RHG at sea 2 – with P&O


Reggie’s service file in the archives of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra record that had been ‘Officer Mercantile Marine’ with the P&O Company.

1280px-civil_ensign_of_the_united_kingdom-svgThe ‘Mercantile Marine’ was the earlier name for the Merchant Navy –  the collective title for all the commercial shipping (i.e. non-military) both the UK registered ships and their crews. During the First World War, the loss of British commercial shipping to German U-boats  was so great (around 14,600 merchant seafarers lost their lives and 7,759,090 tons of ships were sunk) that King George V granted the title ‘Merchant Navy’ to the service in honour of their sacrifice. All British registered vessels fly the Red Ensign and have done so since 1674.

The P&O Company – The Peninsula and Orient Steamship Navigation Company – was probably the most famous of shipping lines in the Merchant Navy. It started in 1832 operating routes primarily between Britain and the Iberian Peninsula (i.e. Spain and Portugal) – using the name Peninsular Steam Navigation Company. The company flag colours are directly connected with the Peninsular flags: the white and blue represent the Portuguese flag at the time in 1837, in combination with the yellow and red the Spanish flag.  In 1837, the business won a contract from the Admiralty to deliver mail to the Iberian Peninsula and in 1840 they acquired a contract to deliver mail to Alexandria in Egypt. The present company, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, was incorporated in that year by a Royal Charter. Mail contracts were the basis of P&O’s prosperity until the Second World War, but the company also became a major commercial shipping line and passenger liner operator. In 1914, it took over the British India Steam Navigation Company (‘BI’), which was then the largest British shipping line, owning 131 steamers. In 1918, it gained a controlling interest in the Orient Line, its partner in the England- Australia mail route. Further acquisitions followed and the fleet reached a peak of almost 500 ships in the mid-1920s. In 1920, the company also established a bank, P&O Bank, that it sold to Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered Bank) in 1927.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, holds the company archives of P&O. In these archives, I unearthed Reggie’s employment record (I also discovered confirmation of his brother Theo’s employment as a clerk at the P&O head office in London):

P&O Officer's Register p 395 - RH Gill

Reggie is recorded as ‘second mate’ just under his date of birth at the top of the page, which I assume means that he held a Second Mates Certificate of Competency, which I presume he obtained from his apprenticeship with Thomas Stephens & Son.

[09/09/14 – I have just received this copy of Reg’s Certificate of Competency as Second Mate, dated … 11 December 1903]

Certificate of Competency - Second Mate 11 Dec 1903

Reggie started at P&O as 5th Officer of the Candia on 28 December 1903.The Candia was a genral cargo liner, launched in 1896 and plying the route between the UK and Australia. It was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917.


SS Candia

Four months later Reggie transferred to the Arabia, on 24 March 1904.

The Arabia was a passenger liner, launched in 1898, in service on the route between  the UK and India. The Arabia took Lord Curzon to India in 1898 to take up his his appointmentas Viceroy and in 1902 took a full load of passengers to the Delhi Durbar, who nicknamed her ‘RMS Grosvenor Square’. The Arabia was also sunk by a German U-boat during the First World War.

SS Arabia

But less than a month after joining the Arabia, on 18 April 1904 Reggie transferred to the Simla, in Bombay, so I imagine he was only on the Arabia for the voyage out from England to India.

SS Simla (1894)

The Simla was a passenger/cargo liner which was adapted as a troopship, carrying Indian troops to the Boer War and later used in famine relief in India. It too was sunk by a German U-boat, in April 1916.

