I have been working my way slowly through the Peoples Collection Wales website since before Christmas, finding what it has in the way of photographs about Aberdovey and other places of interest. I have a particular affinity with 19th Century ships, so when Adrian Lee posted the photograph on the Aberdovey/Aberdyfi Past and Present Memories Facebook page asking for information, I recognized it instantly from the Peoples Collection website, which mercifully provided the name of the ship and its port of registration. From there it was only a few steps to finding out some more details.
This solidly built visitor to Aberdovey, moored up on the wharf is the 88-ton Ellen Beatrice, registered in Aberystwyth, number 49664. She was built in 1865 by John Faulk Evans of Aberystwyth, whose father John Evans was also an Aberystwyth ship builder. John Faulk Evans built a number of schooners and at least one brig and one barque. Her first Managing Owner, who retained the title for many years, was William Owens of Aberystwyth. The name of the ship is something of a puzzle. It probably refers to the second daughter of Sydney H. Jones-Parry, Ellen Beatrice Jones-Parry. Captain Jones-Parry had joined the East India Company is a boy and served in India, Burma and the Crimea but returned, with his wife and six children, to Ceredigion to turn his hand at farming on the Tyllwyd estate that he had inherited. I have not managed to find out quite how the family was connected to William Owen, but it may be that Jones-Parry had a share or a number of shares in the vessel.
Both views are revealing, and both necessary for a full grasp of the ship’s design. The first photograph shows off that uncompromisingly square stern, whilst the second one shows her beautiful hollow bows and classic schooner lines, and her fine rigging. The first photograph shows Ellen Beatrice from the rear, giving a clear view of her transom (square) stern. Although rounded sterns offer greater overall strength to a vessel, particularly important on the open sea, a coaster was usually less prone to stress, and could take advantage of the additional cargo space and deck area that a transom stern conferred. The second photograph enables a look at her rigging and sails, identifying her as a topsail schooner. Topsail schooners combined the benefits of sails that were perpendicular to the ship’s sides (square sails) and sails parallel to the ship’s sides (“fore and aft sails”). The deep sea full-rigged tea clippers and East Indiamen, merchant ships of the same century, were rigged with square sails on all masts in order to pick up the trade winds, but coastal ships had much more complicated winds and breezes to confront. Two square sails hanging from the yards (cross beams) at the top of the fore mast of Ellen Beatrice enable a following wind to provide speed as the sails billow out and power the ship through the water. Fore and aft sails are, however, much better for manoeuvrability and tacking, allowing a ship to sail efficiently both downwind and close to the wind. She also had jib sails (smaller triangular sails) extending from the fore mast to the bowsprit to add to lend extra flexibility and versatility. An artist’s impression of what she looked like under sail, the painting below left of “The Charming Nancy and Ellen Beatrice” by Terry F.J. Rogers, painted during the 1970s (with Ellen Beatrice on the left), gives a good idea of how she may have looked when at sea.
From the day of her launch, her Managing Owner was William Owens of 21 North Parade, Aberystwyth. Managing Owners were often the business managers for ships, based on land and running the commercial side of things whilst appointing a Master to take the ship concerned to sea. The further the ship went from her own port, the more complex this relationship. William Owens, however, seems to combined the roles of Managing Owner and Master himself. He was listed as the Master of Ellen Beatrice for many of her voyages between 1866 and 1872, with Glyn Botwood usually acting as Mate until 1870, reappearing in 1873. After 1872, 50-year old William Owens is replaced as Master by Robert Evans, but is listed as Boatswain. For a few years Owens returned as Master and even when Richard Davies Jones took over for the rest of the 1870s into the 1880s, Owens often acted as Mate, only vanishing from the roster in the 1890s.
Apart from master and mate, the crew retained some consistent names from year to year, but there were also numerous changes. Looking at the Aberystwyth Shipping records for Ellen Beatrice from the 1860s to the 1890s, again on the Taklow Kernewek website, it is clear that most of the temporary crew signed up for short contracts of between four and eight weeks. The Taklow Kernewek website lists the crew for a large number of her journeys, and although many sailors and mates came from Aberystwyth, and a few from Borth (a supplier to many sailors to local shipping), they also came from far and wide. The National Archives provides some details of her crew in 1881, a list that shows just how much men moved from ship to ship, in this case coming together on Ellen Beatrice from as near as Aberystwyth and as far away as Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Sydney, Australia. Perusing the crew listings for Ellen Beatrice on the Taklow Kernewek website, it is clear that very few sailors give their place of birth as Aberdovey. There are exceptions. William R. Morris, Ordinary Seaman, born in Aberdovey in 1871 joined the ship at Newport and left it at Cardiff. David Williams Lewis, born in Aberdovey in 1872, joined the ship at Aberdovey as an Able Seaman and left her at Portmadoc. Hugh Ezekiel Davies (sic), born in Aberdovey in 1874, joined the ship at Aberdovey in 1894 as Ordinary Seaman an and also left her at Aberdovey nearly two months later. Ezeciel Davies (sic, possibly the same person as the previous, but listed as born in Aberdovey in 1876) joined she ship from Aberdovey in 1894 as an Able Seaman and left two months later in Portmadoc. These names turn up every now and again on the ship, but often with a year or more between journeys. Most of those who remained with the ship from one job to another were from Aberystwyth. What is interesting, however, is that the port of Aberdovey was a real hub for sailors. No matter what their places of birth or where they lived, sailors joined and left the ship at Aberdovey again and again. It is clear that Aberdovey was a good place to find new ships to join during the latter part of the 19th Century, something of a hub for jobbing sailors.
