Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ships and Mariners: 19th c Cape and Natal 9 Falconer

Among the coterie of Master Mariners known to Bell was William Falconer, who is recorded in 1838 as captain of the schooner Velox, carrying a cargo of sundries from Ceylon via Mauritius to Table Bay, the voyage taking from 5 July to 22 August.

St George in the East, Stepney
Falconer’s story provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of a 19thc merchant mariner. Born 29 July 1812 in Stepney - a place of strong maritime character - and baptized at St George in the East, William served his apprenticeship under his mariner father, James Falconer, between 1828 and 1832. Under the terms of this contract, James agreed to pay his son thirty pounds of lawful money of Great Britain over a period of four years as well as teach him and supply him with sufficient meat, drink and lodging. 

Part of William’s indenture would have been served at sea, gaining practical knowledge in ‘working’ a ship, from the basic skills of splicing and knotting to keeping a reckoning of a course, making observations and learning about winds and tides. After completing his apprenticeship William would enter a long and successful career, acquiring a Trinity House certificate of competency in 1848 and his Master Mariner’s ticket in 1851.

For two years and four months he was master of the Alexandrina, a 294 ton barque employed in the Foreign Trade and built by the firm of Alexander Duthie. The vessel was registered in London in 1849, when Falconer is recorded as both owner and master. Duthie’s yard built several famous Aberdeen clipper barques, including the Ocean Queen, 349 tons, which Alexandrina resembled.

In the painting below Alexandrina shows quite a sharply raked ‘Aberdeen bow’. She has three masts, square rigged on the fore and main masts, fore and aft rigged on the mizzen. There is only one jib-sail set (she probably has three), the fore mast has course, top-sail and topgallant-sail set but no royal, likewise the main mast although the course is probably in the process of being set. The mizzen mast only carries a spanker (a top-sail is not set) with the Red Ensign (Red Duster) flying from the gaff. There are no stay-sails or gaff-sails set fore and aft between pairs of masts. She isn't under a great press of canvas, and she is apparently off the Dover coast.

William Falconer's barque, Alexandrina

To be continued ...

Lorna Cowan
Arthur Hayden
Derek Ellwood

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