BOOK TITLE: The Australia Times - History magazine. Volume 2, issue 6

Vol. 2 No. 6 June 2015
The First Pirates 16
The Second Great
Age of Piracy 34
Pirate Fact and Fiction 43
Pirates of the
History is a lot more than just
names, dates and places. If it
wasn’t, then I would never have
become as fascinated in history as I
have. History is about the stories,
the tales, the legends and the
amazing origin-stories behind some
of the greatest events, peoples and
periods that have gone before us. I
want to be able to share this passion
and fascination with as many aspects
of history as possible, with as many
people as I can!
I’ve been studying history in one
way or another, almost since I could
read. It’s a fascination which has
never died. It’s simply wandered from
one topic to another, to another, and
back again, and then onto something
else. I think it would be safe to say
that I am rather obsessed with it.
But that’s because it’s fun, it’s
amazing and it’s full of mystery!
And everyone loves mystery!
Shahan Cheong
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Welcome to TAT – HISTORY, and our issue for June, 2015!
This month, we are looking at one of the most fantastical and romanticised
eras of history! What it was, what it wasn’t, how, when, where and why it
started and finished, and the deep and fascinating mythology that surrounds
it. One of the most amazing periods ever recorded! The Golden Age of
Piracy! YARR!
Pirates have been wildly romanticised. We imagine rugged, bearded ne’er-
do-wells festooned in tattoos, with tricorne hats, parrots, great, flapping
coats and buckled boots, cutlasses, pistols, eyepatches and wooden legs! We
imagine treasure-maps, pieces of eight, the Spanish Main and walking the
plank! Huzzah!
Now hold on a minute. How much of all this stuff that we think we know, is
actually real? Well! That’s what we’re going to find out in our exploration
of the Golden Age of Piracy in this issue of TAT History! So hoist the
sails and weigh anchor for a trip into history!
The Editor,
Shahan Cheong
What was the
'Golden Age of Piracy'?
by Shahan Cheong
efore you ask, yes, there really was a ‘Golden Age of
Piracy’, although the term itself was not coined until
1894. But what was it?
This is a tricky question to answer, mostly because it’s
not easy to list starting or ending points for this period
of history. In general, it ran from approximately 1650
until about the 1780s, although some definitions drag
the start-date further back to the 1620s. Regardless of
dates, the Golden Age of classic piracy as most people
imagine it, lasted for 100 years during the 17
and 18
centuries. It was a period filled with swashbuckling
buccaneers, privateers, letters of marque, and ruthless,
cutthroat seadogs who roamed the waves of the
Caribbean, seeking plunder, lustful fulfilment and riches
of all descriptions! In the following chapters, we’ll find
out all about the key elements of classic piracy, along
with what is truth, and what is pure fiction.
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of the
by Shahan Cheong
he classic pirate hub was the area south of the United States
known as the Caribbean, comprised of Jamaica, Tortuga, the
Bahamas, Cuba and other islands near the Gulf of Mexico
and the Caribbean Sea. Why is this? Surely a place closer to Europe
or the Mediterranean would make much more sense as a pirate
hotspot? Why so far away from everywhere else?
Well…the reason that pirates gravitated towards the Caribbean
was BECAUSE it was so far away from everywhere else! After all,
no self-respecting crook, regardless of the age, is going to be
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stupid enough to carry out his dastardly deeds in some place where
everyone can see him doing them, right? It all started back in the
and 16
Most people know the rhyme. Back in 1492, Columbus sailed the
ocean blue!
Well, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he didn’t nd North
America, as most people believe. In fact he wasn’t even the rst person
to nd North America, even if he had done…which he hadn’t!
What Columbus bumped into during his little transatlantic jaunt
was a collection of islands which we now call the Caribbean. When
Columbus sailed back to Europe with news of his discovery, the
Spanish monarchy, which had been the only monarchy willing to
fund Columbus’s expedition into the Great Unknown, declared that
this newfound land was to become Spanish territory! In the coming
decades, explorers or “conquistadors” (Spanish for ‘Conquerors’),
were sent out to this wondrous far-off land, and they were to set up
colonies here and claim as much land in the region as they could,
for Spain!
