The major theme of The King’s Privateer is piracy in the East Indies. While the novel introduces the element of the French positioning themselves as a prelude to the next round of warfare, the fact remains that piracy was endemic in those waters. And when Europeans encountered pirates it was not in the form of a single ship manned by buccaneers such as they might encounter in American or African waters but rather in the form of some dozen or so fast moving proas (pictured above) manned by several hundred warriors.
The pirates seem to have been primarily Dayak in ethnicity, though that could simply be a factor of the the reporting of the time. Sometimes they are referred to as Lanun Rovers, but this is not very descriptive as lanun is a Malay word meaning pirate. The book Adventures Among the Dayaks of Borneo (1865) differentiates between the two groups by ascribing a Philippine origin to the Lanun and noting their marked difference in the treatment of slaves captured in their raids.
Against properly prepared and crewed European ships these pirates represented small threat. Unfortunately, most merchantmen were undermanned, to minimize the owner’s costs, and were not always aware of the threat. On those occasions when European navies decided to carry out punitive expeditions they seem to have done so, like Lewrie’s Telesto, in the guise of merchantmen.
Piracy is again raising its head as a result of failed states and the passing of the concept of pirates as being the common enemy of mankind. A friend of mine runs a blog dedicated to tracking piracy. Pay him a visit.