Lancaster and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century

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A detail from the log book of five voyages to Jamaica in the brigantine Dolphin of Lancaster, 1774-1778 (reference DDX 22/68)

 

Among the documents deposited at Lancashire Archives by the Governors of Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Clitheroe, is a log book of five voyages made by the big or brigantine Dolphin between Lancaster and the West Indies from 1774 to 1778. Unfortunately, there is no certain information as to how this book came to be among these school records. It is useful mainly because it throws additional light on the trade between Lancaster and the West Indies.

A ship’s log book is made primarily to record information useful for navigation, so that naturally this book has more information of this nature than of any other sort. It also contains manifests of the cargo carried, with information on consignors and consignees, as well as other things of interest. There are several reasons why the purely navigational aspect should interest us. In the first place this log book illustrates the difficulty of determining longitude without an accurate chronometer, and it should be explained at this point that the modern method of doing this depends on a comparison of local noon, when the sun is at its highest, with noon at Greenwich. Navigation, therefore, provided an incentive for the development of more accurate clocks, which incorporate some features of Harrison’s chronometer. This last had been perfected by 1761, but one was not used aboard the Dolphin. Secondly, the very lack of an accurate chronometer meant that other, less accurate, methods were used for determining longitude. These involved the use of mathematics – there is a whole page of trigonometrical date for this purpose near the beginning of this book – so that navigation was one of the reasons for the interest in mathematics which accompanies the voyages of discovery and the development of long-distance trading by sea. Thirdly, as an aid to recognizing what land had been sighted after crossing the Atlantic , the commander of the Dolphin, Anthony Baldwin, drew various pieces of coastline, as the Admiralty still do on charts, in the pages of his log.

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The pages of the book containing the log are arranged in a series of columns, giving the speed, course, strength and direction of the wind, leeway (sideways drift), what sails were set and miscellaneous comments every two hours, where necessary. Owing presumably to the importance of local noon, a ship’s log reckons days from noon to noon, making the date at sea twelve hours ahead of the date on land. When the ship was at anchor the log reverted to land time. At the end of each day at noon, when at sea, there are notes of the course, the distance run, the distance made good, and the position of the ship. The course is corrected to allow for leeway, currents, changes of course during the day and magnetic variation, while the distance made good is the result of making similar allowances on the distance run through the water.

The comments in the last column are not restricted to navigation, but refer to anything of note, mostly the weather, or ships sighted. When the weather was calm there are notes about such things as repairs made and how the crew was occupied, usually in painting, caulking and similar jobs. Fishing was a common occupation in the calmer weather found near the West Indies, dolphins bring the commonest catch. In September 1776, homeward bound, Anthony Baldwin was one day moved to verse :

“Three Charming Dolphins Caught did we

One fine one lost by WW and AB” (Anthony Baldwin)

and a few days later :

“One Dolphin more this morning by good luck

From off the Spritsail yard the Carpinter Struck.”

This may not be as Shakespeare would have put it, but it does give us a clue as to what was meant by a dolphin ; they were flying fish or donados, not the animal we now call a dolphin, flying fish being the only sea animal which could possibly be found in the region.

The same homeward passage is also notable for being the first made in convoy, owing to the outbreak of the American War of Independence. For this passage the fleet was convoyed by the 36-gun frigate Pallas. The commodore, the Honourable Captain Cornwallis, proved himself a careful guardian of his charges, for we find in Anthony Baldwin’s log such comments as “Our Commodore Goes under very Easy Sail to let the fleet up” (14 August) and “beginning of this 24 hours Set St[u]d[fen] Sails And run past the Commodore at 3 PM, he fir’d a Shott after us to Shorten Sail”(24 September), despite which Baldwin lost sight of the fleet three days later for the rest of the passage. On the next passage the Dolphin joined the convoy of 55 ships, at Cork, and the commodore on this occasion also seems to have been a careful one. On the return passage the limitations of the convoy system with sailing ships were apparent on 7 August, 1777, when there was a strong wind the whole twentyfour hours, which scattered the fleet to some extent. At this point the commodore signalled that each ship was to make its way home as best it could. That was in the afternoon and therefore on 6 August by land time. Not all commodores were sufficiently patient for this job, however. On the next homeward passage, on 30 June, 1778, Baldwin wrote: “Our Commodore [Captain Garnier] keeps the heaviest Ships with all [the sail] the[y] can carry 4 or 5 Leagues a Stern” and again, on 12 July” Some of the fleet being Leagues to Leeward of the Commodore. Still he Carries on without waiting for Heavy Ships to get up. A Careless Commodore of his flock.”

Not only the conditions under which goods were transported but also the manifests of cargoes deserve some attention. The principal feature worth noting relates to one of Lancaster’s main industries, cabinet making, for considerable quantities of mahogany and white oak were imported, and at least some of it was shipped back whence it had come, in the form of furniture. Beside the white oak and mahogany, and the other more obvious imports sugar and rum, coffee, cotton, ginger, indigo, pimentoes and tobacco appear on the manifests. In return for these imports a variety of hardware and some items of food, such as ham and porter were expected. The hardware consisted mostly of items such as nails, cordage,candles, “Queens were” (a sort of stoneware), bills and hoes, glass, hoops and iron pots. Dairy produce and some fish, but not porter, were taken on board at Cork, where the Dolphin called when outward bound. The merchants in whose names this trade was carried on are also worthy of note. Edward and Richard Salisbury were both men considerable substance, as their wills show. That of Edward was proved on 9 June 1787, and besides having over £1,000 in movable goods, he also had in Lancaster, besides his house, a warehouse, and in Bowland two houses, about 90 acres of land and some 380 sheep. There is less concrete information in Richard Salisbury’s will proved the following year, but he was obviously quite a wealthy man also, as appears from the elaborate trusts created in his will. Messrs. James and John Garnett shipped a considerable quantity of goods, as alsodid Richard and Robert Gillow, the founders of the company Waring & Gillow. There were other merchants who sent goods by the Dolphin, but mostly of lesser stature than these men; Benjamin Satterthwaite, for example, whom we mentioned earlier as the subject of Schofield’s article, and his brother Thomas among them. In common with other captains Anthony Baldwin also traded on his own account, mostly in rum. On 27 April, 1778 there is a note in the log that that was the first day he began to brew rum shrub, for which the Oxford English Dictionary gives a recipe: lemon juice, Seville orange juice, finest Jamacia rum, and sweets of cane sugar.

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These voyages were made when Lancaster was at the peak of its prosperity, and even though Liverpool was than a far bigger port, a substantial amount of cotton was imported. The ship itself was a small one, for even then the Lune was silting up. In fact, at the end of one homeward voyage the Dolphin ran aground. The ship never went as far up as Lancaster proper, loading and unloading at Glasson or Sunderland.

Notes: This is a slightly edited version of an article that appeared in the Lancashire Record Office Annual Report for 1961. Since then, more archives relating to the voyages of the Dolphin have been acquired – the reference to these is DP 448

 

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