1649, Richard Shakerly, mariner, asks for redress after his ship was seized at Falmouth

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1640s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/state-papers/1640s#h2-0039.

Richard Shakerly of Topsham, mariner. SP 46/95 f. 136 (1649)

To the right honourable the Lord President and the rest of the Councell of State appointed by authoritie of Parliament.

The humble peticion of Richard Shakerly of Topsham mariner.


That the petitioners vessell called the Guift of Topsham in the yeare 1645 being forced into Falmouth by distresse of weather in her way homewards from St Lucar, was seized on by the Kings party there and could not be discharged without payment of 167 pounds and five guns with powder and ammunicion which cost the petitioner 105 pounds as by receiptes under the governer and officers handes will appeare.

That the said vessell at her coming out of Falmouth being an enimies port by reason of the ordnance of 30 November was seized on by Captain Mildmay comander of one of the Parliamentes vessells and condemned for prize in the Admiralty Court.

That the petitioner after a tedious sollicitacion with the late committee of the Admiralty at last obtained the report hereunto annexed, which was presented by the Earle of Warwicke to the Lords House and by them transmitted to the House of Commons where it now remaines the petitioner having attended for an order thereupon as long as his poore estate would enable him but could not obtaine the same

That after all this the petitioner addressing himselfe to the committee of the Navy, they were pleased in March 1647 to order an appraisement of the vessell and the petitioner to pay one halfe thereof being 95 pounds: 7 shillings: 6 pence till the Parliament should give order for her full restitucion.

Now forasmuch as the petitioner hath allways testified a faithfull and cordiall affection to the Parliament and for that he hath lately undergone many other great losses which threaten his utter ruine being now very aged. And for that he lost above 200 pounds in the said vessell by the mariners that seized her the vessell being likewise retorned 200 worse then when she was first taken. Besides 18 months employment in the Parliamentes service and victualls for 18 men for 6 months.

He most humbly prays your lordship etc. to take this his sad condicion into your serious consideracion, and to order the [collectors?] for prize goodes to pay to the petitioners assigne what monies due to the state on the same vessells accompt are remayning in theire handes. And that Sir Hardress Waller or his deputy may restore him his gunns and appurtenances the same being now at Pendennis Castle and useless to the state. And what other recompence your wisdomes shall thinke fit for his great loss sustained as aforesaid.

And the petitioner shall not only be engaged ever to acknowledge the bounty and goodness of this honourable councell, but ever to pray etc.

Report by Sandra Linger

Richard Shakerly owned a ship, called the Guift, which during the Civil War, was forced to safe harbour in Falmouth, which was controlled by the Royalists. To achieve its release Shakerly had to pay a fine and forfeit some guns. He also incurred additional cost in working for the Parliamentarians. He is seeking redress from Parliament.

Richard Shakerly (Shakerley/Shakerlaye)

When Richard Shakerly sailed into Falmouth harbour in 1645 for shelter from bad weather little would he have guessed that the repercussions that followed would still be unresolved in 1649, and that his fortunes would be so adversely affected.

Richard Shakerly had a receipt dated 2 January 1645 signed by John Treshay of Pendennis Castle for the guns and ammunition removed from The Gift.  He also had a memorandum signed on 25 April 1646 by John Martin to prove that he had paid £167 to the King’s party to free his ship in Falmouth. Yet at the time of this petition this matter had been dragging on for more than 3 years.  His vessel having initially been “condemned for prize for Parliament in the Admiralty Court”, the case was then heard in the House of Commons and the House of Lords where it was agreed in 1646 that his vessel should be returned to him.[1]

Map of Falmouth Haven and the River Fal as far as Truro, showing Pendennis Castle, c. 1550-1600. British Library, Cotton Augustus I i f.37.

Subsequently, the Earl of Warwick (head of the Admiralty) read a statement saying that whilst it had previously been agreed “That the Opinion of the Committee was, That it be specially recommended to both Houses of Parliament, that The Kentish Frigatt, with her Furniture and Appurtenances belonging to her at the Time of Seizure, be restored and re-delivered to Richard Shakerly, or his Assigns; the Sentence in the Admiralty Court notwithstanding” the opinion of this House is “That the Frigatt be restored but her Furniture and Ordnance to be re-delivered to Richard Shakerly, or his Assigns, for the Use of the State.”[2]

However, Richard Shakerly says in his petition that the above remained with the House of Commons and, despite having waited around as long as his estate would enable him, he had been unable to receive an Order to this effect.

