The Lost Journal of Captain Greenvile Collins, Part 2

On 22 May the English ships anchored off Tenedos, which ‘lyeth right opposite the vast Ruines of old Troy’. Collins provided a long, detailed description of the island and its people, commenting in particular (as he often did in Mediterranean ports) on the merits of the local wines. He soon discovered that the ‘vast ruines’ were not those of Troy itself but of ‘Troas Alexandria’, built (he believed) some four miles from the older city by one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Grafton, Killigrew and other officers went to visit it, and found it

now a ruine, and is dayly made more ruinous by the Turks, who carry the stones and pillars to Constantinople for buildings there…nothing to be seen of any height, except the walls of the temple of Minerva, with scattered foundations and remnants of arches, bridges and pillars of marble[i].

The ruins of 'Troas Alexandria'

The ruins of ‘Troas Alexandria’

A few days later Collins and some of the other officers visited the west side of Tenedos, where they found more good wine[ii]. This pleasant sojourn continued until 4 June, when two Levant Company ships came down to them from Constantinople and the whole convoy set sail for Smyrna, arriving there on the sixth. Their stay there was uneventful, and they sailed on to Khios on 22 June. Three Tripolitine vessels lay in the harbour, along with a French prize which they had taken when she was en route from Alexandria; Grafton, Berry and Killigrew were entertained liberally aboard the Tripolitine flagship[iii]. Meanwhile, Collins again spent his time examining the island. The wines were subjected to his usual detailed scrutiny, but he also noted the inhabitants’ customs (the Greeks could worship more freely there than in other Turkish ports they had visited, he observed, and they were enthusiastic to celebrate every conceivable holiday or festival) and remarked on the decay of the breakwater and lighthouse built by the Genoese some 120 years earlier. In addition, Collins made detailed notes on ‘Directions for Anchoring at Xio’[iv]. The ships remained there until 13 July when they sailed for Smyrna, arriving there on the sixteenth.

Smyrna in the 1680s, by de Bruijn

Smyrna in the 1680s, by de Bruijn

It took some time, and a considerable amount of prompting of the local merchants to get their ships ready, before the convoy was ready to begin its homeward journey, but on 4 August they finally left Smyrna[v]. Collins listed the composition of the fleet as follows[vi]:

Leopard (Berry)

Foresight (Killigrew)

Anne (Capt Smart)

Smyrna Merchant (Capt Udell)                    ‘Generall Ships and bound for London’

Mary and Martha (Capt Bate)                      (ie Levant Company ships)

Smirna Factor (Capt Marriner)                    ‘a private ship and bound for Livorno’

Primrose (Capt Spooner)                              ‘bound for Holland’




The convoy passed Cape Matapan on 9 August and reached Cape Passaro on the twenty-third, sailing along the southern Sicilian and eastern Sardinian coasts, passing Monte Cristo on 4 September, and sailing between Elba and Pianosa on the following day. Collins’ account of this stage of the voyage indicates the extent to which the Barbary corsairs were feared in the Tyrrhenian Sea. On 24 August, we got up with a small village called Marmera, that lyeth by the waterside, about 13 leagues from Cape Passaro, we saw some small Tartans (sic) a fishing[vii], which made saile in for Marmera and hauld up their Vessels, being afraid that [we] were Turks’. On 5 September, Grafton and Berry went ashore at Pianosa and found human footprints, but, fearing that the English ships were corsairs, all the inhabitants had taken refuge in the nearby caves. From Pianosa, it took two days to sail to Livorno. Collins again provided clear ‘Directions for Sailing into the Road of Livorno’, noting in particular the need to avoid the ‘Mallora’ sands, although he observed that small vessels could go over them by following narrow channels. Livorno had a large English mercantile community, and was therefore both an obvious place to obtain news from home and to obtain supplies for the rest of the voyage. The ships took in two months’ provisions, and learned a mixture of good and bad news: Charles Fort at Tangier had fallen to the Moors[viii], but the duke of Grafton had been made a knight of the Garter by his father. The Smyrna Factor was left at Livorno, where she was to unload, and the two warships and four remaining merchantmen sailed again on 15 September[ix].

