Dubbed “the most popular filming location in the world”, the Painted Hall is a well-known movie backdrop and notably starred in the recent blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), where the slimy Captain Barbossa has captured the comical protagonist Jack Sparrow, to bring him to trial in return for wealth and power.

Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tides' Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is dragged from the Painted Hall. © Disney Enterprises

What’s really interesting about this fictional scene is that it echoes the real-life history of the Painted Hall, which was funded largely from the fortune amassed by notorious pirate William Kidd.

Kidd, who inspired Disney's character of Captain Barbossa, was also hired by the British as a pirate hunter, and was contracted to bring in pirates raiding trade ships in the Indian Ocean (though he went rogue, becoming a pirate himself). In a further link to the treasure-hoarding Barbossa, William Kidd famously buried his treasure shortly before his capture.

The story of Captain Kidd’s treasure sparked the association of pirates with buried gold and also led to numerous other fictional instances of buried treasure, notably Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. However, historical records show that Kidd’s fortune, including the Quedagh Merchant, an Indian treasure ship he had hijacked off Madagascar, passed into British hands, and ended up funding the Painted Hall.

Kidd’s powerful friends in the British aristocracy allowed him to evade capture for some while, and he spun his capture of the Quedagh Merchant as a lawful attack on a ship that had passes provided by the French, Britain’s enemies at the time. He also had the added advantage of being halfway across the world, until he was imprisoned in Boston. It was eventually not for piracy but for murder that the British managed to condemn him: during his voyage he had used a bucket to strike a mutinous sailor, who reportedly died later that day. With this token charge the British were finally able to get him to the gallows on 23 May 1701.

Following his death, Kidd’s fortune was auctioned off, raising a total sum of £6,473 and 1 shilling. Given the nautical nature of Kidd’s life and misdeeds, it was only fitting that his fortune be donated to the new Naval Hospital (learn more about how the Naval Hospital became the ORNC here), where it funded the Painted Hall. The sum, labelled as Queen Anne’s gift, is recorded above the entrance arch to the Hall.

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