Back in the Thames

On 2 October, Halley wrote a short letter to Josiah Burchett, advising that he had arrived back in the Thames and requesting permission to come up to London to give the Lords of the Admiralty a report of his Channel voyage.

In the next post – which will probably appear in November* – we’ll conclude the third voyage by looking at Halley’s results. 

Paramore Pink in Long reach

Octob 2. 1701

Honoured Sr

Finding the season of the year too far lapsed to ride at anchor in the Channell; in persuance of their Lopps orders, I came into the River of Thames last night, and am at present moored in this place, where I waite their Lopps farther pleasure, hoping they please to allow me the Liberty to waite on them to render them an account of my Summers Expedition.

I am

Your Honours most obed:t Serv:t

Edm: Halley


C19 image of Thames reaches from the sea to Woolwich (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

* Postscript: In fact, the concluding post for this voyage will probably be delayed until after I’ve finished my dissertation in January as I’m very pressed for time at present.


[1] Halley to Burchett, 2 Oct 1701, TNA, ADM 1/1872

Halley’s third logbook

I said at the start of this Channel voyage that I wouldn’t be live-tweeting the logbook as I’d done for Halley’s two Atlantic voyages, as I felt the high proportion of technical data would be of little interest to the general reader. That was a pity as the third logbook is the only one handwritten by Halley, and so from that point of view it’s an interesting document.

In fact I did tweet a few entries at the start of the voyage and I’m doing so again now at the end as these entries contain more general information – but to give you a flavour of the main substance of the log, here’s a typical entry in which Halley records soundings and the times and lunar positions of the tides:

[Sat, June 21] about 9h in the Morn I weighd and stood off to Sea, with a gentle gale of ENE wind, and about One after noon came to an anker in 18 fath. the Ness Light baring NNW; and Calis cliff ENE. here the westward tide was done at 5h.35′, or three hours and half before the Moons Southing. whence I concluded the course of the Tides here the same as at the Ness. viz that a II½ Moon ends the Eastern Tide. at 6h I weighd and stood to the eastward with a small gale of SSW wind, and about 9h fell with the West end of the Riprapps which is a narrow rigd of soft sand. I crost it severall times in 9, 8 and 7 fath and the Eastern tide being near done, I came to an anker in that depth the Ness light baring WNW and that of the South Foreland NbE p[er] Compass. here I rode two tides and found the Eastern tide done on a SW or NE Moon nearest. that it flowed about three fath. that it runs half tide here as by the Shore and that the Sett of the Stream is nearest NE and SW.

We’ll consider the purpose of this data when we look at the results of the voyage, but in this post I want to focus on what I like to call The Mystery of Halley’s Clerks.

Now that remark may excite expectations that this post will struggle to satisfy for this is not a tale of clerks going to sea and mysteriously disappearing, but rather a puzzle about what exactly the clerks did on the voyages – why, for example, was the third logbook written up by Halley and not by his clerk?

The clerk on the third voyage was one Richard Pinfold, who was the only person besides Halley to sail on all three voyages. On the two Atlantic voyages Pinfold was listed as captain’s servant, but on the third voyage he was said to have been captain’s clerk, and so I wondered whether he might have been a servant in Halley’s own household and been promoted to clerk as a ‘reward’ for going on the first two voyages, with Halley effectively covering the job himself. However, the manuscript pay and muster books show that Pinfold was actually entered as gunner’s mate and that the post of captain’s clerk was later interposed in the pay book beneath gunner’s mate. Pinfold was paid a salary as both gunner’s mate (£5 8s 6d) and captain’s clerk (£1 12s 11d), and the small wage paid to him as clerk suggests he performed that job for only a short time, and we know he wrote neither the logbook nor Halley’s letters.