The Leopard (possibly; identification not certain) by van de Velde the younger. (Frank Fox collection; I'm grateful to Frank for providing this)

The Leopard (possibly; identification not certain) by van de Velde the younger. (Frank Fox collection; I’m grateful to Frank for providing this)

Most of the voyage was uneventful. They sailed between Majorca and Minorca on 21 September, but on the evening of the twenty-seventh, off Formentera, they sighted four ships bearing down on them and made ready to fight. The unidentified vessels came within half a mile ‘and brought too keeping to windward some times standing to the Northard and Sometimes to the Southard, we tackt as they tackt all night’. In the morning they were able to identify the vessels as Algerines, but they, realising the superior strength of the English ships, stood away to the south and avoided a fight. On 1 October the Leopard and her convoy anchored at Alicante, where they found the fourth rate Antelope, ‘bound for Genova and Livorno to convoy shipps, having on board the son of the Prince Elector Palatine, who is bound to see the fashions of the sea for this voyage’[x]. The Leopard weighed on the following day but quickly ran into trouble, as Collins recorded:

At noone sprang up a fresh gale at NE and at three a clock much wind. We got up our anchor and set saile under our coarses, stearing off SE to wether St Pauls Island. Before we got a brest of it our fore saile gave way and presently after our main saile, in an extraordinary gust of wind, which veered aft to the Northward, soe that with our Spritt saile and Maine Stay Saile we weathered the Island, but had not the wind come aft, we could not have weathered it, but must be forst to anchor, where I doe verily believe that Anchors and Cabells could not hold in soe much wind. We weathered that Island about 2 miles…after we gott cleare we steared away SbE and S all night with our Spritt Saile and Maine Stay Saile having a great storme of wind from the NE to the N, with much raine, lightning and thunder, till four in the Morning, when the storme broke up.

The Leopard spent 3 October repairing and waiting for her convoy to rejoin. The next day saw another alarm: nine ships were sighted and were first thought to be Algerines, so the English vessels made ready to fight, but the fleet turned out to be French Newfoundland ships, sailing in company with a Dutch vessel which had taken in pilchards at Plymouth. The English convoy proceeded without further incident to Malaga, arriving there on the sixth. The Foresight sailed on to Cadiz, while the Leopard went into Malaga to see if any English merchant ships there were ready to sail. They found thirty vessels in the harbour, but none were ready; nevertheless, seven merchant captains came aboard to request convoy. While the Leopard lay at Malaga, waiting for the merchant ships to be ready, Collins went ashore and recorded details of the great earthquake which had devastated the city a few days earlier and

which threw downe and damnified about 3000 houses, and some churches…80 people were killed, and Severall wounded with the fall of houses, to the number of 400 persons…such houses are not quote thrown downe where soe much shaken, that they were forst to prop them up with timber, and many of the inhabitants forst to lodge in tents in the fields…this earthquake continued about halfe a minute, and drained most of their wells dry for that day[xi].

Contemporary account of the Malaga earthquake

Contemporary account of the Malaga earthquake

Two more English frigates, the Sweepstakes and Mermaid, came into port on 9 October, having made a short cruise to Velez Malaga to collect any English merchantmen there (they found only one, the Crown). By the fifteenth the Leopard was ready to sail again, but her departure was delayed by the unexpected arrival of a large delegation comprising the Spanish deputy governor, the English consul, several Spanish gentlemen, and both Spanish and English merchants, all seeking an English merchant named Smith who had absconded from Malaga the day before with debts of 40,000 dollars, and who was reputed to be hiding in one of the ships in the convoy. The English community had branded him a cheat for some time ‘and did declare it to the Spaniards, who would not believe it, he being turned Roman Catholick and had much ingratiated him[self] with the Bishop of Mallaga and some Spanish gentlemen’. They went to the merchant ship Mauretania, which had aboard it a large amount of Smith’s goods, destined for Holland, but otherwise they found only his servant, a ‘silly fellow’ who told them that Smith had sailed the previous day on the Crown, bound for England. The Mauretania’s captain at first refused to hand over the servant, but complied when Berry threatened that ‘he would come with his ship on board and take him by forse, which might have brought him in trouble in England’.

