Updated: Apr 6, 2022
The Infamous Ganji-i-Sawai (Gunsway) Heist
"I'm a man of fortune and I must seek my fortune." The most popular Henry Avery (Sometimes spelled "Every") quote out there. If you have been to Seek Fortuna you will see the quote up at the top as it would be hard to deny that a huge influence behind the concept of the site didn't come from the legend of Captain Henry Avery's treasure and that of the game Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. If you are not familiar with the Uncharted video game series, you follow the story of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter, and his mentor Victor Sullivan, as they solve mysteries and giant voids in history all while searching for some of history's greatest hidden treasures.
So he is basically the present day Indiana Jones. In each game you follow Drake on his quest to find long lost treasures of history. From Shambhala, to El Dorado, and most recently, Henry Avery's treasure. If you haven't played the games, you can get them for Playstation, or you can even watch them in a movie styled format on Youtube! But this latest game, released in 2016, opened the whole world up to the mystery surrounding this long lost Avery treasure, which is estimated to be worth around $100 million in today's money. The game may have been exaggerated a bit in terms of the real history and location of the lost treasure, but it was still a fun jaunt around the world trying to find it. But now I bet you are wondering, who actually was Henry Avery?
There is a little bit of mystery surrounding when Henry Avery was born, but most likely he was born in either 1653 or 1659 in the port town of Plymouth, England. He was born to John and Anne Avery, who may have been part of the prominent Avery family in the county of Devon, who owned a lot of land. Growing up in a port town he took to the waters quite quickly at a young age. He served on Royal Navy and merchant ships and is rumored that he was part of the bombarding of Algiers in 1671.
Much of the rest of the 1670s is not well documented in Avery's life, but there are thoughts that he had traveled to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico as Captain of a log-wood freighter. But in 1688 he was finally recorded as being part of the beginning of the Nine Years' War, which was conflict between France and basically everyone else, known as "The Grand Alliance".
During this time he was stationed as a midshipman on the ship, HMS Rupert which had partaken in the capture of a large French convoy off the coast of Brest, France. This was a huge victory for the Grand Alliance and also put Avery under good light to the Captain of the Rupert, Sir Francis Wheeler. He promoted Avery and let Avery follow him to the new ship, the HMS Albemarle. Avery would stay with Wheeler until late 1690, when he would eventually be discharged from the Royal Navy, probably in part due to the embarrassing English defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head.
From there he would go on to join the slave trade in West Africa. During the late 1600s, there was quite a monopoly against the English slave trade due to the powerful Royal African Company. They made it illegal to sell slaves without a license, which they rarely gave out to the English. Well, Avery seemed to not care. Anything on the black market is clearly illegal, but also highly lucrative. Avery began selling slaves without a license. Eventually though, a new opportunity would soon present itself...
In 1693 Henry Avery joined Spanish Expedition Shipping, which was put together by several wealthy Englishmen looking to boost the moral and economy of troubled Britain. The West Indies/Caribbean at the time was split into two sections, with the Spanish owning half and the French claiming the other half. Well, France and Spanish were still enemies, while the Spanish and English were still allies. In order to start taking over more control the West Indies, Spanish Expedition Shipping would attack and loot French ships out at sea. This was known as "privateering" or legal pirating. This would hurt the French in two ways: you would be stealing their goods and riches, and then in return they would have less financial power to claim stake in the "New World". In return, the privateers were paid quite well by the investors, or so they thought.
Avery got promoted right away after joining and became first mate of the ship
Charles II. After several months of docked outside the port of Corunna, Spain, they were without money and in want to get back to their families in England. In fear that if the men got paid, they would leave and quit, England refused to pay. This started a strike and eventually, a revolt led by Avery. Avery promised the men who joined his cause riches that far exceeded what England would pay them and he offered the men not interested to leave free of harm.
Avery was promoted to Captain and he renamed the ship, The Fancy in reflection to the superior quality of the ship and the new born moral of the crew. With this new found excitement, Avery and his crew set off as fugitives to the Indian Ocean, where they heard of a great pirate haul by none-other than Thomas Tew. Along the way Avery and his crew started their rounds of piracy along the Western shores of Africa, stealing anything from gold, ivory, spices, to random supplies. But it wasn't until 1695 when he eventually met up with Tew, Richard Want, Joseph Faro, Williams Mayes, and Thomas Wake. The great heist was about to get underway...
On September 7th, 1695, The Grand Mughal Fleet was on its way from Surat, India to Mecca, Saudi Arabia for its yearly pilgrimage. The fleet consisted of 25 ships with several bearing gifts and valuables to present to the Holy Land. But no ship had more treasures than the great
Ganji-i-Sawai, often referred to as The Gunsway. It is disputed how much was actually on the vessel, but estimates range from $350,000 to $600,000 in that time. Today it would probably equate to about $400 million! But it was no easy feat to capture The Gunsway, as it was fitted with 80 guns, 400 armed guards, and 600 other passengers.
Another ship from the Grand Mughal Fleet, the Fateh Muhammed, had been attacked by Tew, but in the process had actually killed Tew leaving his ship and his crew inoperative. However, after 4 or 5 more days of chasing her, Avery and his crew ransacked the
Fateh Muhammed quite easily. They hauled in about $40,000 worth of valuables, but their eyes were still on the prize.
After trailing for several more days, Avery and the remaining pirate fleet caught up to the mothership Ganji-i-Sawai. When catching the enormous ship, things miraculously seemed to go Avery's way. In the opening minutes of the battle, Avery luckily shot and destroyed the opponent's mainmast, rendering the ship paralyzed. In conjunction with that, one of the mighty cannons on board The Gunsway blew up, killing a dozen or so men on board. Feeling defeated, many men went and hid below deck. After a couple hours of fighting, Avery and his crew eventually won out. They had just hijacked the greatest treasure in history.
Many stories on where he and his crew went next or disputed. Some of his crew reportedly went back to Nassau, and Avery himself was rumored to hide out in the Northeast of The United States or even hide out back in his native England. Some even went on to say that he died a poor man, with all of his riches wasted in brothels and gambling. According to the book A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, Avery and several other pirates, took this treasure and started the pirate haven known as Libertalia. This was made popular in the game Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Whether this haven actually existed is still up for debate today, but if it did and maybe still does exist, could his treasure actually be there too?
What do you think? Is Captain Henry Avery's treasure still out there? Is it worth following the trails and stories to find out? I think so.
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