’ and a beam of 17’. The surveyor remarked that “This is a very well fitted out vessel and the materials she is built of appear to be very good. The captain, who is the principal owner, informs me that he superintended the building of her”.  In fact, the ship stayed under the captaincy of William Johns for nearly 30 years before she disappears from the Lloyds Register of shipping.  In 1851 she was extensively restored and lengthened to a displacement of 66 tons.  This may account for some reports that she was one of the ugliest ships that ever entered Newquay!

But can the story be true? There are virtually no primary sources to verify what happened in the 1822 to 1841 period, although we know that Jane’s mother died in 1828 at the age of 51 and was buried in Crantock church-yard.

So, what of the connection to Portugal?

In the eighteenth century, there was a flourishing trade between Britain and Portugal and there was a regular Packet ship service established between Falmouth and Lisbon. The Packets were vessels that operated on behalf of the Post Office to carry post around the world. They were privately owned – but built to PO specifications – and armed.  They were paid by the PO but could earn extra revenue by taking passengers (and gold).

In 1830, it would cost £16 16s for a cabin and £8-8 for steerage to Lisbon with the ship leaving Falmouth every Friday.

The Packet ships are also suspected of having taken advantage of the fact that they were seldom stopped and searched by the Navy so they were able to act as transports for British manufactured goods being exported to Portugal – another source of income for the captains. Whilst there was a thriving return import business focused on Portuguese wine, the balance of payments was firmly in favour of Britain.  This balance was settled with gold that Portugal obtained from their Brazilian colony.  Daniel Defoe wrote a definitive account of the way in which the Portuguese-British trade flourished through the Falmouth-Lisbon sea route; first based on the Packet service but later using separate ships owned by the merchants.  Vast quantities of gold would be landed in Falmouth and transported by road to London.

So, perhaps it is not surprising that there was an established community of Portuguese traders in and around Falmouth dealing in a wide range of goods including wines.

In 1828, Portugal became embroiled in a civil war between two brothers; Dom Miguel and Dom Pedro. Between the end of the Napoleonic wars and 1820, Portugal had been ruled by the British but unfortunately, when the monarchy was restored, the king died and the accession should have resulted in his oldest son, Dom Pedro being crowned.  However, Dom Pedro had decided he wanted to be the Emperor of an independent Brazil.  So, he abdicated his right to the Portuguese throne in favour of his 9 year old daughter Maria, who was incidentally betrothed to her own uncle Dom Miguel!  However, Dom Miguel argued that his brother, Pedro had relinquished any right to the throne when he nominated himself as the Emperor of Brazil.  Dom Miguel declared himself king of Portugal and a very bloody civil war ensued.  At the beginning, Miguel rapidly took control of large areas of the country and its close dependencies such as Madeira.

In 1828 there were hundreds of refugees arriving in Falmouth from Portugal. In September alone, at least 1000 arrived in the port.  This was a huge influx as the population of Falmouth at this time was only around 7,500 people.  Further, several British merchants had been arrested in Oporto and Lisbon and either deported or imprisoned.  This was no little “skirmish”.  By October of 1828, 125 prisoners had been charged with offences against the “pretender to the throne” and over 80 had been executed.  139 people were killed in a battle for one of the Azores islands and it was estimated that over 50,000 people had “disappeared” on mainland Portugal, either imprisoned, murdered or had fled the country.

Britain does not appear to have taken sides before the uprising but in September 1828, the child queen Maria arrived in Falmouth aboard a Brazilian frigate. She was greeted by British diplomats and the Fox family as the rightful queen of Portugal.  Contemporary reports describe a very impressive reception with lots of local children and militia to greet the queen.  She was paraded to Truro and thence to Exeter, Bath and finally London where she was received by the Duke of Wellington and the king (George IV – who was just recovering from a particularly nasty attack of gout).

