A Telling-Off in Tobermory

John McDonald Master of the “Crest”
ONo 44,427, hereby declare, that the
vessel having been laid up, owing
to the death of the owner; the circumstance
escaped my memory until my attention
was called to it, by the Principal Court
Officer here.
                                 John Macdonald Master
signed and declared in
my presence at Tobermory
this 6th day of August 1896
                   John Hitchin Magistrate
                   for the Burgh of Tobermory

The above is a transcript, presented as closely as possible to the original, of a covering letter for the Crew Agreement of the ‘Crest’ for the first six months of 1896. She had been laid up at Tobermory for the whole of that period due to the death of her owner, Alexander McDonald of Tobermory. Other information appearing on the pages include that she was Registered at Greenock and that John McDonald was born on the Isle of Rum in 1838, making him 58 years-old at the time.
The letter appears to have been prepared beforehand and then signed and dated by the two men for the two inks are quite different and appear on the page as differentiated as they do in this transcript.

One thing that puzzles me is that I have been unable to find the Magistrate in any census records (despite looking at variations from Hitchin to Melchin, for the name is somewhat tricky to decipher!) but I have found John Macdonald in 1901when the ‘Ship Master Retired’ was living at 1 Argyll Terrace in Tobermory with his older sister, Mary. Twenty years earlier the pair were in Shore Street with their elderly mother, Ann, and John was unemployed at that point in time. In 1871 he appears to have been a ‘Ship Joiner’ living in Greenock but I am not absolutely certain that that was the same person.

Nevertheless, I quite like this little window on a past world, when a Ship Master clearly had his knuckles rapped by the authorities for failing to produce the required documentation on time. I believe that the Burgh of Tobermory were the Harbour Authorities at this time, thus explaining their involvement in this matter?

50 Years of Seafaring

“Sixty Seven years of age, he was one of the few remaining links connecting us with the time when in his youth the town of Stornoway was of considerable importance as a shipping port, and when a fine fleet of sailing ships registered here, and belonging to enterprising local owners, carried on an extensive trader with Archangel and the Baltic ports; ln those ships Mr Kerr had his first seagoing experience having, at the age of 14, joined the “Alliance” on a voyage to Archangel under Captain Macpherson. He continued in the same service under Captain John Smith, in the “Africa”, and in the brig “Supply”, with Captain Murdo Morrison – names of ships and men well known to all old Stornowegians.
After several years’ sailing in foreign parts on the “Gleniffer” of Glasgow he joined his father, the late Mr Malcolm Kerr, in the coasting trade off the West Coast of Scotland which he continued to work on this own account after his father’s death. There was no one better known than Mr Kerr in the different places of call between the Mersey and Cape Wrath, and no craft more readily recognised than the “Jessie,” the “Crest”, and the “Lady Louisa Kerr”; which he owned and sailed in succession..

…For some years Mr Kerr had worked on shore in the employ of Mr Murdo Maclean, shipping agent, where he was available as pilot for steamers proceeding south to Clyde, Mersey and Irish ports. His unique knowledge of the West Coast peculiarly fitted him for this service, and among mariners he had the reputation of being one of the most skilful and careful of pilots.”
Selected extracts from Alexander John Kerr’s obituary – Stornoway Gazette October 1922

1855 – b. Stornoway
1869 – Captain Macpherson – ‘Alliance’ to Archangel
Captain Smith – ‘Africa’ (‘same service’)
before 1874 – Captain Murdo Morrison – brig ‘Supply’ (‘same service’)
‘Glennifer’ of Glasgow (‘foreign parts’)
1896-1903 -‘Crest’ (confirmed dates)
1903?-1914? – ‘Lady Louisa Kerr’
1914?-1922 – Mr Murdo Maclean

Captain Macpherson
1861 – Murdo Macpherson, 46, Sailor Merchant Service, 5 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
1881 – Murdoch Macpherson, 68, Retired Ship Captain, 12 North Beach St, b. Stornoway
 (Living with his sister, their niece is a doctor’s daughter, the doctor being Robert Clark of Harris )

1866 6th February Driven ashore near Stornoway by a gale
UNDATED Wrecked ‘on the north side of Wick Bay’

Captain Smith – No obvious candidates in the censuses.

