Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Monday, October 4, 2021

All things Age of Sail/British Royal Navy/1800's/Sailing--Pt 9



By Matthew Brenckle

There is no doubt that a sailor on board a ship like Constitution lived a hard life.  His daily duties put his life and limbs in jeopardy.  Constantly exposed to variable weather, to heat and cold, his good health was often sacrificed for the good of the ship and his shipmates.

Luckily, the Navy made provision in its laws and customs to take care of sick and hurt sailors.   The accommodations for the sick on board a sailing warship might seem crude, if not downright cruel, to us today, but access to free medical care administered by a trained doctor was a perk few laboring men on shore could have enjoyed.

Mild indisposition was not enough to excuse a sailor from duty, but severe sickness, disease, and injuries often earned him a stay in the ship’s infirmary.  Called the “sick bay,” or “sick berth,” the ship’s hospital was a place where the sick could be nursed back to health, isolated from the rest of the crew.  Herman Melville, in his novel White Jacket, describes the sick bay on board the fictional frigate Neversink:

“The sick-bay is that part of a man-of-war where the invalid seamen are placed; in many respects it answers to a public hospital ashore. As with most frigates, the sick-bay of the Neversink was on the berth-deck—the third deck from above. It was in the extreme forward part of that deck, embracing the triangular area in the bows of the ship. It was, therefore, a subterranean vault, into which scarce a ray of heaven’s glad light ever penetrated, even at noon.” [1]

Melville drew on his experiences sailing on board the USS United States in the 1840s.  This is an important detail, because by that date, the location of the sick bay had been firmly established.  Crammed into the bow of the ship on the berth deck, the sick bay was removed from the hustle and bustle of the gun deck and the periodic tumult that came to the berth deck when the watches changed.  And yet, as we dig deeper into the details of life on board American warships at the beginning of the 19th century, it seems the location of the sick bay, and its usefulness as a place of recuperation for the sick, was in flux.

The first indication that the sick bay was perhaps not always placed in the bow comes from Navy doctor William P.C. Barton in 1814.  Barton was deeply concerned about the quality of the air that patients were exposed to.  He wrote,

“The sick-bay in double-decked vessels, is usually placed amidships, and is separated from the other part of the berth-deck only by means of a tarpaulin, or canvass curtain, and sometimes not even by these.

From the situation of the bay, then, it is necessarily exposed to the damp air of the cable-tier, as well as the cold air of the mid-hatch above it, which is generally open, at its after end; and to the unpleasant smell of the fore-hold, where the beef, pork, &c. are kept; as well as the cold air that blows down the fore hatch, at its forward end. The screens or curtains of which I have spoken, are but ineffective barriers to these unhealthful currents. Added to this, the berth-deck, according to the existing usage of the navy, is frequently, if not daily, wetted. Can any place, then, be conceived of, better calculated to injure the patients and distress the surgeon, then such a sick-bay?” [2]

Barton was not merely a complainer, but was also a reformer.  He offered this suggestion:

“I see no reason why the sick-bay should not be constructed farther aft, or chock forward: that is to say, between the steerage and root of the main-mast, or forward of the fore-mast. It should, too, be encompassed or partitioned off by moveable bulk-heads, lined with baize, and should be ventilated by tubes from the gun or main-decks. It should be furnished with small and well-slung cots, in such number as it will conveniently contain. In the summer season, perhaps, it would be more conducive to health and comfort, to have the sick-bay amid-ships, where it now usually is placed; but I have seen too much of the inconvenience and danger of placing sick men in this place in the winter season, not to think it highly necessary that some change should be made.”[3]

The concern for fresh air was foremost in the minds of naval doctors, because according to the medical theory of the day, bad air caused and contributed to a wide range of illnesses.  A note in Constitution’s logbook on December 29, 1814 makes this connection explicitly: “Got the sick off the birth deck and birthed them under the half deck for the benefit of the air.” [4]Record Group 45 Naval Records of the office of Naval Records and Library, 1691-1945 Ware Drawings Plans of the Frigate United States Decks 45-Ware-15_2008_001 In this detail of Charles Ware’s ca. 1820 “Plans of the Frigate United States Deck,” the sick bay encompasses the entire area forward of the foremast (labeled “B” in the plan). Record Group 45, National Archives.

If it made medical sense to change the location of the sick bay from next to the main hatch to some place farther forward, why wasn’t this done without delay?  Why did the navy’s medical corps have to fight for the change?  Tradition and long usage are hard nuts to crack.  Perhaps an even more convincing answer was that the British had been doing the same thing for a long while.

In this detail of Augustus Earle's painting In this detail of Augustus Earle’s painting “Divine service at it is usually performed on board a British Frigate at Sea” (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837, but based on drawings made on board HMS Hyperion in 1820), a sick sailor reposes on a swinging cot set up in the midst of the frigate’s gundeck.  This sort of cot was used in sick bays on both British and American warships, and were also employed as sleeping cots by officers. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, BHC1119.

As in many other details, the US Navy followed British practice.  A British Navy Office order of March 22, 1803 regulated the placement of “sick berths” for frigates.  It was a space 11 feet wide and 15 feet long located on the port side of the lower deck, beside the main hatch.  As first delineated, these berths were separated from the rest of the deck by canvas screens.  In March 1808 the screens were ordered to be replaced with “deal” or pine boards. [5] American naval surgeons would have experienced these arrangements while visiting British ships in the Mediterranean during the Barbary War and afterwards.  Why not adopt similar practices on board their own ships?

An 1803 plan of sick bays for British frigates. ADM 106/3474, reproduced in Gardiner's Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars, p. 102. An 1803 plan of sick bays for British frigates.  Note its position relative to the main hatch.  ADM 106/3474, reproduced in Gardiner’s Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars, p. 102.

By the 1820s, it seems that sick berths began to migrate to the forward end of the berth deck, as least in most American frigates. But there were some that kept the earlier arrangement.  Rev. George Jones described the sick bay on the frigate Brandywine in 1825:

“I will now descend a story lower: we come to the Birth deck so called, because originally used for swinging the men’s hammocks during the night, though the main deck is now also employed for that purpose. . . . The birth deck however, properly so called extends only a little abaft the mainmast: in its centre is the sick bay, a room with bulkheads of open work and forming our hospital, now well filled, for a large number of our men sick. This deck is supplied with air by a range of air ports twelve inches by eight, a few feet above the water mark; they are closed at sea.” [6]

Despite these scattered references, we can’t be sure of the location of Constitution’s sick bay in her early days.  The earliest plan to show the ship’s sick bay is dated December 1847, and by that point it encompassed the area forward of the fore mast on the berth deck.  Hopefully further research will help us discover the reality of yet one more detail of daily life on our favorite frigate.

A detail of Samuel Pook's December 1847 plan of Constitution's decks. The sick bay is located at the forward end of the berth deck. Record Group 45, National Archives. A detail of Samuel Pook’s December 1847 plan of Constitution‘s decks. The sick bay is located at the forward end of the berth deck. Record Group 45, National Archives.  

[1] Herman Melville, White Jacket, or The World in a Man-of-War (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 325-326.

[2] William P. C. Barton. A Treatise Containing a Plan for the Internal Organization and Government of Marine Hospitals in the United States: Together with a Scheme for Amending and Systematizing the Medical Department of the Navy (Philadelphia: Edward Parker & Philip H. Nicklin, 1814), 237-38.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The “half deck” is the portion of the gun deck just before the captain’s cabin

[5] Robert Gardiner, Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 101-102.  In British ships-of-the-line, sick bays were typically located forward on the main gun deck, under the forecastle.  See Dr. John Gray to William P.C. Barton, April 19, 1811,  in Barton’s Treatise, 151.

