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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sepia Saturday - All At Sea

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs.

I have the ideal match for this week's photo prompt in a lovely  sign,  photographed at Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. 

 Edgartown on the island of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod was founded as a colony by  Thomas Mayhew in 1642.   The settlement was later named after King James II's young son Edgar who died at the age of three in 1671.  Relations between the first settlers and their Wampanoag neighbours were harmonious and the population grew from 19,00 in 1850 to in to 4, 067 in 2010. 

By the 19th century Edgartown was one of the main whaling ports on the American Atlantic coast. The stately white Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains are a striking feature of the local architecture.  Below is the Whaling Church on the Main Street,  built in 1845. 


Scrimshaw is the craft of decorating or carving whale bone or ivory, done by sailors as a recreational  activity.   


A Fascinating Fact - Maintaining the link with whales, Edgartown was used as the main location for shooting the  town of Amity in Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster "Jaws". 
Across the Atlantic to the   Lismore Lighthouse on the west coast of Scotland.
This is one of my most favourite sights.  Sailing out of Oban on the way to the Isle of Mull, you encounter the Lismore Lighthouse, surrounded only by hills, sea and sky.  It is so peaceful and idyllic.  The Lighthouse, situated at the entrance to Loch Linnhe,  protects shipping  from Oban to the Western Isles and north to Fort William and the Caledonian Canal.  Built in 1833 by Robert Stevenson, it was automated in 1965.  
To my only glimpse of Eire and the lighthouse at the entrance to Cobh on the south  coast of County Cork, Ireland.
The locality, which had had several Irish-language names, was first called Cove ("The Cove of Cork") in 1750.   It was renamed Queenstown in 1850 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria.  This remained the town's name until 1920 when, with the foundation of Eire as the Irish Free State,  it was renamed Cobh. 

Queenstown/Cobh was the departure point for the millions of  Irish people who emigrated to North America  during the 19th and 20th centuries.  On 11 April 1912 Queenstown was the final port of call for the he ""Titanic"   as she set out across the Atlantic on her ill-fated maiden voyage.
In September 1966,  I returned home from a year in the USA, travelling aboard the Cunard liner "Sylvania" from New York, calling at Boston and Cobh  before reaching Liverpool.    Commercial jet planes services  were starting to hit regular  transatlantic  shipping and the Liverpool-New York sailings were axed in November after my return.  Still I enjoyed this experience  and had my first sight  of Ireland with dawn over Cobh.  

 Back to Scotland and Dundee on the east coast - home of the sailing ship "Discovery".

Discovery" was the last 3 masted ship to be built in Britain in Dundee in 1901.   it was taken on two expeditions to the Antarctic by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The second expedition saw a party of five reaching the South Pole in 1912 only to find that Norwegian explorer had preceded them. Scott and his four comrades all perished on the return journey.
RRS Discovery later went into service   with the Hudson Bay Company,  and during the First World War ran munitions to Russia.  It was to make two further voyages to Antarctica before being laid up in London. In 1986 she made her triumphant return to Dundee and her final berth.

Family connections with the sea rest with my husband's family who across generations moved from Leith (Edinburgh's seaport), to South Shields on Tyneside and Portsmouth in the south coast of England.  The occupations of the Donaldson's and their extended family ranged from merchant and master mariner to  seaman, caulker, roper, ship's carpenter and river policeman.   Here in a Napoleonic pose is my husband's great great grandfather, Master Mariner John Moffet. 


John married  France Thomson Dunn, a widow with three children,  in Stepney in the east end docklands area of London.

In the 1861 census,  John was master on board the brig "Brotherly Love" off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. The crew of eight included three young apprentices, four seamen, and a mate, with many born in South Shields.   Thee is a painting of the ship in South Shields Museum.

John's family were meanwhile at Limehouse, London with three Dunn children and three Moffet children, and Frances described as a mariner’s wife.  An interesting line to pursue was the fact that two of Frances' Dunn children  were born in North America - Jane c.1847 and John T. in 1849. 

It would be fascinating to research this American connection, but nigh impossible,  with no indication of which state and no distinctive  name.  You never know Frances'  first husband may have had a a sailing link with New England? 

