Harrison’s grudge

At the court martial held on the morning of 3 July 1699, we saw that Halley effectively lost his case against his lieutenant, Edward Harrison, and other officers, as the court declared them not guilty, issuing only a severe reprimand.

Halley was none too pleased with this outcome and the next day put his view of events in a letter to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty.

I like this letter as I think it gives a good demonstration of Halley’s personality in the way it passes through a range of emotions but ends with an unchurlish acceptance that it is now up to him to prove himself to “their Lopps”. But the most important thing about the letter is that it finally reveals the reason for Harrison’s hostility towards him.

(Halley to Burchett, dated 4 July 1699 from the “Paramore pink riding in the Downes”, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

Yesterday at the Court Martiall I fully proved all that I had complained of against my Lieutenent and Officers, but the Court insisting upon my proof of actuall disobedience to command, which I had not charged them with, but only with abusive language and disrespect, they were pleased only to reprimand them, and in their report have very tenderly styled the abuses I sufferd from them, to have been only some grumblings such as usually happen on board small shipps. My Lieutenent has now declared that I had signally disobliged him, in the character I gave their Lopps of his Book, about 4 years since, which therfore, I know to be the cause of all his spight and malice to me, and it was my very hard fortune to have him joyned with me, with this prejudice against me. Howsoever their Lopps may resent it, I am sure that never any man was so used by a Lieutenent as I have been, during the whole term of the Voiage, nor could I any wais help my self when abroad: It remains for me to show their Lopps that as to the Principall business I went upon, my Voiage has not been ineffectuall, and I humbly hope they will suspend their censure till I can prepare for them the Theory of the Variation of the Compass and of the changes therof, for which I have now obtained a competent Stock of Materialls. I have my sailing Orders, but it blows so fresh at North that the pilote thinks not fitt to weigh.

I am

Your Honours most obedt. Servt

Edm. Halley

So the reason for Harrison’s animosity was that Halley gave his book a bad review!

Harrison’s book, Idea Longitudinis, was published in 1696 and offers his thoughts on methods of finding longitude at sea. He sent copies to the Admiralty and to the Royal Society – and remarkably, that copy is still in the Royal Society’s archives today.

The Royal Society's copy of Harrison's book, Idea Longitudinis

The Royal Society’s copy of Harrison’s book, Idea Longitudinis

The cover of Idea Longitudinis

The cover of Idea Longitudinis

The title page

The title page

The Royal Society’s copy has an inscription written by Harrison: “To The Royall Society of London this Small treatise entituled Idea Longitudinis is humbly presented by Edw: Harrison”.

Harrison's inscription

Harrison’s inscription

In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at Harrison’s book and consider whether Halley’s dismissal of it was justified.

(Many thanks to the Royal Society for kindly allowing me to show the above photographs.)

At the court martial

On Monday morning, 3rd July 1699, the court martial to examine the complaint of Captain Edmond Halley against Lieutenant Edward Harrison and other officers of the Paramore is held on board HMS Swiftsure with Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Admiral of the Blue, presiding:

(National Archives ADM 1/5261 f.35, dated 3 July 1699)

At a Court Martiall held abd: his Majties: Ship ye Swiftsure in ye Downes ye 3° July 1699


The Hon:ble Sr Clowdsly Shovell Kt: Admll of ye Blew.


[Captains]: Beaumont, Knapp, Haddock, Haugton, Jumper, Trevanion, Price, Wynn, Underdown, Elwes, Symonds

All duely Sworne pursuant to a late Act of Parliamt:

Enquiry was made into ye Complaint exhibited by Capt: Edmd: Halley Comander of his Majties Pink ye Paramour against Mr Edwd: Harrison Lt: & Mate & other Officers of ye Sd: Pink for Misbehaviour & Disrespect towards him their Comander. Upon a Strickt Examination into this Matter ye Court is of Opinion That Captain Halley has produced nothing to prove yt ye said Officers have at any time disobey’d or denyed his Comand thô there may have been some grumbling among them as there is generally in Small Vessels under such Circumstances & therefore ye Court does Accquitt ye Sd: Lt: Harrison & the other Officers of his Majties Pink ye Paramour of this Matter giving them a Severe reprimand for ye Same.

So Harrison found not guilty – but was this fair?

Was the civilian Halley over-sensitive to his officers’ behaviour as the court suggests? or did he fail to make his case adequately? or was the court perhaps prejudiced against him, the “philosophicall” captain?

