Billy Bones, also known as “The Captain,” is the first pirate that Jim Hawkins and the reader meet. He represents Jim’s introduction to the world of piracy and treasure hunting. In the opening of the novel, Billy Bones arrives at The Admiral Benbow (Jim’s parents’ inn) and stays for several months. He is not a particularly welcome guest as he is irritable and ill, he drinks too much, and he overstays his welcome. Bones’ illness and his fondness for rum represents the weak and self-destructive aspects of the pirate lifestyle. However, Jim is fascinated by Bones and the world he represents. He even goes so far as to say that Bones is good for business because he brings a sense of adventure to the inn. And, in a way, Jim may be right. He describes many evenings in which Bones would coerce the whole tavern into singing various pirate and sea shanties. Jim, his parents, and guests may be wary of Bones but many, especially Jim, can not help being dragged into the excitement. Readers can see that Jim has grown fond of Bones during his stay at the inn. So fond, in fact, that Jim’s emotional response to Bones’ death is explicated at great length by Stevenson whereas the death of Jim’s father is described in a single sentence.
While his presence in the novel is brief, Bones’ character is crucial because his stay at The Admiral Benbow is the catalyst that sets the plot in motion. Jim finds the treasure map in Bones’ trunk after his death which is what inspires Jim, Dr. Livesey, and Squire Trelawney to set off for Treasure Island in the first place. Bones is also important because his extreme fear of Captain Flint and Long John Silver as well as the men who ransack the inn in search of the map introduces Jim and the reader to the sinister side of the pirate life.