The Lost Journal of Captain Greenvile Collins, Part 1

This is the first part of an article that I wrote in the early 1990s, and which, for one reason or another, never made it to its intended home in an academic journal. I originally published it on my old website, but re-posting it in the blog seemed to be a better way of bringing it to a wider audience. I’ve not attempted to update the references in the light of new work undertaken, and new material published, since I revised it slightly in 2004, although I know that Collins is the focus of ongoing research. When I originally wrote the piece, too, the National Library of Wales didn’t permit photography. It now does, so at some point I hope to get back to Aberystwyth to take some pictures of the journal (which contains many examples of Collins’ splendid draftsmanship) and post them on this site. The second part will be posted here next week.


The fame of Captain Greenvile Collins rests chiefly on three voyages. Firstly, his journal aboard the Speedwell in 1676 records an important, if abortive, English attempt to discover the North West Passage, an attempt that came to grief on the rocks of Novaya Zemlya. Secondly, his journal in the Mediterranean aboard various ships between 1676 and 1679 provides an important record of the wars against the North African corsairs. The journal is amply illustrated and suggests Collins’s skill as cartographer, navigator and amateur artist; it was examined in detail by Miss Florence Dyer in an article in the Mariner’s Mirror of 1928[i]. Thirdly, from 1681 onwards Collins was tasked with ‘the first comprehensive survey of the coasts of Britain’ as commander of the Merlin Yacht. In effect he became the first hydrographer royal, and his charts of the coasts of England and Scotland were published in 1693 as Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot, a seminal event in the history of navigation and hydrography.

The cover of Great Britain's Coasting Pilot

The cover of Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot

Collins himself received further coverage from Stuart Mountfield in the Mariner’s Mirror in 1970; a concise biography of him by Elizabeth Baigent appears in the recent Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; and the Coasting Pilot has even received that ultimate twenty-first century accolade, a ‘pop history’ TV programme devoted to it[ii]. Yet all of these authorities are unaware of an important interlude in Collins’s career, and Dyer implied that he did not serve at sea between his brief command of the Lark in 1679 and his commencement of the great survey of Britain’s coasts in 1681[iii]. In fact, Collins returned to the Mediterranean in the intervening years as master of the frigate Leopard. In many respects this post turned out to be less eventful than his previous spell of Mediterranean service; unlike the ships on which he had served in 1676-9, namely the Charles Galley, James Galley and Newcastle, the Leopard was not directly involved in the ongoing war against the Algerine corsairs and spent most of her time in the normal routine of convoy work. On the other hand, the Leopard’s cruise was of peculiar significance to contemporaries because she was carrying Henry Fitzroy, duke of Grafton, the seventeen-year-old second eldest of the surviving illegitimate sons of King Charles II[iv]. Grafton had already served in the Mediterranean as a volunteer for over a year, and had displayed a genuine interest in navigation which impressed many, including his father and Samuel Pepys. Early in 1680, therefore, it was decided to send him to sea again for a year to improve his knowledge, and it was said that the king intended him for the post of Lord High Admiral on his return[v]. Grafton’s doings as a whole, and such a high profile putative appointment, were especially significant as Charles II was then embroiled in the ‘exclusion crisis’, the effort to remove the Catholic duke of York from the succession in favour of Grafton’s elder half brother, the duke of Monmouth. It is possible (although there is no firm evidence to support this) that Collins, who already possessed a considerable reputation as a navigator, was deliberately selected for the Leopard’s voyage to ensure that Grafton could learn from the best tutor available. As will be seen, it is rather more certain that the interaction of Grafton, Pepys and King Charles II was the key to explaining the choice of Collins to undertake the coastal survey, and the previously unknown voyage of the Leopard gives a new perspective to his appointment.

Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton

Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton

The fact that Collins’ journal for the Leopard’s Mediterranean voyage has remained unnoticed by maritime historians can be attributed to its somewhat chequered provenance and rather unlikely current resting place. It was deposited at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1957 by its then owner, the Reverend Elias Hughes of Blaenau Ffestiniog (later the rector of Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf in the diocese of Bangor), and is now catalogued there as MS Deposit 38B[vi]. In many respects, the Leopard journal is similar to Collins’ previous Mediterranean journal. In particular, it contains several more splendid examples of Collins’ skill as a hydrographer and draughtsman, including both full-page charts and smaller illustrations of anchorages and towns. The format of the two journals is practically identical, with the Leopard journal again providing ample evidence of Collins’ technical expertise as a navigator. However, the very different services of the ship (compared to his previous Mediterranean voyage) give the Leopard journal its distinct importance. Her cruise took her to the Aegean, enabling Collins to record his impressions of Smyrna (Izmir), the Greek islands and the approaches to the Dardanelles. Moreover, her convoy duties provide interesting and important insights into the organisation of Britain’s (and, to a degree, other states’) maritime trade in the Mediterranean during the 1680s, a period when the resurgent Ottoman Turks were advancing once again in the jihad that would carry them to the gates of Vienna in 1683.

