Take the 2-minute tour ×
Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Was it common practice for pirates to replace a lost hand with a prosthetic hook? Or was this lore perpetrated by fiction and Hollywood?

It does seem like a reasonable choice, since a hook is a rather cheap and simple to make prosthesis. But is there historical evidence that shows that a hook was the go-to prosthesis for pirates? Or did their job actually require a more sophisticated prosthesis?

share|improve this question
    
TV Tropes might have some info on this. –  Andrew Grimm Mar 22 '11 at 7:00
    
It originally comes from Captain ORUC REIS (a famous Turkish pirate working on the behalf of Ottoman Empire in Mediterranean Sea in 1500s) He and his brother Captain Barbarosa were one of the most famous and respected pirates of Mediterranean Sea at that area! Captain Oruc Reis lost his arm and a doctor in Egypt replaced it with a metal hook. He continued to conquer islands and whole Mediterranean Sea with his metal hook hand! and It becomes famous among all pirates who lose their hands. –  Gok Jan 4 '13 at 23:12

2 Answers 2

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Apparently it's true:

From "How Stuff Works"

Most famously attributed to seafaring pirates, peglegs with wooden cores and metal hands shaped into hooks have actually been the prosthetic standard throughout much of history. While Hollywood has exaggerated their use of hooks and peglegs, pirates did sometimes rely on these types of prostheses. The required materials for these devices could be scavenged from a common pirate ship; however, a trained doctor would have been rare. Instead, the ship's cook typically performed amputation surgeries, albeit with poor success rates.

share|improve this answer
1  
Looks like a "hook" had been a standard prothesis back then, not just for pirates. However, I do wonder if a hook was a good enough substitute for someone working in the pirate business? Are there any famous pirates with hooks? –  Oliver_C Mar 17 '11 at 16:20
    
From the article it appears that the main advantage of the hook was that it was easy to make. additionally the more advanced and expensive prosthesis in those times looked more like real limbs, but were mostly for cosmetic purpose. –  Ophir Yoktan Mar 17 '11 at 17:22
6  
I'm guessing a hook would have been preferable to the likely alternatives, like a peg or a stump. On ships two-handed people often need to use one hand simply to hold themselves in place. –  DJClayworth Mar 18 '11 at 16:33
    
Why so many upvotes? This isn't a reliable historical source. –  Jase Jan 5 '13 at 16:25

Christopher Newport is a proper historical example of a sea captain who lost an arm and replaced it with a hook. He was apparently the real life model (or one of them) for Barrie's Captain Hook. Newport was technically a privateer, not a pirate, but I think the difference is really just that a privateer was a thief who sometimes paid his taxes.

http://www.captainchristophernewport.com/

So, it is categorically not just a myth, although how widespread the practice was is hard to say. I imagine not that many pirates lost their hands, but it makes a good story.

share|improve this answer
1  
I wouldn't be surprised if losing limbs was fairly common among pirates. I would expect that not a whole lot of the people who lost limbs, had them replaced with a crude prosthetic, and survived the resulting infections, were effective pirates afterwards. –  Mason Nov 27 '11 at 19:06
1  
A privateer nominally has a letter from some government entitling him act on its behalf in attacking their enemies afloat. Naturally, those enemies didn't think that any different that outright piracy, and when pickings were thin the privateer may have been tempted to do a little piracy on the side. –  dmckee Jan 4 '13 at 23:43

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.