Captain Murdo Morrison
1881- Murdo Morison, 45, Seaman, 21 Scotland St, b. Stornoway
1891 – Murdo Morrison, 53, Seaman and Grocer, 24 Scotland St, b. Stornoway

1874 February sees her wrecked in the Solway Firth

1901 – GLENIFFER, James Watt Dock, Greenock East, Renfrewshire
Robert Macaulay, 23, Seaman, b. Harris
Built of iron in 1866 in Glasgow, this 800 ton sailing ship made no less than four trips to the St Lawrence in 1871. Alexander John Kerr sailed on her for several years ‘in foreign parts’, as his obituary puts it.

‘Jessie’ 3393 Inverness 1850 31 tons
Ports of Registry
Inverness MNL 1857
Inverness Sail 31 tons 1860 (MNL)
Stornoway Sail Sloop 1880 (MNL)
AJK 1876-1897(?) 21 years
Crew Agreements 1864, 1867-1897, some missing (MHA)
The Belfast News-Letter
Thursday, August 31st, 1876 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
Monday, August 15th, 1881 – The Jessie, Kerr, from Stornoway
1886 – Link to photograph that includes her whilst moored in Stornoway

The Belfast News-Letter
Tuesday, February 16th 1897 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
Wednesday, January 25th 1899 – The Crest, Kerr, from Stornoway
1903 Wrecked off Kebock Head

‘Lady Louisa Kerr’ 12163 Belfast 1846 Sail 49 tons
Ports of Registry
Belfast 1857 (MNL)
Belfast Sail 48 tons 1860 (MNL)
AJK 1903(?)-1914(?) 11 years
Crew Agreements 1864-1914, only 7 years (MHA), (1863, 68/9 @ PRO NI)

Mr Murdo Maclean
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 30, Commission Merchant, Seaforth House (Scotland St), b. Uig, Ross
1901- Murdo Maclean,41, General Merchant Draper Grocer, 59 Kenneth St, b. Stornoway
1901 – Murdo Maclean, 24, Draper’s Assistant, 11 Garden Road, b. Ross, Lochs, Stornoway?
No Shipping Agent found, but one of these three might, perhaps, of become one?

My previous piece Belfast News Letter contains additional newspaper records and other details including a few references to arrivals of vessels from Stornoway whose Master was ‘Kerr’ and therefore possibly Alexander John or his father, Malcolm.
A little more about William Grant can be read in my piece on his son, James Shaw Grant .

‘MNL’ refers to Mercantile Navy List, an explanation of which can be seen here.
‘PRO NI’ refers to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
‘MHA’ refers to the Maritime History Archive

Taking the ‘Crest’ home…

It is the Monday 26th of October 1896 and we are observing a vessel preparing to go to sea from the harbour at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. She’s a yard or so under 60 feet in length and her twin masts, the larger in front of the smaller, identifies her as a ketch rather than a schooner. It is 34 years since she first felt the salty kiss of the sea around her Manx-formed curves and, having been laid up for several months since the death of her previous owner and watching the hustle and bustle at Thomas Telford’s ‘Fisherman’s’ pier not knowing when or indeed, if, she would feel the wind in her neatly stored sails again.

The three men who were now busy readying those sails to once again harness the power of the wind to drive her forward through the waters of the West coast of Britain were all older than she was and knew their roles inside out. The two younger men, in their early forties, were both Stornowegians who had spent their previous voyages on a pair of steamships, the ‘Alice’ of Stornoway and the ‘Clydesdale’ of Glasgow for as the end of the 19thC loomed, so did the end of the era of sail. King coal, that had powered the industrial revolution in Britain, was now extending its empire to include the waters of the ocean that had previously been the province of sail and oar alone.

The old man, who was already as old as his companions at the time of the birth of the ‘Crest’, had joined her from the small sailing sloop ‘Jessie’ of Stornoway. This Hearach, now in his 70s, was the Mate or Bosun on board but, as father of her Master and Owner, he was in all respects the senior member of the crew. The ‘Jessie’ had been in the family for at least 20 years and this little 30 ton Fraserbugh-built ship had been well into her forties by the time that they had looked to replace her. The old man had heard of the ‘Crest’ on the Gaelic grapevine and they needed a larger, faster vessel if they were to remain competitive in the coastal trade. Her Master needed rid of her (he had already had to write to the Burgh of Tobermory apologising for not having completed the required documentation for the first six months of the year) and so she was to be had for a very good price.

Having found her, the old man sent word back to Stornoway that when his son and their friend John Macleod had finished their steamship duties, they should hasten to Mull to collect the new prize. This duly happened and thus it was that on that Monday morn the final rope was let slip and, gently, slowly, and carefully the ‘Crest’ set forth on the remaining years of her life.

