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What pirates liked to read

archive – Diving NewsWhat pirates liked to read

Paper rarely survives for long once waterlogged, let alone for 300 years. So the discovery of readable fragments on the wreck of Blackbeard's pirate ship “Queen Anne's Revenge” proved an unexpected treasure.

All the more so as it now turns out that the 16 fragments of paper stuffed into the chamber of a breech-cannon appear to have come from the same book.

The infamous pirate’s vessel was abandoned after it ran aground off North Carolina on the USA’s Atlantic coast in May 1718.

It was rediscovered only in 1996, since which time the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project has recovered and restored tens of thousands of artefacts from the wreck.

The pieces of paper, found when conservators were cleaning the cannon in 2016, were originally thought to be cloth serving as a gasket for a wooden tampion that kept the inside of the barrel dry, according to North Carolina’s Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.

Then they found that seven of the pieces carried legible text running in the same direction, as if torn from a single book, including identifiable words such as “fathom” and “south”.

It was the italicised word “Hilo” that led the conservators to identify the book from which the pages came.

The word referred to a Spanish settlement in Peru called Ilo and came from the snappily titled “A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform'd in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711” by seaman Edward Cooke, a book first published in 1712.

Cooke had sailed under Captain Woodes Rogers on the ships Duke and Dutchess, and his book had included a description of the rescue of Alexander Selkirk from the Juan Fernández Islands off Chile, an incident that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Robinson Crusoe” of 1719.

The conserved fragments are now set to form part of an exhibition commemorating the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death later this year.

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