This article is written by John Hick. It describes his family and their shipping interests in Scarborough.
Usually it is only noble or notable families that have a family tree going back before the registration of births, deaths and marriages in England in 1837. The Hicks have never been either noble or notable but because they lived continuously in the same small town, Scarborough, we have a tree going back to a John Hick (1699-1780) who married Ann Thornton (1700-79) and which now (2002) covers nine generations. Beginning in 1685, and increasing considerably during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Scarborough was quite an important port for ocean-going vessels and until the advent of iron ships beginning in the 1820s wooden ships were still being built on the foreshore at Scarborough.[note 1] Muster Rolls of ships were compulsory from 1786. The first Hick ship on these lists, though not the first to sail, was the Plough, built in Scarborough in 1786 and owned and captained by a James Hick. (This was a brigantine, others being barques or snows [note 2] and, from 1878, steamships). The Scarborough firm that built most of their wooden ships was Tindalls and we get a glimpse of the economics of the industry from the brigantine Providence Success, 212 tons, 84 foot long, owned and captained by Walter Pantland senior, which was built by Tindalls in 1796 for £1200 (hull only) the equivalent of £60,000 or up to twice that today [note 3]. In 1787 here belonged to the port of Scarborough 33,400 tons of shipping, the prime cost of which was £450,000; the number of seamen was 1,500.[note 4]
As early as the third generation that we know anything about some of the Hicks seem to have been doing quite well. At any rate if we assume that the magnificent grandfather clock, with the ship which rocks with each swing of the pendulum, made about 1800, was originally bought by Thomas Hick (son of John Hick and Mary Hawson) which would account for its coming down to Cousin Mercia, who left it to me Thomas must have been fairly prosperous. There is also a scale model of the Mary Hick, a sailing barque of 430 tons, built in Sunderland in 1856, owned by P. Hick, Sr, P. Hick, Jr and Thomas Hick, which went down off Santa Anna in the Gulf of Mexico in September 1879.
The ships normally had two or more joint owners, and between 1775 and 1913 ninety-one were owned or part-owned by Hicks.[note 5] (This includes four fishing vessels of 30-40 tons, perhaps small trawlers of the kind that were still sailing from Scarborough when I was a boy.) Sailing in those days was obviously a dangerous occupation, for forty-seven of the ninety-one ships were lost at sea in the Atlantic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Bosphorus, off North and South America, and as far away as Tasmania, three going down with all hands. The best way that I have found of getting a sense of what it must have been like to be in charge of an ocean- going sailing ship is from C.S. Forester Hornblower novels, for example, Hornblower and the Hotspur, where there are detailed descriptions of how the captain used the various different sails in changing weather conditions. However after steam ships came in none of the Hick ships were lost. Their steamers included the Dale line, named after eight Yorkshire dales. These would be tramp steamers carrying cargoes all over the globe.
The only ship for which I have some voyage accounts is the steamer Lockton, 757 tons, 123 horse power, registered in 1882 and owned by James Bailey Hick. It seems that the ship cost £21,250 to build. Its first voyage was from 1 December 1882 to 23 January 1883, carrying 1408 tons of coal at 6s 6d a ton from Sunderland to St Nazaire, and then 1508 tons of iron ore at 10s a ton from Bilbao to Middlesborough, at a total cost for the voyage of £1232-7-0, with a profit (balance due to steamer) of £348-7-0. Most voyages made a profit though a few made a loss. Subsequent voyages made profits of £607, £232, and £259, with a balance due to J.B. Hick in 1883 of £45-2-11, in 1884 of £764-15-0, and in 1885 of £794-9-9. (For today's value one has to multiply by between 50 and 100.) The ship was sold in 1889 to James Knott and renamed the SS African Prince. There is a letter of October 1891 from James Knott to Albert Edwin Hick, in his capacity as a solicitor, in which Knott is explaining the poor performance of the ship in the African trade. First, she was detained on the coast so that a voyage that should have taken three months took four and a half with running expenses of £12 a day. And then
the new Master in whose charge I had placed her made a complete mess of the whole voyage and completely ruined all the arrangements I had made ... It appears ... that he was troubled with a religious mania and I must admit that in all the course of my experience I never heard of such a performance as he has made with the African Prince...