This first voyage was in fact a swift one to Larne for lime. They covered the 130 Nautical miles (150 land miles) within a day, arriving in Ireland on Tuesday. Whether it was 13 hours at 10 knots, 26 hours at 5 knots or some other average speed we cannot know, but we do know that they remained in Larne until Saturday 14th of November, perhaps delayed by loading, perhaps by the weather, when the ‘Crest’ left for Gairloch on the Scottish mainland. She didn’t reach Gairloch, a distance of perhaps 220 Nautical miles, until Tuesday 24th November which is a clear indication that the journey took place over several ‘legs’ with shelter being taken along the coast along the way. This reminds us that these small coastal vessels were able to explore the remote regions quite ably and provided a valuable service to the inhabitants of these isolated communities. A few hundredweight of coal could be loaded into the ship’s boat and delivered to a coastal cottage, news given and received and who knows what other small trades took place! The news could spread in this way at surprising speed and, whilst there was the postal service, an enormous amount must have been delivered in this manner amongst the oral Gaelic landscape at a time when the reading and writing of English was far from ubiquitous, especially amongst the more mature residents?

Whatever occurred during those 11 days at sea, most of the lime appears to have been unloaded at Gairloch and by Monday 30th November the men were rested and ready to make the short hop of 30 Nautical miles across the Minch to Tarbert on Harris which they reached the following day.

There followed a week on Harris, plenty of time for the old man and his son to reacquaint themselves with their relatives on the island including the old man’s eldest son at An-t-Ob, his nephew at Rodel and his sister-in-law at Direcleit to mention just three of the families still there. It is altogether likely that the new vessel was welcomed into the family with due celebration!

On Tuesday 8th December 1896 they said their farewells and made the journey up the East coast of Harris to the new home of the ‘Crest’, Stornoway. All three men returned to their homes in the town more than six weeks after having slept in their own beds.

The old man and his son were looking forward to 1897 and what it would bring them and their new travelling companion, the ‘Crest’…

Note: This is my interpretation of the known facts which I have embellished in parts to create a (hopefully!) more coherent narrative.

Lime from Larne

I have long wondered about the Crest’s cargoes and had erroneously suggested that she may have been taking on coal in Larne. In fact, Ireland has very little coal (although there were a few working mines there) and the trade in coal went in the opposite direction from the massive coalfields in the West of Scotland.

Thus the voyages of the Crest to and from Larne, proceeding there unladen and leaving with a load, led me to investigate what commodity that part of the North of Ireland produced that would have been required in Scotland, both on the Mainland and in the isles. I discovered this interesting reference to lime which was used for cement, whitewash and to neutralise acid soils.

Similarly, in November 1897 she took on cargo at Carrickfergus, taking it to Loch Maddy in North Uist and then (unless she swapped cargoes!) the remainder to Tarbert in Harris. My guess is that this cargo was rock salt from the vast mines as recorded in this BBC clip .

The other port in Ireland that was visited was Belfast but in that case it appears that goods were only being imported there for she appears to always have left unladen, collecting any cargo from neighbouring Larne.

Note: Here are the recorded voyages of 1896-1899:
Summary Map:

Steamboat Agents of Stornoway

Here are those in the 1841-1901 censuses working as Steamboat Agents in the town:

James Gair, 46, Steam Boat Agent, Point Street, b. Tain, Ross
John Cameron, 18, Clerk to Steam Boat Agent, Point Street, b. Greenock

Daniel Macalister, 37, Steam Packet Agent, 10 Francis Street, b. Dunvegan, Inverness-shire

Daniel Mcalister, 46, Steamer Agent, 18 Francis Street, b. Duirinish, Inverness-shire

John Harrold, 35, Steamboat Agent, 6 Point Street, b. Wick
Archibald Munro, 32, Steamboat Agent, 30 Keith Street Main Door, b. Stornoway

John Harrold, 45, Steamboat Agent & C, 55 Cromwell Street, b. Wick

John Harrold, 55, Steamer Agent, Clydesdale, 10 mls S of Stornoway, b. Wick

Two observations spring to mind:
Firstly, Archibald Munro’s address in 1881 reminds us that many houses were in multiple occupancy in the town, a situation the continued well into the 20thC and
Secondly,  finding Steamer Agent John Harrold aboard the steam ship ‘Clydesdale’ in 1901 is an unexpected delight, especially as the seaman John Macleod had served on this very vessel immediately prior to joining my relatives ketch the Crest on the 20th of October 1896. Another minor coincidence!