[6] George Jones, Sketches of Naval Life, with Notices of Men, Manners and Scenery, on the Shores of the Mediterranean, in a Series of Letters from the Brandywine and Constitution Frigates, 2 vols. (New Haven: Hezekiah Howe, 1829), 4-5. The Author(s)Matthew Brenckle
Research Historian, USS Constitution Museum

Matthew Brenckle was the Research Historian at the USS Constitution Museum from 2006 to 2016.





Special tide houses were constructed to shelter permanent water level recorders, protecting them from harsh environmental conditions. In this diagram, we can see how the analog data recorder (ADR) is situated inside the house with the float, and the stilling well located directly beneath it. Attached to one of the piers pilings is a tidal staff. Essentially a giant measuring stick, this device would allow scientists to manually observe the tidal level and then compare it to the readings taken by the analog recorder.

Older tide house diagram


Dursey Island (Irish: Baoi Bhéarra or Oileán Baoi[2]) lies at the southwestern tip of the Beara Peninsula in the west of County Cork in Ireland. Dursey Island is 6.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide. The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water, Dursey Sound, which has a very strong tidal race, with the submerged Flag Rock close to the centre of the channel. The island has just six or so permanent residents, and is connected to the mainland by Ireland's only cable car. Dursey has no shops, pubs or restaurants.[3] At one point there was a post office on the island; this has since closed. [2][4]

Geography and fauna

The townlands on the island are Ballynacallagh, Kilmichael, and Tilickafinna. There are three main peaks, the highest 252m.[5] The promontories and rocks off Dursey include:

Bull Rock

Off the western point of the island are three rocks: Bull Rock, Cow Rock and Calf Rock. On Bull Rock in a tidal race stands a lighthouse built in 1888 and automated in March 1991. This island was inhabited until this time.[6]

Historical population (Bull Rock)

Calf Rock

A manned lighthouse on Calf Rock was destroyed in a storm in 1881 and its remains can still be seen.[7]

Cow Rock

Cow Rock is home to a number of nesting colonies of seabirds. Dolphins, whales and basking shark are sometimes seen in the sea off the island.


Prehistoric sites have been surveyed on the island, including examples of bullaun and cup-marked stones in Ballynacallagh, a prehistoric hut site at Killowen, and a radial stone enclosure at Maughanaclea.[8]

More prominent archaeological sites are visible at Ballynacallagh, where there is a ruined monastic church and graveyard, and at the site of a castle on Oileán Beag ("Small Island"). In 1602 this castle site was a garrison of the O'Sullivan Beare family. It was destroyed (along with Dunboy Castle) during the Nine Years' War. Philip O'Sullivan Beare documents that all of the occupants of the castle were killed by the English in the Dursey Massacre.[9] The 300 islanders were killed; Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare gathered his people from across Cork and set off to take shelter with the O'Rourkes of Leitrim. Of the 1,000 that set off, 35 survived to reach the O'Rourkes after the convoy was repeatedly attacked.[5] Little evidence of the castle site remains.

On the highest point on the island, at Tilickafinna, is a signal tower dating to the Napoleonic Wars.[10] This narrow rectangular tower had two storeys over a basement, with each storey supported by vaulted stonework. The tower has been in ruin since the mid-19th century.[11]

During World War II a whitewashed sign saying "Éire" was built and painted close to the signal tower to indicate to pilots that they were overflying neutral Ireland. In July 1943 a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 crashed on Crow Head near Dursey, killing all crew.[12]

Historical population





















































































Source: Central Statistics Office. "CNA17: Population by Off Shore Island, Sex and Year". CSO.ie. Retrieved October 12, 2016. and "E2021: Population of Inhabited Islands Off the Coast 2011 to 2016 by Sex, Islands and Census Year".


The cable car and Dursey Sound, viewed from Dursey Island (Sept. 2015)

The island is popular with day-trippers and walkers during the summer months. A waymarked section of the Beara Way loops around the island.[13] Dursey Island's Beara Way walk marks the beginning of Europe's E8 European long distance path, which crosses Europe, ending in Istanbul, Turkey.

Spanning Dursey Sound, the aerial tramway is Ireland's only cable car,[14] and one of the few cable cars that cross the sea in Europe. It is one of the island's main attractions for tourists, as well as serving the local population.[15]

Dursey Sound is also one of the "signature discovery points" along the Wild Atlantic Way[16] - a coastal touring route that stretches along Ireland's Atlantic coastline. On one road there is a 100 km/h speed limit sign – probably placed as a prank.[17]

Dursey has no shops, pubs or restaurants, but a few holiday homes are rented on the island.[18]


  • Ecclesiastical ruins and graveyard at Ballynacallagh

  • JU88 memorial sign on mainland next to Dursey cable car

  • Napoleonic era signal tower

  • Standing stones

  • Remains of World War II "EIRE" neutrality sign

  • A basking shark feeds in the Dursey Sound.



Isles of Scilly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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"Scilly" redirects here. For the place in Surrey, see Scilly Isles, Surrey. For the atoll in the Society Islands, sometimes called "Scilly Atoll", see Manuae (Society Islands).

Not to be confused with Sicily.

Isles of Scilly




Isles of Scilly in Cornwall.svg

The Isles of Scilly (red; bottom left corner) within Cornwall (red & beige)



45 km (28 mi) southwest of the Cornish peninsula


49°56′10″N 6°19′22″WCoordinates: 49°56′10″N 6°19′22″W

OS grid reference



British Isles

Adjacent bodies of water

Celtic Sea
Atlantic Ocean

Total islands

5 inhabited, 140 others

Major islands


16.37 km2 (6.32 sq mi) (314th)


United Kingdom


Sui generis unitary




South West

Ceremonial county


Largest settlement

Hugh Town (pop. 1,097)


Councillor Robert Francis[1]


Mark Boden (interim)[2]


Derek Thomas (C)



2,242 (mid-2018 est. · 317th)

Pop. density

139 /km2 (360 /sq mi)

Ethnic groups

97.3% White British
2.4% Other White
0.3% Mixed[3]

Additional information

Official website


Ramsar Wetland


13 August 2001

Reference no.


The Isles of Scilly (/ˈsɪli/) are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of Cornwall, England. The island of St Agnes is the most southerly point in the United Kingdom, being over 4 miles (6.4 km) further south than the most southerly point of the British mainland at Lizard Point.

The population of all the islands at the 2011 census was 2,203.[5] Scilly forms part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall, and some services are combined with those of Cornwall. However, since 1890, the islands have had a separate local authority. Since the passing of the Isles of Scilly Order 1930, this authority has had the status of a county council and today is known as the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

The adjective "Scillonian" is sometimes used for people or things related to the archipelago. The Duchy of Cornwall owns most of the freehold land on the islands. Tourism is a major part of the local economy, along with agriculture—particularly the production of cut flowers.


Early history

The islands may correspond to the Cassiterides ('Tin Isles') believed by some to have been visited by the Phoenicians, and mentioned by the Greeks. However, the archipelago itself does not contain much tin.

The isles were off the coast of the Brittonic Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia and later its offshoot, Kernow (Cornwall), and may have been a part of these polities until their conquest by the English in the 10th century AD.