I don’t think Halley was over-sensitive to Harrison’s behaviour (for a reason that will become apparent), but I do think his personality may have contributed to his difficulties. As a civilian captain and intellectual, he was always likely to have difficulty commanding the respect of his more experienced officers, and I think that probably needed a more authoritarian personality than Halley’s. Alan Cook describes him as a “masterful man” but I can’t say he comes across like that to me. [1] Cook knew far more about Halley than I do – so I may revise my opinion as I learn more – but Halley strikes me as someone who generally won people round by being pleasant and amiable towards them and I’m not sure he had strategies for dealing with people who weren’t amenable to that approach and who were determined to cause trouble – although he was certainly capable of standing up for himself.

The court ruled that Halley had failed to prove disobedience to, or denial of, his command, and as we’ll see tomorrow Halley didn’t actually accuse them of this – but I notice from looking through other reports of courts martial that “disobedience to command” often accompanied charges of disrespectful behaviour and so I wondered if Halley failed to make the most appropriate charge? In any event I would have thought he could have proved disobedience to command as his logbook details the event when Harrison tried to sail round the north end of Barbados, contrary to Halley’s orders, and then persisted in the course until Halley came on deck to remonstrate with him. [2]

But while I think that Halley’s kindly disposition was part of the problem and that he may not have presented his case as effectively as he would wish, I do wonder if the court may have been prejudiced against him. I don’t know the background of the captains but the president, Sir Cloudesley Shovell, had risen from cabin boy to flag officer and might perhaps have been more inclined to favour the sea-bred Harrison than the intellectual Halley? I take the remark “under such Circumstances” to be a reference to tarpaulins serving under an inexperienced commander and perhaps some of the court sympathised more with Harrison on that account? [3] However, when Halley saluted Admiral Benbow with “5 peices” at the start of his voyage, Benbow returned him the same number – which was a great compliment to the civilian Halley from a Rear-Admiral of the fleet.

But the most important fact that emerged this day was the existence of Harrison’s long-time grudge against Halley, which Halley will reveal in a letter the next day. His letter is ambiguous as to whether this came out during the court martial or just after; but if it came out during the trial then that strongly suggests the court was not as sympathetic towards Halley as I think his case merited, and if it came out afterwards, then Harrison was fortunate to be acquitted by a court that was unaware of all the relevant information.

So what was this grudge that lay behind Harrison’s voyage-long ill-behaviour towards Halley? Come back tomorrow and we’ll take a close look at that letter and find out…


[1] Alan Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998) p 317

[2] Many records of courts martial held at the National Archives include the depositions made by the main players and witnesses, but disappointingly none were present for Halley’s case; they would surely have provided a fascinating insight into what happened aboard the Paramore and the interplay between Harrison and Halley.

[3] I also noticed when looking through the courts martial reports that where the charge was disrespectful behaviour to a superior, the inferior officer would usually be required to apologise to the superior officer, so it seemed notable that Harrison wasn’t required to do this. Although he was acquitted, he did receive a severe reprimand and so an apology would have seemed in keeping with other reports.

The Admiralty acts on Halley’s letter

When Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, received Halley’s letter of June 23, he referred it to the Lords of the Admiralty and then communicated their Lordships’ opinion to Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Admiral of the Blue:

(Burchett to Shovell, dated 29 June 1699, National Archives ADM 2/26 p 34/extract)

Whereas Wee have recd. a Letter from Capt. halley Comandr. of his Ma:ties Vessell the Paramour Pink, complaining of Lieut. harrison, the officer which Acts as Mate and Lieutenant of the said Pink, a Copy whereof comes inclosed, Which Complaint Wee think fitting should be enquired into at a Court Martiall upon her arrivall in the Downes; You are therefore hereby reqd. and directed, to cause the same to be strictly enquired into and Tryed at a Court Martiall accordingly, for holding whereof You are Empowered by Our late Warrant to You.

So Halley will have his day in court – but will he have justice?

Halley writes a difficult letter

We’ve seen from Halley’s tweets of his logbook how he was forced to abandon his voyage because of the behaviour of some of his officers, especially that of his lieutenant, Edward Harrison.

Now he’s arrived back in English waters, he must write to the Admiralty to inform them of his early return and the reasons for it – and in this letter, he tells us rather more about his difficulties with Harrison than he put down in his logbook.

