This was the intriguing title of the lecture given by the Revd William Strange,
Vicar of St Peter's, Carmarthen, to the large number of members assembled in the church for their
High up near the organ, one of the 80 memorials on the church walls, is a plaque
to the memory of John Williams of Edwinsford, near Talley. Born into one of the foremost families
in seventeenth century Carmarthenshire, the third son of Nicholas Williams, he entered the navy.
His career is first noted on board the Kingfisher.
The Kingfisher was a warship built in 1675, designed to be disguised as a large
merchant vessel. She was equipped with various means of altering her appearance, such as collapsible
bulwarks, so that she could act as a decoy to combat the Barbary corsairs operating out of Algiers
and Sallee on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The pirates preyed on shipping not only in the Mediterranean
but also on the traffic to the American colonies. Crews and passengers were sold as slaves and in
1631 Baltimore in southern Ireland was sacked and all 168 of its inhabitants carried away.
Kingfisher was commanded by Captain Morgan Kempthorne who as a boy had been with
his father Sir John Kempthorne, one of the most distinguished seamen of his day, when he defeated
seven Algerian pirates in 1670. She was cruising off the coast of Sicily in May 1681 when attacked
by eight Algerian ships. Battle raged for ten hours, during which Kempthorne was killed, the ship
was twice set on fire and several attempts at boarding her were repulsed. Seven crew members were
killed and thirty-eight wounded. The Kingfisher was repaired at Livorno and Kempthorne was buried
there. John Williams was discharged and probably lived in one of the family properties in Carmarthen.
He died in 1688 at the age of 29. His epitaph has a curious reference, 'died a good Christian in
the communion of the best Church, the Church of England'. This may well be because at the time of
his death the throne was held by James II, known for his Catholic persuasion, but the monument was
erected during the reign of William of Orange. Members of the Mediterranean fleet were then viewed
with suspicion as supporters of James so this may have been an expression of loyalty to the established
church to free the family from any accusation of being Jacobites.