War caused loss; to shipowners, to seamen, to the nation. Loss of ships; loss of life and limb and of sea chests with their clothing and valuables; loss of trade owing to the slowing of the movement of shipping. By far the most spectacular wartime calamities were the capture of ships and their cargoes by enemy privateers and warships. From the national point of view these losses were usually compensated by captures from the enemy, since destruction for its own sake had not yet been extended to merchant shipping; though this was no comfort to the shipowner whose ship was taken, insurance might spread his losses. It is far from certain, however, that captures, numerous as they were, inflicted as much damage on the shipowning community as other, less dramatic, features of war.
The extent of merchant ship losses in wartime is not easy to ascertain; there was no reason for official recording of it in England, and it was obscured in later wars by the practice of ransom. The Admiralty estimate of losses by the war of 1689-1697, for example, was 4000 ships - a figure almost incredible at first sight. When it is remembered, however, that a great many of these were ransomed - that is, set free at once in return for guarantees of a money payment to the capturer - and that some may have been repeatedly seized, the figure appears a possible one, though not necessarily true. Propagandist exaggeration does appear in some of the figures, but there were a number of attempts to make reliable estimates.
For the war with Spain and France between 1624 and 1629 a vague and incomplete account suggests that losses to the enemy may have exceeded 300 ships, including well over a hundred “large” ships of over one hundred tons apiece. This was a considerable loss for the quite small merchant fleet of the time, and it is unlikely that it was counterbalanced by prizes captured. There were losses, of unknown extent, to French privateers and to Royalists operating from foreign bases, in the late forties.
In the days of sail the cost of sea transport was principally the cost of paying and feeding a crew. During the seventeenth century the Dutch had led the way in operating ships that needed small crews in relation to the cargo they carried, and the English had followed their example, when they could, by using captured Dutch-built ships. In the eighteenth century, however, English shipbuilders made their own way towards operational efficiency. The clearest way of measuring their success is by looking at the gradually decreasing ratio of crew to tonnage; that is, to use the somewhat artificial concept of “tons served per man.” The picture can be drawn with some accuracy from 1726 onward, when this sort of evidence can be extracted from the records of “Seamen's Sixpences” but to point the contrast it is as well first to glance back briefly at the manning position in the previous century, so far as this is possible.
It is clear that in the early decades of the seventeenth century, ships going southward from England - to Spain and Portugal, the Biscay coast of France, the Mediterranean and the East Indies - were very heavily manned. These vessels had to defend themselves against the corsairs who were ready to prey without limit on English shipping in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coast of Europe, until naval expeditions began to curb their eagerness. The guns which ships carried might well have to be used, and it was a good thing to carry a crew which could at least man a single broadside. But as the dangers declined, so crews were reduced gradually towards levels determined by the requirements of serving the ship; curiously enough, the number of guns carried was little if at all reduced, though they could no longer be fully manned. In the thirties, the English ships going to Cádiz and Málaga for wine and fruit carried crews averaging one man to 6.7 tons; in 1686-1687 the corresponding figure is 7.7 tons.
So far the ship's crew has been something of an abstraction, merely an indicator of technical conditions in ships and on sea routes. It is time now to take a closer look at the men themselves - who they were, how they came to the sea and what rewards it gave them. We may start by considering a few random examples, drawn from various trades and periods, to introduce the typical ranks and skills that combined to form a merchant ship's company.
In the very first years of the seventeenth century, an estimate was made for the crew of a ship of 160 tons to go to Málaga. She was to carry a master and two mates, a boatswain, gunner and carpenter, a surgeon and eighteen hands; a crew of twenty-five in all. Abraham of 200 tons, which made voyages to Barbados in the thirties, carried a master and two mates, a boatswain, gunner and carpenter, but in this vessel the last three each had a mate, and there was a specialist cook and a surgeon besides the deckhands. The number of hands varied between seventeen and nineteen, making a total crew of twenty-eight to thirty. Jumping forward another thirty years, we may pick out a very different ship, the foreign-built Falcon of 200 tons, trading to the Baltic in 1672. She had only seventeen men in all; a master and only one mate, a boatswain, gunner and carpenter, a surgeon and eleven men and boys. Even the gunner might have been omitted in these waters safe from piracy, had not war with the Netherlands just broken out.
