Wreck of the Shaftsbury Scilly, 1678 - Todd Stevens (IMAG)©


Founded in 1670 by King Charles II, The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) played a major role in the building of Canada as a nation. The HBC completed its first same-year return voyage from and to Hudson Bay in 1676. The ship Shaftesbury, to London with a cargo of beaver pelts, under Captain Joseph Thompson, was the first ship to complete the round trip to and from James Bay, doing it in just six months; May to November. Credit, in the form of a Medal and chain of Gold was duly bestowed upon Captain Thompson for his efforts and in return he handed over his journal of the voyage. Captain Joseph Thompson entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company on March 12th 1674 and was engaged as first mate at £5 per month. He was then chief mate in a ship called Prince Rupert  in 1676, before being employed as Captain of the Shaftesbury just two months later on. He then served for two years in the Shaftesbury completing two successful voyages- the first of which he produced his detailed journal of his, then record breaking, voyage. Thompson’s journal served as a valuable aid for all future HBC captains making this same round trip from then on. 

Before the famous voyage the history of the ship was quite unremarkable too. The Navy Records Society archives simply state that:

“the ship Messenger, a Dogger, was taken from the Dutch in 1672
and that she was refitted out from a Dogger to a Pink, and having her name changed to the Shaftesbury. (Named after the Earl of Shaftesbury then deputy Governor of the HBC) Her measurements were: Length of Keel 45ft; Breadth by beam17-1/2ftt; Depth in hold 8-1/2ft; Draught 9-1/2ft;Burden 73tons; Guns 4 in peace; 4 abroad in War; 6 at home in War. She was lent to the Hudson’s Bay Company 17th May 1672."

In a fateful twist of irony, the Shaftesbury was lost at Scilly on 5th December 1678 just two years after her record breaking voyage. There were 20 crew and 16 passengers on board. Captain Thompson lost his ship at Scilly using navigational information he himself had gathered previously in his own journal aboard this same vessel. Strangely enough, Thompson’s Journal went unrecognized for the short period while it was being put to the test, as it was recorded that:
"For the loss of the Shaftesbury Captain Thompson had to hand over his £50 stock in part satisfaction to the company on his bond”
(an agreement made before setting sail to bring the ship and cargo back safely. The bond was for £1000)
Its not known if his stock was reimbursed to him once the usefulness of the journal was proven.  However, the significance of Thompson's journal, as an aid to navigation of the period, was indeed eventually realized and was entrusted to Prince Rupert, the first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Rupert reproduced it and placed the original in his own library. (The original is currently kept in the British Museum) 

If one again takes a close look at the Simon Bayly chart, one can see the words Capt Thompson lost - written to the west of Anot (Annet Island), possibly on the Ranney Rocks close to where the huge steel wreck of the tanker T. W. Lawson (1907) now lies.  Given the date of the chart is circa 1680, then Bayly must be referring to an incident in or before that year.  There is no other wreck yet recorded that fits the bill. It is therefore highly likely that Bayly was indeed referring to the same Captain Thompson presented here, and that the remains of the Shaftesbury must be within the area indicated on the chart by him. What remains of the Shaftesbury, probably now lies either beneath the wreck of the T. W. Lawson, if not somewhere in the shallows close by it. Yes, the chart shows only a rough position, but the following narratives, presented below, show that the wreck must have been fairly accessible to salvage and therefore lying in quite shallow water. This must be the case, as salvage in the 1600's was really rather primitive; a time when deepwater salvage, that is anything deeper than 10m at best, was thought to be impossible.
Further to the above, the Shaftesbury was coming from the north as we know she had put into Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, just prior to being wrecked at Scilly, and therefore must have been heading in a southerly direction. A ship being wrecked on any of the rocks west of Annet Island, as indicated on the chart by Bayly, can easily be viewed as being consistent with this fact.

The first two correspondences presented below, were sent from the Hudson's Bay Company to a Mr Ekins at Scilly; who was then clearly successfully performing salvage work over the wreck of the Shaftesbury. Mr Ekins was the then Steward at Scilly who not only built the day mark on St Martin's Island, but is also said to have introduced the kelp burning industry to the islands, and was behind the building of the St Agnes lighthouse; after a request by the English East India Company in 1680. The third reference is part of a report on the situation with Mr Ekins by the Hudson's Bay Company Committee. The last report was found in the London Gazette by English Heritage, who are also now researching this important wreck, after I brought this information to their attention. 

