Pirates and Tenerife

Wed, July 3rd, 2013 - By Jack Montgomery

Given the way Tenerife is often presented in the media it can be easy to forget that the island had a history before Tenerife South airport opened its runway to the world of mass tourism in 1978.

Many people only know Tenerife as a holiday destination that has year-round warm, sunny weather.
But Tenerife has a right old rum past when you look beyond the parasols and sun loungers.

Five hundred years ago, when the New World had not long been discovered, Tenerife and the Canary Islands were a hunting ground for all manner of dodgy sea dogs. This was pirate country.


Pirate, Los Gigantes, Tenerife


Of course back in the day it was difficult to know exactly who was and who wasn’t a pirate.

Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Robert Blake were British naval heroes. But to the Spanish they were pirates and you’ll find all three listed in the Pirate Museum in Teguise on Lanzarote.

Robert Blake attacked Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz in 1657 and whilst islanders proudly recount how he was repelled, claiming victory in what became known as the Battle of Santa Cruz, Blake actually destroyed 16 Spanish ships without losing any of his fleet.


Casa Fuerte, Adeje, Tenerife


In the mid 16th century Sir Francis Drake and partner John Hawkins used the house of Pedro Soler in Adeje, above what is now Costa Adeje, as a base to transport slaves captured in Guinea in Africa to the West Indies. Drake also used his base to attack ships as well as launch the occasional assault on neighbouring Canary Islands.

Whilst these guys were pirates to one nationality and heroes to another, there’s no blurring of roles when it came to the Barbary corsairs who used to regularly raid the Canary Islands for human booty, making off with up to 900 islanders after one viscous attack.


San Fernando Fort, Los Realejos, Tenerife


Sometimes pirates were hoist by their own petard. Woodes Rogers was a privateer who became the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas. He was also famous for rescuing a marooned sailor named Alexander Selkirk from a desert island. Selkirk was the inspiration behind Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. However, at one point in his colourful career Rogers was captured by ‘other’ pirates near Tenerife and swapped for supplies in Puerto de la Cruz.

Tenerife itself was no innocent when it came to piracy. Quite a few miscreants hailed from the island, the most heinous possibly being Angel Garcia who was born in Igueste de San Andrés in 1800. Garcia was a chubby man with a deformed head, a feature which earned him the pirate moniker of Cabeza de Perro (Dog Head). Cabeza de Perro was known for throwing a mother and baby overboard into wild seas. It was a deed that almost drove him insane as it’s said he was haunted from that day on until the moment of his execution by a baby constantly crying for its mother.


Pirate Booty, Teguise, Lanzarote


And just when it seems Tenerife’s pirate stories are all way in the past comes the odd little tale this month of a decommissioned Oman navy gunboat, crewed by four British ex-servicemen, being impounded by the Guardia Civil at Los Cristianos. The boat’s alleged mission? To defend oil rigs in the Gulf of Guinea against… pirates.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of honey rum.

Posted : Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 at 10:10 am
Category : about tenerife
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