Friday 14 March 1661/62

At the office all the morning. At noon Sir W. Pen and I making a bargain with the workmen about his house, at which I did see things not so well contracted for as I would have, and I was vexed and made him so too to see me so critical in the agreement. Home to dinner. In the afternoon came the German Dr. Kuffler,1 to discourse with us about his engine to blow up ships. We doubted not the matter of fact, it being tried in Cromwell’s time, but the safety of carrying them in ships; but he do tell us, that when he comes to tell the King his secret (for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it), it will appear to be of no danger at all. We concluded nothing; but shall discourse with the Duke of York to-morrow about it. In the afternoon, after we had done with him, I went to speak with my uncle Wight and found my aunt to have been ill a good while of a miscarriage, I staid and talked with her a good while. Thence home, where I found that Sarah the maid had been very ill all day, and my wife fears that she will have an ague, which I am much troubled for. Thence to my lute, upon which I have not played a week or two, and trying over the two songs of “Nulla, nulla,” &c., and “Gaze not on Swans,” which Mr. Berkenshaw set for me a little while ago, I find them most incomparable songs as he has set them, of which I am not a little proud, because I am sure none in the world has them but myself, not so much as he himself that set them. So to bed.

  1. This is the secret of Cornelius van Drebbel (1572-1634), which is referred to again by Pepys on November 11th, 1663. Johannes Siberius Kuffler was originally a dyer at Leyden, who married Drebbel’s daughter. In the “Calendar of State Papers, Domestic,” 1661-62 (p. 327), is the following entry: “Request of Johannes Siberius Kuffler and Jacob Drebble for a trial of their father Cornelius Drebble’s secret of sinking or destroying ships in a moment; and if it succeed, for a reward of 10,000l.. The secret was left them by will, to preserve for the English crown before any other state.” Cornelius van Drebbel settled in London, where he died. James I. took some interest in him, and is said to have interfered when he was in prison in Austria and in danger of execution.

22 Annotations

Glynn   Link to this

Some information on Cornelius Drebbel

David Ross McIrvine   Link to this


It looks like one of those wieners that plump when you cook them!

Australian Susan   Link to this

"engine to blow up ships"
This sounds more like a torpedo than the submarine described in the links given above, especially given Sam's quite understandable fear of the thing blowing up the ship it was being transported on !But there is no mention of such an invention in the links provided.
Krebbel seems to have been a man ahead of his time with his inventions - like The Difference Engine of Victorian times: prototype computer, which relied on engineering not electronics (not invented at that time) and thus failed. There is a lovely scence in the film, The Four Musketeers (yes, I did get that right) showing the submarine being tried out at the time of the seige of La Rochelle.

Australian Susan   Link to this

Old term for malaria or any recurrent fever.

dirk   Link to this

Drebbel & Kuffler

See also Background Info:

Eric Walla   Link to this

OK, so Mr. Berkenshaw has been redeemed in Sam's eyes? Or rather is it that Sam has always valued him, but simply set that value at less than 5l. a month?

Bill Braithwaite   Link to this

I hope Pepy's will be hoistin a few pints for St. Paddy's Day! I love it when this guy is drinkin & carousin! this guy is hilarious (in a brilliant way!!)

Rock On Sam Pepy's!!

Cheers, Billy ;))

Mary   Link to this

Dr. Kuffler's inventions.

According to an L&M footnote, the weapon alluded to here is a form of mine. The design for a submarine was a different project altogether.

Kuffler was seeking approval for a trial of the mine and for a reward of £10,000 if the trial proved successful.

bradw   Link to this


I was reminded that in the 19th Century, sea-mines were called torpedoes (e.g. Admiral Porter's order during the attack on Mobile Bay, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.") I wonder if van Drebbel coined this name?

The dictionary isn't much help--I looked up the etymology of "torpedo," and my Random House Unabridged says it's from the Latin for numb or stiff ("torpe[re]") + to be ("do").

Can any Latin scholars shed light on how this device merited this name?

JWB   Link to this

You don't want a Latin scholar but an ichthyologist.
Named for the Torpedo fish that uses electric jolt to stun(numb)its prey.

A. De Araujo   Link to this

"we concluded nothing"
seems like the inventor does not want to tell the whole story; could he have patented the invention at the time? was he afraid the weapon would fall on the wrong hands?

Katherine   Link to this

More on Torpedo

From the OED: 1. a. A flat fish of the genus Torpedo or family Torpedinid-, having an almost circular body with tapering tail, and characterized by the faculty of emitting electric discharges; the electric ray; also called cramp-fish, cramp-ray, numb-fish.

c1520 L. ANDREWE Noble Lyfe xcii. in Babees Bk. (1868) 239 Torpido is a fisshe, but who-so handeleth hym shalbe lame & defe of lymmes that he shall fele no thyng.

So, perhaps the name comes from the fact that a Torpedo (of that age) bore a resemblence to the stinging fish both in shape and in “sting”?

Australian Susan   Link to this

"engine to blow up ships"
So if L&M say this is a mine, do they give any other information? Did the Navy take K up on this? This advance in technology is just the sort of thing Sam is fascinated by, and he is frustrated by the secretive nature of Mr K. Do we get any more on this "engine" or is this it for the diary? I wonder how they worked and how large they were.

dirk   Link to this



It appears that in those early days "torpedo" could refer to any kind of explosive underwater weapon - in this case probably a mine of some sort.

Paul H   Link to this

Torpedoes of the 19th century were sometimes called 'spar-torpedoes' because a semi-submerged explosive charge was attached to the end of a long piece of timber (i.e. a spar) and the other end of the spar was attached to a ship, which propelled it towards an enemy ship (and hoped to detonate it against the side of that target).
A very unreliable weapon... hence those torpedoes could 'be damned' and avoided.

Mary   Link to this


The term was most often applied to episodic fevers, such as malaria (tertian ague, etc.) but could also be used to designate any unexplained high fever, especially if rigors ensued. Ague is therefore often descriptive of the symptoms of an illness rather than defining the cause of the symptoms.

Sjoerd   Link to this

A weapon so dreadful....(for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it).

It is a good illustration of peoples respect and belief in the holy office of an absolute monarch.

And what is it all about ? A bomb in a bucket !

Compare Albert Einstein's letter to Roosevelt about the atomic bomb.

mike gresk   Link to this

many thanks for all the comments. it is a true joy to read the insightful comments. much thanks to all contirbutors.

Robert Gertz   Link to this

Shame it wasn't Drebbel's remarkable undersea rowboat, it would've been neat if Sam, like James I, Charlie's grand-dad, had got to try it out. If I remember correctly Drebbel invented a form of snorkel and even employed a chemical reaction to remove CO2 from the air which allowed his boat to stay under water for some few hours.

vicenzo   Link to this

After James died and Charles I became King, Drebbel was employed by the Office of Ordnance, making secret weapons for the King, including an unsuccessful floating petard (bomb), and in 1631, he merited a mention in a Jonson play

Terry Foreman   Link to this

"engine to blow up ships""

Engine: The History of a Concept, From 14th-Century Poetry to Google
We think of "engine" as a mechanical device, but the word has roots that go way further back, and illuminate some of its newer meanings.

Terry Foreman   Link to this

This day his sister, Lady Pickering wrote to Sandwich

Desires his Lordship's opinion and counsel upon a proposal of marriage for her daughter, made by Mr Thomas Trollope, "a son of Sir Thomas Trollope, of Lincolnshire". ...

Shelfmark: MS. Carte 75, fol(s). 35
Document type: Holograph

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.