figurehead of the Ocean.
The King on the prancing white horse, which was
such a feature of the Stuart period, was replaced in the
eighteenth century by a St. George on his charger.
The figurehead of Kempenfeldt's Royal George, however
was a Roman warrior supported on each side by a cupid.
The figureheads of certain ships had, of course, to
carry out the idea of the ship's name ; for instance the
Centaur (a 74 of 1797) naturally had a centaur on her
beak-head, whilst the Polyphemus (a 64 of 1782), had the
monstrous head of the Cyclops, with a cold staring eye
in the midst of its forehead.
Then again ships called after Royal personages were
given carefully chiselled full-length portraits of those
personages. The Royal Adelaide carried a 14-ft.
figure of the Queen on her bow.
In the early nineteenth century there were some very
bizarre and ridiculou: figureheads.
Fancy going to sea with the devil at one's prow, yet
the Siyx, launched in 1841, had a half-length nude figure
of his Satanic majesty, painted a dark chocolate colour.
And here we come to a feature about old figureheads
which would have greatly offended the good taste of
clipper ship seamen, who would have nought but pure
white lead. The old timers were most gaudily coloured.
Imagine the La Ilogue of 1811: she sported a green and
chocolate lion, its grinning mouth displaying rows of
white teeth and a huge red tongue.
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In the last days of the sailing man-of-war, we come
to the Admirals — Nelson with his blind eye and armless
sleeve, Anson in a wig, Duncan with a pigtail, and
a host of others. Many of these naval figureheads are
btill preserved in the Royal dockyards.
22 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Others, both naval and mercantile, are still to be seen
in remote corners of the British Isles, notably at Tresco
Abbey, vScilly, where a long verandah is supported by
figureheads salved from wrecks.
It is a fascinating subject, which I have merely
skimmed; it really deserves a whole book to itself.
After the Battle of Trafalgar huge convoys and fleets
of ships began to grow scarcer and scarcer. But right
up to the end of the nineteenth century a long spell
of head winds would sometimes bring a large number
of sailing ships together, for instance the late Captain
Boultbee Whall in his School and Sea Days relates: —
After a long continuance of east winds, I once counted some 300
sail of vessels in sight of the Lizard, amongst which were such well-known
London packets as the Saint Lawrence, Anglesey, Newcastle, Alnwick
Castle, Shannon, Middlesex, Durham, Alumbagh, Wave of Life, Jerusalem,
Maid of Judah, Orient and others. That afternoon the wind came fair,
and there was a smart race who should be first up to town.
This was in May, 1870. A few years earlier, in 1862,
the American clipper Oracle passed 100 sail, all bound
the same way, between Cork and Bardsey.
On 9th May, 1897, the Shaw Savill clipper Plcione
had 51 sail in sight from the deck in 46° N., 27° W. On
the next day the Atlantic transport ss. Massachusetts,
whilst steaming along the 48th parallel from 26° to 28°
W., passed during the afternoon 54 sailing ships, all
close-hauled on the starboard tack, the wind being
light from the eastward.
The largest fleet of sailing ships which I have ever
seen was in Table Bay towards the end of the Boer War.
I think I counted over 150 ships, but, alas, the majority
of them flew foreign flags.
