Halley writes from Bermuda

The Paramore anchored in St George’s Harbour, Bermuda, on Friday 21 June 1700 and Halley and his crew remained there for nearly three weeks. They were busy during that time, the crew careening the ship in order to clean her, and Halley taking the latitude and longitude of the island, observing the tides and coastal dangers, and buying a new stream anchor to replace the one they had lost at Barbados.

Bermuda, by Guiljelm Blaeuw, 1630. (© BNF Gallica, Département Cartes et Plans, GE DD-2987 (9146))

Before leaving the island on 11 July, Halley wrote an informative letter to the Admiralty in London, describing his progress during the last few months:

(Halley to ?Burchett, dated 8 July 1700 from “Bermudas”, National Archives ADM 1/1871 (not autograph))

Honourd Sr

My last from St: Hellena, gave your Honour an Account of my Southern cruise, wherin I endeavoured to see the bounds of this Ocean on that side, but in Lattd. of 52°½ was intercepted with Ice cold and foggs Scarce credible at that time of the Year. haveing spent a Month to the Southwards of 40 degrees, and Winter comeing on, I stood to the Norwards Again and fell with the three Islands of Tristan da Cunha which yeilding us noe hope of refreshment, I went to St: Helena, where the continued rains, made the water soe thick with a brackish mudd, that when it settled it was scarce fitt to be drunke; all other necesarys that Island furnishes a Bundantley. at Trinidad we found excellent good water, but nothing else. Soe here I changed as much of my St Hellena water as I could, and proceeded to Fernambouc in Brassile, being desirous to hear if all were at peace in Europe, haveing had noe sort of Advice for near eight months, here one Mr. Hardwyck that calls himselfe English consull, shewed himselfe very desirous to make prize of me, as a pyrate and kept me under a guard in his house, whilst he went A Board to examine, notwithstanding I shewed him both my commisions and the smallness of my force for such a purpose, from hence in sixteen days I arrived at Barbados on the 21st of May, where I found the Island afflicted with a Severe pestilentiall dissease, which scarce spares any one and had it been as mortall as common would in a great measure have Depeopled the Island, I staied theire but three days, yet my selfe and many of my men were seazed with it, and tho it used me gently and I was soon up again yet it cost me my skin, my ships company by the extraordenary care of my Doctor all did well of it, and at present we are a very healthy ship: to morrow I goe from hence to coast alongst the North America and hope to waite on their Lordsps: my selfe within a month after the arrivall of this, being in great hopes, that the account I bring them of the variations and other matters may appear soe much for the publick benefitt as to give their Lordsps. intire satisfaction:

I am Your Hon:rs most

Obed:t Servant:

Edmond Halley

We’ve looked before at Halley’s encounter with icebergs, his stay on St Helena and his visit to Trinidad (modern Trindade), and read how Halley himself described being environed by “Islands of Ice” in the South Atlantic, but we can look now at some additional information concerning his arrest at Pernambuco and his illness at Barbados.

During his stay at Pernambuco Halley recorded In his logbook that:

Mr. Hardwick…desired me to call on him at his house this afternoon, where instead of Business he caused me to be Arrested, and a Portuguese Guard Sett over me … and I was given to understand that Mr. Hardwick had Acted in my Affair wth.out Authority being only impower’d to Act for the Affrican Company, and the Owners of the Shipp Hanniball wch. had been seized there as a Pirate and had no Commission of Consul

This “Mr. Hardwick” was one Joseph Hardwick who held the title of vice-consul in the city of Lisbon, from where the British envoy extraordinary, Paul Methuen, had given him authority to sail to Pernambuco “in Order to the takeing posession and remitting hither whatsoever remains there belonging to the ships Hanniball and Eagle which were Seized there last year [1697] by the Governours Order”. [1]

I haven’t had time to uncover the full story of the seizure of these ships but I noticed that Hardwick was specifically warned not to exceed his written authority, and so unless that authority had been extended in the two intervening years, I think that Halley was right to object that “Mr. Hardwick had Acted in my Affair wth.out Authority”.