Reggie was back on the Arabia on Christmas Eve 1904 in Bombay, but again just for a single month.  From 31 January to May 1905, Reggie was off sick and on 22 May he joined the China – one of five sister ships of the Arabia:

RMS China

The China was on the UK/India and UK/Australia mail route and in 1902 broke the record from Fremantle to Colombo with a run of 8 days and 28 minutes.  From the on-line archive of local newspapers in Australia I have discovered the first mention of Reggie in Fremantle,  as Fifth Officer on board the RMS China which called very briefly in the port on 27 June 1905 en route to the Eastern States. (It seems a ship used the title “R.M.S.”, meaning “Royal Mail Ship” – ‘a designation which dates back to 1840, is the ship prefix used for seagoing vessels that carry mail under contract to the British Royal Mail. Any vessel designated as RMS has the right to both fly the pennant of the Royal Mail when sailing and to include the Royal Mail “crown” logo with any identifying device and/or design for the ship’):

“At 10.30 yesterday morning the P. and O. Co.’s favourite liner China arrived at Fremantle from London and ports, and berthed at the Quay. Since her last visit to Australia some changes have taken place in the personnel of the officers of the ship. Captain Lockyer is now in charge, and has with him the following:-Chief, G. F. Caldwell; second, R. C. Warden; third, A. Martell; supernumerary, J. McGregor; fourth, J. Plumpton.; fifth, R. H. Gill; surgeon, E. Kennedy; chief engineer, W. C. Walker; purser, W. Bervice. Captain Lockyer reports as follows on the trip:-“Left London on the 26th May with 91 passengers and a general cargo. Fine weather prevailed until Gibraltar, which was reached on 30th May, and it was here that the first news was received of the battle between the two opposing fleets in the Far East.  From Gibraltar to Marseilles (lst June) fine weather ,with light winds, was experienced. At 10 a.m. on the 2nd June the China left Marseilles, having embarked 64 passengers. Port Said was reached on 6th inst. and upon the arrival of the mail packet Osiris, at 6 a.m. the following day. passengers and mails from Europe were transferred to the China. A rapid transit through the Canal was effected, and the China left Suez shortly after midnight, arriving in Aden on Sunday, 11th June, at 8 a.m. Here the China transferred 30 of her passengers, with the mails for India. to the P. and O. steamer Arcadia. The voyage down the Red sea was pleasant, with a strong N. wind. Leaving Aden at 1 p.m. on the 11th inst.. the China commenced her run down to Colombo. This was a pleasant surprise, for a light monsoon, with fine, clear weather, was experienced for the whole distance. Arriving at Colombo on the 17th June, the China connected with the Chusan, transferring passengers and mails for China and Japanese ports. Left Colombo shortly after midnight, and in a few hours a heavy swell from the S.E. was experienced. Dull weather, with heavy rain squalls, accompanied by a moderate sea, now set in until the 23rd. when the weather cleared considerably, although the S.E. wind and swell continued all the way to Fremantle.” (source: The West Australian 28 June 1905)

The China brought a few passengers for Fremantle, as well as about 200 tons of general cargo. She embarked a large number of voyagers, and resumed her voyage to the Eastern States during the afternoon.”

RMS China - 1897

Another newspaper records the China in meticulous detail in 1900 after a recent refit:

