The Boatswain

Halley doesn’t often write about what’s happening aboard the Paramore, about his interactions with his crew, but on the few occasions that he does, it hints at the unpleasantness he is experiencing and which we’ll hear rather more about at the end of the voyage.

One of these occasions is on 18 February 1699, and it brings to an end the longest tabulated section of his logbook. Halley writes:

This Morning between two and three looking out I found that my Boatswain who had the Watch, Steard a way NW instead of W (we now baring down W. for the Iseland of Fernando Loronho) I conclude with a designe to miss the Iseland, and frustrate my Voyage, though they pretended the Candle was out in the Bittacle, and they could not light it.

Halley’s boatswain was called John Dodson and there are records to show he served as gunner on a ketch, the Quaker, and then as gunner on the Joseph until August 1698 when he was appointed boatswain and gunner on the Paramore.

A boatswain was a warrant officer in charge of sails, rigging, cables and the like, who generally began as an ordinary seaman but who would have sufficient education to be able to account for stores and make written reports to the Navy Board.

Dodson was thus a man of basic education who had probably been at sea since his early youth, a very different type of man from Halley, the Oxford-educated, property-owner’s son. It’s not too difficult to imagine Dodson being resentful of the natural philosopher’s command of the ship – though it does seem surprising that his resentment would run so high as to cause him to try to miss landfall when the ship is running out of water. I take it his purpose is to make Halley look incompetent and encourage the thirsty crew to blame the inexperienced Halley for their plight.

Halley certainly took an immediate dislike to Dodson on his appointment, as he was one of the officers who caused Halley to ask that his mate, Edward Harrison, be given the rank of lieutenant, the better to keep them in order – a disastrous request, as time will show…

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