It is likely that until relatively recent times the islands were much larger and perhaps joined together into one island named Ennor. Rising sea levels flooded the central plain around 400–500 AD, forming the current 55 islands and islets, if an island is defined as "land surrounded by water at high tide and supporting land vegetation".[6] The word Ennor is a contraction of the Old Cornish[7] En Noer (Moer, mutated to Noer), meaning 'the land'[7] or the 'great island'.[8]

Evidence for the older large island includes:

  • A description written during Roman times designates Scilly "Scillonia insula" in the singular, indicating either a single island or an island much bigger than any of the others.

  • Gaius Iulius Solinus, probably in the 3rd century, remarks: "This turbid strait also divides the island Silura from the shore which is held by the Dumnonii, a British tribe. The men of this island even now preserve an old custom: they do not use coins. They give and accept, obtaining the necessities of life by exchange rather than by money. They reverence gods, and the men and women equally declare knowledge of the future."[9]

  • Remains of a prehistoric farm have been found on Nornour, which is now a small rocky skerry far too small for farming.[10][11] There once was an Iron Age British community here that extended into Roman times.[11] This community was likely formed by immigrants from Brittany, probably the Veneti who were active in the tin trade that originated in mining activity in Cornwall and Devon.

  • At certain low tides the sea becomes shallow enough for people to walk between some of the islands.[12] This is possibly one of the sources for stories of drowned lands, e.g. Lyonesse.

  • Ancient field walls are visible below the high tide line off some of the islands (e.g. Samson).

  • Some of the Cornish language place names also appear to reflect past shorelines, and former land areas.[13]

  • The whole of southern England has been steadily sinking in opposition to post-glacial rebound in Scotland: this has caused the rias (drowned river valleys) on the southern Cornish coast, e.g. River Fal and the Tamar Estuary.[11]

Offshore, midway between Land's End and the Isles of Scilly, is the supposed location of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature, of which Tristan is said to have been a prince. This may be a folk memory of inundated lands, but this legend is also common among the Brythonic peoples; the legend of Ys is a parallel and cognate legend in Brittany as is that of Cantre'r Gwaelod in Wales.

Scilly has been identified as the place of exile of two heretical 4th century bishops, Instantius and Tiberianus, who were followers of Priscillian.[14]

Norse and Norman period

Olaf Tryggvason, who visited the islands in 986. It is said an encounter with a cleric there led him to Christianise Norway.

At the time of King Cnut, the Isles of Scilly fell outside England's rule, as did Cornwall and Wales.

In 995, Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I of Norway. Born c. 960, Olaf had raided various European cities and fought in several wars. In 986 he met a Christian seer on the Isles of Scilly. He was probably a follower of Priscillian and part of the tiny Christian community that was exiled here from Spain by Emperor Maximus for Priscillianism. In Snorri Sturluson's Royal Sagas of Norway, it is stated that this seer told him:

Thou wilt become a renowned king, and do celebrated deeds. Many men wilt thou bring to faith and baptism, and both to thy own and others' good; and that thou mayst have no doubt of the truth of this answer, listen to these tokens. When thou comest to thy ships many of thy people will conspire against thee, and then a battle will follow in which many of thy men will fall, and thou wilt be wounded almost to death, and carried upon a shield to thy ship; yet after seven days thou shalt be well of thy wounds, and immediately thou shalt let thyself be baptised.

The legend continues that, as the seer foretold, Olaf was attacked by a group of mutineers upon returning to his ships. As soon as he had recovered from his wounds, he let himself be baptised. He then stopped raiding Christian cities, and lived in England and Ireland. In 995, he used an opportunity to return to Norway. When he arrived, the Haakon Jarl was facing a revolt. Olaf Tryggvason persuaded the rebels to accept him as their king, and Jarl Haakon was murdered by his own slave, while he was hiding from the rebels in a pig sty.

With the Norman Conquest, the Isles of Scilly came more under centralised control. About 20 years later, the Domesday survey was conducted. The islands would have formed part of the "Exeter Domesday" circuit, which included Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire.

In the mid-12th century, there was reportedly a Viking attack on the Isles of Scilly, called Syllingar by the Norse,[15] recorded in the Orkneyinga sagaSweyn Asleifsson "went south, under Ireland, and seized a barge belonging to some monks in Syllingar and plundered it".[15] (Chap LXXIII)

...the three chiefs — Swein, Þorbjörn and Eirik — went out on a plundering expedition. They went first to the Suðreyar [Hebrides], and all along the west to the Syllingar, where they gained a great victory in Maríuhöfn on Columba's-mass [9 June], and took much booty. Then they returned to the Orkneys.[15]

"Maríuhöfn" literally means "Mary's Harbour/Haven". The name does not make it clear if it referred to a harbour on a larger island than today's St Mary's, or a whole island.

It is generally considered that Cornwall, and possibly the Isles of Scilly, came under the dominion of the English Crown late in the reign of Æthelstan (r. 924–939). In early times one group of islands was in the possession of a confederacy of hermits. King Henry I (r. 1100–35) gave it to the abbey of Tavistock who established a priory on Tresco, which was abolished at the Reformation.[16]

Later Middle Ages and early modern period

Scilly was one of the Hundreds of Cornwall (formerly known as Cornish Shires) in the early 19th century.

Scilly Isles: map by John Bartholomew (1874)

At the turn of the 14th century, the Abbot and convent of Tavistock Abbey petitioned the king,

stat[ing] that they hold certain isles in the sea between Cornwall and Ireland, of which the largest is called Scilly, to which ships come passing between France, Normandy, Spain, Bayonne, Gascony, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall: and, because they feel that in the event of a war breaking out between the kings of England and France, or between any of the other places mentioned, they would not have enough power to do justice to these sailors, they ask that they might exchange these islands for lands in Devon, saving the churches on the islands appropriated to them.[17]

William le Poer, coroner of Scilly, is recorded in 1305 as being worried about the extent of wrecking in the islands, and sending a petition to the King. The names provide a wide variety of origins, e.g. Robert and Henry Sage (English), Richard de Tregenestre (Cornish), Ace de Veldre (French), Davy Gogch (possibly Welsh, or Cornish), and Adam le Fuiz Yaldicz (Spanish?).

It is not known at what point the islanders stopped speaking the Cornish language, but the language seems to have gone into decline in Cornwall beginning in the Late Middle Ages; it was still dominant between the islands and Bodmin at the time of the Reformation, but it suffered an accelerated decline thereafter. The islands appear to have lost the old Celtic language before parts of Penwith on the mainland, in contrast to the history of Irish or Scottish Gaelic.

During the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians captured the isles, only to see their garrison mutiny and return the isles to the Royalists. By 1651 the Royalist governor, Sir John Grenville, was using the islands as a base for privateering raids on Commonwealth and Dutch shipping. The Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp sailed to the isles and on arriving on 30 May 1651 demanded compensation. In the absence of compensation or a satisfactory reply, he declared war on England in June, but declined to challenge Blake for the isles.[18] It was during this period that the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War started between the isles and the Netherlands.

