Wednesday, July 1, 2009


After arguing with someone last Saturday about pirates wearing eyepatches to see in dark holds, I did some more research. I cannot find any period references to pirates wearing eyepatches. The earliest picture I could find with a pirate with an eyepatch and/or pegleg is this one from Howard Pyle from 1892.

Pyle is not the best source. He is known to have made up details such as walking the plank. A few years later this detail was included in Peter Pan and forever associated with pirates.

This is the biggest flaw in the eyepatch myth - first you have to prove that eyepatches were associated with pirates before the late-19th century and it has to come from a reputable source.


Capt. J. Swallow said...

"Associated with" may be the problem...some would certainly have worn an eye patch had they had an incident with the eye (and lived to tell about it) - certainly if the eye were badly damaged and sewn shut.

According to Wikipedia (not a perfect source, I know) PILOTS used the patch in much the same way sailors did - when flying over brightly lit cities, adjusting back to the dimly lit cockpit before the days of backlit screens and LEDs.
Interestingly, this idea (based on the original story with sailors) was deemed plausible on the January 17, 2007 episode of MythBusters!

Patches are also used to strengthen a weak eye - especially in children with "lazy eye" syndrome (amblyopia - also to initially relieve double vision or diplopia) - me cousin's son wore a patch for a time when a wee lad (now he just looks slightly sleepy...which the ladies seem to find attractive).

Snipers have been known to use an eyepatch as well, preserving the targeting eye for use at night. Proper aiming usually requires that both eyes are open (and easier to re-focus; if ye squint one closed it may help focus the open one, but screws 'em both up for moments after).

---- couldn't resist joke ---
A young sailor was sitting in a cafe having a few drinks when he looks over and sees a pirate.

The pirate has a wooden peg-leg, a hook for a hand, and patch over his eye.

Unable to resist, the sailor asks “How’d you end up with a peg-leg?”

“I was swept overboard during a fierce storm,” says the pirate. “and a bloody shark bit off me whole darn leg!”

“Holy cow!” said the sailor. “What about the hook, how’d you get that?”

“Me crew and I were boarding an enemy ship, a fierce sword battle ensued. One of them cut me darn arm!”

“Absolutely incredible!” gasped the sailor. “And the eye patch, tell me how you got that?”

“A bloody seagull dropping fell into me eye,” replied the pirate.

“Umm, you lost your eye to a seagull dropping?” asked the sailor, admonished.

Embarassed, the pirate answered “It was me first day with the hook.”

Mark said...

Funny you should mention Wikipedia. I noticed recently that they not only accept the Pirate/eyepatch connection, they expand it to include all sailors. The only source given is Mythbusters.

In 1966, the Peanuts character Sally Brown developed amblyopia and had to wear an eyepatch. Snoopy kept stealing it so that he could play pirate.