Jersey ships' captains

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Jersey ships and their captains


James Goodridge (1782-1855) was master of the paddle steamer Courier in the year he died. He is buried in St Ouen's Cemetery

This article and the attached list of captains is based on John Jean's book Jersey Sailing Ships, published by Phillimore in 1982

A painting by Philip Ouless of the 254-ton Jersey barque Rambler off Cape Town. She was built at Edward Esnouf's Patriotic Street shipyard for Edward Nicolle and commanded at various times by Philip Le Geyt, Edward Le Gresley and George Noel


In drawing up this list of Jersey's sea captains, information has been obtained from many sources, including the records of the Jersey Merchant Seamen's Benefit Society, the Jersey Shipping Register, Bulletins of the Societe Jersiaise, movements of shipping published in the local newspapers, and a wealth of data from island cemeteries. Much private material has very kindly been loaned to me for examination by descendants of the captains from among their family papers.

Birth of twins

Many interesting stories have come to light. For example, the happy event of the birth of twin sons to Anne Deslandes in 1848 on board her father's vessel Jane, which was commanded by her husband, Captain Josue Pallot. The twins were duly baptised, one being named Josue after his father, and the other taking his mother's maiden name of Deslandes. Both sons later became master mariners; Deslandes Pallot dying at sea in 1878 at the early age of 30, and Josue living until 1913. A fine marble memorial to all three captains can still be seen in Almorah Cemetery.[1]


There is an epic tale of Captain George Malzard and his brig Prospero. After sailing from Jersey, where the vessel had been built in 1862 by F C Clarke at West Park, the ship sailed in December 1863 on her maiden voyage from London to Para in Peru, laden with supplies for the Government of Peru.

On reaching Para, Captain Malzard's brig was taken in tow by a naval paddle steamer for a journey of 2,000 miles up the river Amazon, the first time that a British vessel had penetrated so far into the South American continent. This feat would be unknown today but for Malzard's habit of entering in his log his day-to-day observations and impressions throughout the four-week journey up the river.

His logbook makes fascinating reading today, and emphasises the fact that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Jersey Captain George Messervy was master of the Rescue on the Australian wool run in 1872

Gaspe tragedy

Some stories point to how cruel the sea can be, such as the tragedy that overtook the 243-ton barque Gaspe on 6 December 1830. This vessel, owned by T and P Du Hamel, of Jersey, and commanded by Captain Philip Vibert, was hit by a heavy sea which demasted the ship and washed overboard eight of the crew. Among the men who were lost were the captain's son Philip Vibert; John Pipon, mate; Philip Despres, 2nd mate; John de Ste Croix; Philip Le Sueur; Edward de La Cour and Clement Godfray. Captain Philip Vibert survived, as did Daniel Deslandes, James de Ste Croix, Francis Dolbel, Philip Binet, Philip Alexandre, John Stratford and John Jandrou.


Another tragic and rather gruesome story tells of the wreck, also in 1830, of the brig Quixote, 120 tons and owned by P Duval, master Francis Bailhache.

This vessel, having left Spain on 23 October, experienced very bad weather, which caused the ship to labour heavily. The storm continued until 5 December, when the gale increased almost to hurricane force and the brig was struck amidships by a tremendous sea which threw her upon her beam ends and shifted the cargo at the same time.

The watch of two men on deck cut the lanyards of the rigging and the masts went over the side, the ship then righted herself but was full of water. Four men were in the fore caddy when the sea struck, but only one man was able to reach the deck; the other three were drowned.

The master and mate were in the cabin and struggled to the deck; the brig was now a complete Wreck, with the forepart entirely under water, and the sea was now mountainous, and continually broke over her.

The remainder of the crew, expecting every moment to be their last, held on with great difficulty. The weather was intensely cold, all were drenched to the skin and nearly exhausted by their exertions; after about two hours the master died. Another man worn out with cold and fatigue died the following morning.

The misery and deplorable state of the four seamen who still lived when morning dawned cannot be described; the ship was a water-logged wreck, and the men, without food and water and their strength wasted, anxiously gazed at the horizon in hope of seeing a sail; on 9 December another man died.

Those who remained were starving, not having eaten anything since the ship was first struck, and lashed the man's body to the ship to prevent it being washed away in order that they might feed upon it. On the following day, driven to despair, they gnawed part of the arm of their dead shipmate, and on the 11th they were again driven by hunger to eat from the body.

On the morning of the 13th the three survivors were lying on the deck completely exhausted and waiting to die when Philip Arthur, with what little strength he had left, looked over the side and saw a sail. The three men were picked up by a French brig and landed at Harfleur, but on the 15th one of them died and only Clement Noel, the mate, and Philip Arthur returned to Jersey.

Philip Labey and William Gaudin were both masters of the Eclipse

Cut in two

Captain Elias Nicolas Pallot was sailing off the mouth of the St Lawrence in the 1870s when his ship was cut in two by a steamship. Having lost his own vessel, Captain Pallot transferred to the German owned ship Wilhelmina, bound for Antwerp, and acted as a relief captain. His wife was also aboard his vessel and, when the ship was off the Scillies, she gave birth to her first child. Wishing to have the baby christened at St Martin, Captain Pallot diverted his ship to Jersey and the child was named Lizette Wilhelmina, and after the ceremony he continued his journey to Antwerp.

Reports of the damage and injury suffered by Jersey vessels in the many storms met with at sea are numerous, and some make rather tedious reading. The following statement, however, is considered by the writer to be of sufficient interest that it is here given in full in the original spelling.  

