Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Ill Government of the Navy
By John Evelyn (16201706)
From The Diary
7th March 1689/90.I DINED with Mr. Pepys, late secretary to the Admiralty, where that excellent shipwright and seaman (for so he had been, and also a commissioner of the Navy), Sir Anthy. Deane. Amongst other discourse, and deploring the sad condition of our Navy, as now governed by unexperienced men since this Revolution, he mentioned what exceeding advantage we of this nation had by being the first who built frigates, the first of which ever built was that vessel which was afterwards called The Constant Warwick, and was the work of Pett of Chatham, for a trial of making a vessel that would sail swiftly; it was built with low decks, the guns lying near the water, and was so light and swift of sailing, that in a short time he told us she had, ere the Dutch war was ended, taken as much money from privateers as would have laden her; and that more such being built did in a year or two scour the Channel from those of Dunkirk and others which had exceedingly infested it. He added that it would be the best and only infallible expedient to be masters of the sea, and able to destroy the greatest navy of any enemy, if instead of building huge great ships and second and third rates, they would leave off building such high decks, which were for nothing but to gratify gentlemen commanders, who must have all their effeminate accommodations, and for pomp; that it would be the ruin of our fleets if such persons were continued in command, they neither having experience nor being capable of learning, because they would not submit to the fatigue and inconvenience which those who were bred seamen would undergo, in those so otherwise useful swift frigates. These, being to encounter the greatest ships, would be able to protect, set on, and bring off, those who should manage the fire-ships; and the prince who should first store himself with numbers of such fire-ships would, through the help and countenance of such frigates, be able to ruin the greatest force of such vast ships as could be sent to sea, by the dexterity of working those light swift ships to guard the fire-ships. He concluded there would shortly be no other method of sea-fight, and that great ships and men of war, however stored with guns and men, must submit to those who should encounter them with far less number. He represented to us the dreadful effect of these fire-ships; that he continually observed in our late maritime war with the Dutch, that when an enemys fire-ship approached, the most valiant commander and common sailors were in such consternation, that though then of all times, there was most need of the guns, bombs, etc. to keep the mischief off, they grew pale and astonished, as if of a quite other mean soul; that they slunk about, forsook their guns and work as if in despair, every one looking about to see which way they might get out of their ship, though sure to be drowned if they did so. This he said was likely to prove hereafter the method of sea-fight, likely to be the misfortune of England if they continued to put gentlemen commanders over experienced seamen, on account of their ignorance, effeminacy, and insolence.