In June 1651, Admiral Robert Blake recaptured the isles for the Parliamentarians. Blake's initial attack on Old Grimsby failed, but the next attacks succeeded in taking Tresco and Bryher. Blake placed a battery on Tresco to fire on St Mary's, but one of the guns exploded, killing its crew and injuring Blake. A second battery proved more successful. Subsequently, Grenville and Blake negotiated terms that permitted the Royalists to surrender honourably. The Parliamentary forces then set to fortifying the islands. They built Cromwell's Castle—a gun platform on the west side of Tresco—using materials scavenged from an earlier gun platform further up the hill. Although this poorly sited earlier platform dated back to the 1550s, it is now referred to as King Charles's Castle. In March 1646 the Prince of Wales escaped from Falmouth to the isles before seeking a safer base in Jersey.[19]

The Isles of Scilly served as a place of exile during the English Civil War. Among those exiled there was Unitarian Jon Biddle.[20]

During the night of 22 October 1707, the isles were the scene of one of the worst maritime disasters in British history, when out of a fleet of 21 Royal Navy ships headed from Gibraltar to Portsmouth, six were driven onto the cliffs. Four of the ships sank or capsized, with at least 1,450 dead, including the commanding admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.

There is evidence for inundation by the tsunami caused by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.[21]

The islands appear to have been raided frequently by Barbary pirates to enslave residents to support the Barbary slave trade.[22]

Governors of Scilly

Main article: List of Governors of Scilly

An early governor of Scilly was Thomas Godolphin, whose son Francis received a lease on the Isles in 1568. They were styled Governors of Scilly and the Godolphins and their Osborne relatives held this position until 1834. In 1834 Augustus John Smith acquired the lease from the Duchy for £20,000.[23] Smith created the title Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly for himself, and many of his actions were unpopular. The lease remained in his family until it expired for most of the Isles in 1920 when ownership reverted to the Duchy of Cornwall. Today, the Dorrien-Smith estate still holds the lease for the island of Tresco.


Location of the Isles of Scilly (circled)

The five wards (which are also the civil parishes) of the Isles of Scilly; red is St. Agnes, blue is Bryher, orange is Tresco, green is St. Martin's, and grey is St. Mary's.

The Isles of Scilly form an archipelago of five inhabited islands (six if Gugh is counted separately from St. Agnes) and numerous other small rocky islets (around 140 in total) lying 45 km (28 mi) off Land's End.[25]

The islands' position produces a place of great contrast; the ameliorating effect of the sea, greatly influenced by the North Atlantic Current, means they rarely have frost or snow, which allows local farmers to grow flowers well ahead of those in mainland Britain. The chief agricultural product is cut flowers, mostly daffodils. Exposure to Atlantic winds also means that spectacular winter gales lash the islands from time to time. This is reflected in the landscape, most clearly seen on Tresco where the lush Abbey Gardens on the sheltered southern end of the island contrast with the low heather and bare rock sculpted by the wind on the exposed northern end.

Natural England has designated the Isles of Scilly as National Character Area 158.[26] As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose sea thrift (Armeria maritima) as the "county flower" of the islands.[10][27]

This table provides an overview of the most important islands:


(Census 2001)

Area (km²)


Main settlement

St Mary's




Hugh Town





New Grimsby

St Martin's (with White Island)




Higher Town

St Agnes (with Gugh)




Middle Town

Bryher (with Gweal)




The Town








St. Helen's






Great Ganilly



remaining 45 islets



Isles of Scilly




Hugh Town

* Samson was inhabited until 1855.

In 1975 the islands were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The designation covers the entire archipelago, including the uninhabited islands and rocks, and is the smallest such area in the UK. The islands of Annet and Samson have large terneries and the islands are well populated by seals. The Isles of Scilly are the only British haunt of the lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens), where it is known locally as a "teak" or "teke".[28]

The islands are famous among birdwatchers for their ability to attract rare birds from all corners of the globe. The peak time of year for this is generally in October when it is not unusual for several of the rarest birds in Europe to share this archipelago. One reason for the success of these islands in producing rarities is the extensive coverage these islands get from birdwatchers, but archipelagos are often favoured by rare birds which like to make landfall and eat there before continuing their journeys and often arrive on far-flung islands first.

The Isles of Scilly, viewed from the International Space Station.

Tidal influx

The tidal range at the Isles of Scilly is high for an open sea location; the maximum for St. Mary's is 5.99 m (19.7 ft). Additionally, the inter-island waters are mostly shallow, which at spring tides allows for dry land walking between several of the islands. Many of the northern islands can be reached from Tresco, including Bryher, Samson and St. Martin's (requires very low tides). From St. Martin's White Island, Little Ganilly and Great Arthur are reachable. Although the sound between St. Mary's and Tresco, The Road, is fairly shallow, it never becomes totally dry, but according to some sources it should be possible to wade at extreme low tides. Around St. Mary's several minor islands become accessible, including Taylor's Island on the west coast and Tolls Island on the east coast. From St. Agnes, Gugh becomes accessible at each low tide, via a tombolo.


The Isles of Scilly have a temperate Oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) bordering on a subtropical climate.[29] The average annual temperature is 11.8 °C (53.2 °F), by far the warmest place in the British Isles. Winters are, by far, the warmest in the country due to the moderating effects of the ocean, and despite being on exactly the same latitude as Winnipeg in Canada, snow and frost are extremely rare. The maximum snowfall was 23 cm (9 in) on 12 January 1987.[30] Summers are not as warm as on the mainland. The Scilly Isles are one of the sunniest areas in the southwest with on average 7 hours per day in May. The lowest temperature ever recorded was −7.2 °C (19.0 °F) and the highest was 27.8 °C (82.0 °F).[31] The isles have never recorded a temperature below freezing between May and November. Precipitation (the overwhelming majority of which is rain) averages about 34 inches per year. The wettest months are from October to January, while May and June are the driest months.

St. Mary's Heliport (1981–2010)[32]

Climate chart (explanation)

































































































Average max. and min. temperatures in °C

Precipitation totals in mm

Imperial conversion

Climate data for St. Mary's Heliport, 1981–2010 averages















Record high °C (°F)














Average high °C (°F)














Daily mean °C (°F)














Average low °C (°F)














Record low °C (°F)














Average precipitation mm (inches)














Average precipitation days














Mean monthly sunshine hours














Source: Met Office[33]


Geological map of western Cornwall, with the Isles of Scilly (inset)

All the islands of Scilly are all composed of granite rock of Early Permian age, an exposed part of the Cornubian batholith. The Irish Sea Glacier terminated just to the north of the Isles of Scilly during the last Ice Age.[34][35]


Main article: Fauna of the Isles of Scilly


The Scillonian Cross, the flag of the Isles of Scilly.

Saint Piran's Cross, the flag of Cornwall. The Isles of Scilly were one of the Hundreds of Cornwall, and although they have been administratively separate since 1890, they are still part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall.

National government

Politically, the islands are part of England, one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. They are represented in the UK Parliament as part of the St Ives constituency.

Local government

See also: Council of the Isles of Scilly

Historically, the Isles of Scilly were administered as one of the hundreds of Cornwall, although the Cornwall quarter sessions had limited jurisdiction there. For judicial purposes, shrievalty purposes, and lieutenancy purposes, the Isles of Scilly are "deemed to form part of the county of Cornwall".[36] The archipelago is part of the Duchy of Cornwall[37] – the duchy owns the freehold of most of the land on the islands and the duke exercises certain formal rights and privileges across the territory, as he does in Cornwall proper.

