PortCities London

London and the pirates

The pirates of fiction

Pirate melodrama

Capt Avery
View full size imageCaptain Henry Avery. © NMM
In 1713 a play called The Successful Pirate was performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. It was loosely based on the life of Henry Avery who had made a fortune by capturing a treasure ship in the Indian Ocean.

The play was the first in a long line of popular melodramas with piratical themes. The most long-lasting was Blackbeard or The Captive Princess, which opened at the Royal Circus, Lambeth, in 1798 and was still being staged in the 1850s.

Barry's Peter Pan

The greatest and best-loved play involving pirates is undoubtedly J. M. Barry's Peter Pan. This had rave reviews when it opened on 27 December 1904, and has continued to be staged in London during the Christmas holidays ever since.

Captain Hook is better known than any of the pirates of history and the part has been played on stage and screen by a host of famous actors, including:

  • Charles Laughton
  • Boris Karloff
  • Alastair Sim
  • Donald Sinden
  • Dustin Hoffman.

Fiction or reality?

It is thanks to Peter Pan, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) and Hollywood that the pirates of history have become associated with treasure maps, pieces of eight and walking the plank.

This is in contrast to the reality of murderous attacks that pirates made on unarmed merchant ships. These attacks are still a regular occurrence today in the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea.

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