HMNS Real Pirates
Pirate tales of skullduggery and pillaging are common in the history books, but when the stories jump from page to ship, they just may surprise you. Life on a pirate ship was orderly, democratic and downright mundane at times, with each man pulling his weight — or else.
When in doubt, all pirates deferred to their captain, risking punishment unless the majority of the ship’s sailors voted against the determined form of discipline. We know this because pirates of the Golden Age developed and recorded The Pirates Creed of Ethics, a moral compass for sailors to follow. That’s right, pirates had ethics and they took them very seriously.
“When a pirate took an oath, they did it in front of a mirror illuminated by a candle. There was the document, pen and a pistol on a tray and the idea was that you either took the oath or your life,” David Temple, HMNS in-house curator, says. “Your reflection was a part of your soul and that oath was binding.”
The Creed of Ethics covers topics such as stealing, in which the first proven theft garners a thief the loss of a nose or ears and the second swipe lands them marooned on an island with only a musket, bullets, lead and a bottle of water for company. Pity the pirate who dozes on duty; lashes by his pirate brothers are his consequence. And for those who ponder desertion? Well they shall have their heads split open.
Harsh as it was, abiding by the code paid off for sailors who chose to go pirate. Life on British merchant vessels was merciless and unforgiving, while pirate life was easygoing, comparatively speaking.
“On a merchant ship, you might not get paid, the food was horrible and there was a lot of work for very few people,” Temple says. “On a pirate ship you had better clothes and food, because it came from someone else’s ship, you knew how much and when you were getting paid and then you had the excitement of being a pirate.”
In between taking over other ships, pirate days were spent cleaning the deck and maintaining the weapons. There was also eating, sitting around, playing with their pets and basking in a somewhat leisurely life.
“They did have to be on the lookout for other ships to attack, but we know they played games because gaming pieces have been found and their monkeys and birds provided entertainment, so there was a lot less work and a lot more fun,” Temple says.
To see just how pirates pledged to live, read The Pirates Creed of Ethics below.
-Ye Captain shall have full command during the time of engagement, and shall have authority at all other times to conduct the ship accordingly. He who disobeys him may be punished unless the majority vote against the punishment.
-If ye Captain's vessel is shipwrecked, the crew pledges to remain until he has possessed himself of a vessel. If the vessel is the common property of the crew, the first vessel captured shall belong to ye Captain with one share of the spoil.
-Ye ship's surgeon shall have 200 crowns for the maintenance of his medicine chest and he shall receive one part of the spoil.
-Ye other officers will receive each single part, and if ye distinguish yourself, the crew will determine how much reward to be given to ye.
-Ye spoil taken from a captured ship is to be distributed in equal portion.
-Ye who shall be the first to signal the appearance of the vessel that is captured, shall receive 100 hundred crowns.
-If ye lose an eye, or a hand or leg in ye said service, ye shall receive up to six slaves or six hundred crowns.
-Ye supplies and rations are to be shared equally.
-If ye introduce on board a woman in disguise, ye shall be punished to death.
-If one Brother steals from another, his nose or ears are to be cut off. If he sins again, he is to be given a musket, bullets, lead and a bottle of water and marooned on an island.
-If there is any doubt in a dispute between ye Brothers, a court of honor is to decide the verdict. If a Brother is proved in the wrong, the first time he shall be pardoned, but should he offend again, he shall be tied to a gun, and there shall receive from each of the ship's company one strike of the lash. The same punishment shall be given to ye among us, including officers, who shall get drunk, while on the ship, to the point of losing ye senses.
-Whoever shall be placed on sentry, and upon his post shall go to sleep, shall in the first case be lashed by all the Brothers, and should he again offend, his head shall be split.
-All ye who shall plot to desert, or having deserted shall be captured, shall have ye heads split open.
-Quarrels between several Brothers whilst aboard ye ship shall be settled ashore with pistol and sword. He that draws first blood shall be the victor. No striking another whilst aboard ye ship.