Halley’s new boatswain

In my last post I mentioned there had been a number of letters passing between Halley and the Admiralty since he returned from his first voyage. Mostly these letters dealt with mundane matters, but here’s one that’s a little more out of the ordinary.

(Halley to Burchett, dated 4 September 1699, National Archives ADM 1/1871 – extract)

Honoured Sr

The Paramour Pink is at present in such a forwardness, that I hope to be ready to saile in a Weeks time… And wheras their Lopps have been pleased to appoint me a Boatswaine with one Arm, who by consequence can be of little service in case of extremity, I am obliged to begg the succour of 3 or 4 men more; which as I content my self with a Mate only, will be born on the Shipp with the same charge as in the former Voiage, when I had a Lieutenent allowed me.

I am

Your Honours most obedt Servt

Edm. Halley

Now I know it sounds quite funny, a one-armed boatswain – especially the way Halley phrases it (“wheras their Lopps have been pleased to appoint”) – but in fact this represents rather decent behaviour by the Admiralty, in that they sought to reassign men who had been gravely injured during service to less physically demanding positions to keep them in paid employment.

Most commonly such wounded men were employed as cooks, and the earliest reference I found to Halley’s new boatswain, William Brewer, was to his serving as cook on board the Archangel. From there he moved to HMS Looe in 1696, again as cook, and in 1697 he was promoted to master cook aboard the Fowey, remaining there until appointed boatswain and gunner of the Paramore in August 1699. [1]

IMG_7739 - Version 2

Warrant for William Brewer to be “Boatswaine & Gunner of his Ma:tys Pinck ye Paramour” (© National Archives (£), ADM 6/6, f.10r)

I do wonder why “their Lopps” decided to appoint this one-armed cook as Halley’s boatswain but they did at least accede to his request for extra men, increasing his ship’s complement by four.

Still, as long as this boatswain is more co-operative towards Halley than the last, I expect Halley will be content.


[1] I looked through numerous documents at the National Archives in the hope of discovering how William Brewer received his injury but didn’t come across anything. I thought he might’ve served as a boatswain before losing his arm but found no records of warrants for him in that role. Copies of the warrants listed above are in ADM 6/3-6.