Dr Ian Jackson (1935-2017)

We at the Hakluyt Society were deeply saddened to receive the news of the death of Dr Ian Jackson, on 22 September. He had made outstanding contributions to the work of the Society, which he joined in the 1960s, by serving on Council, editing three volumes and delivering the Annual Lecture in 2005.

Ian Jackson Brazil 11 Feb 2017
Dr Ian Jackson (1935-2017) on the Amazon river on his 82nd birthday. Brazil, 11 February 2017. Photo credit: Mrs Merlyn Jackson.

 

Ian Jackson was born in Keighley, Yorkshire in 1935 and studied geography at London and McGill Universities. His career had an unusual range, as he worked for institutions as varied as the Canadian International Geophysical Year, the London School of Economics, the Government of Canada and the United Nations (serving in Geneva and in New York).

In 1957-8 as a graduate research student he was part of Operation Hazen at the Canadian Defence Research Board weather and research station at Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island where the team was subjected to temperatures below -40 degrees Celsius for 121 days and a long isolation from the outside world when their radio failed. Ian’s lively account of this adventure was published in 2002 in Does Anyone Read Lake Hazen?

In his later years Ian lived in New England and finally in Montreal, apart from extensive periods in a small cottage near Whitby in his native Yorkshire which he acquired while transcribing the fascinating manuscript journals of William Scoresby the Younger in the Whitby Museum. These were later published in three volumes in the Hakluyt Society’s third series as The Arctic Whaling Journals of William Scoresby the Younger, between 2003 and 2009. The Society’s Annual Lecture in 2005 was given by Ian and published by the Society as Fort Yukon: The Hudson’s Bay Company in Russian America. Ian was also the historical advisor to the exhibition ‘Cook and Canada – A Reputation in the Making’ at Whitby’s Captain Cook Memorial Museum in 2009.

Jackson Scoresby

As an example of his style, we might quote the final point made in his Annual Lecture, prefaced by the tantalising remark: ‘I cannot resist closing this lecture with a story that I have waited forty years or so to tell.’ In 1867 the United States paid Russia seven million dollars for Alaska, a price that has generally been regarded as a bargain. In fact, Jackson explained, ‘when Edward Stoeckl, the Russian Minister, arrived in Washington to negotiate the sale, he was under instructions from his government to try to get five million. And if a buyer pays 40% more than the seller would have accepted, it is not a bargain.’

Ian will be greatly missed.


 

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Programme: Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017 – Trading Companies and Travel Literature

The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017 brings together travel literature and trading companies by exploring how the various early modern Companies collected, created, curated, protected and utilised material relating to travel and discovery around the world. Set in the historic environment of the University of Kent’s Medway campus, the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017 will take place on 11-12 September 2017.

Registration is open until 1 September. 

Location: Royal Dockyard Church Lecture Theatre, Chatham, ME4 4TE. Please visit our conference website for directions.


11 September 2017

 09.30 – 09.40: Welcome and Introduction

 09.40 – 11.10: Session 1 – Production of Travel Literature

  • Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg (Queen Mary, London), ‘Passages Recollected by Memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in Seventeenth-Century Merchant Life Writing
  • Byapti Sur (Leiden University), Pandemonium in Pomp: A Dutch account of Festivals and Festivities in Seventeenth-Century Mughal India
  • Dr Liam Haydon (University of Kent), Merchants Making History

11.10 – 11.30: Coffee break

11.30 – 13.00: Session 2 – Uses of Travel Literature

  • Prof Michiel van Groesen (Leiden University), From Secrecy to Openness: Dierick Ruiters’ Manuscript Maps and the Birth of the Dutch Atlantic World 
  • Dr Adrien Delmas (l’Institut français d’Afrique du Sud, Paris), The Forgotten Function of Writing: Travel Literature, International law and the European Share of the World at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century
  • Dr Haig Smith (University of Liverpool), “Assemblies of their own Nations”: Perceptions of South Asian Religious Diversity in Seventeenth-Century English East India Company Correspondence

13.00 – 14.00: Lunch

14.00 – 15.15: Hakluyt Society Editorial Workshop

15.15 – 15.30: Coffee break

15.30 – 17.00: Session 3 – Promoting Trading Companies

  • Prof Anne Goldgar (King’s College London), Marketing Arctic Knowledge
  • Dr Stefan Halikowski Smith (Swansea University), Venice and the Danish East India Company: Reading Nicola Cima’s ‘Relatione Distinta delli Regni di Siam, China, Tunchino e Cocincina’ (c. 1707)
  • Giorgio Tosco (European University Institute), Travel Writing and the Promotion of Trans-Oceanic Trade in Tuscany and Genoa in the Seventeenth Century