Leslie, the sea painter, has left a delightful account
of our last squadron of sailing battleships underweigh;
he was bound up Channel in a Yankee packet, homeward
bound from America, and he remarks : —
Certainly England's oaken walls never looked stronger or grander
than they did that evening, as those great ships came tearing through
the black water towards us. The warm, low sunlight glowing upon the
piled-up canvas made them look like moving thunder clouds; and one
felt how small was the little 700-ton packet, as, some ahead and some
astern, they swept past her, close enough to hear the boatswains on
board the nearest ships piping orders to shorten sail for the night. As
each ship came up, one thing looked whiter even than her creamy
canvas, and that was the broad roll of curling foam which ran and played
upon the dark sea in front of her stem; at times, for a moment, as she
rose upon a wave reflected in her sea-polished copper, or as she buried her
bows in the following sea, lighting up the handsome rails and carvings
about the stately figurehead, giving to that of the Queen (110) as she
passed close to, the look of a figure on the stage hghted from below by
the mysterious glare of a broad row of foothghts
. Signals were being so rapidly exchanged from one big
ship to the other, that it was impossible to follow them ; until, at one
given from the Admiral's vessel, in a moment the steady pile of canvas
of the leading ships seemed to fall into confusion, the heavy topsail
yards came down to the caps of each mast, while flying jibs and wing
after wing in the shape of studding sails fell in, and were folded among
the confused tangle of rigging, which, in an instant swarmed with men
reefing topsails, furling royals or stowing jibs; while the great topgallant
sails, clewed up, belly out before the wind, ready to be reset over reefed
topsails for the night. .\s the fleet went on their way to the westward,
they quickly changed from clouds of light into picturesque variety of
line and form, showing dark against the orange glow left by the sun.
With this vivid description of the last of our wooden
walls, running out of the Channel in 1842, I will bring
this introduction to a close.
*« HISTORY OF THE BLACK WALL YARD.*'
At the Blackwall Docks we bid adieu
To lovely Kate and pretty Sue,
Our anchor's weigh'd and our sails unfurl'd
And we're bound to plough the wat'ry world.
Sing hay, we're outward bound!
Hurrah, we're outward bound.
The Blackwall Yard.
THE Blackwall frigates gained their name from the
Blackwall Yard where so many of them took their
This ancient shipbuilding yard has a most interesting
history. It owed its birth to the Spanish Armada and
its completion to the enterprise of the first East India
Company of Merchant Adventurers, being first known
as the "East India Yard. "
Its massive gateway bore the date of 1612, and the
coat-of-arms of these daring Merchant Adventurers
was emblazoned upon its panels. This coat-of-arms
was: — Azure three ships of three masts, rigged and
under full sail, pennants and ensigns argent, each
charged with a cross gules, on the chief of the second
a pale quarterly azure and gules. On the first and
fourth a fleur-de-lys. In second and third a lion passant,
quadrant all of the second, two rose gules seeded on
THE GLOBE 25
barbed rest. Crest — a sphere without a frame bound
with the zodiac, in bend or, between two split pennons,
flotant argent, each charged in chief with a cross gules.
Over the sphere, these words: — Deus indicat. Sup-
porters — Two sea-lions or, the tails proper. Motto—
Deo ducente nil nocet.
There is a fine tarry flavour about the "three ships
with three masts, rigged and under full sail" ; a hint
of Royal interest and patronage in the lion and fleur-de-
lys ; of tremendous endeavour " in the sphere bound
with the zodiac, " and more than a hint of sea peril in
the pious wording.
The great dockyard bell is still in existence, bearing
the date 1616 and the motto, "God be my good speed. "
The Pioneer Ship of the Yard— the "Globe."
The first ships that were built on the Blackwall
stocks were all East Indiamen. The first is believed
to have been the Globe. This vessel sailed for India
in 1611, and owing to trouble with our great
trading rivals, the Dutch, was out nearly five years.
But for all that the profits of the voyage came to 218
per cent. The name of this ship, as is so often the case,
was handed down to posterity by a neighbouring tavern.
Sir Henry Johnson the Elder.
The first shipbuilder connected with the yard was
Henry Johnson, a cousin of Sir Phineas Pett. Besides
East Indiamen, this man built seven third -rates, two
for Cromwell, and four for Charles II., by whom he
was knighted in 1679. Henry Johnson the elder died
in 1683, and was buried in the East India Chapel,
adjoining the yard.
THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
S ° =*
KING'S SHIPS 27
King's Ships built at Blackwall in the
The King's ships, built by Sir Henry Johnson
the elder were all of that most useful rate, the third,
corresponding to the 74 of the Napoleonic period.
