William Swallow's Excellent Adventure

Back when Australia was a penal colony, Macquarie Harbor, Tasmania, was the place that Britain sent criminals who were really bad… or really clever. On August 16th, 1829, one William Swallow -- a former sailor who used a long list of aliases -- led a group of convicts who talked their way out of manacles and seized the supply ship Cyprus. The crew was taken by surprise (the captain was fishing) and put ashore mostly unharmed, along with any convicts who didn’t want to join Swallow. What followed was one of history’s most incredible long-distance prison breaks.

The 17 convicts who agreed to come along with Swallow first sailed the 78-foot-long Cyprus to New Zealand, then north past Tahiti to Keppel’s Island, or Niuatoputapu, in the Tonga island chain; they spent six weeks on this idyllic paradise, and seven men chose to stay. The remaining ten (one was lost overboard) sailed on to Japan and then southern China.

Smooth Criminals

As they approached the Chinese coast, three men asked to be left on an island near Hong Kong, where they were later captured. Then in February 1830, the remaining seven scuttled the Cyprus and rowed into the southern Chinese port of Canton (Guangzhou) claiming to be shipwrecked sailors. They probably looked the part, and in an era before telegraphs or passports, British authorities in Canton had no way of knowing who they really were. Four of these men, including Swallow, signed on with the merchant ship Charles Grant, bound for London; the other three signed on with a Danish merchant ship, Pulen, headed for America.

Everything went smoothly until September 7th, 1830, when the Charles Grant pulled into London -- six days after a faster ship arrived with news from Tasmania and Canton, where police had finally put two and two together. All four were arrested, but only three were hung for piracy: somehow Swallow, the ringleader, convinced the jury he had been forced to navigate across 14,000 miles of ocean against his will. He was nonetheless sent back to Tasmania, where he died in 1834 at the age of 42. Thanks to him, however, the seven escapees on Keppel’s Island and three who sailed for America got away scot free.

In 1852 historian John West, who had visited Tasmania a decade before, recalled hearing a folk song telling the tale of the epic escape aboard the “The Cyprus Brig,” sung around campfires by convict colonists. The ballad, composed by a convict known as “Frank the Poet,” is still recognized in Tasmania today. The adventure was also recreated in London’s popular theaters for audiences clearly rooting for the underdog escaped convicts.

Update: Here's the song...

By popular demand, here are the lyrics to that song, courtesy of “Australian Folk Songs.”

Poor Tom Brown from Nottingham Jack Williams and poor Joe
They were three gallant poacher boys their country well does know
And by the laws of the Game Act that you may understand
Were fourteen years transported boys unto Van Diemen’s Land

When we landed in this colony to different masters went
For little trifling offences boys to Hobart Town gaol were sent
Now the second sentence we received and ordered for to be
Sent to Macquarie Harbour that place of tyranny

Down Hobart Town streets we were guarded on the Cyprus Brig conveyed
Our topsails they were hoisted boys our anchor it was weighed
The wind it blew a nor nor west and on we steered straight way
Till we brought her to an anchorage in a place called Research Bay

Now confined in a dismal hole those lads contrived a plan
To take possession of that brig or else die every man
The plan it being approved upon we all retired to rest
And early next morning boys we put them to the test

Up steps bold Jack Muldemon his comrades three more
We soon disarmed the sentry and left him in his gore
Liberty Oh Liberty it’s Liberty we crave
Deliver up your arms my boys or the sea shall be your grave

First we landed the soldiers the captain and his crew
We gave three cheers for Liberty and soon bid them adieu
William Swallows he was chosen our commander for to be
We gave three cheers for Liberty and boldly put to sea

Play on your golden trumpets boys and sound your cheerful notes
The Cyprus Brig’s on the ocean boys by justice does she float.

The Real Bay of Pigs: Big Major Cay in the Bahamas

When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

Pop Culture
The House From The Money Pit Is For Sale

Looking for star-studded new digs? For a cool $5.9 million, reports, you can own the Long Island country home featured in the 1986 comedy The Money Pit—no renovations required.

For the uninitiated, the film features Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as hapless first-time homeowners who purchase a rundown mansion for cheap. The savings they score end up being paltry compared to the debt they incur while trying to fix up the house.

The Money Pit featured exterior shots of "Northway," an eight-bedroom estate located in the village of Lattingtown in Nassau County, New York. Luckily for potential buyers, its insides are far nicer than the fictional ones portrayed in the movie, thanks in part to extensive renovations performed by the property’s current owners.

Amenities include a giant master suite with a French-style dressing room, eight fireplaces, a "wine wall," and a heated outdoor saltwater pool. Check out some photos below, or view the entire listing here.

The real-life Long Island home featured in “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in 1986's “The Money Pit”

The real-life Long Island home featured in 1986's “The Money Pit”



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