Halley’s Hoggs

Since leaving St Helena, Halley has sailed westwards in search of the islands of Martin Vaz and Trinidad*, an archipelago roughly 1,200km from the coast of Brazil. They saw the three islands of Martin Vaz on the morning of 14 April 1700 and they reached the larger island of Trinidad on the 15th, anchoring on its west side.

They went ashore to look for water, which they quickly found, but then staved some of their cask on the rocky shore as they tried to get them back in the boat. The Paramore had drifted and so they stood further out to sea overnight on the 16th, and on the 17th:

This morning wee moored in 18 fathom on the west Side of the Isle, the north part being ENE, the South part SE, and the high Steep Rock like a Nine-pinn ESE.

Map of Trinidad, c1889 (Wikimedia Commons)

Map of Trinidad, c1889 (Wikimedia Commons)

If you look at the west side of the map above, you can see the Ninepin rock near Bird Island, and a little further round the coast the word ‘cascade’ where they probably obtained their water. The east and north coasts are dangerously rocky, and while boats can land on the west, it’s not hard to imagine them staving their cask on the rocky shore.

The map derives from a book by Edward Frederick Knight, which details the second of two voyages he made to the island of Trinidad. He undertook the second voyage in 1889 in a ship named the Alerte to search for treasure (!), which he believed to be buried in the South West Bay – you can see his camp marked on the north of the bay. [1]

I haven’t read the whole book but it contains useful information relating to Halley’s voyage, especially regarding this next sentence in Halley’s logbook for April 17:

Whilest the Long Boate brought more Water on Board I went a Shore and put Some Goats and Hoggs on the Island for breed, as also a pair of Guiney Hens I carry’d from St. Helena.

In his book, Knight tells us that the best description of Trinidad he’s encountered is in the novel Frank Mildmay by Captain Marryat and that it is “easy to identify every spot mentioned in that book”. [2] Marryat writes of “the goats [and] wild hogs, with which we found the island abounded” and that on the summit they saw a herd of goats, including one “as large as a pony”. [3]

But Knight himself writes:

We saw no goats or hogs, and I am confident that none are now left alive. We did, however, in the course of our digging discover what appeared to be the bones of a goat. It is well known that these animals once abounded here. Captain Halley, of the ‘Paramore Pink’,… landed on this island April 17, 1700, and put on it some goats and hogs for breeding, as also a pair of guinea-fowl which he carried from St. Helena. [4]

Wild hogs (Steve Hillebrand/Wikimedia Commons)

He also mentions that an American commander, Amaso Delano, visited the island in 1803 and found plenty of goats and hogs, and then speculates that the “teeming land-crabs” have now “gobbled all these up”. [5]

Knight seems pretty unimpressed by these land crabs (“a loathsome lot of brutes” with a “cynical and diabolic expression”) but Halley doesn’t mention them at all. [6]

Halley’s final remark for April 17 is, however, extremely interesting:

And I tooke possession of the Island in his Majties. name, as knowing it to be granted by the Kings Letters Pattents, leaving the Union Flagg flying

This act of planting the Union Jack on Trinidad prompted a minor diplomatic incident nearly 200 years later. The island seems to have had a more lively history than can be covered here, but it was ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese in the sixteenth-century, visited by Halley in 1700, declared a principality by a self-styled prince in 1893, and then on 24 July 1895, a Times reporter writes from Rio de Janeiro that:

There is growing excitement here about the British occupation of Trinidad Island. The Brazilian Government has sent two notes to the British Legation emphatically protesting against the occupation… [7]

The British wanted it as a convenient station for transatlantic cables and apparently they based their claim on Halley’s visit:

Reuter’s Agency is informed on good authority that the British title to Trinidad Island dates from 1700, when it was taken possession of by Dr. Halley… [8]

Two weeks later the Times gave more detail about Halley’s visit during his “celebrated scientific cruise” in the “strangely named sloop the Paramour Pink” and noted that he was “said to have left some pigs and sheep [sic] behind him, but after an unsuccessful struggle for existence they succumbed to inanition or the land crabs.” [9]

It seems that no public claim of ownership of Trinidad had been made by Brazil but Britain was “ready to discuss in a friendly spirit” any claim that Brazil may wish to make and suggested the issue be resolved through arbitration. Portugal acted as arbiter and Britain peacefully accepted her ruling in favour of Brazil. Perhaps the disappearance of Halley’s hogs had made it suddenly seem that much less attractive?

* Now known as Trinidade and Martim Vaz


[1] EF Knight, The Cruise of the Alerte (London, 1890), p 185. Chapter IX is actually called ‘Treasure Island At Last’.

[2] Ibid, pp 204 and 209.

[3] F Marryat, The Naval Officer; or, scenes and adventures in the life of Frank Mildmay (London, 1829), pp 209-210.

[4] Knight, The Cruise of the Alerte, p 173.

[5] Ibid, pp 170 and 173.

[6] Ibid, p 165.

[7] The Times, Thurs 25 Jul 1895, p 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Times, Tues 6 Aug 1895, p 7.

Halley writes from St Helena

Before leaving St Helena, Halley sent a letter to the Admiralty – there’s no addressee but it’s presumably the Secretary, Josiah Burchett. He tells Burchett about the great danger they encountered among the “Islands of Ice” and also that he has “noe reason to doubt” that he will be able to derive a general theory of compass variation from his observations that will help mariners find their longitude at sea.

The letter isn’t in Halley’s handwriting, and I’ve made some minor changes to the punctuation and split it into two paragraphs to make it easier to read, but left the spelling as written.

