Captain Fraser 1

A good place to start is with those still around to tell us their stories, and so a week ago I sat down with my father, set my iPhone in front of him on the Voice Memos app, and asked him to talk about anything he liked.  He was uncertain at first, even said I shouldn’t have told him I was recording so that he’d be more natural, but it didn’t take long before he forgot all about the recording device and just talked, and talked, and talked.

Mostly he talked about his time at sea, as those are the stories he remembers best and most likes to tell, and of course I had heard some of them before.  In times past he would suddenly launch into a detailed rendition about some naval engagement in World War II, and I would always regret that I didn’t have a tape recorder handy.  This time, with a little prompting, he went into much more detail, and the larger story of his early life began to emerge.  Before we were done that evening, I had recorded over an hour of our conversation, which I am still transcribing.  We covered the period of his life in some detail from the age of 17 until his late 20s, which covers the war years through obtaining his Master’s Certificate as a merchant mariner.  We touched on later events in a little less detail up until the time of his emigration to the United States at the age of 48, not much older than I am now.  I expect to follow up with him when he’s ready to go back into this period (1945-1969) in more detail, and also to press on to the later years, when of course I was more present in the picture and have a few memories of my own to complement.

Our discussion naturally raised more questions and left me with some leads for further investigation.  He mentioned attending “Clifton College” or the “University of Clifton” in Bristol, England, in 1938, studying in their Department of Navigation.  So, I contacted the Assistant Keeper of the Archives for Clifton College, which is a well-regarded public school (private school to Americans), knowing that it didn’t seem the sort of institution which would be training merchant mariners.  It is really more of a university-prep high school, and indeed the Archivist confirmed that my father was not on their rolls.  He suggested, however, that I try the City College of Bristol, which does have a marine studies program today.  I am waiting to hear back from them.

My father served on ships belonging to the J & C Harrison company out of England, but J & C Harrison is now out of business after having run steamships around the world for nearly 100 years.  He then served aboard ships for the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand; they too are now defunct.

Southerly aspect from Norwich Quay. At No.4 Wh...
Union Steamship Company vessel MV Kaimiro at Lyttelton, New Zealand, in 1956

However, I have contacted Maritime New Zealand, which in the 40s and 50s was known as the Marine Department, and from them obtained a scan of handwritten entries in their register showing the dates my father’s 1st Mate‘s and then Master‘s Certificates were issued.  His received his 2nd Mate‘s Certificate in England, so they don’t have a direct record of that.  Unfortunately the actual Certificates, along with his papers detailing the ships he served aboard, have been mislaid during a house move in recent years, which is something of a tragedy.  I do hope that perhaps we will still find them among papers held in storage, but my confidence in this is not high.

I do have, however, a crew manifest from the Hartlepool upon her arrival in Astoria, Oregon, from Nagoya, Japan, in April 1939, in which my father’s name appears as a Cadet.  I also have a document from the British National Archives detailing one or more of the medals he was awarded for service aboard merchant ships during the war.  The actual medals still hang upon his wall in a frame.

Together we also applied for a copy of his service record from the New Zealand Defence Force Archives, as he was an active member and officer of the Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve.  I am still waiting to hear back, but as this is happening by regular postal mail, it may take a while.  It appears similar records may exist with the British Royal Naval Reserve and merchant service, but most of these do not appear to be available online; they will eventually require a personal visit to their offices.  Fortunately, I may be able to call upon family in England to help with that.

Slowly, piece by piece, his life is coming together as a coherent narrative.  For these early years, at least, it is a narrative of adventure, a boy running off to sea to find his future, a war shaping the boy into a man, and a man coming home only to sail over the horizon once more, commanding ships as they ply all the waters of the world.  There are torpedoes and dive bombers, cold Russian ports and warmer Pacific ones, romance across the Atlantic, and love found while far from home.

