Ancient history

The true story of Rackham the Red!

Rackham the Red , known to Tintin fans as the hero of "The Secret of the Unicorn", is not a totally fictional character! This pirate who was called Jack Rackham scoured the seas of Jamaica aboard the Revenge in the company of the two most sulphurous pirates in the history of filibuster:Anne Bonny and Mary Read! An epic legend that has nothing to envy to the quadrilogy “Pirates of the Caribbean which also uses Rackham's standard (two sabers surmounted by a skull) to float on the mainmast of the Black Pearl

Hergé's Red Rackham

Rackham the Red is a character who appears in two works by Hergé:“The Secret of the Unicorn and "Red Rackham's Treasure ". In 1698 the pirate would then have seized theUnicorn , ship of the Chevalier François de Hadoque (ancestor of Captain Haddock) who manages to escape while scuttling his ship which sinks body and soul.

But if Rackham never went down with the Unicorn , it is undeniable that the pirate did indeed exist!

The Neptune mutineers

Rackham the Red is largely inspired by an authentic 18th century pirate:Jack Rackham alias Calico Jack! This nickname of "calico" would come from the very colorful clothes he wore and which would have been in calico, a coarse cotton fabric. Jack (not Sparrow but Rackham) would have been helmsman on the British vessel The Neptune . The commander of the latter having refused to rub shoulders with a French ship, the crew would have mutinied and Jack would have taken control of the Neptune .

New master on board Jack would have launched in pursuit of the French ship and would have boarded it with great success! Covered in glory by this first triumph, acclaimed by the crew who had just got their hands on the spoils of the vanquished, Jack suggested that the sailors emancipate themselves from British power and now sail on their own. In other words, he invites them to become pirates! The idea is approved, but could it be otherwise when the mutineers are condemned to death?

Impossible love and the return of the black flag!

Jack nevertheless ends up accepting a royal pardon (the best way found by the governor to get rid of the pirates) and settles in the Bahamas where he meets Anne Bonny, a young married woman with whom he has an adulterous relationship. Dangerous relationship if any since the husband is none other than James Bonny, himself a pirate.

When the betrayal is exposed Anne is sentenced to the whip and Jack flees with her, gathers a crew and resumes the sea aboard a sloop, the Revenge . Of course, the presence of a woman on a ship would not be unanimous, far from it, which is why Anne dresses up and takes the name of Adam Bonny. Fighting among the other sea dogs Anne will become one of the great female figures of buccaneering!

Besides, Jack is not at the end of his surprises with his sea wolf... He unknowingly recruits another transvestite:Mary Read! Anne and Mary are said to have had a same-sex relationship but, as with anything related to piracy, it is difficult to know what is historical fact, legend and fantasy. When Jack would have discovered Mary's femininity, the two women would have always lived together, as a couple. At first Jack and his amazons reign terror in the warm seas, the ships are boarded, the booty piles up in the holds. So much so that the governor of Jamaica ended up launching a major operation to crush these buccaneers.

But Jack's young wolves play as much with their blades as with their charms, it is said that Mary bared her intimacy before finishing a man. Anne meanwhile would have succeeded in seducing the captain of the Royal Queen (which belonged to her ex-husband) to infiltrate the ship and wet the cannon wicks overnight, allowing the pirates to board her without resistance the next day.

The end of Jack Rackham

In October 1720 the pirates were captured by Captain Barnet and his men. They are said to have put up little resistance, perhaps because of their advanced inebriation. The scene saddens the two women who try in vain to push the crew into battle, they injure several of their comrades including Jack...

Finally, after a frenzied resistance, they are captured and only escape hanging on the pretext that they are pregnant. Mary died in prison of a miscarriage, or yellow fever, in 1721. Anne would have been pardoned and we are lost in hypotheses about the end of her life:return to her first husband, new marriage, return to piracy under another name… No one knows. Jack and the rest of the crew were transferred on November 16, 1720 to Spanish Town (Jamaica) where they were tried and hanged the next day.


- P. Christian:History of the pirates and corsairs of the Ocean and the Mediterranean from their origin to the present day , Paris, Cavaillès, 1846

- J. Haechler, The Insoumise , ed. New World, 2007

- O. and P. Poivre d'Arvor, Treasure hunters and other buccaneers , ed. Menges, 2005

The Adventures of Tintin

- The Secret of the Unicorn (comic).

- Red Rackham's Treasure (comic).