Family Fun Day –Scaplen’s Court- June 2019: featuring ‘Mayhem at the Inn – Poole 1623’

Rotary Club of Poole Bayhosted an event at Scaplen’s Court in June 2019, on behalf of Poole Museum, in order to celebrate the successful completion of the Pirates, Castaways & Codfish project and to continue to share the product of our work. The event comprised the following and our feedback from visitors was very positive and supportive:

  • An exhibition of the work of the project
  • Pirate boat building
  • Shanty singing
  • Storytelling – Jane’s Story – Poole 1628
  • Refreshments, and
  • Our play ‘Mayhem at the Inn – Poole 1623’

The play was written especially for the event and performed three times by the Scaplen’s Court Players, a troupe of local actors that first came together for the event. (The script for the play may be found elsewhere in this blog)

The day was so well received that we planned a second full weekend event in 2020. Sadly that was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. We still hope to run this in 2021 and there is a second play planned for that event – ‘Elizabeth Hyde, Poole’s Glorious Revolutionary – Poole 1688’.

The Video and the following webpage (produced for us by local talents at Worksity) draws together the product of our first such event in June 2019 with a view to further promoting our work through drama in future.

If you want to know more of our plans then please get in touch.

Research Findings 9 – Piracy and Poole

Piracy and Poole 1580-1730                      Don Nutt

Elizabethan Days

At the start of the period Piracy was rife in the Poole area and Lloyd saw it as one of Dorset’s important industries[1], “having its rich men even as the wool trade had”. A syndicate, involving local wealthy people and members of the establishment, was believed to exist that controlled the ports, as in other parts of the country. Commentary on the “Dorset Piracy Scandal”[2], so-called, in 1577 implicated Sir Richard Rogers, sheriff of Dorset (1573). One historian referred to him as a “very great landlord…… and a very great pirate promoter”. Rogers was said to be the brother[3] of Francis Rogers of Poole who was identified as a pirate in 1576 but who was set free on payment of £100 by Richard.

A network of merchants and local gentry passed the goods inland from pirates lying in Lulworth Creek or Studland Bay. Poole and Weymouth were the only ports in Dorset where vessels could be attended to and provisioned and Poole was in a strong position as a County in its own right. The town and county of Poole had its own Admiralty Court. In the 1580’s Poole was the principal support for the pirates’ trade in Dorset and Studland Bay an anchorage for pirate vessels and their “prizes”[4].

In 1572 Elizabeth ordered her Lord Admiral to clear the seas of pirates and in 1578 she instituted a commission under her great seal concerning the apprehension of pirates. The Crown fitted out four vessels to chase pirates in 1583 and over 40 vessels were caught along the Dorset coast in a two month period.

In August 1583 two pirates who had created problems in the English Channel and off southern Ireland, Purser (Thomas Walton) and Clinton Atkinson, were hanged at Wapping. With others they had used Studland Bay as a pirates’ haunt for its attractions; sheltered anchorage, several local hostelries and corrupt local officials[5]. Over the 1580’s hardly a year went by without some mention of piratical activities in and around Poole in the historical archive[6].

John Piers was a pirate from Padstow in Cornwall and he relied upon his mother to sell some of his spoils at local fairs. He and fifteen men were captured in Studland Bay in 1581 and taken to Dorchester gaol where he managed to bribe his way out. He was soon caught again and he and eight of his men were hung on Studland beach in March 1582. Their bodies were left in chains for two tides, wallowing in the water.

People became pirates from a variety of backgrounds and for a variety of reasons, some were well educated and had some social standing before becoming pirates; others became pirates because they were elected to captain pirate vessels by their crews; yet more found they had little alternative but to take up the life when they found they could no longer serve as sailors, trade or fish for whatever reason. Many of them moved into and out of piracy as fate dictated and careers did not generally last long. There is no evidence that the piracy had any moral significance for people then, rather that it was seen to be something of an adventure.

[1] Dorset Elizabethans – Rachel Lloyd

[2] The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603 Ed PW Hasler 1981

[3] Outlaws in Medieval and Early Modern England: Crime, Government and Society – Ed. Dr John C Appleby

[4] Prizes – Privateers with their ‘letter of marque’ had the right, granted by the monarch, to seize shipping assets of citizens of enemy states and to sell them at auction. Pirates also referred to their ‘prizes’ after their raids on other vessels.

[5] Jolly Roger – Patrick Pringle

[6] See Appendix 1

Another local pirate from the 1580s was Stephen Heynes a Purbeck man; feared by his men for the brutality of his treatment of captives. He would torture people to find out what he wanted, by twisting ropes around their heads until their eyes bulged and placing burning matches between their fingers and thumbs and leaving them until they burned down often causing serious damage to people’s hands. In those days ‘matches’ resembled loose pieces of thin rope, they could be lit and would smoulder for some time during a battle, so that cannons could be set off using them.

In 1582 Heynes left 3 tons of Brazil wood with the gunner of Brownsea Island and 112 hogsheads (barrels) of herrings in the castle there.

The wealthy people involved in the syndicates, such as lord lieutenants, sheriffs, high naval officers and Government officials that financed and directed pirate operations across large areas, acted within their networks without being directly involved in the piracy themselves. Most ports were controlled by one or other syndicate which provided money, ships, and port facilities (through bribery of local officials); they also acted as receivers of goods and arranged for plunder to be disposed of. All the pirates had to do was to capture prizes and bring them into port. This of course encouraged piracy and the shore based networks dealt with the goods taken and passed them on.

The Killigrews, a Cornish family, were behind the biggest syndicate controlling ports in the country. It was run by Sir John Killigrew a relative of Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s first minister. He was Vice–Admiral[7] of Cornwall and had inherited the syndicate from his father and uncle who had built it up. Other relatives controlled a Welsh branch and there was also an Irish one. The syndicates took the main share of the profits from the work; typically 4/5ths for the syndicate and 1/5th for the pirate Captain and crew.

When Elizabeth needed men to make up her naval force she made more efforts to control piracy. In 1581 Lord Howard of Bindon, Vice-Admiral of Dorset, closed Lulworth harbour to the Killigrew combine and built the Castle overlooking the cove.

Queen Elizabeth’s intent to control piracy was damaged by her positive attitude to privateering[8]. Privateering was essentially state sponsored piracy in times of war, against ships of the foreign powers that were at war with England. The Crown gave “Letters of Marque”, licences, to Masters and vessels that gave them permission to attack shipping belonging to those other countries. Until the beginning of the C18th, this was the attitude of all monarchs (but James I) and the government of the country; privateering was a cheap way effectively to bolster the Navy’s fleet and to carry on a war. While recognised here and in other countries, Spain did not recognise privateering. Privateering was not stopped completely until the middle of the C19th.

[7] Vice-Admiral – The vice admiral was the chief of naval administration for his area. Some coastal settlements like the Town and County of Poole and all 20 maritime counties had Vice-Admirals appointed to them; their role (as deputy to the Lord High Admiral) included deciding the lawfulness of prizes, taken by privateers; acting as judges in matters of salvage claims for wrecks and the actions of the impress service in the Admiralty courts. In the second half of the C16 they received their orders from the Privy Council and by 1660 they were responsible to the Board of the Admiralty.

[8] Privateering – The Crown gave specific licences to individual Masters and their vessels for the purpose of privateering ventures. Essentially this granted the right to attack any vessel of a country at war with England and to take it and its goods and crew as a “prize”. In most of this era, until the early 1700s, all ‘prizes’ had to be brought to England where the admiralty Court sat in judgement on their future.

As seamen were laid off from naval roles then so they turned to piracy, this was especially true after the death of Elizabeth in 1603; James 1st effected peace with Spain in 1604 and reduced the size of the Navy from around 50,000 marines to 12,000. He also reduced the expenditure on the Navy by 57% to just £20,000 over a few years. At that time there were few jobs on land available as an alternative and so piracy grew. In times when war was not part of the international backdrop, piracy tended to become more in evidence.