(Halley to ?Burchett, dated 30 March 1700 from St Helena, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Hono:rd Sr

I must Intreat You to lay before the Lords of the Admty this account of what I have done in execution of the Orders I Received from them. Since my last from St. Iago, which I hope came long since to Your hands, haveing not been able to fetch Madera by reason of the winds shifting upon me, I was Obleged to putt into Ryo Jennero in Brasile to gett some Rumm for my ships company, from whence I wrote you a letter which I suppose will not be in Engl[and] soe soon as this. I left Ryo Jennero on the 29° of December last and stood to the Southward till the 1st of February, when being gotten into my Station Vizt in Lattd: 52°½ and 35° west Longitude from London, we fell in with great Islands of Ice, of soe Incredible a hight and Magnitude, that I scarce dare write my thoughts of it. At first we took it for land with chaulky clifts, and the topp all covered with snow, but we soon found our mistake by standing in with it, and that it was nothing but Ice, though it could not be less then ?200 foot high, and one Island at least 5 mile in front. We could not get ground in 140 fadtham, Yet I conceive it was a ground, Ice being very little lighter then water and not above an Eight part above the Surface when it swims. It was then the hight of Summer, but we had noe other singe of it but long Days; it froze both night and day, whence it may be Understood how these bodies of Ice are generated being allways increased and never thawing.

The next day February the 2d. we were in Imminent Danger to looss our ship and lives, being Invironed with Ice on all sides in a fogg soe thick, that we could not see it till was ready to strike against it, and had it blowne hard it had scarce been possible to escape it: Soe I stood to the Northward to get clear of it, which in the Lattd. of 50° I did, and their Saw the last Ice. In my way hither I Discoverd* the Isles of Tristan da Cunha, and in Eleaven Weeks from Ryo Jennero I arrived at this Island, to fill my Water and refrezen my men, and in this whole course I have found noe reason to doubt of an exact conformity in the variations of the compass to a generall Theory, which I am in great hopes to settle effectually

I am

Honord Sr.

Your most Obedt Servt

Edmond Halley

* “Discoverd” here simply means ‘saw’

Return to St Helena

We last saw Halley encountering a storm as he sailed from Tristan da Cunha towards the Cape of Good Hope. A few days later he found the storm had blown him northwards of the Cape, and as his water supplies were low and he didn’t want to delay his voyage by heading back south, he decided to sail on to St Helena, arriving in Jamestown harbour on 12 March 1700.


Town of St James, Island of St Helena, 1794 (Wikimedia Commons)

Now I’ve mentioned before that one of the most disappointing aspects of Halley’s logbook is that he records very few observations about the places and peoples he encounters, and nowhere is this more frustrating than during his visit to St Helena – for this is not Halley’s first trip to the island, it was here that he acquired a Europe-wide reputation by the young age of 22.

Edmond was a nineteen-year-old undergraduate at Oxford when in July 1676 he sat down to write a reply to the Royal Society’s Secretary, Henry Oldenburg. He and Oldenburg had been corresponding about a paper that would be Edmond’s first appearance in the Philosophical Transactions and after some remarks about his paper, he asks if Oldenburg knows whether a work then in the press at Paris would contain a catalogue of the southern stars because:

if that work be yet undone, I have some thoughts to undertake it my self, and go to St Helena… by the next East Indie fleet, and to carry with me, large and accurate Instruments, sufficient to make a good cataloge of those starrs, and to compleat the Celestiall globe… I will willingly adventure my self, upon this enterprize, if I find the proposition acceptable, and that the East Indie company will cause me to be kindly used there, which is all I desire as to my self, and if I can have any consideracon for one to assist me; this Sr I propose to you desireing your advice as to what inconveniences there may be, and if you think my design may meet with sutable encouragement. [1]

The young and ambitious Halley was concerned that with Flamsteed, Hevelius and Cassini all at work on star catalogues, there would be no room for him to make his mark and so he decided to travel to the southern hemisphere to map the stars not visible from Europe, which had so far received little attention from astronomers.

His design did meet with “sutable encouragement” and through the influence of his patrons, Sir Jonas Moore and Sir Joseph Williamson, a letter was sent from the king to the East India Company requesting that they give free passage to Halley and his friend James Clark (Clarke or Clerke) on their next ship to St Helena, at that time under the Company’s governance.

Halley left Oxford without taking his degree, and he and Clark sailed from England around Edmond’s 20th birthday on board the East Indiaman, Unity, arriving at St Helena by early February 1677. Halley tells us he took a newly-made sextant, a new pendulum clock, an old quadrant, and several telescopes including his 24 footer, and on arrival he and Clark began building a basic observatory from which to deploy them. [2]

But things didn’t then go quite as planned owing to the continually adverse weather, and in November 1677 Halley wrote to Jonas Moore that:

such hath been my ill fortune, that the Horizon of this Island is almost always covered with a Cloud, which sometimes for some weeks together hath hid the Stars from us, and when it is clear, is of so small continuance, that we cannot take any number of Observations at once; so that now, when I expected to be returning, I have not finished above half my intended work; and almost despair to accomplish what you ought to expect from me. [3]

Oh dear, he’s travelled a long way to be thwarted by cloud-cover, but Halley’s not the type to be easily defeated and so to simplify the process and maximise the number of star positions he could observe, he based his own measurements on reference stars from Tycho Brahe’s catalogue, so that if Tycho’s star places (taken before the advent of telescopes) were rendered more accurate in future, his own positions could then be accordingly adjusted.

