The Revenge of Emmy Tot!
Piracy was very much a man’s world and women were not allowed aboard pirate ships; it was part of the ‘Pirate’s Code’. However, there were one or two notable exceptions where women did go to sea and when they did, they often proved to be more than a match for the men, Anne Bonney and Mary Read were famous examples. Here is a true story of another young woman who was taken to sea against her will, and how she dealt with her situation.
Emmy Tot was born into Scottish aristocracy. Christened, Emmaline Tottington, at the age of nineteen, she was taken into employment as Lady in Waiting to the Countess of Eglinton in the North Ayrshire district of Cunninghame, of which Irvine is the predominant town. There is, in the centre of Irvine, a rather gruesome tribute to Emmy’s exploits. Standing on top of a lantern, over the doorway of the Eglinton Arms Hotel, is the figure of a girl, holding in one hand a sword, dripping blood, and in the other, a severed head.
As the story goes, The Earl of Eglinton was hosting a banquet at Eglinton Castle, just outside Irvine. In those days, Irvine was a busy seaport and often there were merchant ships of varying size and from different countries docked in the harbour. One such was the ‘Amsterdam’, a vessel commanded by Jan Van der Goot, a small time privateer, sailing under the Dutch flag. It was the Earl’s custom to invite to his banquets, the master of any ship that happened to be in the harbour at the time and Van der Goot was included on this occasion.
The moment that he set eyes on Emmy, he was captivated. He asked the vivacious lady in waiting to join him on his ship, but she was not interested in the Dutchman and refused. Van der Goot however, was a determined man and through the night, he returned with four of his crew, broke into her room and abducted her, carrying her back to his ship. They took her to Van der Goot’s cabin and locked her in, setting sail out of Irvine almost immediately. Once at sea, the cowardly captain stayed on deck drinking with his men, while Emmaline pondered her fate in the cabin below.
Several hours later and very much the worse for drink, Van der Goot returned to his cabin and found his captive, curled up on the floor in the corner, apparently asleep. Totally drunk, he threw himself, fully dressed onto his bed and was soon snoring. But Emmaline in fact, was wide awake and biding her time. She waited maybe half an hour to make sure that her captor was sleeping deeply before quietly getting to he feet. She moved over to where the captain was stretched out on his bed. Then carefully drawing his dagger from its scabbard, she thrust it into his chest, piercing his heart! For a moment his eyes opened in surprise. Then, just as quickly, they closed. Van der Goot was dead!
Emmaline was not yet finished. She drew out the captain’s sword and with a few hacking blows, cut his head from its body! Dragging her grisly prize out of the cabin, and still carrying the sword, dripping with blood, she made her way onto the deck. At the point of the sword, she forced the helmsman to ring the ship’s bell, summoning the crew on to the deck. It was nearly dawn and most of the men were sleepy eyed and still half-drunk. But they soon sobered up when they saw Emmaline holding up the severed head of their captain! She demanded that they turn about and take her immediately back to Irvine. They were too shocked to argue and did as they were told.
The Earl of Eglinton was so impressed by Emmy’s bravery that as a tribute, he added the figure of a girl holding a sword and a severed head to the crest of his coat of arms, and there it remains to this day!
Copyright – Leslie Melville 1998.
Footnote: Political correctness gets everywhere! On a recent visit to Irvine, I noticed that the figure on top of The Eglinton Arms lantern, as described in my story has undergone some alteration. Her left hand still holds the severed head, but for some reason, an anchor has replaced the sword in her right hand!
Why can’t they leave things alone?!
This story can be heard along with many others on my C.D. "The Legend of the Bell Rock - and other Tales of the Sea":
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