Tobar an Dualchais - Kist O Riches
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Portrait of William Kidd by Sir James Thornhill.
It was in this month in 1701 that Captain William Kidd was hung for piracy. Born in Dundee c.1645, his father was reportedly a seaman and the sea certainly ran through William’s veins. He went to sea at a young age and by the 1680s he was working as a privateer, commissioned to attack and capture enemy vessels during wartime.
It was sometime during the 1680s that Kidd went to America and settled in New York. After war broke out between England and France in 1688 Kidd was commissioned to privateer a ship to protect English ships from French attacks in the Caribbean and his reputation as a privateer grew.
He travelled to England in 1695 to receive a royal commission as a privateer, and while there he met Lord George Bellomont. An arrangement was made, funded by Bellomont and some of the most powerful members of English society (one of whom was rumoured to be the king) in which Kidd was hired to travel to the West Indies with a crew and attack pirate ships and French vessels. The bounty captured was to be divided between Kidd, his crew and his financiers.
Kidd set sail on the ‘Adventure Galley’ in 1696 but difficulties arose soon after: some of his crew died as a result of illness and frustration grew among the crew when French and pirate ships were few and far between and they were unsuccessful in those they did attack. They had some small successes in 1697 but knew more was expected of them. When they captured the ‘Quedagh Merchant’ in January 1698, they found it loaded with treasure and thought that their luck had changed. The ship was Armenian-owned but had passes from the French East India Company promising the protection of the French Crown, and so seemed like fair game.
The ship was part-owned by someone from the court of the Indian Grand Mogul and when he complained to the English-owned East India Company about Kidd’s actions, Kidd was branded a pirate by the English Government. Kidd returned to New York in 1700 where he tried to persuade Bellomont of his innocence. Instead, he was arrested and sent to England, first to be questioned by the English Parliament and then sent for trial.
Kidd mistakenly believed that his influential backers would intercede on his behalf but they all stayed silent in order to avoid being implicated themselves. He was found guilty and hanged at Execution Dock in London on 23 May 1701.
The belief that Kidd had left buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his infamy. A broadside song ‘Captain Kid's Farewell to the Seas’, was composed in 1701 and listed the treasure which he was believed to have seized, thus adding to his reputation. This belief also made its contribution to the work of several novelists, including Robert Louis Stevenson in ‘Treasure Island’. It has also led to fruitless searches by treasure hunters.
There are a number of tracks about piracy on the website and in this recording Danny Spooner sings ‘High Barbary’, a sea song in which three ships are attacked by a pirate ship off the coast of Africa.
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Julie Fowlis and Chris Wright were Tobar an Dualchais' Artists in Residence in 2012
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