The Voyage of the Adamant

The Adamant sailed from England to the South Island of New Zealand in 1875, arriving at Bluff on December 4th after a voyage of 144 days.  It was one of the more unusual voyages for an emigrant ship, as you’ll see from this diary recorded by one of the passengers.  Among the passengers were the family of James and Maria Spratt, my ancestors.  My thanks to Elaine Mullins for passing this account on to me.

The Voyage of the Adamant

as recorded by Ben Ward, September 1875
A short sketch of the voyage, with an account of the ship running aground.

July 10th     We left Blackwall at about 2pm, and arrived off Gravesend about 4pm.
July 11th     More Emigrants arrive on board.
July 12th     The Government Inspector arrives on board and passed all correct. We had a splendid view of the Gravesend Regatta.
July 14th     At 1pm the Tugboat came alongside and we were tugged as far as Peachey Head.
July 16th     The Pilot leaves the ship. We had a splendid run down the Channel.
July 23rd     A child died belonging to Mr Hill, was buried with usual shipboard ceremony.
July 28th     A Mrs Phelps was confined of a son.
August 15th     One of the crew caught a shark which was cooked and some of us had the pleasure of tasting it.
August 21st     Crossed the line, seven of the crew undergo the curious old custom of being shaved.
August 28th     Concerts have been going on greatly to the amusement of the passengers for sometime past and they were enjoying themselves in this way this evening. Singing had not long commenced when the look-out on the forecastle shouted “Light ahead“. Some of us went forward to look at it. The Captain, First Mate, Boatswain, with others of the crew soon joined us, and using their glasses, came to the conclusion that it was a ship’s light. However, it did not appear to make way for us, for we were making right on it. After a short time, the Captain gave orders to bear off to the right. We were not sailing for more than fifteen minutes, if as long, when suddenly a light much larger than the first burst upon us. “Why” said some, “That’s another ship just put out her lights.” To the experienced, it was only too evident that a lighthouse which had hitherto had the dark part of the lantern towards us now glared in all its brightness towards us. Then came the scene.
Clear the deck, all married women below. All hands about ship,” were the orders given from the Captain in rapid succession. That, with the knowledge that the lights were land lights and not ship’s, caused some to think we were running aground. Indeed, one woman ran below wringing her hands, called for her children, shouting “What shall we do, we are on the rocks?” The ship was soon about and all was quiet, except among the women below, where there was some excitement and one or two fainted. The lights were watched for more than half an hour after the ship went about. The Captain certainly did not know where we were for he said the name of the place was Pernanbuco. Next day we learned that we were between 3 & 4 South Latitude. Pernanbuco is about 9º South, so much for the Captain’s care. This was the last concert held on board.

September 1st     Sighted an island named Fernando Noronha after tacking about. In fact it has been all tacking about on the coast, for we have had the south-east trades against us. We sight land again on the 4th, 5th, and 8th September. Still in sight of land, and we passed two black men in a boat, fishing.

September 9th     Saw lights from shore at 8pm.

September 10th     At 8pm, the Captain ordered married women below. They refused to obey as it was too soon and a beautiful night; at 8.15 he again ordered them below and again he was disobeyed. At 8.40 the Boatswain was ordered by him to play the hose upon them. The Boatswain acted as though he did not hear. At 9 o’clock he ordered them below again. At 9.15 they went below. As they were descending the hatchway, the captain threatened them in the following language, viz ; “The first time it blows half a gale of wind I will pay you for your trouble.” He made use of words to the same effect when going his rounds with the Doctor at 10pm.

September 11th     The following notice was affixed to the door of the stores, viz, “All married females are expected to go to their beds not later than 9.30pm, if ordered below earlier it will be for the working of the ship, or on account of bad weather.” by order Thomas Burch, Master. 11th Sept. ’75 G J Stewart, Surgeon.

September 13th     Once or twice it seemed as if we were trying how near we could get to land without meeting danger; more than once the rumour went around that we were very near running aground.