The East Indiaman presents a very different picture. Setting out for the far side of the world on a voyage which might well last two years, facing many hazards from disease as well as from weather and the king's enemies, she began her voyage well provided with supplies of all kinds, including men - both seamen and specialists. Take Colchester, of 450 tons, for instance, which sailed at the end of 1703. In addition to the master she had five mates and three midshipmen. The boatswain had two mates or servants, the gunner three and the carpenter four. There were cook and cooper, each with a mate, besides a steward and a captain's steward with two assistants, a purser, a caulker and his mate, a joiner and two tailors.
Whatever view may be taken of the long-continued arguments among historians and economists over the consistency and self-consciousness of mercantilist policy, it is evident that most English governments in modern times took some interest in the maintenance of the English merchant shipping industry. At the very least, they were anxious to keep the supply of trained seamen at the highest level possible, since the navy could only be manned in wartime by taking great numbers from the merchant service. Until the end of the seventeenth century they also wished to see large reserves of merchant ships to act as auxiliaries to the royal fleet, and especially of large ships which could take part in fighting alongside it. Recognition that the merchant service was the support of the navy provided the continuing thread in maritime policy. In the seventeenth century a growing consciousness of the economic problems associated with the balance of trade, and the enlargement by colonial development of the area over which English commercial legislation could be effective, wove new strands into the motivation of policy. The view became explicit that it was desirable to keep down foreign participation in the carriage of goods in English trade, not only in order to boost English shipping for the benefit of the navy but also to evade the burden on the balance of payments of freight charges due to foreigners. So there were renewed and more carefully thought out efforts to eliminate foreign ships from trades where they could be replaced by English. In the Navigation Acts from 1651 onward, the second approach is clearly embodied along with the first, and during the rest of the seventeenth century there was further legislation against the foreigner and in support of English trade and shipping. But the Navigation Acts were only the precursors of a great wave of discriminatory legislation in all economic fields, which was set in motion when the authority of Parliament was extended after 1688. This found its expression in a whole range of subsidies to individual industries, bounties for exports, prohibitions of imports, protective tariffs and so on, as parliament warmed to the task of aiding English industry and its raw material suppliers, incidentally giving some further privileges to English shipping.
For readers new to the Research in Maritime History reprint series, I should point out that the book has been completely re-typeset to conform to our standard format. While the content is the same, in the interests of scholarly precision it should be noted that we have introduced a few editorial changes. We have standardized the text to accord with the house style of Research in Maritime History. As well, the text has been edited slightly to remove insofar as possible any typographical errors in the original. But the three most obvious differences in the body of the book are in the footnotes and the index. In addition to redoing the notes to fit our house style, we have added information on reprints and new editions which have appeared over the past half century to assist interested readers in finding cited works. While we have followed the original schema for the index, we have redone it completely so that the page references accord with this edition. To avoid confusion, readers who cite page references in this edition should use the designation “New edition” to distinguish it from the original publication. Finally, for reasons having more to do with production than anything else, this edition does not contain the illustrations in the original volume.
I would like to conclude by thanking David Williams for his assistance with this project. David has been a friend for thirty-five years, but he has been a scholar I have admired for even longer. He and I share the same sense of excitement at having this groundbreaking monograph back in print.
The pathway through the shipping statistics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is a slippery and often misleading one. Several writers have attempted to follow it; in 1915 Walther Vogel, “Zur Grosse der europaischen Handelsflotten im 15, 16 and 17 Jahrhundert;” fourteen years later A.P. Usher, “The Growth of English Shipping, 1572-1922;” and in 1939 L.A. Harper, who devoted nearly a third of a large book to a most thorough investigation. I myself spent much time gathering basic data and manipulating them; the results are in my unpublished London PhD thesis. The figures used here differ significantly from those developed in the above works (including the last). No doubt they will not escape revision in due time; but I hope future revisions will not be so drastic as to destroy the general picture of growth, slowing down and new growth which is presented here.
There are three potential sources of error in the preparation of comparative shipping statistics for this period.
