The ‘Crest’ and I go back a long way and I have already written of how I first happened upon her in the register of deaths and of my luck in locating her records all the way across the mighty Atlantic in Newfoundland.
However, I have delayed dissecting that information until now. The spur, the impetus to do so, has been granted me by the serendipitous discovery of an account of her final resting place…
The ‘Crest’ had her keel laid in 1862 in Ramsey on the Isle of Man. She was a wooden ketch, that is to say that she had two masts, and she entered the story of my family when she already had 36 years service under her hull. She had been laid-up in Tobermory following the death of her owner, Alexander Macdonald, and it was from there that Alexander John Kerr rescued her to replace his previous ship ‘Jessie’. I have been unable to discover anything about ‘Jessie’, nor of the ‘Crest’s successor ‘Lady Louisa Kerr’, but on the 6th of August 1896 her Master, John Macdonald, wrote a letter apologising to the Burgh of Tobermory for not having notified them of her movements (or, rather, lack of) during the first half of the year.
I cannot be sure of the date that Alexander John took possession of her but on the 26th October 1896 he (from the SS ‘Alice’ of Stornoway) , together with his 74 year-old father, Malcolm Kerr (from the ‘Jessie’ of Stornoway), and 40 year-old John McLeod (from the SS ‘Clydesdale’ of Glasgow, an 1862 Mail Steamer in MacBrayne’s fleet), set sail from Tobermory and landed in Larne the next day.
There she was loaded (Alas, I know not what with, for nowhere does Alexander record his cargoes!) and on the 14th November set sail for Gairloch, arriving on the 24th. A lighter ‘Crest’ left there on 30th November and made Tarbert on 1st December where her remaining cargo was unloaded. They spent a week in Tarbert, no doubt using the time to visit various relatives on Harris including those in Malcolm’s home township of Direcleit, and then took her the short journey to her new home port of Stornoway on the 8th December where John McLeod was ‘Paid-off’. He and his fellow ‘Able Seaman’ Malcolm have a ‘Report upon Character’ entry ‘For Ability’ and ‘For Conduct’ that Alexander John had to complete. I am delighted to inform you that he gave his father and John McLeod the same (presumably impeccable?) grades!
1897 begins with the well-laden ‘Crest’ (only 20 inches above the sea at her midships!) departing on the 20th January for Belfast which she eventually reaches on the 15th February. On board are the same three men who last sailed her, but Malcolm is now promoted to ‘Mate’ which I suspect was more in recognition of his having been a Ship Master in his own right rather than a reflection of the need to establish a formal naval hierarchy in such circumstances?
At this point, I must introduce my conjecture that Alexander John (no doubt encouraged by Malcolm) demonstrates his dislike of the formality of form-filling for the next voyage sees the trio departing Larne on the 25th February as if sailing from Belfast to Larne somehow didn’t count as something worth recording…
They arrive in Gairloch on the 4th April and the freeboard, which had been 2ft 4in on departure, was down to a mere 1ft 4in upon their arrival. The length of time, together with this alarming evidence of extreme loading, suggests that there had been a wee bit more to this voyage than the record suggests!
Another leap takes place and on the 22nd April they depart Tarbert and take a week to reach Stornoway, presumably due to adverse weather.
In fairness to my relatives record-keeping, there were circumstances in which voyages did not require documenting, these being termed ‘Agreement-Eng. (1) or Eng. (6), but I am still attempting to discover the precise nature of these.
The second half of 1897 sees the Crest undertaking eight separate voyages:
Stornoway July 12 Troon July 22 Empty
Troon July 30 Stornoway Aug 11 Laden
Stornoway Aug 24 Ullapool Aug 25 Part Laden
Ullapool Sep 13 Stornoway Sep 20 Laden
Stornoway Oct 11 Carrick Fergus Nov 1 Empty
Carrick Fergus Nov 10 Lochmaddy Nov 26 Laden
Lochmaddy Dec 3 Tarbert Harris Dec 4 Nearly Laden
Tarbert Dec 7 Stornoway Dec 7 Empty
I am reasonably sure about the three ‘Empty’ voyages as her draught & freeboard are identical on each occasion, albeit that they appear to have reduced the ballast carried, possibly as a result of having chosen to spend a couple of months getting her ship-shape?
The crew of four comprised Master Alexander, Bosun Malcolm, 48 year-old Able-Seaman Malcolm Munro and 16 year-old Murdo Macleod who’s status was simply ‘Boy’. These two were discharged, with apparently excellent Reports, on the 8th of December.
1898 sees Alexander at 24 New Street, Stornoway and the Crest is laid-up from 1st January until the 13th March. On the 14th she leaves for Larne, riding even higher in the water suggesting that father and son had made yet more modifications, no doubt to increase both her speed and her carrying capacity. This time the crew of four includes Able-Seaman John MacPherson and the Boy Donald Macleod, for whom this is his maiden voyage.
They reached Larne on the 24th March and, fully laden, departed on the 5th April for Gairloch which they reached on the 9thApril. A nearly-full Crest left Gairloch on the 18th April and reached Aultbea the same day. On the 24th they were similarly full and headed for Stornoway which they made on the 27th April. The two new crew members are discharged, each marked as ‘VG’ but clearly no-longer required. The 6th May saw them depart for Larne, customarily Empty but with Able-Seaman Malcolm Munro returning, and they reached there on the 15th. By the 29th May they were full and Stornoway bound, attaining home on the 10th June. Malcolm Munro had been employed on another vessel but his return suggests that he was deemed preferable to John Macpherson?
I shall leave the remaining voyages of 1898 for a later entry, encompassing as they do the final journey of Malcolm Kerr, a remarkable man who was born the son of the landless cottar ‘John an Taileur’ in a sea-swept house in the Bays of Harris and became a Stornoway Ship Master…