I have seen, in the secondary literature about Cullen, some confusion about the timing of some major milestones in his life: when he was a student at Glasgow University, when he moved permanently to Edinburgh, when he taught specific courses, etc. Part of the reason for this is that Thomson never included a chronology with his biography, and so there is no quick way to find out what Thomson – still the authority on these matters – says about the dates of a particular event. There is a chronology in the edited volume William Cullen and the Eighteenth Century Medical World (1993) but I don’t know how widely available the book itself is.
Yet there is an additional problem: Thomson himself does not – presumably could not – always provide a date, especially with respect to Cullen’s early life. And even the dates he provides are not always linked to documentary material, so it’s difficult to know where he gets his evidence, or how strong it is. One of the things I’d like to do is to link Thomson’s dates to documentary/archival material and to fill in some gaps.
In that vein, I’ve been curious about Cullen’s time as a ship surgeon. Here’s what Thomson writes:
“On finishing his medical studies at Glasgow, Dr Cullen went to London, towards the end of the year 1729, with the view of obtaining a situation in which he might enjoy opportunities of acquiring a practical knowledge of his profession. Soon after arriving there, he had the good fortune to be appointed surgeon to a merchant ship, the Captain of which, Mr Cleland of Auchinlee, was a relation of his own. His appointment to this situation is mentioned in the following passage of a letter from his eldest brother to his mother, dated Edinburgh, 9th December 1729.—‘Mr Hamilton of Dalserf got a letter last day from London from his brother Alexander, wherein he tells him that he was present with Captain Cleland when Commissioner Cleland solicited him very strongly in favour of one Mr Cullen a son of Saughs, and used [p. 5] very strong arguments with him to take care of him; and, among the rest, that he was a cousin of the Captain’s. So the Captain promised to provide for him; but William desires that Dalserf would write to the Captain and thank him for it, for he said it was much owing to his letter.—I assure you every body thinks my brother very lucky; for Mr Alexander writes also, that the Captain has had a levee, like a General’s, every day, and there have been many solicitations for that very appointment. However, for any thing I can find, William has been pretty active in the affair, and I believe has half teazed them into it.’—It appears also, from a letter written many years after by a younger brother of Dr Cullen’s, that, on obtaining this appointment, he underwent a medical examination, and acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of his examiners, that they were pleased to pay him some very flattering compliments, and to encourage him strongly to persevere in that diligence which it was evident to them he had employed in the study of his profession.
The vessel to which Dr Cullen was appointed surgeon, was engaged in trading to the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, and remained during her voyage for six months at Porto-Bello, a circumstance incidentally mentioned by himself in one of his lectures on the Practice of Physic…[p. 6] After returning from the West Indies, Dr Cullen remained for some time in London, and during his stay there attended the shop of Mr Murray, apothecary in Henrietta Street” (Thomson, Life v1, 4-6).
How might we find more information about Cullen’s experience? What, for example, was the name of the ship he was attached to? If we could figure that out, we might be able to fill in some dates and details of his time as a ship surgeon. Thomson gives us just enough information, I think, to determine this, even if he did not pursue it.
We are, then, looking for a merchant ship, captained by Mr Cleland of Auchinlee (related to Commissioner Cleland). The ship seems to have been of some importance, if the “Captain has had a levee, like a General’s, every day” for parceling out positions on the ship. My guess is that it would have been a large rather than a small ship, but that could be wrong. As far as dates, it’s likely that it would not have left London before 1730. It was “engaged in trading to the Spanish settlements in the West Indies” and spent “six months at Porto-Bello”.
A search of the London newspapers for “Captain Cleland” between 1729 and 1731 turns up some interesting results. Here is an item from the London Evening Post, October 1-3, 1730:
We hear that at a Court of Directors of the South Sea Company held yesterday, it was resolved, that their Ship Prince William, Capt. Cleland, should (as soon as the Wind permits) proceed for New Spain, in order, if possible, to reach the Fair of Porto Bello; and that upon her Arrival near Carthagena, the Captain do send ashore, or otherwise get Information concerning the Galleons, which if he finds in that Post, then he is to go in with the Ship; but in case they are gone fro thence, he is to proceed with her to Porto Bello; and if when he arrives there, he finds the Fair is ended, he is then to proceed from Jamaica, and there wait their further Orders.
This sounds promising indeed. A ship headed to Porto Bello, with a Captain Cleland, in late 1730.
Let’s see what further news items tell us.
The Daily Journal for Wednesday, October 21, 1730, in a section titled Home Ports, has this item:
Deal, Oct. 28. Remain the Garland and Lively Men of War, the last put back Yesterday also the Prince William, Cleland, and the St. Philip Snow, Cleland, both for Porto Bello;
Hmm – now we have two ships headed to Porto Bello, both with a Captain named Cleland! And at the same time – how likely is that?! It looks like we have to learn more about two vessels, (i) the Prince William and (ii) the St. Philip Snow.1 And they both were captained by someone named Cleland. Let’s return to the newspapers to find out more, if we can.
