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.

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