Thomas Lurting: a Liverpool Worthy

Quakerism has a very extensive literature, and is especially rich in books of biography; which are not only of interest from a theological point, but are valuable for the incidental and sometimes unexpected light which they throw upon the history and customs of the past. One of the early Quaker autobiographies is that of Thomas Lurting, a Liverpool worthy, who has not hitherto been included by local writers in the list of Lancashire notables.

Thomas Lurting was born in 1629, and, in all probability, at Liverpool. The name is by no means a common one, but it is a well-known Liverpool name, and many references to its members will be found in Sir James Picton's “Memorials and Records.”[1] From 1580 to the close of the seventeenth century they appear to have been conspicuous citizens. John Lurting was a councillor and “Merchant 'Praiser” in 1580. A John Lurting was bailiff of the town in 1653; but three years earlier had so little reverence for civic dignity as to style one of the aldermen “a cheating rogue.”

From his own narrative we learn that in 1646, at the age of fourteen, Thomas Lurting was “impressed,” and served in the wars against the Irish, Dutch, and Spaniards. He gives a graphic account of the sea-fight at Santa Cruz in 1657, by our great English admiral Blake, in which the Spaniards came off second-best. At the time of his conversion he was boatswain's mate on the Bristol  frigate. There were two young men on board, who had some conversation with a soldier who had been present at a Quaker's meeting in Scotland. The soldier soon after left the ship; but what he had said came back to the minds of the young men, and presently they refused to listen to the chaplain, or to take their hats off to the captain, who added to his seafaring functions the quality of a Baptist preacher. The chaplain complimented Lurting as “an honest man and a good Christian,” so long as, in his capacity of boatswain's mate, he persecuted the two youthful Quakers. Great was the amazement when Lurting joined himself to those despised children of light. The chaplain and the captain in vain tried to convince him of the errors of his new theological associates. The Quakers increased, until instead of two there were fourteen in the ship. There was an epidemic of sickness, and the Quakers were known by the care they took of each other and their brotherly sympathy. When he got well the captain allowed Lurting to have his old cabin—which had the reputation of being haunted—both for a sleeping room and for a meeting-place.

At this time the Quaker mariners did not object to take their share of fighting, but when going into an engagement at Barcelona, it came into Lurting's mind that it was unlawful to slay. The Quakers having decided to “bear their testimony” against war, had an unpleasant time. Off Leghorn, in 1655, the preacher-captain drew his sword to run one of them through.

Thomas Lurting was several times impressed after the Restoration of Charles II., but he refused either to do the King's work or eat the King's victual. On one of these occasions, after five days' fasting, he was put ashore.

But the most remarkable incident in Lurting's life was one which occurred when, after he had become a “harmless Christian,” he was mate of a ship that was captured by an Algerine pirate. The English sailors, following Lurting's instructions, managed to turn the tables and make the Turks their prisoners; but, instead of selling the pirates for slaves, as they had the opportunity to do, they put them on shore not far from an Algerine town. The pirates marvelled greatly at this unexpected treatment, and the captives and ex-captives took an affectionate farewell of each other. Lurting's account of this remarkable transaction was written at Liverpool in 1680, and was printed in George Fox's “To the Great Turk and his King, at Algiers.” Of this tract there is a copy in the Midgley Library, at Manchester (Vol. 16, Tract 7), and it is reprinted in the “Doctrinal Books of George Fox” (London, 1706, p. 778). Lurting's letter to the founder of the Society of Friends is sufficiently curious to be worth quoting in full:—

“Of George Pattison's taking the Turks about
the 8th Month, 1663.

