Our Family of Cape Horners Vol.1 - The Nineteenth Century Seafarers and Their Relations
By Colin R Rees. ISBN 0-0532038-4-0 Price £30.00 inc. p&p. Published by D W Jones (Printers) Ltd. available direct from: Colin R Rees, 65, West Cross Lane, Mumbles, Swansea SA3 5LU.
The Swansea copper-ore trade to Santiago de Cuba and later to Chile as famed for its hard-driven small barques, and the hard driving Welsh master mariners based upon Swansea during the gathering years of what was to become a most important industry. Copper sheathing of vessels to protect timbers against boring worms was initially re-invented about 1761 and by the 1780s was found in common usage in vessels trading to the eastern Mediterranean, central and south America and beyond. The author’s family were engaged in this trade, taking coal out and copper back during the early 19th. Century. Whilst Santiago de Cuba was a regular port to load copper ore, it was a particularly unhealthy place - indeed the reviewer’s great-great-uncle died of yellow fever there whilst in command of a Swansea copper-ore barque - and the trade shifted primarily to the ports of Chile. There, ore was roughly smelted into an impure form of metal, known as "regulus" - which was easier to transport than loose ore. Transportation was difficult with the cargo being "trunked" and held with shifting boards to avoid movement on the passage around Cape Horn and back to Swansea, as illustrated on page 28.
These Swansea vessels however did not only voyage to central and South America, but sailed to the East Indies - another notoriously unhealthy place - and Calcutta, as is shown on the frontispiece map illustrating the passages of five of the vessels on which members of the author’s family sailed. This hardback book running to some 189 well illustrated (in both colour and black and white) pages opens with an overview of Swansea’s developing industrial background and examines how the copper industry came to be founded in this location, primarily because of the availability of cheap anthracite and Cornish copper-ore, leading to the development of specialist copper manufacturing, copper nails and sheathing - much of which was supplied to the Royal Navy. Copper ore was also brought from the north Wales mines at Parys Mountain and Morfa in Anglesey to be smelted. John Rees the author’s great-grandfather started the family line by becoming master of the schooner Wave, jointly owned by him and the Cornish Copper Company. Interestingly Colin shows us that imports from South America in 1861 were valued at £1 millions, whilst from Cuba the value was £150,000. Other countries and Australia supplied a further £350,000. £50,000 then is the equivalent of £1.25 millions today! A coloured illustrative map of the industrial area of Swansea and its docks is used to show locations.
The author then examines the way in which the officers and master’s qualified for command, and looks at both the navigation skills required and what might be better described as "The Shipmaster’s Business Companion" dealing with the crew, medical knowledge and their engagement and discharge.
The ships were built for the Swansea trade in Sunderland, North Devon and perhaps surprisingly Topsham, where John Holman & Sons built a number in their own yard. Holman’s shipbuilders and ship owners are still going strong in the City of London now concentrating in the insurance marketplace. Insurance of the vessels is covered and we read how some 200 Swansea vessels were lost in the 26 years from 1873, and an example of the policy cover for an 1838 voyage of the Chelydra is given. As an interesting aside it was about this time that John Holman set up the first Mutual Insurance arrangement to cover shipping on account of the very high premiums being charged by the comparatively limited number of underwriters, which in a slightly different form is still going strong to this day.
Back to the family. This stemmed from Captain William Buckler of Hartland, North Devon born in 1780, and Captain John Rees born about 1792 at St. Thomas, Swansea. We are taken through the various members who all went to sea, some attaining command, with a passenger’s log setting out the passage of the Wave from Swansea to Valparaiso in 1848 when Captain Samuel Rees was a 19-year-old mate! Captain Rees was subsequently in command of the schooners Ocean and Riviere - both with connections to the Cornish Copper Company. Going through the family connections we meet with Captain Thomas Rees, Edgar and his connections with Penzance, Captain James Rees and the ships they ventured in and their voyages. Copies of the abstract log of the brig Gauntlet 1869 under Captain James Rees to Valparaiso and the log of the brigantine America 1871 to Cadiz and Newfoundland/Montreal follows. This includes the items owned by Peter Davies, a seaman, who died at the Sailor’s Home, Falmouth in August, 1871. There then follows a further log of Captain James Rees to Port Nolloth, South Africa.
A short section covers the Hinckley branch of the family who were potters and ceramic workers with some beautiful coloured photographs of their wares. Captain James Hinckley however went to sea and in 1848 joined the Chelydra as an apprentice. He was also in the trade to Valparaiso and later in the West Indies trade to Tobago. Captain William Hinckley joined the barque Catherine of Swansea - owned by a local butcher and later progressed to the Rajah of Sarawak and ended as mater in 1860 of various vessels culminating in the brig Selina. John Hinckley and Captain Charles Hinckley also went to sea and the author provides an insight into the largest copper mine - still producing - La Cobre, in Chile. The salt trade with Newfoundland is also covered during the course of their passages and extracts from log books. Lastly Frederick Hinckley was also apprenticed in the Star of the West in 1860, but he was invalided from the merchant service following fever possibly caught at Santiago de Cuba. His burial is noted but the date of his death is not given, but would seem to be post 1872.
There is a detailed Appendix giving the details of the ships in which the family sailed with details of the shipbuilding ports from where they emanated grouped together. From this we see that Sunderland was the biggest provider of vessels, followed by Prince Edward Island. An Appendix details Sailing Vessels over 50 tons remaining on the register in December 1870 for a number of ports, including Swansea and Cardiff, followed by an extract from the Will of John Rees who died 1827 with details of the vessels he had interests in and the co-owners. Lastly Colin and his wife give a view on their visit to Chile in 1997 to trace their ancestors footsteps, albeit by aircraft!
This really is a most enchanting book and the author (and I suspect his long-suffering wife) are to be congratulated on producing such a high class well-illustrated and readable hardback volume that deserves to be in every library of the maritime enthusiast, and particularly those interested in the southwest!. Colin shows how family history can be both absorbing and deeply interesting. It is available direct from the author at a most reasonable cost of £30.00 inclusive of postage and packing.
Reviewed by D. B. Clement
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