85's 'Protest'

Protest of the brig 85, of Jersey, entered in Arichat, 6 May 1866, by the master John Romeril

"Report on 15 April 1866. First part of this day strong breeze from the southward with a heavy sea, running under double reefed sails, vessel shipping much water and labouring heavyly. At 4 pm close reefed all sails, fore topmast stay sail having given way. Unbent it and bent on a new one, at 10 pm sea being too dangerous to run the vessel any longer, laid her to under close reefed main stay sail and fore topsail. Shipped several dangerous seas from 10 pm to 5 am, at which time wore ship, wind hauling round to westward with a very dangerous sea running from the Southward. At 7.30 am in Lat 50, Long 24.40 west, shipped a terrific sea in the starboard waist that swept the deck, carrying away long boat and jolly boat from the deck, then hooking royal backstay and thereby breaking royal mast on the way overboard; also carried away fore booby hatch and hatchways lee gallant sail, binnicle, eight buckets, two deck tubs, all the untensils for cooking, four studding sails, fore topmast stay sail, main stay sail, six studding sail halliard and all other moveables about deck, smashing the galley to pieces and broke seven stanchions. We immediately hauled canvas over fore hatch and other necessary places to prevent water from going down and for safety of crew and vessel. The vessel at this time making about 8 inches of water per hour. Pumps attended to with care, other damage may be found as soon as weather permits to have a thorough inspection. The cook laid up having been badly crushed in his galley, but so far as can be seen no limbs are broken. "

Queen of the Isles

The ketch Queen of the Isles, owner Philip Pallot, bound for Antwerp with a cargo of figs and almonds, was wrecked on the Westkapelle Dike in Holland on 26 November 1887, and the local people made good use of the cargo, eating figs for weeks on end, and even baking fig bread with no doubt dire results.

Brigantine GDT

After loading some hundred tons of fish off Paspebiac, the brigantine GDT, of 124 tons, owned by Le Boutillier and with Captain J J Carcaud in command, sailed for Oporto at the end of November 1883, but after several days at sea a series of misfortunes befell this gallant vessel.

First, on 3 December a storm arose causing the ship to heel over from side to side. One moment on the crest of a wave, the next wallowing in a trough, the ship took a particularly heavy sea which swept overboard the second mate, Le Quesne, and the wheelhouse, and neither was ever seen again.

The captain was thrown between the pumps and was so badly lacerated about the head that he spent the next three or four days in his cabin like a raving madman with the agony of his wounds.

Three of the ship's four 120-gallon casks of fresh water went over the side, leaving the seven crew with only 120 gallons of water for the rest of the trip. The boy member of the crew went over the side with one wave and back on deck with the next.

On 6 December the brigantine sighted the Belgian steamer Plantyn in distress. The steamer's lifeboats were picked up together with 53 passengers and crew, and the steamer sank soon after. For the next 19 days, until the GDT reached Oporto on Christmas Day 1883, the crew and rescued sailors had to exist on a wineglassful of water and less than a quarter of a ship's biscuit once every 24 hours.

After a rest in an Oporto hotel while the ship was unloaded and repaired, the brigantine sailed for Jersey and home. She arrived off the Island on 26 January and cast anchor in St Aubin's Bay awaiting the tugboat to tow her in.

A gale from the south-west arose and despite the two anchors put down by the ship, the brigantine dragged her chain and was stranded on the beach near Beaumont. The crew had to take to the rigging to prevent themselves being washed away. Next morning the crew were lodged at Tom Queree's Sailors Home, the site of which is now the Swan Hotel in Wharf Street.

In recognition of Captain Carcaud's bravery and the devotion to duty of the crew, the Belgian Government made the following awards: The 1st Class Civil Cross to Captain John J Carcaud; 2nd Class Cross to Charles Hamon, mate; and 1st class medals to Daniel Boudreau, James Farrel, John Gunny, John George Becauet, seamen; and Charles Conner, steward. The GDT was refloated from Beaumont, and sailed the next spring under Captain Cantell until she was finally wrecked in 1887.

Nationalities of crewmen

The captains, officers, and senior members of the crews were almost entirely Jerseymen during the wars with France, but a search of the record books of the Jersey Merchant Seamen's Benefit Society reveals that by the 1830-40s crews were recruited from Jersey, Guernsey, France, the UK, and Ireland; and from Canada and Newfoundland, the West Indies, Malta, Gibraltar and the African Territories.

Many vessels had at least one African, who was usually the cook. The Africans rejoiced in some rather delightful names, such as Black Tom, Jack Coffee, Jim Brown, or more often simply 'Kroo Boy'.

As the merchant fleet continued to expand, seamen from other countries were also recruited, though in small numbers: from Spain and Portugal, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Before the advent of the telegraph and radio, shipowners had to rely on their captains to act as agents, to obtain the best prices for cargoes, and to arrange further deals for new loads and goods. As a result the masters often held large shares in the vessel under their command.

The intermarriage of shipping families in Jersey often strengthened the ties between master and owner, merchant and builder. However, some of the larger owners, such as Janvrin and Robin, had established their own agents in many ports and these agents were often members of the same family or connected by marriage. Local masters' salaries seemed to be on a par with their mainland counterparts, the Jersey captain in the 1830s averaging £100 to £120 per annum, to which was added the commission on the sale of cargoes.

With the introduction of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, captains who wished to apply for their Master's Ticket had to sit for an examination at such ports as London, Liverpool, and Plymouth. The successful candidates were entered in the General Registered and Record Office of Seamen at the Board of Trade in London, and were then issued with the Certificate of Competency, the all important Master's Ticket. However, many masters continued to command with- out a certificate for many years.

Another captain's responsibility was, in the event of loss or damage to his vessel while at sea, to appear before a person of authority, such as a Justice of the Peace, to swear a full and accurate account of the incidents which occurred during the voyage.

Lists of captains and crewmen

Notes and references

  1. There are three separate gravestones
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