The Inventory of a Poole Sea Captain

The start of the inventory

The start of the inventory

Nicholas Efford was a Poole seaman who prospered during the second half of the 17th century and, like many others, made money in the Newfoundland salt cod trade. The first reference to him that I have found was in a tax assessment of 1662 when he was listed with a dwelling house in High Street. Although not among the most valuable properties on the street, this was obviously a comfortable house, valued at £5 a year. A ‘Goody Efford’, possibly his mother or another relation, lived nearby. Unfortunately there is not enough information to know whereabouts his house was. A couple of years later Efford appeared in a list of ships and sailors operating out of Poole when he was master of the Canford (80 tons) one of the eight Poole ships involved in the Newfoundland trade. These ranged in size from 40 to 100 tons and the Canford was one of the largest, but still tiny by modern standards to sail regularly across the Atlantic.

Nicholas Efford died in June 1688 and following his death, an inventory was drawn up of his property which gives us a glimpse of the life style and some of the business affairs of a rising sea trader of the period. His house seems to have had two floors plus a cellar and consisted of seven or eight rooms, a kitchen, little parlour, great parlour and buttery on the ground floor and upstairs, a kitchen chamber, middle chamber, parlour chamber and a ‘little Roome above Staires’. (The chambers or upper rooms are named after the corresponding rooms below).

BedThese rooms were well furnished with all the comforts acquired by a well-to-do household. The great parlour, for instance, contained among other items, three tables, a carpet, fifteen leather chairs with cushions, five joint stools, a case clock, a chest of drawers, a picture and a map. It would be interesting to know what map it was and also the details of the ‘twenty smale Bookes’ worth 10 shillings, listed as a separate item. The room with the highest value of furniture was the parlour chamber which contained two beds, with curtains, valence, rug and quilt, four wooden chairs, six ‘Holland Chaires’, probably decoratively carved pieces, and a large looking glass besides other items. These were all worth £39 4d.

SaltThe linen in the house, sheets, table cloths, pillowcases, towels and napkins was valued at £14 10s, the brass items, weighing 123 lbs were worth £5 2s 6d and the pewter, weighing 225 lbs, was given a value of £7 10s. There was also a collection of silver consisting of tankards, cups, dishes, a salt, a porringer (a bowl for soups and stews, usually with a handle) and a set of spoons. These weighed in at 113 oz and were reckoned to be worth £28 5s 9d.

In the cellar was stored 70 quarters of salt worth £24, along with some old tubs and a large set of scales. Salt was a basic commodity for the Newfoundland trade and was taken across the Atlantic to process the season’s cod catch. Besides supplying his own needs, Nicholas Efford may have sold salt to other merchants. He also invested in other local businesses as shown by a list of eighteen bonds and debts due to him: ‘A Bond upon Mr. Adam Carter principle on adventure £20’ / ‘Due from William Sheete on bond £18’. These investments were worth over £200, carefully spread over a range of enterprises. At his death, Efford also had £180 in ready money.

A Newfoundland fishing room

A Newfoundland fishing room with the stage for landing and processing fish and drying flake or rack.

His main assets, however did not lie in his house or investments. Since the days when he was master of the Canford, Nicholas Efford had made the transition from seaman to merchant and acquired a seven eighths share of the 90 ton ship Concord of Poole of which he became the master. He also owned two thirds of a plantation or fishing room at Bay de Verde at the north end of Conception Bay in Newfoundland together with its boats, stock and provisions. The Concord was ‘out upon a Newfoundland voyage’ at the time of the inventory but Efford’s share, together with the profit of the voyage ‘yf the said ship shall come safe home’, was estimated at £1000. The plantation was worth £300, making the total of his estate worth £1,944 4s 4d, a tidy sum for the time.

In a declaration made a few months later, the executors Mary Fabian and her husband, Joseph estimated the value of the plantation at £110 5s, less than half of the previous estimate. The seven eighths of the Concord with her ‘Masts, Anchors, Cables, Boates, Sayles, Tackle, Apparrell and ffurniture’ was said to be worth £227 10s. The ship had obviously returned home safely and part of the cargo was now in the hands of Mr Sandys of Southwark, furrier who also had an interest in other parts of the cargo, making it impossible to a produce a full account of the value at that time. Mary and Joseph also declared that they had sold some salt belonging to the estate, and ‘a small Parcell of Poor Jacks’. Poor Jack was a slang term for salt cod – an unexpected expression for a legal document.

So far so good, but all was not to be plain sailing with Nicholas Efford’s estate. In the next couple of years, a court case arose involving the Millet family. What this was about, I don’t yet know. I hope to find out by further research so watch this space!



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