Piracy and privateering were present for almost all of the period 1580 – 1730, although it is generally agreed that the so-called ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ stopped in 1727. Their significance rose and declined with the times.

For instance, the Barbary pirates from the north coast of Africa were around for much of the period. After the Moors began to leave Spain in the late C15th many of them reverted to the Barbary Coast joining others; the African Moors and the Muslim adventurers from the Levant. Ottoman sailors also joined in, in 1571, when the Ottoman navy was defeated in battle, and later still in 1609 when the Moors were expelled from Spain, so piracy grew further. For a while their attention was on the Coasts of Italy and Spain and many of the Mediterranean islands where they attacked settlements and carried away local people as slaves, but they soon came further afield too and caused trouble on English and Irish shores. It is estimated that between 1569 and 1616 100 Moorish ships captured 466 English ships selling the crews into slavery.[9] For the next 200 years England sent expeditions against the Barbary Coast (See Button below) but mostly these meant paying a tribute to the pirates concerned, as protection money.

The New World became the focus for piracy as it was opened up, by 1563 it was estimated that there were 400 pirate vessels preying on Spanish treasure vessels returning to Spain from the New World.  In the 1620s the buccaneers began to be active in the Caribbean.

Privateering and piracy were evidently troublesome in Poole in the 1610s and 1620s; pirates from further afield were a problem too. North African Barbary pirates and corsairs were a nuisance in English and Irish waters in the early C17th capturing vessels, their goods and crews. The Newfoundland convoys were attacked by them in the ‘narrow sea’ (the Bristol Channel and South West approaches, and off of the southern Ireland coast) both going out to Newfoundland and coming back and in some years the fishing fleets reduced in size as a direct result. Admiral Sir Thomas Button’s navy role, after he was knighted in 1616, was to control this problem until he died in 1634; something that he found difficult to achieve.

In 1623 Captain John Nutt, a pirate from Lympstone, Devon, heard in Dartmouth that King James I had ordered Sir John Elliot, Vice Admiral of the West, to press seamen for the Navy’s service. He sent messages to ports all along the coasts of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, before the order was officially communicated, to the effect that when the hated press gang got to work hundreds of sailors had either escaped to Newfoundland in the fishing fleet, or gone in to hiding inland.[10]

[9] History of Transnational Crime –  Bruisma G (Ed); Chapter 5 Historical Piracy and its Impact – Ed Bruce Elleman

[10] Poole and Newfoundland  – FV Matthews

After the death of James I in 1625 several masters and vessels in the Poole fleet were granted licences as privateers. These were probably taken in order to assist in escorting fishermen to and from Newfoundland and while there.

Local problems concerning piracy continued in the 1630s but at a lower level of significance in most years. The Barbary pirates were still a problem in the Channel and off southern Ireland, indeed one night in 1631, in Baltimore they came ashore and captured the entire population of 111 people, carrying them off to the slave markets in North Africa.

In the latter half of the C17th New World piracy became of greater international significance. In 1651 there was a major rise in piracy off the north American coast  as the monopolies on trading, attempted by the English were rejected by the merchants in the colonies. The merchants began to trade instead with privateers who were mostly pirates. In the Caribbean by the start of the C18th trade generally amongst the islands was plagued by the pirates.

If Poole fishermen and merchants were affected in the early years of the C17th it got worse by the end of the century. In 1696 Poole fishermen and merchants in Newfoundland requested up to eight vessels to protect the convoys and fishing ground and later in that decade Admiral William Whetstone (subsequently to become Woodes Rogers’ father in law) escorted the English south west ports’ fishing convoys from Plymouth to and from Newfoundland and remaining there on station for a couple of fishing seasons.

After 1690 there was a dramatic increase in New World piracy. England reached agreement with Spain in the 1680s and while fighting with France then broke out, piracy in the Caribbean was a result.  Peace with Spain did not last long as the war of the Spanish Succession began in the early 1700s.

Piracy peaked in the Caribbean in 1716. This was a couple of years before Woodes Rogers went out to New Providence as a Privateer aiming to deal with it and establish a colony. By the end of 1718 he had acted to deal with the problem and largely done so.

In England by the end of the C17th privateers were still active off of Poole and legitimate prey for local sailors. Peter Jolliffe in 1694 and William Thompson in 1695 were given gold chains and medals, from the King and Lords of the Admiralty respectively, for their exploits in local waters in capturing French privateers.

In 1708, when Woodes Rogers left Bristol as a privateer with his two vessels to sail around the World, he did so having lost several of his vessels (in shared ownership), their goods and their crews, to French privateers in the English Channel in the few years before that.

Similarly in the far-east trade was affected by pirates on Madagascar and amongst the islands of the East Indies, as well as in India and China.

Poole merchants and ship owners must also have been exposed to these risks.

Newfoundland and Piracy

At the end of the C16th life was hard for the rural dweller in England and hence the departure of so many people for the new territories in North America. Newfoundland had begun to be important to the economy of Poole and was growing swiftly in its importance; the regular March/April – out, and October – back, migratory fishing convoy from/to the south coast of Britain was a target for Barbary pirates and corsairs[11] and others from English and French shores. When ships got to Newfoundland and during the fishing season piracy also went on around the fishing grounds and it was necessary to guard against attacks.

Such was the amount of fishing, processing and storage of fish in Newfoundland that there was a very large contingent of people there from the whole of Europe; several thousand fishermen were involved. Pirates saw this also as a resource to plunder and regularly went in search of vessels, provisions, and sailors as crew for their own purposes. The two examples below, both involving English pirates, show the extent to which this was a problem for the ship owners and merchants concerned and the fishermen. The fact that only two years separated these two known examples of piracy experiences indicates the amount going on; while this may have been a “peak piracy” moment in Newfoundland there were still reports of it going on nearly eighty years later.

In 1610 Peter Eston (Easton), a pirate Admiral in command of 40 ships in the Bristol Avon area, sailed with ten of them to Newfoundland where he replenished his crews with 500 enlisted English fishermen according to Whitbourne[12]. He robbed Portuguese, French and Flemish shipping in the area and pillaged the shore communities before sailing to the Azores where he intercepted and plundered a Spanish Plate Fleet sufficient to be able to retire to Villefranche in the Mediterranean for the rest of his life with an estimated £2m.

Another famous Jacobean pirate also used this means to amass and man a fleet of pirate ships; Sir Henry Mainwaring. Mainwaring was a example of the “well placed and well educated” category of pirate. A son of an old Shropshire family and educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, he matriculated at 12 and received his BA three years later in 1602. After working briefly as a lawyer and then as a soldier he went to sea. In 1611 he received a commission from the Lord High Admiral to try to catch Eston and while he failed in this, he was subsequently given a Letter of Marque[13] as a licence from the Crown to plunder Spanish shipping in the West Indies. This was something he did not do, instead deciding with his crew on his way out to the West Indies, rather to head for the north coast of Africa where they became pirates.

Before long Mainwaring had a fleet of thirty captured Spanish vessels but had difficulty in finding crews, given he could not return to England. Hence in 1614 he sailed eight vessels to Newfoundland where he arrived on 4th June and left on 14th September with fresh provisions from plundered French and Portuguese ships, 400 mariners and fishermen ‘many volunteers many compelled’, according to records. He was careful only to capture sailors from other European nations, but presumably persuaded Englishmen also to join him. His later life proved interesting and just showed how it was possible in those days for some to move back and forth from a life of piracy to that of respectability, with ease. (See Appendix 1)

The major problems for the fishing trade in Newfoundland and other piracy problems in those waters were such that the first Vice-Admiralty Court outside British waters was set up there in 1615 with authority to try and punish pirates on the spot. While this was a temporary expedient to deal with the crisis, it marked a significant development in terms of colonisation.

