Pepys’ accounts

It may be allowable at this point to digress for a while in order to consider the Jemmy yacht, which was the second of the Bezans. She was smaller than either of the others, and she was quite dis­proportionately shallower than the Charles. The original Bezan, whose draught was the same as the Jemmy’s, may be assumed to have had leeboards; and it seems reasonably clear that the Jemmy, if she was to do anything to windward, would need the help of some such contrivance. The question that arises is, Had she leeboards, or does she represent a new attempt to find a substitute for them? There is strong evidence that there was something unusual about her design. Pett submitted it to the Royal Society, and the Royal Society took her construction under its wing. ‘To Lambeth; and there saw the little pleasure-boat in building by the King, my Lord Brunkard, and the virtuosoes of the town, according to new lines, which Mr. Pett cries up mightily, but how it will prove we will see.’ It is a pity that the history of the society and its Philosophical Transactions are not explicit about this matter, for we find ourselves reduced to Pepys. And he, like a good navy official, was manifestly jealous of any outside body meddling with the art and mystery of ship-building. He was accordingly glad when the Jemmy did not come up to expectations. On September 5 he ‘saw the yacht lately built by our virtuosoes (my Lord Brunkard and others, with the help of Commissioner Pett also) set out from Greenwich with the little Dutch bezan to try for mastery; and before they got to Woolwich the Dutch beat them half a mile (and I hear this afternoon that in coming home it got above three miles); which all our people are glad of . . . It being a cold windy morning.’ Subsequently, on March 2, 1663, Pepys sailed in the Jemmy, ‘with extraordinary pleasure,’ but offers nothing more that is of service. Evelyn is more to the point when he refers to her as an incomparable sailer.’ It seems probable, therefore, that she could sail, though she was not at her best against the Dutch bezan. Her being newly commissioned might easily account for that failure. It was not until November, 1662, that Sir William Petty proposed to the Royal Society a versatile keel that would be on hinges,’ or it would be admissible to suggest that this was the secret of the new design; but Petty’s proposal shows that the idea of some sort of centreboard was in the air, and, considering that the Royal Society consisted of learned men who must have been well acquainted with Bourne’s ‘devise,’ it seems fair to conjecture that the Jemmy may have had some sort of a centre keel. What we know of the circumstances appears to favour the theory, but unfor­tunately there seems small chance of proving it, unless chance should bring to light the original design which was submitted to the Royal Society.

With the arrival of the Bezan, the fleet of yachts was raised to four, and expeditions began to be made to see it. Pepys and his family made one such on September 14, 1661. ‘Comes a great deal of company to take my wife and I out by barge to show them the King’s and Duke’s yachts. So I was forced to go forth with them, and we had great pleasure, seeing all four yachts, viz., these two and the two Dutch ones.’ But Pepys had no part in the race of October 1 following, and our only account of the event comes from John Evelyn, who would have been of more service to the present inquiry had he been as well versed in nautical matters as he was in forestry. His entry is: ‘I sailed this morning with His Majesty in one of his yachts (or pleasure-boats), vessels not known among us till the Dutch East India Company presented that curious piece to the King; being very excellent sailing vessels. It was on a wager between his other new pleasure-boat, built frigate-like, and one of the Duke of York’s; the wager £100 the race from Green­wich to Gravesend and back. The King lost it going, the wind being contrary, but saved stakes in returning. There were divers noble persons and lords on board, His Majesty sometimes steering himself. His barge and kitchen-boat attended.’

The vessels in question were the Katherine and the Anne, and the race would seem to have been two races in one. The Anne won on the beat down to Gravesend, earning £50; and the Katherine won on the run home, making the royal owners quits. A ‘frigate-built’ vessel meant one less highly charged – that is, more nearly flush-decked – than the ‘great ship’ type; thus the entry would seem to imply that the Mary had a lofty poop, and that the Katherine’s freeboard aft had been cut down by comparison with the earlier model.

The scene shifts, and we hear less in future of royal racing than of a judicious combination of business and pleasure by officials. All the smaller yachts were used for business purposes, and we practi­cally never hear of them, either from Pepys or from the State Papers, save as carrying Mr. Pepys, or Sir William Batten, or Commissioner Pett, on their several occasions. Pepys began his connection with the yachts, with the exception of one short sail, which he himself had forgotten, on February 20, 1663, going with Pett to join the Charles. They found her aground, ‘it being almost low water,’ and had to be content to return in her, from Woolwich to Deptford, when the water flowed. ‘I could have been sick if I would, wrote Pepys, the wind being fresh, but very pleasant it was, and the first time I have sailed in any one of them.’ Pepys’ next yachting trip was in the Jemmy, and shows that after all his sea stomach was not abnormally weak. ‘We went down four or five miles (below Woolwich) with extraordinary pleasure, it being a fine day and a brave gale of wind, and had some oysters brought us aboard newly taken, which were excellent, and ate with great pleasure. There also coming into the river two Dutchmen, we sent a couple of men on board and bought three Holland’s cheeses, cost 4d. apiece, excellent cheeses.’ It is not only Pepys’ zest in life that makes his narrative live; there are innumerable modern touches in the incidents of his story. When Dutchmen come into the river to­day they sell Dutch cheese to all and sundry, though not for 4d. apiece; and if we cannot buy oysters newly taken off Erith, yet we know that we have but to go beyond the limits of the port of London in order to have them brought aboard.