18.00: Keynote Address

  • Prof Jyotsna Singh (Michigan State University), The East India Company and English Encounters with Islam in Mughal India

19.00: Reception

Conference Dinner


12 September 2017

9.00 – 10.30: Session 4 – Planning Empire through Travel Literature

  • John Carrigy (National University of Ireland, Galway), John Dee and Elizabethan Empire: Defining Empire within Contemporary Historiographical Culture
  • Marina Bezzi (University College London), Richard Hakluyt and Lancelot Voisin de la Popeliniere: Other-than-European Environments in European Travel Literature Collections
  • Alasdair Macfarlane (Durham University), Creating ‘New Caledonia’: Rumour, News and the Company of Scotland

10.30 – 10.50: Coffee break

10.50 – 12.20: Session 5 – Approaches to Non-European Voices

  • Prof Margaret Hunt (Uppsala University), Dervish Mehmed Edib’s Pilgrimage to Mecca: Gender and Spirituality in an Eighteenth-Century Islamic Travel Narrative 
  • Samuel Ellis (University of Leeds), Reading Early English East India Company Travel Narratives in the Himalayas: Difficulties, Limitations and Opportunities
  • Renu Elizabeth Abraham (University of Kent), Collectors of History: The Case of John William Wye and the English East India Company

12.20 – 13.20: Lunch

 13.20 – Session 6 – 14.50: Materiality of Information

  • Dr Djoeke van Netten (University of Amsterdam), Ships on Maps and Maps on Ships
  • Dr Souvik Mukherjee (Presidency University, Kolkata), “Unburying” Company History: Reconstructing European Company Narratives through Digital Archives
  • Frank Birkenholz (University of Groningen), Paper that Travels: The Materiality of the Dutch East India Company’s Travel Writing, Information Gathering and Knowledge Production

14.50 – 15.10: Coffee break

 15.10 – 16.40: Session 7 – Companies and Colonialism

  • Prof Nandini Das (University of Liverpool), Thomas Roe’s Companies
  • Dr Amrita Sen (Presidency University, Kolkata), Decoding Company Rule: Travel, Taxation and the Bengal Famine of 1770
  • Alison Bennett (University College London/British Museum), Exploration, Treaty-Making and Trade: Sources of the Imperial British East Africa Company

16.40 – 17.00: Closing Remarks and End of Conference


 

 

Navigation: An Even Shorter Introduction

A combination of historians, literary scholars, naval captains, archivists, curators, and even the odd former explorer, the Trustees of the Hakluyt Society collectively represent a wide range of expertise on travel and navigation. Yet few are as uniquely qualified to speak on the topic as Professor Jim Bennett, former Director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford and, since 2016, President of the Hakluyt Society. This year, his Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published by Oxford University Press. In this blog, Professor Bennett reflects on the joys and challenges of discussing thousands of years of navigational development in a short book – or even a brief talk at a literary festival.

JB: My little book Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published earlier this year and, as a more commercial work than my usual brief, I’ve had unfamiliar opportunities to speak at a few promotional events. I always accept, not because I imagine selling lots of books, but because it’s a nice experience that may never come again. So, I’m one of those speakers on the festival fringe, where the venue is a pub or bookshop, and a few people turn up because they want to fill their schedules and these tickets are free. Still, it’s fun – nice to feel part of the larger occasion and briefly to wear a badge marked Author.

But what to say? No-one really wants to understand position-line navigation, even if I could explain it in the time I have – perhaps as little as 20 minutes. I even did one so-called ‘speed dating’ event, where speakers circulated between groups with 10 minutes for each. These ‘VSIs’, as Authors learn to call their books, are, of course, heroic condensations in themselves – in my case of navigation at sea from the Bronze Age to post-GPS in 35,000 words – so how to distil that further into 20 minutes?

vsi cover

Navigation at sea is a very big story, spanning all historical epochs, cultures and oceans – a story of world history but told though a technical narrative. It was necessary to give some account of all the big players – from the Minoans in the Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, &c, sailing (usually) in a large but relatively enclosed sea, to the Pacific Islanders in the vast expanse of Oceania.

