Maritime History

Agnes, Lady Acland, Agnes & Constance: Biographies of Sailing Merchant Vessels

Agnes, Lady Acland, Agnes & Constance: Biographies of Sailing Merchant Vessels

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

In 1900 the waters around Britain and Ireland were full of sailing merchant vessels carrying coal, timber, grain, iron, china clay and all kinds of other bulk cargoes between the great and small ports. These vessels were of varied size and shape with different rigging such as ketch, barquentine and schooner. They were built in purpose designed ship yards around Britain and Ireland and some were built in North America and a few parts of Europe. Yet some of these vessels were built on the seashore or river banks between high and low tide in yards that have vanished just like their creations.

Yet by 1960 only a handful of these vast numbers of vessels continued to ply their trade commercially. A few of these vessels remain today as museum items or stuck in limbo waiting for a source of money to keep them afloat. Some professional schoonermen, such as Hugh Shaw, Richard England and William Slade, wrote about their lives aboard these sailing vessels and give us a feel of what it was like. Yet the vast majority of masters and sailors left little written accounts of those days. Many of these sailors have now (2018) passed on, their once proud vessels broken up or buried beneath the waves and commercial maritime trade is now done by motor vessels, great and small. Biographies of some of the vast number of sailing merchant vessels that once existed are given below to give some idea of the characters of these vessels and their sailors.

A model of a ketch

Agnes

The Agnes was a wooden ketch built in 1904 by Henry Stapleton of Bude. Her dimensions were 70.6 feet long by 18.5 feet wide at the beam by 8 feet. She had 67 tons gross and 54 tons net. The official number of the Agnes was 105246 and her signal hoist was MLGV.

In 1904 the Agnes was created as an enlargement of the smack called the Lady Acland built in 1835. The Agnes was a collection of other vessels. Her mizzen mast came from the wrecked Italian barque, the Capricorno and her mainmast came from the wrecked ketch, the Wild Pigeon. Having completed her career as a sailing merchant vessel the Agnes was purchased for use as a yacht in 1957. Unfortunately her new life didn’t last long and she was wrecked in the West Indies in 1958 at the good age of 123 years old![1]

In 1906 the Agnes was owned and mastered by Nicholas H. Tregaskes of Bude in Cornwall while the vessel was registered to the port of Bideford in Devon.[2] The stern of the Agnes had written “Agnes, Port of Bideford”.[3] Yet she was not the only vessel of that name registered to Bideford. In 1907 another Agnes of Bideford (official number 62955) was a schooner built in 1869 and owned/managed by John Kelly of Appledore.[4] By 1913 there was only one Agnes registered at Bideford, that of 105246.[5]

In 1914/5 the Agnes acquired a new owner/manager in the form of John P. Tregaskes of Bramble Hill in Bude.[6] In 1915 the crew of the Agnes consisted of John James Hallett, master, born 1859 at Bude; Archie Hallett, mate, born 1888 at St. Mawes; and Fred Jeffrey, able seaman, born 1895/6.[7] In 1918/9 the Agnes was sold to the Cookson Barytes Company of Milburn House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Frank Reid as her new master.[8] She was not registered in 1920 or in later years.[9] In 1923 the Agnes reappears in the registers with a new owner/manager, Frederick R.E. Wright of Braunton in Devon and having a reduced net tonnage of 45 tons.[10] The reduction was due to the installation of an auxiliary engine. In 1924 her signal hoist was KNJR.[11] In 1934 her signal hoist changed to MLGV.[12]

The 1935 owner of the Agnes was F. Wright of Braunton. That same year a photograph was taken of the Agnes off Bude.[13] In 1957 the Agnes was sold by Peter Herbert of Bude to Alastair Barr of Oban for a voyage to the West Indies. After a successful crossing to Barbados the vessel was wrecked in 1958.[14]

Lady Acland

The Lady Acland was built at Bude in 1835 with an official number of 13418. The early history of the vessel is obscure. She does not appear on Lloyd’s List in the 1840s or 1850s. In 1851 she was registered to the port of Bideford in Devon. In 1863 Oliver Davey of Bude, Cornwall was the owner of the Lady Acland and John Elliott of Bude was her master. She then measured 47 net tons. Her crew consisted of Elliott (aged 51, born Kilhampton) with John Marshall, aged 32 as mate (born Bude) and Richard Heard, aged 20, as boy (born Poughill). All three had previously served on the Lady Acland.[15] In 1865 the Lady Acland was owned by Oliver Davey.[16] In 1878/9 the tonnage of the Lady Acland was reduced from 47 tons to 44 net tons.[17] In 1882/3 Oliver Davey changed the rigging of the Lady Acland from that of a schooner to a ketch without any change in her tonnage.[18] In 1890 the Lady Acland was still owned by Oliver Davey and was registered to Bideford in Devon. She measured 44 net tons and had a ketch rigging.[19] In 1893/4 the tonnage of the Lady Acland was reduced to 32 net tons.[20] In 1898 Oliver Davey was described as the owner/manager of the Lady Acland.[21] In 1898/9 the Lady Acland was sold to Edward Rudland of Holsworthy in Devon as owner/manager.[22] In 1901 the register was closed on the Lady Acland until she was reborn in 1904 as the Agnes of Bideford.[23]

