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The Levant Voyage of the Blackham Galley (1696 – 1698) - The Sea Journal of John Looker, Ship’s Surgeon

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  • 2022

  • Engelsk

This volume publishes for the first time, the journal kept by John Looker (?1670—1715) recording his service as ship’s surgeon on the Blackham Galley, a London-built merchantman on its second trading voyage to the Levant, between December 1696 and March 1698. Preserved in the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum, Looker’s ‘Journall’ describes his experiences on the voyage from the point at which he joined the ship at Gravesend, to March 1698, when the journal breaks off abruptly in mid-sentence when the ship was off the Kentish ‘Narrows’. John Looker was a Londoner, brought up in one of the parishes to the east of the City which furnished large numbers of mariners to the English sea-borne trades. He served an apprenticeship to a London barber-surgeon, and became a Freeman of the Company of Barber-Surgeons. His fifteen months of service on board the Blackham Galley appears to have been his only employment at sea, but his ready knowledge of maritime ways and language, which are apparent from the first pages of his ‘Journall’, make it more than likely that he came from a seafaring family. Subsequent to his voyage, he married, raised a family, practiced in London as a surgeon, and acquired land in East Anglia. He died at Bath in 1715.

Looker’s ‘Journall’ divides naturally into three parts. The Blackham Galley’s outward and homeward voyages were largely without incident. The time spent by the Blackham Galley in Turkish waters, covers its voyage from Smyrna to Constantinople, where the ship stayed for a month, and then returned to Smyrna. Captain Newnam’s ill-advised and disastrous attempt at privateering in Ottoman waters on the return journey to Smyrna, led to the detention of his vessel at Smyrna under a double interdict from the English ambassador at the Porte and from the Ottoman authorities. Looker’s account of the Blackham Galley’s enforced stay in Smyrna furnishes a vigorous and detailed account of social life in the international merchant community, as well as portside life seen ‘from below’, with its taverns and prostitutes, and the activities and frequent ‘debauches’ of an increasingly bored and fractious crew. Looker’s record also provides interesting detail of his professional approach to treatment of the illnesses, accidents and occasional deaths of members of the company of his own and other ships anchored off Smyrna.

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