By the time he and Clark left the island in March 1678 on board the Golden Fleece, Halley had observed 341 stars, as well as a lunar and a solar eclipse, and a transit of Mercury – and by the autumn he’d produced a catalogue of his results, published the following year and the first to feature observations made using telescopic sights. [4] Halley also produced a planisphere in which he outlined a new constellation Robur Carolinum (Charles’s Oak), named to mark the occasion when King Charles had hid in an oak tree after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester.

The right ascensions and declinations of the principal fixed stars in both hemispheres to year 1678

Halley’s planisphere of the southern stars. Robur Carolinum is right of centre below the Centaur’s hooves (© NMM, Image B4225). The work was engraved by James Clark, presumably the friend who accompanied Halley but I haven’t been able to confirm that.

The catalogue and planisphere were well-received, with Flamsteed dubbing Halley “our Southern Tycho”, and Halley was rewarded with an MA by royal mandate, election to the Royal Society, and the esteem of Europe’s foremost astronomers. [5]

* * *

And now Halley is back on St Helena, scene of his youthful ambition. What went through his mind as he sailed into Jamestown harbour? Did he enquire after old acquaintances? Go in search of the observatory built with his friend James Clark over 20 years previously? Did he reflect on the path his life had taken since that first visit? He gives us no hint whatsoever, he tells us only that it rained heavily – plus ça change…

If anyone from St Helena can confirm that Halley’s Mount is pronounced ‘Hawley’, please let me know via the comments. Thanks!


[1] Halley to Oldenburg, 8 July 1676, Royal Society EL/H3/38.

[2] The location of Halley’s observatory isn’t certain but there is a monument set up on what is thought the likely site on a ridge known as Halley’s Mount. You can see the monument here and the wider view here (the walls are probably from a later construction).

[3] Halley to Moore, 22 November 1677, in MacPike, Correspondence and Papers of Edmond Halley (London, 1937), pp 39-41.

[4] Halley, Catalogus Stellarum Australium (London, 1679); it was subtitled (in Latin) Supplement to the Tychonic Catalogue. The transit of Mercury on 28 October 1677 gave Halley the idea (subsequent to James Gregory) that a transit of Venus would be the most useful method of estimating the sun’s distance from the earth, a method he would later vigorously promote to those future astronomers who would be alive to observe the late C18 transits.

[5] Flamsteed, The Doctrine of the Sphere (London, 1680), Preface. How Flamsteed must later have regretted this remark! The context of it was more complex than can be covered here, but we might look at the toxic relationship between Halley and Flamsteed later this year.

Stormy weather

I said I wouldn’t be writing any posts for a few weeks while I completed a couple of essays, but I thought I should put up Halley’s report of a severe storm for those readers who aren’t able to follow his log entries on Twitter.

On 24 February 1700, Halley reported the weather as “squally and uncertain” and on the 26th there’s a moderate gale until 5.00pm, when:

National Maritime Museum (PW8025)

… the Wind came to SbW fresh with much rain but before night we were forced to go under a foresale only; by Midnight we were forced to Scudd before it; the Storm encreasing till daylight with a Terrible high Sea[.] about Six this Morning a greate Sea broke in upon our Starboard quarter, and withall threw us [so] that we had likt to have oversett; the Deck being full of Water, which had a clear passage over the Gunnell, but it pleased God She wrighted again. So we handed our Foretopsaile and Scudded a hull till this day Noon; The Fury of the Storm Seeming to abate, but the Sea running Mountains high…

You’re probably used to Edmond’s plain prose by now and suspect the situation may have been more dramatic than his writing* style conveys – as dramatic, perhaps, as this account by our old friend the Reverend Henry Teonge, who entertained us at Christmas with two excited descriptions of seasonal feasts. Here, in his characteristic breathless manner, Henry writes of a storm his ship encountered off the coast of Portugal in September 1676:

[16 Sept 1676, extract] Raine, and very stormy; and the seas runn very high. At 6 in the afternoone the storm splitt our fore-sayle all into bitts, and very much rent our new maine-sayle. Wee tooke in that, and bent another maine-sayle, which was no sooner spread, but rent; so that wee were forced to lye under a mizon all that cruell night. The wind grew more stronge, and the seas more furiouse… Now wee ship severall seas; our men are all tyred with pumping and bayling. And wee expect every sea to breake our ship in peices.


State Library of Victoria/Wikimedia

[17 Sept 1676, extract] About 4 in the morning the seas groe far more outragious, and breake clearly over our quarter deck; drive our hen-cubbs over-board; and washed on[e] of our seaman cleane off the crotchett-yard. A second sea cam[e], and threw downe all our boomes; brake boath pinnace, and longe boat, on the decks. A third cam[e], and flung our anchor off the ship syd, flung the bell out of place, brake off the carving, and pulld 2 planks a sunder in the midst of the ship… Our forecastle was broake all downe longe before. Now the men are all dishartened, and all expect nothing but the losse of ship and life. Our larboard gunnhill all broake up, a whole planke almost out betweene decks; men swimming about in the wa[i]st of the ship; and greate seas often breaking over us. [1]

Happily, Henry’s “tottered ship” made it back to Deptford, where he was relieved to disembark “the rottenest frigot that ever cam to England”.

Halley’s ship didn’t suffer the damage incurred by the Assistance but his rare use of ‘God’ indicates the extremity of their situation. [2] His literary style may be far more measured than Henry’s, but the scene on the Paramore was perhaps similarly dramatic.

* Of course Halley is dictating the text to his clerk.