Agnes & Constance

The Agnes & Constance was a wooden ketch that was built in 1889 by Curel of Frindsbury, Kent. She measured 63 tons net, with an official number of 97711 and having a signal hoist showing MJCP.[24] The first owner of the Agnes & Constance was James Little of Strood in Kent. He was both her owner and master and registered the vessel at Rochester. She then measured 66 net tons.[25] In 1892/3 the vessel received modifications that reduced her net tonnage to 63 tons.[26] James Little was the owner of a number of vessels which were generally known as Thames Barges.[27] In 1915 the crew of the Agnes & Constance was E.R. Jackson, master, born 1880 in Kent; Hanley Payne, mate, born 1892 in Kent; and John Stankey, mate, born 1888 in Kent.[28]

In 1916/7 the Agnes & Constance was sold to John T. Rayfield of 16 Milton Place in Gravesend who became the owner and manager.[29] In 1919 she had the signal hoist of JTHG.[30] In 1924 the Agnes & Constance was owned by John Rayfield junior of Dock Row in Newfleet.[31] In 1924/5 the Agnes & Constance was sold to William A. Ellis of Runnymeade Road, Stanford-le-Hope in Essex.[32] In 1925/6 she was sold again with Joshua Francis of New Town Road in Colchester as her new owner.[33] In 1934 her signal hoist was changed to MJCP.[34] In 1935 the Agnes & Constance was owned by Francis & Gilders of Hythe Quay in Colchester with Joshua Francis as her master.[35] Between 1940 and 1947 the Agnes & Constance disappears from the register.[36]

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[1] Douglas Bennett (edited by David Clement), Schooner Sunset (Rochester, 2001), page 171

[2] Mercantile Navy List, 1906, p. 494

[3] Basil Greenhill, The Merchant Schooners (2 vols. Percival Marshall, London, 1951), Vol. 1, page 71

[4] Mercantile Navy List, 1907, p. 514

[5] Mercantile Navy List, 1913, p. 617

[6] Mercantile Navy List, 1915, p. 659

[7] Royal Museums Greenwich, RSS/CL/1915/3517

[8] Mercantile Navy List, 1919, p. 642

[9] Mercantile Navy List, 1920, p. 671

[10] Mercantile Navy List, 1923, p. 731

[11] Mercantile Navy List, 1924, p. 743

[12] Mercantile Navy List, 1934, p. 817

[13] Richard J. Scott, Irish Sea Schooner Twilight: The Last Years of the Western Seas Traders (Black Dwarf Publications, Lydney, 2012), page 101

[14] Richard J. Scott, Irish Sea Schooner Twilight: The Last Years of the Western Seas Traders (Black Dwarf Publications, Lydney, 2012), page 115

[15] Devon Archives and Local Studies, 1976/Lady Acland/13418

[16] Mercantile Navy List, 1865, p. 207

[17] Mercantile Navy List, 1879, p. 359

[18] Mercantile Navy List, 1883, p. 383

[19] Mercantile Navy List, 1890, p. 468

[20] Mercantile Navy List, 1894, p. 526

[21] Mercantile Navy List, 1898, p. 568

[22] Mercantile Navy List, 1899, p. 584

[23] Mercantile Navy List, 1902, p. 607; National Archives, UK, Kew, BT 110/160/38

[24] Douglas Bennett (edited by David Clement), Schooner Sunset (Rochester, 2001), page 171

[25] Mercantile Navy List, 1890, p. 276

[26] Mercantile Navy List, 1890, p. 326

[27] http://www.thamesbarge.org.uk/barges/Willmott/owners/FWJames%20Little.html [accessed on 22nd May 2018]

[28] Royal Museums Greenwich, RSS/CL/1915/3447

[29] Mercantile Navy List, 1917, p. 665

[30] Mercantile Navy List, 1919, p. 643

[31] Mercantile Navy List, 1924, p. 744

[32] Mercantile Navy List, 1925, p. 758

[33] Mercantile Navy List, 1926, p. 770

[34] Mercantile Navy List, 1934, p. 817

[35] Mercantile Navy List, 1935, p. 839

[36] Mercantile Navy List, 1947, p. 987

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