Thursday, November 14, 2013

Caithness and Johanna Magdalena aka Prince William Henry

Fleet of East Indiamen at Sea by Nicholas Pocock

Captain Woodriff’s log of HMS Calcutta reveals that the six British seamen (including James Caithness) had been on the ship Johanna Magdalena prior to joining the Calcutta’s complement at Simon’s Bay in August 1803.

Johanna Magdalena is a commonly-found pairing of Dutch forenames and implies the ship was of that nationality, but the matter is not plain-sailing. This vessel had previously been the Prince William Henry, a British-built East Indiaman of 808 tons from Barnard’s yard - premier supplier to the Hon. East India Company. Launched in 1787, she plied the England to India route via the Cape of Good Hope, calling at St Helena or Madeira, her main destinations being Madras and Bombay. 

Bombay, Fort St George

In February 1797 she was captained by Roger Baskett: when he married in 1804 he is mentioned in newspaper announcements as ‘late of the Prince William Henry East Indiaman’. Lloyd’s Register for 1803 reveals that in that year her captain was Dale, and she continues to be listed similarly in 1804 and 1805. Yet she was known as the Johanna Magdalena in August 1803, according to Woodriff’s log.

As Prince William Henry she is shown in Lloyd's Register 1803 with the following description (see third ship on the list):

1803 Lloyd’s Register: Prince William Henry, Ship, s.W and C = Sheathed with Copper over Boards, Captain Dale, 808 tons 3 Ds = 3 decks, River = built on the Thames, sev. rprs = several repairs, 16 = feet of draught of water when loaded, Lo. = port of survey London, destination port India, class E I =2nd class, materials of vessel 1st quality.

A reference in the London Star of 10 Aug 1803 states ‘At Batavia, Johanna Magdalena, Dale, from Amsterdam.'  This ship was suffering from an identity crisis.

The clue is in the word ‘Batavia’ - i.e. the eastern HQ of the Dutch East India Company.

It is a reminder that in August 1803 the Cape had recently been brought under the rule of the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands) and would remain so until 1806. Events should be seen against that background. When HMS Calcutta arrived at Simon's Bay Knopwood noted that they found ships there flying Dutch colours. The Dutch were French allies.* Whether the Prince William Henry was purchased or captured from the British, followed by a change of name, she apparently retained her captain, Dale.

By April 1804, Lloyd’s List reports the Johanna Magdalena of Batavia, still under Dale’s command, is ‘condemned at the Cape of Good Hope’.

So far it’s not possible to determine precisely when James Caithness joined the Johanna Magdalena – or if she was at that stage known as the Prince William Henry. Further searching in musters may show his date of discharge from his earlier ship, HMS Mars, and clarify the situation.

Batavia by John Wells

* Read more about this confusing period of history at

Tom Sheldon

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