[1] The Diary of Henry Teonge, Chaplain On Board His Majesty’s Ships Assistance, Bristol, and Royal Oak, Anno 1675 to 1679 (London, 1825).

[2] Halley had a reputation for being irreligious and he only refers to ‘God’ 3 times in his logbooks, all in the second, and all when their lives are imperilled.

Land ahoy?

If you’re unable to follow Halley on Twitter, you’ve missed a bit of excitement over the last few days – here’s what happened:

[1 Feb 1700, extract; Lat 52°24' S] Yesterday in the Afternoon with a fresh Gale at NbW, I steard away ESE, and between 4 and 5 we were fair by three Islands as they then appeard; being all flatt on the Top, and covered with Snow, milk white, with perpendicular Cliffs all round them, they had this appearance, and bearing [*]


The greate hight of them made us conclude them land, but there was no appearance of any tree or green thing on them, but the Cliffs as well as the topps were very white, our people calld A by the Name of Beachy head, which it resembled in form and colour, and the Island B in all respects was very like the land of the Northforeland in Kent, and was as least as high and not less than five Miles in Front, The Cliffs of it were full of Blackish Streaks which seemed like a fleete of Shipps Standing out to us. Wind blowing fresh, and night in hand, and because our vessell is very leewardly, I feard to engage with the Land <or Ice> that night, and haveing Steard in as farr as I durst, I resolved to Stand off and on till day, when weather permitting I would send my boat to see what it was. In the night it proved foggy, and continued so till this day at noon, when by a clear glare of Scarce ¼ of an hour we saw the Island wee calld beachy head very distinctly to be nothing elce but one body of Ice of an incredible hight, whereupon we went about Shipp and Stood to the Northward.

[2 Feb 1700, extract] We Stood to the Norward all day close hald, at night we tackt and Stood to the Southards to spend the dark. [B]etween 11 and 12 this day we were in eminant danger of loosing our Shipp among the Ice, for the fogg was all the morning so thick, that we could not See a furlong about us, when on a Sudden a Mountain of Ice began to appear out of the Fogg…this we made a shift to weather when another appeard more on head with severall peices of loose Ice round about it; this obliged us to Tack, and had we mist Stayes, we had most Certainly been a Shore on it, and we had not beene halfe a quarter of an hour under way when anothr mountain of Ice began to appear…which obliged us to tack again, with the like danger of being on Shore: but the Sea being smooth and the Gale Fresh wee got Clear: God be praised: This danger made my men reflect on the hazzards wee run…and of the inevitable loss of us all, in case we Staved our Shipp which might soe easily happen amongst these mountains of Ice in the Foggs, which are so thick and frequent there.

Gosh, I’m not surprised his crew began to reflect on the dangers of their situation!

We’re witnessing Halley and his crew seeing something – an iceberg – for the first time in their lives and they can’t quite grasp what it is they’re seeing. They initially think it’s land with high chalky cliffs, but then come to realise it’s nothing but ice. In a later letter, Halley says they couldn’t sound ground at 140 fathoms (≈840ft/256m) but, estimating their height at 200 feet [‡] and being aware that “not Above an Eight part” of floating ice appears above the surface, Halley cannot conceive that the ‘islands’ are floating and thinks they must be grounded.

A tabular iceberg (Jerzy Strzelecki/Wikimedia Commons)

A tabular iceberg (Jerzy Strzelecki/Wikimedia Commons)

Now I expect that many of you are like me and have rarely experienced total darkness. Last year I spent a few days on the Kent coast (on the North Foreland in fact) and was surprised by how dark it was looking out to sea when almost all the lights were extinguished. I could only see a few metres in front of the hotel (where there was some lighting), but beyond that, nothing but inky blackness.

This gave me some idea of what it must have been like on a seventeenth century ship in the middle of the ocean, how nothing would have been visible unless there was moonlight, and daytime visibility would have been little better in a thick fog. It must have been quite terrifying for Halley and his crew when these huge, white ‘mountains’ suddenly loomed out of the fog, dwarfing their little ship. It seems to me they were extremely lucky to escape the icebergs – and it’s a horrid thought that had they hit one, they would have all been lost and no-one would ever have known what happened to them.

But Halley’s one of those people who seems to make his own luck and the Paramore, while not yet out of danger, has made it through the worst and is heading now towards warmer climes.

[*] This is an indicative drawing by me of Halley’s original sketch; it is not identical.

[‡] This number is no longer clear in the letter (NA, ADM 1/1871) as the edge is frayed, but Thrower gives it as 200. We’ll take a look at the letter on the relevant date.

PLEASE NOTE: There’ll be a break of a few weeks in blog posts while I focus on writing essays for my course, but I’ll be tweeting Edmond’s log entries every day as usual @HalleysLog.

Fish or fowl?

I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of log entries from Halley that have left people mystified.

He was about 430km north west of South Georgia when he described his encounters with three sea creatures:

[27 Jan 1700, extract] All this Morning we have had a greate Fogg… and Sounded every two hours, apprehending my Self near Land; and the rather because yesterday and today severall fowls, which I take to be penguins, have passed by the Ship side, being of two sorts; the one black head and back, with white neck and breast; the other larger and of the Colour and siz of a young Cygnett, haveing a bill very remarkable hoocking downwards, and crying like a bittern as they past us. The bill of the other was very like that of the Crow, Both swam very deep, and allwais dived on our approach, either not having wings, or else not commonly useing them

[28 Jan 1700, extract] We have had Severall of the Diveing birds with Necks like Swans pass by us, and this Morning a Couple of Annimalls which some supposed to be Seals but are not soe; they bent their Tayles into a sort of a Bow thus IMG_8390 and being disturb’d shew’d very large Finns as big as those of a Large Shirk The head not much unlike a Turtles.