Ralph Davis's The Rise of the English Shipping Industry in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries is certainly one of the most significant books in maritime history published in the twentieth century. It was and remains the only comprehensive study of English shipping during its period, but more so, when it was first published in 1962 it represented a watershed in two senses: it broke the mould of past studies and, more positively, it represented a new approach to the study of shipping both conceptually and in its use of source material. Through such features and its high scholarly quality it came as a revelation to all interested in shipping. Moreover, although it was a specialized study, because its findings were placed in a wider context and addressed issues of the day it caused historians to begin to view the maritime dimension and maritime history in a new and different light.
This new edition of Davis’ seminal study will make the book more readily available to a fresh generation of scholars. It is essential reading for all interested in the historiography of maritime studies and for everyone engaged in research into shipping. Whatever aspect, period or context - national or international - is being examined, his work is a model in approach and the use of data. He also poses questions that are widely applicable. The writers of this introduction believe wholeheartedly that our view of the maritime world and the type and form of research to which we aspire owes an incalculable debt to Ralph Davis.
Davis’ study remains so relevant and fresh that it is difficult to remember that it is now a half- century since it first appeared. Because of this passage of time, our original goal of inviting one of his contemporaries to write this introduction is sadly impossible. Davis died at the age of sixty-two in 1978. Almost all of those whom Ralph regarded as close colleagues - notably Robin Craig, Basil Greenhill, Rupert Jarvis and Geoffrey Scammell are no longer with us, and those few who remain are not in the best of health. We both had the privilege of meeting or knowing Davis. In Fischer's case, the association was very brief and confined to the few days during which Ralph graced the very first conference of the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project.
The English of the sixteenth century were a rural and an agricultural people, with no town of any size outside London, and no industry of more than local consequence except the making of woollen cloth. Though England was by no means self-sufficient, and its cloth industry depended heavily on foreign markets, its trade inward and outward was still mainly in valuable goods; the need had not appeared to bring in, and the opportunity had not arisen to export, large quantities of the cheap bulky goods which are the support of a great shipping industry. There was, it is true, a growing tendency to import corn; but this import trade was characterized by such violent fluctuations that it could provide no secure occupation for a specialized shipping, and most of it was handled by the Dutch and German ships which regularly distributed corn along all the western coasts of Europe. The shipping industry was, therefore, as yet of little significance in the English economy. It performed limited services (which foreigners would gladly have undertaken) and employed little capital and few men; it neither absorbed any important share of the nation's resources nor performed any very essential task. A good deal of such importance as it had was provided by the fishing fleets, which employed in the fishery and in the distribution of its product a large proportion of the total of English ships and seamen.
The growth of the industry in the following century has been described; it was based principally on a growing need to transport coastwise or overseas bulky goods of basic importance - coal and timber - and on colonial developments which so cheapened such goods as tobacco and sugar that a mass demand for them was created which made it profitable to bring great and increasing quantities of them three thousand miles across the Atlantic.
Between 1560 and 1689 shipping emerged from its earlier insignificance, becoming one of the fastest-growing of English industries. The statistics reveal that the tonnage of ships was multiplied nearly seven-fold, during a period in which population was certainly no more than doubled, and in which it is hard to believe that national income showed anything like a seven-fold increase. The shipping industry's demands on the country's manpower were beginning to be considerable in the later decades of the seventeenth century.
The sixteenth century saw great technical changes in the ships of Northern Europe; changes which have a well-documented history. Broadly speaking, they were of two kinds. First was the transition from the one-masted to the three-masted ship, giving scope for a variety of sails with particular functions; the merchant ship rig which was then developed consisted of spritsail, foresail and foretopsail, mainsail and main topsail, and a lateen mizzen. It was modified by a series of small steps over the next century. The second change, associated with the first, was the lengthening of the ship in relation to its beam; a change which might or might not (according to the ship's intended use) be accompanied by a refinement of the lines of bow and stern to give greater speed and manoeuvrability. The ship of 1450 rarely had a keel more than twice as long as the beam; in ships of 1600 a ratio of three to one was becoming common. The new masting and sail plan is found in quite small English ships at least as far back as the 1530s, but the full development from “round ship” to “long ship” is later, dating for warships from the 1570s; even as late as 1600 nearly half the royal ships had a proportion of keel length to beam of less than two and three-quarters.
This technical revolution was still working itself out at the time of the appearance - or rather reappearance - of the large merchant ship in English ownership. If the accounts of sixteenth-century commerce can be believed, Englishmen had almost abandoned the use of large ships in the middle of the century, when the strangling of direct English connections with the Mediterranean and the Baltic, and the quarrels with Spain, intensified the concentration of English trade on nearby Antwerp and the ports of France.
