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Friday, 17 August 2012

73) Famous Pirates of the Carribbean : 1) Captain William Kidd (1645-1701)

Famous Pirates of the Caribbean:
1) Captain William Kidd (1645 -1701)
A one dollar commemorative coin issued by Perth Mint, Australia on behalf of Tuvalu Islands:

William Kidd was born in Dundee, Scotland around 1645. He served in the English navy during the wars against the French and the Dutch.

Later, he became a merchant and had successful trading links with the Indies. He, then, moved to New York, where he married Sarah Bradley Cox, a wealthy widow and moved among the upper crest of Society as a “gentleman”.

Being a sea-farer at heart, between 1689 and 1695, Kidd commanded a privateer (meaning a private armed ship/vessel licensed to harass the King of England’s enemies, more prominently – the French with whom the English were at war and to capture enemy ships and their cargos as prizes). 

Towards the beginning of his career as a sea-farer, he sailed with a French-English pirate crew) in the Caribbean. Kidd and some other crew mutinied and overthrew the Captain. They renamed the ship “Blessed William” and sailed to Nevis (an English Colony). In Nevis, under Kidd’s command, the “Blessed William” joined a small English fleet assembled by the Governor of Nevis to defend the island from the French. It was understood that the pay of the crew members would come from the “spoils of War” by attacking and capturing French ships. Kidd successfully captured an enemy privateer which brought him good fame.

An incident of “piracy” was reported against his first privateer “Blessed William” (while it was undergoing repairs in Antigua) when a notorious pirate Culliford stole the Blessed William, but Kidd had no part in the act of piracy. 

In 1695, his fame as a successful privateer reached England, where the King called him to serve him from a base in England to which Kidd agreed hoping to win more challenging assignments, which were not long in coming.

Also, by this time, several incidents of piracy were being reported in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the English Navy being at war with the French was hard-pressed for men and vessels to combat the menace of piracy. 

In England he met the Earl of Bellomont (Sir George Bellomont – the new Governor of New York and Massachusetts) and several members of the Government, including the first Lord of the Admiralty and the Chancellor who to combat the menace of piracy initiated a programme under which “unofficial expeditions” were to be financed against the pirates in return for undisclosed/secret shares in the booty captured from the pirates and enemy ships. Captain William Kidd was placed at the head of this expedition. Bellomont was the main promoter and took a 60% share of the loot


 From the above contract, it is easily seen that Bellomont acted as a “front man” for the group of persons who were part of the programme, but who preferred to remain in the background. 

Thus, Kidd acquired two commissions under the contract:
a)   He had the authority to attack and capture French ships and
b)    He was also the Government’s official pirate hunter.

Four fifths of this venture was to be paid for by influential Lords and under the terms of the Agreement, Bellomont presented Kidd with a “letter of Marque” (A license granted by a Sovereign to a subject, authorizing him to make reprisals on the subjects of a hostile state for injuries done to him by the enemy’s armed forces. Hence, it included a license to fit out an armed vessel or privateer and employ it for capture of enemy merchant ships. The holder of the Marque was entitled by International Law to commit acts against the hostile Nation’s ships and property acts which would have otherwise been condemned as piracy. This type of License was abolished in 1856 by International Law by European Nations in the Congress of Paris) signed personally by King William III of England. This letter reserved 10% of the loot for the Crown and there is suspicion that the King may have himself funded part of the venture himself. 

Under this Agreement, Kidd captained a privateer “Adventure Galley”, which was a specially designed warship-galley with 34 cannon, oars ( which gave the ship the advantage of added speed and maneuvering over his adversaries) and about 150 crew chosen with great care by Kidd who now had at his command only the most loyal and dedicated men.

It was customary in those days, that whenever a merchant/private ship passed a naval ship or boats, the crew would salute or cheer the navy men as a mark of respect/honour for the men fighting England’s sea battles. While sailing on the Thames rives, The “Adventure’s” crew, instead showed a naval yacht not only disrespect, but also made fun of them. This angered the Naval officers, who requisitioned the entire crew of the Adventure for Royal Navy Service on two Naval ships, so as to teach them a lesson. Kidd was, thus forced to engage a motley crew comprising men who had done duty on smuggling ships and former pirates, who had scant respect for the Law.