So Halley describes:

1. a bird he takes to be a penguin with a black head and back, white breast, and a bill like that of a crow; it swims deep, dives on the ship’s approach, doesn’t appear to fly, and has a neck like a swan

2. a second bird he also takes to be a penguin, larger than the first, the colour and size of a “young Cygnett”, it has a bill that hooks downwards, cries like a bittern, and also swims deep, dives on the ship’s approach, doesn’t seem to fly, and has a neck like a swan

3. an animal thought by the crew to be a seal but which Halley asserts is not. It bends its tail into a bow, has large fins like a shark and a head like a turtle

A turtle (via Wikimedia Commons)

A turtle (Wikimedia Commons)

What on earth are they?

My knowledge of natural history is as limited as Halley’s appears to be, though in his case we should remember he is probably seeing creatures he has no prior knowledge of and has to search for comparisons with which to describe them.

The first bird described does sound like a penguin, though the second seems more dubious. Colin Ronan suggested that the swan-like neck might refer to a king penguin as they have the “ability to stretch their necks quite considerably”, [1] but there’s another piece of information that appears after the voyage has ended that may make you doubt whether they’re actually penguins at all. We’ll take a look at that info in due course.

The other animal with the bow-tail, large fins and turtle’s head is very puzzling. Cook suggested a bottlenose whale, and Thrower apparently discussed the creature with a former Director of the Zoological Society of London, who proposed a bottlenose whale or dolphin. [2] Colin Ronan also considered a bottlenose whale or dolphin, but thought a killer whale to be the most likely. [3]

A killer whale and a seal (via Wikimedia Commons)

A killer whale and a seal (Wikimedia Commons)

It surprises me that Halley doesn’t use the word ‘whale’ or ‘whale-like’ to describe the animal, as I believe he would have known what whales look like (there’s a splendid 1665 report in the Philosophical Transactions about whale-fishing in Bermuda by seamen “resolved not to be baffled by a Sea-monster”), and also that he doesn’t mention its size: an adult bottlenose whale would be nearly half the length of Halley’s ship – worthy of comment, I would have thought. It also has a small dorsal fin, whereas Halley describes his creature as having large fins. The killer whale is also of a noteworthy size, while the bottlenose dolphin is smaller, and both of these do have a larger fin – but I’m not sure anyone would describe either as having a head like that of a turtle!

If any readers with expertise have suggestions as to what Halley’s creatures might be, do please enlighten us in the comments.


[1] Colin Ronan, Edmond Halley: Genius in Eclipse (London, 1970), p 179

[2] Alan Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998), p 277. Norman Thrower, The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the Paramore (London, 1981), p 160, note 1

[3] Ronan, p 179

Christmas at sea

Halley offers no clues in either of his logbooks as to how he spent Christmas; he’s anchored in Rio during Christmas on his second voyage and for all we know he and his crew could be having a beach barbecue and dancing the samba!

View of Sugarloaf Mountain from the Silvestre Road by Charles Landseer, c 1827. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

View of Sugarloaf Mountain from the Silvestre Road by Charles Landseer, c 1827. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We do have some idea of how a ship’s crew celebrated Christmas Day in the late seventeenth century from the highly entertaining Diary of Henry Teonge, which provides two accounts of Christmas spent on board a ship. [1]

Henry Teonge (1621-1690) was a Warwickshire clergyman with a wife and four children, who, probably owing to poverty and debts, went to sea as a Royal Navy chaplain in his mid-50s.

On his first voyage, Henry was entered as chaplain on board the fourth-rate frigate Assistance on 27 May 1675, under the command of Captain William Houlding; on his second, he served on board the Bristol under Captain Anthony Langston, transferring mid-voyage with his captain to the Royal Oak. He kept a diary of both voyages (May 1675-Nov 1676 and May 1678-Jun 1679) and it seems fair to say that the ageing Henry proved a natural-born seaman.

He was interested in all aspects of life on ship and in the places he visited, but his main interest – sensible man – was his belly, and his diary has numerous, highly-detailed reports of meals, including those he enjoyed on Christmas Day.

His first Christmas entry was for 1675:

Chrismas day wee keepe thus. At 4 in the morning our trumpeters all doe flatt their trumpetts, and begin at our Captain’s cabin, and thence to all the officers’ and gentlemen’s cabins; playing a levite at each cabine doore, and bidding good morrow, wishing a merry Chrismas. After they goe to their station, viz. on the poope, and sound 3 levitts in honour of the morning. At 10 wee goe to prayers and sermon; text, Zacc. ix. 9. Our Captaine had all his officers and gentlemen to dinner with him, where wee had excellent good fayre: a ribb of beife, plumb-puddings, minct pyes, &c. and plenty of good wines of severall sorts; dranke healths to the King, to our wives and friends; and ended the day with much civill myrth.

Not bad, but his second Christmas dinner (1678) seems even better, though it was not apparently as good as they had actually planned:

Good Chrismas Day. Wee goe to prayers at 10; and the wind roase of such a sudden, that I was forced (by Captain’s command) to conclude abruptly at the end of the Letany; and wee had no sermon. And soone after, by the carelessnes of som[e], our barge at starne [ie stern] was almost sunk, but recovered. Wee had not so greate a dinner as was intended, for the whole fleete being in this harbour, beife could not be gott. yet wee had to dinner, an excellent rice pudding in a greate charger, a speciall peice of Martinmas English beife, and a neat’s tounge, and good cabbige, a charger full of excellent fresh fish fryde, a douzen of wood-cocks in a pye, which cost 15d., a couple of good henns roasted, 3 sorts of cheese; and last of all, a greate charger full of blew figgs, almonds, and raysings; and wine and punch gallore, and a douzen of English pippens.