The reappearance in the colonies of the R.M.S.China is an interesting event, and visitors to PortMelbourne to-day will have an opportunity of again viewing this noted liner. The disaster which she met with on the rocks at Perim, her narrow escape, from total destruction, and her subsequent flotation and rehabilitation are matters of history. She was almost entirely re-built, and advantage was taken of the opportunity to make several improvements to the vessel on her original construction. The China is 514ft. long, 54ft.broad, and 37ft. deep. Her engines are of the new four cylinder triple and expansion type, giving 11,000 indicated horse-power. She can steam 17½ knots with ease. Her gross tonnage is 7,899 tons,and she can accommodate 313 first and 152 second saloon passengers, in addition to 187 European officers and crew, and 179 natives. The China has  many improvements, one of the most important being that the cabins of the commander and the  six other officers are all located together on the bridge deck. Above them rises the upper bridge,from which the vessel is steered. This bridge is 55 ft. above the water line, and being situated well  forward enables a capital look-out to he kept. The first-class dining saloon is amidships, a little for-ward of the engines, and measures 76 by 52 feet,having a height to the gable roof of the music saloon above of about 36ft. It is capable, of seat-ing 242 passengers. The saloon and all other parts of the ship are supplied with a complete electric  light installation, and, as is the case in the second saloon, with punkahs for use in the tropics. The second-class saloon is situated aft. The companion  and smokingroom arc decorated tastefully, The dining saloon provides seating accommodation for153, and is furnished in mahogany, with a handsome wallpaper picked out with a rich design in pink and gilt. Cabins are fitted with all the latest interior comforts. A feature of the ship is the large number of bathrooms, 34 in all, which are located on all the decks and provided with hot and cold water. The China is under the command of Captain T. S. Angus, an old and popular servant of the company, who is assisted in the  navigation by a staff of six officers. Passengers have ample room for exorcise, as the promenade  or hurricane deck is 267ft. long, or about a quarter of a mile round, while the second saloon deck is most spacious. The China is dividcd into ten water-tight bulkheads, has a cellular double bot-tom, and can, if necessary, carry from 800 to 900tons of water ballast. She is altogether, a magnificent specimen of her kind.” (from The Argus (Melbourne) 9 July 1900)

Reggie was promoted to 4th Officer on what looks like 27 November 1905, on the Egypt – the third of the five sister ships including the Arabia and the China:


And five months later, on 10 April 1906, Reggie transferred to the Peninsular at Bombay.

SS Peninsular

The Peninsular was a slightly older passenger liner, having been launched in 1888. It was originally in service with P&O on the route between the UK out to India and the the Far East, but in 1904 she was refitted and modernised, together with several others of P&O’s older ships, and put on the Aden/Bombay shuttle.

The employment record states that Reggie resigned from P&O service in Bombay on 31 August 1906. It is not known why he resigned and what his plans were, but it seems he arrived in Fremantle the following month.

The last record on file is the note “Papers destroyed 24 – 2- 15   Satisfactory reports”.


RHG at sea 1 – with Thomas Stephens & Sons

It is not known what year Reggie left the ‘Worcester’ and until starting my research I had no idea what he did until joining the Australian army in 1915. How he got there, and why he settled there, I did not know. I did not even know about his schooling on HMS Worcester.

All the information I had until recently came from his file at the Imperial War Museum in London and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  The files include his enlistment papers of September 1915 showing that Reggie was living in Fremantle, Western Australia, married without children.  The information on his early life given in these papers, such as schooling at ‘Ovingdean and “Worcester”‘, is very brief and didn’t mean much to me. But with the help of the Google search engine and the digitisation and free on-line access to a huge archive of past local newspapers in Australia, I have discovered some very interesting information and have been able to slowly piece together Reggie’s early career. I have already covered Reggie’s schooling in my previous post and will come back to Reggie’s life in Fremantle later – but here I want to discover what he did in his early career and how he came to end up in Fremantle, Western Australia with no previous connection to the place.

From Reggie’s ‘Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad’ in his file at the Australian War Memorial, which seems to have been filled in by Reggie himself, his ‘trade or calling’ was recorded as Clerk and for the question of whether he had been an Apprentice he says, “Yes, 3 years at sea” followed by what appears to be the name “Messrs Thomas Stephens & Sons” but the writing his hard to decipher:

extract from Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad - Sept 1915

But elsewhere on his file in Canberra the details of his early life completed by his wife Laura in 1917 are given as follows:

‘Clerk’ had been written but then crossed out and replaced with ‘Accountant’ – maybe Laura wished to make his profession sound a bit grander?  His training is given as “Officer Mercantile Marine (P&O Coy).” and there is no mention of Thomas Stephens & Sons.  Perhaps both are correct – maybe he started with an apprenticeship at sea with Thomas Stephens & Son, lasting three years, and then took a job, presumably upon the successful completion of his apprenticeship, with P&O?