Throughout the first half of the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors
colonised the Mayan, Incan and Aztec Empires, and much of the
northern part of South America, along with Panama, Mexico, and
the western and southern parts of what is today, the United States.
This is why Spanish is spoken in Mexico, and why so many cities in
California have Spanish-sounding names.
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Indeed, in theory, the entire area of North and South America,
running from Canada to Cape Horn, belonged to Spain, under
an agreement with the Pope at the time. It was such a vast and
thoroughly unexplored area of land that the Spanish only ever
controlled but a small part of it. Nevertheless, it was given to Spain in
its entirety, whether the Spanish actually controlled the land or not.
Because Spain could lay claim to owning such large tracts of land
– two entire continents, indeed – they became known as one of the
most famous phrases ever uttered in association with the Golden
Age of Piracy
The Spanish Main!
And it remained the Spanish Main for a long time. Mostly because
of warfare back in Europe, which prevented other European
powers from hacking out a slice of the action. Conflict between the
Spanish, English, Dutch and French meant that there were far too
many distractions going on in Europe for any one power to send out
a raiding party halfway across the world to the Caribbean. So for
a long time, the Spanish Main remained Spanish. That is, until the
first decades of the 17
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With the wars of the 16
and 17
centuries now ended, an
unintended consequence of peace started to rear its ugly head:
Namely, what happens to all the thousands of soldiers and sailors who
have been trained to do nothing but loot, kill, plunder and pillage for
all their adult lives? Finding legitimate work for tens of thousands of
soldiers and sailors was tricky, and the consequences of not keeping
these men gainfully employed were signicant.
Soldiers and seamen released from service from their respective
armies and navies started going freelance. With nothing else to do,
they became pirates and mercenaries, eager to carry on their cutthroat
carousing somewhere else! Somewhere away from the authorities and
strictures of Europe…how about a nice, sunny, Caribbean holiday?
The Caribbean, with the Spanish Main and its boundaries
marked in red and yellow.
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First Pirates
by Shahan Cheong
hen the Eighty Years’ War, and the Thirty Years’ War
both ended in 1648, the armies and navies of the
European nations were able to put away their swords and
muskets, and worry more about what might be going on beyond
their borders, instead of what was happening next door. News of
the Americas and the riches which the Spanish were digging out
of South America and the Caribbean meant that other nations,
specifically the French and the English, were particularly eager to
get in on the action.
Pieces of Eight
The Spanish were digging out huge mines in South America.
Potosi, a mountain in what is today, Bolivia, is comprised almost
entirely of silver-ore. The Spanish were digging out the silver,
refining it, melting it down and striking out coins with this
sparkling new metal! Then, they were loading huge chests of silver
onto their galleons to sail them back home to Spain! These were
the treasure-galleons which the English and French wanted to
attack! Why? Because they were loaded with thousands of the most
famous coins in pirate lore…Peso de Ocho…Pieces of Eight!
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First struck in the 1590s, a Piece of Eight (or more correctly, a
Spanish Dollar) is one of the most famous coins ever made, and
certainly the most famous coin associated with pirates! But what
are they?
First, yes, they really did exist. They were legal tender in the
United States of America until 1857! Minted in South America,
one Piece of Eight was equal to eight Spanish Real (“Royal”) coins,
A Spanish silver 'Piece of Eight'
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so you can imagine that they were very valuable! It was these
riches which the Spanish were hauling out of the Americas that
encouraged people from England, France and the Netherlands, to
sail to the New World to seek their fortunes!
The Buccaneers
This brings us to our first type of pirate. The Buccaneer!
In order to survive the long voyages across the Atlantic, Spanish
treasure galleons would stop o on the islands around the Caribbean
Sea for provisions on their way home from South America and Mexico.
Here, they took on fresh water, meat and other provisions. To ensure a
plentiful supply of meat, they raised hogs and cattle on the islands and
let them roam wild.
French and English sailors looking for business opportunities, and
ways to skim money o of the Spanish, set themselves up as traders
on these islands, slaughtering the animals, processing the meat and
selling it to the Spanish as they sailed past. To preserve the meat for
the long voyages, these traders smoked and grilled the beef and pork,
ham and bacon on wooden racks called buccans, over res built on the
beaches. Therefore, these meat-smoking traders became known as
buccan-eers. Buccaneers!