The Navy of Charles II. was divided up into six rates ;
these were generally alluded to in the correspondence
of the times as "the great ships" (first and second-rates)
"frigates" (third and fourth-rates) and "small frigates"
(fifth and sixth-rates), besides which the "Grand Fleet"
was made up of fireships, doggers, galliots, hoys,
hospital ships, pinks, yachts, flyboats and shallops.
The great ships were treated with great reverence;
they were kept strictly to the limits of the "Narrow
Seas, " and every September were brought into Chatham
or Portsmouth and laid up through the winter; but the
third-rates, besides fighting in the line of battle, were
sent to every part of the world, they did convoy work,
they cruised on their stations in the Channel, in the
North Sea and off Ireland during the winter months,
and they were the first ships to make the British flag
known in the Mediterranean.
Many people think of the Stuart Navy as consisting
of a lot of very slow, leewardly, unhandy old wagons,
primitive of design and rig, and but little less clumsy
than a Spanish treasure galleon. This is altogether
an erroneous view. In many ways these ships were
superior and finer models than the wooden walls of
They had more beams to length than their successors,
more deadrise and finer lines. The shipwrights of the
seventeenth century were practical rather than theor-
etical. They built by eye and by experience and were
not hampered by Admiralty Rules and Regulations as
28 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
to measurement and design, material, etc. In the
eighteenth century the builder was so* bound down by
Admiralty restrictions that individual skill and talent
were allowed no scope, and thus the British man-of-war
of that era became not only inferior in speed, weatherli-
ness, and seaworthiness to the Frenchman but also to
our own East Indiamen.
The exact contrary was the case in the seventeenth
century. Then our frigates were very much faster and
more weatherly than those of our chief rivals, the Dutch,
and could sail round the Frenchman, the Spaniard or
the Portuguee, to name the other chief maritime
The third-rate of the seventeenth century was fit to go
anywhere. The seamanship of those days was of a very
fine order, and even the navigation was far from being
as primitive as one would imagine. One has been
accustomed to marvel at the pluck and daring of our
ancestors in undertaking long voyages into unknown
One brings to mind Anson's voyage and the great
mortality amongst his crews from scurvy and typhus.
I find, however, that scurvy and typhus were by no
means prevalent amongst the Indiamen of the seven-
teenth century. There were, of course, instances of
great sickliness at sea, but these instances could gener-
ally be traced to fever epidemics, mean captains and
skinflint owners. As a general rule I find that British
crews were better fed in the seventeenth century than
in the early nineteenth century, and where they were
often on short allowance was generally with regard to
water, though this was usually discounted by an
extremely liberal allowance of beer.
A ROYAL SAILOR 29
Prince Rupert visits the Blackwall Yard.
In the seventeenth century the sea and ships were
the fashion. The Merry Monarch and his brother, the
Duke of York (later James II.) were both keen sailors
and took great interest in shipbuilding. Charles II.
constantly left his dovecots to visit his shipyards, but
the greatest, most experienced and most practical of the
Royal sailors of the seventeenth century was Charles'
famous cousin, Prince Rupert, a tall dark man with an
eagle's eye and a stern mouth, his brain full of new
inventions and improvements both for the ships and
their armaments. Rupert was a real "tarpaulin,"
who could stand his trick at the wheel, put his ship about
or take the sun with equal ease. He was also a patron
and promoter of all new shipping enterprises, such as
the Hudson Bay Company and the African Company.
His visits to the Blackwall Yard were those of the
expert and the business man; and British shipping in
the seventeenth century owed more to the keenness,
industry and ingenuity of Prince Rupert than historians
have ever acknowledged or realised.
Pepys, also, paid more than one visit to the yard.
In 1661 he went to see the newly finished wet dock and
the Indiaman Royal Oake, which had just been built and
was on the launching ways. In 1665 he records a second
visit, concerning which he relates this curious story :—
At Blackwall there is observable what Johnson tells us, that in
digging the late Docke, they did twelve feet underground find perfect
trees, overcovered with earth, nut trees with the branches and the very
nuts on them: some of whose nuts he showed us, their shells black with
age and their kernell, upon opening, decayed but their shell perfectly
hard as ever: and a new tree (upon which the very ivy was taken up
whole about it) which upon cutting with an " addes," we found tcj be
rather harder than the living tree usually is.
