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Thursday, 5 April 2018

Mariner Ancestors In Stormy Seas - 52 Ancestors: Wk. 16

  “Storms” is  this week’s theme in  Amy Johnson Crow’s series “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks”.   Immediately coming to my mind were my husband’s maritime ancestors and the hazards they faced, sailing from the River Tyne at South Shields, Co. Durham. 

Donaldson, White and Moffet ancestors were master mariners.  Extended family members were in related occupations as a caulker, seaman, river policemen, shipwright, roper, ship's carpenter and marine engine fitter.

Great Great Great Grandfather - Robert Donaldson, Master Mariner  (1801-1878)
Mariner records at the National Archives at Kew  showed that Robert Donaldson was  registered as a mariner on 20th July 1852.

Tyne and Wear Archives provided information on the sea-going  life of Robert Donaldson and the ships he sailed on, listed in "“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.

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

                                                         Image - Pixabay

  • 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 Bridlington 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, 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 of.
These incidents were by no means unusual and bring home the hazards our mariner ancestors faced in their daily lives.

Storms off South Shields
 The Shields Gazette on  (FindMyPast Newspaper Archive)  abounds with  headlines and reports on disasters at sea, storms and gales;  the lifeboat responses. and the ensuing work of the Mariners' benevolent societies in helping families in distress.  Some typical   examples from just one year are given below:
  • 14th February 1861:
"The terrible and destructive storm of Friday and Saturday will not soon be forgotten on the North-East Coast. The loss of property has been enormous, and there has been a lamentable loss of life."
  • 14th February 1861:
"LIFEBOAT UPSET AND TWELVE MEN DROWNED. A severe storm raged here on Saturday, and several vessels were driven on shore, amongst which arc the Gamma, belonging to this port; John and Ann, of Sunderland; and the Prussian barque Clara."
  • 21st February 1861:  
  • 26th February 1861:
    "A very influential meeting was held to express sympathy with those bereaved by the storm, and to take active measures to promote subscriptions for them"
  •  7th November 1861
"STORM ON THE NORTH-EAST COAST. DISTRESSING SCENE ON THE HERD SANDS, SOUTH SHIELDS. LOSS OF LIFE AND DESTRUCTION TO SHIPPING. On Friday evening, the wind veered round to the east north east, when it commenced to blow fresh, accompanied by showers of sleet........The storm continued with great violence until about four o’cloc."

Robert Donaldson died at home in 1876, leaving his wife Elizabeth,  and adult  children Ann, Janet and Robert.  

Other mariner ancestors of my husband included, on his mother's side:
  • Great Great Grandfather  Matthew White (1821-?). 
    1861 census listed Matthew  as master mariner on board the brig "Caroline" off South Shields.  Lloyd’s Captains’ Register,  recorded the ships he sailed on, travelling as far as the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Baltic ports. 
  • Great Grandfather  Matthew Iley White. (1849-1901)
    On his marriage to young widow Louisa Moffet Pierce in 1884 at South Shields, Matthew was described as a mariner.  However he had a change of occupation and was next found as a member of the Tyne River Police, along with his brother Henry.

  • Great Great Grandfather John Robert Moffet (1814-1881)
    John Moffet on his marriage certificate gave his father's name, as Robert Moffet, also a Mariner - his wife a widow Frances Dunn Thomas, daughter of a mariner. In the 1861 Census,  John  was listed as master of "The Brotherly Love" sailing off Flamborough Head in the North Sea.     The crew of eight included three young apprentices, four seamen, and a mate, with most born in South Shields.

  • The Brig 'Brotherly Love' and Tug 'William'
    The Brig "Brotherly Love" and the Tug "William"
    Painting by John Scott (1802-1885)
    Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums 
    On display at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery  

    A photograph of John Robert Moffet, supplied by an Internet family contact - the only image I have of my husband's mariner ancestors who faced storms at sea  as part of their daily lives.


    52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks


  1. I was pleased to read that Robert Donaldson died at home. The North Sea has a fearsome reputation.


  2. Our mariner ancestors did it tough! That book sounds great...wish I could get hold of it.


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