Richard Barker

IV International Reunion for Nautical Science and Hydrography, Sagres 1983.

Published in Revista da Universidade de Coimbra, Vol XXXII, 1986, pp 161-178.

The "Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrighty" are just that: 160 pages of largely disconnected text and diagrams interspersed with some very fine draughts of ships. Most readers will have seen a few book illustrations from this source. It was written by two men in the period 1570 - 1630, and bound in its present form by Pepys some 30 or more years later. It seem clear that the document was begun as a presentation volume with a clear style and layout, but that it quickly degenerated into a notebook. At some stage it changed hands and was added to by the second author.

It is a very human document: a marvellous mixture of what was work at the frontiers of technology, with classical mythology, delightful thumb-nail sketches, a poem on plagiarism, instructions on how to measure the height of a cloud, or to extract the cube root graphically, notes on sundials, chart-making, burning glasses, and other curiosities.


There are three features to identify Mathew Baker as the original author. Firstly the title and text of a diagram (p33) showing how to obtain rising or other circular lines of great radius at full scale without sophisticated calculations: "A mechanical demonstration devised or first invented by Mathew Baker for the carpenter unlearned in arithmetic and geometry..." and "This mechanical demonstration I have devised for the workman unskilful in arithmetic..." [1]. The obvious interpretation is that Baker was the author. The method given does not give a truly circular line but is a simple and perhaps equally importantly a fair approximation.

Secondly, the numerous intimate details of Royal ship design included in the document make it certain that the author (and indeed his successor) worked in the Royal Dockyards. Specifically we have the midship moulds for the Foresite and others, and setting out details for the Vanguard, which could have only come from the designers. Oppenheim lists Baker as builder of the Vanguard [2], though this is again less than direct proof of authorship.

Finally there is a map of the Peloponnese, populated with English ships of antiquated form, and there are too moulds for Venetian and Greek ships, all rather odd in a basically English document. Anderson and others following him saw these moulds as a reflection of active Venetian influence in English shipwrighty at this period [3] ? However, we know that Baker was one of some seventy or so young men sent on a training voyage as far as Chios in the Mediterranean about 1550, to overcome the shortage of English seamen who were navigators, or for that matter Mediterranean pilots [4]. How many other shipwrights of the period had comparable interest in and opportunity to record, these maps and moulds ? [5]

On balance it seems more than likely that Mathew Baker is the first author. The source of any Venetian influence in the document may thus be clearer: on the other hand it is demonstrable that from the 1570’s on, English practice was diverging from the recorded Venetian example, and I would personally question its continuing influence on present evidence, while admitting that several early moulds in Fragments, including the Foresite, are very similar indeed to the Venetian mould.

There is clearly a second author at work in the Fragments. The handwriting and subject matter change: and much of the material explicitly post-dates Baker’s death in 1613 [6]. There is again a variety of evidence. Whoever wrote the later part was a mathematician, specialising in sundials, yet with a working knowledge of shipbuilding, and of Royal ships in particular. He was acquainted with Gunter, Briggs, Gellibrand and other known practitioners, cited as third persons in contexts which appear to rule them out.

The extensive treatment of sundials in general, and one other item in particular, suggest John Wells of Deptford Dockyard. Fragments details an experiment similar to, but distinct from another described elsewhere [7]. Gunter and others measured the variation of the compass at Wells’ garden in the Dockyard, after doing so at Limehouse on 13 June 1622. The similar experiment recorded in Fragments was "on 21 June 1622 in my garden at Deptford" (p149). This observation was presumably one of the series that led Gellibrand to confirm the secular variation of the compass in 1633.

There is little doubt then that Wells acquired or inherited Baker’s notebook, and used it himself over a period of at least 12 years, until at least 1627. It is interesting that the Admiralty Library Treatise on Shipbuilding of about 1625 is also tentatively ascribed to Wells [8], and that it contains some remarkably similar material. We may wonder how much more of Baker’s material Wells once had; and be glad that he had any.

Construction of the book

The paper of this volume is all watermarked (Fig 1), but not in general identically with established marks. I would infer from comparable dated marks that the paper was all originally Baker’s, the bulk of it in its present order by the late 1570’s, but added to in the late 1590’s. Many of the working scales, and some other material, are actually drawn on thin card, and bound in as a group, though some have the same formal borders as what appears to be the earliest material in Fragments. The final page of Fragments is actually a loose sheet of uncertain origin pasted in.