September 16th     The novelty of seeing land was now worn off. It was in sight all that day and we were slowly making on it; about 4pm, as the ship was put about, there was so little water that she actually stirred mud from the bottom. In spite of this, the Captain again ordered her about at 7pm. At 8pm rockets were fired from shore. One of the women on seeing them, said to the Captain, “Look at the lights“, on which he ordered the married women below, and the mainsail up ready to go about, and there, unfortunately, he stopped. At 8.30pm I was speaking to the Engineer. He told me he had stopped the engine, for we should not require any more water, and that he had packed up his box of tools in readiness to go ashore, as he said we should soon go aground if the Captain continued on the same tack as we were then going, and that he should not go to bed before he had seen the ship put about.

Being in such shallow water before on this tack, and so soon turning on it again, caused us to think we were getting in shallow water again. So they began sounding about 9.20pm. We were in nine and a half fathoms of water, at 9.50 the ship was put about.

At 10.5 the ship struck on a coral reef, but as the wind was very light, we did not go on with much force. I got up from bed and dressed myself, and when ascending the hatchway, I saw the Doctor, and he asked me what I wanted. Before I could reply to him, he told me to go below and pacify the women. I went below to please him.

There was some little excitement among them. It was no easy matter to pacify them. I then went on deck again, looked over the side, and found, as I had anticipated, that we were stuck fast. We must be thankful that it was a beautiful moonlight night and very little wind.

All the sails we set, including the Royals. Orders were given to square the yards to back her off. This was done several times, but finding they could not back her off in this way, word was given for all men to muster on the poop. They were desired to run from side to side. This had the effect of lifting the forepart of the keel, where she was caught, and the wind filling the sails from forward, they being square, drove her back, and we so got free, but only to get aground once more. The same means were again applied, and she was got off the second time. So we sailed away quite safe about 12pm. The whole time, the Doctor, 1st Mate, and 3rd mate acted manfully, the former in pacifying the women, the two latter in doing their utmost in getting the ship off.

The Captain, through whose intemperate habits we got aground, was holding himself on to the rails insensible through drink. The passengers did not care to go to their beds again, but gathered in groups expressing their indignation at the Captain’s conduct, and they determined to send in a requisition for the Captain to resign his post to the 1st Mate, owing to the former’s intemperate habits, also to put into the nearest port to have the ship examined. The passengers accordingly went on the poop to the 1st Mate and asked him if they were to send in a paper requesting the Captain to resign his post, would he take charge of the ship in his own hands. He gave them no definite answer, but requested them to go below, and assured them that he would answer for the safety of the ship for the future.

Going aground by no means came to us by surprise, for every thoughtful mind could see, by the way in which we were hugging so dangerous a coast, that it was next to impossible to escape some danger, more particularly when we consider that it was rumoured on good authority that the chart for the West Coast of South America was lost, and they were obliged to work on one that had become obsolete, and it was not for some time after we left the coast that the right chart was found.

September 17th     A requisition, signed by 106 male passengers as per copy was sent in to the Doctor. There was only a few who did not sign the requisition, most of them were employed on the ship, and so more or less, under a compliment to the Captain. The requisition was given to the Doctor who was somewhat against it. But seeing the passengers were firm, he handed it to the Captain, who threatened to log him for enticing the passengers to mutiny, which the Doctor rightly and stoutly denied. The Captain tore the paper up. This happened between 5 & 6 pm. The deputation waited for a reply to the requisition. The Captain replied he would send them an answer. After waiting some time, the following notice was affixed near the cabin door:

To Passengers in General
Please to mind your own business and leave navigation to myself.
Signed. Thomas Burch, Master
Charles Tupman ,1st Mate
O’Neill, 3rd Mate

We very much felt the need of some provisions in the law. Here was the Captain in command of a ship with about 250 souls on board. His intemperance unfitted him for his post.. He would not allow the 1st Mate to exercise his judgement, but insisted on commanding himself. We saw our danger, but to act determinedly would be mutiny. We ask him to put in at the nearest port, he coolly refuses. Would it be any use suggesting to the authorities that there be no strong drink except that used for medical comforts on board an Emigrant ship?

