1643, Thomas Millard, gunner’s mate, asks to the Committee for the Navy and Customs for his backpay

Thomas Millard, gunner’s mate of the Swallow. SP 16/497 f. 96 (1643)

To the honourable comittee for the navy and customs

The humble peticion of Thomas Millard gunners mate of the good shipp the Swallow William Brookes master

Humbly shewinge

That your peticioner was tenn monethes gunners mate of the sayd shipp imployed for Kinge and Parliament upon the coast of Ireland, which said shipp afterwardes retorned in good safety in to the ryver of Thames, where your peticioner and the rest of the shipps company were discharged of that service, but soe it is may it please this honourable comittee that your peticioners wife and childeren beinge in Ireland from whence hee marryed her and in greate distresse, your peticioner left his 10 monethes pay for his service in the sayd shipp, and went for Ireland for his wife and childeren, and beinge now retorned in good safety (praysed bee God) but in very poore estate and in greate distresse for wantt of [illegible] money.

May it therefore please this honourable comittee to take the peticioners poore estate in to your consideracion, and bee pleased for his presente releefe to graunte him an order for the payment of his tenn monethes pay for his service don in the sayd shipp which is now neere upon sixe moneth due unto him, which hee left att his goeinge in to Ireland:

And your peticioner his poore wife and children shall ever pray etc.

[For the transcribed response to this petition, see the full transcription here.]

Report by Sandra Linger

Thomas Millard, a gunner’s mate on HMS Swallow, is petitioning for arrears of pay which have been denied him, when he failed to collect them after a ten-month voyage.

Background to the Petition

However, Millard was not being entirely truthful. Further investigation found that his pay had been withheld because he was abusive at sea and used ill language against the State and the Master of the ship at the time of pay.

The Committee for the Navy agreed he could receive his pay if he apologised to Captain Brookes (Master of the Swallow) and if Captain Brookes accepted his apology and felt that Millard regretted his actions.

However, Captain Robert Bramble stated that he had signed Thomas Millard up “to go master with me in the Hind pinnace” but that he now cannot go because without his pay he cannot provide himself with the necessary clothing and equipment. He cannot apologise to Captain Brookes, who has already gone to Portsmouth to take charge of the ship ‘Expedition’.  Captain Bramble promises that, if they grant Thomas Millard his wages, then he will keep back all of the wages for his new service until he can make his apologies to Captain Brookes on his return.[1]

English ship Swallow (1634) was a 40-gun ship launched in 1634. Captain William Brookes was Master of the Swallow and the Expedition in 1643.

The ten months that Thomas Millard served on the Swallow were times of great turmoil at sea. Millard had joined the crew of the Swallow when it was a Royalist ship, but it then switched sides to become a Parliamentarian ship. It had been part of the Irish Guard during his service but, his having stated that his wife and children were living in Ireland, it is unclear where he joined the ship and whether he is Irish or English.

The Swallow and Bonaventure in 1642

Civil War had broken out in 1642 and by the summer of 1642 only two men-of-war – the Swallow under Captain Thomas Kettleby and the Bonaventure under Captain Henry Stradling – remained loyal to the King.  They had been part of the Irish Guard but disappeared from their base at Kinsale (south of Cork) the King having ordered them to sail for the coast of Scotland on 23 June 1642, their ultimate destination being Newcastle. Word of their disappearance reached the Commons and Warwick was told to ‘dispose of the said Ships’ as he saw fit were, they to refuse, he was to ‘use all Means to compel them thereunto’.

King Charles had corresponded with Henry Stradling of the Bonaventure – a fervent supporter of the monarchy – from very early in 1642 seeking to ensure his loyalty, and no doubt did so with Kettleby of the Swallow. He was hoping for a Naval coup, and when both ships were to be found off the North East coast in Sep 1642 Parliament was adamant that their services be denied to the King. From a squadron of six Parliamentarian ships longboats were deployed to board both vessels when they were unprepared, and the disaffection of the crews saw the ships pass into the Parliamentarian fleet ‘without any shot of resistance’, Kettleby becoming a prisoner amongst his own men. Presumably Captain William Brookes took over for the Parliamentarians at this time.  This was important because the last two ships of any significant power held by the King had been wrested from his grip “his majesty was without one ship of his own … at his devotion”.[2]