The Local Government Act 1888 allowed the Local Government Board to establish in the Isles of Scilly "councils and other local authorities separate from those of the county of Cornwall"... "for the application to the islands of any act touching local government." Accordingly, in 1890 the Isles of Scilly Rural District Council (the RDC) was formed as a sui generis unitary authority, outside the administrative county of Cornwall. Cornwall County Council provided some services to the Isles, for which the RDC made financial contributions. The Isles of Scilly Order 1930[38] granted the Council the "powers, duties and liabilities" of a county council. Section 265 of the Local Government Act 1972 allowed for the continued existence of the RDC, but renamed as the Council of the Isles of Scilly.[39][40]

This unusual status also means that much administrative law (for example relating to the functions of local authorities, the health service and other public bodies) that applies in the rest of England applies in modified form in the islands.[41]

The Council of the Isles of Scilly is a separate authority to the Cornwall Council unitary authority, and as such the islands are not part of the administrative county of Cornwall. However the islands are still considered to be part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall.

With a total population of just over 2,000, the council represents fewer inhabitants than many English parish councils, and is by far the smallest English unitary council. As of 2015, 130 people are employed full-time by the council[42] to provide local services (including water supply and air traffic control). These numbers are significant, in that almost 10% of the adult population of the islands is directly linked to the council, as an employee or a councillor.[43]

The Council consists of 21 elected councillors—13 of whom are returned by the ward of St Mary's, and two from each of four "off-island" wards (St Martin's, St Agnes, Bryher, and Tresco). The latest elections took place on 2 May 2013; all 20 elected were independents (one seat remained vacant).[44]

The council is headquartered at Town Hall, by The Parade park in Hugh Town, and also performs the administrative functions of the AONB Partnership[45] and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.[46]

Some aspects of local government are shared with Cornwall, including health, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly together with Cornwall Council form a Local Enterprise Partnership. In July 2015 a devolution deal was announced by the government under which Cornwall Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly are to create a plan to bring health and social care services together under local control. The Local Enterprise Partnership is also to be bolstered.[47]


The Scillonian Cross flying above St Mary's Church in Hugh Town.

Two flags are used to represent Scilly:

  • The Scillonian Cross, selected by readers of Scilly News in a 2002 vote and then registered with the Flag Institute as the flag of the islands.[48][49][50]

  • The flag of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, which incorporates the council's logo and represents the council.[48]

An adapted version of the old Board of Ordnance flag has also been used, after it was left behind when munitions were removed from the isles. The "Cornish Ensign" (the Cornish cross with the Union Jack in the canton) has also been used.[48][51]

Emergency services

The Isles of Scilly form part of the Devon and Cornwall Police force area. There is a police station in Hugh Town.

The Cornwall Air Ambulance helicopter provides cover to the islands.[52]

The islands have their own independent fire brigade – the Isles of Scilly Fire and Rescue Service – which is staffed entirely by retained firefighters on all the inhabited islands.

The emergency ambulance service is provided by the South Western Ambulance Service with full-time paramedics employed to cover the islands, working with emergency care attendants.


Main article: List of schools on the Isles of Scilly

Education is available on the islands up to age 16. There is one school, the Five Islands School, which provides primary schooling at sites on St Agnes, St Mary's, St Martin's and Tresco, and secondary schooling at a site on St Mary's. Secondary students from outside St Mary's live at a school boarding house (Mundesley House) during the week. In 2004, 92.9% of pupils (26 out of 28) achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C and above, compared to the English average of 53.7%.[53] Sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds are entitled to a free sixth form place at a state school or sixth form college on the mainland, and are provided with free flights and a grant towards accommodation. Suitably qualified students after age eighteen attend universities and colleges on the mainland.


Historical context

Since the mid-18th century the Scillonian economy has relied on trade with the mainland and beyond as a means of sustaining its population. Over the years the nature of this trade has varied, due to wider economic and political factors that have seen the rise and fall of industries such as kelp harvesting, pilotage, smuggling, fishing, shipbuilding and, latterly, flower farming. In a 1987 study of the Scillonian economy, Neate found that many farms on the islands were struggling to remain profitable due to increasing costs and strong competition from overseas producers, with resulting diversification into tourism. Recent statistics suggest that agriculture on the islands now represents less than 2% of all employment.[54][55][56]


The Daymark (daylight version of a lighthouse) on St Martins, the nearest point to the mainland of Cornwall.

Today, tourism is estimated to account for 85 percent of the islands' income. The islands have been successful in attracting this investment due to their special environment, favourable summer climate, relaxed culture, efficient co-ordination of tourism providers and good transport links by sea and air to the mainland, uncommon in scale to similar-sized island communities.[57][58] The majority of visitors stay on St Mary's, which has a concentration of holiday accommodation and other amenities. Of the other inhabited islands, Tresco is run as a timeshare resort, and is consequently the most obviously tourist-oriented. Bryher and St Martin's are more unspoilt, although each has a hotel and other accommodation. St Agnes has no hotel and is the least-developed of the inhabited islands.

The islands' economy is highly dependent on tourism, even by the standards of other island communities. “The concentration [on] a small number of sectors is typical of most similarly sized UK island communities. However, it is the degree of concentration, which is distinctive along with the overall importance of tourism within the economy as a whole and the very limited manufacturing base that stands out.”[55]

Tourism is also a highly seasonal industry owing to its reliance on outdoor recreation, and the lower number of tourists in winter results in a significant constriction of the islands' commercial activities. However, the tourist season benefits from an extended period of business in October when many birdwatchers ("birders") arrive.


Because of its position, Scilly is the first landing for many migrant birds, including extreme rarities from North America and Siberia. Scilly is situated far into the Atlantic Ocean, so many American vagrant birds will make first European landfall in the archipelago.

Scilly is responsible for many firsts for Britain, and is particularly good at producing vagrant American passerines. If an extremely rare bird turns up, the island will see a significant increase in numbers of birders. This type of birding, chasing after rare birds, is called "twitching".

The islands are home to ornithologist Will Wagstaff.


The predominance of tourism means that "tourism is by far the main sector throughout each of the individual islands, in terms of employment... [and] this is much greater than other remote and rural areas in the United Kingdom”. Tourism accounts for approximately 63% of all employment.[55]

Businesses dependent on tourism, with the exception of a few hotels, tend to be small enterprises typically employing fewer than four people; many of these are family run, suggesting an entrepreneurial culture among the local population.[55] However, much of the work generated by this, with the exception of management, is low skilled and thus poorly paid, especially for those involved in cleaning, catering and retail.[59]

Because of the seasonality of tourism, many jobs on the islands are seasonal and part-time, so work cannot be guaranteed throughout the year. Some islanders take up other temporary jobs ‘out of season’ to compensate for this. Due to a lack of local casual labour at peak holiday times, many of the larger employers accommodate guest workers, who come to the islands for the summer to have a ‘working holiday’.


The islands were not subject to income tax until 1954, and there was no motor vehicle excise duty levied until 1971.[60]


An electric golf buggy on St Mary's; these are road licensed and available for hire, as are bicycles, for use on public roads on the island.

Scillonian III in St Mary's Harbour

St Mary's is the only island with a significant road network and the only island with public highways; in 2005 there were 619 registered vehicles on the island. The island also has taxis and a tour bus. Vehicles on the islands are exempt from annual MOT tests.[61][62][63] Roads and streets across Scilly have very few signs or markings, and route numbers (of the three A roads on St Mary's) are not marked at all.

There are locally operated inter-island tripper boat services run from St Mary's, St Martin's, St Agnes and Bryher. Many local residents have their own vessels for visiting neighbouring islands.

