Cutlasses, Cut-throats and Criminals

Avast, me hearties – it is International Speak Like a Pirate day.

Here at Finders, we really like an absolutely pointless celebration – and International Speak Like a Pirate day certainly comes under that heading. We promise we will spend all day in the office ahoying, avasting, aye-ayeing and arr-ing in our best Johnny Depp styl-ee. Expect non-stop silliness to ensue.

On a serious note (!), however, the ancestry website has recently launched new Dorset record collections. And piracy could very well be in your blood. Piracy was very common off England’s south coast right up to the 18th Century. The Dorset coast, with its coves, caves and sandy beaches made it very attractive for pirates – plenty of places to hide and plenty of places to stash your booty.

Criminal Collections

Ancestry now has three new criminal collections. Admittedly, when most people embark on family history research they hope to find illustrious ancestors – perhaps a war hero, or a person who created the most amazing masterpiece, or developed medical procedures which made a difference to so many people.

But unfortunately, we can’t all claim to descend from heroes! The criminal collections include Calendars of Prisoners 1854-1904 (about criminal trials), Transportation Records 1730-1842 and Prison Registers 1782-1901 – giving people whose families came from the Dorset area the chance to find out if swashbuckling derring do runs in their veins.

And whilst it might be slightly disconcerting to find you are descended from pirates – spare a thought for the buccaneers of old. Imprisonment, floggings, enslavement, transportation, branding and worse were common punishments for 18th century pirates.

Wapping, London

The execution dock at Wapping in London was used for more than 400 years for the execution of pirates, smugglers and mutineers. The condemned were taken in procession (public executions in those days were a matter of public entertainment) from Newgate or Marshalsea Prisons to the dock, with a stop off on the way at a public house for a quart of ale.

In a piece of deliberate cruelty, the rope for hanging pirates was shorter than normal so that a prisoner would not die quickly from a broken neck, but would be slowly strangled to death.

The justice of the time was harsh and often very brutal. Rarely were any kind of mitigating circumstances – your man forced into piracy because of poverty and lack of other opportunity for instance – taken into account.

Pirate Sympathy

If you are descended from pirates, you may well find yourself on the pirate’s side – theft and criminality notwithstanding.

Our work to discover the rightful heirs to an estate often takes us back into the harsh realities of lives lived many years ago. This obviously doesn’t just apply to pirates and it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to criminals either. We often uncover stories of people who endured suffering through wars and poverty. Or they might have worked in factory, mining or other intensive conditions which it is difficult to imagine enduring.

In the meantime, though, our probate genealogy work today will be punctuated by the cries of the old seadogs. Blow me down, land lubbers!

Are you descended from pirates? We’d love to hear from you if that is the case! Why not send us a Tweet at @findersprobate.

#BBC #HeirHunters #Finders

Daniel Curran
Written by Daniel Curran
Daniel is a leading figure in the UK Heir Hunting industry. He is from Isleworth in West London and has lived in London for most of his life. He has been in the probate genealogy profession since 1990. He formed Finders in 1997 after 7 years at another firm.