Richard Coyle (pirate)

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Richard Coyle (died 1738) was an English pirate active in the Mediterranean Sea.[1] He is known for a single incident involving the murder of the Captain of the ship St. John.


Coyle was first mate aboard the St. John, a fish-hauler pink under Captain Benjamin Hartley. At Ancona they took aboard American John Richardson as their new ship’s carpenter. Richardson had been a thief, con man, and womanizer. Together they conspired to take over the ship, and off Turkey they staged a mutiny.[2] They attacked Hartley with an axe, a blunderbuss, and even a feed trough, chasing him across the deck and through the rigging. Finally they threw him overboard where he clung to a rope until they hit him with an axe, causing him to fall into the sea and drown.[3]

Coyle was elected captain of the St. John but was rebuffed by the crew when he proposed sailing for Malta. Instead they sailed for Menorca[1] before foul weather forced them to the Spanish island of Foviniano. They lacked the proper paperwork to dock and were refused entry. Two boys on the ship took a boat to shore and informed the authorities, who sent out troops to apprehend Coyle and crew. Richardson and Coyle set sail before the troops arrived.[3]

They headed for Tunis, where Richardson was arrested. He told the governor a story of being lost at sea; the governor believed him, put him up in a house, and gave him some money. Richardson shared the money with Coyle, who got drunk and let slip the truth of their piracy.[1] Coyle was arrested and sent to Marshalsea prison in London. Richardson escaped, using cover stories to make his way to Sicily. There he was recognized by a captain who’d lived at Ancona and arrested. Talking his way out of prison, he traveled to Italy and signed aboard a ship; the ship’s captain knew he was a wanted man and had him arrested.[3]

Richardson was tried and convicted for Hartley’s murder and was executed. While awaiting his sentence he learned that Coyle had also been convicted and had been hung some months earlier.[4] Coyle had tried to paint himself as an innocent man, victim of accidents and circumstances, but testimony from several other crewmen sealed his fate.[2]

See also[edit]

  • Old Bailey and Admiralty Court – Coyle was tried twice, once in Admiralty Court for stealing the St. John, and once in criminal court at the Old Bailey for Hartley’s murder.[2]

Further reading[edit]

  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online, Trial of Richard Coyle. (t17370224-1, 24 February 1737). - Coyle's complete trial record from the Old Bailey.


  1. ^ a b c Gosse, Philip (1924). The Pirates' Who's Who by Philip Gosse. New York: Burt Franklin. Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c Bowling, Tom (2013). A Brief History of Pirates and Buccaneers. London: Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9781472107701. Retrieved 2 August 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Crook, G. t (1926). The Complete Newgate Calendar Vol I (Ex-Classics (expanded from the Navarre original) ed.). London: The Navarre Society Limited. Retrieved 2 August 2017. 
  4. ^ Durston, Gregory (2017). The Admiralty Sessions, 1536-1834: Maritime Crime and the Silver Oar. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 9781443873611. Retrieved 2 August 2017.