Wine and punch galore! One can’t help thinking that a Royal Navy ship was rather a good place for a destitute gourmet to spend his Christmas. But it was also a day of contrasting emotions for Henry, as his entry continues:

The wind was so high all this night, that wee ever expected when it would have broake our cable or anchor. But the greatest losse wee yet sustayned was this: about 11 or 12 a clock our honest Leiuetenant, Mr. Will. New, dyed, and left a mornfull ship’s company behind him. Yesterday our Capt. bought 3 Spanish hoggs: the ruffnes of the weather made them so sea sick, that no man could forebeare laughing to see them goe reeling and spewing about the decks.

As I said, we have no idea how Halley spent his Christmas but it seems a safe bet that the atmosphere was a lot friendlier on the second voyage than on the first, and so I hope they were as merry then as Henry and his brother seamen evidently were on his second voyage.

Wishing all our readers a Merry Christmas – and do go easy on those “minct pyes”!


[1] The Diary of Henry Teonge, Chaplain On Board His Majesty’s Ships Assistance, Bristol, and Royal Oak, Anno 1675 to 1679 (London, 1825). There is an online version here.

Halley’s second logbook

First, apologies for the lengthy gap since my last post; I’ve been unwell but I’ve been given a reboot and am currently back on deck and scampering up the rigging with the best of ‘em.

That’s me, but what about Halley? Well, he’s been sailing steadily southwards (well, SSE) since leaving St Iago (Santiago) in the Cape Verde Islands and reached Rio de Janeiro on December 14, where he’ll stay for two weeks. This section of his voyage, down to his most southerly latitude (which he’ll reach about the end of January), isn’t very eventful and so I thought this was a suitable time to take a look at his second logbook, which begins with this heading:

A Journal of a Voyage in his Ma:tis Pink ye Paramore intended for the Discovery of ye Variation of the Compass kept by Edmund Halley Commander anno 1699 & 1700

(I’ve written before about the correct spelling of Halley’s first name and that of his ship.)

Like the first logbook, the second is not written by Halley but presumably by his clerk, William Curtiss, and so again the spelling and abbreviations are the clerk’s and not Halley’s. The log is written on the same size (roughly 41cm high by 27cm wide) and type of paper as the first logbook and covers 53 sides (the first was 17 sides).

Unlike the first journal, the second is not signed at the end by Halley and it also differs slightly in structure. The first log included several tables of data, ranging from two days to forty-three, but the second has only two tables of eight and eleven days, and instead largely gives the data in prose, as in these two examples for 2 and 11 November 1699:

[2 Nov] By a very good observation I am in 7°.40′ North Latt: Since yesterday noon we have had the Winds from EbN to NEbE a fine gentle Gale; in the night we had much Lightning, but no Thunder. We have made our way S24°E Distance 73 Miles, Diffrence of Longitude 30′ East, My Long from Lon: 18°:57′ West

[11 Nov] By a good observation I am in Latt 2°.42′ We have had the wind mostly at SSE and have made our way good W38S. 62 Miles diffr of Long 48 Minutes Long West from Lon. 20°:37′ a Fine Gale and fair weather Saturday Morning and Evening I had a good observation of the Variation Morn Ampl[itude] 18°:50′ Even 21°:30′.

So at noon each day he records his latitude, the weather, his course, miles covered, difference of longitude from the previous day’s measurement, and his total longitude west from London. Most entries at sea include this basic information in this style, and a number of days include additional data (variation and amplitude) and anything out of the ordinary (such as birds flying around the ship). I’m rarely tweeting a full entry, usually the latitude, weather and any general information. I’ve also occasionally silently added some punctuation and have always rendered values as DD°MM’ regardless of how they appear in the log.

There is no overall ‘story’ to the second voyage, unlike the first with the hostility and court martial of Lieutenant Harrison. Halley is now focused on collecting his data and we’ll see what use he puts it to at the end of his voyage.

One thing I find surprising (and frustrating) is that he makes very few remarks about the places he visits and appears to show little interest in the lands or native inhabitants – and this leads me to wonder whether Halley might perhaps have kept a private journal?

His second logbook is very much a ship’s log rather than a natural philosopher’s journal, but as an active member of the Royal Society I would expect him to take an interest in a far wider range of topics with which he might entertain the Fellows on his return. [1] When Halley was at the Chester Mint, in the two years before his first voyage, he sent several reports back to the Society (a number of which were published in the Philosophical Transactions), so it seems strange that he would sail around the Atlantic and not make notes of events that would be likely to interest the Fellows. [2]

I haven’t encountered any suggestion of a private journal but we saw from the Society’s minutes that he collected botanical specimens on his first voyage, which was not indicated in his logbook, and there are similarly some unreported items that will appear at the end of this voyage, so a private journal or notes might perhaps have existed – and how much more interesting that would surely be for the general reader!

But there are some entertaining entries still to come in his official logbook, which will resume on 29 December when he leaves Rio for the southern latitudes and he and his crew encounter something none of them have ever seen before…


[1] Halley was elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 30 November 1678 but had to resign his fellowship when he became clerk in January 1686. He was re-elected FRS on 30 November 1700.