The Leopard and her charges touched briefly at Tangier on 17 October, where they again found Herbert’s fleet and the city under siege[xii], and reached Cadiz on the following day, where they found the Centurion and James Galley. The governor insisted that they should move out to the Bay of Bulls, as their previous port of call, Malaga, had previously been stricken with plague[xiii]. Berry replied diplomatically that he had no wish to offend the Spanish authorities, but the ships in the convoy were very rich and might not be able to ride the winter weather in the bay; he suggested that if any damage should come to them, a serious breach between England and Spain might result. After considering the matter overnight, the governor backed down and allowed them to stay where they were. On 28 October the Leopard sailed with 28 merchantmen. The Foresight was left behind to await the arrival of the body of Grafton’s half-brother, the earl of Plymouth, who had died at Tangier while serving in the garrison there; meanwhile, the Leopard carried several living dignitaries bound from Tangier to England, notably Lord Mordaunt of Avalon, who had also been serving in the garrison and who was to return to the area 25 years later as the earl of Peterborough and Monmouth, commander-in-chief of the army and joint admiral of the fleet in the War of the Spanish Succession[xiv].

Charles Mordaunt, the future Earl of Peterborough

Charles Mordaunt, the future Earl of Peterborough

The convoy’s progress back to England was very slow, the weather alternating between northerly gales (‘almost perpetuall stormes’, in Berry’s words[xv]) and almost windless conditions. During a gale on 4 November, the crew of the Leopard ‘hauled up our forsayle and tried under a maine Sayle, very much wind all Night with gusts and raine, at 2 a clock in the night we split our maine saile’[xvi]. On the twentieth the Elizabeth of Yarmouth sprang a leak and needed some of the Leopard’s men to help with her pumps; on 2 December the America lost her rudder and the Leopard took her in tow, with her carpenter going to the merchantman to assemble a new rudder. Finally, on 6 December they met the frigate Swallow, cruising in the Soundings, which told them that the Lizard lay 37 leagues east-north-east, and the Leopard sighted the headland at four p.m. on the following day. The convoy anchored safely in Carrick Roads, off Falmouth, on the ninth. The landfall permitted repairs to be made and gave an opportunity for the ships’ illustrious passengers to go ashore. Grafton’s presence proved as great a magnet for local dignitaries as it had in the Mediterranean, and on 13 December he and Berry dined with the mayor and aldermen of Penrhyn, who conferred the freedom of the borough on both officers. The Leopard sailed on the twentieth, anchoring in the Downs on the twenty-third. Grafton left her there and proceeded to London. On 12 January 1681 the Leopard received orders to sail to Harwich, where her crew was needed to move the new second rate Albemarle round to her lay-up berth at Chatham. The Leopard sailed on the seventeenth and anchored at Harwich on the twenty-third, remaining there until 20 February. She then spent a month at anchor off Gravesend before proceeding to Erith, where her guns were taken out. After another month at anchor the Leopard proceeded to her final destination, Woolwich dockyard, where she moored on 20 April. The voyage effectively marked the end of her distinguished career, which had begun under the Commonwealth and had seen her gain five ‘battle honours’ during the greatest engagements of the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars: she was hulked in 1686 and sunk as a breakwater at Sheerness in 1699.

Greenvile Collins' chart of Milford Haven

Greenvile Collins’ chart of Milford Haven

Collins was soon back at sea, but in a completely different capacity. On 18 June 1681 he was commissioned captain of the Merlin Yacht, and began almost a decade’s work to survey the British coast. He never returned to the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it is fortunate that Collins’ reputation can rest on something more than Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot. His two Mediterranean journals establish him as a navigator of international standing, while his detailed and colourful accounts of towns, islands and people suggest that he also deserves a reputation as an early travel writer of modest note. Moreover, the account in the Leopard’s journal of the successful activities of English warships in the Mediterranean throughout 1680 helps to disprove the ridiculous assertion made by Pepys’s correspondent, the merchant James Houblon, in October of that year, that ‘we are (God help us) totally without guard in the Mediterranean’[xvii]. Pepys used Houblon’s evidence, and much else, to attack the then Admiralty commissioners for neglecting England’s overseas trade, but this attack was both partial and wholly unfounded; even so, it became the basis of the accepted orthodoxy that for generations governed historians’ attitudes to the navy of the early 1680s, and Collins’ Leopard journal is just one of many pieces of evidence that comprehensively explode that orthodoxy[xviii]. The journal makes it clear that great care was taken of England’s Mediterranean trade, despite the depredations of the Barbary corsairs and the alternative demands imposed on the navy by the dire plight of the beleagured garrison of Tangier.