[11] Corsairs – privateers of other nations

[12] Whitbourne – Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland, 1622.

[13] Letter of Marque – a letter authorising the privateer to act in times of war against ships of other nations at war with England

Sir Thomas Button

Admiral Sir Thomas Button worked for the Admiralty in the years leading up to the 1620’s, across that decade and into the early 1630’s; much of the time as Admiral of the Narrow Sea (Bristol Channel and the whole of the southern coast of Ireland). His work concerned the protection of coastal communities and merchant shipping; also and importantly the interests of the convoys of fishing vessels plying back and forth to Newfoundland from the west country of England and southern Ireland from the pirates (local ones and also those from the Barbary coast).

In the summer of 1610 more than one hundred fishing ships from the Newfoundland convoy had been taken and sent home empty handed by Barbary pirates and this went on across the decade. In 1620 it was reported that Barbary corsairs (privateers) were also becoming a serious nuisance in the English Channel and had on one occasion captured the whole of the returning Newfoundland convoy. It is thus not surprising to find that the number of fishing vessels going out to Newfoundland from Poole in this period fell significantly in some years.

For a period Button commanded the Pheonix naval vessel which from 1618 for five years supported the interest of the merchants of Bristol by taking on pirates successfully in the Bristol Channel. Bristol in those days did not sit within a Vice–Admiralty but rather answered directly to Button as Admiral and the merchants used the relationship to their best advantage. They were very supportive to him in 1619 sending a letter of support of him to the Privy Council; this presumably was because he had also attracted attention in Admiralty circles for working hand in glove with some local pirates and selling prizes in his own right, something that the Admiralty was unhappy about and which would dog him throughout his career.

Button’s uncle, Sir Robert Mansel (Mansell), Treasurer of the Navy, and who had also previously held the role of Admiral of the Narrow Sea, including the English Channel, led the Algiers Raid in 1620/21. They sailed with a fleet of six King’s ships, ten merchantmen and two pinnaces but were recalled in the following year. This  was an important but ineffectual attempt to disrupt the pirates of the North African coast (which included Turks and many other European pirates, including some English ones) who raided the English Channel and Irish coasts as well as elsewhere, further afield.

Button subsequently commanded two vessels on regular watch over the southern Irish and English south west coastal communities and fishermen for the rest of his career to 1634 when he died. Another black mark against him, as far as the Admiralty was concerned, was his absence when Baltimore was raided by Barbary pirates in 1631. The pirates took 111 people from the town to the north African coast and sold them in the slave markets. The townspeople were largely English immigrants to Ireland who had moved there some time before the raid. Button was at home in Glamorgan.

The Buccaneers and Piracy in the Caribbean

In the second half of the C17th piracy extended to affect new colonies and settlements on coastal north America and in the Caribbean. For a period the Buccaneers (French in the West Indies, English in the Pacific) were a dominant presence disrupting trade and settlement. With the defeat of the Armada in 1588 the sea-power of Spain and Spain’s monopoly of power in the new world broke down. Other sea-faring nations began to trade and settle in parts of the New World and in the early years of the C17th the British, French and Dutch all got footholds in the West Indies and North America. The early buccaneers who began to populate islands were land based nomads, rather than the pirates that subsequently some of them became, having been driven towards the existence through war.

One Englishman and buccaneer relevant to our story was William Dampier who was present in the Caribbean towards the end of the buccaneering period in 1679. Born in East Coker in Somerset, and well educated, he was sent out to the West Indies as an apprentice to the plantation of his first employer. Dampier is today remembered as an explorer and navigator, particularly of the north-west coast of Australia; but his early life as a sailor was an introduction to life as privateer, pirate, buccaneer, adventurer, biologist and author. He is also the same man who some years later, in 1708, became a financial partner of Commander Woodes Rogers in his privateering venture to the Pacific in the Duke and Dutchess vessels. He served as navigator of their circumnavigation of the globe. (See Appendix 2 for more details of his extraordinary life)

The Buccaneers in West Indies became less relevant after 1688 when there was a general pardon and later still in 1727 when the action to deal with the problems caused by pirates in Carolina and the Bahamas, by the local Governors and Royal Governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, saw the end of piracy as it had been known.

The end of “the Golden Age of Piracy”

Piracy knew no boundaries; it took in the East Indies and Red Sea across the C17th; Madagascar was a haunt for pirates from Europe and North America in stepping off to the Red Sea and East Indies.

Traditionally it had been the case that adjudication of privateering prizes and piracy trials had to take place back in Britain, wherever the incidents had happened. In 1700 the Piracy Act, designed to step up the pressure on piracy, changed the arrangements so that incidents could be “examined, inquired of, tried, heard and determined, and adjudged in any place at sea, or upon the land, in any of his Majesty’s islands, plantations, colonies, dominions, forts, or factories”.

Another significant change happened a few years later when in 1708 the Crown stopped asking for its traditional contribution from privateering activities. This stepped up the interest in privateering commissions as can be seen from the large numbers of letters signed on behalf of the Crown then and available today in books in the National Archive.

Woodes Rogers, a boy of nine in 1688 living in Thames Street, Poole and now a 28 yr old, must have benefitted from this decision of the Crown. His family had moved to Bristol in the late 1690s, while he did his 7 year apprenticeship at sea. As a fully trained and experienced seaman, in 1708 he set off as commander of two ships and 300 men on his own expedition around the world as a privateer, backed by Bristol and London merchants. His Letter of Marque, gave him permission to capture vessels belonging to countries with whom England was at war and after a battle in which his brother died from wounds he succeeded in capturing a Spanish Manilla Galleon laden with gold and jewels and returned to London in 1711, a national hero.

On the return leg of his expedition, in 1710 or 1711, he witnessed the effects of piracy in East Africa and Madagascar and hatched a plan after returning to England, to go out and see if he could establish a colony there, thereby freeing-up trade and settlement. He got permission to try and with the backing of merchants spent two years trying and failing. It was after this experience that he created his plan instead to colonise the Bahamas where the piracy problem was also endemic at the time.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, a complicated agreement between the European powers that resolved long running disputes between them, was a significant development in international affairs. It was preceded by settlement of terms by France and Great Britain, and involved all of the countries engaged in the war of the Spanish Succession; including France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Savoy and the Dutch Republic. Three outcomes of the settlement included the following:

  • It helped create a commercial world in the colonies and trade grew considerably as a result;
  • It transformed the nature of piracy at sea by improving the lot of coastal communities with the reduction of war and dispute; and
  • It led to more settled conditions in much of the world and arguably the resultant maritime, commercial and financial pre-eminence of Great Britain.

In 1717 the piracy problem in the Caribbean was so bad that the Governor of Bermuda wrote that north and south American coasts were “infested by these rogues, the Bahama Islands are their rendezvous and there are not least 1000 (of them) in ships, brigantines and sloops. Trade in the West Indies is almost paralysed.

A ‘republic of pirates’ had been declared in New Providence in the Bahamas and pirates and bitter rivals, Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings dominated activity there. These two were mentors to many of the famous pirates, still known today, such as Edward Teach, (Blackbeard); Charles Vane, (Calico) Jack Rackham, Ann Bonny and Mary Read; all of whom were affected by the arrival of Woodes Rogers, the man who had grown up in Poole.

Woodes Rogers and the end of piracy

Rogers, with the support of the monarch, went out for a first visit to New Providence (Nassau) in the summer of 1718. He had persuaded George I, in September 1717, to offer a pardon to pirates there and the Governor of Bermuda passed the proclamation to the Islands.