The large vessels that gradually wore out or were lost and not replaced were “round ships;” then, quite suddenly, in the last quarter of the century, when the “long ship” was being developed, the need for large ships was revived.
Nine years after the first publication of this book, it is pleasant to record that later works touching on some of the areas it covered have on the whole confirmed or supplemented, rather than overturned the conclusions that I came to. The most noteworthy new work, because closest to the central interests I had in writing the book, is that on the costs of sea transport, begun independently by Douglass North and issuing in a series of articles by him and his collaborator, Gary Walton. They attempt to quantify the decline in shipping costs with some precision, and come to conclusions similar to my own in attributing it in large degree to improved trading organization and to greater safety from plunderers at sea; though I think they underestimate the part played by technical improvement in ships. W. Salisbury has thrown much new light on the problem of measurement of ships’ tonnage in a series of articles in Mariners Mirror, though I still hold the view that measured tonnage was a concept of only very limited importance to the operator of ships. David Syrett's Shipping and the American War, 1775-83(London, 1970) is a very thorough examination of government employment of merchant shipping in wartime, and reinforces my view that this practice was of considerable value to the shipowner in enabling him to opt out of some wartime risks. A new series of volumes on the history of English ports, the first of which, Francis E. Hyde's Liverpool and the Mersey: An Economic History of a Port, 1700-1970 (Newton Abbot, 1971) appeared recently, promises to fill in this part of the background against which the shipping industry worked.
In this book I elected to deal with the English shipping industry as a service industry that carried goods and people by sea. I therefore ignored the fishery, which is an extractive industry that happens to be carried on at sea. Coastal shipping, on the other hand, was omitted because it was already covered very adequately by two well-known works, J.U. Nefs Rise of the British Coal Industry (London, 1932) and T.S. Willan's The English Coasting Trade, 1600- 1750(Manchester, 1938). And so, notwithstanding the fact that at different times during the period covered by this book between a quarter and a half of the tonnage of English-owned ships was engaged in either fishing or coasting, this book is about ships in overseas trade.
Books on ships and the sea crowd the shelves of our libraries in endless variety, and scores of new ones appear every year to feed an appetite for the subject which appears insatiable. Naturally enough, the majority of them look to the more romantic or exciting aspects; to stirring adventures, wartime heroism, the hazards of exploration and the picturesque exploits of individuals. All the same, it is surprising that hardly anyone has ever attempted to examine the practical functioning of the shipping industry before modern times, and the material reasons for its growth. Most ships, after all, exist to carry on trade; the principal fonction of the navy has been to protect traders; and the people who kept the whole complex of trade in motion were anxious to see certainty and routine rather than speculation and excitement in the operation of their ships. Shipowners in sailing ship days, no less than in the era of diesel engines, were in the business for profit. Even Sir Francis Drake owed a good deal of popularity to the good dividends he paid! I hope this book will help all who are interested in ships, from whatever point of view, to see their own special interests against the background of the regular, year-round functioning of a great industry; one from which, like any other, men expected to earn their livings.
My second aim has been to cast a little more light into two centuries of our economic history. The prime question of modern economic history is that of the causation of the Industrial Revolution in England. We are still very far from answering it, and the solution will only come when we can apply our economic ideas to a much wider range of information about the preceding century or two than we have at present. It is my belief that one particularly fruitful field of study may be that of the development of overseas trade and its influences throughout the economy. In examining an industry which was ancillary to trade I hope I have contributed to this wider study, providing another foothold for those who will eventually advance to an explanation of how, in late eighteenth- century England, there came about an industrial explosion that has transformed the world.