The journal also casts some light on the genesis of Collins’ survey of the British Isles. An important conversation between King Charles II and Pepys at Newmarket on the subject of Collins’ survey work was recorded in Pepys’s Naval Minutes and assigned by the editor of that work, J R Tanner, to October 1680. Extrapolating from this, Stuart Mountfield suggested that ‘it would seem that Collins had embarked on his work prior to the date of formal appointment’[xix]. The fact that the Leopard journal proves conclusively that Collins was in the Mediterranean at that time means that the conversation must now be given a different date, with March 1682 becoming the only possible alternative[xx]. The cruise of the Leopard also helps to explain how Collins gained the title of hydrographer to Trinity House, as well as to the king. Pepys noted that the appointment was favoured above all by the duke of Grafton, by then (1683) vice-admiral of England and Master of Trinity House[xxi]. Nothing could have been more natural than for Grafton to have wanted to favour an old shipmate, especially one who in all probability had taught him much of what he knew about the mysteries of navigation, as well as the equally marvellous mysteries of Mediterranean wines.


[i] Collins evidently refers to Ilion, the Hellenistic and Roman site known to archaeologists as Troy IX, which contained a temple of Athena. In fact, this city had been built on top of the earlier settlements on the same site, including that of Troy VII A, the probable Homeric city.

[ii] Collins’ journal, 22, 27, 30 May 1680.

[iii] Collins’ journal, 23, 26 June; George’s journal, 23 June 1680.

[iv] Collins’ journal, 26 June, 1 July 1680.

[v] Collins’ journal, 29 July to 4 Aug. 1680; George’s journal, 28, 29 July, 1 August 1680.

[vi] Collins’ journal, 4 August 1680.

[vii] For the tartana of the Mediterranean, see M Marzari, ‘The tartana di pesca: A Fishing Vessel from Chioggia’, MM, 71 (1985), 287, 301.

[viii] On 14 May. See Routh, Tangier, 175-8.

[ix] Collins’ journal, 7, 14, 16 Sept.; George’s journal, 10, 15 Sept.; Adm. 106/347/151, Berry to Navy Board, from Livorno, 9 Sept. 1680.

[x] This was probably Frederick Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneberg (1661-90), the immediate younger brother of the future King George I of Britain; he eventually became an Imperial general. Both he and George were second cousins of Grafton.

[xi] Collins’ journal, 6 October. ‘Half the city was wrecked, and at least 35 people were killed’, while the tremor was felt as far away as Madrid: H Kamen, Spain in the Later Seventeenth Century 1665-1700 (1980), 52.

[xii] A temporary truce had ended on 15 September. Ten days after the Leopard’s visit, the entire garrison made a sudden and successful counterattack: Routh, Tangier, 186-97.

[xiii] See Kamen, Spain, 49-51.

[xiv] Routh, Tangier, 184.

[xv] Adm. 106/347/154, Berry to Navy Board, 16 December 1680.

[xvi] In the light of this incident and that on 2 October, described above, it is interesting to note that Berry had been very critical of the quality of the Leopard’s sails even before she left England, stating that he ‘never saw any ship soe basely rig’d’: Adm. 106/347/141, Berry to Navy Board, 21 Feb. 1680. Cf. ibid., nos. 137, 139.

[xvii] Letters and the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. R G Howarth (1933), 104.

[xviii] S Hornstein, The Restoration Navy and English Foreign Trade (Aldershot, 1991), passim; J D Davies, ‘Pepys and the Admiralty Commission of 1679-84’, Historical Research, 62 (1989), 34-53.

[xix] Samuel Pepys’s Naval Minutes, ed J R Tanner (Navy Records Society, 1935), 132-3; Mountfield, ‘Collins and Pepys’, 90.

[xx] A Bryant, Samuel Pepys: The Years of Peril (1935), 374.

[xxi] Naval Minutes, 189, 388.


  1. Sarah Johnson says:

    Fabulous … I often wondered how Charles’ children were educated and exposed to the world. This was very instructive.


  2. Daniel Caramagno says:

    You may already know about this. A presentation on archeological work at a Dutch warship shipwreck in Tobago. Link is to Explorers Club presentation.

    Not exactly related, but your article reminds me of the emerging projection of European power globally through developing national navies. Hope you find this of interest.


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