Scilly. Mr Ekins. Sir. Yours of the 22nd October (1679). 

We have received & note you have recovered ( whatever? ) guns you could, belonging to the wrack't Shaftesbury. We desire you please next to advise their number and their weight, which last you may finde on their breeches, and also your account of their charges, whereof we shall take due care and order you which way you shall send those guns you have in your custody resting. Your Lov. Frds. the Committee for the Hudson’s Bay Company. 


Scilly. Mr Thomas Ekins. Feb 11, 1679

(Sent to St Michaels Mount & forwarded on to Scilly)

Some months since you wrote to  Aldr. Bence. a letter which signified your care or the interest of the Hudson's Bay Company in taking up foure guns of the Shaftesbury which was wrecked off Scilly, where unto we (who are members of the committee for managment of the affairs of the company) returned you an answer & desired you to give us an account of what charge you had beene at in taking up the said guns, but we have heard nothinge from you since then; as we are enformed you have beene for severall dayes together in this town of which wee had no notice till you were gon. Wee therefore give you the trouble of this letter to repeate our desire to you to give us a speedy account, of the charge you have beene at & wee shall give you our directions how to send the guns hither & take care of your satisfaction as it becomes. Alder Bence hath sold his stock in the Company & therefore you see not his name here upon this occasion.


Friday 11th  June 1680.

Mr Ekins of the Scilly Islands appeared at the committee and gave us an account of the foure great  gunns taken up by him upon the wrack of the Shaftesbury, and informs that the charge he was at in the weying and saving of the guns amounted to foure pounds two shillings; and as for the gratuity for his owne paines, he leaves it to the committee. We order that Mr Ekins doe send up the guns by the first opportunity and the Company will pay. Together with much personal trouble in the Company's behalf, he is rewarded 5's for his paine .


Falmouth, Dec. 30 1678.
"Yesterday came in here about 50 sail of Merchant Ships from Scilly, where they lay some time wind-bound . . . They also tell us, that on the 5th instant there was cast away the Shaftesbury of London, Joseph Thomson Master, homeward bound from the North-West passage, having a good quantity of Beaver on board, which was lost, together with the goods, but the Men saved."


Whilst the “foure great guns from the wrack’t Shaftesbury” are recorded by the Company as being sent back and placed in another ship, it is not yet known whether the crew saved themselves from this wreck or if they were actually saved by the locals.  Given that Mr Ekins went out and salvaged this, and other wrecks, including the Phoenix and is recorded as saving that ship’s crew, it is highly likely that he was savior and salver in this instance too.

[The story of this ship, wrecked here in Scilly, is a signification part of the early history of the building of Canada as a nation, it may also have uncovered one of the earliest Scillonian wreck salvors thus far recorded operating in these islands.  Prior to these references the earliest historic salvage diving appears to have taken place around the Crebinnicks, near Silver Carn. Here in February 1686, the Dutch East Indiaman, Princess Maria came to grief.  See IMAG note.]

Move on to the Phoenix & See also Mr Thomas Ekins


[A] - Hudson Bay, Canada

c. 1670 both the English (Hudson Bay Company) and the French (Compagnie du Nord) sought to dominate trade from the Hudson Bay area of Canada.  Both company's also wanted the support of their respective Crown's but at this period neither English or the French desired conflict.  To increase its business the Hudson Bay Company established permanent trading posts like James Bay, luckily for the logistics of the operation, the English were not at war with the Dutch. These were extremely remote, and cut off for many months at a time, the only period that the area was free of ice was late May to early November.  In managing to complete his 'same year' turn around voyage, Captain Thompson had to repair and victual his ship in the English winter, spent twelve weeks on the outward trip, arrive at James Bay in late May, stow the cargo to be out by November and spend at least six weeks on the return voyage.  Quite a feat.


1 - Minutes of the Hudson Bay Company, 1679 - 1684 Pt 2. Edwin Ernest Rich 1946.
2 - Copy-book of Letters Outward.  The Hudson Bay Company. Begin 29th May 1680. Edwin Ernest Rich. 1948.
3 - Hudson Bay Record Society, 1948.
4 - Pacific Northwest Quarterly: Vols. 40-41, 1949.
5 - The Publications of the Chaplain Society: Hudson Bay Company, Volume 8, 1945.
6 - London Gazette, 1679.
7 - English Heritage.