Life was like this then…



With many thanks to Roger Guttridge for his permission to use these extracts from his articles ‘A habit from the past’ and The water that is passed’ for Dorset Life.

Swanskin had nothing to do with swans.  It was a coarse, wool-based cloth known for its warmth and waterproof qualities.  The material was used to manufacture hooded garments popular with fishermen travelling to Newfoundland.DSCF0274 (4)

This picture shows a fisherman wearing such a garment or ‘habit’ thought to be made from swanskin, whose manufacture provided a living for generations of people living in Sturminster Newton.

The fabric was white hence its name.  North Dorset’s swanskin industry dates back to at least 1578 when Sturminster clothier, James Yonge, is recorded as seeking tax relief on cloth sold to mariners ‘ going beyond the seas’.  Following John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497, numbers of ships were sailing from the South West to exploit the cod-rich North Atlantic.  Poole increasingly dominated the Newfoundland trade and was just down the road from Sturminster Newton and carriers carried cloth to the hundreds of ships bound for Newfoundland each Spring.

These carriers were apt to stop at a few pubs along the way, safe in the knowledge that if they fell asleep at the reins, their horses knew the route well enough to complete the journey unassisted.  But not all these journeys went to plan.  At Spetisbury, the local lads thought it a jolly jape to turn the horse around and point it in the direction from which it had come.  When the carter awoke, he would find himself back where his journey had begun.  This mischief became such a problem that in the Dorset Archives is a letter from a carter asking a magistrate to do something about it.  The alternative, of course would have been for the carters to cut back on the pub-crawling and stay awake.


The Pirate Code

Pirates are considered to be a brutal, lawless lot.  But on board ship, they live under a set of rules called ‘The Pirates Code’ or ‘Articles of Agreement’.  Each Captain had his own set of rules for the ship and crew under his command but they followed a general pattern.  These included discipline, compensation, share of the booty and compensation for injury.  Each crew member must make his mark or sign on the Articles whilst swearing an oath of allegiance. This gave each crew member the right to vote for officers and other affairs of interest, bear arms and share booty.

Here are the articles used by Captain John Phillips, of the Revenge, from 1724:

I. Every Man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full share and a half of all the Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain, and Gunner shall have one Share and quarter.

II. If any Man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be marooned with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot.$_35[1]

III. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marooned or shot.

IV. If any time we shall meet another Marooner that man shall sign his Articles without consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.

V. That man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses’s Law ( that is, 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare back.

VI. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoke tobacco in the Hold, without a Cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same punishment as the former Article.

VII. That Man shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.

VIII. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a Limb 800.

IX. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to Meddle with her, without her consent, shall suffer present Death.

The Pirate Code became the basis for The Articles of Association used by all companies in England today.  These govern the internal management of the company, regulating the rights of the members among themselves……. it is a requirement of company law for a company to register its own special set of Articles which make specific provision on matters of internal management, particularly suited to the needs of that individual business.

sources: A General History of the Robbers and Murderers of the most notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson; The Gower Handbook of Management


The Fate of the Anne

Anne snip

Early in August 1625, three sailors, Nicholas Nurrey, Robert Rapson and Thomas Marryner arrived in Poole with an ominous tale to tell. A meeting was hastily arranged with the Mayor John Harward and three Justices of the Peace, and the men were soon relating their story. A few days before, the three, together with 12-year-old ship’s boy, Nicholas Jerrard, had been sailing to ‘Croysick’ in France (probably the Breton port of Le Croisic) aboard the 20 ton Anne of Poole. South southwest of Plymouth, between Deadman’s Point and Looe they were surprised and taken by Barbary pirates, then commonly known as ‘Turks’. Nurrey told how they had ‘beate him verye cruellye and toke away from him such commodityes as were abord him wth their victualls, apparrell and their boy, Nicholas Jerrard’.

