1634, William Thomas seeks reimbursement for his costs as a ship’s purser

William Thomas. SP 16/258 f. 15 (1634)

To the right honourable the lords and other comissioners for his majesties Admiraltie of England.

The humble peticion of William Thomas purser of his majesties shipp the Anthelopp

Sheweth that this last yeare your peticioner being purser of the said shipp under the command of Sir Richard Plomleigh knight admirall on the coast of Ireland in which time the said Sir Richard tooke the Spred Egle of Amsterdam being piratts out of which to weaken them to send the shipp to harbor with safetie the said Sir Richard tooke into his shipp xiiii of their men which your petitioner victuled vi daies beginning the laste of July and ending the vith of August following: likewise 57 persons of the Lord Deputies companie had victualls on board the said shipp for the space of 2 daies beginning the 22th of July and ending the 23th of the same which was likewise uppon the peticioners charge, allsoe his said captaine tooke the John of Dunkirke in 1633 upon suspicion of piracy out of which hee tooke into the Anthelopp xxiii of their men whome your peticioner likewise fownd victuall for the space of ten daies begining the 4th of October 1633 and ending the xiiith of the same; allsoe to severall men hee hath delivered victualls according to the customs of the seas and by order from his commander, all which apeareth under the hand of the said Sir Richard Plomleigh

Wherefore your peticioner humblie beseecheth your honnors to give order to the treasurer or victular of his majesties Navy to make payment to your petitioner for victuling of the said persons after the rate of his majesties allowance, hee haveing longe since soe disbursed his mony and your peticioner shalbe bownd daily to pray for your honnors.

Report by Mary Wiggins

In his petition William Thomas reported that he served as purser of the Antelope under Admiral Sir Richard Plomleigh. Following the detention of the pirate ship Spread Eagle, he provisioned 14 of its men for six days and 57 of the ‘Lord Deputy’s company’ for two days. The Antelope then detained the John of Dunkirk and he provisioned 13 of its men for 10 days and several other men. Thomas sought to be reimbursed.

The purser of a ship was responsible for the ship’s finances and often the cargo as well. Not all ships during this period had pursers, as often the master would carry out this role. There was, however, quite a bit of flexibility dealing with these tasks depending on the particular masters, owners and merchants involved in individual ships.[1] The Antelope was rebuilt as a third-rate middling ship of 38 guns in 1618 and Richard Plomleigh or Plumleigh was its captain from 1633-34.[2]  There is no mention of William Thomas or a purser in the list of officers and crew for the Antelope.

Richard Plumleigh came from a powerful merchant family in Dartmouth, Devon.[3] Four members of his family, including his father, served as mayors of the town during the 16th and 17th centuries. The family had a leading role in creating the quay there and were big property owners in the town. Richard was born in 1596, son of John Plumleigh and Barbara Eyre. He attended Exeter College, Oxford and was subsequently admitted to the Inner Temple in 1614. The first record of his naval career appears in April 1625 – James Bagg to Edward Nicholas ‘recommends Mr Plumleigh for command of one of the colliers, in the intended expedition to Cadiz’. (A collier was a flat bottom ship, such as a coal carrier.)

Following this, he was given command of the Dreadnought in 1625. There are numerous records about his naval career in the State Papers of the period. He wrote many letters to, among others, Sir Edward Nicholas, Secretary to the Admiralty and clerk of the Privy Council, regarding admiralty business and regularly complaining about a lack of supplies. In October 1625, the Dreadnought was part of an expedition to Cadiz in the fleet commanded by Viscount Wimbledon and the Duke of Buckingham which ended in an embarrassing defeat. Following this, in June 1627, the ship was part of an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the Siege of Rochelle, another embarrassment for the Duke of Buckingham.[4]

In 1628, Plumleigh was accused of being a Catholic by Sir Miles Hobart. The fact that he had served under the Archduchess Isabella in the Spanish Netherlands had previously led to concerns about his faith and this was being brought up again. He wrote to Buckingham to refute the accusation:

‘In answer to someone who had informed the Duke that Plumleigh was disaffected to the Church of England, and therefore unfit for the command of a King’s ship. He has sent the Duke, by Nicholas, a certificate when he last received the communion, and protests that he never held a tenet dissonant to the doctrine of the Reformed Church’.

Following the accusation, Plumleigh assaulted Miles Hobart and was briefly committed to the Marshalsea prison, but petitioned the king for a pardon and was back at sea later that year. Despite these accusations, Plumleigh became a favourite with the King and in May 1629, Charles I insisted that he was to command a ship of the Channel squadron.

Plumleigh was captain of the Convertive, or Convertine, in 1630 and then, in 1631, when commanding the Antelope, he again complained of lack of resources: ‘Slow progress of the Antelope. They have neither ammunition, sails, cables, nor men, only provisions of victual are there, so that they may eat for the King though they cannot fight for him’. In November, 1632, he was appointed Admiral of the Channel fleet and was then the captain of the Victory and also in charge of the Bonaventure, the Dreadnought and St Dennis. After the Victory was discharged in 1632-33, he was given the command of the Assurance and after this was in command of the Antelope again and appointed Admiral of the Irish seas. Thomas Wentworth, the lord deputy of Ireland, knighted Plumleigh on 4 August 1633.

Plumleigh was married to Elizabeth Nuthrowne and they had two sons, Charles and Philip and a daughter, Elizabeth. He died in 1636, sometime after a letter was written by Kenrick Edisbury to Edward Nicholas on 6 October 1636 which stated ‘Sir Richard Plumleigh is well in health, but often in fits of some sort of melancholy distraction, not remembering where he is, nor what he intends to do’. This seems to imply a mental issue rather than a physical one.

G. Harris, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, summed up Plumleigh in the following way:

‘As a naval officer Plumleigh was a man of action, eager to be at sea, but pushy, complaining, in need of reassurance, ingratiating, and anxious to keep on the right side of men of influence, such as Edward Nicholas of the Admiralty. He was very worried when he offended the Earl of Arundel. Relations with his immediate naval superiors were poor. Sir Henry Mervyn described him as ‘magnifico like’, who made a ‘noise of nothing’’.[5]


[1] ‘Sailing into Modernity/Tables of Roles’, University of Exeter, Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/history/research/centres/maritime/resources/sailingintomodernity/roles/.

[2] ‘British Third Rate middling ship Antelope (1618), Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail, https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=11053.

[3] For this and subsequent information on Plumleigh and his family: ‘Chin-Haddock Family – Ch. 5: Sir Richard Plumleigh’, The Family History of the Chins and Haddocks in Australia, http://chin-haddockfamilyhistoryaus.blogspot.com/2013/08/chin-haddock-family-ch5-captain-richard-plumleigh.html; Harris, G. G., ‘Plumleigh, Sir Richard (b. 1595/6, d. in or after 1636), naval officer.’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004) https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-66464.

[4] ‘English ship Dreadnought (1573)’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_ship_Dreadnought_(1573).

[5] Harris, G. G., ‘Plumleigh, Sir Richard’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/66464.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.