There are then some 96 further blank pages bound in after Baker’s and Wells’ material, and bearing marks compatible with their having been bound in by Pepys (about 1680, say); perhaps with the intention of copying other related material into the same volume. Much of Pepys’ naval library consists of copies of official documents penned into his own uniformly bound volumes.

The whole book is now 398 x 280 mm, but many pages show clear evidence of having been trimmed to size when the binding was done, with some loss of significant material. In at least ten places, either single leaves were bound in, or pages have been torn out.

The presentation book

The first few pages concentrate on the origin of ships, a parallel to Raleigh’s approach, and are of no value to a working shipwright. Jason figures largely in the history, with a poem and a scene depicting the golden fleece. We have too a sketch of either Aeolus or Diodorus deploying a sail, with which they are jointly credited; but pride of place goes to Noah’s Ark, depicted for some reason as a three-storey stepped box.

The pages following are in a uniform style, with formal borders and careful tinting. This section concentrates on midships moulds (Fig 3), though page 6 gives a unique arrangement of midship mould stem and sternpost all condensed into one elevation. It is for a small merchantman of some 60 tons, called the Judeth Borough [9]. We also find here the foreign moulds: a Greek merchantman with curved floor timbers, and a Venetian with four sweeps in the mould. There is a note to the effect that the Venetians had changed to a mould using only three sweeps within the previous twenty years - possibly an allusion to Baker’s voyage of 1550, if he was writing in the early 1570’s ?

A mould is given for the Foresite. Its breadth tallies with that recorded for the Queen’s ship of 1570, and the mould is presumably authentic. This is a case, incidentally, where the original draught has been reused for another purpose; in this case by Baker, working out a prismatic coefficient of the "immersed" part of the mould. It is not clear however whether this was for the displacement or for the burthen of the hold.

Indeed, at about this point the immaculate style breaks down, and the remainder of the volume is a notebook - as p23: "Richard Merritt alloweth for every foot that the ship is deep one inch for her sending". The work is not continuous: bits by Wells appear both between and over Baker’s work.

Midship moulds (Fig 3)

There are in Fragments two radically different sets of midship moulds (besides several isolated examples - the Greek, the galliass, Lynton’s and Wells’) among a total of 37 in the volume. The single complete mould by Wells (p91) is identical with those of Harriot, the Scott MS, the 1625 Treatise, and Deane; three sweeps, expressed as radii and not sought by intersections, and the sweep forming the breadth lying at the depth of the mould. It is not absolutely clear that Baker used this mould in its final form, from the evidence in Fragments, but it agrees so well with the philosophy of his 1582 tonnage rule that it is reasonable to suppose that he was working towards those lines when he formulated the rule. The first evidence for this mould chronologically is probably the Scott MS, which Coates places between 1590 and 1605 [10]; Wells’ explicit use of this mould cannot be placed securely much before 1620.

The earliest group of moulds are indisputably related to that identified as the Venetian system of some 20 years previously. The current Venetian method was to fashion the mould from three sweeps, but the actual details are not given. This seems to imply that the methods given by Lane [11] for Venice ca 1550 (and themselves a refinement of the Italian methods of 1445 given by Anderson [12]) were already archaic, or at most used in parallel with Baker’s "Venetian" system. The Judeth, Emanuel and Foresite are all part of this set of eight moulds, but they are all subtly different one from another, and the philosophy behind the moulds is intangible: there is no text.

Their construction begins with a grid which is used to set up the floor and the wronghead sweep by geometrical intersections to fixed proportions. The two intermediate sweeps are conditioned to reach a second, larger grid, variously at about the surmark of the two upper sweeps, or the pitch of the main beam. The true breadth of the mould, and its depth by the 1582 rule, are thus significantly greater than the initial grid, and were not explicitly related to it. We may note that this difference between initial grid and overall dimensions reflects a characteristic of the "1550" Venetian system given by Lane, although this uses a system of offsets, not arcs. The initial grid might perhaps be taken as a more accurate measure of the underwater form and hold capacity, but it is unclear what lay behind the complexity of these moulds.