Dear Friend,

Thine I have received: In Answer to thy request, I have given thee an Account as well and as near as I can; but as to the exact time I cannot, for I have not my Books. I was George Pattison's Mate, and coming from Venice, being near a Spanish Island called May-York,[2] we were Chased by a Turkish Ship or Patah, as sometimes before we had been, and thinking by our Vessels well Sailing, might escape: But Providence Ordered it So, That by carrying over-much Sail, some of our Materials gave way, by which means the said Turk came up with us, and commanded the Master on Board, who accordingly went with four Men more, leaving me and three Men, and a Boy on Board our Ship; and so soon as our Men came on Board the Turk, they took them all out of the Boat, and came about 14 Turks in our Boat. All which time I was under a very great Exercise in Spirit, not so much for my self, because I had a secret Hope of Relief; but a great Stress lay upon me, for the Men in this very Juncture of time; for all Hope of outward Appearance being then gone; the Master being on board of the Turk, and four more, and the Turks just coming on Board, I being as one, even as if I were or were not, only desiring of the Lord for Patience in such an Exercise, and going to the Vessel-side, to see the Turks come in, the Word of Life, run through me, Be not afraid, for all this thou shalt not go to Algier. And I having formerly good Experience of the Lords doing upon several such like Occasions, as in times of War, I believed what the Lord did say in me: At this all kind of Fear was taken from me, and I received them as a Man might his Friend; and they were as Civil, so shewing them all parts of the Vessel, and what she was laden with withal, then I said to them that were our Men; Be not afraid, for I believe for all this we shall not go to Algier, but let me desire you, as you have been willing to obey me, so be as willing to obey the Turks. For by our so doing I saw we got over them, for when they saw our great Diligence, it made them careless of us, I mean, in securing of us; So when they had taken some small Matter of what we were laden withal, some went on Board their own Ship again, and some staid with us, which were about Eight. Then began I to think of the Master and the other Four, which were in the Turks ship; for as for my self and the other with me, I had no fear at all; Nay, I was far from it, That I said to one then, Were but the Master on Board, and the rest, if there were twice so many Turks, I should not fear them; So my earnest Desire was to the Lord, That he would put it into their Hearts, to send him on Board with the rest, and good was the Lord in answering, for it was a Seal, to what he before spoke through me. As soon as the Master was on Board with the rest, all manner of Fear was off me, as to my going to Algier, and some said to me, I was a strange Man, I was afraid before I was taken, but now I was taken, I was not; my answer was, I now believe I shall not go to Algier, and if you will be ruled by me, I will act for your Delivery, as well as my own. But as yet I saw no way made, for they were all Arm'd, and we without Arms. Now we being altogether, except the Master, I began to reason with them, What if we should overcome the Turks, and go to May-York? At which they very much rejoyced; and one said, I will Kill One or Two, another said, I will cut as many of their Throats, as you will have me; this was our Mens Answer. At which I was much troubled, and said unto them, If I knew any of them that offered to touch a Turk, I would tell the Turks my self. But said to them; If you will be rul'd, I will act for you, if not, I will be still; to which they agreed to do, what I would have them. Then said I, if the Turks bid you do any thing, do it without grumbling, and with as much Diligence and Quickness as you can, for I see that pleases them, and that will cause them to let us be together: To which they agreed.

Then I went to the Master, who was a Man of a very bold Spirit, and told him our Intents; whose answer to me was, If we offered to rise, and they overcame us, we had as good be burnt alive, the which I knew very well. But I could get him no way to adhere to me, in that he being fearful of Blood-shed; for that was his Reason: Insomuch, that at last I told him we were resolved, and I question'd not to do it without one Drop of Blood spilt, and I believ'd that the Lord would prosper it, by Reason, I could rather go to Algier, than to kill a Turk: So at last he agreed to this, to let me do what I would, provided we killed none: At that time there being still two Turks lying in the Cabin with him: So that he was to lie in the Cabin, that by his being there they should mistrust nothing, which accordingly he did. And having bad weather, and lost the Company of the Man of War; the Turks seeing our Diligence, made them careless of us.

So the second Night, after the Captain was gone to sleep, I perswaded one to lie in my Cabin, and so one in another, till at last it raining very much, I perswaded them all down to sleep; and when asleep, got their Arms in Possession. Then said I to the Men of our Vessel: Now have we the Turks at our Command; no Man shall hurt any of them, for if you do, I will be against you: But this we will do, now they are under, we will keep them so, and go to May-York. So when I had ordered some to keep the Doors, if any should come out, straightly charging the Spilling of no Blood; and so altered our Course for May-York the which in the Morning we were fair by: So my Order was to our Men, if any offer'd to come out, not to let out above one at a time. And in the Morning one came out, expecting to have seen their own Country, but on the contrary, it was May-York. Now, said I to our Men, be careful of the Door, for when he goes in, we shall see what they will do. And as soon as he told them we were going towards May-York, they instead of Rising, fell all to crying, for their Hearts were taken from them. So they desired they might not be Sold; the which I promised they should not. So soon as I had pacified them, then I went in to the Master, he not yet knowing what was done, and so he told their Captain what we had done, how that we had over-come his Men, and that we were going for May-York. At which unexpected News he Wept, and desired the Master not to Sell him; the which he promised he would not. Then we told the Captain we would make a Place to hide them in, where the Spaniards should not find them; at which they were very glad, and we did accordingly. So when we came in, the Master went on Shoar, with Four more, and left me on Board with the Turks, which were Ten. And when he had done his Business, not taking Product, lest the Spaniards should come and see the Turks. But at Night an English Master came on Board, being an Acquaintance; and after some Discourse, we told him if he would not betray us, we would tell him what we had done; but we would not have the Spaniards to know it, lest they should take them from us; The which he promis'd, but broke it; and would fain have had Two or Three of them, to have brought them for England; but we saw his end; And when he saw he could not prevail, he said they were worth Two or Three Hundred Pieces of Eight a Piece; Whereat, both the Master and I told him, if they would give many Thousands they should not have One, for we hoped to send them home again. So he look'd upon us as Fools, because we would not Sell them; the which I would not have done for the whole Island. But contrary to our Expectations, he told the Spaniards, who threatned to take them from us: But so soon as we heard thereof, we called out all the Turks, and told them they must help us, or the Spaniards would take them from us. So they resolvedly helped us, and we made all haste to run from the Spaniards, the which pleased the Turks very well. So we put our selves to the Hazard of the Turks, and being taken again, to save them.

