Halley’s third logbook

I said at the start of this Channel voyage that I wouldn’t be live-tweeting the logbook as I’d done for Halley’s two Atlantic voyages, as I felt the high proportion of technical data would be of little interest to the general reader. That was a pity as the third logbook is the only one handwritten by Halley, and so from that point of view it’s an interesting document.

In fact I did tweet a few entries at the start of the voyage and I’m doing so again now at the end as these entries contain more general information – but to give you a flavour of the main substance of the log, here’s a typical entry in which Halley records soundings and the times and lunar positions of the tides:

[Sat, June 21] about 9h in the Morn I weighd and stood off to Sea, with a gentle gale of ENE wind, and about One after noon came to an anker in 18 fath. the Ness Light baring NNW; and Calis cliff ENE. here the westward tide was done at 5h.35′, or three hours and half before the Moons Southing. whence I concluded the course of the Tides here the same as at the Ness. viz that a II½ Moon ends the Eastern Tide. at 6h I weighd and stood to the eastward with a small gale of SSW wind, and about 9h fell with the West end of the Riprapps which is a narrow rigd of soft sand. I crost it severall times in 9, 8 and 7 fath and the Eastern tide being near done, I came to an anker in that depth the Ness light baring WNW and that of the South Foreland NbE p[er] Compass. here I rode two tides and found the Eastern tide done on a SW or NE Moon nearest. that it flowed about three fath. that it runs half tide here as by the Shore and that the Sett of the Stream is nearest NE and SW.

We’ll consider the purpose of this data when we look at the results of the voyage, but in this post I want to focus on what I like to call The Mystery of Halley’s Clerks.

Now that remark may excite expectations that this post will struggle to satisfy for this is not a tale of clerks going to sea and mysteriously disappearing, but rather a puzzle about what exactly the clerks did on the voyages – why, for example, was the third logbook written up by Halley and not by his clerk?

The clerk on the third voyage was one Richard Pinfold, who was the only person besides Halley to sail on all three voyages. On the two Atlantic voyages Pinfold was listed as captain’s servant, but on the third voyage he was said to have been captain’s clerk, and so I wondered whether he might have been a servant in Halley’s own household and been promoted to clerk as a ‘reward’ for going on the first two voyages, with Halley effectively covering the job himself. However, the manuscript pay and muster books show that Pinfold was actually entered as gunner’s mate and that the post of captain’s clerk was later interposed in the pay book beneath gunner’s mate. Pinfold was paid a salary as both gunner’s mate (£5 8s 6d) and captain’s clerk (£1 12s 11d), and the small wage paid to him as clerk suggests he performed that job for only a short time, and we know he wrote neither the logbook nor Halley’s letters.

The logs of the two Atlantic voyages weren’t written up by Halley, so they must’ve been written up by his clerks… well, possibly, but possibly not. There’s no immediate reason to doubt that the log of the first voyage was written by the clerk, Caleb Harmon, but the log of the second voyage is more of a puzzle. Halley wrote all his own letters to the Admiralty on both voyages, except for two on the second, and you might expect these to have been written by the clerk, William Curtiss, but they are in a different hand from that of the logbook. My first thought was that Curtiss perhaps fell ill with the “Barbadoes desease” at the same time as Halley, and so another crew member wrote them – but the two rogue letters (which are in the same hand) were written on 30 March and 8 July, either side of the period of sickness in late May, and the July letter states specifically that “we are a very healthy ship” at present. Why then did someone else write the letters, more than three months apart, and why did that person not receive extra pay as Pinfold did on the third voyage? Or why did Curtiss write the letters but not then the logbook?

The person who wrote the first logbook isn’t straightforward either. From the start of this project I’d been surprised at how neat and uniform the logs were and wondered whether they’d actually been written during the voyage or after the ship’s return to London, but then found that other logbooks were similarly neat and so thought that clerks might make draft notes and then write them up neatly while at anchor or in calm seas.

The idea of draft notes fits with a comment made by Alexander Dalrymple in an advertisement for his 1773 publication of Halley’s two Atlantic logs that

The Journal of Dr. Halley’s first Voyage is written on sundry scraps of paper, and some parts repeated in different places, and so blended that it was a very difficult matter to make it out intelligibly…

Dalrymple, who borrowed (and seemingly failed to return) these “scraps of paper” from the Board of Longitude, doesn’t mention whether the handwriting on the scraps was Halley’s or someone else’s, which is a pity as that might tell us something about how that logbook was compiled. A further curiosity is that Dalrymple seems to have been unaware of the existence of fair copies of the two logbooks (now in the British Library), and his published version of the second log was evidently compiled from another source, as there are discrepancies between the two. So what was the source for the second log used by Dalrymple, and who wrote it? And when were the fair copies of the two journals written?