Does this method of cooking meat sound familiar? It should! The
Spanish called it ‘barbaccoa’. Today we call it…barbecue!
These barbecue pirates, these buccaneers, were opportunists.
They were often unemployed seamen, petty criminals or scoundrels
escaping justice, and looking for a new life away from the grip
of Europe. They established an unocial base in the Caribbean
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on the island then called Hispaniola (which is today Haiti and the
Dominican Republic), from which they traded their meat and other
provisions. Some of the more ambitious buccaneers would sometimes
commandeer a ship and sail o with it, if they could overpower the
crew, to plunder and attack greater Spanish prizes elsewhere.
To put a stop to this, the Spanish destroyed the mainly English and
French barbecue industry. They gured if they killed enough of the pigs
and cattle which the French and English were selling to the Spanish,
then they’d run out of things to trade, and then they’d sail back to
Europe, leaving the Spanish as the sole inhabitants of the Caribbean!
Unfortunately, it was not so simple. The Spanish had simply removed
one problem and put another one in its place! Without cattle and pigs
to raise and slaughter, these buccaneers were out of a job. So instead of
hunting wildlife, they started attacking the Spanish who had deprived
them of their mostly law-abiding livelihoods! The Golden Age of Piracy
had begun!
The French and English, allies during the Thirty Years’ War and the
Eighty Years’ War, felt spurned by their enemy, Spain, who as they saw
it, was trying to bully them out of the potential cash-cow that was the
Caribbean! After all, there was so much to be had here! Silver, sugar,
molasses, rum, gold, and tobacco!
The result was that the British and French governments turned a blind
eye to the increasing activities of the buccaneers who were sailing
around, attacking the Spanish. They wouldn’t openly support them,
but they didn’t exactly stop them, either. So long as all they attacked
were the Spanish, they were the perfect way of hammering a thorn into
the side of their enemy without risking open war, and after such long
conicts in the previous few decades, who could blame them?
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Port Royal, Jamaica
In the 1655, England, still recovering from
the effects of the Civil War, and upset by their
being kicked out of Hispaniola, sent a fleet
to the Caribbean to try and reclaim at least
some part of what had once been their old
buccaneering headquarters. Driven out by
the Spanish for a second time, they had two
choices – the English could either sail home
in shame in defeat…or expend their remaining
powder and shot in an attempt to snatch up
something else in the Caribbean which the
Spanish were not interested in!
Like a little island paradise called Jamaica.
Undated map of Port Royal, Jamaica, one of the main pirate
bases in the Caribbean. Much of pirating Port Royal was
destroyed in 1692, when a massive earthquake all but
leveled the city, seen as God's retribution for the city's
sinful ways.
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Jamaica was not greatly defended by the
Spanish. They had no real interest in it, and
the English were able to capture the island,
and its city of Port Royal, with little difficulty.
It was here that they set up their new colonial
headquarters, and for the next three centuries, it
remained one of the most important ports in the
rising British Empire.
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The Aztec Nahuatl language calls this stuff ‘xocol atl’ – ‘bitter
water’. The nearby Mayans call it ‘chokol atl’ – ‘hot water’. This
referred to the fact that the Aztecs ground up the gathered beans
and put the powder into cold water, but the Mayans heated up
this mixture, creating a new beverage, which the Spanish (and
soon, everyone else!) wanted! One of the prizes which successful
conquest of the Caribbean came with was…Chocolate!
Despite having a new headquarters in the Caribbean, the English
were still sore at the Spanish. They’d been kicked out of Hispaniola
and had been forced to beg, borrow or steal land from the Spanish
in order to stake their own claims in the region. Unofficially, the
English and Spanish are at war, and control of the Caribbean is the
prize! And the prize comes with many rewards: Silver, gold, land,
sugar, molasses, rum, and a new wonder-food, at the time, only
available in South America.
An opened cacao pod, from which the cocoa bean (yes,
they're spelled differently), the key ingredient in
chocolate, is extracted.