A month before Rogers’ arrival with a fleet of seven ships, Edward Teach (or Blackbeard as he was known) and his fleet, crewed by 700 men, left the New Providence Harbour for the American coast near Charlestown. He had evidently decided not to take the King’s pardon and persuaded his men to join him in further piracy. They did not last long, for in November that year he was no more, having been captured and beheaded and his vessel sunk, off of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

In New Providence, on Rogers’ arrival, were several pirates, of world renown today, amongst them some who would take the King’s pardon, at least for a time, and other who like Blackbeard had decided not to. They included:

  • Benjamin Hornigold, long a pirate, who saw himself a leader of the ‘republic of pirates’, and who decided to take the King’s pardon and in due course actively supported Rogers in his endeavours;
  • Charles Vane, once one of Blackbeard’s Captains, who was reputed to have fired a shot across Rogers’ bows as he entered the harbour and as he Vane was leaving to continue his piracy. In 1720 he was eventually captured, tried and executed in Port Royal, Jamaica; and
  • Jack Rackham, Ann Bonny and Mary Read who also left New Providence together, soon after Rogers had arrived, in the ‘William’, to go ‘a piratin’ off Jamaica. They were active across the wider area until late 1720, when they too were captured and similarly tried and sentenced in Port Royal. Rackham was found guilty and hanged in late 1720, Bonny and Read, also found guilty, ‘pled their bellies’; they were found to be pregnant and were kept in prison. In late March 1721, Read died there, in childbirth and Bonny was thought to have been bought out of gaol perhaps by her father, and probably taken back to Charlestown. Subsequently she married and lived until 1782, reputedly having borne 8 children.

During the early months after his arrival in July 1718, Rogers established an Assembly, a Court and begun the mission to upgrade the wooden fort with stone. He had also ordered Benjamin Hornigold to sail out in order to follow and capture any pirates in the area. Hornigold brought back nine men to the Island and Rogers’ proceeded to try, sentence and hang eight of them, all before the end of the year.

While some of the pirates in New Providence, having taken the King’s pardon, failed to keep up their new lives and returned to piracy, most involved themselves in plantations or other commercial ventures. Rogers is still remembered in the Islands for the changes he effected; the motto for the Bahamas survived from those days until 1973 – ‘pirates expelled, commerce restored’.

His actions during that three year period from 1718 to 1721 undermined the status of pirates in the Caribbean such that they ceased to be such a significant problem, from that time.

Rogers himself was forced to return to England in penury in 1721, having spent £90,000, despite only being backed to the tune of £9,000. Given his expedition was a private venture backed by merchants, he returned to find his own financial position precarious, ending up in a debtors’ prison in London. It was several years before he could put his finances to rights, with the help of the state. In 1729 he was re-instated as Royal Governor of the Bahamas and returned until his death there in 1732.

The era known as “the golden age of piracy” is generally taken to mean that period between 1570 and 1727 when in North America it ended as a result of the harder stance taken by the colonial governors towards piracy and the hanging of several hundred pirates. Woodes Rogers is named in some reference books as having been instrumental in seeing it finished in the Caribbean, several commentators saying that he did not get due recognition for the work he did towards that end.

With the death of George I in 1727 the colonial Governors’ commissions to try pirates expired. Neither in Virginia nor South Carolina was it thought necessary to apply for their renewal[14].

While of course piracy is still present today in different parts of the world it was generally felt then to have been dealt with as a generic problem by the governments of the places covered here, by the end of our project period.

[14] The Jolly Roger – The Story of the Great Age of Piracy – Patrick Pringle

Appendix 1

Henry Mainwaring – his life, subsequent to the Newfoundland piracy raids in 1614

Mainwaring’s subsequent life, having returned to the North African coast, saw him offered important commissions by the Dey of Tunis and the King of Spain both of which were turned down.

Instead, following the visit of an envoy from King James, in 1616, he was pardoned, on the grounds that ‘he had done no great wrong’, and all those serving under him were given an amnesty. He had written a book which he dedicated to King James, Of the Beginnings, Practices, and Suppression of Pirates, telling the whole story of piracy, especially in the Mediterranean, in his time.

Subsequently in 1618 Mainwaring was knighted and appointed a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber and then Lieutenant of Dover Castle and Deputy Warden of the Cinque Ports; later on he became and MP and he finished his career as a Vice-Admiral.

Mainwaring’s story is but one of many which show that in those days it was evidently possible for pirates to find a much better way in life despite their earlier misdemeanours.

Appendix 2

William Dampier – his life, subsequent to buccaneering in the Caribbean in 1679

He was the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia, and to circumnavigate the world three times, the second of these alongside Woodes Rogers between 1708 and 1711, as his financial partner and navigator.

His first circumnavigation was as a crew member under Captain Bartholemew Sharp a buccaneer in 1679. Thereafter he spent until 1691 working as a privateer in the Pacific and/or in the Caribbean. Then he went back to Britain where he wrote up his various expeditions and exploring. He is remembered particularly in this period, for his work on drawing and describing the flora and fauna in north western Australia and the indigenous people he found there, while they were careening their ships.

He impressed the Admiralty with his book, ‘A Voyage Around the World’, published in 1697, and it was popular in this the great age of exploration, when ordinary people avidly read all they could of the explorers’ experiences. As a result he was employed in 1698 to Captain HMS Roebuck on a commission by King William to explore the East Coast of New Holland (Australia); something that he completed successfully and wrote up in his book, ‘A Voyage in New Holland’, published in 1703, albeit many of his records were lost at sea. Dampier was not to so proficient at captainship, HMS Roebuck was wrecked and his crew had to be picked up after several weeks on shore; on his return he was court martialled for cruelty to his crew.

On his second circumnavigation, Dampier also ended up without his vessel, the George. He had set off from Kinsale in, in 1703, with a crew of 120 men and with a companion vessel the Cinque Ports with 63 men. Having rounded the Horn and entered the Pacific he failed in several ambitions, including a raid on a Spanish settlement and on the Manilla Galleon. The Cinque Ports after splitting off from the George set down Alexander Selkirk on Juan Fernandez Island, because Selkirk felt the vessel was not sea worthy (he was found there four years later by Woodes Rogers and Dampier). Selkirk had been right; subsequently the Cinque Ports vessel sank off the Columbian coast with loss of life and, for some of the crew, capture and imprisonment by the Spanish.

After the loss of his ship the George, too, on his second circumnavigation, Dampier made his way back to Bristol in England in 1707, where he was able to be involved in the 1708 plans for what would be his third circumnavigation of the globe this time as navigator under the command of Woodes Rogers.

Research Findings 7 – Smuggling

Poole Smugglers – 1580-1730    Cynthia Wall & Susan Jabbari


Roger Guttridge’s book, ‘Dorset Smugglers’ has been used extensively in assembling this summary note. According to him the word “smuggle” probably dates from the Scandinavian languages. The Danish smugle which literally means “smuggle” and the Swedish smuga means a lurking “hole”, the Anglo-Saxon smugan “to creep” is probably related to the Icelandic prefix smug which stems from smjuga means to “creep or “creep through the hole”.

The history of smuggling in England goes hand in hand with the history of the Customs institution. It dates from the time of the Saxon, King Ethelred II, who imposed a toll charge, or import duty on boat loads of foreign wine arriving at Billingsgate. Thereafter it became a “custom” for foreign visitors to give a portion of their cargoes in return for permission to trade. Such tolls applied only to certain ports, so evasion was neither difficult nor illegal.

In 1275 to raise revenues King Edward I introduced a custom on wool exports. At this time wool was a mainstay of the national economy and was in great demand in Europe. To collect the duties a permanent Customs staff was established and almost immediately the first smugglers appeared. They became known as “owlers“, because they mainly operated at night.

It has been said that taxation was the cause of smuggling and it was a natural and inevitable result of punitive taxation imposed by a succession of governments each more desperate than the last to pay for costly wars in Europe.

Life for the early smugglers was relatively easy it was not until the C14th that the first revenue vessels appeared and even then large areas of coastline were not covered. Customs men were poorly paid and were therefore open to bribery and even bribed the Customs officers in the ports.

