Monday, 24 October 2011

Many a Hazardous Sailing: Travel Tuesday

My husband's ancestor Robert Donaldson (1801-1876) was a master mariner in South Shields on the north east coast of England and I was delighted to discover (**) details of the ships he sailed on.

The entries make fascinating reading, with all six ships on which Robert Donaldson sailed, having an eventful history and sadly coming to a sad end (though not under his charge).  

  • The Thetis became a wreck after sinking off the Yorkshire coast in 1869.
  • The John was stranded in 1861 and became a wreck during a severe easterly gale.  Twenty-eight other Tyne ships went ashore in the same area during the same gale.
  • The Emerald, in  December 1855, when on passage from the Tyne to London, foundered in five fathoms on the Dough Sand (Long Sand) Thames estuary.   Three survivors were brought ashore by two smacks.  Eleven others were unaccounted for, including some of the crew of the rescuing smack who were in a small boat, which disappeared. 
  • The Hebe was wrecked in Robin Hood’s Bay, along with other vessels on 27 January 1861. 
  • The  Ann & Elizabeth  disappeared after leaving the Tyne in November 1863, with her captain leaving a wife and six children.
  • The  William Mecalfe was Robert Donaldson's largest ship.     On her maiden voyage, it transported 240 male convicts from Portsmouth to Hobart, Australia on a passage that took 102 days.  In January 1855 eight of her crew were sent to goal for three months each by the North Shields magistrates for refusing duty.  In October 1858 her master and one man were washed overboard.  Nine days later, the ship was abandoned, with the crew taken off.
These incidents were by no means unusual  and bring home the hazards our mariner ancestors faced in their daily lives.

A Genealogical Sideline:   To me "snow" was the white stuff falling in winter and a "smack" was a slap to a recaltrant child.  But that all changed,   as I  began researching my husband's maritime ancestors and learnt about the different names for ships in the 19th century - barque or bark or barc, brig, sloop. smack and snow - an illustration of the diverse routes that family history can take you.

(**) Tyne and Wear Archives hold "“A Dictionary of Tyne Sailing Ships:  a record of merchant sailing ships owned, registered and built at the Port of Tyne 1830-1930”, compiled by Richard Keys.  This is a complete A-Z of Ships, master mariners and owners, detailing ships, voyages, disasters and share-ownerships, and much more - a must for anyone with maritime ancestors in this region.

This post is an edited version of a Dec 2010 posting on Donaldson Maritime Ancestors.

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