The expedition did not meet with much success for some time and Kidd’s ship “Adventure Galley” low on supplies and disease ridden, met with mutiny from the crew, whose “reward” was only in the nature of captured booty. The crew did not have much respect for Captain Kidd’s “Agreement” either, and were hell-bent on forcing Kidd to attack a Dutch East Indiaman, against the terms of the “Articles of Agreement” signed with his benefactors, which Kidd was not willing to do. In the ensuing melee, Kidd struck his gunner William Moore, one of the more vociferous leaders of the mutineers, with an iron-bound bucket, killing him. 

This was the turning point in Kidd’s career and fearing imprisonment and a trial for the murder of his gunner, after some initial resistance that tested the patience of his crew, Kidd gave in to the majority voice amongst them and launched attacks of piracy on vessels and settlements of many nations. His greatest prize was the “Quedagh/Quedab Merchant” an Armenian vessel commanded by an English captain who had obtained passes from the French East India Company, which had promised him the protection of the French Crown, in the Indian Ocean,  laden with satins, muslins gold and silver. 

After realizing that he had raided a ship commanded by an English captain and owners, he tried to persuade his crew to return the goods and ship to its owners, but they refused stating that their action was perfectly within the Articles of Agreement and that, they had a commission for capturing ships with French affiliations. As such, the ship flying an Armenian flag counted as French, since it had French passes. 

Kidd, reluctantly, gave in to their contention and brought the ship to Madagascar, a pirate haven, along with another Armenian ship “Maiden”. After some more adventures, he discarded his ship the “Adventure Galley” as being unseaworthy and switched to the “Quedagh Merchant” as his Privateer and later to a sloop “Antonio”. 

Meanwhile, he was declared a pirate and upon docking at Boston after an eventful voyage, he proceeded to New York City, where he hoped to be protected by Bellomont. In New York, he was arrested and sent back to England for trial.

He languished for over a year in London’s Newgate prison before his trial commenced.  Meanwhile Bellomont, his chief benefactor died and both the first Lord of the Admiralty and the Chancellor were impeached for their part in the expedition. The matter snowballed into a scandal which threatened the Government and even the monarchy. Public opinion had already built up against Kidd. As a result, his friends in important positions dared/could not intervene to save him in the questioning for piracy before the House of Commons in London. His case was remitted for trial before the High Court of the Admiralty in London on two counts:

 one, for piracy on the High Seas and two, for the murder of William Moore.

 In the ensuing trial,  the syndicate of powerful noblemen, could only watch from the sidelines as he was tried as a criminal. 

Having been forsaken by his benefactors, he tried a last desperate attempt to save himself from the gallows by writing to the Speaker of the House of Commons in England mentioning that he would reveal the secret of his buried treasure’s location, if his life was spared. He estimated the worth of that treasure at 10,00,000 Pounds which he proposed to handover to the Government. 

Nevertheless, he was sent to the gallows, because the powerful lobby which had thus far benefitted from his privateering exploits preferred to silence him forever, since he knew too much about their involvement.

 Legends of his treasure hoard refused to die even after he was hanged in 1701 at Execution Dock, Wapping. 

His body was “gibbeted” (left to hang in an iron cage) on the Thames river, for a period of three years as a warning to potential pirates. 

We see similar images of pirate bodies kept in cages in present day movie versions of “Pirates of the Caribbean” when Captain Jack Sparrow lands on shore in some of the segments. 

Captain William Kidd’s treasure:

Captain Kidd’s secrets to the location of his treasure hoard went with him when he was hanged for piracy at London’s Execution Dock on 23.05.1701. Much has been written about his treasure and there has been a lot of speculation on where his treasure is buried. 