In the mid C16th there was a revision of the Book of Rates and the issue of a new set of duties. At this time England was also in the midst of an economic depression, this greatly increased the incentives for illicit trade. In 1604 tobacco was added to the Book of Rates.

The Civil War of 1643 resulted in Excise duty being placed on certain goods produced at home for home consumption, again this resulted in an increase in smuggling.

Early Customs arrangements

For the first two thirds of C17th the responsibility for the collection of Customs duty in every port was farmed out to syndicates of financiers who paid the king a regular rent for the privilege and kept the remainder. In 1671 the Crown resumed collection and the modern Board of Customs came into being although corruption was rife.

Smuggling became even more prevalent from 1690 when William and Mary came to the throne. They inherited the royal debt and at the same time the Navy and the Army as well as bankers were also owed money .Between 1689-1715 there was an explosion of Army and diplomatic services and the government had to borrow and service loans through taxation. The explosion was fueled by two major wars in France.

When Queen Anne came to power from 1702-1714 more duties were levied on commodities than had been imposed in total since 1660. In 1713 smuggling increased again due to the Treaty of Utrecht, taxes rose again, increasing the incentive to smuggle. In addition large numbers of redundant sailors and soldiers were seeking employment in any activity, including smuggling.

Towards the end of the C17th technical improvements in the rigging of ships and vessels built with more speed in mind helped the smugglers. Their vessels’ shallow draughts allowed them to come closer to the shore. Fake bulkheads and handy hiding places increased the amount of smuggled goods The smugglers used the failure of the smuggling Bill and stated, according to Guttridge, that they were now “tolerated in smuggling by the King, Lords and Commons”1

Guttridge suggests that during the winter of 1717-1718 “the running of great quantities of goods having of late very much increased”2 the government tried to push through a Bill for the prevention of smuggling. According to Philip Taylor the Collector of Customs at Weymouth it fell down in the House of Lords and as a result “the smuggling trade prodigiously increased.”3 The contraband boom continued reaching a level in 1719 which would have been unimaginable five years earlier and from 1720 smuggling switched from exporting wool to exporting luxuries.

During the period 1700 to 1815 when smuggling was at its height it was estimated that nine out of ten families supported the smugglers. A smuggler for example could earn five or six times as much as a farm labourer. Another reason for the increase in smuggling was that the smugglers were seen as local heroes due to the benefits of cheaper goods and therefore the local community concealed them rather than report them.

In 1719 the first of several “hovering” Acts were brought in. The Act made hovering illegal within six miles of the coast. From the beginning of 1722 new legislation was brought in such that people who were caught smuggling within twenty miles of the coast in gangs of more than five and were carrying weapons or arms and wore masks or forcibly resisted an attempt to seize their goods, were liable to be deemed guilty of felony and could be deported to the American colonies for seven years.

It is interesting to note that in 1745 the leading statute for smuggling law made the greatest effort to convict offenders and to sentence those convicted for smuggling to be put to death.


Dorset due to its coastline which includes many inlets has a long history of smuggling and Poole itself being a  peninsula with a natural harbour gave easy access to further afield and with many places where goods could be hidden resulted in Poole playing a very prominent part in the history of smuggling.

Smuggling started much earlier in Poole than other parts of the British Isles due to the Royal Charter of 1433 which established Poole as a staple port, which had to collect dues on behalf of the King.

In1568 Elizabeth 1 gave Poole a new Royal Charter which made Poole completely independent and gave the town complete control of its own affairs. In the 1574 census, Poole had a population of 1373; it was a small town.

As in other areas of the country, smuggling, corruption and bribery were very prevalent in Poole.

In the late 1670s John Willie a magistrate and a Collector of Customs at Poole was dismissed for conniving with the smugglers. He was said to have omitted to enter large cargoes of tobacco in the port books and had repeatedly closed and locked up the Customs House when it should have been open for the king’s business.

In 1681 William Culliford was assigned to the Board of Customs to compile a report on fraud and corruption in all of the western ports. In Poole, he rented a room fronting the quay as the original Custom House was too far away to operate effectively.

Culliford gathered evidence in just a few weeks in the summer of 1682 that involved nineteen separate smuggling incidents and by the spring of the following year there were more incidents. There were thousands of pounds of items involved including tobacco, hundreds of gallons of wine and brandy. In July 1682 he seized the cargo of tobacco from the David, £77 worth of tobacco was found in William Orchard’s cellar ,as well as tobacco from the Clare. The David and the Clare were two of the most prolific of Poole’s smuggling vessels. During this time period other vessels involved included the John, the Robert, the William, the Vine ketch, the Mary Hoy and the Seaflower. Usually their cargoes were brought to the shore by smaller boats known as dragger boats.

Guttridge’s interpretation of the Cullliford report found that John Tombs, who had served on the Vine ketch, became an informer and was rewarded with a £10 a year job as a boatman, talked “about great quantities of goods run by the draggers in general, and more particularly by John Thompson’s, Thomas Bennet’s, John Edmund’s and Will’s boats, which said dragger boats do all the mischief in the ports.”  Some of the goods were landed on Studland beach and the rest were loaded into the dragger boats and taken to Brownsea Island and Poole. Tombs said this was a “daily constant practice “which had “scarce ever been hindered“ by the revenue men. 4

John Wills was caught while ferrying eleven hogshead of wine from the Vine ketch the owner of the cargo asked him to keep quiet and promised to pay him £8 if his boat was destroyed. Wills ignored the request and also confessed to William Culliford that Mr. John Carter had paid him eleven shillings for collecting six packs of cloth from the Little John off Christchurch Head, and bringing them to Poole.

John Carter was the biggest name in Poole smuggling circles in 1682. He was a merchant and magistrate with friends in high places. Carter’s gang generally travelled through the streets of Poole and surrounding countryside armed with clubs and swords and disguised by masks on their faces and women’s long-crowned hats on their heads. Carter’s cargoes were unloaded from his ships at sea and brought in by dragger boats. A favourite landing place was the windmill, a quarter of a mile from the town. Another hiding place was the King’s Arms Inn on the quay. Another of Poole’s smugglers was Robert Bennett who used the cellars of the George Inn where he lived.

Many fiddles took place such as a law which permitted an allowance for imports damaged in transit. Robert Bennet owner of the Robert obtained a reduction in the duty on 7.600 pounds of tobacco supposedly damaged by water on the voyage from Virginia. Culliford in his report found the vessel to be “a tight ship and come home well-conditioned.”5

Many of the fiddles involved the Customs officials. During this period Dudley Hopper was the commander of the Poole Customs smack and on one evening in 1682 he and the Customs surveyor Thomas Barney sailed past three boats  laden with contraband wine. He was sacked for a number of frauds and for comments he made about the new revenue smack at Southampton. His successor Captain Nicholas Cobb was on a corruption charge within six weeks of gaining his position. The biggest rogue in Poole then was Thomas Barney he openly solicited bribes  and on numerous occasions goods were unloaded and no taxes were taken. On one occasion he allowed numerous quantities of wine and brandy to be unloaded from the Sea Flower and cleared the load as only salt. Culliford collected plenty of evidence against Barney he was suspended from duty.

He was replaced by Thomas Cope who suggested the public destruction of the dragger boats on Poole Quay. Thomas Bennett’s boat was, according to Guttridge’s interpretation of the

Culliford report, ceremonially burnt“ in front of the whole town.”6

Sadly as soon as Culliford left Poole the situation deteriorated. When he returned for his last visit in spring 1683 he found that John Willie was the new Deputy Customer of the port and Robert Appleby was to be appointed the new Deputy Searcher both these men had been sacked a few years earlier. One positive outcome was that due to the work done by Culliford and his men the smugglers had been driven away from Poole bay to Swanage.

