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Friday, 27 July 2018

Ship Ahoy: Sepia Saturday

MmAn industrial looking ship puffing black smoke featured as this week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph.  The obvious match from my collection was this photograph (below) of the River Tyne at South Shields in north east England.

 The River Tyne, with the Norwegian ferry  in the background at North Shields. . 

My husband's ancestors (Donaldson, White, Moffet) were mariners, sailing out of South Shields, whilst extended family members were in related occupations   as a caulker, seaman, river policeman, shipwright, roper, ship’s carpenter, and marine engine fitter.

It  is amazing what diverse directions family history can take you.  To me "snow" was the white stuff falling in winter and a "smack" was a slap to a recalcitrant child. But that all changed as I began researching maritime history, and learnt about the different names for ships in the 19th century - barque or bark or barc, brig, sloop. smack and snow. 


My own connection with ships is slight, but here are some memories. 

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, Ireland,   before reaching Liverpool.  The ship, small by today's cruise ship standards, was very quiet and I was lucky to get a cramped 4 berth cabin all to myself.  Goodness knows how four adults could have managed in the space, without someone  being perched on top of their bunk.  Commercial jet planes services  were hitting the transatlantic  scheduled shipping and the Liverpool-New York sailings were axed in November after my return.  Still I enjoyed this experience  and had my first glimpse   of Ireland with dawn over Cobh. 

The town's former name was Queenstown, after Queen Victoria who visited there in 1850.  Seventy years later in 1920, with the foundation of Eire as the Irish Free State,  it was renamed Cobh.   Queenstown/Cobh was a major  departure point for the millions of  Irish people who emigrated to North America  during the 19th and 20th centuries.

A statue (above)  on the waterfront commemorates this leaving of Ireland.  It depicts Annie Moore and her brothers.  Annie was the first person to be admitted to the United States of America through the new immigration centre at Ellis Ireland, New York on 1 January 1892.    On 11 April 1912 Queenstown was the final port of call for the "Tatanic"   as she set out across the Atlantic on her ill-fated maiden voyage.
The Western Isles of Scotland is  one of our favourite holiday destination, and the "Cal Mac" ferries are a familiar sight.  

 Sailing out of Oban
Fishing boats in Oban Harbour 
   A Tall Ship Training Ship moored at Oban

Oban, meaning "little bay" in Gaelic, lies on the Firth of Lorne on the west coast of Scotland. and is often regarded as the unofficial capital of the West Highlands. and "Gateway to the Isles", with the  Cal Mac ferries sailing from there  to Mull, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Barra and South Uist.  

McCaig's Tower (or Folly) stands high above Oban, named after its originator John Stuart McCaig (1824-1902). His intention was to provide work over the winter for local stonemasons and to build an imposing monument to the McCaig family. However the ambitious  project ran out of money and on McCaig's death, his relations successfully contested provisions in his will for the Tower's completion.

Durring World War Two, Oban was an important place  in the Battle of the Atlantic, with a Royal Navy signal station, and RAF flying boat base.   In the Cold War, the first Translantic Telephone Cable, carrying the hot line between the USA and USSR Presidents came ashore at Oban.

 We had the top desk to ourselves on this dreicht day, sailing from Oban to the Isle of Mull.  Even our dog did not look very happy!  


To sunnier climes

The ferry on Wolfgangsee, near Salzburg, Austria
where we celebrated our ruby wedding anniversary.


And finally:  the prompt photogrpah below immediately made me think of the final verse of John Masefield's poem "Cargoes".  We were taught at school to read this out aloud to get the full power  of his words.  The first two verses convey beauty, but this last one was always our favourite as we spat it out, enunciating the words in an exaggerated manner.

"Dirty British coaster, with a  salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig lead
Firewood, iron-ware and cheap tin trays."

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity 
to share their family history through photographs.
Sail  by  HERE to read this week's posts  from other Sepia Saturday bloggers.



  1. Your pictures of Oban brought back memories of our trip through Scotland's highlands and western isles. We rode up-top on the ferry from Oban going over, but stayed below coming back as the weather had changed! I still remember Kit trying to keep his balance on the rocking ferry while bringing ice cream back to Suzanne and me from the ferry's snack bar. :)

  2. I've never been to the highlands. This post arouses new interest. What a strong piece of poetry. I enjoyed that last line too - great words.

  3. I can just imagine young voices spitting out those poetic words...but I do prefer the great photos of your many voyages. Weren't you lucky to have so many great photos! Thanks so much.

  4. Just a few weeks ago my wife and I spent a week in Ireland, driving from Shannon up the west coast to Antrim, where my mother's grandfather came from, and then down to Dublin. Rather than fly over to London, we took a ferry and train. The ferry was so relaxing with no crowds, and a beautiful way to learn something about how people once traveled by ship around the British Isles and far beyond too.

  5. I can't imagine a transatlantic trip by ship - I'm just not a boat person and certainly not one for that length. Yet that's how all my ancestors made it to the States and I wouldn't be here if not for them. I enjoyed your great photographs!

  6. How wonderful, though cramped, to travel by ship. I've got to go back to Ireland soon. It's been too long.

  7. Interesting post about your connection to the sea and boat travel. A colleague of mine went round-trip last summer by boat from the U.S. to Wales, but this year he opted to fly to save time. I'm with Kathy -- can't imagine spending that much time aboard ship, although it was the speedy travel of its day.


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