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Pirates’ Plunder and the Painted Hall

Our stories

Tue 19 Jul 22

Did the stolen treasures of the infamous Captain Kidd help fund the build of the Painted Hall?


The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich has been dubbed possibly “the most popular filming location in the world” by Empire Magazine, and in particular the Painted Hall is an admired movie set, notably starring in the blockbuster film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). In this Disney film, the slimy Captain Barbossa played by Geoffrey Rush has captured the comical protagonist Jack Sparrow, to bring him to trial in return for wealth and power. There is a certain irony surrounding this fictional character as he was based on the real-life tales of Captain William Kidd and it was in a twist of fate that Kidd’s ill-gotten gains came to help fund a large proportion of the Painted Hall.

Like the fictional character Barbossa, Kidd was also hired by the British as a pirate hunter and was contracted to bring in pirates raiding trade ships in the Indian Ocean. However, lured by the siren cry of gold, Kidd went rogue. He became a pirate himself, his most famous capture being the Quedagh Merchant, an Indian treasure ship hijacked off Madagascar. In a further link to the treasure hoarding Barbossa or indeed to the tale of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Captain Kidd famously buried his treasure shortly before his capture by the British authorities.

Kidd’s powerful friends in the British aristocracy allowed him to evade capture for some while, and he spun his kidnap of the Quedagh Merchant as a lawful attack on a ship that had passes provided by the French, Britain’s enemy at the time. He also had the added advantage of being halfway across the world, until he was finally tracked down and imprisoned in Boston. The British eventually condemned him for murder and piracy. A few years earlier, he had used a bucket to strike a mutinous sailor, who reportedly died later that day. With this charge and five counts of piracy, the British were finally able to get him to the gallows on 23 May 1701 and take possession of his riches.

Following his death, Kidd’s fortune was auctioned off, raising a total sum of £6,473 and 1 shilling. Given the nautical nature of Kidd’s life and misdeeds, it was only fitting that his fortune be donated to the new Naval Hospital, where it funded the Painted Hall. The sum, labelled as Queen Anne’s gift, is there to be seen to this day, recorded above the entrance arch to the Hall.

To hear more stories surrounding the hundreds of films made at the Old Royal Naval College, join us for a fascinating Film & TV Location Tour. The tour guides you through over 60 years of filming, both outside on our iconic riverside grounds and inside the magnificent Painted Hall. Learn tricks of the trade, how the magic is made and some intriguing ‘behind the scenes’ tales.

Adapted from story supplied by Tom Ryley