September 18th     We get a breeze from land which takes us out to sea.
September 21st     Sight land at daylight.
September 26th     The wheel was lashed.
September 28th     A Mrs Hart was confined of twins.
October 10th     Very rough, ship a heavy sea, which came between decks.
October 12th     A Mrs Phillips confined of a son.
October 13th     Passed the Cape of Good Hope.
October 17th     A Mrs Ayling confined of a daughter.
October 21st     Sight Prince Edwards Island, the top of which is covered with snow.
October 24th     At 4am, Mrs Ayling died, was buried at 1pm. Saw an iceberg.
October 27th     Saw two more icebergs.
November 3rd     A cask containing some rum was thrown overboard by the Chief Officer’s direction.
November 4th     Money left in the care of the Captain by passengers was returned to passengers by Chief Officer.
November 6th     At 5.40pm, the Captain died.
November 7th     The Captain was buried at 12 o’clock noon. The unfortunate gentleman was never seen on deck but twice since the ship ran aground.
November 17th     Mrs Hill confined of a daughter which only lived a short time.
November 22nd     Had cable up anchors, served out with the last of preserved meat, only had sufficient for the children.
November 23rd     The last of the pork is served out.
November 24th     Have porridge made for breakfast and served out with boiled rice for dinner in place of preserved meat.
November 25th     Store day. Each mess are served out with about 1lb of butter, no raisins. The single men receive no butter or tea.
November 27th     Pearl barley is issued in place of arrowroot or sago for children, and sugar in place of treacle.
November 28th     Sight a vessel Homeward bound from Melbourne. By orders of the Chief Officer, the lifeboat on the weather side is lowered and the 2nd and 3rd mates, accompanied by four of the crew rowed across to her, and returned with a small cask of flour, which fell overboard while hauling the boat up. After a short time, the boat on the lee side is lowered, and they succeeded in getting the cask again which they managed to get on board this time.

We had a very pleasant voyage. The food was very good with the exceptions of the potatoes and bread. The potatoes at the beginning of the voyage were so bad that at the rate of only one or two issued for a mess could be eaten. The bread was very bad for nearly all the way out, owing to having such bad flour for consumption. It was so bad at times that several batches were obliged at times to be thrown overboard. The oatmeal and rice were issued in a cooked state for about a week before arrival only.

We were fifty-one days in the tropics, and saw several kinds of fishes, amongst them may be mentioned whales.

The following is a correct copy of the requisition as given to the Doctor viz:-
To: George Stewart, Surgeon Superintendent
We the undersigned emigrants on board the ship “Adamant”, do earnestly request that the Captain give up the authority he now holds on board the above mentioned ship, to the 1st Mate before proceeding any further on our journey, as we consider our lives in peril through the ship being run aground about 10 o’clock pm, September 16th 1875. And likewise through the intemperate habits of the Captain, Thomas Burch. And if the Captain refuses to act in accordance with this requisition, we desire to be put in at the nearest port.

