Archivist, Mike Bevan, looks at the diary kept by Henry Teonge (1621-1690). Is it ‘the most important description of seagoing life in the seventeenth century’?
The 17th century Navy has been a major theme for me this year with the Pepys exhibition and Caird Library Pepys display due to be launched soon; plus the conference this year on the subject of the Tudor and Stuart Navies (The Emergence of a Maritime Nation). As part of my research I came across Henry Teonge’s diary kept between 1675 and 1695, serving as naval chaplain on HMS Assistance (1675), HMS Bristol (1678) and HMS Royal Oak (1679).
Born in Warwickshire, Teonge was educated at Warwick School later graduating at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1643. Unable to support his family due to financial difficulties, he set off to join the Navy in 1675 and on his first voyage was ordered to join up with Sir John Narbrough’s fleet in the Mediterranean.
The diary is remarkably honest and self-deprecating, often with good humour and reflects Teonge’s natural vigour for life. His impoverished condition meant that he relished the social aspects of naval life, particularly the wardroom meals! He records party games, songs and often composed his own poetry and verse. It is considered one of ‘the most important descriptions of seagoing life in the seventeenth century’ (DNB). Interestingly, the experiences of the naval chaplain, Edward Mangin, recorded in his diary (IGR/25) in the year 1812, couldn’t be more opposite. Also an ageing chaplain, Mangin doesn’t take to life at sea at all and found his crew deplorable!
A period ashore encouraged Teonge’s creditors and we read that ‘though I was glad to see my relations and old acquaintance, yet I lived very uneasy, being daily dunned by some or other, or else for fear of land pirates, which I hated worse than Turks’ [31 March 1678, HMS Bristol].
To see the dirary yourself, or find out more about our collections, visit the Caird Library and Archive