Aberdovey shipbuilding ended with the launch of the last ship to be built on the Dyfi, the 1869 76-ton 75.2ft schooner/ketch Catherine built by John Jones at Llyn Bwtri near Pennal. It had been the same story in Borth, across the estuary, and Barmouth to the north. When the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway arrived in the 1860s maritime trade went into decline, together with the shipbuilding industry. This was just a year before the last sailing ship to be built on the Thames was launched, the 1870 794-ton tea clipper Lothair, part of a trend throughout Britain. Although the new Dyfi railway bridge, the west coast railway itself and Canadian-built ships were challenges to shipbuilding and maritime trade in the Aberdovey area, there was a much bigger threat to all builders of wooden sailing ships in Britain. Steam power was slowly taking over the sea, and many steamships and long distance sailing ships were now iron-hulled. Shipbuilding in Aberystwyth had not quite been defeated by the railway and the arrival of steam, although it was teetering on the edge. Shipbuilding persisted into the 1870s, although only 15 ships were built. The last big sailing ship to be built was the schooner Edith Eleanor in 1881.
In the photograph at the top of the page, and copied right, Ellen Beatrice is moored at the Aberdovey wharf alongside a big pile of shaped timber, possibly deals (pieces of timber shaped to a standardized 7 ft × 6 ft × 5/2 in) and parallel to the rail tracks that bought slate in to the port of Aberdovey for trans-shipping elsewhere. There is nothing in the photograph to say whether she was, for example, loading slate or off-loading timber. It is probable that she simply ran various locally produced cargoes into ports along the coast, picking up return cargoes where she could. The Aberystwyth Observer noted that in the winter of 1890 she was carrying a cargo of firebricks when she ran aground trying to enter Workington harbour in Cumbria during a bad storm.
The Aberystwyth Observer reported the incident on 15th November 1890 when Ellen Beatrice was 25 years old. “The huge waves were sweeping her for stem to stern and the crew must have suffered greatly.” Conditions were so rough that the lifeboat sent to her aid was was unable to her, forced back by “terrific” breakers at the pier head. Instead, a rocket brigade made several attempts to fire a line on to the ship, and this eventually worked. The line was taken on board and made fast, and the crew were taken off by breaches buoy. The owner William Owen, Captain R.D. Jones from Pembury, his son Oliver “a lad” and his son-in-law Mr Thomas Williams, all from Aberystwyth, were removed safely. The ship was refloated when the storm dropped, and taken into Workington Harbour. Another incident is recorded in the Aberystwyth Shipping Records. In 1910 Thomas Oliver Jones from Aberystwyth, master of the ship, was killed when the Ellen Beatrice was at Cowes “by an iron hook falling on his head, from the boom, whil in collision with ketch Alford.”
The Mercantile Navy List includes her up until 1924. During that period she changed hands several times. Her Managing Owner from 1865 was William Owens who was registered at 21 North Parade, Aberystwyth. The vessel’s registered tonnage was 88 tons when she was launched, but was changed to 76 tons in 1892. Between 1902 and 1914, presumably on the death of William Owens, the title and responsibilities of Managing Owner passed to Mrs M. Owens of 41, North Parade, Aberystwyth. It’s a different address, but she was probably his wife, unmarried sister or daughter. Between 1915 and 1917 her Managing Agent was Ernest Brown, Tintagel View, Port Isaac. Between 1918 and 1920 she was in the hands of The Weymouth Diving and Touring Company at 17A King Street, Weymouth. Finally, between 1921 and 1923 (now registered 73 tons) her Managing Owner was William T Cundy of Lipsom Road, Plymouth.
I don’t know why her registered tonnage was reduced from 88 tons to 76 and then 73 in the Mercantile Navy List. It is possible that there were errors in the record, or that the way in which tonnages were calculated changed. This did happen from time to time, because duties for cargoes were based on various measurements including tonnage, but it may also be that the ship was physically altered in some way, and that her actual tonnage was reduced as a result.
There is no record of her in the Mercantile Navy List after 1923 but I have been unable to find any record of a wreckage or sale. As she was by then 59 years old, after a reliable but strenuous career, she was perhaps too old to be seaworthy without costly repairs. It seems plausible that the decision was taken to break her up but it would be good to have a definitive end to her story.
There are so many gaps in this, a huge frustration. Who was William Owen, what was his background and how did he manage his business? Was he the sole owner of the ship, or were there other share-holders? Did he own and manage other ships? Did the vessel get her name as a result of a connection with Jones-Parry, and if so what was this connection? Who were the Aberdovey sailors that sailed on her, and did they remain based at Aberdovey or did they move away? What were Ellen Beatrice’s regular cargoes and routes, how long did they take and how did she meet her end in 1923/24? So many other questions besides. If anyone has any of the answers, please get in touch.
I had fun doing the reading for this post. Thanks to Adrian Lee for setting me off down this particular path.
Lloyd, L. 1996. A Real Little Seaport. The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996. A Real Little Seaport. The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
Aberystwyth Harbour, Shipbuilding and Ships (C.1850-1880)
http://www.mywelshancestry.co.uk/John Jenkins/Aberystwyth Harbour and Shipping/Aberystwyth Harbour and Shipbuilding.html
The Aberystwyth Observer
The Mercantile Navy List
Peoples’ Collection Wales