The pestilential disease contracted by Halley and some of his crew at Barbados has not been identified, but a gastro-intestinal illness, yellow fever, and typhoid fever have all been proposed, the latter suggested by Halley’s remark in this letter that it “cost me my skin”. It’s interesting that he says that “it used me gently and I was soon up again”, because his log entries show that he was ill for quite some time, falling ill on 24 May and remarking that his strength was returning “but Slowly” on 5 June, which sounds like a lengthy illness to me. [2]

His doctor on both voyages was George Alfrey, whom Halley seems to have known before the first voyage as he specifically requested that the Admiralty warrant Alfrey to be his “Chirurgeon”, observing that Alfrey had “served in severall of his Ma:ties shipps for some years last past.” [3] And though not a fellow of the Royal Society himself, Alfrey apparently knew some of the fellows as he was in communication (as we shall see) with Hans Sloane and James Petiver. It’s possible that Alfrey died less than three years after this voyage ended, as there’s a George Alfrey, “Chirurgeon of Woolwich”, who died in 1703. I’m not sure it’s the same man, but two surgeons named George Alfrey in a maritime location seems fairly unlikely. [4]

In any event, Halley’s belief in Alfrey’s abilities seems to have been well-judged and it’s pleasing to read that “we are a very healthy ship” as Halley and his crew prepare for the homeward passage to England.


[1] Instructions to Joseph Hardwick, dated Lisbon 7 Feb 1698, National Archives, SP 89/17 Part 2, ff273r-27v.

[2] Norman Thrower mistranscribes this as “tho it used me greatly”, but the word is definitely “gently”. See Thrower, The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the Paramore 1698-1701, (Hakluyt Society: London, 1980) p 308.

[3] Halley to the Lords of the Admiralty, 21 Sept 1698, TNA, ADM 106/519/365.

[4] The contents of the will of the George Alfrey who died in 1703 (TNA PROB 11/471/222) don’t settle whether he was/was not Halley’s doctor and I have some slight doubt that it’s the same man as this one may only have been 22 at the start of Halley’s first voyage, which seems rather young for a surgeon who had served for “some years last past”.

Halley arrested!

After depositing his “Hoggs” on the island of Trinidad (modern Trindade), Halley sailed west towards Pernambuco (Recife) and arrived there on 29 April 1700. A local pilot brought Paramore safely into the harbour and Halley then went to call on the Portuguese governor, whom he found “very obligeing” – but an Englishman he also encountered there proved rather less obliging when he had Halley arrested on suspicion of piracy! Here’s how Halley reported the incident in his logbook:

Edward Teach, a pirate (Wikimedia Commons)

Edward Teach, a pirate (Wikimedia Commons)

[30 Apr 1700] This day one Mr. Hardwick who calls himselfe English Consull begann to show himselfe suspitious that we might be Pirates, and told me the Governour had promised to detain us, till wee had acquitted our Selves to him, wch. my two Commissions and Subsequient orders woud not doe though he had noe objection against them

[1 May 1700, extract] Mr. Harwick took two of my Seamen under Examination a part & wrote downe the Account they gave him wch. he told me did agree wth. what I had told him my selfe, wherefore I supposed him Satisfyed, and gott my Wine & other things on Board intending to Saile the next day.

[2 May 1700] Mr. Hardwick pretending further Jealousie [suspicion], desired me to call on him at his house this afternoon, where instead of Business he caused me to be Arrested, and a Portuguese Guard Sett over me whilest he went and Searched my Shipp, wch. he did without ever acquainting me, but finding no Signes of Piracie on Board he came and discharged me of my Guard begging my pardon and Excusing it that what he had Done was to give Satisfaction To the Portuguese who were Jalous of me, as not comprehending my Business

Edmond Halley, not a pirate (© Royal Society (£), RS.9284)

Edmond Halley, not a pirate (© Royal Society (£), RS.9284)

[3 May 1700] The next day resolving to Saile I found the Pilot wou’d not put us out of the Harbour wth.out the Goverours order, wch. I this day obtained, and I was given to understand that Mr. Hardwick had Acted in my Affair wth.out Authority being only impower’d to Act for the Affrican Company, and the Owners of the Shipp Hanniball wch. had been seized there as a Pirate and had no Commission of Consul

Halley will write a little more about this affair in his next letter to the Admiralty, so we’ll return to the matter then, but for now he’s escaped the attentions of the pirate-obsessed rogue consul and is sailing towards the West Indies.

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.

A Guiney man of 30 Gunns

Five days after his last letter, Halley is still in the Downs waiting for a favourable wind, but he has evidently used the time to find a larger vessel to accompany him through the dangerous waters off North-West Africa where pirates operate – you may remember that Admiral Benbow escorted him during the passage to Madeira on his previous voyage.

