William Kidd, the original Captain Jack Sparrow, leads Pirates at Museum of London Docklands

By Culture24 Staff | 20 May 2011
A photo of a painting of a man from the 17th century
Make your own mind up about Captain William Kidd in a revealing new show at the Museum of London Docklands© The Art Archive / Private Collection / Eileen Tweedy
Exhibition: Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story, Museum of London Docklands, London, until October 30 2011

Captain Kidd is variously portrayed as one of the most dastardly pirates of the 17th century and a privateer whose bravery in attacking hostile foreign ships deserved a little more than his gristly fate. His execution in Wapping, pointedly, has its 210th anniversary during the first week of this show.

Just as Kidd remains a folkloric figurehead, informing the depiction of characters such as Blackbeard and Captain Jack Sparrow on stage, screen and page, so his life is a starting point for the exhibition’s theme of corrupt political activities entrenched in piracy during the 17th and 18th centuries.

“It will help people understand the close connection between the pirates of the high seas and the London that funded their activities,” explains Tom Wareham, the Curator of Maritime History at the Museum.

“The skull and crossbones may not have fluttered over ships in the Thames, but many of the pirates themselves were here at one time or another.”

The dubious exploits of MPs and a trail of intrigue leading to mighty traders the East India Company is told through a rip-roaring shipload of objects, taking in Kidd’s last letter – going out in style with the promise of hidden treasure – to pirate flags, cannons, treasure maps, gibbet cages and even a Vivienne Westwood outfit from her idolised Pirates collection of 1981.

There are pictures of captured shipwrecks and insights into gruesome execution rituals, including the Admiralty Oar, a silver sceptre carried by the Admiralty Deputy Marshall to Kidd’s death, last seen in public at the final piracy execution in 1864.

Kidd’s legacy looms large throughout. “It is found in every tale of buried treasure and with his contemporaries in crime,” reflects the Museum’s Hilary Davidson.

“The story of Captain Kidd helped create much of the pirate mythology we’ve known and loved since the Golden Age of piracy.”

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free.
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