By sea, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company provides a passenger and cargo service from Penzance to St Mary's, which is currently operated by the Scillonian III passenger ferry, supported until summer 2017 by the Gry Maritha cargo vessel and now by the Mali Rose. The other islands are linked to St. Mary's by a network of inter-island launches.[64] St Mary's Harbour is the principal harbour of the Isles of Scilly, and is located in Hugh Town. There is no ferry service in the winter months and there is only a Sunday sailing during July and August.

Air access to the islands is via St Mary's Airport. Fixed-wing aircraft services, operated by Isles of Scilly Skybus, operate from Land's End, Newquay and Exeter.[65]. There is currently no Sunday air transport.

At present all air and sea, passenger and freight transport between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland is owned by one company - The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. This is often blamed for high year-on-year fare increases. There have been various local attempts to create competition, but as yet none have succeeded.

The scheduled helicopter service, which previously linked Penzance Heliport with St Mary's Airport and Tresco Heliport, ceased at the end of October 2012. A new heliport is currently under construction in Penzance and helicopter services to Tresco and St Mary's are expected to commence in 2019 or 2020.[66]


The freehold land of the islands is the property of the Duchy of Cornwall (except for Hugh Town on St Mary's, which was sold to the inhabitants in 1949). The duchy also holds 3,921 acres (16 km2) as duchy property, part of the duchy's landholding.[67] All the uninhabited islands, islets and rocks and much of the untenanted land on the inhabited islands is managed by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, which leases these lands from the Duchy for the rent of one daffodil per year.[68] The trust currently has four full-time salaried staff and 12 trustees, who are all residents of the Isles. The full trust board is responsible for policy whilst a management team is responsible for day-to-day administration. Its small income and the small number of staff have led to the trust adopting a policy of recruiting volunteers to help it carry out its extensive work programme. While volunteers of all ages are welcome, most are young people who are studying for qualifications in related fields, such as conservation and land management.

Limited housing availability is a contentious yet critical issue for the Isles of Scilly, especially as it affects the feasibility of residency on the islands. Few properties are privately owned, with many units being let by the Duchy of Cornwall, the council and a few by housing associations. The management of these subsequently affects the possibility of residency on the islands.[69] The Duchy Tenants Association was formed in 1996 by a number of tenants of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Housing demand outstrips supply, a problem compounded by restrictions on further development designed to protect the islands' unique environment and prevent the infrastructural carrying capacity from being exceeded. This has pushed up the prices of the few private properties that become available and, significantly for the majority of the islands' populations, it has also affected the rental sector where rates have likewise drastically increased.[70][71]

High housing costs pose significant problems for the local population, especially as local incomes (in Cornwall) are only 70% of the national average, whilst house prices are almost £5,000 higher than the national average. This in turn affects the retention of ‘key workers’ and the younger generation, which consequently affects the viability of schools and other essential community services.[57][71]

The limited access to housing provokes strong local politics. It is often assumed that tourism is to blame for this, attracting newcomers to the area who can afford to outbid locals for available housing. Many buildings are used for tourist accommodation which reduces the number available for local residents. Second homes are also thought to account for a significant proportion of the housing stock, leaving many buildings empty for much of the year.[72]



Main articles: Cornish people and English people

According to the 2001 UK census, 97% of the population of the islands are white British,[3] with nearly 93% of the inhabitants born in the islands, in mainland Cornwall or elsewhere in England.[73] Since EU enlargement in 2004, a number of central Europeans have moved to the island, joining the Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans who traditionally made up most of the islands' overseas workers. By 2005, their numbers were estimated at nearly 100 out of a total population of just over 2,000.[74] The Isles have also been referred to as "the land that crime forgot", reflecting lower crime levels than national averages.[75]


One continuing legacy of the isles' past is gig racing, wherein fast rowing boats ("gigs") with crews of six (or in one case, seven) race between the main islands. Gig racing has been said to derive from the race to collect salvage from shipwrecks on the rocks around Scilly, but the race was actually to deliver a pilot onto incoming vessels, to guide them through the hazardous reefs and shallows. (The boats are correctly termed "pilot gigs"). The World Pilot Gig Championships are held annually over the May Day bank holiday weekend. The event originally involved crews from the Islands and a few crews from Cornwall, but in the intervening years the number of gigs attending has increased, with crews coming from all over the South-West and as far afield as the Netherlands and the United States.[76]

The Isles of Scilly feature what is reportedly the smallest football league in the world, the Isles of Scilly Football League.[77] The league's two clubs, Woolpack Wanderers and Garrison Gunners, play each other 17 times each season and compete for two cups and for the league title. The league was a launching pad for the Adidas "Dream Big" Campaign[78] in which a number of famous professional footballers (including David Beckham) arrive on the island to coach the local children's side. The two share a ground, Garrison Field, but travel to the mainland for part of the year to play other non-professional clubs.

In December 2006, Sport England published a survey which revealed that residents of the Isles of Scilly were the most active in England in sports and other fitness activities. 32% of the population participate at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more.[79]

There is a golf club with a nine-hole course (each with two tees) situated on the island of St Mary's, near Porthloo and Telegraph. The club was founded in 1904 and is open to visitors.[80]


The islands are served by Halangy Down radio and television transmitter north of Telegraph at 49.932505°N 6.305358°W, on St Mary's, which is a relay of the main transmitter at Redruth (Cornwall) and broadcasts BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 and BBC Radio Cornwall and the range of Freeview television and BBC radio channels known as 'Freeview Light'.[81] Radio Scilly, a community radio station, was launched in September 2007.

There is no local newspaper; Scilly Now & Then is a free community magazine produced eight times a year and is available to mainland subscribers, while The Scillonian is published twice yearly and reports matters of local interest. There is an active news forum on the news and information websites scillytoday.com[82] and thisisscilly.com.[83]

Internet access is available across the inhabited islands by means of superfast fibre broadband by BT. The islands connected via fibre are St. Mary's, Tresco and Bryher. St. Martins, St. Agnes and Gugh are connected via a new fibre microwave link from St. Mary's, with fibre cabinets on each island, including Robert.

Mobile phone coverage is available across the archipelago, with 2G, 3G and 4G services available across all islands, although coverage does vary between operators. Vodafone and O2 provide strong 4G coverage across all the islands, whilst EE's is somewhat limited beyond Gugh towards St. Agnes. Three provide 3G coverage to all the islands, and 4G is due shortly.

The Isles of Scilly were featured on the TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of South West England. Since 2007 the islands have featured in the BBC series An Island Parish, following various real-life stories and featuring in particular the newly appointed Chaplain to the Isles of Scilly. A 12-part series was filmed in 2007 and first broadcast on BBC2 in January 2008.[84] After Reverend David Easton left the islands in 2009, the series continued under the same name but focused elsewhere.[85]


The heroine of Walter Besant's novel Armorel of Lyonesse came from Samson, and about half the action of the novel takes place in the Isles of Scilly.

The events of Nevil Shute's novel Marazan occur, in part, around these islands.

Five children's books written by Michael Morpurgo, Why the Whales Came, The Sleeping Sword, The Wreck of the Zanzibar, Arthur, High King of Britain and Listen to the Moon are set around the Isles of Scilly.

The Riddle of Samson, a novel by Andrew Garve (a pen name of Paul Winterton) is set mainly around the Isles of Scilly.

In Jacob's Room, by Virginia Woolf, the hero and a friend of his sail around the islands.

