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Pirates await execution at Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum


Learn all about the lives of 17th century pirates and hear their fears as they await execution at a special re-enactment on Saturday 22 March at the Tolbooth Museum, Castle Street, Aberdeen.

Meet the Tolbooth Gaoler, at this free event, as he prepares the pirates for execution at noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, at one of the best-preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland.

Piracy is one of the oldest crimes known and during medieval times it was all too frequent around the coast of Scotland. The business was highly profitable and attracted people from all walks of life: in the 1590's the earl of Orkney committed acts of piracy against English ships.

Many pirates began life in the Royal Navy as conditions on Navy vessels were hard with little reward while piracy offered a more lucrative living. Ordinary seamen often suffered harsh punishments which were carried out by officers so they would abscond rather than be enlisted. Many pirates were fishermen trying to get more money for the families.

Between 1639 and 1648 ship owners in Aberdeen sustained losses of around 500,000 which were due mostly to piracy and from 1685 to 1703 the losses of ships and cargoes stood at about 596,966. Piracy was treated as a particularly serious crime with the punishment usually death.

Chris Croly, historian with Aberdeen City Council, said: 'In Aberdeen in 1597 several pirates from Fittie were hanged. Robert Laird and John Jackson were arrested in Cromarty with several others because they had pirated a ship sailing out of Burntisland. Although some pirates escaped Laird and Jackson were eventually returned to Aberdeen. They paid the ultimate price for their actions at the hands of Aberdeen's hangman on a specially constructed gallows at Fittie, near Pocra Quay."

Opening hours

Monday – Saturday 10am-5pm

Closed Sunday

Admission free