The Admiralty Court

On the face of it, it may seem unusual that Thomas Millard was prepared to go to the Admiralty and petition for his pay and be prepared to lose even more money in costs should his petition fail. Yet his optimism was quite justified.[3] The English as a whole had become a remarkably litigious people in the 17th Century with men and women flocking to sue in town courts, central common law courts and Chancery in unprecedented numbers. Admiralty litigation too had more than doubled in the first half of this century, especially from 1630-60 (though for a variety of reasons it waned after the Restoration). The propensity for mariners to sue was far higher, too, in this period than that of their Victorian counterparts when measured against shipping traffic or population.  There were nearly 7,000 warrants during the century, and with many being on behalf of multiple claimants this might represent over 60,000 mariners, with masters accounting for only around 6 per cent.

The Admiralty court was easy walking distance from the disembarkation point at Upper Pool near the Tower to ‘Doctor Commons Court’ south of St Paul’s. Whilst the downside to bringing a petition would be the fees, if a case were brought in the Admiralty (civil) courts then several members of a crew could band together and share the cost thus risking relatively little, whereas common law rules stated that a suit could only be brought by an individual.  Admiralty courts boasted that they could turn cases around ‘within a few days’ or ‘a week’s time or less’ and whilst this was an exaggeration it was far quicker than going to common law, and cases could proceed at any time not just when the courts were sitting.  This was of paramount importance if a mariner was about to embark on another voyage or, indeed, was desperate for his pay. Admiralty court followed international law so foreign as well as English mariners could sue for wages.

But by far the overwhelming reason for this huge surge in cases was that they were remarkably successful – wholly successful suits accounting for more than 70 per cent of decisions in wage cases studied in seven of the eight periods of 16 years chosen from across the 17th century.[4]

News of this trend must have travelled fast and even an individual mariner might risk the high cost of litigation and sue when he heard that his chances of winning were in fact rather good: eight out of ten cases awarded full wages and a ninth reduced to half or more than half.

So successful were these petitions that by this time even banding together to issue a warrant might encourage a master or owner to pay up rather than risk court as, even when a mariner lost his case, costs were more often than not put to the owner or master.

When a master supported the warrant the chances of winning were nine out of ten so even given his circumstances Thomas Millard must have calculated that his chances of success were high.

Considering possible reasons for Thomas Millard’s ‘abusive language to Captain Brookes’

Thomas Millard joined the crew of the Swallow when it was a Royalist ship, but it then became a Parliamentarian ship. In 1643, Robert Rich, the second earl of Warwick, the parliamentary Lord High Admiral, issued directions for naval officers in the Irish squadron (such as Captain Brookes?) to execute any soldiers seized whilst crossing from Ireland to join royalist armies in England and Wales.[5] Thomas Millard had a wife and children in Ireland.

Considering possible reasons for Captain Bramble’s support

At this period a crew was gathered by a Captain and answered to him and was paid off at the end of each term. Thomas Millard was a gunner’s mate, a member of crew not without some skill, and he would be sought after at a time when the Navy was desperate for recruits. Thus, his having subsequently been signed to the crew of HMS Hind, its Master Robert Bramble was perhaps anxious not to lose him and stepped forward to intervene in his petition.

Reasons for Thomas Millard signing up again, this time under the Parliamentarians

The King had lost control of the navy so to continue his work as a gunner’s mate, Thomas Millard had no choice. Also, the petition possibly indicates that on this new assignment with Captain Bramble he would be ship’s master – ‘to go master with me in the Hind pinnace’ – which presumably commands higher pay.


[1] ‘Charles I – volume 497: March 1643’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1641-3, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1887), pp. 448-456. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1641-3/pp448-456

[2] Michael James Lea-O’Mahoney, ‘The Navy In The English Civil War’ (University of Exeter PhD, 2011), https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10036/4078

[3] Steckley, George F. “Litigious Mariners: Wage Cases In The Seventeenth-Century Admiralty Court.” The Historical Journal, 42, no. 2 (1999): 315-45, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3020991

[4] Steckley, ‘Litigious Mariners’

[5] Murphy, Elaine. “Atrocities At Sea And The Treatment Of Prisoners Of War By The Parliamentary Navy In Ireland, 1641–1649”, The Historical Journal 53, no 1 (2010), 21–37, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25643881.

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’.