Monday, February 10, 2014

Tracing a Master Mariner 3

Calcutta port with shipping
In the 1840s George Caithness was master of various ships as listed in his Claim for his Master’s Certificate. These voyages were all for the ‘foreign trade’,taking him as far afield as South America as well as slightly nearer home to the Mediterranean. By 1849 he was sailing to Calcutta in the barque Nizam, built in 1847 by J Mearns’s yard; her home port was Sunderland. She is listed in the North of England Maritime Directory and Shipping Register 1848.*

During these years George was away from his family for extended periods of time. He had married Caroline Miller, though so far no record of this event has been found. 

Their first child, Caroline Ann, was born in Southampton in 1843, followed by another daughter, Eleanor, at Hartlepool in 1845 and a son George John whose baptism was recorded on 13 November 1850 at Monkwearmouth ‘to George and Caroline Caithness of Monkwearmouth Shore’, George is described as Master Mariner.

Caithness family entry 1851 Census Monkwearmouth. Click to zoom.

The children and their mother appear in the 1851 Census at North Quay, Monkwearmouth, with Caroline as Master Mariner’s wife ‘and Victualler’. George is absent, though probably not on the high seas.

'George Caithness, late of the Quay-side, Monkwearmouth, Durham, Mariner and Publican - In the Gaol of Durham'

A news report shows that George had got into financial difficulties and was consigned to Durham gaol for debt; he appeared in court on 9 August 1850. The details given below indicate how much George had moved around and that he had frequently been ‘out of employment’. This was not uncommon for Master Mariners.

It seems George had tried to make a living ashore as a publican, given the vicissitudes of life as a merchant captain. These must have been hard times for his wife and family.

George's name appeared in Perry's Bankrupt Gazette 27 July 1850

However, this downturn passed. George received his Master’s Certificate in June 1851 and continued at sea in the Merchant Service.

What is a Master Mariner?

A master mariner is a man judged to be qualified to be in charge of a vessel, and is frequently referred to in non-official sources as a captain. Master mariners were issued with a certificate, many of which have survived, but these records are not complete and only cover service between 1845 and 1927

Examinations for Masters were introduced in 1845, but did not become compulsory for the foreign trade until 1850, and the home trade (i.e. those trading in UK coastal waters and with north European ports) until 1854.

Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master-mariners, mates and engineers:

*Source: The Sunderland Site: vessels built at Sunderland 1847

Tom Sheldon

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