The Leopard (possibly; identification not certain). National Maritime Museum, with thanks to Frank Fox

The Leopard (possibly; identification not certain). National Maritime Museum, with thanks to Frank Fox

Collins received his warrant as master of the Leopard on 7 January 1680 and joined the ship at Sheerness on the thirteenth. The next weeks were spent entering men, taking in stores and making all the other necessary preparations for a Mediterranean voyage. On 24-25 January the ship sailed into the Hope, between Erith and Gravesend, and on the twenty-seventh a change of command took place when Henry Killegrew, the ship’s captain since the beginning of the month, was transferred to the Foresight, her intended consort for the Mediterranean voyage, to be replaced by one of the navy’s most senior and experienced sea-officers, Sir John Berry – another move which might have been designed to give the duke of Grafton the best possible maritime education[vii]. The Leopard sailed on 14 February in company with four Levant Company ships bound for Smyrna, and moved slowly round to the Downs, where she anchored on the twenty-first[viii].  She lay in the Downs for the next month, eventually sailing on 21 March with the Foresight and eighteen merchantmen. After a brief stopover at Plymouth, the convoy proceeded south. On 5 April it passed Cape St Vincent, and on the following day Killigrew was detached with five merchant ships for Cadiz. The Leopard and the rest of the convoy proceeded on to Tangier, England’s isolated North African outpost, and anchored there on the seventh. They found a city under siege. The Moors were surrounding Charles Fort, defended by 150 soldiers with six months’ provisions, and attempting to undermine its defences. To help defend the city and its outlying forts, the Mediterranean or Straits fleet under Admiral Arthur Herbert lay in the anchorage, a fleet then comprising the third rate Rupert, the fourth rates Bristol (Herbert’s flagship), Hampshire, Charles Galley and Adventure, along with the fifth rate Swan[ix]. The Leopard was independent of Herbert’s command and sailed from the beleaguered colony on the ninth in company with eleven merchantmen. At night they encountered the Hampshire and Adventure, which had left Tangier earlier and ‘had Chaced an Algiereene into the Straits mouth, but [he] gott away in a Calme with his Oares’. After brief stopovers at Malaga on the tenth and Alicante on the fourteenth, the Leopard and her charges proceeded east into the Mediterranean.

Tangier under English rule, by Wenceslas Hollar

Tangier under English rule, by Wenceslas Hollar

Throughout the voyage, Collins noted the inadequacy of the contemporary state of knowledge of navigation. When the little fleet passed Toro or Touro, at the southern tip of Sardinia (and which even Collins mistakenly assumed to be an island until he learned better on the return journey), he observed that ‘from which Isle to Cabrera I have made 81 leagues meridian distance, which is more than our English Chartes make it’; off Cape Bon, ‘we found the ship much to the northward of our expectation’; at Cape Passaro, ‘note that the land lyeth more southerly than it is layd down in our Chartes…note that from Malta to Pantaleria the course is more southerly then laid downe in our Chartes’[x]. Collins also took care to note the peculiarities of the anchorages that they passed. Off Cape Passaro, for example, he noted that ‘there is good anchoring to the Northward of the Cape just under the Castell where small vessalls doe proteck them selves from the Turkish Pyretts’[xi]. Meanwhile, the size of the fleet had diminished as merchant ships sailed away to their destinations. When a pink left them off Passaro on 22 April, bound for Venice, the Leopard and Foresight were left with only five Levant Company ships in their convoy. This fleet passed Cape Matapan on the twenty-seventh and began to make its way into the Aegean. On 1 May Killigrew was again detached, ‘being ordered by Sir John Berry to convoy the Smyrna Merchant and the Primrose as far as the Dardanelles in their way for Constantinople’, while the Leopard and the remaining merchant ships sailed east-north-east between ‘Xio’ and ‘Ipsera’ (Khios and Psará), observing three galleys rowing ‘under Xio’. On the following day, shortly after encountering the Dutch Symrna fleet beginning its journey home, the English ships came to anchor at Smyrna.

