DEVON PILOTS (Following an explanation)

THE SEAFARERS (Reports of late-17th c. sailings)


20 NORTH DEVON VESSELS (Details from 1861 registrations)

MARITIME ARCHIVES (Newfoundland-based North Atlantic Archives)

DEFOE'S reference to the sea-trading confirms well-known activities from the 'Tawmouth' ports of Barnstaple and Bideford. Trading was extensive with Iberia, France and Newfoundland, and the London Gazette of the 17th and 18th centuries is full of accounts of sailings to and from these ports. In those days, sailings were not hum-drum affairs, and many of the reports are full of colour.

Many reports concern shipping that was wholly or partly wrecked around the North Devon coast, and there was a lot of that, together with much loss of crew. Reports during 1690 and 1691 were also much concerned with troop movements via North Devon to and from Ireland. Other 'Gazette' shipping reports concern everyday landings and sailings, but all clearly show the exotic ports that they visited - Bilbao, Lisbon, Oporto ("O Porto"), Cadiz, Algiers ("Argiers"), etc., as well as Boston, Prince Edward Island, "St. Lucs", and Dublin. Their cargoes are reported as wool, sugar, "trayn" (whale) oil, wines, prunes, herring, oranges, iron, etc. Interestingly, a report is also given concerning the taking of the SCANDERBERG, and that Mr. Robert Fishley, the commander, was taken by the Turks to "Argiers".

Here is a sample (note spellings for Ilfracombe, etc):

1670, reported in 20-23 May Issue At Barnstaple. Small vessel put in from Rochelle with Salt/Wine (being bound from Lisbon to Tercera's) but that the Turks, after a warm dispute, after having grapled with her, and put a great many men on board of her, were forced to quit the combat, and leave 14 of their men behind them, which were all killed, save one, who having sheltered himself in the shrouds, obtained quarter, and the said vessel continued her voyage.

1672, reported in 22-25 July Issue At RYE. Yesterday, the JOHN of Dover brought in a small vessel of 36 tuns, called the LAUREL BRANCH of Barnstaple, which they rescued from a Dutch Privateer, who had seized her nine days before on her way to Newfoundland, laden with Malt, Salt etc.
(An observable issue here is that this ship and so many other ships were so small, yet made such hazardous ocean-going voyages. This event was also one of many reported where a Devon ship had been taken by a foreign vessel, but later retaken).

1678, reported in 3-7 October Issue Swanzey. We have had for these 14 days last past very stormy weather, which hath had effects on some small vessels on these Coasts. The Master of a Small Vessel of Coombe, coming over here to load Coals a day or two before the bad weather began, did confidently report that he and his Company, upon their crossing the Severne, saw a Mair-man apparently whole above water, his head and face being like that of a man, with long hair.

1689, reported in 28 Nov/2 Dec Issue On Saturday last was brought to Ilford-Combe.....a French Vessel which was taken by one of our Frigates on the coast of Ireland, being laden with Iron and Hoops. Here is likewise arrived the TERRA NOVA of this place, from Newfoundland; She met a French Privateer on the coast of Ireland, with whom she exchanged several Broad-sides, and at last forced the Privateer to leave her.

1693, reported in 26 Feb/1 Mar Issue London, Feb. 26th. This day at a General Sessions for the Admiralty of England, held at the Marshalseas by Virtue of Their Majesties Commission of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery.......... Six other Mariners named DERBY COLLINS, JOHN RYAN, RICHARD SHIVERS, PATRICK QUIDLEY, JOHN SANGSTER, and CONSTANTIN DEHERTY were severally indicted for Piratically taking and carrying away two English Merchant Ships called the MARY of Tinmouth and the HAPPY RETURN of Biddiford; They alledged that they had the late King James's Commission, but being found Guilty upon the aforesaid Indictment were condemned to be Hanged as Pyrates. (Of these, DERBY COLLINS and PATRICK QUIDLEY were executed at "Redriff Stairs" on March 5th, 1693. Of the others, no record is yet found).

1694, reported in 25-28 June Issue From on Board the JOHN AND SUSANNA in Milford Haven.... On the 20th instant we made the land, which was the Skellick, and two hours after espied 3 sail, which proved to be two English Man of War the WEYMOUTH and DUNKIRKE, with a French Privateer, Which they had taken the 17th instant being Sunday, the WEYMOUTH came up with her about two in the morning, and fought her till Sunset, when the DUNKIRKE coming in, the Privateer Struck; She is a new Ship called the GRAND of St. Malo, had 56 guns mounted, and 320 men, of whom 50 were killed and 45 wounded, but was extremely disabled in her Sails, Masts, Yards, and Rigging; Both our Frigates are gone with their Prize to Kinsale. This Ship (the JOHN AND SUSANNA) came from Virginia on the 20th May, together with the RICHARD AND JOHN of Bristol, and a BIddiford Ship, which are with us in Milford Haven, and a Londoner called CADIZ MERCHANT who went into Kinsale. (Note - there was very little about any Devon shipping in this report, but I thought it worth reproducing, particularly on reading the opening line, which is something like a report on the BBC Television News!).

Return to top of page.

THANK YOU for visiting, and please mail me with your comments,
or return to Devon History Selection.