Henry Avery (or Every) was one of the most notorious pirates of the Golden Age; his exploits being celebrated on stage and in literature. He was among the most successful too, in netting himself a bona-fide fortune and living long enough to enjoy it.
Avery came to piracy via the Royal Navy and a spell as an unlicensed slave trader. He was later part of a crew commissioned to trade with Spanish ships in the Caribbean and to salvage wrecked galleons. However, when the payment for these services failed to materialise he led a mutiny and set sail for the Indian Ocean in the stolen ship ‘Charles II’, which he renamed ‘Fancy’.
Avery committed numerous acts of piracy as he headed down the West African coast, making new recruits along the way. In 1695 he finally reached the island of Perim at the entrance to the Red Sea, joining Thomas Dew and several other privateers as they lay in ambush for treasure-laden Mughal fleet.
The bloody battle that followed left Tew dead, but Avery captured the Mughal ship ‘Ganj-i-sawai’ and seized a bounty of coins and jewels worth as much as £600,000. This single act, and the wanton barbarities committed in pursuit of such riches, ensured that he and his crew had a price on their heads wherever they settled.
Avery fled to the Bahamas and evaded an attempt at his capture, although several of his crew were caught and executed for their part in his crimes. Avery himself vanished and was never seen again. Captain Charles Johnson suggests that he died penniless in Devon. Other accounts disagree, but for a short time Henry Avery was among the very richest of his contemporaries. Small wonder, then, that he became known as ‘the King of Pirates’.