These “sundry scraps of paper” also suggest a new spin on the warning given to Halley by Josiah Burchett at the end of the second voyage. Burchett wrote to Halley in Deptford, giving him permission to leave his ship to call on their lordships in London, “only lett mee give you this Caution, To have ye Books in readinesse”. Now I’d previously assumed this warning was intended to help Halley overcome the misgivings felt by some of their lordships about his handling of the prematurely-terminated first voyage* by making sure he was properly prepared when he met them, but now I wonder if it instead implies that Halley had previously displeased their lordships by returning from that voyage with only “scraps of paper” for his journal, and only had it written up on his return.

So while I think the mysteries surrounding Halley’s clerks might not rival And Then There Were None for excitement, they certainly seem to form a Problem at Sea.

* If you didn’t follow the first voyage, click on the tag for Edward Harrison to read about Halley’s problems with Lt Harrison and other officers.

Able seamen wanted!

When Halley’s first voyage ended prematurely with his return to England to court martial his lieutenant, he had to use all his diplomatic skills to persuade the Lords of the Admiralty to allow him a second attempt. That second voyage, however, was deemed so successful that their lordships lost no time in approving his next proposal for an expedition to survey the tides of the Channel.

This proposal was dated 23 April 1701 and it was evidently approved almost immediately, as on the 26th Halley wrote again to “humbly entreat my Commission to be dispatcht, in order to gett the Paramore Pink mann’d with such Compliment [sic] as their Lopps shall think fitting”, and his commission as master and commander of the Paramore was issued that day.[1] At the same time, the Admiralty sent an order to the Navy Board to clean and fit out the Paramore for “Channell Service”, and they agreed to all the requests for “Extraordinarys” that Halley had made in his letter, including his suggestion that the crew “cannot be well less than it was last time viz: 25 Men.”[2]

Halley wanted his commission quickly so he could begin recruiting his crew, as he was concerned that seamen were scarce as “no men [were] now offering themselves as usuall at other times.” Halley’s problem was that Royal Navy wages were then lower than those offered by merchant ships: Peter Earle tells us that wages in both the royal and merchant navies were broadly similar during peacetime (about 25 shillings a month for an able seaman), but that merchant wages rose dramatically during war when the competition for men became intense.[3]

In 1701, Europe was gearing up for what we know as the War of the Spanish Succession, and so merchant wages were presumably rising in anticipation of its outbreak. In a letter dated 4 June 1701, Halley complained that “I find my self disappointed in my Mate, who for great wages has been tempted to break his promise to me”, and expressed his concern that “for 40 sh[illings] p[er] month I fear I cannot have a man capable to take charge of my shipp, Marchants [sic] giving now so much to any able Seaman” – so merchant ships were already paying able seamen at a 15 shilling premium.

Halley had great difficulty obtaining his crew, and from the date his project was approved until he set sail nearly two months later, he wrote a series of increasingly desperate letters on the subject to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty.

On 31 May, he asked if “their Lopps shall thinking fitting to spare me but two able Seamen out of four or five of the Ships of Warr”, promising “I will take care to return them where I had them in case the breaking out of a war oblige me to desist from my undertaking.” And in an undated letter (endorsed June), Halley wrote that the Paramore was ready to sail if only he had his complement of men, and so “I beseech you to lay before their Lopps the great difficulty I find to gett them”. On 4 June he requested “leave to have out of the Shipps of Warr, under such restriction as their Lopps please, such men as shall be willing to serve on board me”, and this prompted their lordships to order that “3 Prest Men” on ships in the Downs should be discharged into the Paramore on her arrival, which they amended a few days later to “so many Men as he Shall have occasion of”. Halley sailed from Deptford on June 14 and received four men from ships in the Downs, when he anchored there a few days later.

It’s interesting that Halley writes of men “as shall be willing to serve on board me”, as I’m not sure whether this is simply a piece of naval phraseology or a precaution against the trouble he had on his first voyage with recalcitrant officers – although I am sure that if I were a “prest” seaman, I’d rather be on a scientific cruise in the English Channel with Halley, than part of a crew in the war fleet!

The Liberty of the Subject (1779), a satirical depiction of a press-gang (Source: National Maritime Museum, ID PAG8527)

The Liberty of the Subject (1779), a satirical depiction of a press-gang. (Source: National Maritime Museum, ID PAG8527)

Finally, just to let you know that I’m not intending to tweet the log of his third voyage, as even I can see that a report of his continual anchoring around the Channel doesn’t provide a compelling read (to anyone but myself), although I will tweet the occasional entry.

I’m also in the latter stages of my MA and, alas, have little free time for this blog, but I will not neglect Captain Halley entirely and expect to publish a few short posts during his four month voyage (as well as writing my dissertation about him!).