The work done by Culliford was further undone when war started with France in 1689 and lasted until 1697. Guttridge says that one of the reasons historians gave for England’s readiness to negotiate a peace treaty is that “the Excise and Customs had brought in less than expected.”7

General trade for Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Poole had been destroyed by the war and this resulted in an increase in contraband and smuggling. For the next hundred and twenty five years Britain was more at war than peace and this considerably benefited the smugglers.

The increase in smuggling affected Poole very badly. Guttridge suggests the situation was so bad that in 1720 and 1722 the Mayor, bailiffs, burgesses and commoners begged the House of Commons to remedy “the great decay of their  home manufacture by reason of the great quantities of goods run, not only on that but on all the eastern coasts.”8

Brandy and wine made up the bulk of the smuggled items landed in Dorset between 1716 to the mid-1730s but there were many other items including rum, coffee, tea, salt, pepper, cocoa beans, playing cards, foreign paper, tobacco, cloth and silk handkerchiefs.

1728 the people of Poole who had twice demanded action against the free traders delivered a third petition protesting at the town’s impoverishment due to the number of people who had been prosecuted for smuggling.

A quotation much later- well after the period of our project, in 1824, from Thomas Fielding succinctly sums up Poole and its involvement with smuggling “If Poole was a fish-pool, and the men of Poole fish; There’d be a pool for the devil, and fish for his dish.”

Poole Tunnels

According to the Bournemouth Echo of 23rd February 1985 workmen had removed a manhole cover and had come across tunnels when digging up the road outside the then Aquarium and Poole Tourist Office. Mr Neville Dear of Poole’s Environmental said at the time that it was a well-documented smugglers’ route. Prior to this potholers had entered the tunnel to follow it from the alley adjacent to Canute House across Strand Street and into the High Street where it used to lead into the cellar of what was once a smugglers’ pub. In the mid-1700s Canute House had a cellar connected to the smugglers’ culvert and at high tide when it would flood the smugglers would send a float and line down to the quay where a waiting boat would attach contraband to be hauled back up the tunnel right under the feet of the custom men.

There are also arguments against the idea of “smuggling tunnels” Firstly, buildings in the quay area have cellars which are large and deep because the water table in the harbour can be very high and the cellars allow flooding without any damage to the buildings above. The rumours about smugglers tunnels came about because the cellars could have been connected. It has been suggested that Poole smugglers made good use of the town drains into the cellars of the town pubs; when there was a good flow of water after a rainstorm, the task was made easier because the smuggler could stand high up and let the water wash a rope down to his colleagues and bring in the goods. Secondly Poole is surrounded by beaches and inlets that lead onto the deserted heath and therefore there were enough places to hide the goods.


  1. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 5
  2. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page15
  3. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 13
  4. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 9
  5. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 11
  6. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 13
  7. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page13
  8. Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984 Page 26


Dorset Smugglers Roger Guttridge 1984

Smuggling in Poole Theo Burrows For The Borough Of Poole Museum Service

Smuggling in Poole and Bournemouth Bernard C Short 1927

 Bournemouth Echo  23. 2 .1985

Customs and Excise Trade, Production, and Consumption  in England 1640 – 145  William J Ashworth 2003

Smuggling in the British Isles Richard Platt 2011

Research Findings 4 – Poole’s Economy

An economic perspective (1580-1730)    Roger Allen      


Tim Lambert in his paper ‘A BRIEF HISTORY OF POOLE’ slightly amends (for the sake of better understanding today) Leland’s words on Poole made in a visit to the town in around 1540, as follows: ‘Poole was not, in the past, a trading town but it was, for a long time a poor fishing village. There are men living who remember when all the buildings in the town had thatched roofs. It now has many more substantial buildings and much more trade. It stands like an island in the harbor and is joined to the mainland by a piece of land no wider than an arrow shot. It also has a ditch (outside the town walls), which is often filled with water from the harbor. There is a stone gate at the entrance of the town. The town lies north to South. There is a substantial stone house by the quay’.

He also writes that

  • ‘In 1524 a wooden platform was erected on the quayside and cannons were mounted on it. In 1545 a fort was built on Brownsea Island’.
  • ‘During the 16th century many fishing vessels from Poole sailed to the waters off Newfoundland. There was also a flourishing brewing industry in Poole’.
  • ‘In 1568 Queen Elizabeth gave Poole a new charter. This one made Poole completely independent and gave the townspeople complete control over all of their own affairs. In 1574 a census showed that Poole had a population of 1,373. It would seem tiny to us but by the standards of the time it was a small town’.

Newfoundland – Fishing for Cod

Fishing; especially that carried on off Newfoundland, was of massive importance to the town and people of Poole. Over the period, it and the associated trade made a number of individuals extremely wealthy, but it was not without risk. Even large catches did not guarantee large profits as the price paid for fish varied wildly, with supply.

When the navy were short of men to crew their ships fishing vessels would not be allowed to leave port to go to Newfoundland until the navy was crewed and sometimes this could mean that a fishing vessel missed the whole fishing season. The Newfoundland fleet was described as a ‘Nursery of Seamen’, trained fishermen were particularly useful for the Navy.

The growth of the fishing fleet provided work and opportunity for many, including those like the Spurrier family who progressed from seaman to ship’s captain to merchant. The family moved to Poole living in Fish Street. However Fish Street became run down and they later moved to Thames Street.

Provisioning and supporting the fleet required many trades including brewers, bakers, candle makers, providers of swan skin clothing for sailors, shipwrights, sailmakers, rope makers, carpenters, blacksmiths , whitesmiths, anchor smiths  and block makers. All of these needed to be sourced from the small coastal community and its immediate hinterland.

Economic conditions

Poole became a county corporate through Queen Elizabeth’s Great Charter in 1568 and some blame this for its economic woes. In a Discourse of Corporation one writer described Poole as:

  • ‘Merchants decaied’
  • ‘Shipping gone’
  • ‘Towne poore’

This is not a view shared by all. Francis Walsingham wrote about Poole saying it was ‘very il’ because of the demise of the clothing industry. G.D. Ramsey called the 1560’ as a period of uncertainty and adaption never seen before.

In 1571 Poole became one of only 4 places to gain county corporate status along with Bristol, Gloucester and Exeter. This gave an opportunity to the town that was perhaps not fully seized. Despite being a Staple Port for Wool exports from 1433, and the early success through fishing in Newfoundland, while Poole grew in significance, Dorchester remained as the county town.

In the mid-1570s the population structure reflected a comfortable well off community, albeit the Town itself was not well off. Figures for Poole show an average household size of 5.06 well ahead of the national figure. Most households, 79.7%, had children and 14.5% had servants. In 1565 the population was 1,222 living in 201 houses rising in 1574 to 1,373 people living in 226 houses. This is significant growth of 1.5% per annum indicates a relatively prosperous community.

At around this time the local economy was badly affected by poor planning and over-expansion. A new town hall was built, as was a new prison and a new market. This was all hugely expensive to the public purse, as was the decision of the mayor to repay debts to 17 individuals ranging from £1.3s.4d to £91.13s.4d. All of this sent the town itself into serious decline and the town’s market still had to be moved again due to its having been being poorly sited, causing more expense.

Poole, over the period, often managed to protect itself from economic downturns elsewhere and indeed whilst fishing was profitable merchants were drawn to Poole. In good economic times there were bigger households with more children and servants.

Some Poole merchants managed the risks of the times by investing in land and property, which can be seen today. While it may have been illegal, many merchants stored goods in their own house and cellars, making private sales rather than going to market sometimes, to avoid the revenue.

Strong maritime trade links with the Channel Islands provided income and work in difficult times so protecting Poole from hard times experienced by other towns and ports. The trade was of pivotal importance to stability, economically.