(Halley to Burchett, dated 23 June 1699 from “Plimouth”, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

I this day arrived here with his Ma:ties Pink the Paramore in 6 weeks from the West Indies, having buried no man during the whole Voiage, and the Shipp being in a very good condition. I doubt not but their Lopps will be surprized at my so speedy return, but I hope my reasons for it will be to their satisfaction. For as, this time, it was too late in the year for me to go far to the Southwards, I feared that if I went down to Jamaica, and so to Virginia &c. the same inconvenience of being late might attend me in case their Lopps, as I humbly hope, do please that I proceed again for I find it will be absolutely necessary for me to be clear of the Channell by the end of August or at farthest by the middle of September. But a further motive to hasten my return was the unreasonable carriage of my Mate and Lieutenent, who, because perhaps I have not the whole Sea Dictionary so perfect as he, has for a long time made it his business to represent me, to the whole Shipps company, as a person wholy unqualified for the command their Lopps have given me, and declaring that he was sent on board here, because their Lopps knew my insufficiency. Your Honour knows that my dislike of my Warrant Officers made me Petition their Lopps, that my Mate might have the Commission of Lieutenent, therby the better to keep them in obedience, but with a quite contrary effect it has only served to animate him to attempt upon my Authority, and in order therto to side with the said officers against me. On the fifth of this month he was pleased so grossly to affront me, as to tell me before my Officers and Seamen on Deck, and afterwards owned it under his hand that I was not only uncapable to take charge of the Pink, but even of a Longboat; upon which I desired him to keep his Cabbin for that night, and for the future I would take charge of the Shipp my self, to show him his mistake: and accordingly I have watcht in his steed ever since, and brought the Shipp well home from near the banks of New found Land, without the least assistence from him. The many abuses of this nature I have received from him, has very sensibly toucht me, and made my voiage very displeasing and uneasy to me, nor can I imagine the cause of it, having endeavoured all I could to oblige him, but in vain. I take it that he envys me my command and conveniencies on bord, disdaining to be under one that has not served in the fleet as long as himself, but however it be I am sure their Lopps will think this intollerable usage, from one who ought to be as my right hand, and by his example my Warrant Officers have not used me much Better; so that if I may hope to proceed again I must entreat their Lopps to give me others in their rooms.

Notwithstanding that I have been defeated in my main design of discovery, yet I have found out such circonstances in relation to the Variation of the Compass, and the method of observing the Longitude at Sea, (which I have severall times practised on board with good success) that I hope to present their Lopps with something on those articles worthy of their Patronage. I humbly entreat yr Honour to expedite my orders into the Downs, and if it be their Lopps pleasure, that the Shipp continue there for some time, they please to give me leave to come up to waite upon them to give them a fuller account.

I am

Their Lordshipps and Your Honours most obedient servt

Edm. Halley

Poor Halley! I can just imagine him full of enthusiasm at the start of his voyage for everything he intends to achieve but then realising almost immediately that he will be thwarted by his recalcitrant lieutenant.

That “very displeasing and uneasy to me” speaks of much anxiety for Halley – and he’s still unaware that Harrison has a particular grudge against him, though it won’t be too long now before he learns of it.

Halley’s ship, the Paramore Pink

Since my last post, Halley made the decision to sail to the West Indies in the hope of finding a flag officer who could permit him to change those officers who had been giving him trouble, including mate and lieutenant, Edward Harrison, and boatswain, John Dodson. But when he reached the West Indies he found he was unable to do this without returning to England and so decided to abandon his voyage and return to London to petition “their Lopps” (lordships) to allow him to sail on a new voyage with different officers. He set sail north towards “Bermudas”, and is now crossing the Atlantic on a north-east course towards England, which he should reach in about a month’s time.

But before Halley arrives back in English waters I thought we should take a closer look at his ship, Paramore, which has been his home since leaving London last October.

I’ve written before about why I’m using the spelling Paramore, but what type of ship was she? how large? and what did she look like?


Fisher Harding, Master Shipwright (© National Maritime Museum)

Paramore was a type of ship known as a pink, a square-rigged vessel with a narrow stern. She was built at Deptford dockyard by Fisher Harding, who had been Master Shipwright at Deptford since 1686. I don’t know why this type of ship was chosen, as pinks were apparently most suited to coastal and shallow waters and Halley’s original plan had been to sail round the world, but the most likely explanation is that pinks were capacious, providing proportionally large storage space, which would have been useful for a small ship that was expected to spend lengthy periods on the high seas.

The Admiralty ordered her construction on 12 July 1693 and she was completed by April 1694. Two entries in the Deptford Letter Book give specific information about her size and appearance. One tells us that she measured:

Length by the Keell                             52 ft: 00 ins

Breadth from out to out Side            18 ft: 00 ins

Burthen                                              89 Tuns

while the other entry details the dimensions of her yards and 3 masts (see below). [1]


Extract from Deptford Letter Book (© National Archives (£), ADM 106/3291)

Paramore was an unrated vessel but she was listed with the 6th Rates in the monthly Disposition of Ships (a record of the whereabouts of the King’s ships at the 1st of each month).