The novels that make up The Cortes Trilogy by John Paul Davis take place in the Isles of Scilly.

Stone In the Blood[86] by Colin Jordan and David England is set on the islands both in 1974 and the Iron Age, when most of Scilly was still one joined landmass.


Scilly is mentioned in the traditional British naval song "Spanish Ladies".

Scilly is mentioned in the song "Phenomenal Cat" by The Kinks on their album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.[87]

"Isles of Scilly" is a song by the Icelandic artist Catmanic.[88]

Notable people

Augustus John Smith 1804–1872

  • Saint Lide was a bishop[89] who lived on the island of St Helen's in the Isles of Scilly.

  • John Godolphin (1617 in Scilly – 1678)[90] was an English jurist and writer, an admiralty judge under the Commonwealth.

  • Augustus John Smith (1804 in London – 1872 in Plymouth)[91] was Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly for over thirty years. In 1834 he acquired the lease on the Isles of Scilly from the Duchy of Cornwall for £20,000. He was Liberal MP for Truro from 1857 to 1865.

  • Sir Frederick Hervey-Bathurst, 3rd Baronet (1807 in Scilly – 1881 in Wiltshire) was a notable English cricketer[92]

  • John Edmund Sharrock Moore ARCS (1870 in Rossendale – 1947 in Penzance) was an English biologist, best known for leading two expeditions to Tanganyika. During the 1920s he moved to Tresco.

  • David Hunt (1934 in Devonport – 1985 in India) was an English ornithologist and horticulturalist in Tresco and at the Island Hotel where he became the gardener in 1964. He was killed by a tiger in India

  • Stella Turk, MBE (1925 Scilly – 2017 in Camborne) was a British zoologist, naturalist, and conservationist. She was known for her activities in marine biology and conservation, particularly as it applies to marine molluscs and mammals.

  • Sam Llewellyn (born 1948 in Tresco)[93] is a British author of literature for children and adults.

  • Stephen Richard Menheniott (1957–1976) was an 18-year-old English man with learning difficulties who was murdered by his father on the Isles of Scilly in 1976

  • Malcolm Bell (born 1969 in Hugh Town) is a former English cricketer. Bell was a right-handed batsman who bowled right-arm medium pace.

See also


  • 'The Fortunate Islands' by R.L. Bowley

  • 'The Drowned Landscape' by Charles Thomas.

  • Thorgrim. "Nornour". Retrieved 18 November 2009.

  • Dudley, Dorothy. "Excavations on Nor'Nour in the Isles of Scilly, 1962–6", in The Archaeological Journal, CXXIV, 1967 (includes the description of over 250 Roman fibulae found at the site)

  • Weatherhill, Craig (2007) Cornish Placenames and Language. Wilmslow: Sigma Leisure

  • Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9

  • Henderson, Charles (1925). The Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Oscar Blackford. p. 194.

  • Blakemore, Richard J. and Marphy, Elaine. (2018). The British Civil Wars at Sea, 1638-1653. Rochester, New York: The Boydell Press. p. 75, pp. 168-169 and p. 177. ISBN 978 1 78327 229 7.

  • Blakemore & Murphy. (2018). 75.

  • Per slate tablet on external wall of Old Town Church, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, inscribed as follows: "To the memory of Francys, the wife of Joseph Hunkyn of Gatherly in the parish of Lifton in Devon, Governour of the Iland of Silly. She was the daughter of Robert Lovyes of Beardon in the parish of Boydon in Cornwall Esqu. She dyed the 30 day of March 1657 about the 46 (?) yeer of her age." See image and transcript [1]; For pedigree of "Hunkin of Gatherleigh" see: Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.493

  • Robinson, H.W. (1925). "A new British animal discovered in Scilly". Scillonian. 4. pp. 123–124.

  • Local Government Act 1972 (1972 c.70) section 216(2)

  • Leijser, Theo (2015) Scilly Now & Then no. 77 p. 35

  • Gibson, F, My Scillionian Home... its past, its present, its future, St Ives, 1980

  • Isles of Scilly Integrated Area Plan 2001–2004, Isles of Scilly Partnership 2001

  • Neate, S, The role of tourism in sustaining farm structures and communities on the Isles of Scilly in M Bouquet and M Winter (eds) Who From Their Labours Rest? Conflict and practice in rural tourism Aldershot, 1987

  • Isles of Scilly Local Plan: A 2020 Vision, Council of the Isles of Scilly, 2004

  • Isles of Scilly 2004, imagine..., Isles of Scilly Tourist Board, 2004

  • J.Urry, The Tourist Gaze (2nd edition), London, 2002

  • Motor Vehicles (tests) Regulations 1981 (SI 1981/1694)

  • "Isles of Scilly". Duchy of Cornwall. Retrieved 8 June 2017. In particular, The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, which manages around 60 per cent of the area of the Isles, including the uninhabited islands, plays an important role in protecting wildlife and their habitats. The Trust pays a rent to the Duchy of one daffodil per year!

  • Martin D, 'Heaven and Hell', in Inside Housing, 31 October 2004

  • Sub Regional Housing Markets in the South West, South West Housing Board, 2004

  • S. Fleming et al., “In from the cold” A report on Cornwall’s Affordable Housing Crisis, Liberal Democrats, Penzance, 2003

  • The Cornishman, "Islanders in dispute with Duchy over housing policy", 19 August 2004

  • Smith, Rory (2016, Dec 22). Welcome to the World's Smallest Soccer League. Both Teams Are Here. The New York Times. [2]

  1. "Sam Llewellyn » Biography". Samllewellyn.com. Retrieved 26 November 2019.

Further reading

  • Isles of Scilly Guidebook. Friendly Guides (2015).

  • Woodley, George (1822). A View of the Present State of the Scilly Islands: exhibiting their vast importance to the British empire, the improvements of which they are susceptible, and a particular account of the means lately adopted for the amelioration of the condition of the inhabitants, by the establishment and extension of their fisheries. London: Rivington.





February 07, 2014

By Matthew Brenckle

Pick up any modern book about the age of sail, and you’re likely to read that sailors never wore shoes on board ship. As the reasoning goes, the men had much better traction on a wet deck and aloft in the rigging if they dispensed with their slippery, leather-soled shoes. While salt water adversely affects leather, and the thin calf-skin shoes favored by the U.S. Navy might have fallen to pieces with frequent wetting and the stress of work, this was just another inconvenience of life at sea (as would frost-bitten feet be if one were to run about bare-footed in the North Atlantic at most seasons of the year). Sailor Frederick Harlow offered his wisdom as to why shoes were necessary on board ship:

“If you think its fun to run aloft barefooted, with only a ratline to stand on, just try it. After running up six or eight ratlines you begin to hunt for a soft place to stand on. Your feet, which have become parboiled from standing in water from the last heavy shower, are very tender. The ratlines are made fast with a clove-hitch around the shrouds and afford a better place than the middle of the rope and so you climb, using your hands to relieve your weight, with your knees pressing against the ratline above to help your hands and your toes at times against the clove-hitch on the shroud. It is vastly different from going up the back stairs at home in your stocking feet.”1

A detail from an 1830s watercolor of sailors balancing on a foot rope. All wear shoes. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]
Dr. William Barton, the U.S. Navy’s tireless reformer, suggested that sailors were quite fond of their shoes and were loath to take them off. When he ordered the men to wash the decks, “the officer of the deck should see that every man takes off his shoes and stockings, and rolls up his trowsers. Those who have good strong boots may be exempted from this regulation. Perhaps it would be advisable for the purser to lay in among his slops, a sufficient number of boots of this description, or such as are known by the name of ditchers’ boots.”2 Barton, of course, was not the first to think of this, and not surprisingly, seamen often had access to boots. New York merchant David Lyon delivered 60 pairs of “strong boots” to Purser James Wilson at New York in January 1810, presumably for the use of gunboat crews in the harbor.3 In 1816, Lyon offered “Seamens’ Boots” to the navy, besides an assortment of lined and bound shoes. The boots didn’t come cheap however, costing the navy $5.50 each wholesale.4 The cost alone may have precluded the widespread use of boots among seamen. In fact, the evidence for shoes on board ship is overwhelming.

