Yo ho me hearties, 19th September is ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’. Start the arrghs and shiver your timbers, already I bet your starting to sound like a scowling Westcountry Farmer. Why ? And given that the Golden Age of Piracy was nigh on 300 years ago how can we know that this is historically accurate?

Well, kinda. Yes and No.

Think Bristol and one of the first associations that spring to mind is piracy. Largely this is embodied in perhaps the most infamous Pirate of all. The dark haired giant of a man who stuffed smoking flares in his beard to make him appear like the devil.  Edward Teach, aka BLACKBEARD. Born and raised in Bristol, probably in the overcrowded warren of streets burrowing back from Redcliffe quay, we would expect him to speak in his native dialect.

Circa 1715, Captain Edward Teach (1680 - 1718), better known as Blackbeard, a pirate who plundered the coasts of the West Indies, North Carolina and Virginia. His hair is woven with flaming fuses to increase his fearsome appearance. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Circa 1715, Captain Edward Teach (1680 – 1718), better known as Blackbeard, a pirate who plundered the coasts of the West Indies, North Carolina and Virginia. His hair is woven with flaming fuses to increase his fearsome appearance. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Westcountry ports, headed by Bristol, pioneered and led British Atlantic seafaring in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in both their legal and illegal activites (as well as those which fell somewhere in between). So yes it is possible to surmise that a large number of ‘traditional’ pirates would have put the Wurzels to shame.

Of course that doesn’t tell the whole story. Pirates came from all over – Bartholomew Roberts was Welsh, Henry Avery was from London – and pirates were not just confined to Britain. Given this we have pirates not just with an eclectic range of individual accents, but also pirates with wonderfully unique hybrids of accents and dialects, influenced by their travels and interactions.

So why did the Westcountry voice stick?

In the one instance it is undeniable that Westcountry men were disproportionately involved in seafaring and piracy. This is illustrated looking through this list of pirates sentenced for execution at Cape Corse Castle in April 1722. At a glance there are men from York, London, Canterbury, Ghent but Westcounty men from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Bristol dominate this list.

pirates hung pirates hung2

So yes there is certainly an argument for putting on your thickest farmer accent, but an extra factor in establishing this as the stereotype was Disney, some two hundred years after the heyday of piracy.

In the 1950s Disney produced Treasure Island (1950) and Blackbeard the Pirate (1952). The lead in both films was Robert Newton, a Dorset born man fluent in the Westcountry verse. Both characters, the fictional Long John Silver and the real life Blackbeard were born in Bristol, so Newton’s portrayal and interpretation was as accurate as we may expect it to be – its success just further embedded the idea that all pirates should sound like they are from Brizzle.

Talk like a Pirate Day 19th Sept 2015 – What’s On.

Long John Silver Trust Launch their new Treasure Island Trail at 12pm from the Arnolfini, followed by a showing of Aardman’s latest animation ‘Pirates!’ at 3pm.

Afterwards the Matthew crew will be donning their pirate attire and will be running special pirate trips. 5-6pm the family favourite ‘Captain Barnacle’s Pirate Panto!’ and 6-8pm  will be joined by the Wessex pirates for an adult special (tickets available from the ship on a first come, first served basis).

Piratey Things All Year

Pirate Pete – The infamous pirate and maritime tour. Or for a self led option drop into the Tourist Information Centre and pick up one of Visit Bristol’s ‘Treasure Trails’

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