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The Arrival of the Privateers
by Shahan Cheong
y the 1660s, with the Restoration in England and royal
authority back on the throne, the English Crown saw the
buccaneers operating in the Caribbean as a means to an
end. Everyone wanted a slice of the Caribbean pie, but nobody was
willing to send their navy there to get it. It was expensive, it was
dangerous, and it could lead to all-out war, which nobody wanted!
The solution: Use the pirates!
The governments of England and France established a system of
questionable legality, called privateering. Essentially, a previously
freelance pirate would get a license from the King of England or
the King of France (or more specifically, their governors operating
in the Caribbean), that said they were now government agents who
had the legal right and royal assent to attack and plunder Spanish
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Called ‘letters of marque’, these licenses or certificates meant
that a pirate was now an agent working for the government,
basically as a commerce-raider, who would be sent out into the
Caribbean to attack and capture as many enemy ships as they
could, without getting caught themselves.
As these pirates or ‘privateers’ were private parties, and were
not the Navy, it wouldn’t strictly be considered going to war. The
government basically got the pirates to do their dirty work for them!
And the pirates had a sheet of paper which was signed and sealed by
the governor, to make it all fair and legal!...in a manner of speaking.
A galleon - a large sailing ship of
the 16
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The privateers were supposed to harass the Spanish and protect
English and French ports in the Caribbean, but not everything went
exactly to plan. So far from the control of Europe, things soon
started falling apart again. The English attacked the Dutch, who
attacked the Spanish who attacked the French, who attacked the
English, who attacked the Spanish…Within a couple of years, the
situation had degenerated back into a bloody free-for-all. And this
would only continue as the Spanish insisted on their sovereignty
over the Spanish Main.
The English and French - led by one of the most famous privateers
of all time, a man named Henry Morgan - attack the Spanish again
and again. He hits them at Portobello, and again at Panama, in the
year 1668, but despite these successes, the Spanish still fight on. In
fact, the Spanish were able to escape from Panama with the city’s
gold and jewels piled onto treasure-ships which sailed out into the
Pacific Ocean, where the pirates (who had come overland), were
unable to reach them.
Privateers were immensely successful in harassing the Spanish,
and to a lesser extent, the French and the Dutch, both in times
of trouble, and during periods of open warfare, but their
uncontrollable nature made them a liability. While they were useful
in being a thorn in the Spanish side when the English and French
wanted a slice of the Caribbean pie, they were also a risk in that
they might spark a true, all-out war. But when war finally did break
out, it wasn’t because of the privateers.
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The War of the
Spanish Succession
by Shahan Cheong
pain, 1700. King Charles II dies.
Childless and with no direct heir of
his own, the monarch’s death creates
a power-vacuum in Europe. At once, Spanish
and French claimants to the Spanish throne all
come crawling out of the woodwork and start
fighting over the succession. Whoever wins
will control Spain’s vast overseas empire!
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Spanish monarch, King Charles II,
dressed in the robes of the Order
of the Golden Fleece.
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The war is not limited to Spain and Europe. It
spreads to the East Coast of the North American
Continent, and down to the Caribbean. French
possessions in South America, the Caribbean
and Spanish holdings nearby are under threat
from English (later, British) holdings in the
Carolinas, Virginia and Jamaica. The Dutch
possessions in places like the Netherlands
Antilles are also in grave danger. If the Spanish
back home overwhelm the newly-enlarged
Dutch Republic, their holdings in the Caribbean
will be destroyed!
The Dutch, once colonised by the Spanish, are
fearful of Spanish intentions both at home, and
abroad. To protect their new country, the Dutch
Republic, this new nation allies with the new
kingdom of Great Britain. The French on the
other hand, ally themselves with Spain.
After nearly fteen years of war, the Spanish
nally concede that the English and other
colonial powers in the region should have
access to the riches of the Caribbean. They
allow them to set up proper bases in the
Caribbean and a peace treaty is signed.
If everyone thought that with the end of war,
trade and commerce could now begin anew,
then they were wrong.
