Thurrock historical people

Captain Kidd, the Tilbury connection

William Kidd better known as Captain Kidd is amongst the most famous pirates known in this country. Born the son of a Scottish minister he soon took up a career at sea, became well known during the war with France during the reign of William and Mary, and became known as the Bold Captain of a privateer in the West Indies.

British commerce had been suffering greatly from pirates and at the request of the British Governor of New York, Kidd received two Commissions from the King, one for suppressing piracy and the other recognising him as a privateer against the French. In his 30 gun ship 'Adventurer', with a crew of 155 men, he set sail for Madagascar and the Red Sea region known for its concentration of operating pirates.

However, no pirates were found and the ship's crew were struck down with cholera, the ship grew leaky and supplies began to give out. Apparently at this stage, he decided to turn pirate himself and attacked several small Moorish vessels. He had several scraps, first being defeated by a Portuguese man-o-war, and then managing to capture a Portuguese and Armenian vessel.

In 1699 he deserted his leaky 'Adventurer', boarded one of his prizes and headed for America. He learnt that he had been publicly declared a pirate, and to reconcile this he sent half of his booty to the British Governor in New York. He was arrested in Boston where he landed and was sent back to London to stand trial.

He was charged with a murder of a sailor, and with piracy. The trial evidence was from two sailors who served under him and turned King's evidence. He protested he was "the most innocent person of them all", he was pronounced guilty of both offences.

His hanging was carried out at Execution Dock, Wapping. On the first attempt the rope broke, but was replaced and after successfully being hung until dead his body was covered in tar, gibbeted, and taken to Tilbury Ness. He hung in the metal gibbet, his body was left for the duration of three high tides which submerged the body, and was apparently thought to be a deterrent against piracy to any other sailors who witnessed the scene as they travelled up or down the River Thames.

There is some confusion over where 'Tilbury ness' is, later Ordnance Survey maps show it to be the point of the bend in the Thames where Tilbury Docks is now situated, in the Chadwell-St-Mary parish. However an earlier map, relating to the 1588 Armada threat, showing the lay out of defences labels 'Tilburyness' at a point that we now call Coalhouse Point, East Tilbury.


  • Zacks, Richards. The pirate hunter: the true story of Captain Kidd: London: Review, 2003, ISBN 0755311310.