His treasure finds a mention in several pieces of English literature – including in works of Edgar Allan Poe, James Fennimore Cooper and the most well known classic of Robert Louis Stevenson “Treasure Island”.  Treasure Island has all the ingredients which a classic pirate tale should have and which Captain Kidd experienced in full measure during his lifetime of 56 years – treasure map, mysterious island, buried treasure, murder, skirmishes with “pirates”  and mention of a pirate song with all the blood and gore of the aftermath of a fierce skirmish (“fifteen men on a dead man’s chest yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum” – A version of the full song given at the bottom of this post) etc.
In 1929, a 17th century oak desk purchased by an advocate revealed the inscription “Captain William Kidd – Adventure Galley 1699”.  A thorough search revealed a parchment map showing an island in the China Sea, bearing the initials “W.K.”. Subsequently, meticulous searches of several other Captain Kidd’s possessions revealed three more such maps which matched William Kidd’s handwriting and pointed to the same location. Several expeditions and treasure hunts were conducted thereafter at various locations in the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Japan, but it seems that all voyages ended in a wild goose chase.

 An Artist's impression of Captain Kidd burying his treasure.

The size of Captain Kidd’s buried treasure grew many folds into several million Pounds as time went by and speculation ran amok coupled with imagination. 

Narrators of Captain Kidd tales compounded his buried treasure with present day value estimations. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” brought a lot of spotlight to the legend of Kidd’s treasure. 

It seems that his actual depredations whether as a Privateer or as a pirate on the High Seas were much less lucrative than those of many other contemporary pirates and privateers. 

Some stories which gave discount/give credence to Captain Kidd’s Treasure:

1)   When he raided the “Quedagh Merchant” (which he called the “Adventure Prize” and sailed in after abandoning the “Adventure” which had become unseaworthy) and the “Maiden” during his brief spell of piracy, most of the precious metals loot was distributed among his crew and some distributed to later crews on the Antonio (his later Privateer). On his last voyage in 1699 to Boston as a privateer/pirate, he stopped at Gardiner’s Island off Long Island, while he is said to have deposited bales and chests containing gold and precious metals, hoping to use his knowledge of its location as a bargaining tool against his conviction as a pirate. It seems that the location of all these items were quickly found out by Lord Bellomont through his informants in Kidd’s crew and taken back. 

2)   The four maps which matched Kidd’s handwriting, found in Kidd’s Desk from the “Adventure” galley and his personal artifacts came from genuine sea chests from Kidd’s time, but there is speculation that they were found by the advocate two hundred years later and could be a hoax fuelled by Captain Kidd’s legend, because, these maps did not lead to any tangible treasure discoveries. On the other hand, it is possible, that these treasure maps were designed by Kidd himself to lead Treasure hunters on a wild goose chase, while, keeping the location of the treasure only in his mind , a fact which he was willing to share with the Government in exchange for sparing his life prior to his hanging.

3)   Again in 1934, in a chest said to belong to Captain Kidd and his wife, another map was discovered which ostensibly gave the latitude and longitude of the place where the treasure was hidden as well as coded instructions. It is not clear from this Map as to from which point the latitude and longitude was calculated as some sea-farers used different locations, i.e. other than the Greenwich Meridian. The bearings and the coded instructions proved to be obscure and the best deciphering led to an island in the China Sea, where Kidd did not sail during the period of speculation (1696-1699). 

4)   Nevertheless, there is a considerable school of thought, that suggests that Kidd may have acquired some treasure during his early career as a privateer and had taken the charge of the “Adventure Galley” under the contract signed with Bellomont to secretly find the island in China Sea, while on the quest for hunting for pirates and had made several copies (in case one was stolen or misplaced) so as not to lose the location thereof from a maze of several non-descript islands in the China Sea. It is further speculated, that Kidd when making the offer to handover the hidden treasure to the Government did not specify the location since he was not sure of its location himself as he did not have a map handy in his prison cell.

5)    Another interesting story places the “treasure island” in Yakoate, Southern Japan, where carvings were found of a horned animal on a rock-face. It is said that Captain Kidd used to draw a “young goat (Kid) as his mark, something associated with his surname – “Kidd”. It is said that Nagashima, a Japanese scholar, based on this lead actually found a cave with its mouth covered by undergrowth and found a treasure of gold and silver whose worth was estimated at over 75 million dollars which was allegedly shipped back to Japan in strict secrecy after which Nagashima is said to have vanished. His whereabouts as well as that of the treasure which he allegedly discovered are not known.

6)   There are several other leads as to the place where Kidd buried his treasure, but I guess, it is best to leave them to the realms of speculative story telling.

