The generation reared on Captain Pugwash and Tintin will have a very clear idea of what pirates do. They wear striped trousers. They sport eye-patches and cutlasses and wooden legs. (Burrow 2013)
The staff was cut and handed to the learner, who, planting it firmly on the ground before him, leaned on it, and exclaimed, ‘Let it go!’ in tones which instantly suggested ‘the anchor’ to his friends.
The order was obeyed, and the ex-pirate stood swaying to and fro, and smiling with almost childlike delight. Presently he became solemn, lifted one leg, and set it down again with marvellous rapidity. Then he lifted the other leg with the same result. Then he lifted the staff, but had to replace it smartly to prevent falling forward.
‘I fear I can only do duty as a motionless tripod,’ he said rather anxiously. (Ballantyne 1883: 238)
Many of us associate pirates with prosthetic body parts. From wooden legs to hook hands, prostheses have frequently appeared in imaginative representations of pirates, such as Captain Hook from J. M. Barrie's 1904 play Peter Pan, Captain Barbosa and Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean (2003–11) film series, the badges of the sports teams the Cornish Pirates and Pittsburgh Pirates, and the products and branding of the Woodenhand Brewery in Truro, Cornwall. Yet this prevalent association has not always existed. Its literary history is, in fact, curious. What we might consider the great age of pirate stories (c. 1858–1904) exhibits relatively few prosthesis-using characters, aside, of course, from one obvious example: Captain Hook. What we do, however, see in the fiction from this period, and what we today unthinkingly assume are wooden leg users, are a number of pirates who persevere with their deplorable duties in spite of disability.
The second quotation above, from Robert Michael Ballantyne's 1883 novel The Madman and the Pirate, exposes a rare example of a fictional pirate from this period who does use wooden legs – though it should be noted that this character, Captain Rosco, only loses his legs and begins wearing prosthetic replacements after his piratical career has ended.