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?

  • 1
    TV Tropes might have some info on this. Mar 22, 2011 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, 2013 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 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, 2011 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. Mar 17, 2011 at 17:22
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    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. Mar 18, 2011 at 16:33
  • 6
    Why so many upvotes? This isn't a reliable historical source.
    – Jase
    Jan 5, 2013 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.


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.

  • 2
    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, 2011 at 19:06
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    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. Jan 4, 2013 at 23:43
  • @dmckee---ex-moderatorkitten an interesting read I stumbled on sometime back is this article about the reality of buccaneers and pirates, in contrast to the modern mental picture we have of them: "Yesterday, You Might Have Been a Pirate"
    – Wildcard
    Aug 15, 2021 at 22:57

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