After the previous project blog entry on the cosmopolitanism of speaking in foreign tongues in London, this entry features a simple confusion in the English language between port and starboard. It involves the grounding and wreck of a ship, the Exchange, on its way from the Port of London to the Downs.
The confusion was in English, and took place between two English men, the hired pilot and the ship’s captain. But the crew itself was cosmopolitan, with an explicit reference made in the deposition of John Humphrey, a thirty-two year old mariner from Southwarke, to a significant Dutch component in the crew of the English ship heading for Virginia, probably via the Ginney coast. Crews hired from several ports and countries are a common feature of the crew lists which survive in schedules of wage disputes in the Admiralty records.
Disagreement between Pilot and Captain, leading to grounding on Thames estuary mud flats
The case of William Wilkinson against James Warren dealt with the right of a Pilot to sole command of his ship. James Warren had been hired as Pilot of the ship the Exchange to conduct the ship from the Port of London to the Downes.
The ship was bound for Virginia, and should, for its burden and intended voyage, have had a crew of thirty, or at least twenty-eight men, but started out with fewer than twenty-two men and boys. Some crew (Dutchmen) were still at Gravesend when the ship departed from its mooring there. From the Hope in the Thames estuary onwards there were a number of disagreements between William Wilkinson the ship’s captain, and James Warren, the hired pilot.
John Humphreys, a thirty-two year old Southwarke mariner stated the custom and law as he understood the right of a Pilot to sole command of a ship:
“1. To the third Article hee saith, That it is and ever hath been usuall, since
2. this deponent first knew what belonged to Navigation, That a Pilott undertakeing the
3. pilotting of a ship from place, should have the sole ordereing direction, and
4. Command of the said shipp and Companie, and that although the Master
5. of such shipp bee himselfe aboard. yet hee ought not in any manner to
6. contradict or apprise the said Pilotts Command in any thing concerning the
7. sayleing of the said shipp. And so much hee beleeveth to be conforme to the
8. Sea lawes and Customes in that Case provided and generally received, to
9. which hee referreth himselfe, And further, cannot depose./”1
John Humphreys then provided a chronology of events, leading to the ship’s grounding. Unmooring the ship after clearance on a Saturday at Gravesend, the ship set off on a Sunday in a high wind under the command of the Pilot, the captain still ashore. It reached the Hope in the Thames estuary that same day, where the captain boarded the ship.
The pilot wished to anchor at the north shore port of Lee, a frequent stopping point in the estuary, but Wilkinson insisted that they proceed to the Redd Sands. On the Tuesday the set off in high wind across the flats to part of the estuary called the Narrow.
Humphreys testified that he heard contradictory commands ring out from Pilot and Captain, one calling for “to putt the helme a port and the other on starboard.” But in the “great confusion” Humphreys was uncertain who issued which instruction
“10. To the 4th Article hee saith, That at or about the time predeposed, the
11. arlate James Warren did conduct and pilott the said shipp the Exchange
12. from this Port to Gravesend where shee and her ladeing arrived in safety
13. upon and being there cleared upon a Saturday, the next morning the
14. said Wilkinson being himselfe ashore at Gravesend sent to the said Warren
15. then aboard to sett sayle with the said shipp towards the Downes, the wynd
16. being then somewhat too high in this judgement conveniently to unmoore the
17. said shipp which was done with very great difficultie and trouble, and so
18. shee came in safety to an anchor in the Hope, and the next morning
19. being the munday morning ensueing, the said Wilkinson comeing aboard
20. his said shipp commanded the said Warren to sett saile from thense, to
21. which hee this deponent knoweth not what the said Warren replyed, but saith
22. hee well knoweth, that severall of the said Dutchmen were then ashoare
23. at Gravesend and not aboard the said shipp, soe that there was not a
24. convenient number of men then aboard to mannage her, shee requiring
25. according to her burthen and intended Marchants Voiage for Virginia
26. 30. or at the least 28. men as aforesaid sufficiently to man her. The
27. premisses hee declareth upon the grounds predeposed. And further cannot
29. To the 5:th Article hee saith, That upon the said Mr Wilkinsons coming
30. aboard the said shipp at the Hope, the said James Warren upon his
31. importunitie sett saile with the same to Lee, shee having then, as this
32. deponent remembereth (the Dutchmen being returned aboard) her former number
33. of about 22. men and one boy, And saith the wynd was then very
34. high at the North-west or neere that point, and the said Warren
35. was very earnest to have come to an anchor at Lee aforesaid, and to that
36. purpose had caused to be taken in her foretop saile of the said shipp, but the
37. said Wilkinson absolutely refused soe to doe or permitt to be done, whereupon
38. the said Warren was enforeced contrary to his good will and likeing to sayle
39. to the redd sands. The premisses this deponent well knoweth, for that hee was
40. Boatswaine of and aboard the said shipp, and saw and observed all the
41. passages by him predeposed. And further cannot depose:-/:-
42. To the 6:th hee saith, That upon the Tuesday morning next ensueing the
43. shipp sett sayle to goe over the flatts, and in her passeing over the
44. same to a place in the Sea called the Narrow, but saith, that hee this
45. deponent did not nor could not then particularly observe, what Course the said
46. Warren steared, hee this deponent being then intent upon other buisinesse
47. in the said shipps fore Castle, neither did this deponent observe at how
48. many fathoms water shee then was; hee further saith, That during the
49. said storme of wynd in the said shipps passage over the fflatts aforesayd
50. hee this deponent heard two contrary commands given, the one commanding to
51. putt the helme a port and the other on starboard, but which of them
52. gave either of the said commands particularly, this deponent saith, That
53. by reason of the great confusion then aboard, hee this deponent could not
The result was inevitable, the wreck of the Exchange upon the sands, and a law suit before the High Court of Admiralty between the Captain and the Pilot disputing responsibility for the wreck.
(1) HCA 13/71 f.47v Case: William Wilkinson against James Warren; Deposition: 1. John Humphrey of the parish of Saint Mary Magdalens in Southwarke in the Countie of Surrey Mariner aged 32; Date: 02/04/1656. Transcribed by Colin Greenstreet.
(2) HCA 13/71 f.47v