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One of the conditions of peace was that
privateering on all sides was to stop. The
French, British, Dutch and Spanish had to
agree that no side, under any circumstances,
was to send private raiding-ships to attack
their cargo-vessels, no matter what they were
carrying or whatever excuse they could come
up with. It sounded good on paper, but in
Much like with the Eighty Years’ War back in
the 1640s, the Spanish had once again swapped
one problem for another. The problem was that
there were thousands of seamen who were now
out of work! They were used to being sailors in
the King’s navy, or being government privateers,
or freelance buccaneers and pirates!...Now they
had nothing!
And they didn’t intend to keep it that way.
Robbed of the only profession they ever had,
the pirates of the Caribbean start going rogue,
declaring that they won’t work for any king or
country. They’re out there, and they’re in it for
themselves. Whatever they can capture and
carry is for them alone, and for nobody else!
Their chance to prove this happens on the
of July, 1715.
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On that date, a eet of eleven Spanish treasure
ships set sail for Spain. Their port of departure is
the city of Havana, Cuba. As they set out across
the Caribbean, they run right into one of the
region’s famous hurricanes, which wreck the
ships o the Florida coastline.
Using divers once the storms have cleared,
the Spanish are able to salvage most of the
treasure themselves, but there’s so much of
it brought back up from the ocean depths
that they can’t haul it all away at once, on the
ships which they have left. Instead, they leave
about 3,500 pieces of eight on the beach,
guarded in a little tent by just a few soldiers.
But the Spanish are naïve if they think that
nobody could possibly have heard about
thousands and thousands of silver coins being
retrieved from the seabed.
The English soon find out, and are eager to
try and steal it away. Eager to get their hands
on the silver, this bounty from the sea soon
sparked off another great age of piracy, with
everyone squabbling yet again, for a chance
at Spanish gold and silver.
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Second Great Age
of Piracy
by Shahan Cheong
ith no wars to ght and no ships to work
upon apart from civilian merchant-
ships, thousands of sailors and one-time
privateers, who had made a living of sorts, out of
attacking the French and the Spanish, were now cooling
their heels in the Caribbean. They had nothing to do.
They had no way of earning money. The only way of life
that most of them knew was now long over.
With nothing else to do, these men turned to piracy.
Real, honest-to-goodness piracy. No pretence of
privateering or armed merchant-ships, just piracy.
Attacking ships as they saw them, attacking towns as
they pulled into harbour, and sailing off with as much
loot and booty as their holds could take!
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Pirate ships on a whole were not large, grand galleons
as we might imagine them to be (like in the “Pirates of the
Caribbean” movies). Instead, they were mostly smaller
ships. Sloops and brigs with one or two masts and only two
or three decks.
These smaller ships were faster and more manoeuvrable
than the larger vessels used by merchants and naval types.
You could make sail and be underway much easier with a
smaller boat. And the smaller size meant less drag in the
Captain William Kidd (left), at his arrest.
One of the most famous pirates ever, he was
hanged in 1701.
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water. They were easier to turn and bring about. Larger
ships suered from weight and handling problems which
pirates didn’t want to have to deal with!
On a pirate ship (indeed on any ship of the era), having
bloodthirsty cutthroats wasn’t all that there was to a pirate
crew. There had to be much more to being a pirate than just
the ability to run a man through with a sword, right up to
the hilt!
A pirate had to be able to navigate, perform amputation
surgeries and among other things – cook!
Navigation was one of the biggest headaches of any
seafarer, law-abiding or not, during the Golden Age of
Piracy in the 1600s and 1700s. Before the late 18th
century, accurate longitude (East-West position) was
impossible to determine beyond sight of land. This left
pirate navigators with only a handful of tools with which to
nd their positions and sail with safety.
One of them was the cross-sta, a wooden sta with a
sliding scale on it, which they used to measure the angle of
the sun, to determine north-south position, or latitude. One
of the few others was the lead-line.
When sailing close to shore, it was essential for sailors
to know what was beneath their ship’s keel. To get a
rough idea of this, they used a lead-line, also called a
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The sounding line was a really simple piece of kit. It was
a long rope or string with knots tied every six feet (one
fathom), and a fat lead bob at the end, usually with a hollow
base which might be lled with wax or tallow.