Sir John Berry

Sir John Berry

The Leopard lay in the anchorage for over a fortnight. The Foresight returned on the seventh, the same day that Collins noted ‘past by us a Merchant Galley which came from Alexandria and went in for Smyrna’, but for many of the English officers and local merchants the visit was evidently an excuse for socialising, a normal state of affairs rendered abnormal by the presence of the king’s son. The English consul and several merchants were quick to make their way to dinner on the Leopard, and Grafton subsequently went ashore incognito to visit the consul’s country house, several miles inland[xii]. The social round ended on 19 May when the Leopard, Foresight and the merchant ship Unity sailed for Tenedos. On the following morning they saw a fleet of thirty-one galleys ‘under ye shoar of Mettelena’ (Mitilini, or Lesbos)[xiii]. The galleys began to pursue the English vessels, which cleared their decks and kept on a northerly course, but the lack of wind permitted the galley fleet to catch them by ten o’clock. The flagship made a signal to speak with the English commander, and Berry despatched his lieutenant, John George, to her. The ‘Admirall Pasha’ of the Turkish fleet demanded to know why the English ships did not salute him, and requested to speak directly to Berry and Killigrew. Berry refused, stating that ‘it was not the Custome of the King of England’s captains to goe out of their ships’, but he then conferred with Killigrew on the advisability of saluting the admiral, ‘for feare they might offer some abuse on our merchants or their shipps’, and an eleven-gun salute was fired. No reply was received, and the galleys went away satisfied. This interesting incident provides evidence that English naval officers of the late seventeenth century were not always as rigorous in enforcing the punctilios of saluting and the concept of British ‘sovereignty of the seas’ as has sometimes been assumed: on several other occasions, captains in the Mediterranean saluted foreign forces because they were concerned that trade might suffer[xiv]. Collins’ private account of the deliberations between Berry and Killigrew suggests that this was a genuine concern, not just a convenient excuse for preferring discretion to valour; but perhaps at the back of their minds, too, might have been the potentially hideous diplomatic ramifications (and the equally hideous implications for their own futures) if King Charles II’s son had been killed by an Ottoman cannonball.

(To be continued)

[i] F E Dyer, ‘The Journal of Grenvill [sic] Collins’, MM, 14 (1928), 197-219. The journal is catalogued at the National Archives, Kew (referred to hereafter as TNA), as Adm. 7/688.

[ii] S Mountfield, ‘Captain Greenvile Collins and Mr Pepys’, MM, 56 (1970), 85-96; E Baigent, ‘Collins, Greenvile’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); Tern television for the BBC, ‘Map Man’, first broadcast on BBC2, October 2004.

[iii] Dyer, ‘Journal’, 216; Mountfield, ‘Collins’, 90.

[iv] Grafton only became the second eldest during his voyage on the Leopard, when his half-brother the earl of Plymouth died during the siege of Tangier in October 1680.

[v] A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, ed. J R Tanner, iv (Navy Records Society, 1923), 609; Bodleian Library, Oxford, Rawlinson MS A394, fos. 39-40, Pepys to Henry Shere, 14 August 1679; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1679-80, 397; A Fitzroy, Henry, Duke of Grafton, 1663-90 (London, 1921), 9.

[vi] National Library of Wales, Annual Report 1957-8 (Aberystwyth, 1958), 38. Its current ownership is uncertain: letter to the present writer from Dr David Moore, then assistant archivist at Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales, 23 July 1996.

[vii] Leopard, fourth rate, 54 guns, built at Deptford, 1659; Foresight, fourth rate, 48 guns, built at Deptford, 1650. For Killigrew and Berry, see the entries by J D Davies in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). Unless stated otherwise, all subsequent references are to Collins’ journal, which is not foliated or paginated. All dates are given as in the journal, ie Old Style.

[viii] Collins identifies the Levant Company ships only as ‘fouer Merchant ships’; the more precise identification is from TNA, Adm. 51/3880, pt 7, log of Leopard by Lieutenant John George. Though less detailed, George’s journal occasionally provides useful supplementary information. Further insights into the preparation of the Leopard for the voyage, and its early stages, can be gleaned from TNA, Adm. 106/347/133-147, Sir John Berry to the Navy Board, 10, 11, 13, 15, 21 February; 1, 13, 17 March, 1680.

[ix] The siege had begun on 25 March. Charles Fort, to the west of Tangier, was the largest in the defensive outer ring around the city. E M G Routh, Tangier: England’s Lost Atlantic Outpost (1912), 167-78; A J Smithers, The Tangier Campaign: The Birth of the British Army (2003), 102-14.

[x] Collins’ journal, 17, 20, 23 April, 20 September 1680.

[xi] Collins’ journal, 23 April 1680.

[xii] Collins’ journal, 3, 8 May 1680.

[xiii] George’s journal, 20 May 1680.

[xiv] E.g. TNA, SP 93/1/214 (State Papers, Foreign, Sicily and Naples), Sir William Jennens to Mr Dodrington, English consul at Venice, 22 Aug. 1671; SP 71/2/144 (State Papers, Foreign, Algiers), deposition by gunner of Quaker Ketch, Aug. 1676; SP 101/80, unfoliated (State Papers, Foreign, Tuscany), newsletter of 8 Feb. 1683. Cf J D Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins: The Officers and Men of the Restoration Navy (Oxford, 1991), 63-4.


  1. Daniel Caramagno says:

    How much do we know of the ‘Leapord’? Are their any plans of her? Unlike the 18th and early 19th century cruisers it seems we know little about these 17th century vessels and their exploits, even though they appear to have active and interesting careers.


    • There are no confirmed pictures or plans of the Leopard. Frank Fox, the leading authority on the warships of the period, thinks that the drawing I put on this week’s post, and the one on the second part next week, are likely to be her, but can’t be completely certain. However, she certainly had an interesting career, as did many of the other ships of the period, and many written sources survive which describe that career (e.g. log books and letters). One of my objectives on this website, and in the books that I write, is to increase awareness of what the navy of that period did.


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