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might be invincible, but it is highly improbable that that distinguished commander ever properly gained his sealegs, or that he had anything approaching a predilection for “the sea, the open sea,” which would not listen so attentively as the galley-slaves to the imperial appeal, “Remember, thou bearest Cæsar and all his fortunes.” The sea was, indeed, no respecter of persons, and was looked on as an element, terrible and treacherous, under the presidency of mysterious and fickle powers. Men were, perhaps, as courageous then as now, but science, skill, research, and experience, had as yet done little to create the confidence of the mariner in voyage or vessel. There were then no Brethren of Trinity House to look after shoals, charts, and lighthouses, these very ancient mariners having recourse in their difficulties to such people as
The great Twin Brethren,
To whom the Dorians pray, the sons of Leda, and the tutelary deities of sailors. The same careful navigation was to be found among the Saxons, Angles, and Danes, who usually crept carefully down the coast of Europe and awaited a fair wind, that the sea voyage might be as short and speedy as possible. Unless the more northerly coast of Britain was sought, the favourite point of departure seems to have been Bolen, or what is now Boulogne.
This way the stream of Continental traffic, both warlike and mercantile, seems to have tended for many ages. But from whatever direction the voyagers came, they all appear to have made for Pegwell Bay, for near there, at Sandwich, was the ancient “Thames mouth.” The guess has even been hazarded that the river Thames was so named as being the water near Thanatos, or the Isle of Thanet. Under the protection of the massive walls of Richborough grew up the earliest British seaport of note, known as the site of the Roman settlement of Ritupium, and later by the Saxons as Londonwic, or the port of London. Thanet was then an island in conformation as in name, and the Stour, then known as the Wantsume, dividing it from the main land of Kent, was a river of fair capacity, deep enough for the largest ships then known. The trade of Sandwich itself was of note from early ages. Midway between sea and sea, there also grew up and flourished the town of Sarre, a haven of no mean commercial importance in its day.
This route, then, went the old voyagers, intent on reaching London City. Passing from Sandwich to Sarre, they at length left the Wantsume at its northern outlet, and came again into open water, very near Reculvers, where the Romans had planted the fort of Regulbium to protect the river. Here, too, King Ethelbert of Kent built himself a palace, in lieu of that at Canterbury, where he had lodged St. Augustine and his monks. Keeping the Kent coast on the left, and the Sheppy Isles on the right, the ships entered the Swale, or "little Thames." The isle of Harty, the second in size of the Sheppy group, was then a place of call, where, in Saxon times, a church was raised. On the other side, a little higher up, was Tong, with its castle, the reputed first home and foothold of Hengist upon British soil.
The Swale, up to the thirteenth century, was a much wider sheet of water than it now is, especially when the tide was high. The low-lying marshes on either side, now so profitable as grass-land and sheep-pasture, was then flooded, and with numerous creeks, now “ Juned” (Duned) by river walls, presented a shallow sea, some miles in width at places. It is true this water-way was very shallow, excepting in mid-channel, but the draught of the vessels that floated upon it were correspondingly light. Even if the receding tide caused a ship to ground, the delay in getting afloat again was only that of a few hours, and the business of that age was not by any means so hurried as ours, hence the loss of a tide or two in a voyage was not a matter of moment. Bending round the isle of Elmley, the creek leading up to "the King's owne towne" of Mylton or Myddleton, opened on the left bank of the Swale. Before reaching the little Sheppy haven and oyster fishery of Binne, afterwards Quinborrowe, another narrow creek opened on the left, and gave access behind the Chitney marshes, or island, into a wider piece of water at Stangate. The voyager of the past then found himself in the deeper stream of the river Medway, but this he only crossed, and entered Colemouth Creek, on the opposite side. The course then lay behind the işle of Graine, by a stream called the Stray, leading into the broad creek of Yantlett. Having thus gained the nain Thames, after a series of crooked twists and turnings, the rest of the way needs no further description.
That the course indicated, was the one in ordinary use during many centuries, and up well into the middle ages, is borne out by many authorities, and confirmed by numerous facts. The bolder route since chosen, rounding the North Foreland, and the northern shores of the Isles of Sheppy and Graine, only came into general use when ships of greater size were built, and sailors grew braver in facing the dangers of the open
There were other natural causes which contributed to the same result. The Wantsume, behind Thanet became gradually silted up, and thus afforded less and less depth of water. Not to mend matters, a ship belonging to the Pope
sank in mid-channel at the Sandwich end, and caused the gradual formation of a sand-bank in the harbour. This event. exercised the piety of our forefathers, who did not like the “bark of St. Peter" to be perpetually getting in the way. Appeals to Rome or Romish dignitaries are, of course, no use. The Pope's faith might “move mountains,” but was no use in dealing with a sand-bank. The same process of silting up took place in Muddy Creek, which formed the short cut from the Swale into the Medway.
The last of these by-ways, the Stray, connecting Colemouth and Yantlett Creeks, remained opened until a much later period, but gradually grew shallow from similar causes. Even so late as the eleventh century, the City of London claimed its jurisdiction over "the port of London," as far as Stonor, the haven on the Thanet side of the Wantsume, opposite Sandwich. Much more recently, in a case of murder at Stonor, in which the offender was brought before the justices of Sandwich, the authorities of the City and Port of London claimed jurisdiction over the murderer, and the claim was substantiated. In the time of Henry VII., the Mayor of London was confirmed in his rights as "conservator of the Thamyse, from the bridge of Stanes to the waters of Yendal, or Medway." This passage was commonly used for shipping until 1337, and long afterwards; down until comparatively recent times the civic barges made a periodical trip to mark the boundary of the City rights, which extended behind Graine and through Colemouth Creek. The commerce of London is of no modern rise, for Julius Cæsar found merchants there who traded into foreign lands; and we are told by Tacitus that, about a century later, A.D. 60, the Roman colony there was famous for its mercantile enterprise.
All this trade was carried on in small vessels, which traversed the course indicated. The Saxons followed the same route, making Thanet the base of their war-like operations. The Danes, who were rather bolder seamen, seem in their early inroads to have avoided the Wantsume, and to have entered the Swalefrom the open sea, near Harty. They madethe isles of Sheppy their temporary home. Here about, in the numerous creeks and inlets from Harty, round to Queenborough and Sheerness, their galleys were safely laid up during the winter, ready for fresh incursions and raids on the mainland in the summer months. Thus it will be seen how, in the course of the history of England as a nation, a trip “up or down the Thames,” came to mean, in later time, quite a different journey from that which our forefathers understood by the phrase.
A. W. M.