Several of this set show superimposed an alternative, simpler, form of mould: the wronghead sweep is as before, but the second sweep replaces the remaining three of the Venetian system, and furthermore appears to produce a true breadth sweep within the original grid lines. This is clearly nothing to do with the current Venetian method: it is probably significant, though at present inexplicable.

The majority of the moulds attributable to Baker, however, are an intermediate form, broadly as reproduced by W.A.Baker in connection with the Mayflower replica. This mould uses three sweeps, and some still set out the floors within the geometric grid, though many dispense with this complication and are clearly set out directly by radii, presumably recognising that the intersections were always redundant. The corner of the grid is now the surmark of the breadth and futtock sweeps: we now have only a short step to a mould with the breadth sweep forming true breadth and depth, as used in England for the next century - and perhaps foreshadowed in the 1545 galliass mould. This latter appears to have more in common with the Old Method of Fournier, and with the later English methods, than with the Venetian. The Greek mould appears to be a distant relation of the Venetian.

There is no trace of any mould resembling those in Palacio, or the Portuguese of Dr Pimentel Barata’s paper to the 1979 Reunion; equally the Dutch builder of the Wasa produces a very different hull shape. The evidence seems to be that the English shipyards, whether led by Baker or not, were diverging independently; possibly in the 1570’s, if Baker’s tonnage rule of 1582 could reflect established practice in the Royal shipyards at least.

There could be a marked difference between the earlier and later systems of measurement and mould design, if not in actual hull form. The Emanuel, 26 x 12 (?) feet as built (by Baker, in 1571-5 ?), would have been about 26 x 14 feet by his own rule of 1582. It must be stressed, however, that the different methods of mould design, and even quite large changes of some parameters within each system, might have only marginal effect on the final shape of the immersed hull. Only the ratios of breadth to depth, the breadth of floor, and the radius of the wronghead sweep have profound effect.

It would be foolish to pretend that there are no lacunae in the evidence that I cannot bridge - what for example is the three sweep Venetian method of 1570-80 ? One other significant point to be worked into the evidence, however, is that the majority of worked tonnage examples in Fragments, though not all, use the rule Tonnage = KDB/100, adopted by 1582.

The shift from formal presentation to a notebook marks the work as having been compiled over a period. We appear to have a survey of methods in use prior to writing in the early 1570’s; some developments occurring before 1582; and also some material explicitly post-dating 1586. The omission of crucial text is tantalising. Supposing, idly, that the Revenge of 1577 did not quite "break into an thousand [sic: correctly hundred] pieces" on Terceira (or was it St Michael ?) we might one day learn more.

Construction of the draughts and scales.

The conspicuous draughting method in Fragments was to scribe lines, setting radii and perpendiculars with compasses. Only a proportion of these lines were inked-in for the finished work. In the Treatise of 1625, Wells (?) uses the term "obscure lines" - perhaps this is his meaning. Fournier (1643) has the term "Lignes occultes"; hidden or secret lines. This is in contrast, incidentally, with Deane’s method; he describes draughting with a lead pencil, inking-in, and removal of the lead with white bread. Lead pencil only appears in Fragments in sketches, for example in the outline of a fish on a scribed grid (p156). However, most draughts show little sign of direct construction in ink by intersecting arcs (and it is not always possible to be sure of the sequence of construction of a mould as a result), but are finished very fair. This may be tantamount to an inference that where scribed lines are not conspicuously present, then pencil must have been used and erased.

Many of Baker’s and Wells’ scribed lines do not show in photographs, and this may have misled writers who have not seen the originals [13].

Many forms of scale appear in use, though not all draughts carry them, at least as they survive. We may find immaculate, accurate linear scales (Fig 4a), precision diagonal scales for feet and inches; and some rather slap-dash examples too.