The logs of the two Atlantic voyages weren’t written up by Halley, so they must’ve been written up by his clerks… well, possibly, but possibly not. There’s no immediate reason to doubt that the log of the first voyage was written by the clerk, Caleb Harmon, but the log of the second voyage is more of a puzzle. Halley wrote all his own letters to the Admiralty on both voyages, except for two on the second, and you might expect these to have been written by the clerk, William Curtiss, but they are in a different hand from that of the logbook. My first thought was that Curtiss perhaps fell ill with the “Barbadoes desease” at the same time as Halley, and so another crew member wrote them – but the two rogue letters (which are in the same hand) were written on 30 March and 8 July, either side of the period of sickness in late May, and the July letter states specifically that “we are a very healthy ship” at present. Why then did someone else write the letters, more than three months apart, and why did that person not receive extra pay as Pinfold did on the third voyage? Or why did Curtiss write the letters but not then the logbook?

The person who wrote the first logbook isn’t straightforward either. From the start of this project I’d been surprised at how neat and uniform the logs were and wondered whether they’d actually been written during the voyage or after the ship’s return to London, but then found that other logbooks were similarly neat and so thought that clerks might make draft notes and then write them up neatly while at anchor or in calm seas.

The idea of draft notes fits with a comment made by Alexander Dalrymple in an advertisement for his 1773 publication of Halley’s two Atlantic logs that

The Journal of Dr. Halley’s first Voyage is written on sundry scraps of paper, and some parts repeated in different places, and so blended that it was a very difficult matter to make it out intelligibly…

Dalrymple, who borrowed (and seemingly failed to return) these “scraps of paper” from the Board of Longitude, doesn’t mention whether the handwriting on the scraps was Halley’s or someone else’s, which is a pity as that might tell us something about how that logbook was compiled. A further curiosity is that Dalrymple seems to have been unaware of the existence of fair copies of the two logbooks (now in the British Library), and his published version of the second log was evidently compiled from another source, as there are discrepancies between the two. So what was the source for the second log used by Dalrymple, and who wrote it? And when were the fair copies of the two journals written?

These “sundry scraps of paper” also suggest a new spin on the warning given to Halley by Josiah Burchett at the end of the second voyage. Burchett wrote to Halley in Deptford, giving him permission to leave his ship to call on their lordships in London, “only lett mee give you this Caution, To have ye Books in readinesse”. Now I’d previously assumed this warning was intended to help Halley overcome the misgivings felt by some of their lordships about his handling of the prematurely-terminated first voyage* by making sure he was properly prepared when he met them, but now I wonder if it instead implies that Halley had previously displeased their lordships by returning from that voyage with only “scraps of paper” for his journal, and only had it written up on his return.

So while I think the mysteries surrounding Halley’s clerks might not rival And Then There Were None for excitement, they certainly seem to form a Problem at Sea.

* If you didn’t follow the first voyage, click on the tag for Edward Harrison to read about Halley’s problems with Lt Harrison and other officers.

Paramore pink at Spithead

On 13 September 1701, Halley wrote again to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, advising that he had arrived in Spithead two days earlier to “recruite” new provisions from the Victualling Office at Portsmouth, and claiming with characteristic optimism that he had succeeded in his project “beyond my expectation”.


Chart of Spithead by William Heather, 1797; Spithead is the channel north-east of the Isle of Wight (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Paramore pink at Spithead Sept 13 1701

 Honoured Sr

These may serve to acquaint you that having observed the Course of the Tides in the Western part of the Channell, and my provision being almost spent, I came in here on the 11th Instant to recruite, and yesterday I received a months provision, with which I am going this morning to saile, to observe some particulars, which the circonstances of the Winds would not suffer me to do as I past down. I am in hopes I shall be so fortunate as to please their Lopps in this Summers Expedition, wherin I have discovered, beyond my expectation, the generall rule of the Tides in the Channell; and in many things corrected the Charts therof. Before this Months provision expires the winter season will oblige me to return, hoping from Yr Honour a favourable acceptance of the endeavours of

Honr:d Sr

Your most obedt Servt

Edm. Halley


[1] Halley to Burchett, 13 Sept 1701, TNA, ADM 1/1872

Halley writes from Dartmouth

On 23 August, Halley followed up his 29 July letter informing Burchett of his activities in the eastern part of the Channel with a report of his work in the western section. We learn that Halley continued to be hampered by the weather, but what I particularly like is that the letter provides another instance of Halley showing concern for his men by noting that the continual weighing of anchor was hard physical labour for an under-manned crew.