Benjamin Middleton, the intended financier when the voyage was first proposed, was to be “consulted with about the conveniencies to be made in her for Men and Provisions” and there are several references to discussions with Middleton about the ship before he disappears from the project, though I haven’t come across anything specific in terms of, say, the number and layout of cabins.

When Paramore was being fitted out for Halley’s eventual departure in October 1698, she was mounted with “Six three Pounders of about four hundred Weight Each” and “Two Pattereroes” (small guns in swivels) and allowed a complement of 20 men.

In his log and letters from the early part of his voyage, Halley wrote that Paramore “proves an excellent Sea boat in bad Weather” but that she is “very Leewardly” and “goes to windward but indifferently”. The bad weather “opened some leaks which are considerable for a new shipp”, and Halley had to have these repaired and the sand ballast, which choked the pumps, changed for shingle before he could depart from the English coast.

Yet despite these problems, I’ve become rather fond of Paramore, and my favourite mental image is of the little ship sailing in company with Admiral Benbow’s squadron from Portsmouth to Madeira and being towed along by the Falmouth (“took a small Pink in Tow”).

I mentioned before that although Paramore was built specifically for Halley’s voyage, he was not her first captain – and that remarkable person will be the subject of my next post.


Drawing reconstructing HMS Paramore from sources (© Hakluyt Society (£), from Thrower, The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley)


[1] National Archives, Deptford Letter Book, ADM 106/3291 11 Apr 1694 and 13 Oct 1693. By comparison, Benbow’s flag ship, Gloucester, measured 120 ft 4 ins (keel), 37 ft 5 ins (beam), 896 tons burthen, was mounted with 60 guns and had a complement of 278 men. (Sam Willis, The Admiral Benbow (2010) and NA ADM 8/6).

Mrs Mary Halley

On the 6 April 1699 a baptism is taking place at the church of All Hallows on the Wall on the northern perimeter of the City of London. The child – a boy – is named Edmond after his father, but his father – Captain Edmond Halley – is unaware of his son’s existence…

© Halley's Log

Boundary mark for St James’s Dukes Place, where Edmond and Mary were married in 1682 (© Halley’s Log)

Edmond Halley married Mary Tooke on 20 April 1682 at St James’s Dukes Place, a short walk from his father’s house in Winchester Street. The marriage took place less than 3 months after Halley returned from his Grand Tour and it isn’t known whether he and Mary were acquainted before he left, or if the marriage was arranged while he was abroad, or after his return, or whether Edmond or Mary had any involvement in the decision.

What is known, is that the marriage was a great success. They were married for almost 54 years until Mary’s death in 1736, which Edmond described as “the saddest day of my life” and that he had lived “in great contentment” with Mary. [1]

At the time of Edmond’s departure, they had two daughters, Margaret, born 1685, and Catharine, born 1688. The Biographia Britannica says they had several children who did not survive, but I have only found a record for one, Katherine, born while they were living in Islington, where they’d set up home after their marriage. [2]

There are very few glimpses of Halley’s personal life but those few give the impression of a close and happy family. Flamsteed describes a visit in 1712 by the entire Halley family at a time when relations between Halley and Flamsteed were at their nadir, and one senses the cheery Halleys working together to make the visit less of an ordeal for Edmond (and Flamsteed).

Halley’s gravestone, now set into a wall at the Greenwich Observatory, was erected by his daughters (his son had already died) and dedicated to Edmond and Mary as the “best of parents” (optimis parentibus) and all four are buried together, along with Catharine’s second husband, Henry Price.

Yet despite their long and happy marriage, Mary hardly makes an appearance in the written records. The Biographia Britannica describes her as “a young lady equally amiable for the gracefulness of her person and the beauties of her mind” but we know nothing else about her character or personality. [3]

In spite of this, it’s Mary I most often think of when reading Halley’s logbook. I tend to think of her as being the type of person who was very supportive of Edmond’s various projects – that’s speculation but even if it’s correct, she must have been gravely apprehensive about his voyage.

© Halley's Log

St Benet Paul’s Wharf, where Halley’s daughter Margaret was baptised in 1685 (© Halley’s Log)

Besides her concern for Edmond’s safety, she must have worried about what would happen to her and her two daughters if he didn’t return – and then shortly before Halley finally set sail, she found she was pregnant again – a hazardous event in itself.

We don’t know of any letters Edmond wrote to Mary from his ship, but he must surely have written at every opportunity to let her know he was safe and well. He was unable to write to the Admiralty between December and early April, and so presumably Mary had no word either and at the time of giving birth to their son, would not have known whether her husband was still alive. It must have been some sort of comfort to be able to name the child after Edmond.

