Wednesday 8 March 1664/65

[Continued from yesterday. P.G.] … though a bitter cold day, yet I rose, and though my pain and tenderness in my testicle remains a little, yet I do verily think that my pain yesterday was nothing else, and therefore I hope my disease of the stone may not return to me, but void itself in pissing, which God grant, but I will consult my physitian.

This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ’Change, where the news taken very much to heart. So home to dinner, and Mr. Moore with me. Then I to Gresham College, and there saw several pretty experiments, and so home and to my office, and at night about 11 home to supper and to bed.

31 Annotations

First Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"the buoy of the Nower" -- i.e., Noure -- at the mouth of the Thames estuary as shown in a chart Pepys commissioned

"Charts [Thames Estuary & East Anglia] To the Right Worppll. the Master & Wardens of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond This Mapp is most humbly Dedicatd and Presented by Capt. G: Collins. [Inset] The River of Thames from London to the Buoy of the Noure.
"Sold by Richd. Mount at the Postorn on Great Tower Hill London.
"Engraved sea-chart. Two sheets conjoined 600 x 940mm. Restoration to binding folds, slight staining. Sea chart of the east coast of England from Dover to Spurn Head, orientated with north to the right, with an inset chart of the Thames. The dedication is on the sails of a man o'war, and the title of the inset is in a cartouche featuring Old Father Thames. Commisioned [sic] by Samuel Pepys when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, some of Collins' charts were published for almost a century, from 1693 to 1792."…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"Then I to Gresham College, and there saw several pretty experiments,"

Among today's experiments, L&M name: "a flaming spirit of wine extinguished in the pneumatic engine [carrying on from last week], and tin filings cast over heated nitre." The Royal Society seems to be into 'materials testing' and what we'd call chemical experimentation at the moment; however, the RS already is focused on the great problem of global navigation and, L&M note: "At this meeting Pepys was asked to enquire of Holmes about his use of pendulum-watches for determination of longitude."

Where has Holmes been that would make him a good source of longitude-measurement info? Hasn't he been mainly close to the coast of Africa? But on 9 January 1664/65 -- Pepys told us in the Diary --, Holmes was sent to the Tower in case he were needed to be turned over to the Dutch "for a sacrifice, as Sir W. Rawly [Raleigh] was."…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Erratum: Should have been "the determination of longitude.”

JWB  •  Link

roundhouse & coach

The coach was just off the quaterdeck, below the poop deck & occupied by the captain. Recall when Chas II returned, he took the coach (the term has certaining been devalued by airlines). Roundhouse cabins were also in the stern , just below the coach.

jeannine  •  Link

"This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up"

How horrible-can anyone shed light on the details-it's not in Sandwich's journal. I am wondering what made it blow up.

JWB  •  Link

"... with her round- house above water..."

Here I think he's calling the entire window-glazed aft section overhanging the stern, the roundhouse, which would include the coach.

CGS  •  Link

A: how fortunate for Sandwich that Lawson wanted the bigger ship .
B: a fully laden with kegs of gunpowder just one smoking tar that chucked his reefer from being seen by a watching Non com would be enough to set off the storm especially if the the ship was running into an obstacle and it made the ship jerk. [pure speculation, having seen similar stupidities when on watch]

Such a young ship, barely broken in.

dirk  •  Link

Diary of Ralph Josselin for 7 and 8 March 1665

"7. my pump frozen. most persons fear ryes are even killed with cold. made a good end in Cousin Hurrils business blessed be god --- 8. a pretty snow."

dirk  •  Link

John Evelyn was there!

His diary entry for tomorrow, 9 March

"I went to receive the poore creatures that were saved out of the London fregat, blowne up by accident with above 200 men."

Cf. also Pedro's annotation for 4 March:…

Mary  •  Link

The Nower/Nour.

This is The Nore in current parlance.

Pedro  •  Link

"Where has Holmes been that would make him a good source of longitude-measurement info? Hasn’t he been mainly close to the coast of Africa?"

Terry, on his first and second Guinea expeditions Holmes tested clocks for Huygens. Many were eagerly awaiting the outcome of the second trip.

Seems a good enough excuse to give him a complete pardon!

Pedro  •  Link

"Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them.