[2] These accounts from Chester published in the Phil Trans give some idea of the range of subjects Halley might report on: a dog born “per anum” and a Roman altar; two reports of a hailstorm here and here; a trip to Wales to try the Torricellian experiment; observations of a lunar eclipse.

Notice to readers

Just to let you know that a sudden medical issue means there’ll be a short gap in blog posts, although I should still be tweeting extracts from Halley’s logbook.

My next post was going to be about Edmond’s second logbook and I hope that will appear before Christmas, so do please check back in a couple of weeks.

Nothing much is happening on the voyage at present, Edmond’s sailing south off South America and recording data about the weather and his position. He’ll arrive in Rio in mid-December and stay for two weeks (he doesn’t make any log entries there) and things get a bit more interesting in late January when he and his crew start to see things none of them have ever seen before – so please stay with him for that!

Halley and the Principia

Aboard the Paramore today, it’s Halley’s 43rd birthday* and I thought I would celebrate it this year by writing about how I became interested in Edmond and the qualities that I like about him.

My interest began in the summer of 2010 when I visited the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary exhibition. I very much enjoyed the exhibition and it inspired me to read a couple of biographies of Isaac Newton, about whom I knew very little – but while I found Newton a fascinating character, it was Halley who stood out for me, because among such complex and difficult men as Newton, Hooke and Flamsteed, Halley shone out as well-balanced, well-adjusted and nice. [1]

His kindness and lack of envy at the achievements of others are, I think, most apparent in the part he played in the publication of Newton’s Principia and it’s that role that I’ll try to sketch today.

The story begins in January 1684 when the 27-year-old Halley met up with Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren and discussed the nature of celestial motions. Halley said he’d concluded that “the centripetall force decreased in the proportion of the squares of the distances reciprocally” (the inverse square law**) but that he’d been unable to prove it; Hooke affirmed the law and claimed that he had proved it, but Wren apparently didn’t believe him and so offered a book of 40 shillings to whoever was able to give him a convincing demonstration within the next two months.

The prize was never claimed, and in Halley’s case he may have given it little further consideration as he was shortly afterwards beset by several domestic crises. First, his younger brother Humphrey died abroad, then on March 5 his father went missing and five weeks later was found murdered on the banks of the Medway, then about the middle of March, Halley’s wife Mary gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, who was not to survive. [2] If all that wasn’t enough, Halley’s father died intestate and a legal war immediately broke out between Halley and his stepmother that would rumble on for almost fifteen years. In the circumstances, it was unlikely that Wren’s challenge was at the forefront of Halley’s mind.

However, in August 1684, while probably engaged on family business in the area, Halley remembered the celestial problem and decided to visit Isaac Newton in Cambridge, whom he’d met once before in London. After some pleasantries, he asked Newton what type of curve he thought would be described by the planets orbiting under the inverse square law, and Newton immediately replied it would be an ellipse – and that he had proved it. An astonished Halley asked to see the proof but Newton said he couldn’t find it but would redo the demonstration and send it to him.

Halley resumed his attendance at Royal Society meetings in November, having been absent during his domestic tribulations, and on December 10 reported that he’d seen Newton again in Cambridge, who had “shewed him a curious treatise, De Motu, which, upon Mr Halley’s desire, was, he said, promised to be sent to the Society to be entered upon their register.” This paper would develop into the three-book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica over the next 18 months, a period during which the Society was obsessed with the publication of De Historia Piscium (History of Fishes), an impressive but poorly-selling book by Willughby and Ray, and Edmond and Mary welcomed a new daughter Margaret into their world (April 1685).

On 27 January 1686 Halley was elected to the new post of clerk to the Royal Society, defeating 3 other candidates – including Hans Sloane – despite not meeting some of the specified criteria (he was not a single man without children, and didn’t reside in Gresham College where the Society met) but the Society had reserved the right to waive any of the qualifications should they wish to do so.

Now it used to be thought that Halley was in severe financial difficulties after the death of his father and that that was why he’d sought the subordinate post of clerk with a salary of just £50pa, but Alan Cook has shown that Halley had a moderate income of about £150-£200pa from his father’s estate, (Flamsteed’s salary as Astronomer Royal was £100 and Pepys’s £350 as Clerk of the Acts, though Halley also had children to support), and that his interest in the position probably derived more from his interest in the Society and its activities than in the attendant salary. [3]

So with Halley now employed as the Society’s clerk, the next we hear of the Principia is on 28 April 1686 when Dr Nathaniel Vincent presented “a manuscript treatise intitled, Philosophiae Naturalis principia mathematica” to the weekly meeting, where the Fellows agreed to refer consideration of printing the book to the next Council meeting. But the Council didn’t meet again when expected and so at a regular weekly meeting on May 19, the Fellows agreed to go ahead and print the Principia at the Society’s charge, a decision which may have been pushed through by Halley. This didn’t go down well with the Council, not least because the Society’s finances were reeling from the cost of De Historia Piscium, and at the next Council meeting on June 2 we read:

It was ordered, that Mr Newton’s book be printed, and that Mr. Halley undertake the business of looking after it, and printing it at his own charge, which he engaged to do.

so the ‘lowly’ clerk has to foot the bill!

It says much about Halley’s admiration for Newton’s work and his recognition of its importance that he agreed to pay the cost of publication (and edit, print and promote it), especially as it meant neglecting his own concerns and jeopardising his employment at the Royal Society. One wonders what Mary Halley thought about the matter? I said in a previous post that I tend to think of Mary as being very supportive of Edmond and it’s these events I had in mind as it strikes me as improbable that Halley could have acted as he did without Mary’s support.