Update: I believe this record of 13th January 1905 to be that of the loss of the Clydesdale when she was carrying mail from Oban to Barra. The record has her as a 20thC steamship but I think it more likely that she was the 1862-built vessel that John Harrold had been aboard some 4 years earlier.

Official Numbers 44417-44434

As usual, I am attempting to extract as much information as possible from a source and, in this case, am returning to a list of the Official Numbers , including Port of Registry, allocated to vessels.
This list, in numerical order, starts with a vessel in 1882 and ends with one in 1862, telling us that the numbers were not allocated chronologically. The two highlighted groups are of vessels built in the Isle of Man but why we have a trio, then a gap of one ship, followed by a group of six Manx vessels is a mystery. I am still trying to discover whether batches of numbers were issued to individual locations, or builders, who then used them as they constructed each ship or on some other basis. It’s a mystery!

However, the fact that CREST 44427 sits as the single Ramsey-constructed ship amongst a batch built in the South of the Isle of Man might add weight to the idea that she was built by Gibson Macdonald of North Ramsey who are the only Shipbuilders listed in Ramsey at that time. They remain my front-runner in the construction-stakes!

44417 LORD CLYDE 1882 Scarborough 115
44419 PRINCE ALFRED Swansea
44420 AVALANCHE Cork 29
44421 VESPER Douglas 22
44422 ROVER Douglas 40
44423 ATALANTA Douglas 23
44424 FRED Peterhead 16
44425 HARKAWAY Douglas 49
44426 IOLANTHE Douglas 45
44427 CREST Ramsey 47
44428 JUBILEE Douglas 23
44429 BESSY Douglas 24
44430 BESSY Castletown 36
44431 PRINCE ALBERT Aberdeen 258
44434 BON ACCORD 1862 Aberdeen 99

Note: The figure at the end of each entry refers to the Register Tonnage of the vessel.

A Patent or Two from 1862

I’ve been attempting to discover who the shipbuilder might have been who built the CREST 44427 in Ramsey(?) on the Isle of Man in 1862. (The (?) is there because I’ve not had a lot of success in discovering reference to ship-building facilities in Ramsey at that time.)

However, and as an aside, I came upon the volume ‘Chronological Index for Patents Applied For and Patents Granted in 1862’ published by The Patents Office, and a couple of interesting references therein:

p135 – Gibson 9th July 1862 – Thomas Cummings Gibson, of Ramsey, Isle of Man, Ship Builder, for an invention for – ‘Improvements in the construction of ships and vessels for the purpose of carrying and wharehousing petroleum, palm oil, and other oils or inflammable fluids.’ Provisional protection only

p221 – Defl. Gibson 4th December 1862 – Frederick Daniel Delf, of Liverpool, in the County of Lancaster, Chemist, and Thomas Cummings Gibson, of Ramsey, in the Isle of Man, Gentleman, for an invention for – ‘Improved means and apparatus whereby petroleum and other oils and hydro-carbons can be safely carried and stored.’ Provisional protection only.

Apparently petroleum was needed for its paraffin content but unscrupulous dealers adulterated it with the more volatile (and, at that time, worthless!) components resulting in many domestic fires. The Petroleum Act 1862 was designed to reduce these events, describing any liquid with a flash-point below 100 degrees Celsius as flammable. The timing of this Act with the granting of these Patents cannot be entirely coincidental?

I have been unable to discover any more information regarding the Ship Builder/Gentleman, the Chemist nor the details of their inventions…

Note: Gibson MacDonald & Co., North Ramsey  appear as the only Ramsey Ship Builders in Thwaite’s 1863 Directory so, if the CREST was indeed built in Ramsey, she would appear to have been one of their vessels. The first-ever oil-tanker, ‘The Jane’, was built there in 1865.

Update: The 1861 census shows 60 year-old Thomas C Gibson from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne living in Bride on the Isle of Man. His occupation is ‘Manufacturer of cement and artificial manures(?) and Ship (something!)’. A wonderful description of Ramsey in the 1860s that I have just found can be read here and one of the vessels here . I am still not convinced that the 47 ton Crest was one of theirs, but you never know!