80 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
There is another incident of this date, worth
recording as curious. It is thus mentioned in Siowe's
Survey : —
In the time of the elder Sir Henry Johnson. Knight, shipbuilder, a
horse wrought there 34 years, driven by one man, and he grew to that
experience, that at the first sound of the bell for the men in the yard to
leave off work, he also would cease labouring and could not by any
means be brought to give one pull after it, and when the bell rang to
work he would as readily come forth again to his labour, which was to
draw planks and pieces of timber from one part of the yard to another.
This equine celebrity, "Old Hob" as he was called,
was immortalised, like the Glohe Indiaman, on the
signboard of a well-known tavern adjoming the yard.
Johnson the Younger.
The second Sir Henry Johnson, besides building
ships, was one of the leading directors of the East India
Company and owned shares in a number of vessels He
was a well-known figure "On 'Change" or at Lloyd's
Coffee House, where insurances were effected and ships
bought and sold "by touch of candle." This Johnson
was a notorious old skinflint with the reputation of being
a man " very hard to part from his money. " He was in
fact a mean old curmudgeon with no attractive qualities,
and I do not think he took much interest in the yard,
which he left in the capable hands of his foreman,
Philip Perry. He had a brother named William, but
this man had no connection with the yard, being an
East India supercargo — an important and lucrative
job in those days.
An interesting relic of this date was found in 1878.
This was a brass two-foot rule, similar to rules still in
use and bearing the name and date " Edward Gast, 1691. "
Poplar, according to Stowe, owed its name to its fine
NAVAL ADMINISTRATION 81
rows of poplar trees, whilst the Isle of Dogs was so
called because Charles I. kept his hounds kenneled there
when in residence at Greenwich Palace, but both trees
and dogs had disappeared by Johnson's time.
The only King's ships built in the yard at the end of
the seventeenth century were two fire-ships, of 260 tons,
the Strombolo built in 1690, and the Blazes built in 1694 ;
and a 50-gun frigate, called the Burlington, which was
built in 1695.
Indiamen of the Eighteenth Century.
The eighteenth century was a century of lax
morals, gross living, and but little advance in the
sciences. Selfish dishonesty and corruption ran like
a poison through all Governments and all classes. The
chivalry, the unselfish loyalty, and the devotion to
art and science, so freely spent in the service of the
Stuarts, seemed to have vanished, and German mater-
ialism ran far and wide through "Happy England."
The Hanoverians unfortunately lacked charm ; patriot-
ism became tainted with self-interest, and men in
State employ thought firstly of their own pockets and
secondly of their country's welfare.
Thus we find the administration of the Navy eaten
through and through from top to bottom with jobbery
and peculation, against which a few honest men wore out
their hearts and brains in vain. Naturally the Service
suffered. No one could be trusted to be honest, and
stringent rules and regulations, as a check to dishonest
work, became the custom of the age.
Minute measurements were laid down for the building
of men-of-war. Elaborate fighting regulations tied
the hands of admirals, and made hard and fast for-
mations for the sea fight, whenever and wherever it
32 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
took place. These restrictions, without proving much
of a check on dishonesty, nevertheless checked all
honest enterprise and efficiency and the progress of
all natural genius. The Navy fell back alarmingly,
its ships lost the sweetness of their lines; and we have
only to read Fielding and Smollett to realise the low
character of its personnel.