I, for one would be very disappointed if Captain Kidd’s treasure is ever found, because it would rob little kids interested in pirate tales of the mystique surrounding the life and times of one of the greatest pirates of his era – Captain William Kidd.

Captain Kidd in popular animation films/movies/music and literature:

Notwithstanding the fact that Captain Kidd was branded and executed as a pirate, his legend has grown many fold and several comics and animation films have characters named after him (for ex: “Whizzer and Chips”, “Abbott and Castello meet Captain Kidd”, “One Piece”, “The Dagger of Kamui” etc.).

Several films/movies have also been made on his popular legend (“Captain Kidd” (1945), “Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl” (1954) etc.

He finds a mention in the writings of Mark Twain “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven”, Robert Lawson’s “Captain Kidd’s Cat”, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug”, Howard Pyle’s “Tom and the Treasure Box”, Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker”, Chris Archer series of Books “Pyrates”, Nelson Demille’s “Plum Island”, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” has an anchorage named after him. Lee-Hamilton’s “Captain Kidd to his Gold” in “Imaginary Sonnets”.

Several pieces of music have been very popular too. For example, “Captain Kidd”, “The Land of Make-Believe”, “The Ballad of William Kidd”, “Adventure Galley”, “”Captain Kidd”, ”The pirates who don’t do anything, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” “ The Double Cross” – all by eminent musicians/singers etc.

There is a public house named “The Captain Kidd” next to the Thames, very close to where Captain Kidd was hanged.

In 2007, the wreck of Quedagh Merchant has been found off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Some artifacts from the ship have been displayed in a museum.

Perth Mint coin:

Perth Mint, Australia,  has issued a one-dollar coin on behalf of Tuvalu islands commemorating Captain Kidd.

Obverse of the one dollar coin issued by Perth Mint, Australia mentioning “QUEEN ELIZABETH II, I DOLLAR, TUVALU 2009”.

(See how the wheel has turned a full circle in the intervening centuries from the time when Captain Kidd lived, to the present day.  King “William III” was very reluctant to be identified with Captain Kidd, when things were going against him and he was hanged while the King did nothing to save Kidd. Now the present reigning monarch shares one side of a one dollar coin with Kidd’s effigy on the other side, on a coin which is legal tender in Tuvalu).

The reverse of the coin shows William Kidd with his ship in the background, a blunderbuss firearm and a map. The design also includes the Perth Mint mark “P”. This coin is legal tender issued under the authority of the Government of Tuvalu and is made of aluminium bronze. 


The Perth Mint also brought out this coin in 99.9% silver as part of a five coin set on notorious pirates (the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1725).

The Pirate Song : "Fifteen men ---- Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum"!!( said to have been written by Bartholomew Roberts, the Pirate - Link to his "exploits" given below)

 Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
The mate was fixed by the bosun's pike
The bosun brained with a marlinspike
And cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped by fingers ten;
And there they lay, all good dead men
Like break o'day in a boozing ken
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

 Fifteen men of the whole ship's list
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore
And the scullion he was stabbed times four
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped down in up-staring eyes
In murk sunset and foul sunrise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the murder mark!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead
Or a yawing hole in a battered head
And the scuppers' glut with a rotting red
And there they lay, aye, damn my eyes
Looking up at paradise
All souls bound just contrawise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

 Fifteen men of 'em good and true
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ev'ry man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
With a ton of plate in the middle hold
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there that took the plum
With sightless glare and their lips struck dumb
While we shared all by the rule of thumb,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
More was seen through a sternlight screen
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Chartings undoubt where a woman had been
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
'Twas a flimsy shift on a bunker cot
With a dirk slit sheer through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot
Oh was she wench or some shudderin' maid
That dared the knife and took the blade
By God! she had stuff for a plucky jade
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight,
With a Yo-Heave-Ho! and a fare-you-well
And a sudden plunge in the sullen swell
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

For more stories on coins issued on Pirates, please click on the undernoted links:

Famous Pirates of the Caribbean :2) Edward Teach or "BlackBeard"

Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: 3)Bartholomew Roberts or Black Bart Roberts 
 Famous Pirates of the Caribbean:4)Jack Rackham 

Famous-pirates-of- the Caribbean :5) Henry Avery 

Famous Pirates of the Caribbean : 6) Sir Henry Morgan 


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