Family ties might assist a tarpaulin captain: when Lawson's flagship the London was accidentally blown up in 1665, 21 crewmen of his "kindred and name" perished with her.

This ability of tarpaulin officers to attract seamen was seen by some as an advantage over the gentlemen.

"the most optimistic reports of successful recruitment, and in some cases genuine enthusiasm for the war, came from East Anglia and the North East, the areas closest to the theatre of war, with local men like Myngs, Lawson and other older officers finding little difficulty in attracting men.

(Gentlemen and Tarpaulins by Davies.)

Robert Gertz  •  Link

I wonder about the woman... But it sounds as though it was expected to be a pleasant little journey, the sort of little excursion Sam might well have brought Bess or Mrs. Pierce along to enjoy and she likely was one of the wives.


Be interesting to see if Sam takes any interest in shipboard fire prevention next time he must board.

"I assure you ladies..." Sam proudly to Bess and Mrs. Pierce as they make their way below decks, Bess eyeing Betsy with grin... "...that I am throughly familiar with this vessel. There isn't a nook or cranny I've not made my way to. The Dutch spoils are just over in the hold."

"Awfully cramped here, Mr. Pepys." Mrs. Pierce notes. "Whic way did you say was the way to the cargo hold?"

"Uh...Here...Yes, this way...Oh, drat..." sets down suddenly dark lamp. He feels about...Ah, boxes...We're in the cargo hold, no doubt.

"Sam'l? Should we be lighting a lamp down here?" Bess asks. "There's so many boxes crowded in here."

"There. What?" Sam looks up. Hmmn...Doesn't quite look like the spoils...Seem to have taken a wrong turn. "Lets be off, ladies."

"What's this?" Bess reads. "G-u-n..."

JWB  •  Link

"...80 pieces of brass ordnance."
Brass was expensive. Beginning mid 16th C. England increasingly resorted to cast iron ordinance. So much so that it became a major export, licensed by the Crown to keep out of hands of Spain. But then charcoal became increasingly expensive 'til had to resort to Swedish imports. See Carlo Cipollo's
"Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700" page 270 (+-2).…

JWB  •  Link

“…80 pieces of brass ordnance.”

From Herman's "To Rule the Waves": "The (cast iron pieces) were inferior to bronze, especially at the larger calibers...But they were a lot cheaper to make & easier to produce-less than a fifth of the cost of bronze." That's in the early stages when charcoal was still relatively cheap and resort to coal/coke had not yet been nessecitated.

JWB  •  Link

"... tin filings cast over heated nitre.."

Smoke bomb!

language hat  •  Link

"About 24 [men] and a woman"

What was a woman doing aboard a ship? I thought that sort of thing was verboten.

CGS  •  Link

Women aboard a ship, Many a merchantman had female usually a wife of the Captain. I lost my g/g/grand parents around the Magellan straights area in the mid 1800's, leaving a string of offspring to be misused by other relatives, 'twas the tale that be told to me to explain the lack of silver spoons.It was only the lessers that had to forgoe the pleasures of life.
note"...many relations among them..."

Australian Susan  •  Link

If cast iron cannon were ill-made they were given to cracking and blowing up when fired - very dangerous. Brass did not do this. That's at this time.

And women n on board? I concluded they were wives having a short coastal sea trip. if they lived at Chatham, it was not a long overland journey to get back there from Cliffe (see map when you click on Hope in text), having had a jolly short sea voyage. well, in theory.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Brass/Bronze and cast iron cannon

It was the superior quality and lighter weight of the English cast iron canon that made possible the increased firepower per ton of draft of English war ships in the seventeenth century and provided an advantage in a 'fire fight'.
see Rodger, ‘Command of the Ocean,’ 2004/5 pp. 224-5.