Usefully it gives Reggie’s age that he came to Australia as ’23 years’. This would be therefore be between 2 September 1905 and 1 September 1906.

If we assume from the information discovered about the cadets on the ‘Worcester’ that Reggie left between ages 16-17, this would have been in 1898-99. So what did he do in the 6-8 years between 1898/9 and arrival in Australia aged 23 in 1905/6? How did he end up in Australia, and why did he settle in Fremantle?

Searching for Thomas Stephens & Sons on Google has revealed fascinating information:

“The “Thomas Stephens

The Thomas Stephens was one of the best known ships of her day . When she came out she was considered the most up-to-date and perfectly appointed passenger sailing ship ever built on the Mersey. She was intended for the old Black Ball Line, but never actually sailed under the famous flag, but sailed as one of the London Line of Australian Packets (Bethell & Co.). She was owned by Thomas Stephens & Sons, of London. Captain Richards, the well-known commander of the Donald Mackay, superintended her building and fitting out and eventually left the Donald Mackay to command her.

The Thomas Stephens soon proved herself one of the fastest iron ships afloat, and a very successful ship financially. She was beautifully sparred, crossing three sky sail yards, and was a very lofty ship one of the tallest ships, indeed, that ever sailed either from the Mersey or the Thames ; and she carried all her stunsails well into the eighties. At first she was fitted with single topgallant yards, but followed the fashion for double topgallant yards before she had been afloat many years.

She was launched in July, 1869, and left Liverpool on 24th September, with a full passenger list for Melbourne, arriving out on 15th December in 82 days. On her second voyage she left Liverpool on 9th September, 1870, and anchored in Hobson’s Bay on 21st November, 73 days, port to port. After this she always sailed from London as one of the London Line of Packets, along with her great rival The Tweed….

During her long and successful career she usually loaded outwards to Melbourne or Sydney; but in 1879 on her twelfth voyage she went out to Otago, and on her thirteenth left Liverpool on 29th April and arrived at Rangoon on 21st July, 83 days out.

In 1881 she went out to San Francisco in 124 days from Holyhead, and coming home to Falmouth in 98 days. Except for an occasional run to Frisco, Calcutta or Rangoon, she was kept regularly in the Sydney trade during the eighties and nineties….” (source: ‘The Colonial Clippers’ by Basil Lubbock, 1921)

The locations of the ship’s voyages could explain why, if Reggie had joined the ship after leaving the Worcester, he ended up in Fremantle, Western Australia. But the dates do not match. It seems that the Thomas Stephens was sold in 1896, the year before Reggie was photographed in the uniform jacket of the Worcester, aged just 15:

“In the later eighties her passages began to slow up for two very good reasons: firstly her sail plan was cut down ; and secondly her captain, owing to a very nervous wife being with him, made no attempt to drive her….

The Thomas Stephens was a lucky ship and kept singularly free of trouble; indeed she had no serious mishap until July, 1893, when she got well battered by a severe gale in 52 S., 130 W., whilst homeward bound from Melbourne with wheat. Her bulwarks were carried away from the fore rigging to abaft the main rigging on the starboard side and her main deck was swept clean. She put into Callao for repairs, but she was not leaking and her cargo was found to be undamaged.

On her following voyage she got into more serious trouble in battling to get to the westward of Cape Stiff. She sailed from Barry on 27th December, 1894, and was partially dismasted off the pitch of the Horn. Put back to the Falklands, arriving in Stanley harbour on 28th February, 1895. Captain Belding, however, refused to agree to the extortionate demands of the Stanley shipwrights, and sailed for Capetown under jury rig, arriving there 14th May, 1895. Here he refitted, and leaving Table Bay on 22nd June arrived at Esquimalt by the eastern route on 24th September.

This unfortunate voyage terminated her career under the Red Ensign, for on her arrival home in 1896 the Thomas Stephens was sold to the Portuguese Government. The Portuguese have a singularly shrewd eye for a ship; and in this year they bought at breaking up prices three of the finest and fastest ships ever built, namely the Thomas Stephens, Cutty Sark and Thermopylae.