The pirate ship was not alone but part of a flotilla of six ships which sailed in pursuit of two Scottish merchantmen keeping company with the Anne. What is more, the ‘Turkish’ ships were large and well armed, two of them being about 160 to 180 tons and another two having 20 guns apiece. The pirates had already taken a considerable toll among English merchant ships. Rapson and Marryner described how once aboard the pirate ship, ‘they saw some three skore English captives lyeing in chaynes in ye hold’ who had been taken in the Channel from Bristol ships, a Barnstable vessel sailing from Virginia, and fishing boats ‘driveing uppon the streame’.

At the helm of the pirate vessel was another English captive whose ship had been taken the previous season when sailing out to Newfoundland. He told Thomas Marryner ‘that there were twentye sayle of Turks att sea about this coast & the coast of ffrance or hovering betwixt Bellyle and Ushant to make their praye on all his Maties subiects tradeing to and fro twixt England and ffrance especially on the newfoudlandmen expected homeward wthin this moneth, threatening that wthin these 2 yeares they would not leave ye king of England sayles to furnish his shipps to sea.’

How the crew (except for the unfortunate boy Nicholas Jerrard) escaped being taken captive, we do not know, but perhaps the pirates had taken as many captives as they could manage. John Harward lost no time in writing to the Privy Council with the news of the situation, warning the authorities that unless measures were taken the returning Newfoundland fleet of 250 sail with 4,000 to 5,000 men on board would be surprised and fall victim to the pirates. His message joined a chorus of protests from Channel ports suffering shipping losses. The mayor of Plymouth, for instance had fears for the ships sailing from Virginia and Newfoundland, adding a grim statistic. In the space of only 10 days, 27 ships and 200 men had been taken by Barbary pirates.

piece contributed by Jenny Oliver


The Smuggler’s Curse


Copy of an original letter written by a smuggler to a Captain Bursack of the Revenue Cutter Speedwell and was found in Poole Custom House during renovations. The gentleman in question, a one J. Spurier, is hopping mad that Captain Bursack has dared to interfere with his (un)lawful smuggling activities and says as much in very colourful language!

‘Sir, Damn thee

and God Damn thy two Purblind Eyes thou Buger and thou Death looking son of a Bitch O that I had bin there (with my company) for they sake when thou tookes them men of Mine on Board the Speedwell Cutter on Monday ye 14 Decr. I would drove thee and all they Gang to Hell wher thou belongest thou Devil Incarnet Go Down thou Hell Hound into thy Kennell below & Bathe thy Self in that Sulpherous Lake that has bin so long Prepared for such as thee for it is time the World was rid of such a Monster thou art no Man but a Devil thou fiend I hope thou will soon fall into Hell like star from the Sky; there to lie (unpitied) & unrelented of any for Ever and Ever Which God Grant of his infinite Mercy Amen’

Letter from J. Spurier, smuggler; Fordingbridge, January 1700 to Captain Bursack

Source – Smugglers Tales by Tom Quinn in Contraband p.167

No Friendly Fire

The blockhouse on Brownsea Island was built in 1547, one of a string of coastal defences ordered by King Henry VIII against invasion from the continent. It was based on a solid platform and consisted of a single storey square tower about 13m by 13m with walls 2m thick and guns mounted on the flat Brownsea blockhouse 4roof of the tower. On the eastern side was a barbican or walled courtyard and the whole structure was surrounded by a ditch, with a drawbridge to give access. The purpose was to protect the entrance to Poole Harbour from enemy ships but in fact the guns were rarely fired in anger and on one rare recorded occasion when they were, the target was no enemy but a ship from Poole itself.

Continue reading

Project timeline

Our project concerns Poole’s Maritime Heritage between 1580 and 1730, a fascinating 150 years of development to the town and port of Poole. So much happened across the period and the backdrop to change in Poole was at times quite dramatic.

Message in a bottle


As the timeline we have prepared shows, the period saw the reigns of nine monarchs, despite the civil war and 18 year period to the restoration. The Spanish Armada featured at the beginning of the period and across the rest of the period there came the settlement of Newfoundland and other colonies on the eastern seaboard of the America and in the Caribbean.

