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Wednesday, March 31st, 2021 4:33pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

'Look out, the council hates us'

Council says sculpture would harm landscape

Plans for the installation of a statue of two real-life ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ on Burgh Island have been withdrawn.

Earlier this year, the bid for the art installation on Burgh Island of two of Britain’s forgotten pirates, Anny Bonny and Mary Read, was unveiled, and a planning application submitted to South Hams District Council.

The pair wreaked havoc throughout the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy in the early 1700s.

Some historians have claimed the two became lesbian lovers while others suggest they formed a three-way relationship with Anne’s husband, the English pirate captain Jack Rackham – more commonly known as Calico Jack.

The sculpture was intended to be ‘a gift to the island that is home to such rich pirate history’. But following objections to the proposals for the parish council, the applicants – The Producers Live Ltd – have withdrawn the plans and will look for an alternative location.

Their statement said: “Following feedback from the parish council, we will be withdrawing our application to install “Inexorable” on Burgh Island. The statue was intended to be a gift to the Island that is home to such rich pirate history. We absolutely respect the decision of the council and will find an alternative home for Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”

In their objection, Bigbury Parish Council said that technically the application was invalid as the illustrations provided for the site appears to show it was below mean high water level and is not within the control of the Burgh Island Hotel but on land owned by the Crown and as such notice needs to be given to the Crown Estate.

They added: “The parish council considered that the proposed development would result in harm to the unique landscape and seascape character and special qualities of this area and the plinth upon which they would stand would permanently damage the site, whilst their longevity is vulnerable to weather, wind and tidal forces.

“Should they eventually fall the clearance of them will have to take place and will the applicant still exist at that time? Safety of access for those who inevitably will want to view them closely is a concern to.

“Councillors and parishioners have questioned, during the current times, the political correctness of erecting statues which commemorate pirates who were ruthless criminals and villains and do not believe the statues are relevant to the South Hams, the South Devon Heritage Coast, Bigbury on Sea, or to Bigbury’s historic fishing industry and therefore question this proposed choice of site.

“For the above reasons, its lack of relevance to and the wider area and its technical invalidity, Bigbury Parish Council objects to this installation.”

The sculpture had been created by artist Amanda Cotton and was inspired by new original drama, ‘Hell Cats’, which is available from Audible, with the concept for the sculpture which will provide permanent homage to “two of history’s greatest swashbucklers”, with a statue that honours their boundary pushing, gender defying lives.”

The statue had been unveiled at Execution Docks, London, famous for its pirate history, and if planners had granted permission, it was due to make its journey to its intended home on the shores of Burgh Island, of which the application says is a ‘fitting location on the basis of the island’s heritage and its historic links to pirates and smugglers’.

But before South Hams District Council had the opportunity to debate the scheme, and following the comments from the parish council, the plans were withdrawn.


Mary Read was born in England in 1685. Her mother had previously married a sailor and had a son, but after her husband disappeared at sea, Mary’s mother became pregnant with Read after an extramarital love affair.

Shortly after, her son died, and she gave birth to Mary, and in financial distress, her mother decided to disguise Mary as her dead son, in order to receive monetary support from her late husband’s mother. The grandmother was apparently fooled, and mother and daughter lived on the inheritance into Mary’s teen years.

Dressed as a boy, Read found work as a foot-boy, and, then, employment on a ship. She later joined the British military, in male disguise, proved herself through battle, but fell in love with a Flemish soldier.

They married, but upon her husband’s early death, Read resumed male dress and military service in the Netherlands, but with peace, there was no room for advancement, so she quit and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies.

Anne Bonny was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the most famous female pirates of all time, although the little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson’s ‘A General History of the Pyrates’.

Bonny was born in the Kingdom of Ireland around 1700 and moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old.

Bonny’s father William Cormac first moved to London to get away from his wife’s family, and he began dressing his daughter as a boy and calling her “Andy”.

It is recorded that Bonny had red hair and was considered a “good catch” but may have had a fiery temper, and at age 13, she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a knife.

She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny, but her father did not approve of him as a husband for his daughter, and he kicked her out of the house, and allegedly she set fire to her father’s plantation in retaliation, but no evidence exists to support the claims.

Between 1714 and 1718, she and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on New Providence Island, known as a sanctuary for English pirates called the Republic of Pirates.

But while in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the taverns and met John “Calico Jack” Rackham, and he became her lover.

He offered money to her husband if he would divorce her, but he refused and apparently threatened to beat John, so Bonny and Rackham escaped the island together, and she became a member of Rackham’s crew.

She disguised herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and Read, who had joined the crew as part of a munity, were aware that she was a woman] until it became clear that she was pregnant.

Having given birth to a son, she rejoined Rackham and continued the pirate life, having divorced Bonny, Rackham, and Read stole the ship William. Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew and spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area, with Bonny taking part in combat alongside the men, and Governor Rogers named her in a “Wanted Pirates” circular

But in October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, and most of Rackham’s pirates put up little resistance, as many of them were too drunk to fight.

They were taken to Jamaica where they were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, and according to Johnson, Bonny’s last words to Rackham were: “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Read and Bonny both asked for mercy because they were pregnant and the court granted them a stay of execution until they gave birth.

But Read died in prison, most likely from a fever from childbirth, and a ledger from a church in Jamaica lists her burial on April 28, 1721, “Mary Read, pirate”.

However, there is no record of Bonny’s release, and this has fed speculation as to her fate. A ledger lists the burial of an “Ann Bonny” on Dec. 29, 1733, in the same town in Jamaica where she was tried.

Professor Kate Williams, a prominent historian, had told The Independent it was critical to unearth the “hidden voices and histories” of women and LGBT+ people, and she noted history books have scant information about the pair – despite them being two of the most famous pirates in the 18th century.

Professor Williams added: “They broke gender boundaries and stunned people at the time. They were trailblazers in an incredibly male-dominated society who forged their own way. They were lovers and both fluid – moving between living as men and living as women and it is true, they have been forgotten from history.

“They lived determinedly and followed their hearts – both in being pirates and seeking their own destiny but also following their desire to love each other – when society demanded marriage.

“They were written about at the time, but you see a fear of them creeping in, a desire to downplay or ignore their story in the history of piracy, and I think that it’s because writers in the later 18th century and the 19th century worried that women – supposed to know their place as wives or servants – might get some ideas about living as men’s equals and love for each other.”


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