The following article was written by Douglas J Boyle and was first printed in the Scarborough Evening News on January 1st 1934. It was added to the Maritime archives by Vanessa Milner
SOME SCARBOROUGH SAILING SHIPS: SALVAGE FROM OLD INSURANCE PAPERS - BY DOUGLAS J BOYLE
A few of the old insurance papers of Mr Sampson Storm, dug up for me by his kinsman, Captain Jameson, bring home to me forcibly that common statement - "Whitby was once a great shipping centre"
I fancy we have been a little sceptical about that, judging Whitby by our present ideas of ships and ports, forgetting that the vast bulk of the world's carrying trade, in the middle of the last century, was still done by little brigs of about 250 tons, and little barques of about 350 tons. In the building and manning of ships of this size Scarborough could hold her own with any of the big ports and yards.
Pursuing those old papers, one realises what a sterling school of seamanship has vanished from these coasts. Living by the North Sea now means little more than living on the shores of Lake Windermere, even there they have steamers and yachts.
There were swarms of sailing vessels on these coasts; and though they would now be considered very small, they were, according to the standards of those days, ships of respectable burden, the tramp steamers of their day.
Further, they were not merely as coal carts and timber wagons. They were the permanent homes of the owners who were the skippers. Large families were the rule, not the exception. A little thought, therefore, brings home to us what vast numbers of people there were who could be truly described as seafaring men, mariners of England; especially considering the much smaller population in the country as a whole.
And most of these little Whitby and Scarborough brigs and schooners would be built locally on the banks of the Esk, and along Sandside. Casualties would be very heavy and frequent; work for rope-makers, riggers riggers, and ship-wrights would be plentiful, especially in winter-time, when most vessels were laid-up for overhauling and re-fitting. We really were a seafaring race; and even a fleet of French 74 gun line of battleships, in 1800, could have been given a very nasty time of it by swarms of brigs belonging to Whitby alone, manned every one of them by men born to sea.
Relatively, we were far more secure from invasion than we are now.
Provided the men on the ships were determined men, they could put up a very effective resistance against far larger and more heavily armed sailing vessels, for the difference between a merchant vessel and a war vessel was far less then than now.
In 1857, the Whitby A.I. Insurance Association, at the offices of Thomas Marwood and Son, had 92 vessels on their list, representing a tonnage of 27,837. The value of these vessels was put at £310,500, an average of about £3,395, for an average tonnage of about 300; about £11 per ton.
In 1856, the Whitby Insurance Association, Flintoft and Dale, had 132 vessels on their list, chiefly from Whitby, Middlesborough, and West Hartlepool. The tonnage adds up to 26,884, the shipping averaging just over 200 tons apiece. At £10 or £11 per ton, we get a value well over a quarter of a million pounds for vessels insured with this firm alone in that year; and there seems to have been several other associations!
For 1864, the list of Robin Hood's Bay Insurance Association, Matthew Bedlington, gives the names of 166 vessels; and the majority seem to have been regarded as proper deep sea voyagers taking goods and coal to the Baltic, the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and North America!
A strange thing is, that all these hundreds of little barques, brigs, and schooners, with a few steamers, no doubt, only a handful are given as being under Scarborough registry. To judge by those lists, the little village of Robin Hood's Bay has been far more interested in big business than the town of Scarborough.
It is probable, however, that Scarborough firms went further afield, and insured with big London Associations.
The few Scarborough vessels I could find were as follows:
- Princess Royal, 185 tons, value £800, Captain Edmonds, owner T Edmonds
- Confidence, Captain Appleyard, 140 tons, value £300. Owner A Appleyard
- Express, Captain Boyes, owner J Boyes.
- William, Captain White, 125 tons, value £700, owner T Edmonds.
- Economy, 106 tons, value £700, owner G Appleyard,
- Hugh, Captain Lancaster, 212 tons, value £1,200. Owner T White.
There was also the Taymouth Castle, of Porrett Webster, which was wrecked in the Grecian Archipelago.
There may have been others registered as Whitby ships which may possibly have been Scarborough vessels in their youth. I suspect the Donne Castle to be such a one.
This would seem to be all that insurance papers of Mr Sampson Storm can tell me about Scarborough shipping of the years 1855-56-57 and 1864; and is obviously unrepresentative of Scarborough's interest in the international carrying trade of those years.
While wood was the building material for ships, none of them could be made of great size, and seaworthy, for the carrying trade. The working of the hull in mild weather started leaks; for a large amount of play was bound to develop between the joints of the framework; and once a ship had worked fairly loose, life on board must have been a nightmare.
We are told that even the best of wooden ships leaked; and that the worst were merely floating sieves, kept afloat by constant daily pumping.
Thus the small brigs of Whitby and Scarborough, home built, were probably stiffer and better for their work than more imposing vessels built at big yards elsewhere.
Scarborough, therefore, had quite a sound position on the shipbuilding map. We are told that building slips extended from the Marine Drive Toll House to the Olympia; and must have meant a considerable amount of honest business, toil and prosperity.
When iron came to be used, however, vessels could be built much larger, and still be as tight as bottles. That meant the death of the Scarborough shipbuilding industry; and when iron trawlers came along even the lingering firms, such as Tindalls had to give up the last phase of our shipbuilding - the construction of fishing yawls.
One old Captain tells me that the last big launch he remembers at Scarborough was that of a three hundred ton brig, the Clyde.
What an interesting world has passed away - along Sandside.