Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story at Museum of Docklands
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Timed to coincide with the latest Pirates of the Caribbean blockbuster and conscious that many young people’s notions of piracy are informed by screen interpretations, from Captain Pugwash to Jack Sparrow, the Museum of Docklands' new exhibition opens with a suitably swashbuckling three-minute film. In it we are introduced to Captain Kidd, the real 17th-century seafarer whose exploits in the north Atlantic, which ended gruesomely in a Thameside gibbet after his hanging at Wapping’s Execution Dock, form the narrative backbone to the displays that follow. Kidd’s story engages the audience with some of the double standards of the age and successfully draws children to consider what piracy was actually about and to question the pirate stereotypes so beloved of popular culture.
Though this is definitely an exhibition aimed at a younger audience, there is plenty for adults if they are prepared to seek out the detail. For example, the rare 1756 proposal for fitting out the privateer, the Duke of Cumberland also indicates how spoils were to be divided among sponsors, while an elaborate chart of Port Royal, Jamaica, by the esteemed chart-maker William Hack of Wapping, is one of several copied secretly at the behest of the British government from maps seized from the pirate Bartholomew Sharpe in 1682 to use in its own interests. Another revelation is a case of pottery fragments unearthed in nearby Limehouse that indicates the breadth of trade links between early 17th-century London and the wider world. The unlikely gem here is the fragment of Caribbean ware that dates contact with the Taino/Carib peoples to the early 1600s and is the only piece of its kind to be found in Britain.
Yasmine Leary, aged 11, adds:
Captain Kidd was born in Scotland, in 1645. He apparently turned pirate in 1697 and in this year, he seized his first ship, the Rouparelle. Everything turned violent when he whacked his gunner, William Moore on the head with a steel bucket and was charged and sent to prison for the crime in 1701. Whilst protesting his innocence to piracy, Kidd was hung for murder.
All around the exhibition, there were interesting bits of information about Captain Kidd’s story and that of other pirates and pirate-themed questions for us to answer. There were hands-on sections, where we could dress up and use toy weapons to copy pirate poses. We also came across places where we could touch, listen to and smell things to help with the experience. In one section, a man was doing a show for the younger kids, called How to Be a Pirate in which he was teaching everyone in a fun manner. I also saw some original letters and artefacts from Kidd’s life.
I found the Pirates in Films bit interesting, as we could see how many films had been inspired by Captain Kidd’s story. How many pirate films would have been developed if the pirate’s story had not got out?
The stereotypical pirate is a man with an eye patch and a flag with a skull and crossed bones on it, but not all pirates were like that! Two famous female pirates were caught, but not hung as they were pregnant.
Pirates wore clothes called slops, the ones in the exhibition had tar over the front from hauling the ropes. There were stitches all over them, from where the pirates had to mend them. As they were on ships they could not go out and buy new things like we can. Money must have been a huge issue for some pirates as well.
At the end of it all, we could vote on whether or not we thought Captain Kidd was guilty of piracy. My vote was yes, as all of his actions that were spoken of were the kind of things a pirate would do.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I would recommend the exhibition to anybody interested in pirates, of any age.
Watch a video preview of the exhibition here:
Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story is at the Museum of London Docklands from 20th May to 30th October 2011.
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