Blackbeard the bookworm? Why conservators think the pirate may have kept a library aboard his ship
Blackbeard was a merciless, murderous 18th-century pirate who claimed he was Lucifer incarnate, and lit his hair on fire before a battle. After which he would curl up in a comfy chair with a mug of the finest grog and devour a good book — or at least that's the latest theory going thanks to a new discovery found in the wreckage of the pirate's flagship.
After months of work, researchers were surprised to find fragments of pages from a book.
The pirate ran the Queen Anne's Revenge aground off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. It was discovered in 1996, and conservators have been investigating it ever since.
And as Farrell explains to As It Happens host Carol Off, the fragments were found in an unlikely place — the loading chamber of a cannon.
"It's basically what holds the gunpowder," Farrell explains. "Basically a little piece floated out of that."
"One fragment in particular had the word Hilo — H-I-L-O — and that had a space on either side so we knew it was a complete word," Farrell explains. "It was capitalized, italicized, so we knew it was most likely a place name."
Farrell suspects that "Hilo" refers to a port in Peru. Many accounts of voyages to the area were published throughout the late 17th and early 18th centuries. And when Farrell compared the fragments with one account made in 1712 by Edward Cook, he found a match.
Another theory is that Blackbeard and his crew may have been using the book as cannon fodder out of spite. The fragments may also belong to accounts from Captain Woodes Rogers, who eventually tried to stamp out pirates like Blackbeard.
"It might be a private joke. Personally I would like to imagine that's the case," Farrell says. "Equally, though, it may be that someone was sitting there loading breech chambers and there was a book in arm's reach. It may just be expedience — that someone was being lazy."