With my European history background, I was already comfortable with navigation in the Atlantic from the Norse to the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch, with their introduction of techniques codified in mathematics and the use of instruments. But there was a great deal to say about the Indian Ocean with the overlapping and intersecting activities of the Egyptians, Arabs, Indians and Chinese – and eventually the Europeans. I also had to cover the growing convergence of technical resources into the modern age.

Cultural differences needed addressing as well as the geographical and technical. It struck me that Europeans marvelled at the navigational feats of Polynesian sailors, seeing their far-flung islands separated by great tracts of ocean, when Pacific peoples might insist that this is how they are connected.

Among the range of motivations for voyaging, I was pleased, for reasons that may be obvious when we meet, to devote a paragraph or two to the Irish of the early Middle Ages, who could represent an ascetic or devotional impulse. The plan was to settle in places where life would generally be considered impossible – with some success, before they were displaced from the Faroes and from Iceland by the very different strategy of the Vikings.

I should be careful not to mislead potential readers here. My narrative is driven by the technical development of navigation. I manage to mention Richard Hakluyt on page one, by using his Principal Navigations to illustrate the general meaning of ‘navigation’, in contrast with the technical definition of his associate, the mathematician John Dee, where it refers to the means of locating a position and setting a course. But the technical is entangled with geography, history and culture.

When OUP invited me to write the book, I thought I should explain frankly that I am a historian, not a navigator. They explained in turn that a historical account of this technical topic was what they wanted and this proved to be wise, I believe. I have to deal with technical matters, however superficially, but readers unfamiliar with the business of navigation pick this up gradually, through its evolution over time.

Experienced navigators, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with the technical content of so short a book, but they probably know little of how their discipline evolved and who was responsible for its development.

mariner's astrolabe
Spanish mariner’s astrolabe, c.1600. Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

If the subject is large, how am I to bring it within the compass of 20 minutes? One unifying notion I’ve been using is ‘the shared sky’. As I worked through how sailors in their different epochs, peoples and oceans dealt with the challenges of knowing where they were and of moving on towards their landfall, something that should have been obvious from the beginning dawned with increasing force. On the open sea, the sky was the same for everyone.

Different techniques were used to codify and utilise the sky, with different vocabularies and instruments (or with none), but the principles that everyone applied were broadly similar. They shared the same sky. Of course it looked different from different places and at different times – that was what gave the sky navigational purchase – but a grasp of the patterns and movements recurred within every formulation.

A further thought links us to all these different peoples and is the emotional hook I deploy to move my listeners to an empathy with my subject. We share this same sky. However remote we may seem from the Phoenicians or the Vikings, for direction and for what we call ‘latitude’ they used a ‘north star’, which they identified in the same whirling pattern as we observe today. I am always affected by this thought – a feeling perhaps shared by my modest audiences. They seem to leave happy to have ticked off another talk in the programme, some even with copies of my little book.

Professor Jim Bennett is a historian of science who has held curatorial posts in national museums in London and in university museums in Cambridge and Oxford, where he was Director of the Museum of the History of Science. He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science and is currently President of the Hakluyt Society. His books include The Divided Circle: a History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation, and Surveying (Phaidon-Christie’s: 1987) and Navigation: A Very Short History (Oxford University Press: 2017).


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Professor Jim Bennett waiting to speak at Chipping Norton Literary Festival

Vacancy: Administrator of the Hakluyt Society (application deadline: 5 May 2017)

THE HAKLUYT SOCIETY 

ADMINISTRATOR

The Hakluyt Society, founded in 1846, publishes scholarly editions of primary sources on voyages and travels to a wide membership and readership, academic and international. On the retirement of its Administrator after 15 years, the Society seeks to fill the position from late September 2017.

The appointee will contract with the Society to provide a range of administrative services for a fee in the region of £30,000 per annum (subject to annual review). These will include dealing with subscriptions and other membership records, handling day-to-day financial matters (in support of the Honorary Treasurer), servicing meetings of Council, assisting working groups established by Council, and collaborating with the officers to further the Society’s aims and maintain the service provided for members. In recent years the Society has expanded its range of activities and the Administrator will be expected to be active and supportive in advancing this developing phase in the life of the Hakluyt Society.

A wider impression of the Society can be found from its website (www.hakluyt.com), where (at www.hakluyt.com/PDF/adminadvert.pdf) there is further information on the duties of the position, on the competencies expected of the Administrator, and on how to apply.