Two constructions that Baker uses widely are devices for linear scaling to set ratios. This was important in the days of manual calculation, a factor reflected in the care lavished on some examples. It was particularly significant because Elizabethan shipwrights were preoccupied with obtaining different size ships from a common mould, and so wished to rescale every significant dimension by the rule of three, usually with awkward ratios. Indeed, they went, at least on paper, beyond the sensible limits of similarity; a draught for 100 tons would be offered as suitable for everything from 10 to 1000 tons. (This must have been a questionable proceeding thing for the shipwright, but must have broken down completely as the shipwright handed over to the "castlewright".) This scaling was sometimes done by simply adding a second linear scale for use with dividers, but when numerical values rather than a plan were to be rescaled, Baker uses a series of concentric circles, where the arcs represent the ratios each set of dimensions must bear one to another, and a radial line intersecting the circles gives a set of values from one index value: perhaps the lengths of all the spars in a ship, given the length of the main yard (Fig 4b).

Alternatively, the ratios are set out at offsets along a base line, and a line from the origin intersects each perpendicular at a height representing the desired values for each index, all based upon similar triangles (Fig 4c). In either case different scales may be used for index and parameters. While the results can be read, it is not always clear how Baker constructed the diagrams, particularly some of the circular sets.

The rule of three was frequently set out as an acute triangle enclosing concentric arcs and perpendiculars, numbered round the perimeter over a suitable range, such as the largest breadth to which it was to apply. It was a more sophisticated combination of the other two methods, operated as indicated in Fig 4d. These are numerous, but rarely labelled, and the parameters implied are thus lost. Each of the types described might originally have had a fine thread attached at its origin to act as the index line; in some there is still a remnant to be seen.


The decoration of the few major ship draughts is possibly the glory for which the whole work is celebrated. They are indeed finely worked, highly detailed, and some still glistening gold and silver. Others have beautiful, subtle colour washes. In most there is a riot of geometric pattern and scrollwork, even on mere merchantmen, and many display carved figures apart from the figureheads. There are numerous heraldic shields in Fragments, most notably as pavesses along the waists of the three galliasses, but also in the window of the shipwrights workroom (p8). None are identifiable, and so throw no light on the identity of Baker’s patron (if any), but several have marked similarities with the commonest form adopted for their arms by the London craft guilds - a chevron between three appropriate implements or products.

The commonest figurehead is a winged lion - the very symbol of Venice (see fn 3). In the case of p123 this lion may be significant. We have the bow of ship in strikingly muted style as regards colour - yellow brown overall. With its golden lion figurehead this could well represent the Golden Lion, which Oppenheim records as painted "timber colour" in 1563 (? - [14]). This same draught shows clear butts in the planking, suitable shifted and scarphs in the wale, together with the curious yet common step up in the wale under the forecastle, and the corresponding break in the deck line internally.

The galliass enigma

There are few actual dates noted in the text, but some puzzles about the dating of material. The greatest is the presence of a midship mould for Bull, Hart, Tiger and Grayhound (p13). These are the names of a group of four ships built for Henry VIII in 1545/6 as "galliasses". The actual mould (Fig 3) is certainly unlike anything else in Fragments, fashioned with two sweeps to the true breadth and a third above it, with a very narrow floor. These ships cannot, as far as is know, be considered as a group later than 1563, when the Greyhound was wrecked. That makes it difficult to explain their presence in Fragments, except that the Bull was apparently a successful ship, rebuilt in 1570 and only broken up in 1594; the Tiger was in use in the Atlantic in 1585.

The pronounced, squared initial grid of the mould is again inexplicable in terms of the real breadth of the mould. However the Bull if listed in 1590 as 80 x 22 x 11 feet [15], and this ratio of B:D is correct for the mould by the rules of 1582, which tends to confirm that it is the correct mould for these ships. Although the drawing is certainly not contemporary with even the 1558 rebuildings of Hart and Greyhound, it is possible that it was related to the 1570 rebuilding of the Bull. The data for the draught may have come from Baker’s father, James, who was shipwright to Henry at the original building; though Mathew would have been 15 or 16, and quite likely worked on them too.

The Anthony Roll view of Bull shows the oarports in a tier below the guns; the main beam in the draught is pitched at the level of the initial grid - relatively low - and the waterline implied for 1545 is thus substantially below the true breadth. The hull was perhaps shallower that its proportion of D:B of 1:2 would suggest. By 1570 the oars were removed; and possibly the beams moved and the draught altered to reflect its new role. Certainly its hold capacity with its original beams would have been anomalously low under the 1582 rules.