In Pepys' day, and to the early C 18th.founding methods changed little from those described by Biringuccio, 'De la Pirotechnia,' 1540. Cannon were cast hollow, rather than solid, a core was placed in the barrel mold to form the bore. (The core was removed and the bore then reamed to clean the casting and to make an approximation of caliber.) The moulds were placed and filled muzzle up which produced pressure differences in the molten metal particularly round the bore, creating flaws during the metals solidification that were, at the time, undetectable. These were flaws to which both cast iron and brass/bronze were subject. It is only because cast iron dissipates heat less effectively than brass/bronze was the failure rate in action greater, but cannon cast with either material could and did fail.

see, Melvin H Jackson & Carl De Beer 'Eighteenth Century Gunfounding: The Verbruggens at the Royal Brass Foundry' Washington DC: Smithsonian, 1974. pp. 9-10, 71-4. (The work includes a discussion of international changes in gunfounding during the C 18th. and reproduces a splendid series of late C18th., watercolors)

Pedro  •  Link

“What was a woman doing aboard a ship? I thought that sort of thing was verboten.”

Here is what NAM Rodger says in Command of the Oceans for around this period of time…

Not everyone left their wives at home…it is difficult to estimate how many women were aboard when their presence was forbidden, but Sir John Mennes could hardly be literally correct to complain in 1666 that the ships were pestered with women “as many petticoats as breeches”. There were numerous orders to send women ashore which suggest that they often accompanied their men folk someway to sea.

Teonge says…

Hither many of our seamen’s wives follow their husbands, and several other young women accompany their sweethearts, and sing “Loathe to depart” in punch and brandy, so that our ship was that night well furnished, but ill-mannered, few of them being well able to keep watch had there been occasion. You would have wondered to see here a man and a women creep into a hammock, the women’s legs to the hams hanging over the sides or at the end of it. Another couple sleeping on a chest, others kissing and clipping, half drunk, half sober or rather half asleep, choosing rather (might they have been suffered) to go and die with them than stay and live without them.

What proportion of men were married is difficult to say, though the explosion of the London in 1665 killed about 300 men and left 50 widows.


Pepys collected stories, no doubt some of them true, of gentlemen officers taking their mistresses to sea, while HRH had forbidden Sir William Jennings to carry his wife in his frigate, she took passage upon a merchantman in the fleet, and he took every opportunity of making visits.


One of the criticisms of the botched raid on Hispaniola in 1665, was that Venables spent three or four days in Penn’s flagship in the company of his wife, while more than 7000 of his men were living on the shore without tents but with a formidable enemy approaching.

Pedro  •  Link

botched raid on Hispaniola in 1665,"

This should read 1655!

language hat  •  Link

Thanks, Pedro -- a very informative comment!

Terry Foreman  •  Link

The Royal Society today at Gresham College ­ from the Hooke Folio Online

march the 8. 1664/5. The expt. of flamig spt. of Wine (as proposd by mr Boyle) included in a Recr: of the Pneumatick Engine was made wth this successe. That the sd spirit was extinguish in the Receiuer exhausted in 9 section, in the vnexhausted it kept burning 24 seconds. -

The expt. of nitre & filed tinn was also made and the filings of tin cast vpon niter ouer the fire made it flame, though it was neuer known that any sulphur was extracted out of tinn which seems to Inferr. that there /are/ bodies combustible that are not Sulpherous.

Dr. wilkins p'posd that the following Expt. of Dr wrens suggestion might be tryd vizt to putt a fermenting liquor in a glasse ball to which a stop cock should be fitted and to ty a bladder about the top of the stop cock by which meanes a certain air generated by the fermenting / 47 / liquor would passe into the Bladder and vpon the turning of the stopcock be kept there in the form of air wthout relapsing into water. - Mr. Hooke mentiond seuerall liquors that by their working vpon one another would generate an air. vizt. oyle of tartar & vitrioll. spt. of wine & ^ /oyl of/ turpentine &c - (Dr. Charlton tht Rynkouer wine and gall put together would presently ferment.) Col Blunt tht all green put into wines would Reuiue them by fermentation as angelica. also pounded oysters) grant macasser poyson. to be tryd.) also some indian nutts).