The deadline for the receipt of applications is 5 May 2017 and it is expected that interviews will be held in London on 14 June 2017.

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CFP – Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017: Trading Companies and Travel Literature, 11-12 September 2017

BewindhebbersSLIDE1-1000x400Call for Papers

The Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017:

Trading Companies and Travel Literature

11-12 September 2017

Chatham Historic Docks, University of Kent

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Speakers confirmed: Prof Jyotsna Singh (Michigan State University), Prof. Michiel van Groesen (Leiden University), Prof Margaret Hunt (Uppsala University), Prof Nandini Das (University of Liverpool), and Dr Djoeke van Netten (University of Amsterdam).


The exploration of travel literature across its myriad forms has greatly stimulated the ways we understand the global history of the early modern world. Yet, in spite of the great array of recent studies in this field, there has been only limited engagement with the place of travel literature within histories of one of the key protagonists of overseas trade, cross-cultural exchange, and empire – the trading company. From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, European trading companies traversed the globe in search for goods, profit, and knowledge. The overseas experiences of many travellers were published upon their return to Europe, either privately or by their employer. Even so, the vast bulk of descriptions streaming into company headquarters was never published and remains a largely untapped resource.

This conference brings together travel literature and trading companies by exploring how the various European companies collected, created, curated, protected and utilised material relating to travel and discovery around the world. Set in the historic environment of the University of Kent’s Medway campus, the Hakluyt Society Symposium 2017 joins together senior experts and early career researchers to engage in cross-disciplinary conversation. In line with the core activity of the Hakluyt Society, the symposium will include an editorial workshop focused on editing and publishing scholarly editions of travel literature. Contributions from postgraduate researchers are particularly encouraged.


Prospective speakers are invited to submit proposals of no more than 300 words for 20 minute papers, along with a brief bio statement. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • The ways manuscript and printed material created by companies can help us understand the early modern ‘globalising’ world
  • Secrecy, forgery and fraudulent material
  • Companies as vehicles through which ideas and images about the world circulated in Europe
  • How ideas originating in manuscript form within companies came to circulate in print
  • The relationship between trading companies and non-corporate groups (other merchants; missionaries; diplomats; Crown-sponsored overseas enterprise, etc.)
  • How non-corporate organisations sought to collect/protect/utilise travel literature
  • Non-European voices and agency in (the production of) travel literature

The Hakluyt Society will make available a number of travel bursaries to postgraduate and early career applicants with limited or no alternative access to funding – if you would like to apply for a bursary please indicate this when sending your abstract and explain your reasons for applying.
Please send your abstracts to hakluytsymposium@gmail.com by 30 April 2017.

Organisers: Dr Aske Brock (University of Kent), Dr Edmond Smith (University of Kent/ The Hakluyt Society), Dr Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick/ The Hakluyt Society)


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Hakluyt Society Research Funding 2017

The Hakluyt Society wishes all its members and followers a happy and prosperous 2017. For the second year in succession, the Society invites applications for its Research Funding initiative. Two forms of funding will be made available: Up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants (max £1500 each) and up to two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowships (max £1650 per month, up to four months).

These funding opportunities are open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the objects of the Hakluyt Society. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society. This year’s deadline for applications is 20 February 2017 at 17.00 GMT. The selection committee aims to communicate its decisions  by the beginning of April 2017.

Guidelines for applications can be found below. Prospective applicants should download the Application Form, which gives further detailsInformation about last year’s winners and their funded projects can be found here.


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Hakluyt Society Research Funding Guidelines

1. Hakluyt Society funding is given to support and extend the stated aims of the Society. The primary aim of the Society is ‘to advance knowledge and education by the publication of scholarly editions of primary records of voyages, travels and other geographical material’. In addition, the Society also undertakes and supports activities supplementary to its primary role as a publisher of scholarly texts: ‘by organizing and participating in meetings, symposia and conferences which contribute to an increased awareness of geographical exploration and cultural encounter’. Applicants should state clearly in their application how the proposed project meets the aims of the Society.

2. The applicant must be a member of the Hakluyt Society at the time of application. (For further information about membership and the activities of the Hakluyt Society, please visit hakluyt.com).

3. In completing the form, applicants should make clear which one of the two funding sources is being applied for. It is not possible to apply for both of the funding sources in the same year. In the event of successful application, further financial support from the Society will not normally be considered within two years.

