RIP Manley White

On 14 October 1699, Halley made this entry in his logbook:

Yesterday betweene 3 and 4 in the afternoone my poor Boy Manley White had the misfortune to be drowned, falling over board. We brought the Shipp immediately a Stays, and hove out an Oar, but the Sea being high and the ship haveing fresh way wee lost Sight of him, and cou’d not Succor him

We don’t know very much about cabin boy Manley White; he wasn’t a member of Paramore‘s initial crew but was one of the four men added at Halley’s request after he was assigned a one-armed boatswain, William Brewer. Manley (or Manly) is described in the muster book as a captain’s servant. [1]

Perhaps this was Manley’s first voyage and his inexperience led to his accident? Whether or not it was his first trip, I can’t help picturing a teenaged boy excited at his last-minute appointment to a voyage of discovery commanded by the famous mathematician, Captain Halley – but just four weeks later poor Manley was dead.

His father collected the wages due to him, which prompted me to think about the impact of his death on his family. We don’t know if his mother was alive, or if he had siblings, or whether his was a happy family, but possibly his family sent him off full of hope for a naval career, and then their next news was that the young man had drowned.

In his memoir of his time at sea, the nineteenth-century American lawyer and writer, Richard Henry Dana, gave some insight into how a sailor’s death affects the crew:

Death is at all times solemn, but never so much as at sea. A man dies on shore; his body remains with his friends… but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost, there is a suddenness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it, which give it an air of awful mystery… the man is near you – at your side – you hear his voice, and in an instant he is gone, and nothing but a vacancy shows his loss. [2]

Halley gives only the barest detail of Manley’s death in his log but the Biographia Britannica tells us that it stayed with Edmond throughout his life:

In speaking of this voyage, he [Halley] has been heard to say… he had the good fortune not to lose a single man of his company by sickness, which, no doubt, must be owing in a great measure to the extraordinary care he took of them, and to that humanity, which was a distinguishing part of his character. However this happiness was dashed with the misfortune of losing a favourite boy, who by some unlucky accident was thrown over board and drowned, and the captain was so deeply affected with the loss, that during his whole life afterwards he never mentioned it without tears. [3]

Manley White spent just four short weeks on Halley’s voyage, but he was long-remembered by his captain. Rest in peace, Manley.


[1] National Archives, Muster Book, ADM 36/2386

[2] RH Dana, Two Years Before the Mast (Kindle edition) Chap VI

[3] Biographia Britannica, Vol IV (1757) p 2502 note O

2 thoughts on “RIP Manley White

  1. Thanks Kate, another interesting post; there is a sadness, very apparent, in his log entries over the death of his cabin boy. I can feel for him as my sister Helen died yesterday at 81 after a long illness. Meanwhile I am following your fascinating posts with great interest and almost feel like I’m looking over Haley’s shoulder through your efforts.

    • Thanks, Bob – and condolences for your loss.

      We (well, I) have to be careful not to use too much imagination in extrapolating from so few facts, but I do think Halley’s response tells us something about both Halley and Manley. Namely, that Halley was a compassionate man and that his fondness for Manley suggests he was a ‘nice’ boy, eager to please, with a distraught father collecting his dead son’s wages.

      A death at sea wasn’t so rare, but this one death on our little ship does focus one’s mind on details such as how and when a family would learn of a death and how it must have been particularly upsetting to discover that unknown to you, a relative had been dead for weeks or perhaps months.

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