Whelps

Fifth-rate men of war. Thus, in Howell's letters we read, “At the return of this fleet two of the whelps were cast away”; and in the Travels of Sir W. Brereton we read, “I went aboard one of the king's ships, called the ninth whelp, which is ... 215 ton and tonnage in king's books.” In Queen Elizabeth's navy was a ship called Iron's Whelp, and her navy was distinguished as first, second ... tenth whelp.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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