Captain Belding was retained to sail the Thomas Stephens to the Tagus under her new flag. He had a Portuguese crew, and the passage was not without incident, for a fire broke out on board and it was chiefly owing to Captain Belding’s personal bravery that it was extinguished. Indeed so pleased were the Portuguese with his behaviour that they presented him with a service of plate and a Portuguese Order, at the same time asking him to continue in command. For many years after this the Thomas Stephens served as a naval training ship in the Tagus in conjunction with the Thermopylae. She survived the famous tea clipper, however, and many a British naval officer has probably been aboard the famous old ship without realising that, disguised under the name of Pero d’Alemgucr, floated one of the crack Australian passenger ships of the seventies.

The Great War found her lying a hulk in the Tagus. The Portuguese fitted her out when tonnage began to get scarce in 1915, and sent her across to America. On her return passage to Lisbon in January, 1916, she was posted as missing possibly a Hun torpedo sent her to the bottom and that terrible word ” missing ” may be hiding some awful tragedy or glorious heroism. Anyhow her name goes on the ” Ships’ Roll of Honour in the Great War,” along with more than one of her sisters in the Australian trade.”

However, the Thomas Stephens was not the only vessel owned by Thomas Stephens & Sons. I have discovered a newspaper article from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser dated 7 August 1931 about the career of Capt. J.B. Browning, “P. and O. Captain’s 34 years at sea”, “one of the best known masters on the Australian mail service of the P. and O. Line”:
“He signed his indentures as an apprentice in June, 1894, with Messrs. Thomas Stephens & Sons of London, and the next four and half years of his life were spent in their barque Harold running on the big triangle out to Australia and home by way of the west coast of South America. It was a fine training and he has never lost his keen in sailing ships, but he was quite shrewd enough to see that there was no future in them for an ambitious youngster, and as soon as he got home at the end of his first voyage he joined the P. and O. Company as a junior officer.
Can it be that Browning’s first voyage lasted for the full four and half years? All that time away from home and still just a teenager! Perhaps this was typical for the training of officers in the merchant navy at that time and Reggie experienced the same or similar. Perhaps Reggie also signed indentures as an apprentice with Thomas Stephens & Sons and then joined P&O – maybe he was even apprenticed on the same barque Harold?
Despite my love of all the Aubrey and Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, I must confess that I had to look up the exact meaning of ‘barque’ – “A barquebarc, or bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts.” There is not a lot of information easily available through Google on the Harold, but the local Australian newspapers reveal some very useful information – painting a picture of what life might have been like for Reggie if he was a young apprentice at sea with Thomas Stephens & Sons.
‘HAROLD’ Built 1888. Steel barque of 1376 Tons. Length: 240 ft. Breadth: 36.5 ft. Depth: 21.3 ft. Built by Duncan for T. Stephens and Son. She was sold to Warmsley and Co in her later life.[General Carrier]’ – source The Warren Register of Colonial Tall Ships
Harold - built 1888
A newspaper clipping from The Argus (Melbourne) of Thursday 12 July 1900 reports:

“THE BARQUE HAROLD. The voyage from Liverpool of the barque Harold, which arrived here yesterday, was marked by several incidents. When in the vicinity of the Canary Islands on 23rd April the barque narrowly escaped colliding with a German ship,which was apparently without side lights. It was very dark at the time, and the vessels only cleared each other by a few yards. When crossing the equator on the 18th May the Harold spoke the barque Procyon, of Dundee, bound from Spencer’s Gulf to Falmouth, and 88 days out. A terrific gale smote the Harold on the 28th May in lat. 30deg. south and 19deg. west. The seas rose to a great height, and several immense rollers swept the vessel, smashing two of the boats and the skylight of the deck-house. Two days before rounding the Cape the barque was caught in a whirlwind, but suffered no damage. It was followed by extremely fierce squalls of hail and rain, and for 72 hours the barque encountered dangerous cross seas.  The barque was just 20 days from the meridian of the Cape to that of the Leeuwin, but was afterwards stuck up for over a week by head winds.  The best record for one week during the voyage  was 1,700 miles, and the best day’s run 302 miles.The Harold left Liverpool on the 14th April.”