4. The Abstract should be written in language suitable for a non-academic audience and outline the importance and timeliness of the work proposed and its fit to the work of the Society. The section Description of the Research, should place the nature of the research proposed in relation to the relevant scholarly literature and identify the originality and significance of the work proposed.

5. Where relevant, the library/archive or other repository to be visited should be identified, as should the expected time frame in which the research will be undertaken. The application should detail the number of working days that will be spent at the library/archive/repository in question.

6. The Budget must give projected costs in as much detail as possible, and should justify the levels of expenditure proposed.

7. Plans for communication of the research should be fully explained. These should also be realistic and precisely stated.

8. Applicants should note that the funding is intended to cover the costs associated with the conduct of research (including reasonable travel and subsistence expenses), and is not for an applicant’s ongoing maintenance expenses during the period of travel and research. Please note that Hakluyt Society research funding is for research with identifiable publication plans only and may not be used simply for dissertation research or write-up. Funding will not be given for computer hardware or software costs. If applicants are in any doubt over allowable costs, they are advised to contact the Society.

9. Successful applicants are required to acknowledge the support of the Hakluyt Society in any resultant Hakluyt Society publication, other research publication or in events of outreach and dissemination.

10. The maximum sum available for a Hakluyt Society Research Grant (HSRG) is £1,500. Normally there will be up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants available and two Hakluyt Society Short Term Fellowships available in any one calendar year. The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship (HSSTF) may be held for a maximum of four calendar months. The maximum sum available for the Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship will be £1,650 per calendar month (i.e., the maximum sum that may be sought is £6,600).

Normally, in the event of successful application, the sum awarded will be paid directly to the named applicant. It is the applicant’s responsibility to provide the Society with full details of the bank account into which the award should be paid. Upon completion of the project for which an award has been made, the applicant is expected to provide the Society with a summary of the expenditure, with itemized receipts for the same and a brief report of the work undertaken.

11. Successful candidates will receive notification of the outcome of their application. Due to the volume of applications, please note that the Society is unable to enter into correspondence on individual unsuccessful applications. The Society reserves the right to invite selected unsuccessful candidates to develop their proposals further to reapply in subsequent rounds, and may provide additional feedback in such cases.



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Abraham Lawse (c.1559-1613) – Case Study of a Tudor-Stuart Shipmaster

In this guest blog, Dr Cheryl Fury (University of New Brunswick), a recipient of this year’s Hakluyt Society Research Grants for her work on “The Human Dimension of the Early Voyages of the English East India Company”, talks about her quest to unearth biographical details about one remarkably colourful individual, the Tudor-Stuart shipmaster Abraham Lawse (c. 1559-1613). Fury’s study reveals how much historical detail can be recovered about ordinary lives through careful archival research.

When I was working on my PhD dissertation on the social history of Elizabethan seamen in the 1990s, I spent a great deal of time combing through High Court of the Admiralty cases, parish records, wills, and whatever else might yield information about the personal and professional lives of late Tudor seafarers. The highest-ranking men in the English maritime community were the most likely to leave a paper trail in the historical records, affording researchers the opportunity to “meet” them at various junctures of their lives: shipmaster Abraham Lawse (c. 1559-1613) was one such man.

I first encountered Lawse in parish records from 1584, when he was a young man getting married to Sara Laikyn. Abraham and Sara lived in Ratcliffe, Stepney – a Thames-side parish populated with many families connected to London’s maritime trades. Because shipmasters were skilled navigators who shouldered great responsibility, Lawse and his ilk commanded significantly higher wages than most of their crews: this meant Lawse had the wherewithal to marry in his mid-20s and support a family early in his career.

We don’t know what his wife brought to the marriage but Lawse would have been a “good catch” in the local marriage market.


 

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Lawse’s early prospects dimmed considerably when he was caught up in the rising tide of maritime violence of the late sixteenth century. As the master of the Harry of London, Lawse had been captured by Dunkirker privateers on a voyage from London to Danske and imprisoned for seven months until his “great ransom” was paid by London merchants.  Lawse employed a number of strategies to restore his fortunes.

In 1587 Lawse petitioned the Crown and was granted a begging license because he was “utterly impoverished” and on the verge of going to jail for debt. This license allowed him to seek donations from London parishes for three months.  He also applied to the Admiralty for letters of reprisal as the Captain and master of the Greyhound of London to seek compensation for his losses through privateering. Lawse was fortunate that he seems to have returned to England in good health, able to resume his seafaring career and work towards restoring his young family’s financial wellbeing.