(Halley to ?Burchett, dated 26 September 1699 from the “Downes”, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

Yesterday the wind coming up at NW most of the small craft weighd out of the Downs, and were followed [in the] afternoon by his Ma:ties Shipp the Winchester, but before Sunn sett the wind shifted to W and WSW, so that they were all taken short off of Folkston; A Guiney man of 30 Gunns having promisd to keep me company 800 Leagues, did not think fitt to weigh with so scant a wind, [so] I remaine here. This morning the wind is at SWbS, so if it blow fresh, we expect the return of those that sailed yesterday. I am ready to saile with the first wind, but belive that their Lopps are not willing to hazard the shipp to the Rovers of Barbary, by my going alone, before their ports with so small a force.

I am

Honourd Sr

Your most obedt Servt

Edm. Halley

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!

The Admiralty recommends the Paramore to Benbow’s protection

Admiral Benbow (Source: Wikipedia)

Rear-Admiral Benbow (Source: Wikipedia)

Josiah Burchett acted promptly on receiving Halley’s letter of November 28 requesting that the Admiralty formally recommends his ship to Benbow’s protection, and on November 30 Burchett writes to Admiral Benbow with their Lordships’ commands.

The letter is endorsed ‘Returned and Cancelled’ as Benbow’s squadron – and the Paramore – has already sailed.

(Josiah Burchett to Rear-Admiral Benbow, dated 30 November 1698 from the Admiralty Office, National Archives ADM 2/395 pp 487-488)


I have this day recd. a Letter from Captn. halley of the Paramour, whereby he desires, that he may have the Countenance of Your Squadron, soe farr as it shall lye in Your way, to protect him from the Sally Men of Warr, which I have comunicated to my Lords of the Admiralty, and am Comanded to signify their Lordpps. directions to You, that soe farr as Captn. halley’s way and Your’s shall lye together, You doe take care to protect him from any of those Rovers; but herein You are not to impede Your proceeding on the Service You are Ordered: Captn. halley has acquainted me that You have already promised him this Assistance, but as I have already said, ’tis by their Lordpps. Comand I doe recomend it to Your care, & not having opportunity of writing by this Conveyance to Captn. halley, I desire You will acquaint him with the Contents of my Letter, a Duplicate whereof will be sent by to Morrow’s Post to meet You at Plymouth, at which time I will write to him, I heartily wish You a good Voyage & am

Sr Your &c


Capt Halley adviseth of his being under some apprehensions of meeting the Sally men of war & so are his people too

Those following Halley on Twitter have seen how it became necessary for him to call in at Portsmouth for essential repairs to his ship, and on the 28th of November he writes to Josiah Burchett, Secretary to the Admiralty, to inform him that he has been promptly “dispatcht” and has now arrived at St Helens.

He then raises his concerns about encountering a “Sallyman”. The Sallymen, or Sallee Rovers, were Muslim corsairs operating from the riverine port of Salé on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. They attacked Christian ships for their cargo, and particularly their passengers and crew, who were either killed, ransomed, enslaved by the corsairs or sold at a slave market.

The Sallee Rovers, and neighbouring Barbary Corsairs, included renegade European seamen among their number and were highly successful from about the early sixteenth century until well into the nineteenth, launching devastating attacks from their sheltered harbours in heavily-manned, fast-sailing ships.

With a crew of just 20, and armed only with 6 guns and 2 “pattereroes” (a type of small gun in a swivel), Halley is right to be concerned – the Paramore will have no chance if she is attacked. Her only hope is to sail in the company of someone much bigger – and luckily, Admiral Benbow’s squadron is going the Paramore‘s way…

(Halley to Burchett,  dated 28 November 1698 from Portsmouth, National Archives ADM 1/1871)

Honoured Sr

In persuance of their Lopps orders, the Commissioner here has caused me to be dispatcht with all the Expedition I could desire, and on the 22th instant I joyned Admirall Benbow at St Hellens, who lies there only expecting a fair wind. Our people were somewhat doubtfull of going alone, for fear of meeting with a Sallyman, but if we can keep the Admirall Company those apprehensions are over. He has promised to take care of us; but if their Lopps shall think fitt to recommend us to him, in their next letters, it will assure me of his protection; which the weakness of my own compliment in all respects, makes me very desirous of. This is the last favour I have to begg, and I humbly hope it will not be refused to

Honoured Sr

Your most obedient servant

Edm: Halley

P.S. Novemb 29 

The wind is now come up at N.E. and I belive wee shall saile this day, but the Admirall calls in at Plymouth for the Dreadnought.