In the coming months we’ll add more besides to this overarching backdrop and summarise the developments of relevance more locally here in Poole.

Continue reading

The lives and some experiences of our leading men – Woodes Rogers

Governor Woodes Rogers

Rogers statue NassauWoodes Rogers was a boy in Poole until his teens, when his family went to Bristol with their shipping and trading business.

He went to Newfoundland as an apprentice seaman and set off later at the age of 28 on a voyage around the world as a privateer captain with two vessels under his command, the Duke and Duchess.

He found the castaway Alexander Selkirk on Juan De Fernandez Island in the Pacific, whose experiences became known world-wide through Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe book, following Rogers’ return to Bristol.

Later in life and at his own expense, and that of merchant backers, he established the colony of the Bahamas after first ridding the islands of pirates. His fame endured there – the motto of the Bahamas until 1973 was “piracy expelled and commerce restored” a direct reference to his significance.

Continue reading

The lives and some experiences of our leading men – John Bennett

Captain John Bennett RN (1670-1717)

Bennett was a royal Naval Captain for parts of his career but also had other interests sufficient that he left a will worth several millions in today’s money. There is speculation that he and his wider family were closely involved in smuggling locally.

bennett2 (2)
His father was also a royal naval captain and John and his parents moved to Barking, in Essex, in their later years where the family also had connections. Barking in those days was a drop off port for London.

In Poole the family were said to live in a tenement at the end of Bennett’s Lane beside Strand Street.

Continue reading

The lives and some experiences of our leading men – Thomas Button

Admiral Sir Thomas Button (1565-1634)

Button - colour Copyright up close

Button (was for much of his career Admiral of the Narrow Seas – that water defined by the Bristol Channel and across the whole of Southern Ireland; where his job included not only protecting vessels and coastal communities from pirates (not only from here in the British Isles, France and Spain, but also from north Africa and the Barbary Coast) but also specifically the many vessels, from local ports all around the southwest of England, going out and back to and from Newfoundland each year.

Continue reading

Poole’s Governance then and maritime security


Fishermen and traders alike cared very much about their safe passage free from risks from pirates and privateers. Life was hard enough without having to deal with the loss of goods or catches to other seamen. At the beginning of our project period piracy from French and Barbary pirates was rife in the Poole waters and further afield there were always such risks to business.

Privateering was pursued by most countries and deemed acceptable during times of war; it was little more than state sponsored piracy in effect. Button and Rogers had experience of being privateers early in their careers, and as such they used the Letter of Marque (from the Crown) as the licence they needed to take prizes in their travels.
Smuggling was also rife across the period and it was evident that people from all social classes took part in related activities.

Pirate flag


So in a port like Poole how did the powers that be govern it with the effect that it grew and prospered? This is part of the story that we want to tell as this project progresses. At present we have some insights into changes that happened to make seamanship, fishing and trading safer and more secure, but we feel there is more to come.

Continue reading

Poole’s Maritime Heritage and our Three Leading Men

Poole’s Maritime Heritage and our Three Leading Men

Poole in 1568 began to develop in its importance, Queen Elizabeth 1st’ “Great Charter” made it one of only 16 ports in the country to be directly responsible for its maritime interests. Across the succeeding 150 years it grew in importance with the development of its fishing interest in Newfoundland, and through developing trade with the Communities and colonies on the east Coast of America and in the Caribbean.


Picture of extract of Elizabeth 1st Charter to Poole – courtesy of Poole History Online

The period of the project is defined by the lifetimes of our three leading men – Button at the beginning of the period; Bennett and Rogers towards the end. These are the people that we believe some of the alleys on Poole Quay might have been named after in the C18t
Sir Thomas Button was an Admiral working for the Crown; Bennett was a Royal Naval Captain and probably involved as well, with his wider family, in local smuggling; and Rogers was a famous privateer who established the Bahamas as a colony on behalf of Kings George I and George II between 1717 and 1732.
These are our three leading men; we think their lives map onto the development of Poole in this period rather well. Their experiences certainly help to explain more about what was going on in those days …. What do you think?

Continue reading