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 14 July 1900:

While the barque Harold was bound to Melbourne from Liverpool, when bowling alone under a favouring breeze in the bright light of an almost perfect moon, the officer on watch descried close ahead what appeared to be breakers on a huge ocean rock. Smartly the wheel spun round, and while passing the edge of a wide circle of foam, there lay exposed under tho moon’s beams, the blackened timbers of a large water-logged ship, [?] almost level with the ocean. The spot was recorded as approximately 40.00 south and 40.47 east.

Sydney Morning Herald Monday 12 July 1909:

George Stansliffe, apprentice on the barque Harold, had an unpleasant experience on the voyage from Liverpool. During a gale near the coast of Australia he was washed from the forecastle. Into the sea. The captain from the poop threw a lifebuoy, which Stansliffe, who could not swim, was able to reach, He was in the water 10 minutes before a boat got to him.”

Evening News (Sydney) Tuesday 9 February 1904:

A boat’s crew which capsized in Sydney Harbour, below Garden Island, during a terrific squall on Sunday afternoon have to be thankful to the captain, officers, and crew of the barque Harold for timely assistance. It appears’ that the sailing boat went over without any warning, and almost as quickly was a boat launched from the Harold. The capsized crew struggled for a bit, and when they were picked up a couple had been caught by cramp. They were taken on board the barque, and supplied with hot coffee, while the boat was righted and bailed out. The conduct of the crew of the Harold shows out somewhat differently to that displayed not so long since by another crew which picked up a capsized boat in Sydney Harbour. Instead of claiming “salvage,” the Harold crew rendered all possible aid. “

I have discovered that the Harold passed through Fremantle in December 1903 /January 1904.  She left Liverpool bound for Fremantle at the end of August 1903:

The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 26 August 1903
Arrivals. – Ulysses, s., from Brisbane,via Australian ports, Laeisz, s., from Adelaide, via Eastern ports.
Departures. – For Sydney : Perthshire,s. For Adelaide : Loch Vennachar, ship, from Glasgow. For Fremantle : Nicolaas Witsen, barque, from London : Harold, barque, from Liverpool.

And arrived Fremantle in early December 1903:

The Daily News (Perth) Wednesday 9 December 1903
“FREMANTLE POLICE COURT – THIS DAY.  (Before Mr. R. Fairbairn, R.M.)
DANGEROUS DOUGAL.  Paul Dougal, a seaman, from the newly-arrived barque Harold, was charged with disorderly conduct. Dougal, who admitted the charge, was fined £1, in default seven days’ imprisonment.”

But departing soon afterwards in early January 1904:

The Daily News (Perth) Friday 8 January 1904
“FREMANTLE POLICE COURT- THIS DAY. (Before Messrs. R Fairbairn, R.M., and E. Solomon, J.P.)
DESERTERS.   Charles Neilson and Hjalmar Lieno, two foreigners, were charged with deserting from the British barque Harold. The magistrate ordered accused to return at once to the ship, as she was sailing this afternoon.”

But it is just not known whether Reggie sailed on the Harold, and was on board during the above mention voyages of 1900 and/or 1903/4. I’m sure the barque travelled that route on many other occasions.
Sadly, the Harold met an untimely end, sunk by a U Boat in 1917:
“The British barque Harold was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-66 when 65 miles N.N.W. 1/2 W. of Tory Island on July 21st, 1917 when carrying a cargo of coal from Liverpool to Santos. Thirteen men, including the captain, were killed.”
the Harold