For the team at The West Winds Gin, the swashbuckling figure of the pirate encompasses the spirit of rebellion, adventure and, crucially, fun that inspired them to start the company in the first place.
And it’s not just the guys at The West Winds – the worlds of folklore, literature, television and film bear witness to our ongoing fascination with pirates.
Here’s a collection of some our favourites – both real and fictional – to help bring out your own inner pirate as you sip your The Sabre Gin.
Captain Jack Sparrow
What do you get if you mix cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards? Captain Jack Sparrow apparently, as it’s claimed these were the inspirations behind Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the character in the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
For a movie franchise based on a Disneyland log flume ride (yes, really), the swashbuckling, supernatural series of films hasn’t done half bad, with the four instalments to date (Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s Ends and On Stranger Tides) grossing $4bn – and there’s a fifth on the way. Its success must surely be due in no small part to Depp’s performance as kohl-eyelinered, rum-soaked eccentric but warm-hearted Jack Sparrow.
The character who gave his name to The West Winds’ still is one many of you may remember from your childhood. Based on the comic strip by John Ryan, Pugwash first hit our screens in 1957 – appearing on the BBC in black and white, using cardboard cut outs which were manipulated like puppets and, incredibly, performed and broadcast live.
The later, and perhaps better-known colour TV series, first shown in 1974-75, used traditional animation to tell the exploits of Captain Horatio Pugwash as he sailed the high seas in his ship The Black Pig with his crew, cabin boy Tom, pirates Willy and Barnabas, and Master Mate.
And in case you were wondering, those scurrilous rumours about the somewhat suggestive names used in the show (Seaman Staines, Master Bates and Roger the Cabin Boy – oh my!) are in fact completely untrue and such characters don’t appear at any point. In fact, John Ryan successfully sued two newspapers in 1991 for printing the urban myth as fact. So there.
Captain Blackbeard – or Edward Teach to use his real name – was probably the most notorious of the pirate captains who terrorised Caribbean and North American shipping routes in the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 18th century. Born in Bristol, he began his seafaring career aboard a British privateer in the West Indies before falling in with a fearsome bunch of real-life pirates of the Caribbean. He went on to expand the rogue fleet under his own command to encompass four ships and army of 300 men.
Despite the power he wielded, it is said that he in fact spurned the use of unnecessary violence, instead using the power of a carefully constructed fearsome reputation to conquer his victims and enemies. With theatrical flair, he dramatically enhanced his appearance through extravagant dress including a huge feathered tricorn hat, a sword in each hand, and multiple knives and pistols. The long black beard that gave him his nickname was also part of the performance, and he is said to have decorated it with lit fuses in the heat of battle, leading commentators to describe him as looking “like the devil”.
His reign of terror came to an end when he was beheaded in 1718, but stories abound of Blackbeard’s ghost roaming the seas in search of his severed head.
“Tick, tick, tick…” the innocuous seeming sound guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of Captain Hook, as it bodes the appearance of the crocodile who swallowed not only a ticking clock, but the Captain’s hand after it was chopped off by his arch-nemesis, Peter Pan.
Since First appearing in JM Barrie’s 1904 novel, Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the Captain – named for the hook that replaced his missing appendage – has won a place in generations of children’s imaginations as the villain they love to hate.
He has had many big screen incarnations, being played by actors ranging Dustin Hoffman to Ian McShane to Rhys Ifans. Perhaps the Hook that first springs to mind though is the classic Disney version from the 1953 cartoon. Here, the captain’s villainous qualities were softened and he was reimagined as a more comical villain than previously. He was also saved from certain death by none other than Walt Disney himself, who wisely presaged: “The audience will get to liking Hook, and they don't want to see him killed.”
Anne Bonny & Mary Read
The two most famed female pirates of all time, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were also the only two women known to have been convicted of piracy during its so-called Golden Age. They both had pretty extraordinary lives.
Both women were born out of wedlock and, for different reasons, were both disguised as boys by their parents during their childhood.
Mary Read continued to dress as a boy as she grew up, allowing her to gain employment on a ship and fight with the British military. When she found peacetime made a military career unfulfilling, she boarded a ship bound for the West Indies. When the ship was taken by pirates, she ended up joining their ranks, before becoming a member of “Calico Jack” Rackham’s famed pirate crew.
Anne Bonny entered the world of piracy in the Bahamas, where she abandoned the husband with whom she had emigrated from her native Ireland and took up with local tavern scoundrels –including one “Calico Jack” Anne and Jack became lovers and she joined his crew – quashing any potential trouble from her male shipmates by routinely out-drinking and out-fighting them.
It was on Jack’s ship that Anne met Mary, who was travelling disguised as a cabin boy. Their friendship at first sparking Jack’s jealousy before he realised the truth of the situation, at which point the three joined forces in a successful piratical team. When they were eventually caught, Rackham went to the gallows, but Bonny and Read escaped the same fate by “pleading their bellies” (claiming they were pregnant) and were instead sent to jail.