Turtle Bunbury

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From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (MPG, 2008).


In the autumn 1700, Dublin society was greatly shocked to see an Irish merchant ship called the Ouzel Galley sail brazenly up the Liffey. Everyone had presumed the ship either ‘lost at sea’ or captured by Algerian pirates. She had sailed out of Ringsend five years earlier under the command of Captain Eoghan Massey. Her destination was the port of Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire. By 1698, there had been no word from the ship for three years. As such, the ships’ owners got the go ahead to cash in on the insurance policy and a number of the lamented crew's ‘widows’ were remarried. Two years latter, the Ouzel Galley mysteriously reappeared with her full complement of crew and a valuable cargo of spices, exotic goods and piratical spoils.

Captain Massey explained that they had indeed been captured by Algerians on the homeward voyage. These brutes had obliged the Irishmen to participate in piratical raids on merchant vessels on the north coast of Africa. The Ouzel Galley finally managed to escape while these loathsome captors were engaged in a drunken carousel. And, as luck would have it, her hold was full of pirate booty when she fled. Many doubted the truth of the Captain’s tale. The ownership of the Ouzel’s cargo certainly became a matter of dispute. As plunder, it could not be legally divided. A dozen eminent merchants was assembled into a panel consider the case. They concluded that the ship’s owners and insurers should be properly compensated. All monies remaining after this were to be set aside as a fund for the alleviation of poverty among Dublin’s ‘decayed merchants’.

In 1705 this panel of merchants was formally established as the Ouzel Galley Society, designed as a permanent arbitration body to deal with similar shipping disputes. It became ‘a magnet for men of ambition and ideas’ and was regarded as a notably liberal and non-sectarian society. Many of its members were either Catholics or dissenters. In 1761, the Society became the ‘Committee of Merchants’ which, in 1783, became the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.



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