The East India Company, however, strove hard to
maintain the high standard of efficiency which it had
always set for itself. Nevertheless, towards the end of
the century, we find the East Indiaman of very much
the same tonnage, rarely over 700 tons, as at the begin-
ning of the century. This, though, is easily accounted
for. With almost continuous war at sea throughout the
century, the Admiralty's one nightmare was the growing
scarcity of suitable timber for knees and frames. Sub-
stitutes were sought for in every direction, but it was
easily proved that no wood grown could equal English
oak. And every oak knee and elbow, above a certain
size, was required for the Navy. This naturally kept
down the size of merchant ships and led to the early
adoption of iron knees, brackets, etc., in the ships of
the East India Company. Thus we see the Indiaman
was in one respect further advanced than the man-of-
war. And it was by no means the only way in which
they were superior to the Royal Navy.
The capstan with iron spindle and pauls was fitted
into Indiamen long before the Admiralty adopted it.
The Sou-Spainer also rejoiced in flush upper decks
when the naval constructors still clung to deep waists.
Another improvement of the East India Company
was the round headed rudder.
At last towards the end of the century the Admiralty
asked the surveyor of the East India Company, one
EAST INDIA SHIPS.
Length 146-1. Beam 36. Burthen in tons 818/4
Length 1250*. Beam 32. Burthen m tons 544r,4
[To face Page 32.
EAST INDIA COMPANY 88
Gabriel Snodgrass, to report upon any defects he ob-
served in naval ships and suggest improvements. He
accepted their request with alacrity and replied at
length. He was very right in most of his criticisms:
for instance he declared that all men-of-war were too
short and stepped their masts too far forward. He
went exhaustively into the subject of the seasoning and
preservation of timber, advised building ships under
cover, and commented on the thinness of the bottoms of
British ships compared to foreign, and also the thinness
of their sheathing.
And this brings us to a most important subject. In
1673 a trial was made of lead sheathing, but this did
not find favour for more than a few years. Next came
nail filled bottoms; and it was not until 1761 that
copper was tried, the first ship to be coppered being the
Alarm, a frigate of 32 guns.
Liberality of the East India Company.
The East India Company was probably the most
liberal, generous, and public-spirited concern that ever
held a trading charter. Their treatment of both officers
and petty officers was truly royal in its munificence.
Gifts of valuable plate and thousands of pounds of
money were invariably awarded to captains who
successfully defended their ships against the foe, and
the E.I. Co. was constantly helping the Admiralty
with both money and ships. In 1779 they offered a
bounty for the raising of 6000 seamen, and not content
with this built three 74 's, the Ganges, Carnatic and
Bombay Castle, at their own expense.
All this time the Blackwall Yard was in the
hands of a very clever and remarkable man. The
34 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
second Johnson, who died in 1693, was succeeded by
Philip Perry, and in 1776 John Perry, Pliilip Perry's
second son, became the head of the firm. This John
Perry was one of the most notable men of his day. He
was educated at Harrow, and afterwards became a
strong politician and supporter of Pitt. His eloquence
was notorious, and his son used to relate the following
anecdote to show his father's cleverness at the hustings : —
At a Middlesex election, Mr. Perry proposed Mr. Mainwaring in
opposition to Sir Francis Burdett. When he came forward on the
hustings, the mob hooted and called him a Government contractor.
"Yes," replied Perry, " I contract with the Government to build
ships. I built, for instance, the Venerable, which was Lord Duncan's
flagship at the Battle of Camperdown. I built such and such ship" —
mentioning various other famous vessels and the victorious battles in
which they had been engaged. He had touched a true chord of
national feeling: the people began to cheer and he sat down in a tempest
The Brunswick Dock and Masthouse.
In this John Perry's time, the yard reached its
zenith. It was then known as "the most capacious
private dockyard in the Kingdom and probably in the
world." In 1784 Perry had his great year. The end
of the American War of Independence had most un-
expectedly brought a great revival of trade in its train.
An old picture, in the possession of Mr. Perry's descend-
ants, shows the yard in thks year. Seven vessels are on
the stocks, the Venerable, Victorious, Hannibal and
Theseus, 74 's; the Gorgon and Adventure, 44 -gun
frigates; and the West Indiaman Three Sisters. The
Bushridge has just been launched, and four vessels are