23 May 1701 – William Kidd

William KiddNot just a cool pub in the heartlands of the East End, William ‘Captain’ Kidd was alleged to have been a pirate. He was hanged for his misdemeanours just minutes from where the drinking house is now situated.

We honestly don’t know what to make of Kidd. That he was judged a pirate is certain. But was he a victim of circumstance or an out-and-out baddie – that’s the killer question?

Well fair’s fair, here are both sides, so you can decide.

Only Kidding

Even his early life is a bit of a blur – some say he was born in Ireland, others in Scotland, but he wound up in Renfrewshire, that’s for sure. Once his dad died, he hot-footed it over to New York where his career on the open seas really took off.

He became a privateer – basically manning a warship specially designed to take on foreign enemy ships – and for a while he was posted out in the Caribbean.

Kidd made a name for himself out there and soon they were saying he was the man to lead a special mission to rid the seas of pirates and ermm… French ships… apparently.

The expedition was funded, in the main, by British money – after all, the Brits had their coffers to think about. Talking of the Brits, we came across one nugget about Kidd’s ship arriving in the Thames – it was greeted by the navy who was expecting the crew to salute them as a mark of respect. Did they heck! Anyway, the armed forced, incensed by their rudeness, fired a warning shot, to which the crew turned their backs and slapped their arses.

Jumped ship

Well, as a result of that show of impudence some of Kidd’s men were drafted into the army, which left Kidd somewhat bereft of crew. They somehow made it back over to New York where they went into recruitment overdrive. Sadly the calibre of crew was not quite up to expectation – they had to make do with ex-pirates.

Needless to say the whole thing was jinxed – cholera, a leaky ship and no pirates in sight bred dissension – some deserted, others tried to rise up in mutiny. All in all, it was not a happy ship.


At this point, things turned a corner when the crew bagged a booty-licious Armenian ship that had French jurisdiction off the Dominican Republic. It was a merchant ship so the spoils were plenty. But the crew wanted to keep the vessel too. And who can blame them – theirs was leaky and the Armenian galley was…well…ship-shape.

This was Kidd’s bad decision and what branded him a pirate – there were certain rules of the high seas and commandeering a ship in this way was not one of them. He finally got wind that they were after him and that set him a rollercoaster towards his execution.

Kidd B

So, let’s leave that version there for now and turn to the alternative Captain Kidd, who sounds way racier. OK, so he started off as a privateer, which is pretty much the same so far. And he accepted his challenge to rid the seas of pirates, but in this interpretation, he deliberately set out to target undesirables as crew – after all, who better to catch pirates, than ex-pirates. But at this juncture he was still above the law.

The turning point came when he killed the fellow shipmate onboard. From this point on, he knew no bounds, targeting ships…off the Indian coast, this time. Indeed according to one source, their own ship was so heaving with stolen goods that when they caught up with the Armenian ship, there was no more room, so they had to commandeer it. Of course, the captured crew were apparently prepared to give in gracefully, but not our man Kidd. He got his men ready for battle, ever the aggressor. But there was no need in the end and the victors boarded and took the helm.

Back on terra firma, loads of noses were out of joint. The two ships worth of booty in part belong to the East India Company and they were after blood.

Caged Kidd

And they got it. Kidd was finally shipped to London were the two stories converge. He was had up for piracy and murder and was sentenced to be hanged at Execution Dock, then strung up in a gibbet for three tides to roll in and out, as an example to all the sailors out there. His co-conspirators, on the other hand, were said to have been given a last-minute reprieve.
Now if you’re in two minds as to the cut of his jib, well maybe 55ish-year-old Kidd’s alleged last words will sway you.

‘…so wickedly I did, God’s laws I did forbid. When I sail’d, when I sail’d. I roam’d from sound to sound, And many a ship I found, And then I sunk or burn’d, When I sail’d. I murder’d William Moore, And laid him in his gore, Not many leagues from shore, When I sail’d. Farewell to young and old, All jolly seamen bold, You’re welcome to my gold, For I must die.’

With words like that, it’s hard not to understand why Kidd has morphed into an anti-hero; a swashbuckling pirate. And you know you’ve made it if you’re mentioned in the lyrics of a Bucks Fizz song… (It’s the ‘Land of Make Believe’, in case you were wondering.)

Also on this day

23 May 2007 – Robert Comer

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