This is something else to add to my "to do" list!

Click HERE to find tales of the sea from  other Sepia Saturday bloggers. .

Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved



  1. I did not know about Edgartown, nor that it was named after James II youngest son. Lighthouses fascinating as is the Discovery, but it was Master Mariner Moffet that really grabbed me. BTW, you are right there are tons of John T. Dunns born about 1849 in US. Aghh.

  2. Wonderful! You ticked several boxes this week Sue. We visited Cobh about fifteen years ago and found the Titanic and immigration memorials very moving. Your family connections are interesting too.

  3. Intriguing about the American-born step-children. Good luck with finding them.

  4. Sue, you tie everything together so neatly - the theme, the history, the family connection : it is a pleasure to read and a pleasure to look at the photographs.

  5. Hello
    This is my first time on sepia Saturday
    You all seem such a knowledgeable group of people, I'm a little unsure if my posts will enlighten as much as yours all do. Loved reading about your family's jobs at sea!
    So many things we wish we had the answers to ... Good luck with the to do list

  6. Hard to believe the building is a church. Lovely.

    My 3X Great Grandfather, Adam Bisset Scott (a tailor), owned several properties in Leith before his death in 1872. A set of 3 flats at 24 Queen Street, Leith. He also owned properties at Lawries Street, Leith (residence), Todshole close, Leith and another at London Row, North Leith.

    One day I will get over there to do more research.

  7. Amazing work of putting this all together with your family. Great photos. It makes me think how interesting life would be to run about with the name of Scrimshaw! Fascinating I'm sure!

  8. You learn something new every day. Now I know what scrimshaw means. That church does look odd for a church doesn't it but I saw one just like it in Bundaberg last week.

  9. My McVey ancestors moved from Dunbarton to the South Sheilds area. They were ship builders.
    I didn't know what scrimshaw was before today either.

  10. A post full of gems of wisdom! It is so great that you have photographs of your ancestors. Thanks! A fine post.

  11. Yes, you win! The Edgartown sign is a perfect match. My eyes and ears always perk up at the mention of Cobh because I'm sure that is the port from where my great-grandmother departed.

  12. Fascinating post made more so by your family connections, Good to see another Stevenson lighthouse, He must have found it easier to build than Bell Rock. The origin of scrimshaw was new to me also.

  13. Thank you to everyone for such kind comments. They mean a lot to me.

  14. You have a talent for researching history and the family connection to these places. Well done and spot on the theme.

  15. Interesting post. Thanks.
    We went on board the 'Discovery' when we visited Scotland several years ago and found it fascinating. The information centre next door was excellent too.

  16. Sailed through Edgartown a lot when I was still living at home with my boat-nutty family...it's a sweet little harbor. They used to have a one-room library that showed movies on Saturday nights (on reels, for crying out loud). I saw a version of Heidi there in, roughly, 1956...haven't thought of that in years!

  17. I really doubt many people a hundred years from now will get nostalgic about jet planes and airports, as the ship will always be the definitive travel vehicle. Lighthouses might still be around and remain useful. They are prettier than air traffic control towers.

  18. Sue, Cobh is a small place. However, my daughter and I just happened to be there in April on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's visit there. It was mobbed with people!

  19. Great journey here!!
    That Discovery is an amazing ship,
    and what a story about it.
    Do you know what these explorers died of on their return journey? Depression???

    1. Hi, thanks for your question. The expedition was a tragic story, which I first learned about at school and has always stuck in my mind, especially as the journal of Captain Scott was found and recorded events to their final days.

      The explorers reached the South Pole, only to find that the Norwegians had got their first - so very dispirited. On the return journey to their ship, they faced blizzards, frostbite and dwindling supplies. Their bodies were found in their tent 8 months later. One member Titus Oates walked out of the tent to his certain death with the immortal words "I am just going outside and may be some time." They were 11 miles from their depot, but could not make it.

  20. One of my mother's friends has some fine examples of scrimshaw work.

    I think we've remarked before that our families overlap: Leith and North Shields in my case. I wish some of my seamen had moved up the ranks to master so I could find more info on them :-)

    Mr Cassmob's ancestors (one branch) came from Lismore....we visited a few years ago. Very special.


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