‘We’ve Got Pepys Bang to Rights This Time,’ said Morse

Every now and again, a historian comes across something which is so far from left field that it’s actually from a completely different farm. That’s certainly the case with the discovery made a few years back by my friend and colleague, Richard Endsor, author of The Restoration WarshipAs he’s doing a ‘star turn’ next weekend, dressing up as master shipwright John Shish for London Open House at the glorious Master Shipwright’s House in Deptford, on behalf of the project to build a replica of the 1677 Third Rate Lenox on the adjacent site, I thought it would be a suitable opportunity to highlight his remarkable ‘find’. And there’ll be more excitement on this blog next Monday, when I’ll have a guest post from Victoria Yee of the University of St Andrews on the Welsh soldiers and sailors who fought in the Thirty Years War. Vicki has unearthed some fantastic material, so it’ll be a must for all of you interested in seventeenth century and/or Welsh history!

In the meantime, though…

On 5 March 1674, the Navy Board received a letter from Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty Commission, a position he had held for only eight months since his promotion from his previous position as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. The letter itself is not remarkable, being a request at the suggestion of Captain Henry Killigrew to appoint one Benjamin Holmes as Master of Killigrew’s ship, the Swan. What is interesting is the signature, for it appears to contain the partial patent index fingerprint from Pepys’s right hand. It seems likely that, when forming the lower curved section of the capital ‘P’, his pen flicked a quantity of ink to the left, part of which landed on his finger. Then, as he finished writing, his wet finger left the impression on the paper. Also noticeable are the tiny reflective particles added to the ink for decoration.

And so, ladies and gentlemen…cue drum roll…we give you the fingerprint of Samuel Pepys!

[National Archives, Kew, ADM106/31]

11 Comments

  1. This sort of thing just gives me goosebumps.

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  2. This is a very exciting find !

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  3. This is amazing!! How have I not seen this before?!

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  4. jsmjf2 says:

    OMG, I *love* stuff like this. A while ago I read a letter which was covered in little watery blotches. It took me a minute or two to realise what had happened: the recipient had opened the letter outside *while it was raining*.

    Better than a time machine, I tell you!

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  5. Richard Endsor says:

    That really is good. Very proud to have you blog it.

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  6. Frank Fox says:

    They’ll have to check the criminal database to see if there’s a match!

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