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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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The Story Begins….


The purpose of this project is to delve into and tell the story of Poole’s Maritime Heritage in Early Modern Britain (C1580-1730); and to share it with as many people as we can. We have lots to do before we can do this in a complete manner, but it is what we intend to do by end August 2018.

The Nao Victoria: a replica of the Spanish vessel C1519 at Poole Quay 2017


What we will do in the next few posts is to summarise what we have found out so far in several pieces. In this one we provide some information about the project and the background to Poole in those days. Later posts will progress with information on:
• Poole’s maritime heritage and how our three leading men map onto it.
• Poole and its governance then and maritime security.
• Each of the three characters and their lives.

We will develop these aspects of the story as we progress and find out more. Eventually we will add a section to the storyline to explain what we think that all this meant for Poole’s development by the end of the period.

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Project to Promote Poole’s Maritime Heritage in Early Modern Britain



map of poole

Plan of Poole, 1636 © National Trust: Bankes of Kingston Lacy family and estate archive, deposited at Dorset History Centre

Our project has been awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we must thank, particularly, all who play the National Lottery and make these awards possible.
Within this project, we are going to explore and celebrate Poole’s Maritime Heritage within the period 1585 to 1730 with the help of volunteers and people interested in local history. Continue reading