This makes an interesting real example of a single mould for different size ships: Bull, Tiger and Greyhound were of 180 rated tons, and the Hart of 300. It also highlights the problem of rescaling; the height between decks would have been about 5’3" and 6’3" respectively if the decks were not moved to suit the changed scale of the hull - an excessive adjustment for a small real change in tonnage. If Bull was as recorded in 1590, then the Hart would have been about 95 x 26 x 13 feet, or 321 measured tons.

It is tempting, though wrong if the formal borders on the mould imply an early date, to connect this midship mould directly with the three fine elevations of race-built ships which appear without explanation towards the end of Baker’s work (p118-121), and two of which have oarports detailed. No record of any ships of this type exists: they were never built. Galliass is a difficult word in English usage - much as the fabled "galleon", a word which appears only once in Fragments [16]; but I would draw attention to another item in the Pepys Library. It is a copy of a letter from Hawkyns, Wynter and Holstok to Pett, Baker and Chapman.:- "After our hearty commendacons. her Mjs pleasure if that ye Platts of ye ships, galliasses and crompsters that were lately determined to be built should be set out fair in platts & brought to My Lord Adm... her Mj may see them. And so bid you farewell from London ye 20 Nov 1588" [17]. I take it that these draughts may be some of the platts prepared for Elizabeth: they certainly represent a considerable amount of careful work. They and the letter also raise some interesting speculation about the lessons being drawn from the Armada battles. The principal dimensions are given for one of the new proposals - to an accuracy of fifths of an inch - and for two distinct sizes (p119). Both would have been sizeable vessels: 281 and 523 tons by Baker’s rule. Their proportions echo the original dimensions of the 1545 building. Keel:Breadth was 4:1, in place of Bull’s 3.64 (probably 11:3 before rounding to whole feet), Depth:Breadth was 2:5. There is a long sketchily documented history of large English ships, or proposals, with auxiliary oars from the first half of the seventeenth century [18] but these vessels remain an enigma. Their decoration however, is quite distinctly Tudor, not Stuart - indeed the shields are Henrician. The standard of draughtsmanship in these three ships is a high as anywhere in the document - simply beautiful, notwithstanding the fact that in one of them Baker has changed his mind, and pasted in a patch, obliterating a whole row of carriage guns set behind open rails in the waist.


There are several drawings showing sails and sail plans. The most complete is that at p115, a sail plan for a ship of 700 tons. It has been added to a hull profile for a vessel of about 420 tons, and the two elements must be considered separately, no matter how elegant the combination may appear [19]. There are numerous scales, including feet for the hulls, yards for the spars, and fathoms for the rigging. The most significant interaction between the two parts is that the hull is probably not that of any ship which would have carried four masts, as drawn, in this period [20], and the most conspicuous that the gunports are too widely spaced for a ship of 700 tons - it could not accommodate the number of heavy guns assigned to such ships in the records.

A second similar but lesser known plan is at p74/5, with two alternative sets of lateen mizens sketched in. This is one of the more intriguing draughts - it lacks a midship bend, but is otherwise remarkably complete.

Perhaps of the more important items is one which has escaped general notice. Page 113 is a scale drawing and specification for a main course for the Anne Royal - as the Ark Royal became known about 1608 (Fig 5). The sail presumably dates from between 1608 and about 1627, and is arguably the oldest known from England, though Palacio published some details in 1587, and dimensions of sails at least are known from much earlier Italian material. The style of the sail is different from both Palacio’s and the 1650 sails given by Lees in his recent work [21] - fundamentally so in fact.

Unfortunately the ink has run and the page has been trimmed.

Proportions - the mathematical approach.

The work by Baker is above all concerned with proportions: rescaling draughts for different size ships: and relating masts and yards for example to parameters such as breadth and depth of hull and to each other. This seems entirely empirical. Relationships are observed in a successful ship and are made general. Thus three sets of rules probably derive from either the Revenge or Defiance: keel of 92 feet, breadth of 32 feet [22].

