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.