Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Rare 18th-Century Ship's Diary -- Up For Auction In Derbyshire, England

A sketch of the ship in the diary

As reported by the Leicester Mercury, "Ship's diary from 1769 found at Glenfield home tells of scurvy, lashings and drownings," by Tom_Mack, on 18 February 2015 --The 240-year-old diary of a ship’s captain has been unearthed in a dusty old box at a home in Glenfield.

The box had been destined for the skip when the owner realised the diary, charting a journey by the East Indies trade ship Bridgewater from London to China via India, might have some value.

It contains insights about life on the seas, what the crew ate, how they were punished and various illnesses and accidents that struck the ship.

The diary was taken, along with some other books, to Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire.

There, Charles Hanson, who is a regular valuer on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt, immediately realised its value.

He said: “The book is incredibly special since it records the life and times on board the ship Bridgewater which set sail from London in 1769 to Madeira, Madras and China.

The Book's Cover

“We discovered the book amongst a collection of books which our client was going to throw out but I knew when I first saw the book it was important, since it was covered in pig skin and was well worn .

“On opening the book it was like going back in time since each page is beautifully handwritten by the captain’s hand with entries for each day from December 1769 to July 1771.”

The book is written by Captain Skottowes, who had previously worked in the slave trade.

Research by Charles has found that Bridgewater was launched in September 1769 - the year the diary begins - and saw service until 1781.

It would have been used as a cargo vessel by the East India Company and it had three decks and weighed 840 tonnes.

Cargo noted in the diary includes cotton, tin, tar, red wood and pepper.

Charles said: “Essentially such an East Indies ship was responsible for carrying valuable cargo, returning from the East, richly laden with exotic goods which found a ready and profitable market in Europe such as tea and Chinese porcelain.

“Life on board was certainly not plain sailing and Captain Skottowes diary makes plain the task faced by all those on board.”

The diary will be sold by Hansons Auctioneers tomorrow and has a guide price of £300 to £500.
Charles Hanson holding the diary.

Entries from the diary:

On December 20, 1769, a crew member called William Fisher was “in irons for being riotous”.

On Janaury 5, 1770, wages were raised to 26 shillings a month.

On the February 1, of the same year, supplies were taken on board including 20 pipes of wine, 16 hogsheads and one quarter cask of brandy.

On Tuesday, February 27, “Thomas Hitchins run the gauntlet for stealing silk stockings, a beaver hat and several other things, the property of Major Grant”.

On March 24 a crewmember received “150 lashes with a cat of nine tails upon his bare back”.

The following day seaman Joseph Simpson was confined for drunkeness, disobedience and “being very abusive”

On November 25 "Vincent Smith and John Singeon fell overboard, the former was drowned, the latter got hold of a rope and was saved”.

On May 29, 1771, Captain Skottowe noted “a very sickly ship in general” due to scurvy.

Morale was lifted a few days later on June 4 when 21 guns were fired “it being his Majesty's birthday”, referring to George III. (source: The Leicester Mercury)

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