Entirely the Most Absurd and False Narrative that was ever Deliver’d to the Publick’: an Inquiry into what Really Happened on George Shelvocke’s Privateering Voyage
It has been generally agreed that the two contemporary published accounts of the privateering expedition undertaken in 1719 by John Clipperton and George Shelvocke are thoroughly unreliable and the writers, in the words of O. K. Spate, ‘hard liars both’. Recent studies, by Glyndwr Williams (1997), Philip Edwards (1994) and Jonathan Lamb (2001 and 2004) have tended to favour William Betagh’s narrative over that of Shelvocke but have noted that there is insufficient objective or official confirmation to support either. In this article I make use of newly unearthed chancery files in the National Archive and in the British Library and evidence based on an internal analysis of the two books to show that Shelvocke had, as Betagh contends, planned at an early stage to defraud his owners and make off with the bulk of the purchase accruing from his voyage. It has also been possible to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the chancery case brought by the voyage’s investors and provide a more accurate account of what happened to the prize money.