[1] All quotes from Halley’s letters (written to Josiah Burchett) are from TNA, ADM 1/1872, and his commission is in TNA, ADM 6/6, f91v.

[2] Admiralty order to clean and fit out the Paramore is in TNA, ADM 2/181, p117.

[3] Peter Earle, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775 (London: Methuen, 2007), pp186-8.

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.

Halley in London

The last time we saw Captain Edmond Halley was on July 11, 1699 when he moored his ship Paramore at Deptford and brought his first voyage as master and commander to a close: but what has he been getting up to since then?

He kept no diary and so we must look for him in other documents, such as correspondence and minutes, and though these don’t offer any glimpses of his domestic life, it’s surely not too fanciful to picture him entertaining his wife Mary and daughters, Margaret and Catharine, with seafaring tales, and getting to know his three-month-old son.

Ficus citrifolia: is this Halley's Barbados fig tree? (Photo by Riba, Wikimedia Commons)

Ficus citrifolia: is this Halley’s Barbados fig tree? (Photo by Riba, Wikimedia Commons)

We do see him at several meetings of his erstwhile employer, the Royal Society; he didn’t make the meeting held the day after he arrived at Deptford but he was there a week later on July 19 when he entertained the Fellows by showing a “Branch of a Barbados fig tree, which having many nerves or long fibres, which falling downwards, hang so yt they touch ye Ground, where they take root, and so grow up again”. [1]

He followed this up at the next meeting by presenting “part of a viviparous plant as he called it, which grows by the salt water side, called [?]Guapaiaira ye Mangrave; Dr Sloane said it is mentioned and figured in ye Hortus Malabaricus.” [2]

He seems not to have attended the August 2 meeting but on August 9 he was back again with another specimen, this time showing the seed of his “viviparous plant” (a mangrove brought back from Brazil) and Hans Sloane again informed the Fellows that it was “very well described and figured in ye hortus Malabaricus.” [3]

On the 16 August, Halley enlivened the final meeting before the summer recess by showing “Several Variations of the Needle he had observed in his Voyage, set out in a Sea chart, as also he shewed yt Brazile was ill placed in ye common Maps, and he shewed some Barnacles, which he observed to be of quick growth.” [4]

Robert Hooke’s diary has ended by this date and so we have no recorded sightings of Halley in London coffeehouses, but it’s a safe bet that he spent time there, hearing the news and catching up with his friends – and perhaps passing round his botanical exotica.

He was apparently spoken of in wider London society as Narcissus Luttrell mentions his voyage and the court martial of his Lieutenant, though Luttrell’s account is largely erroneous, wrongly reporting the crew were minded to turn pirate and that Harrison was declared “uncapable for ever of serving his majestie by sea or land”, when Harrison was actually found not guilty. [5]

But Halley is most visible in the Admiralty records, where we learn he attended the Lords of the Admiralty on July 21 to ask that he “may be a second time sent out, for the perfecting his designe of discovering the variation of the Compass” and that their Lordships were “inclinable to allow [it]”, given the “good that may thereby accrue to ye Publique”. [6]

There was evidently some (unjust?) criticism of Halley by their Lordships after Harrison was found not guilty at the court martial and so you might think that Halley would have been happy just to obtain a second commission, but he in fact went on to complain about the sailing qualities of Paramore and asked for another ship!

The Admiralty ordered Deptford to survey the Paramore and report on her condition, and the dockyard advised that they could make alterations to settle her more in the water and help find her trim and then “here is noe Vessell … more fitting then she is for that Service”. [7]

So whatever Halley’s wishes, he’s not to be parted from his Paramore just yet.


[1] Royal Society, JBO/10, pp 139-140

[2] Ibid, p 141. The Hortus Malabaricus is well worth a look: here’s a short introduction to the work, with a selection of illustrations

[3] Ibid, p 143

[4] Ibid, p 145

[5] Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, Vol IV, pp 532 & 538

[6] National Archives, ADM 2/397, pp 153-4

[7] National Archives, ADM 106/3292, f.100v

Harrison’s book

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I’m an admirer of Halley and expect that I side with him in his difficulties with his lieutenant – yet when I first read about Edward Harrison and his book, I did have some sympathy and respect for the lieutenant.

Harrison described himself as “sea-bred”, indicating he’d been at sea from an early age, but he was evidently a man of some, if limited, education. These facts suggest someone of modest background and resources, and so it seemed to me rather impressive that he had written a book, got it printed, and circulated it to the Royal Society and the Admiralty – and I could feel some sympathy for his dismay when Halley then dismissed his enterprising efforts.

