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Pirates of the Mediterranean

piratews of the mediterraneanMallorca is a popular centre for the yachting community. There are 36 marinas on the island, ranging from the huge Real Club Nautico on Palma's waterfront down to tiny harbours. And why not? The Mediterranean has wonderful weather and calm waters which are perfect for relaxing on. However, it wasn't always tranquil on the sea around Mallorca; nor was it safe. Rather than hearing the splash of water on the hull or the cry of seagulls' overhead, in days gone by you might have heard the roar of cannons or blood curdling screams. Yes, it wasn't just the Caribbean which was infested with pirates; the Mediterranean was also a dangerous place.

Palma was a hub for the Mediterranean trade routes between Spain, France, Sicily and Italy and trade ships filled the harbours, as they stopped off to sell their wares, and pick up water and food. The ship's holds were rich pickings for anyone who was brave enough to capture one. Pirates had always been a problem around Mallorca, and when they weren't chasing trade ships or raiding the coastal towns, they were hiding out in one of the many tiny coves. The pirate problem increased when the Ottoman Empire captured the North African coast, or Barbary Coast, in the early 1500s and they were known as Barbary Corsairs. The Corsairs were the scourge of the trade routes around Mallorca as they sailed in search of treasure and slaves.

captain antonio barceloBy the 18th Century, piracy was again a problem and Captain Antonio Barceló, (1716-1797) was responsible for stamping it out. His bust stands on top of a stone pedestal by the entrance to the Club de Mar. Captain Toni, as he was known, has been positioned to check out who is entering the harbour with his telescope in his hands and sword at his side.

piratews of the mediterraneanBarceló was born in the Puig de Sant Pere or Peter's Hill district of Palma (check out the Saint Peter's webpage in the Palma section) and his huge house is still there with a plaque by the door. His father was an accomplished seaman who designed a fast gun ship, called a Xebec , to take on the pirates. He also piloted the mail boat to Barcelona and Toni joined his father's when he was only sixteen. The mail boat not only carried important correspondence, it carried gold, money and jewels. Señor Barceló had also been granted 'carte blanche ' by the Spanish King, giving him the right to defend his vessel; no questions asked.

By the age of eighteen Barceló junior was captaining his own mail ship (either his own vessel or his father's, sources differ) between Palma, Barcelona and Valencia and two years later he was promoted to honorary Second Lieutenant of Frigate after capturing two Algerian pirate ships. In 1749 the Spanish Navy made Barceló a Lieutenant of Frigates and he was promoted to captain after another clash in 1756 . By 1762, he was frigate captain , in command of the fleet of Xebecs kept the shipping lanes between Mallorca and the mainland safe

piratews of the mediterraneanOne of his notable engagements took place in 1763 when his ship, which was known as 'El Vigilant' or 'The Protector' was ambushed by three pirate ships. Although Toni was wounded in the action, he captured all three vessels and over 150 pirates; he also captured their fearsome captain, 'Selim' . Toni was again promoted in 1769 after capturing another feared captain called the 'Caval Blanc' or 'White Horse ' . In 1775 he captained the fleet carrying General Alexander O'Reilly's troops to Algiers but the expedition was a failure and it was only the expertise of Toni's fleet captains rescued the army from the shore. Toni was promoted to Brigadier in the Army in return for his bravery.

In 1779 the French and Spanish governments decided to blockade Gibraltar while the British Navy was embroiled in the War of American Independence on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Captain Toni was sacked after his squadron was forced to withdraw but his expertise was soon missed and he was reappointed in 1782. This time his squadron used new 'Floating Batteries', unsinkable gun platforms, but the British garrison responded by heating their cannon balls in a furnace before firing them at the platforms. These lethal 'hot potatoes' caused havoc amongst Captain Toni's squadron but the blockade was lifted after a peace deal was signed in 1783 .

Captain Toni immediately led another attack on Algiers and his fleet of 85 vessels bombarded the pirate base for nine days before returning to Cartagena, Murcia, having run out of cannonballs. King Charles III promoted Toni to Lieutenant General on his return. The following summer he led a fleet of 130 ships carrying over 14,500 soldiers back to Algiers . The ships were armed with over 1,300 guns and as soon as they started their devastating bombardment, the Dey of Algiers sued for peace.

In 1790 King Charles IV gave the aging General Toni (he was now 73) command of the Algeciras fleet, Spain's port next to Gibraltar. His final expedition was to relieve Ceuta, the Spanish port on the Moroccan mainland, but the siege was lifted before his fleet crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. He returned to his home in Mallorca in July 1792 where he died five years later. Mallorca's brave Captain Toni was buried with full military honours in Sant Creu Church just up the street from his home on St. Peter's Hill.

If you are driving along the Paseo Maritimo, look out for Captain Toni casting his watchful eye over the port. And next time you are out on your yacht; keep an eye out for Barbary Corsairs.

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