Tuesday 13 November 2018

The awful fate of the ship Abeona

In January 1820 the ship Royal Charlotte, Captain Hobson, arrived in Greenock with sixteen survivors of a dreadful disaster on the other side of the world.  The ship Abeona (328 tons) had sailed from Greenock in October 1819 under the command of Lieutenant Mudge RN, with James Pritchard as master.  The Abeona had been chartered by the Government to take emigrants to Algoa Bay,  Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  With a crew of twenty-one, she picked up fourteen passengers in London and then sailed to Greenock to embark 126 emigrants.  This was part of the 1820 Settlers Scheme.

Halfway through its voyage in November of 1819 about noon (co-ordinates latitude 4 degrees 30 minutes north and longitude 25 degrees 30 minutes west) there was a terrible fire on board the Abeona.  It would appear from the evidence of Lieutenant Mudge, Agent on board, that the fire started when Mr Duff, the first mate was dishing out the rum.  A spark from his candle ignited the spirits and other combustible material in the stores. 

Three of the ship's boats, two gigs and a skiff were put in the water, the longboat could not be let down as fire had taken hold of its ropes.  The dense smoke forced passengers onto the deck.  Within ten minutes the whole ship was ablaze.  One of the survivors painted a vivid picture of the events -

     "The shrieks of the woman and children, combined with the furious element travelling on to devour us, formed a picture of human misery that must rend the stoutest heart."

People were throwing themselves overboard to avoid the flames and with the hope of getting into one of the small boats.  The first mate, Duff - who due to the guilt he felt at being the cause of the fire, elected to stay and go down with the ship.  When being encouraged to jump into the water and try and save himself he is reported to have replied - 

     "I pity those in the boats the most; for with us it will soon be over, but they will be eating each other in a few days."

In his official report Lieutenant Mudge said that Duff, "was a most excellent, steady character ... and the sole support of an aged Mother."  He also said that Duff "had forgotten his wanted prudence" by causing a spark to cause the fire.

Another survivor later wrote -

     "A few minutes after I quitted the wreck the main and mizen masts fell; the flames, rapidly advancing forward, drove numbers of the poor wretches on the bowsprit, where it was our hard lot to behold them frantic, without being able to render them the least assistance.  You will judge how the boats were crammed; when husbands, who had wives and children still clinging to the wreck, exclaimed against more being received!"

     "We kept close to the wreck till day-light next morning, in the hope that any vessel which might be passing would see the immense body of fire which continued raging till about three o'clock in the morning, when everything disappeared.  A little before daybreak, when thinking only on the awfulness of our situation, and the chance we had of reaching the Coast of Brazil in our miserable plight, with a few hammocks only to make sails of, a damaged compass, and with scarcely any water or provisions, the carpenter discovered a vessel close to us.  We seized our oars, and were on board of her in a few minutes."

He goes on to relate of one family's plight - the Barries from Provan Mill.  The parents were so anxious to save their children, the youngest just fifteen months old, that they threw them into the boats but did not save themselves their eldest daughter and another son also died.

Their rescue ship was the  Condessa da Ponte, Captain Joaquim Almeida, a Portugese merchant ship from Bahia (north-east Brazil) bound for Lisbon.  It sailed around the area looking out for any other survivors of the fire, but no others were found.  Eventually it sailed for Lisbon, Portugal.  Of the 161 souls on board the Abeona, just 49 survived.  On 21 December the survivors were landed at Lisbon and received by the British Consul-General, John Jeffrey, former MP for Poole.  The resident chaplain in Lisbon, Rev Thomas H Siely and his wife were also of great help to the survivors.

The newspapers report that ten of the children who were saved but made orphans by the fire were looked after by merchants at the British Factory at Lisbon who offered to pay for their upkeep.  The British (or sometimes English) Factory, Lisbon was a centre for British merchants living in Portugal and also for those trading with Spain, Portugal and South America.  It had its own church, burying ground and hospital and looked out for British interests in Portugal. Among the British merchants who offered to provide for some of the orphaned children were Mr Kean (James McLucky and George Barrie), Mr Munroe (Charles Coverly), John Watts Garland (Thomas Coverly), John Jeffrey, Consul-General (William McIsaac and Mary McIsaac), Sir Dudley Hill (Thomas Barrie), Major William Henry Thornton (John Bain and Lindsay Paterson) and Mr Bailly (Isabella Freeland).  From Lisbon the survivors were brought to Greenock in the merchant ship Royal Charlotte.

Crew Saved - Lieutenant Mudge RN (agent), Mr Fisher RN (surgeon), James Pritchard, master, Mr Lock (second mate) Mr Stages (carpenter), seamen - Bastoc, Mains, Jordan, Lawson, Henderson, Reece, Paterson and ship's boys - Edwards and Robinson.

