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Where Do Steampunk Pirates Come From?

4 min read

With this article, I'm going to answer a question that comes up often. This chestnut is a simple question, why there are so many pirates in Steampunk, and what are they doing in the future?

But first of all, music Maestro!

Obviously, the pirate in an airship has never existed in real life, because we have never really known the airship era as we imagine it in Steampunk.

Yet, when we imagine an airship pirate, their outfits are usually based on the kind of look we see in classic pirates, as this is the closest analogy to an air pirate. In particular, the inspiration for the "look" of steampunk pirates seems to draw on styles popularized in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, long before the nineteenth century, which is the era in which steampunk is rooted and from which it draws its style.

In fact, piracy, which was essentially government-led, i.e. privateers, came to an end in the Victorian era.

So why do we see so many steampunk pirates, and why do they look like they're from the 17th century?

First, let me clarify something in case this is confusing. Piracy did not end in the 18th century, just as it did not begin in the 16th century. Piracy was alive and well in the nineteenth century, although it had certainly waned since the "golden age of piracy" between 1650 and 1730. It was during this period that we saw such famous pirates as Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, and, of course, Blackbeard.

In many ways, piracy is the "Wild West" of Europe, in that it has been heavily romanticized and the popular conception of what it was is now much more fiction than fact.


On the other hand, piracy was a constant problem during the nineteenth century, especially in the Caribbean and the United States. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Navy designed several battleships specifically to fight piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. One of these ships, the USS Grampus, was responsible for the sinking of one of the most famous pirates of the time, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte was considered by many to be the Puerto Rican version of Robin Hood, and many urban legends have arisen about where Lafitte hid his buried treasure.

Lafitte, among other things, will even raid cities on the eastern coast of the United States. However, after the fall of their influence, piracy in the form of the slave trade, which had been banned, remained fairly widespread. As such, the Navy spent quite a bit of time trying to disbar the ships involved in this business during the last years of the 19th century.

 In addition, between about 1840 and 1860, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy created a joint venture to raid Chinese pirates in Asia. We don't often think about Chinese pirates, but they did exist!


 Another thing we don't think about very often is river piracy. While it was a real problem in America for a while, it became a problem in the early to mid-19th century. Why are there no Steampunk river pirates? It's not very glamorous to rob people on a river, I guess.

So look at all the inspiration you can draw from in 1800s piracy! Pirates of the Caribbean, Chinese pirates, privateers French or English, and more... It's really a richness of the collective imagination.

Why, then, do we draw mainly on the golden age of piracy when we think of pirates?

It's largely because of the power of atmosphere and setting. Like the Wild West or the post apocalyptic, this universe of piracy has been romanticized. A universe that is recirculated by legends and historical facts. One can quickly dream of adventures, of trips, of getting lost in the immensity of the West, of visiting its mysteries and its titanic sea monsters and of freedom.

 You may not know it, but in the Far West, pulp publishers used to publish Western novels. They didn't even wait for history to take them out of the dirty business, because they didn't have to. Communications from the West to the East were rather scarce at the time, so the West might as well have been the "exotic East" for people living on the eastern seaboard of the United States. In fact, you may not have thought about it, but the distance from the eastern coast of the United States to the western border (depending on where you draw the border) is virtually the same as the distance between England and Turkey. Turkey, which has been considered "the Orient" for some time. It is not surprising, then, that we have seen Wild West stories emerge in the same way as "Oriental" tales.


 Piracy may not have had the same appeal, given the proximity it sometimes had, but outlaws are still popular with a people who resent their government. Thus, many pirates have become almost cult-like, much like Bonnie and Clyde, for example. As I said earlier, Lafitte was considered by many to be a kind of Robin Hood.

So although piracy existed in the 19th century, which gave it inspiration for Steampunk, we have amplified the romantic vision of piracy in the construction of the worlds and the outfits. The steampunk movement loves to add fantasy, from simple ships turned into zeppelins to pirates who equip themselves with technology so much more ambitious than their simple wooden legs and gay parrots.


After all, there are a ton of movies and images depicting pirates of the Golden Age, but there are hardly any depicting pirates of the 19th century. If you think about it, the first pirate in literature to own a flying boat must date back to 1902, the novelist J.M. Barrie who created Peter Pan and of course his nemesis, Captain Hook. Then Jules Verne who inspires to travel and adventure brings the world of the sea, with his Captain Nemo, to the steampunk movement that has since taken hold of the author and his universe.

It is not surprising that Steampunk draws its inspiration from these universes !

See you soon vaporists for a new article, thanks for sharing it.

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