There is also some information, though not financial, about another steamer, Wydale. She was an iron schooner-rigged steamship, built in South Shields by John Redhead & Co. in 1881, owned by Pantland Hick Jr, captained by B.W.Hick, and carrying Lloyd's highest rating of 100 A1. However in 1884 she collided off the Isle of Wight with a small sailing vessel whose crew of two were both drowned. A Board of Trade inquiry blamed the captain of the Wydale for sailing too fast and his certificate was suspended for three months. In 1887, more happily, he was able to rescue the crew of a large sinking American schooner, the Baymore. In 1887, Pantland Hick sold the ship to a Glasgow firm, and in 1900 she was sold again to a Spanish firm. Finally, she ran aground off Burniston, near Scarborough, and became a total wreck.[note 6]
Interesting information about some of the ships comes from cousin Mercia Bell (who died in 1996) in a letter to grandson Jonathan when in 1995 he was doing a school project on ships:
After Captain Cook's discoveries [Cook sailed from Whitby, near Scarborough] in the New World in the latter part of the 18th century the need for merchant ships expanded and a great many of the [Scarborough] townsmen became ship-owners. Some were well established before the Hicks, but the distinction of the Hick family was that it managed to go on the longest. Before the end of the 19th century it was the only family to own a deep-sea fleet based on Scarborough. For that reason it became, for the period, of great importance to the town, providing opportunities for sea- faring jobs and a living for traders in marine requirements ...
Pantland Hick Junior was running the firm for the last 30 or more years of the century, until he died in 1900. Times had changed and the harbour was no longer suitable for the ever larger vessels. The Hick steamers [the Dale line] were sold [the last in 1905] and Scarborough was no longer a ship owning port.
The sea-faring Hicks were however remembered with pride and gratitude for many years. When my [Mercia Bell's] grandfather, Burlinson Walker Hick, died in 1917 no fewer than ten former captains of Hick ships presented themselves at the cemetery to escort him to his rest.
In another letter cousin Mercia says that when her mother was married at St Mary's [Scarborough] in 1905 every ship in the harbour below was decorated, as her ancestors, the Herberts and the Hicks, had been ship-owners, Master Mariners and Harbour Commissioners for so long.
It had always been the case that most Scarborough ship-owners had been to sea first and owned ships later. Scarborough was a small town until the railway came in the 1840s and it often happened that there were marriages between ship-owning families [Walker, Tindall, Hick, Herbert, Hawson, etc.]. It was no wonder when sons of such marriages wanted to go to sea. If they did, they went to sea at the age of 14, so that they could become master mariners by the time they were 21. Your [Jonathan's] great-great- grandfather, Edwin Hick, had five brothers who went to sea very young and became Master Mariners. These were Thomas, Pantland Junior, James, Burlinson Walker Hick, and William.
Another cousin, Sylvia Spooner, provides some information about Thomas, the eldest, who was her grandfather. He was a master mariner and seems to have owned some ships, and in 1859 he was sent by a London company of which he was a shareholder to transport mining machinery to a mine in the Northampton district of Western Australia, in which silver and lead had been discovered. But after waiting almost two years in vain for further orders about the machinery it was off-loaded and left on the beach, where apparently some large pieces can still be seen. Later he lived in London and became a Ship and Insurance Broker, and in 1877 was given the Freedom of the City of London.
Continuing with Mercia's information
It was Pantland Hick Junior who came ashore to take over after his father, Pantland Hick Senior, who had earlier taken over from his father Thomas, who had built up the ship-owning business in the first part of the 19th century. In spite of the dangers of sailing ships, some intrepid young wives accompanied their husbands on long voyages. Mary Herbert was one of them and James Hick's wife another. Sometimes, in the sailing vessels, it took a matter of years rather than months to sail right round the world (as they sometimes did) delivering and picking up cargoes from place to place as they went. Mary had her first child, my uncle Herbert Hick, born at sea half way between Chittagong and Colombo in 1873. They were then in Syringa, which was still only a wooden ship [and was wrecked off Maryland, USA, in 1887].
The Mercia turned out to be a rather special ship. She was a fast one and could, in good conditions, rival the speed of the famous tea-clippers. On one run, south of Cape Leewin, she achieved 1,198 miles in four days, an average of nearly 300 miles a day. She was the last foreign-going Scarborough sailing ship. My grandfather and grandmother, little Herbert Hick, the Mate, the crew, the hens, the sheep, the cargo and a clever dog, all sailed the high seas in Mercia. which was known in her high hey-day as the Pride of Scarborough. . (There is a framed photo of a painting of the Mercia)
The Hick ships do not seem to have had many adventures, but in his young days as Master of Syringa B.W. Hick was once cast ashore on an almost deserted island in the Dutch East Indies and had a long row to Batavia to get help to pull the ship off. On another occasion he rescued the crew of a German ship, including the Master's wife and baby, in the south Pacific. He was presented with a bulldog but got no other reward. In 1882 Admiral Beresford intended to bombard Alexandria, where there were anti-foreign riots. He requested that British ships in the vicinity should go to convey the British citizens to safety. Both James Hick and B.W. Hick were on their way to the Black Sea at the time and both diverted their ships to the rescue.
