Halley and his crew

Halley’s next letter to the Admiralty Secretary, Josiah Burchett, is dated 28 October 1699 from St Iago in the Cape Verde Islands – and it contains some very good news:

(Halley to Burchett, dated 28 October 1699 from St Iago, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

These are to acquaint you, that I left the Downs on the 27th past, and on the 12th Instant was got into the Latitude of Madera, where the wind shifting from NW to NNE, put me to Leeward of the Island, and I thought it not adviseable to beat to windward so much in the way of the Salleteens. So I made the best of my way to these Islands and arrived here the 25th about Noon. I have already filled all my water, and this morning saile to the Southwards; my ships company is all well and my Officers as forward this time to serve me, as they were backward the last, so that I now proceed with great satisfaction, and hope to see the limits of my Voiage before the New year.

I am

Your Honours most obedt Sert

Edm. Halley

Hurrah, his officers are eager to serve him and his crew are all fit and well! This must have been quite a relief for Halley after the difficulties with some of his officers on the previous voyage.

It’s interesting to note that of the first eight names entered for this voyage on 24 August (including Halley’s), all but the boatswain had been on the first voyage, and I take this to indicate that those men had not been unhappy with Halley as their commander on that voyage. [1]

There seems to be much misinformation in circulation about the crew’s attitude to Halley on the first voyage. There were rumours at the time that the crew had been ready to turn pirate and I’ve seen a recent work that asserts the officers were court-martialed for mutiny – but neither claim is true, as we’ve seen by looking at the original documentation.

I see Halley’s difficulties in mundane terms, akin to office politics: one grudge-bearing individual set on making trouble, others making common cause with him because they resent their over-educated but under-experienced boss, the rest either taking sides or trying to ignore the bickering and get on with their work.

But for Halley, that’s now all in the past as he has a willing crew and is heading south in great contentment.


[1] See National Archives, Pay Book, ADM 33/206. The first 8 people entered were Halley, the new boatswain, the carpenter, the captain’s servant and 4 seamen. Two others from the first voyage were entered by the end of August, and of these ten, 2 ordinary seamen were released before departure. The total complement for the second voyage was 24.


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