The problems of management of a ship differed in many ways from those of a business on dry land. The owning group was often too large to exercise control efficiently, some of its members incapable of taking part in management and many too occupied with other concerns to give much attention to a particular shipping investment. As we have seen, shipowning was no man's whole business and few men's main business; the owning group had, as it were, some part-time directors and a works manager (the master) but no full time general manager unless the master filled this office too. During long periods the ship was beyond the owners’ direct control, even beyond the jurisdiction of the English law; for months at a time there was little that the most agitated of owners could do to secure his interests except take out more insurance. The greatest problem of management, indeed, can be put in a nutshell; to find a paragon to be master, and then devise means to assist him if he really were perfect, rescue him if he turned out a fool, and restrain him if he turned out a scoundrel. This does not mean that managing owners, and the whole owning group, had no function at all beyond the provision of the initial capital; but simply that the exercise of their functions was intermittent, and immense trust had to be placed in a single individual who, though he was usually a partowner like themselves, was nevertheless primarily an employee. This is one reason why owners so often sought to appoint masters who would be bound by more than mere financial ties; a reason for the frequent employment of sons, brothers, nephews or cousins of the owners or their business associates; for the difficulty which seamen who had nothing to offer but a record of competence and reliability faced when attempting to become masters, unless they could find the money to become major part-owners. Nepotism was by no means a wholly discreditable and absurd practice; there were solid reasons for it, but the price had to be paid, of course, in the acceptance in positions of command of men were in fact of poorer quality than others who were available but outside the family circle.
Scores of millions of words have been written about English ships and shipping; but serious attempts to account for the growth of the shipping industry and to explain its organization are very few, and relate almost entirely to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. C.E. Fayle's excellent little book A Short History of the World's Shipping Industry (London, 1933) covers, as its title suggests, all time and all space; its discussion of the English, or indeed the European, industry in our period is very brief, though it packs a great deal of valuable information into its short space. W.S. Lindsay's History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce (4 vols., London, 1874-1875) is very useful for the period of Lindsay's personal recollections, the first sixty years or so of the nineteenth century, but the earlier volumes are a valueless hotchpotch of largely inaccurate information about explorers and privateers. L.A. Harper's The English Navigation Laws (New York, 1939) incorporates a long and useful study of the industry the laws were made to protect. Beyond these three works, there is nothing that offers very substantial help. Nor is the industry seriously discussed by writers on trade, or even by the nautical archaeologists. The former, with a handful of exceptions, avoid shipping topics; the latter confine themselves to warships and East Indiamen. Much information about shipping can be picked up incidentally from these works, but they give no general guidance. The seventeenth century saw much discussion of the English and Dutch shipping industries, and there is a good deal to be learned from this largely propagandist literature, which died away soon after 1700. A number of seamen throughout the period wrote of their experiences, in diaries or in later memoirs which have since been published. Books in all these categories have been consulted, and this work owes much to them; they are referred to in the footnotes to the main text. It would be impossible, however, to build any history of the shipping industry on such sources, and there seems little point in producing a bibliography which, extending to many pages, would hardly touch on the sources upon which this book depends.
The year 1689 marks a turning-point, not only in the growth of the shipping industry but also in general commercial development. This is not merely because it saw the outbreak of a costly war which was savagely fought, with a brief interruption, for nearly a quarter of a century. Long-term influences were also at work to restrict the expansion of English commerce, and these combined with new situations created by war and its aftermath to slow down the rate of development of the shipping industry. Probably no more than fifty thousand tons were added between 1689 and 1739 - a rate of increase of only a third of one percent per annum (compound); between 1572 and 1689 the addition had been nearly three hundred thousand tons, and though the period was more than twice as long this represents an annual increase of 1 Vi percent, fully maintained right up to 1689. Though wars had caused sharp setbacks there had been no long periods of stagnation, and in decades of peace the industry had bounded forward. By contrast, the size of the English merchant fleet stood still for over twenty years during the wars of William III and Anne, and made only limited progress during the ensuing twenty-five years of peace.
The reason why the shipping industry had grown rapidly during most of the seventeenth century was that a number of new branches of commercial activity were in early stages of development. The Mediterranean, colonial and Far Eastern trades had all been created out of nothing, and the Newfoundland fishery and the coal and timber trades from negligible beginnings, since 1560. All had extended to great size in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in that first stage of development achieved rates of growth that could not be indefinitely maintained. By 1700, having matured, found and fully exploited their markets and spent the initial impetus of growth, they were employers of much the greater part of English shipping tonnage. The export trade which paid for these imports was also slackening its growth. The seventeenth- century expansion of imports had depended on the earnings of the developing export of woollen goods and of the new re-exports of colonial sugar and tobacco and Indian textiles.