In any event, Halley’s troubles had barely begun: in April, his stepmother had taken him back to court over the settlement of his father’s estate, and at the Council meeting (on June 16) following the one where he was ordered to pay the cost of printing the Principia, his employment as clerk was challenged on the grounds that he didn’t meet the qualification that the clerk be single and without children. The challenge was dismissed by the Council since the Society had chosen to dispense with that requirement at the time of his election in January.

This attempt to remove him may have been because he was considered to have overreached himself in apparently bouncing a regular meeting of the Society into agreeing to print Newton’s book – or it may have been launched by Robert Hooke as the Newton-Hooke priority dispute was by now well underway, and Hooke would have been unhappy with Halley’s support of Newton.

The priority dispute and handling the temperamental Newton (and Hooke) was another problem that Halley had to contend with. After the presentation of the Principia in April, the Fellows adjourned to a coffeehouse where Hooke claimed that Newton had taken the idea of the inverse square law from him. Halley, who seems to have grasped Newton’s personality very early on, was concerned that he might hear an overly dramatic account of Hooke’s claim from another source and so wrote himself to Newton on May 22 giving a diplomatic report of the situation. Newton replied quite calmly on May 27 setting out what he recalled of his correspondence with Hooke, and then wrote again with further particulars on June 20.

But the ink was barely dry on that letter when what Halley had most dreaded, now occurred, and another Fellow gave Newton an incendiary account of Hooke’s behaviour and Newton duly exploded. He returned to his June 20 letter and added a postscript lambasting Hooke and threatening to suppress the third book of the Principia, its most important section and principal selling-point. Halley then wrote a masterly reply, judiciously constructed to pacify Newton and save the third book, which so far achieved its intention that Newton “wish[ed] I had spared ye Postscript in my last [letter]“.

Back at the Royal Society, Halley still wasn’t safe in his job. The June attempt to remove him had failed, but on 29 November 1686 we read that:

It was resolved, that there is a necessity of a new election of a clerk in the place of Mr Halley, and that it be put to the ballot, whether he be continued or not.

And at the next Council meeting of 5 January 1687, a committee was selected to examine the books and Halley’s performance – which reported on 9 February that the books and papers were “in a very good condition, and the entries made according to order”.

Shortly afterwards, Halley received a letter from Newton saying that he’d been “told (thô not truly) that upon new differences in ye R. Society you had left your secretaries place”, and Halley replied that all was well (!) but that “6 of 38, last generall Election day, did their endeavour to have put me by”. Halley then promised to do nothing else until Newton’s book was finished and on March 7 he wrote to say he now had a second printer at work on book 2 and that he would engage a third to print book 3 “being resolved to engage upon no other business till such time as all is done: desiring herby to clear my self from all imputations of negligence, in a business, wherin I am much rejoyced to be any wais concerned in handing to the world that that all future ages will admire”. Though happily his first printer was able to print book 3, having finished book 1 by that time, and on 5 July 1687 Halley wrote to inform Newton that the Principia was finally ready.

But Halley’s contribution didn’t stop there: he promoted the book to his correspondents in advance of publication; he composed an introductory Latin ode to the work; he reviewed it (anonymously) in the Philosophical Transactions; he distributed presentation copies (at his own cost) to key individuals; and he sent a presentation copy to King James II, accompanied by an essay written by himself on Newton’s theory of the tides, a subject carefully chosen by Halley to appeal to James, a former Lord High Admiral.

With his family misfortunes, his legal disputes, his work as clerk, his fight to retain his employment, his reading, editing and overseeing the printing of the Principia, and his management of the volatile Newton, Halley must have been under great strain throughout this period, yet he betrays no hint of that in his correspondence – although he did fail in one undertaking as he had no time to publish the Philosophical Transactions, which at that time provided a source of income for Halley.

So did Edmond receive any reward from the Royal Society for his hard work and the credit accruing to them from his publication of the Principia? After several applications by him to have his salary confirmed and paid (he’d received nothing after 18 months), on the 6 July – the day after the Principia was completed – the Council agreed to pay Halley a bonus of £20 in addition to the promised annual salary of £50, the whole amount to be paid to him … in the form of 70 unsold copies of De Historia Piscium, the very book that had prevented the Society from publishing Newton’s book in the first place. I doubt that Halley appreciated the irony.

Happy birthday, Edmond!

RS_9284 copy

Edmond Halley in his early 30s (the inscription is a later addition). This is how Halley would have looked around the time he was publishing Newton’s Principia. (© The Royal Society Image RS.9284)

* Halley’s birthday is 29 October (OS) or 8 November (NS)

** In essence, if two bodies move apart by 3 units the gravitational attractive force between them decreases by 9, if by 4, then by 16


[1] It should be noted that this was my early impression of Halley, I’ve encountered some less impressive behaviour since then, which may form the subject of next year’s birthday post.

[2] The date of Humphrey’s death isn’t known but is generally given as 1684 as Halley applied for administration of his estate in autumn of that year, and he is known to have died before their father. Katherine was baptised on 27 March 1684 but again the date of her death isn’t known, though she had certainly died by 1688 when the name was used for another daughter. If she died shortly after birth, it may be that Halley lost his brother, father and daughter in the space of a few weeks.

[3] The assessment of Halley’s income from his father’s estate can be found in: Alan Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998), Appendix 3

All references to Royal Society minutes are taken from: Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London…, Vol IV (ECCO print edition)

All quotations from Newton-Halley correspondence are taken from: HW Turnbull (ed), The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, Vol II (CUP, 2008 edition)