PortCities London

Phineas Pett (1570-1647)
Ship builder

Known for

Peter Pett, 1610-70, and the Sovereign of the Seas.
View full size imagePeter Pett, 1610-70, and the Sovereign of the Seas. © NMM

Building the Prince Royal, the largest ship that had ever been constructed in England. She weighed 1400 tons and carried 64 guns. Other shipbuilders disapproved of her unique structure, but Pett had the support of James I and particularly Prince Henry, who was on board when she was launched.

Building the Sovereign of the Seas with his son, Peter. She was one of the finest ships in English service for nearly sixty years, gaining a reputation throughout Europe. The Dutch called her the Golden Devil.

Port connection

The Petts had a long tradition of working on the Thames and held various posts in the Royal Dockyards since the reign of Henry VII. Phineas was the first great shipbuilder of the family.

Phineas Pett built one of the very first dry docks in England.

Interesting facts

As a young carpenter Phineas Pett would spend his long winter evenings learning the skills of his profession, the drawing, cyphering, and mathematics.

Pett never sailed with his ships in the early years of career, because he cared for his two sisters, who had fled from home and their barbarous stepfather.

Phineas Pett was a great model shipbuilder, making models for Prince Henry, the Prince of Wales and even for Prince Charles, the future Charles II.

Life story

1570Born in Deptford.
1590Became an apprentice to Richard Chapman of Deptford, one of the Queen’s shipwrights.
1594-1596Worked on several important ships at Deptford.
1597Introduced to Howard, the Earl of Nottingham and the Lord High Admiral of England.
1601Became the assistant to the principal Master Shipwright at Chatham.
1603Commanded to build a miniature galleon for Prince Harry, eldest son of James I.
1605Succeeded his brother as Master Shipbuilder at Chatham.
1607Elected Master of the Company of Shipwrights.
1610'Prince Royal' launched.
1626Appointed a joint commissioner to look into alleged abuses in the navy.
1631Appointed a commissioner to survey the navy at Chatham
1637The 'Sovereign of the Seas' launched.
1647Died on 21 August.