Monday, August 5, 2013

Ships and Mariners: 19th c Cape and Natal 1 Bell

…those proud ones swaying home
With mainyards backed and bows a cream of foam,
Those bows so lovely-curving, cut so fine,
Those coulters of the many-bubbled brine …’

Masefield’s vision is rose-coloured: seafaring could be a grim business. 

On 2 July 1831, the South African Commercial Advertiser reported a fatal maritime accident which had occurred on the 20 June at Algoa Bay:  
Before the Schooner Conch got under weigh … a brass gun was fired for the purpose of warning the Passengers to embark, when unfortunately the gun burst, and severely wounded the seaman who fired the gun. He was immediately taken on shore, and it was found necessary to amputate one of his legs, but he expired on the following day.
We aren’t told the name of the dead man. 

At this date, Conch was not under the command of Captain William Bell, who only a month earlier had been serving as 2nd officer on Thorne, which ship went aground near Robben Island on 18 May 1831. From information gathered in Cape press shipping columns it seems likely that Captain Cobern was master of the Conch at the time of the gruesome event described above. Cobern may have held that command since the death, significantly aged only 37, of the wonderfully-named Captain Telemachus Musson ‘late of the Schooner Conch’ on 1 March 1827.* The life of a merchant mariner was erratic, dangerous and frequently short. 

In October 1834, there is reference to Captain A Humble sailing Conch from Knysna to Table Bay. Another name that crops up is T Bosworth. These captains were all operating under the auspices of ship’s agent James Smith and by at least January 1837 William Bell was added to the stable.** 

Conch 1834

Schooners were a favourite type of coasting vessel. Rigged with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, they required a comparatively small crew and were thus more economical to run than were square-rigged vessels. Speedy and of low draught, enabling them to enter shallow harbours, schooners carried some passengers but their most important function was transporting a variety of colonial produce. 

Conch was about 100 tons; some sources describe her as a brigantine, though this indicates a square-rigged vessel, which she was not. Her Port of Registry was Cape Town. Her regular Ports of Call were Cape Town, Algoa Bay, Mossel Bay, St. Helena, Knysna, Saldanha Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Simon's Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Breede River, Struys Bay, Port Beaufort, Waterloo Bay. However, under Bell's command she visited Natal more than once, leading to his knowledge of that harbour when his assistance was required during the conflict in 1842. 

Ships were owned and registered in part shares – 64 shares being the customary number, supposedly because ships traditionally had 64 ribs. 

*Possibly Telemachus Giles Musson/Masson b 1781, son of a Chief Mate in the East India Company’s service and the widowed Mrs Maria Musson; East India Company Pensions 1793-1833. Also: KAB MOIC Vol 2/323 Ref 1143 Liquidation and Distribution Account.

** John Owen Smith later took over as ship's agent.



enjoyed this one. Thank you Mole

Mole said...

Thanks for your continued encouragement and interest in the blog. Appreciated, Mole