This is not to say that Baker was didactic about proportions: far from it. In many cases a range of acceptable values is given, and at one point he comments: "The yards are made large or scant at your pleasure, for the masting and yarding of ships there are as many opinions as there are makers of ships, Whereas I have set 6,7 or 8 for the divisor, yet I suppose 9 to be the best ... except there be regard to the length of masts." (p81). Again, at p 83 we have "It may be said this rule is not general, and so I confess". The practical shipwright speaks out in other places. He scorns the mathematician who says that there is nothing else to shipbuilding but the law of cubes (p26).

Baker’s search for the perfect midship mould may have been more nearly akin to deliberate design. There are several pages featuring slight, but systematic variations in the midship mould, trying different proportions and radii; unfortunately without a single word of text.

A new scale for a draught requires a linear dimension ratio equal to the cube root of the tonnage ratio, and there is a graphical construction in Baker’s hand to determine the root directly [23]. One might question the accuracy of such a method in practice, but it is algebraically correct (Fig 2).

One very elaborate page (p17) sets out the relationships for producing two small ships, the George and William, to equal the tonnage of a single large ship, the John, where the tonnage ratios John:George and George:William are the same - that is 1:0.618. This has been set out in a drawing with an index scale of breadth, entered at 26 feet, the breadth of the (purely fictional) John, of 202 tons. Baker correctly derives 124 and 78 as the required tonnages, from ratios 16:26 and 10:16. However the construction of the diagram seems to imply that 10 and 16 are the requisite breadths, which is just not so: or at best the whole complex diagram is worthless, since it only generates a continuous series of approximate paired ratios each yielding about 0.618. 10:16 and 16:26 would have been just as good without the trouble of constructing the diagram at all. Baker was possible misled by the coincidence of 10 + 16 = 26. As the labelling is incomplete, Baker may have realised this, but the diagram stands unexcised [24]. I do not regard this as a serious indictment of Baker: I see a man at the limits of his knowledge, trying to extend the frontiers of his technology in a direction not mastered before Chapman - and I am very conscious of the adage that he who never made a mistake never made anything. Baker was certainly held in high esteem in this profession: Phineas Pett writes to him in April 1603 - " ...your ever memorable works I set before me as a notable precedent and pattern to direct me in any work that I do... reverenced you for your years and admired you for your art" [25].

Wells, on the evidence of Fragments, was more a mathematician by inclination, though it must be borne in mind that he had the benefit of logarithms. We jump to a higher order of calculation in this work, and are given insights into the development of logarithms. It is clear that Wells seized on logarithms as a tool for both the calculations that Baker was performing, and for his own work on sundials, and other geometric matters. As to the former, he many times adds to Baker’s work in terms such as "yet this is more easily done by logarithms", and then reworks the calculation.

It is also clear that Wells was working with Briggs’ circle from the earliest days of logarithms, He appears to have himself used logarithms in the format of the tables published by Gunter (Canon Triangulorum of 1620) to 8 figures. He notes that he helped to make up parts of Briggs’ Chiliad of 1000 numbers in 1617, and also 12 degrees of the Canon - presumably Gunter’s of 1620 (p99). This section also records some acid comments upon one Speidell, who is roundly accused of taking up an invention of Gunter’s, and publishing it as his own. E.G.R.Taylor indicates that Speidell published an "original contribution" in 1619 [26].

Baker also had, or at least observed, problems of this kind. There is an obscure poem written over one of his scales (p57): it could also be construed as a warning to ethnographers today -

Many may peruse us but few that will us know

We are not so simple as we to them do show

Our autour thought not good our uses to disclose

Within his head he keeps the same from all his filching foes

Such filching filchers now of late to true men well are known

For what they steal from other men they boast it as their own

??s p?ching borne hath patched together the works of other men

And now to sale he paints it out with his unlearned pen.

The seventh line makes little sense, yet it could read... His poaching Bourne hath patched together...? [27]. Certainly at page 76 Baker’s text belittles "Borne" explicitly.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the numerical work in Fragments is the frequent calculation of sectional areas of moulds below the depth by Baker, usually linked with the product breadth x depth, effectively giving a prismatic coefficient. Taken with Bourne’s Treasure for Travellers on mensuration of ships lines and waterplanes, from which it is perfectly clear that Bourne and his contemporaries knew how to measure displacement tonnage at any selected draught, either as a paper exercise or with the use of models, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Deane’s contribution to the principles at least of determining displacement (and thence draught at launching) has been overstated. It appears to rest entirely on Pepys’ record of what Deane told him. Even Deane is not explicit in his Doctrine about his methods in the procedures covered now by Simpson’s Rules, and begs a number of question in his treatment. Just what Baker was doing with prismatic coefficients and immersed (?) areas of sections remains a mystery, but the practice should at least be credited to his era. It is at least possible that the incentive for both Baker and Wells was the search for a satisfactory tonnage rule. Baker apparently changed his method about 1582: Wells was heavily involved in a Commission to investigate tonnage rules in 1626 [28].