Of the emigrants 10 men, 3 women, 16 boys and 6 girls were saved.  Here is a list of some of the names of those on board - whole families perished - Allan, Bain, Ballardie, Barrie, Clark, Coverly,  Dobbie, Freeland,  Hally, Henderson, Kay, McFarlane, McIntosh, McIsaac,  McLaren,McLean, McLucky, Montgomery, Munro, Paterson, Reid, Russel, Stirling, Thomson, Trotter, Walker.
Passengers - Boswell, Bottam, Mall, Suffield.

The news of the disaster led to a ballad being written that was sold around towns and villages by pedlars and chapmen.  Here's a couple of verses -

Three of the men who were saved, John McLaren (lost wife and four children),  John McLean (lost wife and one child), Robert Thomson (lost wife and five children) all petitioned the authorities to "furnish them with the necessary implements for agriculture" to allow them to go to South Africa as they had originally wished.  I wonder if they were able to put the past behind them and start again.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Through adversity to the stars

This beautiful piece of stained glass is from one of two panels which can be found in Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay Parish Church.  The panels were once windows in St Andrew's Church in Greenock (formerly on the corner of Ardgowan Street and Margaret Street) which was demolished in the 1960s.

As today is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended World War 1, I thought it would be appropriate to show these wonderful windows.

This panel shows the badge of the Royal Naval Air Service as well as a wonderful depiction of an aircraft of WW1 as well as two ships.  In 1918 the RNAS joined with the Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force.  The RAF celebrates 100 years this year.  The motto reads "Through adversity to the stars".

The second panel has the coat of arms of Greenock with another aircraft and ships.  The windows are thought to be the work of Robert Anning Bell.

Both panels show scenes from Arthurian legends.  The quote at the bottom is from Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Sir Galahad" -
"I leave the plain, I climb the height:
No branchy thicket shelter yields:
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields."

The windows were commissioned by the family of Robert Miller Denholm who died on 28 July 1917 while flying over Essex.  He was just eighteen years of age and had only recently joined the Royal Naval Air Service to train as a pilot.  While on a flight, the wing of his aircraft collapsed in mid-air and he was thrown from his machine and fell 600 feet to the ground, fracturing his skull.  Robert, born in Greenock in 1899 was the son of John Denholm and Jane Miller.  The Denholms lived at Lawthorne, Octavia Crescent, Greenock.

Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay Church itself is a red sandstone building situated on the main road to Largs.  There are other fabulous stained glass windows in the church, but too many to do them justice in one post.

Joining with Inspired Sunday.

Saturday 10 November 2018

Patrick Shaw-Stewart

Patrick Shaw-Stewart's biography comprises mainly of his letters written to his family and friends over the years.  (Read yesterday's post for more information.)  In August 1911 he wrote to his sister Mary (his other sister was Katherine) looking for a contribution towards a kilt he is having made -
"… it's going to be the most lovely old Stewart tartan, because the Royal is too red, and the Hunting is, you will agree, inappropriate to the polished floor."  
The Shaw-Stewart family could trace their ancestry back to Sir John Stewart, illegitimate son of King Robert III who was given the lands of Ardgowan at Inverkip, Blackhall, near Paisley and Auchengowan (sometimes Auchengoun or Auchendoun) near Lochwinnoch.

In early 1914 he was sent to America on behalf of Barings Bank.  He seems to have had a great time and his letter home highlight the differences between the British and the Americans, especially as far as language is concerned.  He writes -
"… and don't you think "having a crush on some one" a fine phrase for being slightly gone on her?"

Once back in Britain he joined the Royal Naval Division, Hood's Battalion, and was sent to the Dardanelles in the Glasgow built ship 'Grantully Castle' he wrote to a friend that he was taking a copy of Herodotus as a guide book.  As a sub-lieutenant in Hood Battalion he joined with fellow officers making the most of the journey.  They landed in April 1915.  The fighting was brutal, and by the end of the summer among the thousands dead were three of his close friends and fellow officers from Hood Battalion.

Rupert Brooke the poet died at Scyros on 22 April, shortly after they landed.  A few days before Patrick wrote, "I got a sun-headache followed by an internal derangement …".  He later writes 

"Rupert Brooke suddenly sickened and died in thirty-six hours of virulent blood-poisoning.  He never got quite well, like I did, from that illness at Port Said … He died the day we left the island, and that same night we took him ashore, and the eight Petty Officers of the Company performed the considerable feat of carrying the coffin a mile inland, in the dark, up-hill, along the most fearfully stony track.  I had to command the firing-party, which was anxious work, as I am not strong on ceremonial drill, but all went well."

William Denis Browne a musician with whom Patrick had shared a cabin on the 'Grantully Castle' died in June 1915 and is now regarded as a war composer.  Patrick wrote to a friend later that month -
"… I was forced to think very hard about my own battalion, who suffered cruelly in a charge on a Turkish trench on the Fourth of June in which out of fifteen officers left six were killed, including Denis Browne, and five wounded, leaving only me and three others now.  I was filled with disgust and rage at the crushing folly of it for a time, but my native stolidity asserted itself …"

Charles Lister, former diplomat, died at Gallipoli in August of 1915 from wounds received.  Patrick wrote of him -
"The men, both stokers and recruits, adored him - they always called him "Lord Lister" … He had really what the dispatches call devotion to duty;".