The line was thrown into the water and the man on the
lead-line would count the knots running through his ngers
before the line stopped. This gave him the depth of the
water in fathoms (six foot intervals). Using this method,
pirates could sail coastal waters in relative safely. In calling
out depths, the man on the lead-line would call out his
observations as measurements. “By the Mark, ve!” was
ve fathoms deep. “No bottom” would mean that the water
under the keel was so deep that the end of the lead-line
couldn’t reach it – clear sailing. If the water was especially
shallow, he might call “by the mark, one fathom!” or, “by the
mark, twain” (two fathoms)…which is the origin of the pen-
name of famous American ction-writer, Samuel Clemens.
Better known as…Mark Twain.
For all the money and goods that they were able to pillage
– silver, gold, spices, rare fabrics, weaponry and clothing, for
all their experience in navigation and running from the law,
the days of the pirates of the Caribbean were numbered.
There had been enough war and calamity in recent decades
for anybody’s lifetime, and a desire for peace meant
that pirates were soon unwelcome guests on the world’s
oceans. People wanted to make money – and they didn’t
want seafaring highway-robbers to take it away from them!
Something had to be done!
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The End of the
Golden Age of
by Shahan Cheong
y the 1710s, piracy was becoming a big
problem in the Caribbean. The waters between
Africa and the Americas were becoming so
dangerous to travel through that honest, hard-
working sailors engaged in import-and-export, the
slave-trade and other law-abiding pursuits were
unable to carry out their work without being hassled
by scurvy seadogs every time they put to sea!
Fed up with this state of aairs, governments in Europe
realised that something had to be done! And in England,
one man came up with a novel way to deal with the wide-
ranging problem of tackling loads of pirates all at once.
That man’s name was George I, King of Great Britain and
Ireland, from 1714-1727.
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Although he spoke almost no English at all, and had
been chosen as King of England purely because he was
a protestant, he was nonetheless able to convey his
thoughts about, and solutions to, the problem of piracy
then plaguing the European world in the early 1700s. His
Pardon the pirates.
Each and every last one of them.
Yes it was really that simple.
On the 5th of September, 1717, the king issued a
royal decree stating that all pirates had EXACTLY twelve
months, from that date, to ocially turn themselves in
and swear o their pirating days forever, and take up
lawful professions, trades and seafaring occupations.
Those who would do so would be granted a full pardon
of all their pirating crimes, and would not be punished
in any way, whatsoever. They would be new men able to
begin new lives.
The terms of the king’s pardon were quite generous,
when you think about it. Upon surrendering to an English
ocial, a pirate’s crimes…regardless of what they were…
rape, pillage, looting, raking a ship’s decks with grape-
shot and canister….even murder!...were all pardoned! But
it had to be done within the twelve-month deadline.
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Pirates who refused the king’s oer of a pardon
immediately had a bounty placed on their heads of
a hundred pounds sterling (if you were a captain), or
twenty pounds sterling (if you were a member of a
pirate crew).
By the 1730s, the Golden Age of Piracy was starting
to wane, and slowly, these reckless men of the sea laid
down their arms. In one instance, an English naval ocer,
Capt. Vincent Pearce of the Royal Navy, had over two
hundred pirates surrender to him in a period of a little
under two months!
That’s not to say that pirating ended. It continued
on regardless of the king’s pardon, but from that day
forth, they were hunted down as criminals. They were
no longer government privateers or soldiers of fortune
or mercenaries – they were low-down, ugly, despicable
criminals, who would be captured, tried and most likely,
hanged, for their crimes.
Privateering also never went away. Even going up to
the American Civil War of the 1860s, privateers still
existed, but by then, real freelance, free-range pirates,
of the kind which we generally think of when we
imagine pirates, had become a thing of myth, legend,
and children’s storybooks. Changes in attitudes and
advances in technology meant that the real golden age
of piracy was over.
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Fact and Fiction
by Shahan Cheong
Peg-legs, buried treasure, parrots, maps,
walking the plank, a Pirate’s Code…how
much of this stuff is actually real? The
answers might surprise you…
Pirates Buried their Treasure!
There is no evidence that this ever
happened. There might have been one or two
isolated instances throughout history, but
on a whole, no. Pirates never buried their
treasure. Why not? Because often, it
wasn’t practical or necessary to do so.
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For all their romanticism and glory,
pirates tended to live short, dangerous lives.