And what of Halley’s own concerns for his family? We know he wrote a will shortly after the voyage was proposed and so was not blind to the fact he might not survive it, but I wonder how much consideration he gave to what would happen to his wife and young daughters if he didn’t return? I don’t doubt Halley would have been concerned for his family but I do wonder if his optimistic personality may have led him to underestimate the dangers of a long sea voyage.

Perhaps it’s more pleasing to reflect on the scene when Halley does return to his family: the relief of his wife, the joy of his daughters, his own delight at finding he has a son. For Mary, however, the relief will be short-lived as Halley will set off on his next voyage just two months after his return – and Mary Halley will have to spend another year wondering if she will ever see her husband again.


[1] The remarks by Halley about his wife are quoted in several books but I can’t locate the original source

[2] The spelling of Catharine’s name varies, ‘Catharine’ is used on the gravestone so I have opted for that. Biographia Britannica, Vol IV (1757) p 2517 note RR for the remark about his having several children. Catharine and Katherine were two different daughters as the latter was born before Margaret but Catharine is described as Halley’s younger daughter on the gravestone

[3] Biographia Britannica, Vol IV (1757) p 2500

Edmond Halley, pirate?

On 2 April 1699, Paramore anchors in Carlisle Bay, Barbados and on the 4th Halley writes to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, for the first time since leaving Madeira in December.

He gives an account of his voyage between Madeira and Barbados but doesn’t mention the incident that occurred two days earlier when Lieutenant Harrison disobeyed his orders, though he does mention something not recorded in his logbook – that he was fired on as a suspected pirate!

(Halley to Burchett, dated 4 April 1699 from “Barbadoes road”, National Archives ADM 1/1871. Remember “Lopps” is Halley’s abbreviation for “Lordshipps”.)

Honoured Sr

I have had no opportunity to give their Lopps any account of my proceedings since my last of Decemb 20 from Madera. That same day I sayled for the Cape de Virde Ilands and arriving at St Iago on Jan. 2, I found there two English Marchāt shipps, one of which calld the New Exchange, wherof one John Way is Master belonging to London, was pleased, insteed of saluting us, to fire at us severall both great and small shott. We were surprized at it, and beliving them to be pirates, I went in to windward of them and bracing our head Sailes to the Mast, sent my boat to learn the reason of their firing. They answered that they apprehended we were a pirate, and that they had on board them two Masters of vessells, that had been lately taken by pirates, one of which swore that ours was the very shipp that took him; wherupon they thought themselves obliged to do what they did in their own defence. Then they sent on board me the two persons they said were the Masters of the taken Vessells, and soon after the two Masters came themselves, they said they were sorry that they had fired at the Kings Colours, but that Colours were not to be trusted. I told them I must acquaint their Lopps with what had past, and if their Lopps would put it up, as it hapned they had done me no damage. The next morning they both sailed, and upon our arrivall here we found the said Master John Way and his shipp in this road. From St Iago we proceeded to the southward and being gotten within 100 leagues of the line, we fell into such calmes and small southerly gales, that our shipp being very indifferent to windward, we were full seven weeks before we gott 100 leagues to the Southward of the line, in which time our water being near spent, obliged us to recruite it on the coast of Brasile. By this time twas March and we found the Northerly Currents made against us, and we upon the Lee shore; so that it would have been scarce possible for a more winderly shipp than we, to turn it to the Southward. And the winter advancing apace in those Climates I principally entended to discover, I thought it not adviseable to proceed that way at this time of the year; hoping it may give their Lopps some satisfaction if I do curiously adjust the Longitude of most of the plantations and see what may be discovered in relation to the Variation of the Needle in the Northern Hemisphere. Twas the last of November before we left the coast of England; wch considering the uncertainty of the Winds was I find above two months too late: but I hope to be in England time enough to proceed again this year if their Lopps shall think fitting to allow it. We watred in the river of Paraiba in Brasile where the Governour Dom Manuel Soarez Albergaria was very obliging and civill, but the portuguez, as farr as I could guess, were very willing to find pretences to seize us, and tempted us severall times to meddle with a sort of wood they call Poo de Brasile, which is an excellent dye, but prohibited to all forreig[ners] under pain of confiscation of Shipp and goods. I being a[ware of] their design absolutely refused all commerce with them, and having gotten our water we arrived here in three weeks, on the second of this month: Our whole shipps company is hither in perfect health and our provision proves very good.

I am

Honoured Sr

Your most obedient Servant

Edm. Halley

I do find it amusing that although Halley says he thought the other ship might be a pirate, he nevertheless sends his boat to ask them why they fired at him!