So we continued about six or seven days, not being willing to put into any Port of Spain, for fear of losing the Turks. We let them have all their liberty for four days, till they made an attempt to rise, the which I foresaw, and prevented without any harm. I was very Courteous to them, at the which some of our men grumbled, saying, I had more care of the Turks than them; My Answer was, They are Strangers, I must treat them well. At last, I told the Master it might do well to go to the Turks Coast, for there it was more likely to miss their Men of War than where we were; and also it might fall out so, that we might have an Opportunity to put the Turks on Shoar: To which the Master agreed. And in two days we were near the Turks Shoar, at a place called Cape Hone, about Fifty Miles from Algier, as the Turks told us. So when we came about six Miles from the Shore it fell calm, and I had very much working in my mind, about getting them ashore.

At last I went to the Master, and told him, I had a great desire to put the Turks on Shore, but how I knew not; for to give them the Boat, they might go and get Men and Arms, and so take us again; and to put half on Shoar, they would raise the Country and surprize us when we came with the rest. But if he would let me go, and if three more would go with me, I would venture to put them on Shoar; to which he consented.

So then I spoke to the men, and there were two more, and my self and a Boy took in the ten Turks all loose, and went about six miles and put them on Shore in their own Country, within about four miles of Two Towns which they knew. Withal, we gave them about fifty Padas of Bread and other Necessaries to Travel with. They would fain have enticed us to go to the Towns, telling us we should have Wines, and many other things: As to their parts, I could have ventured with them. They all embraced me very kindly in their Arms when they went ashore. They made one Rising in the Boat when going ashore, the which I prevented; and we parted with a great deal of love.

When we came home to England, the King came to the Vessels side, and enquired an Account, the which the Master gave him. So this is as near as I can certifie thee; I have writ thee more at large to give thee the whole as it was; but thou mayst take what is the most material, and so I rest thine in that which can do good for evil, which ought to be the practice of all true men.

Liverpoole, the 30th of the fifth Month, 1680.

Thomas Lurting.

After a stormy manhood Thomas Lurting had a peaceful old age. Part of his well-earned leisure was devoted to the preparation of an autobiography, which appeared in 1710, with the following quaint title:—“The Fighting Sailor turned peaceable Christian; manifested in the convincement and conversion of Thomas Lurting. With a short relation of many great Dangers, and wonderful Deliverances, he met withal. First written for private satisfaction, and now published for general service.” This tract, sometimes in an abridged form, has been several times reprinted, and there were editions in 1711, 1720, no date, 1766, 1801 (Leeds), 1811, 1813, 1820, and 1842.

Thomas Lurting died 30th First Month, 1713. His corpse was taken to the Friends' Meeting House at Horsleydown, Southwark, where a funeral sermon was preached on the occasion. The body was then interred at the Friends' Burial-ground, Long Lane, Bermondsey. He had been a widower for some years previously, his wife, Eleanor, who was of Rotherhithe, having died 13th of First Month, 1708-9, aged 65 years.

However much faith may vary and forms of belief change, men will always respect those who listen to the voice of conscience, and obey that inward monitor when its behests bring scorn and persecution. The Quakers had the true martyr-spirit, and would not abate a single iota of their testimony either for the fear or the favour of man. In Lurting's narrative we see the plain, straightforward character of the man. There is no evidence of self-consciousness to mar the picturesque force of the essentially heroic quality of his deeds. Liverpool can boast of some great names, but let her cherish the name of her Quaker hero, “the Fighting Sailor turned peaceable Christian.”


1. We append a few short notices of this family, in chronological order.

1333-1345. In the time of Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, W. Lurtyng, of Chester, is mentioned. See 31st Report of Record Office , p. 82.

The following are extracts from the “Liverpool Municipal Records ”:—

1581. On the 21st August, John Lyrting, residing in Juggler Street, Liverpool, was assessed for a “Taxation or Levy at the sum of xvii d.”—the highest charge in the street being 2s. 6d., and the lowest 4d.—ii., 218.

1617. Thomas Lurting, Juggler Street.—ii., 827.

1628, 7th October. “Item, wee prsent Thomas Lurtinge for switchinge Nicholas Rydinge wth a sticke.”—iii., 63.

1636/7. Nich Lurting first in jury.—iii., 177.

1644. John Lurting, “saler,” burgess of Liverpool.—iii., 359.

1644 and 1649. Peter Lurting and Thomas Lurting, freemen (iii., 361). Also John Lurting, Smith, Wm. Lurting de Cestr, Wm. Lurting, Smith, and Robert Lurting.

1651. “Tho. Lurting, for a Tussle upon Tho s. Hoskins, iiis. iiiid.”—iii., 506.

1663-4. Peter Lurting, Mayor.

1672. Peter Lurting, tenant of Godscroft, 1s. rent; Rich. Lurting, of a smithy at Water Side, 5s.; Rich. Lurting, Castle Hill, 13s. for 13 yards front.

2. Majorca.