Tenby Sea Dogs - Leekie Porridge and Daddy Force

By Terry John Calendar

One day in the late 18th century, the people of Tenby were alarmed by the appearance of a suspicious looking vessel, which dropped anchor in Caldey Roads. The ship appeared to be a man-of-war, but no guns were visible on her decks. It was decided to send a small boat to discover more about the mystery arrival, but questions shouted up to the crew on the man-of-war’s decks received unsatisfactory answers.

Afraid that their town might be attacked, the Tenby councillors vowed to strike first. A cannon was dragged up to the cliff tops and a bombardment began. Not a shot struck home until a retired naval man took charge. His first blast sent spray over the decks of the ship and the second knocked away the top mast.

At this, a respectable looking gentleman dressed in black approached the retired sailor and congratulated him on his marksmanship. ‘That deserves a glass of brandy, does it not my friends’, said the gentleman to the watching crowd. There was a roar of agreement and everyone retired to the nearest inn. No more shots were fired that day.

As evening approached, the black-clad gentleman engaged a boat and crew to ferry him out to a passing brig, promising them a large reward. They set off from the harbour willingly enough, but as they approached the Woolhouse Rocks, just off St Catherine’s Island, their passenger pulled out a brace of pistols. Ordering them to take him to the man-of-war anchored off Caldey Island, he threatened to shoot them if they disobeyed.

When they reached the ship, they saw that she was ready for sea, with the damaged mast neatly repaired. The gentleman handed them the agreed fee and identified himself as John  Paul Jones, the notorious privateer.

National Talk Like a Pirate Day
Jones had actually been born John Paul in Scotland on 6 July 1747 and added the extra surname later in life, possibly to confuse the law after fighting a duel. He began his maritime career at the age of 12, serving on merchant and slave ships. He rose quickly to positions of command, but eventually travelled to Fredericksburg in Virginia to deal with the estate of his recently deceased brother. Whilst there he became sympathetic to the cause of the American colonists, who were challenging the authority of the British Crown. He soon joined the American navy to fight against Britain.

In the years that followed Jones joined in raids on the Bahamas, captured British ships and attacked ports along the coast of Nova Scotia. In 1777 he sailed for France, with orders to assist the American cause by any means possible. His name became a byword for daring, as he attacked ships and towns along the coasts of Britain.

On 15 September 1779, he sailed into the harbour at Fishguard and seized a ship at anchor there. He sent an armed party ashore to demand a ransom of 500 guineas or the ship would be sunk. A similar amount was demanded from the people of Upper Town; if it was not paid, a bombardment would commence. He fired a few warning shots to drive home the threat and the money was duly handed over. 

Caldey Island Aerial View
He later used Caldey as a watering place, anchoring off the southern coast of the island out of sight of Tenby whilst filling his water barrels. He is said to have come ashore in the town on more than one occasion and was apparently popular with the townsfolk, who may well have known who he was.

Amongst Jones’ crew was a man named Leekie Porridge. This was probably a nick-name, as Leekie Porridge was a local dish, consisting of a broth made from chicken meat and leeks and thickened with porridge oats. Perhaps Leekie Porridge the man was overly fond of Leekie Porridge the food and his shipmates christened him after it.

Surprisingly, Leekie Porridge the mariner was a Tenby man, and it may have been he who advised Jones as to where the best water supply was to be found. Eventually, Leekie returned home to Tenby, and worked as a pilot. One day he was recognised as a member of Jones’ crew by the captain of a vessel that had called at Tenby. The captain informed the town magistrates and, as proof of the charge, identified the silver buckles that Leekie wore on his shoes as having been stolen from him when his ship was plundered by Jones.

Leekie was sentenced to be sent to serve on a British man-of-war, where he was soon appointed as Quartermaster. He remained in the Navy until peace was declared, when he made a final return to Tenby.

Tenby Harbour
Another old Tenby sea dog was William Force, known as Daddy Force. He too, may have had dealings with John Paul Jones. One of Daddy’s favourite tales, recounted long afterwards when he propped up a Tenby bar, was an account of a voyage from Ireland in a sloop called the Gooseberry. Just off the Smalls, about twenty miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, the Gooseberry was stopped by a fast cruiser, which fired two warning shots. An armed party boarded Daddy Force’s vessel and the officer in charge demanded to know why she had not heaved to when the shots were fired.

‘Didn’t think it was us you wanted’ replied Daddy. On being questioned as to the cargo they carried, Daddy offered the officer a sample of the pickled oysters stored in the hold. Daddy was then taken on board the larger ship and craftily offered the captain some jars of oysters, together with fresh butter and bread. This was gratefully received, as the captain and his men had been existing on biscuits, salt beef and rum.

After questioning Daddy about shipping movements on the Irish Sea, Daddy was given some of the ship’s provisions and was rowed back to the Gooseberry. He had been very impressed by the neatness and order aboard the cruiser, where even the guns and small arms were sparkling clean.

As the strange ship stood away to the westwards, Daddy saw the British Ensign being hauled down and the American flag hauled up in its place.

Hours later, the Gooseberry was stopped again, this time by the British revenue cutter Antelope. Someone had informed the authorities that the Gooseberry was carrying a cargo of contraband salt on which there was a heavy customs duty.

The Gooseberry was brought into Tenby and thoroughly searched, but not a trace of salt was found. Only then did Daddy tell the Antelope’s officers of the American privateer, which had been attacking shipping in the Irish sea. By then, it was too late to have apprehended the enemy vessel, but Daddy never forgot his encounter with the man he called the American privateer.

Categories:History, Pembrokeshire

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