Patrick Shaw-Stewart met his brother Basil who was also a serving officer in September of 1915.  In 1916 he was at Salonica as a liaison officer, but he wanted to return to Hood Battalion.  At the end of 1916 he returned to Britain on sick leave and was declared unfit to be sent back to the east.  He was declared fit for General Service and sent to France where he found himself in command of Hood Battalion.  On 30 December he was killed in action.

For me, Patrick's most poignant letters are those to his childhood nurse - through school, university and the war years they kept up a correspondence.  His letters usually tell of his health and some of the jollier things he's been up to.  During the war she supplied him with cake, jam and knitted items for which he was very grateful.  We are never told his nurse's name, but there's one particular letter written in October 1916 which I'm sure she would have particularly treasured.  Patrick writes -

"Once again I've finished a particularly hot Mediterranean Summer under not very ideal conditions, without having anything the matter with me (I don't count one or two odd days), which really, I think, does credit to my constitution and especially to your upbringing.  Funny think you know, Dear, I always used secretly to think you made me put on too many clothes, and that consequently I should lack "resistance" in later life - but the result is that I have developed (apparently) a constitution supremely adapted to campaigning in treacherous climates, and inside like an emu."

Such a lovely letter remembering happier days.

While Patrick Shaw-Stewart's biography does not go into very great  details of domestic or international politics, battle plans or tactics, weapons or other topics which are normally discussed, I find it all the more interesting for that.  In his letters, which or course would have been censored, he discussed some of the minutiae of life - what he ate, what type of billet he had, items he wanted sent from home, which books he had read.  To me, this is what makes a story more human.  He was just one of millions of young men who lost their lives in that awful war.  

I want to end with words from Patrick's friend, Rupert Brooke's poem "The Dead"

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been.
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Friday 9 November 2018

Achilles in the trenches

The poetry of those who fought and died in the Great War is quite special.  Usually it is the same works that we hear year after year.  Recently I came across a poem written by a man with links to this area - Patrick Shaw-Stewart.  

The poem itself is a reflection of his classical education as well as a  reminder that many of the battles of World War I were fought in places which had seen much conflict in antiquity.  The poem is called 'Stand in the Trench, Achilles' and was written at Gallipoli.

I saw a man this morning
     Who did not wish to die
I ask, and cannot answer,
     If otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
     Against the Dardanelles ;
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
     Were cold as cold sea-shells

But other shells are waiting
     Across the Aegean sea,
Shrapnel and high explosive,
     Shells and hells for me.

O hell of ships and cities,
     Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
     Why must I follow thee ?

Achilles came to Troyland
     And I to Chersonese :
He turned from wrath to battle,
     And I from three days' peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
     So very hard to die ?
Thou knewest and I know not-
     So much the happier I.

I will go back this morning
     From Imbros over the sea ;
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
     Flame-capped, and shout for me.

Patrick Shaw-Stewart died in battle in France in December 1917 aged just 29.  This is how he met his death -
             "It was in the early morning, about dawn; he was going round his line; the Germans put up a barrage.  The gunner pressed him to send up the S.O.S. rocket, but Patrick refused, and maintained that it was only a minor raid on another part of the line, and that if he sent up the S.O.S. signal the people would only think he was "windy".  As a matter of fact, they did make a big attack about an hour later, and his battalion was the only one that did not give ground.
He was hit by shrapnel, the lobe of his ear was cut off and his face spattered so that the blood ran down from his forehead and blinded him for a bit.  The gunner tried to make him go back to Battalion H.Q. to be dressed, but he refused, and insisted on completing his round.  Very soon afterwards, a shell burst on the parapet, and a fragment hit him upwards through the mouth and killed him instantaneously."

Patrick Shaw Stewart was the great-grandson of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart (5th Bart) of Ardgowan and Blackhall.  Sir Michael's son, John Shaw Shaw-Stewart married Jane Stewart Heron Maxwell and their son John Heron Maxwell Shaw-Stewart (1831-1906) was Patrick's father.  His mother was Mary Catherine Bedingfield Collyer who died in 1909.  Patrick's older brother, Basil survived the war.

Patrick seems to have had a keen intellect and had the typical education of an upper class boy of his era - Eton followed by Balliol College at Oxford where he graduated with a First in Greats.  He joined Barings Bank and became a managing director before the age of twenty-five.   From the beginning of 1914 until just before the start of the war he was in America and Canada on business with the Bank.  On his return he became an interpreter for the Naval Division in Dunkirk.  He was a member of Hood's Battalion.

His biographer was Robert Arburthnott Knox whom he had known since he was young and with whom he corresponded throughout the war.

Knox, Robert Arburthnott, Patrick Shaw Stewart, Collins 1920