He had then approached the committee of the Navy and in March 1647, whereupon they offered “an appraisement of the vessel and the petitioner to pay one half thereof being 95 pounds: 7 shillings: 6 pence till the Parliament should give order for her full restitution.”

A further two years passed, and he explains in his petition that he has always shown great loyalty to Parliament but “for that has undergone a great many other losses which threaten his utter ruin being now very aged”.  His vessel is in £200 worse condition than when it was seized, and he has been 18 months in Parliament services and has had to pay victuals for 18 men for 6 months.

He asks that his sad circumstances be taken into serious consideration and that the Lord President order that he be paid what monies are due to him, that his guns and possessions be restored to him from Pendennis Castle, and that compensation as they see fit be given for the great losses he has sustained as a result of all this.

When Richard Shakerly put into Falmouth Harbour in 1645 the Civil War was in its third year.  The King had mostly lost control of the seas, including the ports, but Devon and Cornwall remained Royalist strongholds. Pendennis Castle was held by the Royalists from the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 until driven out by Parliament after a long siege in 1646, so when Richard arrived in the strategically important town of Falmouth no doubt his guns and powder were a great prize and a valuable asset for Pendennis Castle.  However, by the time of his petition in 1649 they were, as he stated, now “useless to the state”.

Richard was both owner and Master of The Gift of Topsham. Topsham was a major port at this time, the River Exe having been narrowed by the building of a weir in the 13th Century making navigation of large vessels to Exeter impossible. Its shipyards had supplied three boats to sail against the Spanish Armada. The Master was responsible for fitting out the ship and making sure they had all the sailing supplies necessary for the voyage, as well as navigation and entries in the official log such as weather, position and expenditures.

His petition states that he was returning from the port of St Lucar.  This Spanish port (San Lucar de Barrameda, Cadiz) was famous for its sherry.  In addition, this natural seaport of Seville had been given a monopoly on trade with the newly discovered America but required goods and luxury items that Spain was unable to provide for its American settlers. In the 17th century the woollen industry in England was at its peak, mostly in the form of serge cloth, which was despatched from Topsham, and so it is possible that Richard could have been transporting these to St Lucar and returning with sherry.

Richard Shakerly was married to Eme Clare in Topsham on 17 April 1615.  They had (at least) 6 children, all baptised in Topsham, George (1617), Richard (1619), William (1622) and Jane (1625), Elizabeth (1629) and Johane 1632.[3]

Richard’s son William married a local girl called Judith Dunscome in 1639.  Her mother had died in 1613, the year she was born so maybe in childbirth and her father in 1634, imprisoned by Barbary pirates.

Judith’s sister Anne married a captain Simon Morris also of Topsham (their son of the same name became an eminent sea Captain).  Simon died in 1658 and Anne in 1664 and they are both buried in the Quaker Burying Ground, Wrinkleys Farm, Grindle, Colaton Raleigh in Devon. Simon’s mother Ann Morris of Topsham was said to have been a very early convert to the Quaker beliefs (1654).

Captain John Mildmay, who took The Gift as it left Falmouth, claimed it was an “purchased from an armed merchant”. This was obviously not true as the guns and ammunition had already been taken in Falmouth. Nevertheless, he was given the ship, to be renamed Kentish Frigate, commanding it from 1645 to 1647. He was serving in the parliamentarian navy as early as 1643 and spent much time patrolling Irish waters in both the Summer and Winter guard on various ships and also took part in the Battle of the Kentish Knock (28 September 1652) where he took a Dutch warship including a Vice-Admiral. He was one of the signatories to a letter that asked the Council of State to better man and equip the fleet. He distinguished himself whilst serving as flag captain of the Vanguard but was killed in action Cape le Hogue, France mid-February 1653.[4]

In April 1653, Parliament ordered: “To the Widow of Captain John Mildmay, late Captain of the Vanguard, who hath Two Sons, the eldest not Six Years old, the other very sickly, the Sum of One thousand Pounds: the One Half to herself, the other to her Children.”[5]


[1] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 8: 9 October 1646’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 8, 1645-1647 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 514-517. British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol8/pp514-517#h3-0006.

[2] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 8: 26 October 1646’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 8, 1645-1647 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 544-546, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol8/pp544-546.

[3] Ancestry, https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9852&h=8058062&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Ces148&_phstart=successSource

[4] Jim Bender, ‘English Captain: John Mildmay’, 17th Century Naval Wargaming, http://17th-centurynavwargaming.blogspot.com/2004/11/english-captain-john-mildmay.html

[5] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 15 April 1653’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1651-1660 (London, 1802), pp. 278-279, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol7/pp278-279.