On the back of the oil painting of Concord, built in 1830, a snow of 224 tons, 54 foot long, with a crew of 10, it is recorded that when in 1845 she was captained by Thomas Hick, aged twenty-one, on his first voyage a Finnish whaler circled the ship and an old whale hand shouted "That whale means mischief."
It did, for it charged and stove in the ship's side and the crew had to abandon it in strong seas and were rescued by another ship.
Sylvia Spooner relays two more stories which she had heard from Mercia.
In the early 19th century a Hick ship was sailing into the Tyne at the time of a flood and saw a wooden cradle floating out to sea. Inside there was a baby, a girl. They fed her through the spout of a teapot until they tied up and she was united with her parents. Subsequently her parents brought her as a young girl to thank the Captain Hick who had saved her life.
The other story sounds legendary though it may not be: During the Napoleonic wars a French ship appeared in Scarborough Bay. No naval vessels being in sight a Hick ship left harbour to chase her. She turned and fled. Subsequently came a message to say she would not fire on a Hick ship. (There was a Hick flag, which can be seen on the picture of the Mercia.) Yet another story from Mercia is that at some point during the Napoleonic wars a Hick ship was in a French port and the captain was interned but escaped disguised as a servant of a family who were travelling by coach out of France, and so eventually got home.
Although the first recorded Hick vessel was the Mary, a small boat of 40 tons and a crew of three, owned in 1775 by John Hick, and there were others continuously since then, the family business only really began to flourish at the end of the Napoleonic wars[note 7] and was at its height through the second half of the nineteenth century. Pantland (1803-1887) was a master mariner and owner of four ships in 1851 and was part-owner of the Mary Hick, whose model still sails on in a glass case. He retired ashore at the age of forty-one and became a town councillor, a President of Trinity House (a home for retired seamen), a President of the Merchant Seamen's Hospital, a member of the Harbour Commission, a Director and Trustee of the Savings Bank and a Director of the Scarborough Gas Company; while his brother Thomas owned seven ships; and his brother Michael, a master mariner, owned two ships and was part-owner and master of another; and a JP. Pantland married Mary Burlinson Walker, who owned twenty-one ships, so that two ship-owning families were united. They had eleven children, of whom two died in infancy. Of the seven sons, Thomas was a master mariner; Pantland junior (of whom there is a fine photo in his mayor's robe, skilfully touched up by an artist) was a master mariner, and a JP and alderman 6 JOHN HICK: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY and mayor of Scarborough in 1883-4 James was a master mariner; Burlinson Walker, also a master mariner (referred to in Mercia's letter above), was owner and master of the Mercia. Between them they owned the Dale line of steamships. Until 1900 Pantland Hick was still running the business from an office in Scarborough, with a branch office in Cardiff run by his brother William, and two other brothers had shipping agencies in Liverpool and London.
In a note added to his list of the ships Captain Sydney Smith (a retired Hick captain) says Hicks kept in the outer harbour at Scarborough a pontoon upon which vessels could be placed at high water. It was then allowed to ground at low water and the sluices opened so that it emptied itself of water. The sluices were then closed and the pontoon floated with the vessel upright upon it, the last vessels to use it being the barques Coral Isle [built 1861] and Olive Branch[built 1868]. This enabled the bottom to be painted and underwater repair work done. I cannot find the date it was disposed of.
The old wooden chest currently in the conservatory is part of the shipping story. Apparently it is a late George III period walnut brass- bound cellarette converted to a travelling box and made about 1830. There was a note inside the lid by my mother, Aileen:
"Leeds, August 1987. Old Richardson, as he was always known to us, was one of the first people Mark took me to see when we were first married [in 1917]. He lived in one of the Sailors Cottages on the way to the harbour, and had always sailed in one of the Hick ships and had sailed all his life. It seemed to me then that he was an old man, and he often came to see us. I think that Mark saw that he was well looked after. One day he arrived carrying this box, and told me that it had been all round the world with him, and that everything he had was kept in this box and that he would like it to stay with the Hicks and that he would like to give it to me. (I hope I was suitably impressed.) [My wife] Hazel always liked it, and I want her to have it. It must be very dirty. I think I kept coal in it - but have always used it and valued it. So here it is for Hazel with my love, and certainly with old Richardson's regards. Aileen."
And then there is another piece of paper on which she has added,
"In the night that I had written this, a man came to me in a dream and said, You are wrong about old Richardson he lived in a Seamans Dwelling, nothing to do with a cottage at all. So awake, I was wrong, and asleep I was right."
I (John) also remember being taken to visit old Richardson when I was a child but I can remember nothing about him except that he was a friendly old man.
