1635, Thomas Askew begs forgiveness for allowing the Dutch to export oysters from Faversham

Thomas Askew. SP 16/282 f. 57 (1635)

To the right honourable the lords commissioners for the Admiraltie of England.

The humble peticion of Thomas Askew water bayliff to Sir Dudley Diggs knight for the mannour of Feversham.

Sheweth that about 2 yeares since there comeing a commaund from your lordshipps prohibiting the Hollanders to transport any more oisters: and your petitioner being therewith acquainted, gave them warning thereof, and would not permitt them soe to doe within the said river of Feversham; whereof under his said master hee hath juresdiccion: for which the fishermen there did much deride and maligne him. Saying that the Hollanders had power soe to doe in all other the rivers thereaboutes. Yet your petitioner from time to time charged the Hollanders not to offend in that kinde: but as it seemeth (in your petitioners absence hee having some occations to goe to sea) the Hollanders have transported oysters out of the said river for which your petitioner hath incurred your lordshipps displeasure and hath bene sent for by warrant, in obedience whereunto hee is come upp, and is in the custody of a messenger to his great charges and humbly attendeth your honours pleasures.

Forasmuch as your petitioner is most humbly and heartily sorrowful for the said offence being committed without his privity. And for that there shall not be any offence in the like kinde committed in the said river, during soe long time as hee exerciseth the said place.

Your petitioners humble suite therefore is. That your lordshipps will vouchsafe to accept this his most humble submission, and be pleased to remitt the said offence, and to discharge him out of the custody of the messenger, and from any longer attendance.

And hee (as in duty bound) shall daily pray for your honours eternall prosperities.

Thomas Askew

Report by Miranda Simond

In his petition Thomas Askew, water bailiff to Sir Dudley Digges for the manor of Faversham, acknowledged that despite their Lordships having prohibited the Hollanders from transporting oysters, the Hollanders had restarted the practice in the River Faversham. This had incurred their Lordships’ displeasure and they had summonsed Askew to account for his actions. In response Askew explained that the transporting had occurred during his absence at sea; he apologised for the offence and undertook to ensure it would not be repeated. He asked the Lordships to accept his submission and release him from custody.

Sir Dudley Digges

Sir Dudley Digges (1583–1639) was an English diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1610 and 1629. He was also a “Virginia adventurer,” an investor who ventured his capital in the Virginia Company of London. His son Edward Digges would go on to be Governor of Virginia.[1]

Sir Dudley, oysters and Sir Thomas Walsingham

On 17 February 1630 Sir Dudley, with the support of Sir Edward Hales, bought the manor and hundred of Faversham for £3,129 (some £400,000 today).[2] In September 1629 an order of Council had said that on the sale of His Majesty’s lands near Faversham the Admiralty jurisdiction was to be reserved.

Oyster fishing, port trading and marketing had a pre-Domesday existence in Faversham and was still the main industry. This petition concerns the trading of oysters with the Dutch, but underlying it was a personal battle between Digges and Sir Thomas Walsingham – their feud had been going on for many years. Walsingham was vice-admiral of Kent, and was extremely unhappy to have Digges over him in a new commission of vice-admiralty. Walsingham was determined, as he was heavily in debt, to milk his office for what it was worth, and we see in a petition presented to the Admiralty on 10 November 1630 from the ‘poor fishermen of Faversham’ that because the rent of the oyster grounds were in dispute he had decided to ‘charge’ Flemish ships which arrived to purchase oysters.

In 1633 trade with the Dutch was stopped by order of the Admiralty Court because ‘the store of oysters is much decayed’ and the Dutch were held responsible. On 19 November 1633 Walsingham wrote to the Admiralty that his water-bailiff, Henry Boate, had been poached by Digges and was now steward of Digges’s Water Courts. Meanwhile, under Admiralty orders Captain Thomas Austin of the Henrietta was stopping Dutch ‘pinks’ from loading oysters. (A pink, derived from the Dutch word pincke, meaning pinched, was a small ship with a narrow stern and large cargo capacity. It was generally square rigged. Its flat bottoms and resulting shallow draught made it more useful in shallow waters than some similar classes of ship.[3]) On 31 January 1634 Austin reported back to the Admiralty that he had stopped three pinks but the Faversham oyster catchers said they could sell to whomever they wished. Three weeks later the Admiralty repeated their order to him that he must stop the Dutch traffic.

In January 1635 Thomas Askew, in his capacity as Digges’ water-bailiff, was arrested at Billingsgate to appear before the Lords of the Admiralty to answer charges that he had allowed trading with the Dutch to continue.  Askew denied the charge but Captain Thomas Cooke, Captain Austin’s successor, ‘wearily reported’ that he had found ten pinks, many of whom had broken individual promises not to trade; he had then taken a cash bond from them but ‘he then saw them hasten to provide hoys and ketches to carry over oysters for them, or to put them aboard at sea’.

What happened to Askew following his expression of contrition in the petition is not known. The political fight now faded out of the State papers and Walsingham must have given up the struggle to impose an Admiralty Court on the Faversham oyster fisheries. Certainly, Digges and his successors as lords of the Manor of Faversham kept their own Admiralty Court.


[1] ‘Dudley Digges’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dudley_Digges.

[2] The following account is drawn from Paul Wilkinson, ‘The Historical Development of the Port of Faversham, Kent 1580 – 1780’ (2006), The Kent Archaeological Field School, pp. 68-72, http://www.kafs.co.uk/reports.aspx.

[3] ‘Pink (ship)’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_(ship).


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’.