But then I read his book and that sympathy disappeared. The book, Idea Longitudinis, was published by Harrison in 1696; he’d submitted a paper of his ideas to the Royal Society about 2 years earlier but received no encouragement and so he decided to “appear on the Publick Stage”. [1]

The book includes a dedication to the Lords of the Admiralty, a preface, and 8 chapters including a conclusion, the whole about 97 pages long. The first 3 chapters cover: where to set a first meridian, a definition of longitude, a definition of time (solar, sidereal year), and chapters 4-7 consider the different methods of finding longitude: horological, magnetic variation, lunar, and Jovian.

The book seems not without merit as a handbook for his “Brother Tar”, and some of his remarks about the problems that would be encountered (refraction, parallax, impossibility of using a long telescope (for the Jovian method) on a rolling ship) are helpful – but this was all commonplace to the fellows of the Royal Society, and I would guess that that was the opinion Halley gave to their Lordships.

What Halley actually said about the book doesn’t seem to be extant, but a slightly later review of another paper of Harrison’s may give us some indication. While Halley was away on his second voyage, Harrison submitted another paper to the Royal Society on tides and winds, and this was reviewed by Richard Waller, who ends his 2-page review with “between you and me [he’s writing to Hans Sloane] I see nothing in the Paper but what is better explained in the places I have above quoted”. [2]

The opening lines of Harrison's Chapter V are taken from Halley's 1683 paper

The opening lines of Harrison’s Chapter V are taken from Halley’s 1683 paper

Perhaps Halley gave a similar assessment – that it contained nothing new – an opinion that would be reinforced when he found that the opening lines of Harrison’s chapter on magnetic variation (see image) were copied almost verbatim from his 1683 paper on the same subject (there’s at least one other section copied directly from Halley’s paper).

Alan Cook describes Harrison’s book as “[s]cientifically and technically… poor, second-hand, and ill-digested. It is shot through with aspersions on mathematicians, the manner is aggressive, and it shows a deep inferiority complex”, and possibly the most interesting aspect of the book is what it reveals about Harrison himself, giving us some idea of what Halley had to deal with on board his ship. [3]

Harrison comes across as having a rather inflated view of himself. He twice compares himself to Columbus as being someone who “shewed the way”, and warns us that some “ordinary Mathematicians may hate to be out-done by a Tarpolin, if they have ought to say against him, its because his Practice and Experience may prove him to be a more Competent Artist in Navigation then [sic] themselves”. [4]

Hindsight makes the opening lines of the dedication seem ironic: “It is a saying in the Navy, He that knows not how to obey Command, is not worthy to bear Command”. As, too, does this sentence, given he’d lifted passages from Halley and then gone on to despise him for dismissing his book: “If any Envious Person pretend I have borrowed most of my Book, may he be obliged to Quote the Authors, where I have not”. [5]

The passages that revealed most about his personality were also the most unexpected:

“…if I know more than others, it is by Divine Authority, by Industry and Experience, by an Inborn Idea, and Instinct in Nature; it was ordained for me by God Almighty, from my Mother’s Womb.” [6]

And when considering the location of a first meridian:

“I could Bafle and Impose on the World as our Predecessors have, false Arguments for other places, from whence they might account their first Meridian. God forbid I should be so wicked, Honour and Glory, and beginning of Good, belongs to God; a first Meridian may be represented, and if the Heads of our Church and State, think it good, let there be made a Figure, representing a first Meridian, and Erected over St. Pauls Church in London, with this Inscription, Glory be to God, good Will towards Men…” [7]

Harrison's Idea Longitudinis, preface

Harrison’s Idea Longitudinis, preface

Blimey. These passages took me by surprise, as it had never occurred to me that Harrison might be religious, and they perhaps provide another reason why Harrison was so hostile towards Halley, as Halley had something of a reputation for being irreligious. I think Halley must have had a hard time dealing with Lieutenant Harrison, and yet, as he tells us, he “endeavoured all I could to oblige him”. [8]

My feeling is that Halley gave an honest critique of Harrison’s book, but that Harrison was not the type of person who could accept criticism and so nursed a grievance towards Halley (whom perhaps he had once admired, given his imitation of his works) and seized the opportunity to wreak his revenge when chance put them together on board the same ship.

I suspect that Harrison was rather fortunate in the court’s verdict

This post was originally published on 10 July 2013 and revised in July 2017.


[1] Edward Harrison, Idea Longitudinis (London, 1696), preface

[2] Richard Waller to Hans Sloane, dated 4 Dec 1699, Royal Society, EL/W3/68

[3] Alan Cook, Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas (Oxford, 1998) p 264

[4] Harrison, preface

[5] Harrison, preface

[6] Harrison, preface

[7] Harrison, pp 3-4

[8] Captains’ Letter Book, National Archives, ADM 1/1871

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.