Burying treasure to act as a sort of old-
age nest-egg simply didn’t make sense – the
majority of them would never have lived long
enough to make use of it. That’s assuming
that there was even any treasure left, after
blowing all their loot on drinks, food, whores
and fineries. Pirates lived very much on a
day-to-day basis. Whatever they managed
to plunder, they spent as soon as they could.
Rumors persisted for centuries that one
of the greatest pirates of all time – Captain
Kidd – buried great amounts of treasure all
over the world, but none of it has ever been
found, if indeed, it ever existed. It’s largely
believed that the ‘buried treasure’ myth was
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just a myth, dreamt up by Captain Kidd
himself, to glorify his fame. If he ever did
bury it, then it was a poor investment –
Captain William Kidd was hanged in 1701
and never divulged where any treasure, real
or not, was ever buried. Burying treasure
simply didn’t happen.
SPECIAL NOTE: In May, 2015, a 50kg
bar of silver was discovered off the coast of
Madagascar. This is believed to be part of
Captain Kidd's legendary treasure. Maybe
there's some truth behind those myths?)
Pirates Drew Treasure Maps!
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R.L. Stevenson's map of
'Treasure Island', the
only 'pirate map' that
was ever really drawn.
Since they rarely buried treasure, if at
all, there was also no need to draw a map
to a treasure that never existed. The most
famous treasure-map in pirate lore is the
one created by Robert Louis Stevenson, in
his book: “Treasure Island”.
Pirates Walked the Plank!
There are no historical records whatsoever,
to indicate that pirates at any time in
history, ever walked any sort of plank.
Or at least, not off the end of a ship. This
remains a creation of fiction.
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There was a Pirate’s Code
Well…to an extent. At no time in
history was there ever ONE code which all
pirates agreed to follow. Such a thing never
existed. But lists of rules and regulations
which the pirate crews of individual ships
had to adhere to did exist.
The list of rules making up the ‘Pirate’s
Code’ shown below, are taken from various
surviving examples of such codes from the
and 18
centuries. The rules which some
pirates had to follow might surprise you!
Among others, there were…
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No Gambling.
No Fighting.
No staying up past 8:00pm. (Yes,
pirates had a bedtime).
Captains and crew of other ships claiming
right of Parley (negotiations) were not
allowed to be harmed while on board ship.
Pirates injured in the course of battle
were entitled to compensation! The amount
of ‘health insurance’ you received depended
on the severity and location of the injury.
Loss of limb or being crippled in battle
meant a payout of 800 pieces of eight.
Pirate musicians were given every
Sabbath day off. This could not be
contested, and was their right. Any
other day they received as rest was at the
captain’s discretion.
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No chicks on ships. Pirates believed it
was bad luck to bring your latest strumpet
on-deck. Women had to remain ashore.
Also, no children on ships either.
No Rape. What a pirate did on-shore
was his own business, but rape was not
tolerated by the crew.
Every decision on board ship was decided
democratically among the crew, who all had
equal vote.
Pirates had to keep their weaponry in
working order.
Spoils of victory were divided according
to rank. Captain and high-ranking officers:
Two shares each. Lower ranking officers:
One-and-a-half shares each. Everyone else:
One share each.
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Pirates flew the Skull and
The classic pirate flag of a white skull
and crossbones over a black background,
flapping in the wind has been the
legendary…and true!...sign of pirates
since the 1700s! Known thanks to popular
culture as the Jolly Roger, this flag really
did exist, and was used in one variation or
another by a number of pirates during the
18th century.
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The pirate ag of Emanuel
Wynne. Wynne is believed
to be the rst pirate in
history to ofcially use the
skull-and-crossbones ag.
He embellishes it with an
hourglass, to indicate that
your time was up!
Although it is the most famous, the ‘Jolly
Roger’ is not the only pirate flag that existed.
Each ship tended to have its own type of
pirate flag, designed by the crew or captain.
Some flags might replace the bones with
swords. Others might include an hourglass
(symbolising that your time was running out),
some might have the skull over the bones, some
might have it above the bones. The symbols
employed in pirate flags were much like gang
tattoos – they were designed to instil fear and let
people know who they were tangling with! In
an age when most people could not read, graphic
imagery worked best.