Lawse was visited by misfortune again in 1604, when he and his men were attacked by Captain John Ward and his pirate crew. During this ordeal, Lawse told the Admiralty court that one of the pirates threatened to put him in an old sail and throw him overboard – doubtless a technique for soliciting all shipboard items of worth with a minimum of resistance.  Lawse was eventually allowed to depart with his ship although the pirates took his lading and provisions. Once again, Lawse seems to have escaped unharmed.

As a grateful recipient of a research grant from the Hakluyt Society, I went to London recently to investigate the early voyages of the East India Company. I was delighted to meet with Abraham Lawse once again: this time in an account of the Company’s sixth voyage (1610-1613). Lawse was serving as the master of the Peppercorn in a small EIC fleet under Sir Henry Middleton. The Company hired respected seamen and a veteran mariner like Lawse had been tested by fire. Given what I knew of his life, I wasn’t surprised Lawse was in a dire situation once more.

EIC voyages were extremely taxing physically and mentally. Morbidity and mortality were very high. Hostilities often turned violent between the English and rival traders from Europe and Asia. Lawse survived over 3 years, from the fleet’s departure from England in April, 1610 until July, 1613, when his luck well and truly ran out.

Nicholas Downton, captain of the Peppercorn, recorded in his journal that “we had many men sick of the scurvy god sent us”. Abraham Lawse was among the sick but the master made a startling claim: he believed that his ailment was not scurvy but rather he was “poisoned by reason of his stomake failing him and hauing often inclination to vomit”. He maintained his symptoms were the same as when he had been poisoned in Venice previously.

Such accusations were sure to send ripples of distrust throughout the small fleet during an already tense voyage. In his journal, Downton criticized Lawse for stirring up mistrust without naming possible suspects, “and soendevors to leave a scandal”.

When Lawse died on July 27, 1613, the ship surgeon did an autopsy –a first on an East India Company vessel, to my knowledge.  In order to quell this suspicion, Downton records that in the presence of diverse witnesses, the surgeon opened Lawse’s corpse and “took notice how his innard partes were conditioned.” Presumably the witnesses were satisfied that Lawse had not been poisoned as there were no further accusations, investigation, nor a trial in the wake of his death.

east-india-co-journals
East India Company journals. The British Library, London.

Lawse provides an interesting case study in the occupational lives of Tudor-Stuart seamen. As a young shipmaster, Lawse had excellent career prospects. However, this was no guarantee of success in the rough and tumble world of early modern seafaring. The Elizabethan period, and the Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604) in particular, was a time of increased maritime violence: Lawse was a victim of pirates and privateers at least twice in his career. He was fortunate to escape with his life and his health.

Personally and professionally, Abraham Lawse was a man who knew loss. He was also a tenacious mariner intent on using multiple means to reverse his misfortunes: he had connections to London merchants who paid his ransom, he petitioned the Crown successfully for a begging license, he collected donations from local parishes to repay his debts, he sought and obtained letters of reprisal from the Admiralty to engage in privateering, and in general, Abraham Lawse worked to rebuild his fortunes by going to sea and diligently plying his craft.

His earlier run-ins with danger do not seem to have convinced him to confine himself to less risky voyages closer to home even in his advancing years. Lawse was born circa 1559, making him around 54 when he died. This is a very respectable life-span for someone in Tudor-Stuart times; it is doubly so for someone who had survived a lengthy and dangerous career at sea of over 30 years. Because privateers were compensated only with shares of any prizes taken, it was a risky venture for Lawse to undertake when his fortunes were at their lowest ebb. To sign up for a punishing voyage to the East Indies while in his early 50s also says much about Lawse.

This case study demonstrates that an individual who has no particular claim to be remembered 400 years after his death has left quite a number of footprints in the pages of surviving sources. Although there is nothing near a complete biography, by consulting a range of historical records, it is gratifying to see the broad strokes of this tenacious London shipmaster’s colourful life emerge to those who are willing to dig around in the archives

Cheryl Fury is an Associate Professor of History at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) in Canada as well as a Fellow and Associated Faculty of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society. She has published extensively on the social lives of Elizabethan seamen. Her current work is on the first twenty-five years of the English East India Company.


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