The King’s interest now centred in the project for the Henrietta. ‘Meeting the King, we followed him into the park, where Mr. Coventry and he talked of building a new yacht, which the King is resolved to have built out of his privy purse, he having some contrivance of his own.’ The interest did not confine itself to this unexplained contrivance – the privy purse suggestion may have been thrown out to reconcile the officials, for we hear no more of it – but it took the King to Woolwich a few days later to inquire for the keel piece. The yacht was built very quickly, and was afloat four months later.There is queer entry about her before she was actually finished, showing that she was lying afloat, ‘with all her colours flying,’ when a boat which passed close alongside refused to strike to the colours. The yacht’s crew thereon confiscated the boat and called upon her crew to pay forfeit. They in return lodged a complaint, presumably explaining that they knew that the King was not on board. In the result the yacht’s crew were ordered to restore the boat, and to make no such demand in future without authority.’

When the demands made on behalf of the royal standard were so emphatic, it is not remarkable that the claim to hoist that flag was strictly looked to; and so we find the Admiralty, eleven years later, refusing to admit the right of the King’s natural sons, the Duke of Monmouth, etc., to wear it unless they had the royal permission to do so.

The larger yachts continued in constant use by the Court till the outbreak of war, when they were employed with the fleet. None of them came to grief in the second war; but in the third Dutch war the Henrietta was sunk – during the action of August 11, 1673; and the Katherine was captured in the same battle. The Katherine returned to English hands. ‘It is true,’ wrote Pepys, ‘that the [old] Katherine yacht is come home again, given as they say by the Prince of Orange to Alderman Backwell, and on his account fitted and sent home, where she now remains so, His Majesty not being concerned in her nor likely to be.’ Alderman Backwell, therefore, was a genuine yacht-owner, though we have no account of how he used the Katherine. A new Katherine was promptly built for the King, and was launched in his presence on April 24, 1674. The esti­mated cost of her hull was £1,550, ‘calculating the said estimate by the dimensions which His Majesty hath pitched upon with Mr. Pett.’ She, too, was ballasted with lead, though the Merlin was receiving some iron ballast at this same date.

The smaller yachts, meanwhile, continued to carry Pepys and his friends, the larger vessels coming but rarely into the Diary, and then for some special cause. For instance, on June 2, 1666: ‘Came up the river the Katherine yacht, Captain Fazeby, who hath brought over my Lord of Alesbury and Sir Thomas Liddall (with a very pretty daughter and in a very pretty travelling dress), from Flanders.’ Knowing Pepys as we do, we may be sure that this item of news would have been withheld had the daughter not been pretty, or had the dress been unbecoming. But of journeys made in the smaller yachts there are several interesting accounts.

On September 3, 1663: ‘To Sir W. Batten, who is going this day for pleasure down to the Downes. At my lady’s desire with them by coach to Greenwich where I went aboard with them on the Charlotte yacht. The winde very fresh, and I believe they will be all sicke enough, besides that she is mighty troublesome on the water.’ And so it turned out. Lady Batten was put ashore at Queenborough, vowing that she would never go to sea again. Again, on August 17, 1665: ‘After dinner we down by boat to Greenwich to the Bezan yacht, where Sir W. Batten, Sir J. Minnes, my Lord Bruncker and myself, with some servants, embarked in the yacht, and down we went most pleasantly. Short of Gravesend it grew calme, and so we come to an anchor and to supper mighty merry, and after it, being moonshine, we out of the cabin to laugh and talk, and then, as we grew sleepy, went in, and upon velvet cushions of the King’s that belong to the yacht fell to sleep, which we all did pretty well till 3 or 4 of the clock, having risen in the night to look for a new comet which is said to have lately shone, but we could see no such thing.