Ports Visited by the CREST 1896-1899

Here, in alphabetical order, are the ports listed in the Crew Agreements for the 1862-built Crest during the first four years sailing under her new owner & Master, Alexander John Kerr:

Ayr, Mainland
Belfast, Ireland
Carloway, Lewis
Carrickfergus, Ireland
Castlebay, Barra
Gairloch, Mainland
Larne, Ireland
Loch Eishort, Skye
Lochmaddy, North Uist
Oban, Mainland
Stornoway, Lewis
Tarbert, Harris
Tobermory, Mull
Troon, Mainland
Ullapool, Mainland

Not a huge list, but one that displays the variety of places served by the island men who plied the coastal trade of the West Coast of Scotland at this time.

View CREST 1896-1899 in a larger map

CREST Voyages of 1899

I left my account of the previous year’s voyages with the arrival of the Crest in Belfast on the 23rd of January 1899 .

Aboard were her Master, Alexander John Kerr, and his crewmen Donald Macmillan, Malcolm Munro and John Macleod who had joined the ship at Oban following the death of Alexander’s father, Malcolm Kerr.

On Feb 1st she sets sail for Larne which she reaches on the 4th. The figures for her draught and freeboard suggest that she was unladen. Having loaded their cargo, the men leave Larne on the 1st of March and arrive in their home port of Stornoway on the 10th. As usual, Alexander John doesn’t specify his cargo but lime would be a reasonably likely commodity at this time. The men spend a fortnight at home before the unladen Crest sails for Larne on the 24th of March. She doesn’t arrive until the 10th of April but whether this was because of the weather or, perhaps, ‘other reasons’ is open to conjecture!

Once loaded, they leave Larne on Mayday and reach Gairloch on the West Coast of the Scottish mainland on the 7th of May. They return to Stornoway on the 19th, crossing the Minch on the same day. In Stornoway John Macleod is discharged, Alexander John rating his conduct and ability as ‘Vg’. Oddly, the date of John’s discharge is shown a week earlier on the 12th of May but I am pretty sure that this is just another instance of the retrospective nature of the form-filling. On the 22nd of May John’s replacement appears in the shape of Donald Macdonald, a 43 year-old from Lochs who is a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer’s.

The Crest is loaded, perhaps with Herring, and on the 25th she departs Stornoway and arrives in Castlebay on Barra on the 26th of May. Cargo safely delivered, the empty vessel leaves on the 5th of June and makes Larne on the 10th. Loaded, she leaves Larne on the 26th of June and reaches Stornoway on the 29th, suggesting that this 47 ton ketch was no slouch even when loaded to the gunwhales. On the 7th of July Donald Macdonald is discharged with Alexander’s inevitable ‘Vg’s.

I do not know precisely for how many years Alexander John and his father had worked the coastal trade together but these voyages were the first such set that he undertook on a vessel that he owned without his father’s presence and it must have been a poignant moment when he completed the Crew Agreements without putting ‘Malcolm Kerr’ in the first space beneath his own name.

Significantly, none of the seamen of 1899 are given the status of Mate or Bosun that Malcolm held.

On the 12th of July 43 year-old Alexander John and 55 year-old Malcolm Munro are joined by 60 year-old John McRae from Habost in Lochs who joins fron the ‘Mary Ann’ of Stornoway. The crew is completed by an 18 year-old ‘Boy’ called Alexander John Maciver from Stornoway. He is the Master’s nephew and my own grandfather’s Half-Brother. He bears his Uncle’s name and would serve in and survive WWI .

The 17th of July see the laden Crest setting sail for Carloway which she makes on the 1st of August. It was whilst making this same journey in January 1890 that Alexander John Kerr had lost the ‘Spanker’ in the Sound of Harris in the vicinity of An-t-Ob.

There are four more voyages for 1899, in each case the Crest appears unladen, and they were from Carloway to Stornoway on from the 12th to the 13th of August, Stornoway to Portree on the 12th to the 13th of September, from Portree back to Stornoway from the 7th to 8th of October and finally on the 2nd of November from Stornoway to Loch Eshart, reaching there on the 18th of November.
Whilst in Stornoway, John McRae left on the 11th of October but wasn’t replaced until the 1st of November when John McDonald, a 48 year-old from Harris, joined the crew. He, together with both the Alexander Johns, stayed with the ship in Loch Exhart but on the 22nd of December Malcolm Munro left them. It is unfortunate that, whilst new crewmen had to give the name of their previous vessel, those departing do not record the next ship (if they had one) so we cannot tell how Malcolm Munro returned to his home in Stornoway.

The Crest ‘Remains in Loch Eshart’ and, until I purchase the Crew Agreements for 1900-1903 when she was wrecked on the 18th of April 1903 , that is where we shall have to leave her…