In 1829, there was a growing resistance movement in Portugal with guerrilla (the first use of the term) action in Northern Portugal with troops recruited from Denmark, Netherlands and British Portuguese emigrants. These guerrilla forces attracted more support from the native Portuguese and Dom Pedro relinquished the title of Emperor of Brazil (in favour of his son, Maria’s brother) and returned to Portugal in 1831 to lead the resistance to his brother.  Eventually, Pedro and the infant queen’s army defeated Dom Miguel who surrendered in 1834 at Évora – Jose Trindade’s birthplace. Dom Miguel was exiled and Maria was crowned Queen Maria II.

And what about the pirates and harem story?

Barbary covers the current day countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. The Barbary pirates were at their height in the previous centuries and by the 1800’s, their influence had been considerably reduced.  The US had been a major factor in this by deciding to use naval force to ensure safe passage for its merchant shipping rather than pay the “protection” money demanded by the corsairs.

In 1816 Tunis and Tripoli abolished slavery of Christians although Algiers refused to follow suit. Until, that is, the British sent a large fleet under Admiral Sir Edward Pellow (naturally a Cornishman!) to demand that Algiers stop their slave trading and also as part of British outrage at a massacre of innocent white slaves the previous year.  A stand-off resulted that was settled when the British fleet attacked.  Algiers capitulated the within 12 hours after it was almost totally destroyed by the bombardment of over 50,000 cannon balls and 1000 shells that left over 2000 dead.

So, by the time Jane was supposedly held by Barbary pirates, their influence was almost completely spent and the white slave trade had disappeared in the Western Mediterranean.   And, if she was held, could she have escaped so easily?  Even that is questionable when you read of some of the atrocities that happened to the women in harems in the Eastern Mediterranean.  One example was the Albanian harem of the notorious Ali Pasha.  Any of his women that were sighted by an outsider would be ruthlessly killed.  Indeed, during one episode when some of his enemies managed to breach the harem’s defences, he took all the women who had been seen, put them in sacks and had them thrown into the sea to drown – charming man!

I’m afraid that I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the capture by pirates and harem story are unlikely.


In 1917, the famous Cornish author, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch published a novel “Aunt Trindad”! This book describes the telling of a story to Seraphim Johns by his Godmother (Hannah Trudgian – who was also known as Aunt Trinidad) and two of her friends (Ann Bonney and Jane Raidlaw).  In the story, a pirate Philip Marie Coster (half Portuguese) living on the isle of Tortuga (Haiti) sends a Frenchman Raymond de Noc to find him a wife.  Raymond captures Hannah and they fall in love.  However, he takes her back to Tortuga and presents her to the pirate in his stronghold. Hannah refuses to marry the pirate so she is thrown into a cell inside a tower on top of a cliff and given 3 days to change her mind.  She finds two barrels that she empties and then, in the night, she lowers herself over the cliff and floats on the barrels out to Raymond who is conveniently waiting in his boat.  Unfortunately, a guard spots the boat, opens fire and poor Hannah is left with a dead Raymond.  From that day on she is known as Trinidad after the point of land on the island by the fortress.  The book goes on to recount many adventures that befall her before she finally comes home to Bristol!

Now, whether Q heard this story, or a relative of Jane’s read the story and fitted Jane’s life into it we may never know! But is fascinating that there are so many similarities; pirates, Portuguese, Trinidad(e), Johns, Jane, Ann, Bristol, barrels to escape….Surely, too many for it to be a mere coincidence!

So, what are our conclusions?

The historical facts would suggest that the most likely version is that José and Jane went to live in, or visit, Portugal in his native town of Évora. Then, during the Portuguese civil war, José became involved in the fighting and was either captured or killed and Jane escaped home to Crantock at the end of the war.  There is also the possibility that José could have gone to Brazil, in which case, the likelihood of being captured by pirates increases very significantly although they were more intent on robbing rather than capturing white slaves.

Jane died in Crantock on 14 March 1872 (recorded as Jane Tindale) and was buried in Crantock churchyard near where her father and mother are buried as well as two of her brothers and two uncles. Whilst their gravestones are clearly visible, Jane’s has long since disappeared.