Dr. Amos Evans, USS Constitution’s medical officer, recounts a story in which one seaman’s refusal to part with his shoes almost cost him his life:

At 3 P.M. a sailor fell overboard out of the main chains. The topsail was instantly backed and the stern boat lowerd down. The man being (fortunately) an expert swimmer, kept on top of the water, and was pickd up about 200 yards astern. He said he could have taken off his shoes, but did not wish to lose them! The blood however appeared to have forsaken his cheeks. The tenure of a sailor’s existence is certainly more precarious than any other man’s, a soldier’s not excepted. Who would not be a sailor? I, for one.5

When shoes cost nearly two dollars, or 1/6th of an able seaman’s monthly wage, it is easy to understand why he hung onto them at all costs!

Further evidence of regular shoe wearing can be found by examining the frequency with which seamen bought shoes from the purser. Of the 398 men who appear in Constitution’s December 1803 slop book, 205, or slightly more than 50 percent, purchased shoes that month.6 Seamen on the brig Syren in 1804 and 1805 bought a pair of shoes every month or every other month during the 9 months of the pay book.7 On gunboat No. 6, stationed at New York, 20 men purchased 59 pairs of shoes over the course of several months, or nearly three pairs per man. Only one man did not buy any shoes at all, while several bought as many as five, six, or seven pairs!8 If we rule out a penchant for collecting shoes among the men, it seems likely they were replacing rapidly decomposing footwear. And if the shoes fell apart frequently, it would seem they actually wore their shoes all the time, insuring that their useful life in shipboard conditions was not much more than a month or two.

Unlike other clothing, there never seemed to be a pattern shoe for the navy. In fact, receipts and requisitions imply the navy bought nearly any kind of cheap shoe it could acquire. In April 1813, a merchant delivered a barrel of “mens wax & calf shoes” to the Boston Navy Yard.9 These had probably been produced in Lynn or one of the surrounding towns, the epicenter of early nineteenth century shoe production in New England. Civilians commonly wore calfskin shoes, but the military frequently required something stouter. One merchant offered somewhat stronger “good Cow hyde Shoes” in 1816.10 Another merchant had shoes of two different qualities available: “wax shoes or grane [grain, i.e. rough side of the leather out] shoes, the grane with the quarters lin’d with muslin at one dollar and five cents per pair.”11

Navy Agent James Beatty acquired from Baltimore merchant Thomas Sheppard 300 pairs of shoes, including 150 “Baltimore make fine” at $1.60 each, and 150 “Penitentary [sic] make coarse,” an example of using convict labor for the war effort.12 The brig Syren received a shipment of “150 pair first quality Men’s English Shoes” in 1813.13 This proportion of coarse to fine shoes is common and is frequently repeated in the records, suggesting that although seamen may have known the coarse variety to be more serviceable, they really preferred the more fashionable and comfortable “fine” shoes instead. David Lyon, who in 1819 had supplied the New York station with shoes for “eleven to thirteen years past,” offered both “narrow strap leather lined” shoes as well as “muslin lined” versions.14 Shoemaker Daniel Kilburn of Orange, New York offered shoes “such as furnished for the use of the Army of the United States for years past with such lighter ones as may be wanted for the use of the Navy.”15 The fact that the navy wanted light shoes suggests the truth in the statement made by one officer, that “[sailors] are… fond of wearing shoes which are made exactly after the fashion of women’s pumps.”16 Caricaturists loved to depict seamen in dainty pumps, the thin toes often poking from beneath the cuff of voluminous trousers.

Shoe uppers were joined using a butt stitch (round closed) sewn with linen thread. Most shoes had sewn soles as well, but shoemakers perfected the process of joining soles to uppers with pegs by about 1811.17 This innovation allowed manufactures to increase production, which in turn made the shoes cheaper. Pegged shoes, however, had their disadvantages. They were often made of “such wretched materials that after being wet in salt water and worn two or three times up and down the rigging, they spread out so as to cover as much of the deck as a shot box would.”18

Another use for shoes at sea! While on board USS Germantown in 1857, Lewis A. Kimberly waged war on berth deck vermin. His shoes figured prominently in his arsenal. [USS Constitution Museum Collection]
Fine or coarse, greased or not, a good pair of shoes was as important to the man-of-war’s man as a monkey jacket or a knife — indispensable marks of the true sailor. Sailors attempted to prolong the life of their shoes any way they could.  Liberally coating footwear with tallow or other easily accessible grease made them more supple and water resistant, but had drawbacks. Constitution‘s seamen discovered this in a storm at sea: “Neptune, when he gets at it, is a real leveller. Some who had greased their shoes to keep them water proof, found it easier lying than standing, and were called full often to pick themselves from the wet deck, only to try their skill at diving again.”19


The Fully-Rigged Ship

November 5th, 2019|, Seamanship|1 Comment

The fully-rigged ship was an excellent example of early industrial standardisation, writes Dan Houston. With the trade of the sailor being international there was a need to rig ships in the same way, so that when new crew came aboard they needed little time to familiarise themselves; all the rigging, sheets, buntlines, haliards, lifts and braces would be in the same place.

This meant that on a foul night with the heaving deck as black as pitch you could put your hand on the right coil of rope on the Fife rail around the base of mast, or one of the pin rails against the bulwarks on either side of each mast, and by counting from fore, or aft, you would know it was the right line. On some ships manilla would be used for braces and sheets and hemp for haliards so that you could also tell by the feel of the cordage in the days of natural fibre.

The natural fibres used in the early days of sail were almost always made of hemp (flax) in Europe, with manilla being introduced in the early 19th century according to the rope expert Des Pawson. “Stuff like sisal would be much later – more like the middle of the 20th century,” he added when I told him a ship I sailed used sisal for buntlines – its coarse and hairy feel being instantly recognisable when you needed to take the drive out of a square sail prior to crew going aloft to stow it along the yardarm. On that ship we also used jute for the ratlines. Hemp was also used for for standing rigging and it would be tarred.

Learning the ropes is an expression still used today and has passed into everyday language. For the apprentice seaman he learned as he went and he was considered able-bodied when he could demonstrate that he knew the ropes (as well as how to use them and look after them).

There were two ways to get high on a sailing ship in the days of sail… One was persuading someone to give you their rum ration as well as your own and the other was to become an upper yardsman, demonstrating, through strength and agility that you could work the topgallants, royals and skyscraper or moonraker sails as they were often known. Up there on your own, or maybe with one other for company you could feel like you were flying as the ship’s mast described a massive arc so far above the rolling deck below. Sails are furled and secured by working from the outer edge of the weather end of the yard – the opposite being the case when setting them.



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