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What did they do with the drunken sailors?

One of the wonderful things about the Mary Rose is that the artefacts tell the story of the lives of ordinary sailors, people who otherwise would remain unrecorded in history. However, there is one account of the activities of Mary Rose sailors in official records, but sadly they weren’t distinguishing themselves…

11th June 1539 – Peace between England and France meant that the Mary Rose was not needed, so was sat on the Thames near Greenwich with a small crew, keeping her ship-shape while out of action.

On this particular night, Richard Baker, also known as “Skenthroppe”, and three others, Robert Grygges, William Oram and Marmaduke Colman, having dined aboard the Mary Rose, decided to go ashore and visit a pub. Unusually for sailors, although probably not at the time due to the lack of electric lighting, they were finished by 10pm, and  “…overseen with ale…”, headed back to their ship.

Unfortunately for them, the boat back to the Mary Rose’s berth had gone, and there was no way of calling for it to be returned. They were faced with two options;

  1. find lodgings for the night and face the music in the morning, or
  2. make their own way back.

Alcohol being involved, they decided to do the latter.

After some searching, they found a boat which they ‘borrowed’ and using a board as an oar, they made their way back to the Mary Rose. However, due to the strong currents of the Thames (and possibly the influence of alcohol) they ended up drifting down stream, and collided with a Portuguese merchant vessel, Saynte John de Cangas, docked at the mouth of Deptford Creek, which they then proceeded to board.

Now, as you can imagine, being woken in the middle of the night by four drunken sailors isn’t going to go down well, and the Portuguese threw stones at the nocturnal interlopers, one of which struck Oram on the head, drawing blood. Oram drew his sword, “…said, Vengeance on him, here lyeth a Portingale”, and boarded the vessel, striking the Portuguese crew “flat long” (using the flat edge of his sword, rather than the cutting edge), until they withdrew below decks.

The four drunken sailors then apparently decided that they needed compensation for their trouble, and helped themselves to some of the ship’s cargo, breaking open three chests and taking rolls of cloth, shirts and a sugar loaf weighing 8lb. After about an hour, the sailors departed in the same boat. Part of their haul was found in the mud of the Thames at Greenwich, where the sailors had obviously decided to dump it. The rest doesn’t appear to have been recovered. The sailors themselves retired to Baker’s house on St Nicholas Lane (although Robert Grygges claims they ended up in “a hay barn at St Katherine’s and tarried there till about 10 of the clock next day because he was so foul arrayed with oose.”), where they spent the night before returning to the Mary Rose, presumably with sore heads. If only they’d done that in the first place…

The details above come from testimony from Richard Baker, Robert Grygges, Gonsalianus Cassado and Petro Falcon, the latter two being the pilot and merchant respectively of the Saynte John de Cangas, and were recorded in dispositions before the Admiralty Court, where formal charges were taken against Baker, Grygges, Oram and Colman.

Sadly, there are no surviving records of whether they were found guilty, but the statements seem to show that the mariners admitted they were guilty, albeit under the age-old excuse, having “well drunk”. What sentence was passed will remain a mystery though, so we’ll probably never know if these four were present when the Mary Rose sank six years later.

 

Information from HCA Records of the High Court of Admiralty and colonial Vice-Admiralty courts, HCA 1/33 ‘Examinations of pirates and other criminals‘, and <em>Letters from the Mary Rose </em>by CS Knighton and David Loades.

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