Ship “Adamant” September 17th, 1875

Daniel Smith                    F Fox                       M Butler
C F Hill                            Thomas Mason          Alfred Johnson
John Chittleburgh             F Gavey                    Thomas Brown
Duncan MacDonald           Thomas Lockerbie      Alfred Gilbert
Benjamin Ward                 John Hart                  J Thorn
Thomas McIntosh              Edward S Phillips       Stephen Henry Richard
G Conland                        George Beaxley          William Chantler
Benjamin Phelps               James Spratt            John Roderick
John Williams                   Frederick Sparke         John Disney
John Lightfoot                  Thomas Kelly              John Ford
Alfred Hart                       John O’Dwyer             John Irwin
Samuel C Lloyd                B Murphy                    Charles Rodan
Alfred Cowing                   M O’Neill                    Ben McGinn
Geaoge Ford                    William Bell                 M Connelly
William Hart                     James Stackpool         Dennis Kession
Robert Robertson              Henry Ker                  Thomas Joyce
Stephen Goldsworthy         Jos Perry                   James Feely
John Beer                          J W R McCandley       James Small
Hugh McShane                   R B Morris                 E Keenan
E Johnson                          Daniel Mc Coey         P Keenan
J Moseley                          Hugh Walker              C H Simmons
D J Service                        John Jackson             John Logan
J Wakeling                         William Shand            Henry Jones
G Culf                               P Walsh                      Alex McLennan
B Stackpool                       T Nille                        Alex McDonald
Dennis o’Neill                     Pat O’Connel              Nathan Ayling
Foster Wilkinson                 J Gifford                     M Cran
Stephen Burgess                Teress Fitzonan           W Keenan
T O’Sullivan                       William Batt                 Alfred Cochrane
George Geoffrey                 Richard Plaw               Robert McDougall
Dugald Livingstone             James Maher               Thomas McIntosh
John Bergin                        William Durie              James Deliny
D Donovan                         P Stackpool                 Kyren Clarke

The “Adamant” arrived at Bluff on December 4th,1875, after a voyage lasting 144 days. Maria Spratt turned twelve on the voyage, thus becoming a “single woman”, and was given into the care of the matron. This cost the New Zealand Company a further six pounds. The total cost to the company for the Spratt family to emigrate was sixty-six pounds. (Source, shipping list, Auckland Museum)

What’s in a name?

My name is Matthew Robert Campbell Fraser (but you can call me Matt).

I’ve long assumed that my middle names came from my father, Robert William Campbell Fraser, but the original source for the name Campbell was always a mystery to me until very recently.  For that matter, I didn’t know where William came from, and I don’t think I gave much thought to the origins of Robert, or even Matthew.  My mother once told me, when I was still a child, that she and my father nearly named me Christopher; as my father is fond of calling himself “Robin” instead of “Robert”, the temptation to call me “Christopher Robin” would probably have been too much, so perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies.

Back to the Campbell mystery, however.  As children we’re often told all sorts of apocryphal tales about our family histories.  I took it as an article of faith, based on these tales, that long ago in Scotland the Fraser and Campbell clans had fiercely feuded with each other, and so I wondered how that name should show up in mine.

Photo of Clan Fraser's gravestone located on t...
Image via Wikipedia

However, this story does not appear to be true.  While the Campbells certainly feuded a lot, I haven’t seen much historical evidence of it being with the Frasers, with one perhaps notable exception:  the clans were on opposing sides in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, during the Jacobite Risings, and I can see how this may have led to some hard feelings.  Still in the past couple hundred years there are many instances of intermarriage between the clans, and today just as there are Campbell Frasers like me, there are also Fraser Campbells out there.  So, the feud story isn’t true.

In fact, it’s those intermarriages that finally explain the origin of the name.  A Campbell is indeed among my ancestors:  Grace Campbell, who in 1835 married Alexander Fraser in Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.  Grace and Alexander are my great-great-grandparents, and their names show up again among their descendants.  Their second son was — wait for it — Robert Campbell Fraser.

So, Campbell mystery solved, and now we know where Robert came from.  Was I named for my father or my great-grandfather?  Both, really, as my father was certainly named for his grandfather.

So what about William?  Where does my father obtain this middle name?  Here the tradition of naming for grandparents holds; once again, he was named for a grandfather, this time on his mother’s side:  William Henry Statter, an Englishman, whose daughter married the son of Robert Campbell Fraser.

Among Frasers there are some names that appear very frequently.  Hugh, Simon, Alexander, Robert, John:  these are all very popular first names for male Frasers.  So, how did I become a Matthew (besides avoiding a Milne reference that would have dogged me for life)?  I have a sister named Deborah, so I’ve theorized that my parents went through a phase of using Biblical names, but they didn’t stick exclusively to that.  It’s a mystery still.

I suppose I could just ask them.