When looking at the population and its prosperity, four factors helped Poole to avoid further economic downturns:

  • Its population
  • The population structure
  • The secular building structure
  • Trade and shipping

In the 1620s a business opportunity was missed, as the area around Poole readily grew Mulberry bushes, a basic requirement of the Silk Trade. This was not developed and the only Silk making in Dorset was in Sherborne.

Across the period many communities like Poole suffered greatly from the growth of London and its maritime activities, however Poole managed to avoid much of this and helpfully had very few properties owned by Londoners.

An important business became the export of skins and hides to the Channel Islands and the brewing of beer developed into a significant industry.

Key to Poole’s eventual success and to its being less vulnerable to sudden collapse were:

  • The viable harbour
  • The diverse and flexible trade locally in Britain and internationally.

The economic downturns that did occur often reflected economic downturn in overseas trading partner countries due to wars and disturbances. Typically, Poole was able to earn money from shipping imported goods on and around the UK coast at such times and the Channel Island trade maintained throughout due to their neutrality in such times.

Poole enjoyed business development beyond fishing, including the export of fine white clay to many ports in England in 1620s and other products from Newfoundland. Attempts were made to profit from Alum for the dying of clothes and for making ink and Richard Browne became the first in the realm to manufacture Saltpetre, opening his furnace near Wimborne.

Later in C17th Purbeck stone was mined and traded along the coast into London. Throughout the period Poole’s coastal shipping trade was also an important part of the local economy.

Roger Allen-  April 2018

Research Findings 2 – Population and Occupations

Poole Population and Occupations – 1580-1730    Jenny Oliver 

The population of Poole is known pretty accurately from a census of 1574 when 1373 people were recorded. The first national census was not taken until 1801 so any totals of population between these dates can only be estimates and have to be treated with caution. Unfortunately this covers the whole of the period of our project. The estimate of around 1650 people in Poole in the 1660s is based on hearth tax records and involves multiplying the number of households by an estimated figure of average household size. This can obviously be prone to large error. The following table shows how Poole’s population grew to make it the most populous town in Dorset by 1801.

Main Towns15741662-641801
Lyme Regis16371451
Melcombe Regis8872350
Dorset County70053114452
Based on table in Chalklin, C. W., The Provincial Towns of Georgian England: a Study of the Building Process 1740-1820.

Infant mortality, particularly at the beginning of the period, was high and outbreaks of disease must have had a significant effect on population. In 1645-6 over 3 months, about 118 people (perhaps 7 to 8% of the population) died of the plague in Poole. In addition, the loss of life nationally during the Civil War relative to the population is believed to have been higher than in World War I, around 3.7% of the total population, with more people dying from disease than in combat. Poole must have suffered war losses although there is very little evidence available. The population probably started to grow in the final decades of C17th and rose sharply in the C18th, overtaking that of Dorchester. The success of the Newfoundland trade was no doubt a major factor, attracting mariners, tradesmen and merchants to the town. Evidence of this growth can be seen by comparing the extent of building development in C17th and C18th maps and in the legacy of Georgian buildings.  

The trades and professions of Poole people naturally included a lot of maritime occupations, such as ship-owner, merchant, mariner, shipwright, blockmaker, cooper, ropemaker and fisherman. Several important C18th merchant businesses were founded on specialist maritime trades. The Lesters’ original business was cooperage (barrel-making) and the Barfoot family fortunes were based on blockmaking. Yards and workshops clustered around the Quay but could also be found behind houses in the main streets. One rope walk owned by John Adams and mentioned in Admiralty Court minutes from 1611 was situated on the shore at lower Hamworthy. By the mid C18th century, there were rope walks on the east of the town abo Baiter and in Longfleet just north of the town ditch.

Seafarers and ship-owners are the only people for whom any statistics exist. The 1574 census states that there were 180 seafaring men in the town at that date and lists 28 ship-owners. A list of ships in 1591 mentions 20 ship-owners.[i] Another list of ships and seafarers dated 1628 has 14 owners plus 21 masters, 53 mariners and 11 fishermen, a total of 85 seamen but this was following a period of losses at the hands of pirates and enemy ships.[ii]

[i] John Sydenham, History of the Town and County of Poole. Poole Historical Trust 1986

[ii] Poole History Centre transript.

A third list of 1664 gives 32 masters, 145 mariners and 9 fishermen, totalling 186 seamen, although 50 of these are described as ‘imprest men’ so they were probably serving in the navy and may not all have been regular sailors. (List of Seamen and Masters of Ships 1664, National Archives EXT/6/111/119/474). Obviously these totals have to be treated with caution.

It was common for leading businessmen to have a range of interests; John Bramble (early C17th) was a ship-owner, merchant, brewer and property owner. Peter Hiley (later C17th) owned several ships and local inns and was also a stocking maker. Other leading inhabitants, including John Berryman, Thomas Roberts and Henry Harbin were mercers (dealers in cloth) as well as merchants. There were also the usual town trades such as butcher, baker, grocer, ironmonger, tailor, shoemaker, and tallow chandler. Thomas Mellmoth, a member of the Corporation in the early C17th, was described as a yeoman (farmer), a less common but not unknown occupation in Poole, especially in the early part of the period.

Tudor inn, The Bull Head, 73, High St

Inn-keeping was an important trade and inns were among the most valuable properties in the town, catering for civic meetings and celebrations and accommodating important visitors. Many men were employed as domestic servants.

Builders, tilers and other tradesmen frequently worked for the Corporation and are mentioned in the town accounts. Young men learned their trade by serving an apprenticeship of seven years, after which they could aspire to become a master. It was an offence to practice a trade without serving an apprenticeship and this was strictly enforced to eliminate unfair competition and maintain standards. Professionals such as lawyers, chirugeons (surgeons) and clerics required a specialist education and were often drawn from the local gentry.

The fact that some of the men were away at sea for long periods must have meant that the women had to be fairly self-sufficient. We know from sources like the 1574 census that many girls and women were employed in domestic service. In 1574, a quarter of the households had at least one maid servant, and 65 maids are listed in total. When they married, the job of women was to keep the house and look after their families but no doubt they frequently also helped in their husbands’ businesses.

One trade that women did pursue in their own right was inn-keeping. A 1620 list of innkeepers and alehouse-keepers includes six women including Mistress Field, as one of the four innkeepers.[i] The Melledge family owned Poole’s most important inn, the Antelope and in a tax record of 1662, the widow Mrs Melledge was listed as holding the inn.[ii] This was probably Elizabeth, the widow of Micha Melledge, as a trade token of 1666 connects her to the inn. After Elizabeth’s death the Antelope came into the possession of Alice, the widow of Johnson Melledge who left it in her will of 1678 to her daughter, Alice junior, a very rare example of an unmarried woman inheriting property from another woman. Among other women inn-keepers were Rachel Lloyd of the King’s Arms and Mary Carter who ran the White Bear in the early C18th.

Widows could be vulnerable economically or even physically. In 1598, the wealthy widow Alice Green with her servant Agnes Beard were murdered in her house in High Street and her strong boxes broken open and ransacked.[iii] Nevertheless it was often in widowhood that some women acquired status and independence as property owners and executrices of their husbands’ estates. In the early C17th, widow Helen Dolbery kept an inn and also leased the passage service from the Corporation. Widows Christian Hill and Edith Dackombe were listed among the 34 richest citizens in a subsidy list of 1628.[iv]


[i] Dorset History Centre DC-PL/C/B/4/1/2

[ii] Six month’s assessment on Poole 1662. National Archives E179/245/24

[iii] Documents relating to the murder of  Mrs Alice Green and her servant Agnes Beard. 1599-1640 Dorset History Centre DC-PL/C/H/1

[iv] Subsidy 1628 National Archives E179/105/315

Research Findings 1 – Governance

Poole Governance 1580-1730 – Peter Dawes

Independence and early development

Poole was created an independent County Borough (a “county corporate”) by the Charter 10 Elizabeth 23 June 1568.  Ten years earlier, during the first year of her reign, the Queen had issued letters patent confirming the Longespee Charter of 1248 and subsequent charters granted by the lords of the manor of Canford.