The only one of the brothers in my grandfather's generation who did not go into shipping was my grandfather himself, Albert Edwin (1846-1900), who became a solicitor, setting up on his own in Scarborough at the age of twenty-three or four. Later he took a younger partner and the firm when I knew it was Hick & Hands, a small provincial firm in a Dickensian gas-lit office doing mostly rather unexciting work such as conveyancing and probate. Albert Edwin was Deputy-Coroner for Scarborough, president of the Scarborough Hospital, a trustee of the South Cliff Congregational Church, president of the Mechanics and Literary Institute, treasurer of the Band of Hope Union he was a keen teetotaller was a Liberal-Unionist (though he took no very active part, and was highly esteemed by both parties), was connected with the Scarborough Amateur Rowing Club, and owned a farm at Staintonedale and was also part-owner of two of the fishing vessels that came at the tail end of the shipping business after all, the rest were larger ships no longer based in Scarborough.
Edwin and Maria had two sons, my father Mark and his brother Norman. I have a very dim memory of Granny Maria, who died when I was four, as a Queen Victoria-like figure sitting in state in the loggia at Athol House (Fulford Road, South Cliff, Scarborough). When she died in 1926 she left the house to her two sons. Mark evidently bought Norman's share and we lived there all the time whilst I was growing up. Norman was trained as an architect but, I think, hardly ever practiced. I believe that he designed the Hutton Buscel post office, and apart from that only a cottage which he had built to give to a couple when they retired after serving Norman and his wife Marjorie for many years a decent thing to do which was entirely in keeping with his character as I remember it. He and Marjorie lived in a lovely old house in Hutton Buscel, near Scarborough the house had once been an inn, and the story is that some of Cromwell's troops were billeted there on their way to besiege Scarborough castle.
Edwin died at the age of only fifty-four of a heart attack after visiting his farm, finding that some stakes had not been driven into the ground that should have been, and doing it himself. He died in the train on the way back to Scarborough. He was described by the Coroner, who had known him for over thirty years, as one of the most honourable of men, and one who had ever had the best interests of the town at heart. I know that his son Mark, who was only twenty when Edwin died, always remembered him with great admiration and affection.
On my dining room wall I have a group photo of the Hicks of my grandfather's generation, taken probably in the 1880s or 90s; also a photo portrait of one of them, Pantland, in his mayor's robe, and one of another, William, also in some official robe. The group photo is an excellent piece of photography, well arranged and very clear. This is from the time when they were the leading shipping family in Scarborough. The first word that comes to my mind in looking at them is solidity. They are men most of whom have been at sea for many years, have faced dangers and hardships, and who have been successful in life. They look to me like a group of ancestors of whom one can be proud. William has a big moustache and a scowl, but all the others look relaxed and kindly, and well contented with life.
On my mother's side her mother, Lucy Hirst, was a Cocker before her marriage. The story of the Cocker family, spreading over Yorkshire, Van Dieman's Land, Melbourne, British Columbia, Mexico, Tonga and Michigan, has been well traced by cousin (the Venerable) Mark Dalby.[note 8] It is an interesting story, but I cannot recount it here. The only individual among them whom I want to mention is the first academic in the family, the Rev. Benjamin Cocker who became professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan and published several books, including Christianity and Greek Philosophy(1870), Lectures on the Truth of the Christian Tradition (1872) and The Students Handbook of Philosophy(1881). I have sampled some bits and would say if I can without impertinence about an ancestor that they were good in their time but of no intrinsic interest today. (Perhaps in another hundred years, if any of my own books are referred to, it will be in much the same terms.) The other academic on the Cocker-Hirst side was uncle Eddy, Edward Wales Hirst, of whom more later.
1. See James Buckley, The Outport of Scarborough 1602 -1853, apparently printed privately, presumably in Scarborough, no date.
2. A brigantine was a two-masted vessel with square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged mainmast. A barque had its aftermost mast fore- and-aft rigged and its other (usually two) masts square-rigged. And a snow was a small sailing-vessel resembling a brig, carrying a main and foremast and a supplementary trysail mast close behind the mainmast; formerly employed as a warship
3. For the figure of £60,000 I have multiplied by 50, the figure used by Roy Jenkins in his Gladstone (1995), p. 149. However the historian Hugh McLeod believes that the figure should be more like 100. See extended note in chap.
4. Joseph Brogden Baker, The History of Scarborough, London: Longmans, Green, 1882, p. 370.
5. The list was made by Captain Sydney Smith, who was Deputy Harbour Master at Scarborough and Senior Warden of the Scarborough Trinity House.
6. Scarborough Evening News, 25 October 1974.
7. James Buckley, The Outport of Scarborough, p. 104.
8. Mark Dalby, The Cocker Connection, London & New York: Regency Press, 1989.
By Mike Park (Hull) 2013