The Daily Journal for November 28, 2730 has another Home Ports update:
Well, at least we now know when the ships set sail from Great Britain—November 25, 1730—even if we don’t know which of the two ships Cullen was on. Let’s continue to follow the papers for more. The London Evening Post for March 16-18, 1731 provides us with an update about one of the ships:
The South-Sea Company’s Ship, Prince William, Capt. Cleland, which sailed from Spithead the 25th of November, arrived at St. Christopher’s4 the 8th of January, and after ten Day’s Refreshment there, sailed for Carthagena 5; where, no doubt, she would find the Galleons, which, in Letters dated Nov. 5. it is written, were at soonest not to sail before the End of January for Porto Bello, where it was believed the Fair would be held in April.
There is no update, however, of the St. Philip Snow. But the Daily Journal, May 25, 1731, provides us with an unexpected bit of detail – an ‘Extract of a Letter from on board the South-Sea Company’s Ship Prince William, Capt. Cleland, dated at Porto Bello the 7th of March’:
We arrived here from London the 31st of January, having touched at Carthagena, but finding the Galleons were sailed for this Place, we did not stay there 24 Hours. It is expected, that the Fair will begin in about a Month, (till when we shall not be permitted to sell any Goods) and we are in Hopes of being in England about October. The People on board us in general are well; we have bury’d but three Persons since we left Portsmouth.
Further down the page of the very same issue, we get an update about the St. Philip:
His Majesty’s Snow (or Sloop) the Tryal, is arrived at Weymouth, She brings Letters from Jamaica, dated the 2d of April, but no material News. The Five Sisters, Holms from London, was arrived there. The South-Sea Company’s Snow, S. Philip, Capt. Cleland, sailed from thence the 27th of Feb. with Negroes for Porto Bello;
So, while both the Prince William and the St. Philip set sail from Spithead (or Portsmouth) on the same day, they had different itineraries. The Prince William stopped at St. Christopher’s, Carthagena and finally Porto Bello. Meanwhile, the St. Philip stopped at Jamaica and, on Feb 27th, set sail for Porto Bello. It appears to have been part of the South Sea Company’s slave trade.
The Daily Journal on September 14, 1731 brings more news:
On Sunday Evening came Advice of the South Sea Company’s Ship Prince William, Capt. Cleland, having arrived off Dartmouth the 9th Instant.
She came from Porto Bello the 1st of July, and off of that Place was received by the Lyon Man of War, Capt. Perry Maine, which convoy’d her to Dona Maria Bay, on the West End of Hispaniola, where they found the Seaford Man of War, Capt. Laws, which waited there for her, by Order of Rear Admiral Stewart, to convoy her to England. The Lyon returned from thence for Jamaica, and the Seaford and Prince William proceeded homeward, but in the Latitude of Bermuda (32 Degrees and 30 Min.) a violent Storm arose, in which they parted: The Seaford had been leakey before the Storm came on, but as in the Storm, at about a League and a half Distance, she fired a Gun, it is believed she bore away for the first Land she could make, in order to stop her Leaks.
The Prince William has on board, for Account of the Company, 1,500,000 Pieces of Eight, and in Jesuits Bark, Cochineal, Loggood, and Drugs, near the Value of 500,000 Pieces of Eight more.
The Account of the Galleons sailing from Porto Bello the 2d of June, for Carthagena, is confirmed, and that they were to stay there but 14 Days.
There is a lot of wonderful detail here. The Country Journal or The Craftsman on Saturday, September 18, 1731 confirms most of it:
They write from Dartmouth, Sept. 10. That the Prince William, Capt. Cleland, belonging to the Hon. the South Sea Company, arrived the Day before off that harbour in 70 Days from Porto Bello, and landed the Supercargoes and some other Gentlemen, who immediately took Post for London.
She came from Porto Bello the 1st of July, and off of that Place was received by the Lyon Man of War, Capt. Perry Maine, which convoy’d her to Donna Maria Bay, on the West End of Hispaniola, where they found the Seaford Man of War, Capt. Laws, which waited there for her, by Order of Read Admiral Stewart, to convoy her to England. The Lyon return’d from thence for Jamaica , and the Seaford and Prince William proceeded Homeward; but the Latitudes of Bermuda (32 Degrees and 30 Minutes) a violent Storm arose, in which they parted. The Seaford had been leaky before the Storm came on; but as in the Storm, at about a League and a half Distance, she fired a Gun, it is believed she bore away for the first Land she could make, in Order to stop her Leaks.
The Prince William has on board, for Account of the Company, 1,500,000 Pieces of Eight, and in Jesuits Bark, cochineal, Logwood and Drugs, near the Value of 500,000 Pieces of Eight more.
It appears that the Prince William arrived, then, back in England (at least at Dartmouth) on September 9, 1731, carrying quite a lot of Cargo. She left Porto Bello the 1st of July, having arrived there on January 31st (remaining at Porto Bello for 5 months).
We still can’t be sure, however, that this was the ship Cullen was on. What about the St. Philip Snow with the other Capt. Cleland?
To be continued in my next post…
- ‘Snow’ is also the name for the kind of vessel it was. A ‘snow’ or ‘snow-brig’ was a vessel with square sails on both masts. ↩
- Spithead is part of the strait (the Solent) that separates mainland England from the Isle of Wight. Technically it is a ‘roadstead’ right near Portsmouth. ↩
- nowadays: Portobelo in Colon Province, Panama ↩
- nowadays: Saint Kitts island, part of the Lesser Antilles ↩
- nowadays: Cartagena de Indias, on the northern coast of Columbia ↩