June 20, is the 360th anniversary of the...

THIS THURSDAY,

June 17, 1991

THIS THURSDAY, June 20, is the 360th anniversary of the Rape of Baltimore.

On that terrible day, in the darkness of early morning, rowing silently with muffled oars, a motley horde of pirates raided the town, set fire to houses, killed two inhabitants and hustled 107 other unfortunates to their waiting ships, thence to be taken to Algiers. Never again were they to see their homes again.

What fate awaited them after they were marched into the palace of the Bashaw of Algiers can be conjectured by what happened to other captives of the Barbary pirates.

The able-bodied among the 20 men captured were either doomed to heavy labor or, if they had skills, assigned to tasks to enrich their masters. Attractive women were turned into concubines. Young boys became palace pages (a nice word).

Within 32 months, according to a contemporary account, 37 of the Baltimore hostages were dead or had "turned Turk." Only one -- a certain Joan Broadbrook -- was ever even mentioned by name by the British consul in Algiers. His government resisted exchanging money for hostages. Things never change.

What we do know about the Rape of Baltimore is that it was the handiwork of a renegade Dutch sea captain, Jan Jansen, who went by the Muslim name of Morat Rais, "Rais" being an honorific title and rank.

Setting sail in early May 1631, he looted two French ships and one British vessel, then captured two fishing boats near Baltimore and forced their captains, who seemed mainly intent on self-preservation, to show him the way into the little port. For this treachery, one John Hackett was later condemned, tried and executed -- possibly in Baltimore itself.

The above tale is as true as skimpy historical records and conjecturing allow. The ravaged town was not Baltimore, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, which was not even founded until almost a century after the Morat Rais raid.

It was Baltimore, Ireland, a little port on the southwest Irish coast that today is a mecca for sailing enthusiasts, tourists and retirees.

* * *

SPACE SHUTTLE Columbia returned recently with a cargo of 2,478 jellyfish, 29 doomed rats, four medical specialists, three astronauts and instruments designed to measure effects of weightlessness on the human body.

Imagine what could have happened had the jellyfish tank burst, lTC leaking soft, floppy floaters all over the astronauts' weightless living and working area. Jellyfish know all about neutral buoyancy, since they ordinarily drift passively on the ocean currents. Astronauts have to work hard to get along in a directionless environment, however, and catching and re-tanking jellyfish might be a handful.

Perhaps this experiment should have been submitted for an environmental impact report before lifting off into the unknown.

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