Exhibition: Was Captain Kidd friend or foe?

Fri May 20, 2011 10:56am EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Captain Kidd has gone down in history, rightly or wrongly, as one of the world's most notorious pirates alongside bloodthirsty contemporaries Blackbeard and the fictitious one-legged Long John Silver.

Now a new London show about his life and the "golden age" of piracy on the high seas in the 17th century suggests there was more to the man and his gruesome demise than meets the eye.

Scottish-born Kidd was hung for piracy and the murder of a crew member at Execution Dock at Wapping on London's River Thames in 1701.

His corpse was coated in pitch and squeezed into an iron cage to be dangled further downriver at Tilbury for years as a warning to future brigands.

But until his dying day Kidd protested his innocence.

He claimed he was a privateer, not a pirate, and that all the ships he had attacked and plundered in the Indian Ocean were legitimate targets, sanctioned by the Crown and his rich and powerful backers in London.

A privateer was a mercenary licensed by the King and the government to hunt merchant ships flying the colors of England's enemies -- then France and Spain.

Tom Wareham, curator of maritime history at the Museum of London in Docklands where the exhibition is being held, says the show explores how the line between privateering and piracy was often blurred.   Continued...