Before 1568, municipal records had been scarce and this had not been helped by the destruction of many records by the executors of a former town clerk.  However, after this date, the quality of the records improved significantly.

Previously, the main authority of the Borough had been vested in the Mayor.  He was appointed by the lord of the manor or his steward from among six individuals nominated by the burgesses at large and presented at the annual court-leet.  However, the process had gradually changed and latterly in effect the appointment was made direct by the jurors of the court-leet.  At the same time, another group had assumed increasing importance in the governance of the Borough.  Variously termed “the council” or “the assistants” or subsequently “the bench” they were effectively the exclusive and self-electing body comprising the jurors of the court-leet themselves.  This arose in part as a result of the reduction in the overall jurisdiction of the court-leet and by the comparative growth in importance of the municipal duties.  The authority of the assistants was not recognised by the 1568 Charter; although it appears to have survived beyond the grant until the emergence of the superstructure of a select privileged body.

By 1568, there were three clear categories of burgess:

  • Those legally recognised and possessing the required qualification of scot and lot residency;
  • The court of assistants which grew out of the court-leet jury;
  • Those burgesses made or elected by consent of the council.

For many years previously, the practice had grown up widely throughout England of creating fictitious burgess-ships (known as “making burgesses”) for those selected to represent a borough in Parliament.  At the time, Parliamentary representation was regarded as a burdensome duty of burgess-ship rather than a privilege.  There was therefore little reluctance to relinquish such duty to those who would pay the wages of the representatives. The practice became increasingly frequent but it was not without some jealousy on the part of the existing burgesses. In Poole, several merchants who did not own property in the Town were admitted as burgesses during the period 1583—1590; the first was William Pyttee of Weymouth on 16 March 1583.

By becoming a county corporate, the Town and its inhabitants became exempt from many onerous and expensive duties although the Borough was still subject to the authority of the lord lieutenant of Dorset.

From about this time, there was a gradual evolution of municipal transactions in the Town tending towards the establishment of the powers of a governing body: select, exclusive and self-elected.  Courts-leet were rapidly falling into disuse and the rights of ancient burgesses were gradually passing into abeyance—assisted to some extent by their own inaction).  In part this was helped by the fact that, hitherto, the Borough had acted on principles which were acceptable to the majority of ancient burgesses.

Henceforth, governance broadly comprised the Mayor, Aldermen, council of assistants and the made burgesses (recorded in the Borough).  Burgesses obtained the power of choosing their Mayor free from any manorial interference, although initially there was some reluctance from the incumbent lord of the manor, Lord Mountjoy.

Non-resident burgesses’ privilege was confined to exercising the paid franchise and this gradually gave rise to the fiction that burgess-ship was conferred on strangers as a mark of honorary distinction.  The evolution of the constitution of the governing body was slow and firmly established and recognised only in the mid-17th century:

  • 17 September 1631: an order that burgesses be created solely from inhabitants of the Town.
  • 3 November 1645: free burgess enjoyed privileges only if an inhabitant of the Town.
  • 7 August 1695: similarly, only resident burgesses could vote in the election of the mayor, JP Service, bailiff, etc.

However, as confirmed by the House of Commons in 1661, external burgesses could continue to enjoy the privileges of parliamentary representation.

Despite the importance of the 1568 charter in promoting the prosperity of Poole by stimulating commerce, the effect on the machinery of municipal government was relatively small.  Whilst the election of the Mayor became a matter solely for the burgesses, there is some doubt whether this right was ever fully enjoyed by the burgesses at large and the custom was finally abolished by judicial decision in 1810

2        Influence of King Charles II

On the restoration of King Charles II, an act was passed whereby magistrates and holders of office in the Borough had to swear not to take arms against the King and to renounce the oath termed the Solemn League and Covenant.  This affected Poole significantly, given its stance in the wars of rebellion arising from its strong Presbyterian presence.  Quite a few removals were made by the visiting commissioners on their visit on 17 October 1662 and all future officers had to be communicant members of the Church of England.

Charles II himself visited Poole on 24 September 1665 and nominated Will Skutt to the mayoralty.  However, this was rejected by the burgesses as they were reluctant to allow the prerogative of the Crown to extend so far.

The Charter 19 Charles II was granted to the Borough on 24 November 1667.  This ratified that all liberties and privileges lawfully used and enjoyed hitherto be confirmed.  Additional privileges included:

  • Appointment of 4 constables (an increase of 2)
  •  Appointment of a Recorder or town clerk (lawyer) but this had to be pre-approved by the King
  • Appointment of Justices of the Peace
  • Sheriff and Water Bailiff to be elected from among the common burgesses.

The Charter also confirmed that a fish market, in existence in the Borough from time immemorial, could continue to be held by custom.  All fish had to be offered for sale for one hour in the market before they could be taken elsewhere for sale.

Overall, the resulting situation was that:

  • The Borough was able to make bye-laws.
  • Burgesses could be appointed to offices but could be fined if they refused.
  • There remained two classes of burgess.
  • The Mayor, bailiffs and burgesses could fine absentees from regular meetings.
  • The Borough was authorised to levy local taxes for municipal purposes.
  • No writ of quo warranto would be issued in respect of any actions before the issue of the Charter.
  • All officers were required to take an oath of obedience and supremacy before taking up appointment.

This document (plus the one granted by Elizabeth I previously) formed the basis of local government in Poole until 1 January 1836 when the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 came into force.

3        Seizure of Borough Charter

Near the end of his reign, Charles II attempted to make a virtually universal (throughout the country) seizure of borough charters by writs of quo warranto.  Poole was included: quo warranto 27 June 1683 (35 Car II).  It was likely that Poole had shown a stronger spirit than the King had anticipated on the grant of the Charter 19 Charles II.

Poole burgesses made a long and humble submission to the King dated 19 September 1683.  This was favourably received by the King, as reported back by the emissary Benjamin Skutt.  He was then instructed by the burgesses to report that the Borough of Poole was willing to accede to any conditions required by the King (letter to Benjamin Skutt 8 October 1683).

However, despite the submission being favourably received, it transpired that the ‘matter’ was not then satisfactorily arranged and judgement was entered against the Borough in the spring/summer 1864 which effectively took away local privileges granted in all previous charters.

Thus the JPs appointed on 15 February 1683 (35 Car II 1682-3) remained in place.

In between quo warranto and the charter of 4 Jac II, the lord of the manor held courts-leet in Poole and attempted unsuccessfully to recover his ancient right of electing a mayor.  The duties were undertaken by John Wyndham of Salisbury, appointed by (central) commission.

4        Restoration of Borough Status

The general aim of the forced surrender of charters was not to destroy the existence of the corporations but to remodel the boroughs by new charters to bring them more under the influence of the Crown, reserving right of removal to officers of the Crown.   Thus the Charter 4 Jac II (15 September 1688) along these lines was issued to Poole which was to be a county borough along with many other administrative matters.

However, this charter was so distasteful to the inhabitants that it was rejected as representing a rejection of the dangerous encroachments on the liberty of the subject.

This was part of a more widespread spirit of resistance to the arbitrary measures of James II.  He had overreached his despotic views and as a result, the acts of the last few weeks of his reign included the grant of charters of complete restoration to the Borough of Poole without any of the objectionable provisions in the rejected charter. 4 Jac II 8 December 1688.

The charter of restitution was obtained by the influence of Sir Nathaniel Napier who bore the expenses.  The new charter was promulgated in Poole on 24 December 1688 and the restored officers were duly sworn in. Thereafter, the course of municipal government in Poole continued uniformly down to the alterations effected by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 (5+6 Wm IV c76).