‘18 August. Up about 5 o’clock and dressed ourselves, and to sayle again down to the Soveraigne at the buoy of the Nore, and thence to Sheernesse. Thence with great pleasure up the Meade-way, our yacht contending with Commissioner Petts, wherein he met us from Chatham, and he had the best of it.’ It would be interesting to know which the contending yachts were. Pepys, seemingly, was in the Bezan, though it is possible that he meant Charles Bezan; but there is no hint even in the State Papers of what vessel Pett had. Perhaps he had the Minion, which we know to have been stationed at Chatham. If that is so, then the English-built vessel, the oldest and smallest of her class, was the champion of the small class of yachts.

A month later Pepys was again bound to the fleet on business, and again brought up for the night near Gravesend. ‘18 September. By breake of day we come to within sight of the fleete, which was a very fine thing to behold, being above 100 ships great and small. Among others, the Prince, in which my Lord Sandwich was. When we called by her side his Lordshipp was not stirring, so we come to an anchor a little below his ship, thinking to have rowed on board him, but the wind and tide was so strong against us that we could not get up to him – no, though rowed by a boat of the Prince’s that came to us to tow us up; at last however he brought us within a little way, and then they flung out a rope to us from the Prince, and so come on board; but with great trouble and time and patience, it being very cold.’ Then, after business, ‘Sir W. Penn stayed to dine and did so, but the wind being high the ship (though the motion of it was hardly discernible to the eye) did make me sicke; so as I could not eat anything almost. . . . And so to our yacht again. No sooner come into the yacht, though overjoyed with the good work we have done to-day, but I was overcome with sea-sickness so that I began to spue soundly, and so continued a good while, till at last I went into the cabbin, and shutting my eyes my trouble did cease that I fell asleep, which continued till we come into Chatham River where the water was smooth, and then I rose and was very well.’

The most quoted of Pepys’s sailing expeditions followed very shortly. On October 1: ‘We breakfasted betimes and come to the fleet about two o’clock in the afternoon, having a fine day and fine wind. My Lord received us mighty kindly. . . . After supper on board the Bezan, and there to cards for a while, and then to read and so to sleep. But Lord ! the mirth which it caused me to be waked in the night by their snoaring round me; I did laugh till I was ready to burst, and waked one, who could not a good while tell where he was that he heard one laugh so, till he recol­lected himself, and I told him what it was at, and so to sleep again, they still snoaring.’ Truly it is a sad heart that never rejoices.

‘2 October. We having sailed all night (and I did wonder how they in the dark could find the way) we got by morning to Gillingham.’ Pepys’s nautical education was advancing, though his Diary was drawing to a close. As the autumn went on he fell in with strong winds, first of all in an open boat. ‘I called for Sir Christopher Mings at St. Katherine’s, and so down to Green­wich, the wind furious high, and we with our sail up till I made it be taken down.’ For which, no doubt, he was well laughed at by Mings, who was a sailor if ever there was one. The experience of wind was continued on November 2. ‘Intending to have gone this night in a ketch down to the fleet, they persuaded me not to go till morning, it being a horrible dark and windy night.’ In the morning the ketch made a good passage down, and, after concluding his business, Pepys says: ‘I took the Bezan back with me, taking great pleasure in learning the seamen’s manner of singing when they sound the depths.’ The explanation here seems to be simply that he exchanged the ketch for the Bezan. It is just possible that he might call a ketch a bezan, if we are right in supposing that the Bezan, like a ketch, had a mizen; but he could never have called the fore-and-aft-rigged Bezan a ketch, for a ketch was at that date square-rigged.

The last yachting entry in the Diary has given rise to some misconception. It runs, November 16, 1665: ‘I away on board the other ship to get the pleasure-boat of the gentlemen there to carry me to the fleet. They were Mr. Ashburnham and Colonell Wyndham; but, pleading the King’s business, they did presently agree I should have it. So I presently on board, and got under sail; and so sailed all night, and got down to Quinborough water, where all the great ships are now come, and there on board my Lord . …’ and, after the transaction of business, ‘I left him, and so away to my Bezan againe.  ‘John Ashburnham held a Court appointment, Colonel Francis Wyndham a military command. It is a mistake to infer from this passage alone that either had a yacht, for ‘to get the pleasure-boat of the gentlemen’ stands simply for the more modern phrase ‘from the gentlemen.’ We see that the pleasure-boat in question was ‘my Bezan’ to Pepys – that is, she was either the original Bezan, or one of the other small yachts. It is clear, however, that Colonel Wyndham was a genuine yachts­man, though he may not have been a yacht owner at this date. On August 16, 1683, during the voyage to Tangier, Pepys wrote that off Dunnose ‘Colonel Wyndham and some friends from his yacht lay on board. Colonel Wyndham is the only gentleman of State ever known to addict himself to the sea for pleasure and from his own natural addiction.’

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