England had an old-established trade with Spain and Portugal; there were settlements of English merchants at Lisbon and San Lúcar (near Cádiz) before the end of the fifteenth century, and despite the political conflicts which repeatedly shook the trade for over a century after the Reformation, economic relations were always renewed and tightened; this political struggle did not, like the later Anglo-French rivalry, cause a prolonged severance of economic ties. The main lines of English import trade with Spain changed little during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Wine was the chief import, already in 1604 coming principally from Málaga rather than from Seville or Cádiz; the quantity increasing during the seventeenth century but eventually stabilized and even declining in the face of competition from French smuggling and the favoured Portuguese product. Olive oil, a vital raw material of the woollen industry, came in great tonnage from southern Spain, but the import began to be supplemented, before the middle of the seventeenth century, by an Italian supply. Fruit (chiefly raisins from Málaga and Alicante, but also including oranges and lemons from Seville) was a large import, growing constantly until after 1713. The products of Spanish America - especially cochineal, indigo and logwood - came in from Cádiz; valuable though these cargoes were, their total tonnage was too small to be of importance to shipping. From the Biscay coast, chiefly from Bilbao, quantities of iron were brought to the western ports, and growing cargoes of wool to Bristol and Exeter.
Portugal had more difficulty in finding cargoes of goods saleable in England. In the early years of the seventeenth century none of its native products was specially wanted; sugar from Brazil was the trading staple and supplied the English market until, after mid-century, English West Indian sugar began to replace it. There was always a small import of Portuguese fruit - figs, oranges and lemons - and this grew steadily; and a large tonnage of salt went to Bristol and the south-western ports. Port wine import was expanding in the years after 1689, and the customs preference established by the Methuen Treaty of 1704 greatly strengthened its competitive position in the English market. Becoming the chief supplier of legally imported wine, Portugal had at last acquired a firm basis for its trade with England.
Though a good deal has been written on the shipping affairs of the East India Company, nearly all of it relates to the last years of the eighteenth and to the nineteenth century, and impressions derived from this period will mislead if they are incautiously applied to earlier times.
The English East India trade was opened by the voyage of Red Dragon, Hector, Ascension and Susan, which sailed for Java and Sumatra in 1601. The import trade in pepper and spices from the Indonesian Archipelago, which they inaugurated, was savagely contested by the Dutch, who by 1623 had driven the English out of all this area except a weak foothold at Bantam in Java. A more secure start was made on the Indian coast, at Surat in the territory of the Mogul Emperor, in 1607, and English trade with India was gradually expanded during the seventeenth century despite Portuguese, Dutch and later French competition. New trading stations were established, notably those of Madras (1639), Bombay (1662) and Calcutta (1686). Trade was soon developed, too, with ports of the Persian Gulf and the southern part of the Red Sea.
From the early trading bases two principal bulk commodities were drawn; pepper from the East Indies and the Malabar Coast, and saltpetre from northern India. A wide variety of other goods of much greater total value came in - silk and cotton fabrics, indigo, drugs of all kinds - but pepper and saltpetre constituted most of the volume of every ship's cargo. When Berkeley Castle sailed for home in 1681 “reputed for Cargo the richest Ship which ever went out of Madras Road,” its cargo was worth some £80,000, but well over half the tonnage aboard consisted of saltpetre, which contributed only a negligible amount to this great value. Exports were very limited; some cloth, a good deal of lead and iron ballast (much of it coming all the way home again), a little iron- and brass-ware, beer and a vast wealth of bullion.
Much the greatest market for English goods was found in the ports of the nearby coasts of Europe from Hamburg to the Bay of Biscay and in Ireland, and this same area was the principal supplier of goods to England. At the end of the sixteenth century, indeed, little trade was carried on beyond those parts, and their predominance in English commerce was only gradually eaten away. The import trade was heavily concentrated on London, which took enormous quantities of manufactured goods from Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, as well as the greater part of the French wine import so long as this came legally. The provincial ports, however, had a very important role in export, and in all trade with the French Channel ports and Ireland. Much of the miscellaneous trade with France and Flanders was carried on in tiny craft from small harbours of the south coast (with Southampton specializing in the Channel Islands traffic); they dealt with a multitude of minor Continental ports, such as Nieuport, Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, Rouen, Caen, Morlaix, and their total trade, legal and illegal, was substantial. The traffic with Ireland was carried on almost entirely by the west coast ports; on the Irish side it was heavily concentrated on Dublin and Cork, though Belfast began to rise in importance in the eighteenth century.