In seeking rules of proportion for the emerging art of technical design of ships, Baker and Wells were not alone. Another example in the field from a slightly later date is the work of Henry Bond on rigging tables. Bond, another mathematician, wrote Art of Apparelling & fitting of any Ship, actually printed in 1655, but reprinted as late as 1704, which should be testimony to its contemporary use. This uses a series of rigging sizes which at first sight are rather odd, and have indeed attracted derision. However, the series, 1.4, 1.6, 2.3, 2.9, 3.3, 3.9, ...17.7 inches is no more obscure that the familiar camera shutter stops 2, 2.8, 4 ... 16 and actually hardly less accurate. The series obtained by seeking a common factor among the squares of the listed circumferences (roughly equivalent to strength) is 3/8, 1/2, 1, 1½, 2, 3 ..., reasonable enough to leave little doubt that this was the basis of Bond’s work. The larger sizes appear to include cable-laid forms of the smaller ropes; again reasonable. Baker in fact gives a rule and continuous scale for much the same process, and also notes Bourne’s "limited" treatment of the same - " a very brabbell" (p76). The interesting question is where Bond may have obtained the bosun’s knowledge that was an integral part of the design process (matching size to duty), and in practice rather more crucial to success at that stage of technology - perhaps even now.

A Polar Chart

Fragments now includes a couple of loose sheets. One of these bears a circumpolar chart (zenith equidistant) for 40W - 120E and 79-90N (Fig 6a); a special case of Briggs’ projection, detailed by Wells on page 145 (Fig 6b) - "Mr Briggs projecteth ye sea chart in the best form that yet was ever extant". The reverse of the chart also carries a sketch of this projection, which tends to confirm that the sheet is part of Wells’ material, and that the chart is a sea and not a star chart. The map form was well established; its significance here is that it shows a plot of an irregular course between 79-80¼N, which can only be a record of the voyage in search of a northern passage to Cathay ? Unfortunately the prime meridian is not defined. If it were London, the track is compatible (excepting a small error of longitude, 2½ degrees) with an exploration into Independence Bay on the East coast of Greenland. No known voyager went there at this period, and there is also a question as to the then extent of the permanent pack ice. If the meridian were the other extreme of 25W (as in Foxe’s 1631 Circumpolar Chart) then the track is still well within the Greenland land mass, with an error of around 20 degrees longitude, compared with the 10 degrees error for Foxe’s West coast of Greenland. Its latitude however, is close to that recorded for Baffin’s voyage of 1616, touching Smith Sound at the northern limit of Baffin Bay. It is interesting that Bourne’s Regiment of the Sea of 1587 speculates that the way to Cathay by the NE Route would be found at 80N. So is this Baffin, or some unrecorded exploration ?


This narrative has touched upon only a handful of topics, but the Fragments and indeed other Pepysian MSS are a very rich source. A great deal remains to be attempted on the analysis of Baker's material, towards the recovery of his lost skills: at present we cannot prepare convincing draughts of any of Elizabeth’s ships.

Wells’ material is untouched, but may be unravelled by another specialist in sundials.

I would like to place myself in the company of Lynton, a Sussex clergyman with an interest in shipbuilding and related maters. Commenting on a new construction for the midship mould proposed by Lynton (p44), Wells states baldly: "who being a mere schollar and preacher attained to this knowledge in this art and yet with a little help he would have been excellent". Waters notes his interest in the passage to Cathay [29], but is less impressed with his work and describes him as at least a sincere charlatan!

There documents are a delight to work with, and I am indebted to the Master and Fellows of Magdelene College for allowing me access to them.


Footnotes and bibliography omitted from the web version of the text.