The name ‘Jolly Roger’ goes back to the 1720s,
but it does not mean a skull-and-crossbones flag.
It was merely a generic term for any pirate flag.
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The pirate ag of Henry Every
Variations of pirate flags were numerous, both
of the skull-and-crossbones variety, and others.
If a ship failed to stop when the black flag was
flown, then a red flag might be raised in its
place, indicating a fight to the death.
Pirates could be marooned
on a desert island
Pirates could (and were) marooned on desert
islands if their conduct disrupted the peace on
ship. Strictly speaking, the choices were death
(execution) or marooning, but the outcome was
generally the same, regardless of which choice
the pirate under sentence selected. Pirates who
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chose marooning were rowed out to an island,
dumped on shore with a bottle of water or rum
(whichever was more plentiful), and given a
loaded flintlock pistol with one charge of powder
and one lead shot, with which to end it all.
Pirates had Eyepatches, Peglegs,
and Parrots!
Eyepatches were worn by pirates, but not
always for the reasons we suppose. One reason
of course, was if a pirate lost an eye in battle.
The other reason was to do with light. Or rather,
the lack of light.
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Transitioning between the sunny quarter deck of
a pirate ship to the dark, dim spaces below decks
could play havoc with a pirate’s eyesight. From
the glare of the sun to the gloom of candlelight
meant that a person’s eyes had to constantly adjust
between bright light and dim light. To make it
easier for pirates to see in dim light, some of them
wore eyepatches out of habit, so that one eye would
always be more accustomed to darker conditions,
and the other to bright conditions. It was simply a
matter of swapping the eyepatch from one eye to the
other, depending on whether they were on deck, or
below deck.
Pirates also did wear crude prosthetic arms and
legs, usually fashioned out of whatever spare pieces
of metal, leather and wood that the crew had lying
around. Medical care was scant on board ship, and
any surgeries were usually carried out by the cook,
with all his sharp knives.
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Bleeding stumps from amputated limbs had to be
cauterised – burned shut – to prevent blood-loss and
infection. On a pirate ship, cauterisation was done
by sealing the stump in hot tar. If bandages were
not available, an open wound might be cauterised
using gunpowder! The heat of burning powder
was excruciating, but it had to be hot enough to
coagulate the blood and allow for clotting and
prevent external bleeding.
Traveling around the tropics of the Americas,
pirates were likely to have exotic pets like monkeys
and parrots. It could be a lonely time on board ship.
But cats were among the most popular animals on
ships for much of history. This was because cats
chased, caught, killed and ate the mice and rats
which were often found inside even the cleanest
ships. This helped keep down instances of disease.
Independent Media Inspiring Minds
by Shahan Cheong
Although much romanticised and re-imagined by popular
culture and the media, the Golden Age of Piracy really did
exist. It was a time when men and women from all nations
sought out fame, fortune and fantasy on the high seas,
attacking their enemies with impunity and risking life and
limb with every naval action which they undertook.
The Golden Age might be gone, now, but the elements
which made it great live on. The recklessness, the spirit of
adventure, the devil-may-care attitudes of the sailors, and
the mystery and wonder keep us fascinated with this period
of history which happened so long ago.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small look at what is a very deep
and layered period of history.
Next time on TAT History, we’ll be looking at the
history of something which is a cornerstone of modern
civilisation – the development of writing, and the history
of writing instruments! From clay tiles and cuneiform, to
Blackletter and Spencerian. From reeds and quills, to the
ballpoint pens and pencils that we have today.
Shahan Cheong
TAT History
The images used in this issue of TAT History came from
public domain websites, Wikimedia Commons, or else
were photographs taken by the TAT History Editor.
Sources used in the research and writing of this issue of TAT History included:
SELINGER, Gail, SMITH, W. omas Jnr – “e Complete Idiot’s Guide to PIRATES.
Penguin, U.S.A. 2006.
Documentary: “Pirates” – Discovery Channel (1998)
Documentary: “True Caribbean Pirates” – History Channel (2006)
MentalFloss.com – 11 Rules of an Actual Pirate Code (Accessed 30
of April, 2015).
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