The south-east coast of England showing Lizard Point (red pin) and Start Point (purple), with Halley’s location at Dartmouth further along the coast at north-west.

The south-east coast of England showing Lizard Point (red pin) and Start Point (purple), with Halley’s location at Dartmouth further along the coast to the north-west.

Paramore pink at Dartmouth

Aug 23 1701

Honoured Sr

By my last of July 29 from Spitthead I gave you an account that I had carefully observed the Course of the Tides in the Eastern part of the Channell of England; Since then I have lost no opportunity, in order to do the like for the Western part, and I have ankered all along the English Coast in the Offing as far as the Lizard, and from thence inn the midd Channell, and over to Ushant, where I was the last week. The frequent weighing ankers in so deep water has been very hard service to my small company, but the greatest difficulty I find, is from the frequent gales of Wind, which, (especially without the Start) raise the Sea to that degree that there is no riding, and which, in this month of August, have forced me four severall times into Harbour. I waite here for an opportunity of smooth weather, to anker in severall places between the Start and the Sept Isles; wherby I shall be able to compleat the Sett of observations necessary to the description of the Tides in the Offing; of which I cannot find any of our books to give a tollerable account. When I return from the French coast, I entend to putt in to Spitthead, to receive any farther orders their Lopps may think proper for me. With my humble duty to their Lopps I remain

Your Honrs most obed:t servant

Edm. Halley


[1] Halley to Burchett, 23 Aug 1701, TNA, ADM 1/1872

Instructions for Halley’s third voyage

In a previous post, we read Halley’s letter to the Lords of the Admiralty proposing a new voyage to make “an exact account of the Course of the Tides on and about the Coast of England”, which he claimed would be “a work of generall Use to all Shipping”. Their lordships quickly approved his proposal, and Halley set sail on his third voyage on 14 June 1701 – but what exactly was he doing? Here’re the Admiralty’s instructions:

Whereas his Maj[es]ties Pink the Paramour, is particularly fitted out and Putt under your Command that you may proceed with her, and observe the Course of the Tydes in the Channell of England, and other things remarkable, You are therefore hereby required and directed to proceed with the Said Vessell, and use your utmost care and Diligence in observing the Course of the Tydes accordingly, as well in the Midsea as on both shores; As alsoe the Precise times of High and Low Water of the Sett and Strength of the Flood and Ebb, and how many feet it flows, in as many, and at such certaine places, as may Suffice to describe the whole. And whereas in many places in the Channell there are Irregular and halfe Tydes you are in a particular Manner to be very carefull in observing them.

And you are alsoe to take the true bearings of the Princip[a]l head Lands on the English Coast one from another, and to continue the Meridian as often as conveniently you can from side to side of the Channell, in ord[e]r to lay downe both Coast truly against one another.

And in case dureing your being employed on this Service, any other Matters may Occur unto you, the observing and Publishing whereof may tend towards the Security of the Navigation of the Subjects of his Maj[es]tie or other Princes tradeing into the Channell you are to be very carefull in the takeing notice thereof: And when you Shall have p[er]formed what Service you can, with relation to the particulars before menc[i]o[n]ed, you are to returne with the Ship you Command into the River of Thames, giving Us from time to time an Account of your Proceedings Dated this 12° June 1701 [1]

These instructions can be summarised as:

  • to make observations of the behaviour of the tides in the Channel and along the English and French coasts
  • to take bearings that will allow the French and English coasts to be correctly situated north-south from one another
  • to take note of anything else that might lead to safer navigation in the Channel for traders

The first two points were copied almost verbatim from a letter of Halley’s dated the previous day (11 June), but the third point was added by the Admiralty, and it’s been suggested that it might represent an order for Halley to gather intelligence from French waters as the two countries slid towards war. [2] That idea has been given ballast by a 1693 diary entry made by Hooke, when Halley and business partner Thomas Jett were engaged in a salvage operation, that “Hally and Jed [were] Spys”. [3]

Now I have to admit that I’m far from indifferent to this notion of Halley as a secret agent but, like Alan Cook, I’m not wholly convinced by the idea in respect to his present voyage: the Admiralty instructions clearly refer to publishing Halley’s information and they express a concern with the safety of traders of all nations operating in the Channel.