Zulichems Lett of march 5. 1665. about pendul watches wth Maj Holmes.) samples taken of the watches) an error in majr. Holmes Relation) merret one bladder double - mr. Haak about viper wine)

Blunt about adding 2 wheels to french chariot retaining Long springs) Mr. Hook suggested that for the conuenience of turning the springs might be doubled & soe made shorter, whereby the Rider would haue ease and the chariot turne in eny street conueniently…

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"How horrible-can anyone shed light on the details-it's not in Sandwich's journal. I am wondering what made it blow up." -- jeannine

The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

From LAWSON LIES STILL IN THE THAMES by Gill Blanchard, Amberley Publishing 2017, ISBN 978 1 4456 6123 page 178-181:

On the bitterly cold morning of Tuesday March 7, Lawson's "good ship" London set out from Chatham to join the rest of the fleet at its new berth at the Hope (a stretch of the Thames named after the Hope stream).

There were 300 men and about 30 women and children on board, seeing off their husbands and fathers. The civilians were to disembark at the Hope and either catch a ride home on another ship, or hike back on foot.

At about 9 a.m. the London was about 10 miles from her moorings. When she was close to Southend, Essex (at the mouth of the Thames) a fire took hold of the gun room, and the London quickly blew apart.

"A sound like a thunderbolt from heaven was reportedly heard in Holland."

Timbers were thrown in the air, and a man on the Monleague, which was sailing passed, was killed by a flying splinter.

Rugge estimated that John Lawson lost 21 relatives in the explosion.

Lawson's report to the Navy Board later disclosed that he had found a large quantity of wood and empty casks lying around the ship, and had ordered the purser to have them removed two weeks before the explosion. Mr. Dam, the purser, testified there were 21,000 billets of wood, 80 dozen candles, and some empty water casks, iron hoops and bags on board when the ship blew up.

The news took 24 hours to reach Pepys.

Zippypoppy  •  Link

The London still lies in the Thames Estuary but the site has been well investigated and numerous items found by a team of local divers and archaeologists. Last November they made a presentation at the Institute of Historical Research here in London, which I attended, and a very good evening it was, too. To answer a couple of questions: the woman saved was the Captain's wife, on board only for a sightseeing trip; secondly, the artillery on board clearly hadn't yet been correctly stowed, so the gunpowder was all in one area, as were the gunners' ramrods etc. People at this time had something of a laissez-faire attitude towards gunpowder; an example of this is Robert Catesby (who masterminded the Gunpowder Plot in 1605), who found his powder damp, so put it beside the fire to dry out...
The loss of the London was a personal heavy blow for the two Stuart brothers and, indeed, for Pepys personally. She was built for the Commonwealth Navy, a 76-gun ship of the line, and when Charles II returned to claim his throne in 1660, the London was one of the ships sent to Holland to bring him home. James, Duke of York, sailed home on the London (Diary, 23 May 1660)

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Wonderful photos of some of the artifacts rescued from The London (on display at Southend Central Museum until July 20, 2019).

“The star of the show is undoubtedly the 12 foot, 2-tonne, bronze cannon that dominates the room. After a mammoth installation project, the enormous gun was successfully mounted in the museum. The London’s cannon was originally Dutch property and would have seen service on Dutch ships before it was salvaged from a wreck by the British. This was a common practice as cannon were so rare and expensive to produce. In a vermillion blue color, Southend’s cannon is beautifully decorated with the City of Amsterdam crest and sea creatures.”

“Our display is both informative and emotional; I wanted to educate visitors but also encourage them to consider the enormous loss of life that was sadly commonplace during the Age of Sail.

“‘Life on Board’ displays personal effects of the sailors, including delicate clay pipes, which would have been used over and over again by the sailors, and even a remarkably-preserved beeswax candle. Some of the most emotive objects include leather shoes, each still with the imprint of the wearer’s foot. This simple, yet very human observation really sends a shiver down the spine. Although we don’t know the names or stories of the sailors on board, we can still treasure their preserved footprints.

“Moving through the exhibition, visitors encounter ‘Navigation’. The 17th Century was a period of learning for English navigators, with the quest for longitude still in full swing. Although sailors could determine their east-west position or latitude using the angle of celestial bodies in the sky, there was no reliable method for determining how far north or south they were.

“This was because they needed to compare their local time with the time from their home destination and no clock yet developed could keep time along with the movements of a ship at sea. It wouldn’t be until the 1730s when John Harrison’s clocks were deemed dependable enough that the search was over. The sailors of the London would have relied on a process called dead-reckoning where they marked their journey on charts and could track where they had been in relation to where they were headed.

For more information and photographs:…

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