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:
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 barque, barc, 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
“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:
DANGEROUS WRECKAGE IN THE SOUTHERN OCEAN.
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:
“APPRENTICE’S MIRACULOUS ESCAPE. – ADELAIDE, Sunday.
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
SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. – LONDON, Monday.
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.”