A philosophical James Bond? (© Royal Society, ID xxx)

A philosophical James Bond? (© Royal Society, Image ID RS.9284)

That said, Halley’s earlier surveying activities do seem rather surprising, for example, he was apparently surveying the Thames approaches in early 1689, during the politically-sensitive aftermath of the so-called Glorious Revolution. I’ve started to trawl through the government archives to see if I can unearth anything that indicates whether he was ever employed on intelligence work, but I’ve encountered nothing as yet – though I’ll be sure to reveal such state secrets here if I do!


[1] National Archives, ADM 2/27, pp 131-2.

[2] See Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998) pp 285-6, but note that Cook refers to a published mistranscription of Hooke’s remark.

[3] Hooke, Diary, 24 March 1693, British Library, Sloane MS 4024.

Halley writes from Spithead

Alas, I’ve been obliged to neglect Captain Halley recently, as I’m horribly behind with work for my MA. I had intended to write a post on the Instructions given to him by the Admiralty before I published this letter, but I’m afraid that post will have to wait – although I hope Halley’s letter, sent from Spithead, will still be of interest to readers.

As usual, the letter’s addressed to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, and in it, Halley informs Burchett of his proceedings to date and his progress (when weather permits!) in taking an account of the tides in the Channel. The “Warr” he refers to is the imminent War of the Spanish Succession.

Ships at Spithead, 1797 (Source: Wikimedia Commons, NMM ID )

Ships at Spithead 1797 (Source: Wikimedia Commons, NMM ID PAJ2308)

Spitt head July 29 1701

Honoured Sr

In obedience to their Lopps orders, I have since I left the Downs on the 19th of June, endeavoured to gett as exact an account of the Tides in the Channell as possible, and have ankered all over it, from the Forland to Portland, and from Blackness to the Casketts on the French side: and I have been particularly curious in this part between the Isle of Wight and Portland and the French Coast against it, where I find the Course of the Tides very extraordinary, but which I think I can describe effectually. I have been of late putt from my business by hard gales of Wind which drove me in hither, but still hope by the end of the Summer to give their Lopps a full account of the whole Channell, if not interrupted by the breaking out of Warr, which I find is suddainly expected here. If their Lopps have any further orders for me, I shall call in at Plymouth for them, designing to saile hence as this day [sic], and to tide it down, if the weather permitt it.

I am

Your Honours most obedt servt

Edm. Halley


[1] Halley to Burchett, 29 July 1701, TNA, ADM 1/1872

Halley writes from the Downs

As we saw in my last post, Halley had a lot of trouble recruiting his complement of 25 men and by the morning of 14 June his crew numbered just 15 men, and it was only the arrival of a further four that enabled him to sail from Deptford that afternoon.

He arrived in the Downs on 16 June and two days later he sent a short letter to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, advising him of his arrival and that he expected to receive the four men that their lordships had ordered to be discharged to him during that night.

This brought his crew to 23 men, which included Halley, his surgeon (a man Halley had specifically requested), his clerk*, a cook (one Thomas Cook, natch), and five servants. Let’s hope that the cook – the only time someone was so-designated on any of Halley’s voyages – kept the regular seamen well-fed!

Halley refers to his sailing instructions in his letter, and we’ll take a look at those in my next post.

Downs June 18 1701 [1]

Hon:red Sr

I arrived in the Downs on Monday last, and have to day gotten an order from the Admirall for the four men their Lopps have appointed me here; They will be delivered me this night, and with them I shall be enabled to proceed according to their Lopps Instructions designing to sayle to morrow morning. I shall not fayle to give your Hon:r an account of my proceedings as occasion shall offer being

Your Hon:rs most obed:t Servt

Edm. Halley 

Extract (written by Halley) from the Muster Book showing the four men entering Halley's service on June 19. (TNA, ADM )

Extract (in Halley’s hand) from the Paramore‘s Muster Book showing the four men (20-23) entering Halley’s service on June 19 in the Downs. (TNA, ADM 36/2386)

* It’s debatable whether anyone served as his clerk, as we’ll see in a future post.


[1] Halley to Burchett, 18 June 1701, TNA, ADM 1/1872