These trades differ from all others in having an export tonnage far greater than that of imports. During most of our period this was accounted for by the great shipments of coal, cheapest of all commodities, which made a small showing in trade returns but far exceeded in volume all the exports of costly manufactures. Enormous and rapidly growing quantities of coal went from Newcastle and Sunderland to Holland, with smaller but still important amounts to Hamburg, Bremen and Rouen; at the end of the seventeenth century Whitehaven developed an export to Ireland which grew exceptionally fast during the eighteenth century, and Whitehaven's shipments were supplemented by those of South Wales and later of Liverpool.
The London directories of the eighteenth century leave their readers in no doubt that the city was a great seaport. These small volumes list an abundance of craftsmen and dealers whose occupations depended on the sea, and who served the owners of ships - ropemakers and anchorsmiths, blockmakers and sailmakers, ship chandlers, ship insurers, shipwrights, shipbrokers, even ships’ husbands. Yet one absentee will be noticed; the shipowner himself. Until the eighteenth century was very far advanced, shipowning was no man's trade; instead, it was a minor function of people whose most important interests and investments lay elsewhere. Most shipowners were merchants, most merchants were at some time shipowners, but shipowning claimed only a small proportion of each man's capital, and received a correspondingly small share of his time and attention. Only when the Industrial Revolution was changing the scale of English commerce did shipowning become an occupation in its own right; the London shipowner, so described in the directory, does not appear until 1815.
The merchant-cum-shipowner was in no way unusual in the diversity of his occupations. Seventeenth-century business was not altogether ripe for intense specialization, and as late as 1780 the division of labour was seen more in industry than in commerce. The merchant of the seventeenth or eighteenth century might describe himself, for example, as “Turkey merchant” or “Russia merchant,” yet be ready to take part in a wide range of business affairs beyond his special field; bargains in Baltic flax, Maryland tobacco, Scottish linen or Dutch madder could all attract him. Among such possible side interests, none was more commonly followed then shipowning. If we lift our eyebrows at the sight of Richard Thompson and Co., bankers owning “parts of East India shipping” we should notice that this was but one of “several advantageous and profitable trades” into which they put the money deposited by their customers; they invested in the silk, wine and Russia trades, in lead mining in Wales and linen manufacture in Ireland, and indeed “omitted nothing within the compass of our ingenuity.”
The greater part of this book has been devoted to discussing, separately and in some detail, the various aspects of the internal functioning of the shipping industry and its relations to the world outside. It may help to bring all this into focus if we now look at the realities of the working life of a few ships, the problems which their owners, charterers and masters faced in the course of earning livelihoods from them. The examples are not necessarily typical; they are simply the best documented. Nevertheless, they illustrate a wide range of ordinary maritime and commercial experiences at different periods of time.
Diamond, 250 tons, was quite new in 1634 when her owners decided to dispose of her. She was sold to a new owning group whose leading figure was Thomas Soame, already a prosperous trader to the Mediterranean and presently to be alderman of London, Sheriff of Middlesex, and to attain to a knighthood. He was one of fourteen owners (including five of the former proprietors of the ship) and was evidently the director of its affairs. His own share was one-eighth, and the master, William Peers, owned one-sixteenth. The high price that was paid, £1150, indicates that this was a specially strong and fast vessel suited to the conditions of the Mediterranean trade. There was much work to be done before the ship could be put to sea again; new sails to be made, new rigging to be erected, damaged woodwork to be made good, the carpenters’ and boatswains’ stores to be replenished. The owners laid out no less than £840 on all this. Moreover, the ship was bound for waters where the only defence against Moorish corsairs would be her own guns, manned by an ample crew; nine months’ provisions for a crew of forty meant great quantities of beef and biscuit, beer and cheese, and cost £340. The ship's armament was inadequate for her protection in such a voyage, and new guns with powder and shot were put in, adding £247 to the owners’ outlays. When, therefore, the owners came down to the waterside in November to give the master his final instructions, to hand him £15 towards his out-of-pocket expenses abroad, and to bid him God-speed, they had set out nearly £2600 on the vessel - some £10 for every ton of goods she was capable of carrying.
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