Penarth Captain Rescues Vanderbilts off South America

Acts of heroism at home and abroad are chronicled in a small collection of papers relating to William Henry Bevan, a Penarth merchant navy Captain in the first half of the 20th century. Episodes in his colourful career are described in personal papers, photographs and newspapers (ref. DX741).


Born in 1881 at Berriew, near Montgomery, William Henry Bevan first appeared in Penarth as an apprentice on a sailing ship. He was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal for saving the life of a man who had fallen into the dock; a rescue accomplished after jumping fifteen feet from his ship into thirty to forty feet of water. This incident was recalled by Samuel Thomas, speaking on behalf of the Town Council, at the opening ceremony of Captain Bevan’s Washington Hotel.


These premises (nos. 9 & 11 Stanwell Road), formerly occupied by the Penarth Tutorial School, were converted by Captain Bevan and opened as a private hotel in October 1922. The name ‘Washington’ he believed would attract American visitors:

for whom the name might have special appeal being the name of their first president and also their seat of government.

Captain Bevan’s particular association with America began on 27 January 1914 when his vessel, the Almirante of the United Fruit Line, lying at Santa Marta off the Columbian coast, received a distress call from the yacht Warrior, aground in heavy seas off Cape Augusta. Aboard the Warrior were Mr and Mrs Frederick W. Vanderbilt, their guests the Duke and Duchess of Manchester and Lord Arthur Falconer, and their crew. Bound from Curaçao to Colón and nearing the end of its cruise the yacht was swept on to a sand spit at Cape Augusta, thirty-five miles from Santa Marta, at the mouth of the Magdalena river. When the call was received, the Almirante was unable to leave port as her cargo was only partly stowed and most of her passengers were ashore. Her sister ship the Frutera was therefore despatched ahead and ordered to stand by. When the Almirante arrived on the scene, the Warrior was found to be lying, bow ashore, in such a position that the strong current of the river washed her port quarter, while heavy seas lashed the starboard. Small boats were put out from both ships but the seas proved too heavy to effect a rescue that day.

Immediately after breakfast on the following day (the 28th) the chief officer of the Almirante, N.H. Edward, took his small boat out again and managed to board the Warrior, the seas having slightly abated. He found the yacht resting on her upright keel in a shoal of mud and sand, her passengers in remarkably good spirits after their terrifying ordeal. The Vanderbilts and their guests were transferred uneventfully to The Almirante and apparently suffered little ill-effect from the experience. The crew members of the Almirante, as the rescuing vessel, were rewarded immediately with gifts of fifty dollars each, whilst Captain Bevan and Mr. Edward were informed by Mrs. Vanderbilt that they would each receive a specially designed token of the family’s grateful appreciation, which would be made on their return to New York.

Captain Bevan maintained contact with the Vanderbilt family, not only advising members on seafaring and the purchase of further yachts, but also briefly commanding one of them. The Washington Hotel was but a short interlude in Captain Bevan’s seafaring career for five years later, and three years after the birth there of his daughter Josephine, he sold the hotel and returned to the merchant service as a Captain with the Blue Star Line. He renewed his acquaintance with Jamaica where the local newspaper in Kingston celebrated his return by chronicling his past heroic acts on the island during the ‘Great Earthquake’. On 14 February 1940 his ship the Sultan Star was torpedoed and for his bravery he was recommended for the OBE.

Board of Trade Shipping Enquiries, 1875-1935

The Board of Trade held responsibility for the general superintendence of matters relating to merchant ships and seamen. This included overseeing formal investigations into any shipping casualties on or near the coasts of the United Kingdom and for any British ship, stranded, damaged or lost.

Amongst the records for Cardiff Petty Sessions Court are a series of files relating to such investigations held at Cardiff City Hall and Law Courts during the period 1875-1935 (ref. CL/PSCBO/BT). Composed of papers assembled for the inquiry, depositions of witnesses and accounts of the proceedings of the court, the files represent an invaluable source for maritime history in the 19th and 20th centuries. Often written in pencil and sometimes hard to read, the bundles of papers provide a wealth of information about matters ranging from ship design to ship discipline.

Since the place of investigation was to be the place most convenient for witnesses, by no means all the shipping casualties investigated in Cardiff were Cardiff-based ships. Some of the ships were registered in other ports and have no obvious connection with Cardiff other than regular trade with a South Wales port or a predominance of Welsh names amongst the crew lists. Equally, Cardiff ships were sometimes subject to investigations in other ports, as in the case of the SS Albion of Cardiff, which was owned by the Duffryn Shipping Company of Cardiff and was lost off Spain in 1908. The inquiry into her loss was held at Caxton Hall, Westminster.

Among the earliest papers perhaps the most interesting are those highlighting the hazards involved in carrying dangerous cargoes. In December 1880 explosive gas given off from a cargo of coal was suspected as the cause of the loss of the SS Estepona of Hull whilst she sailed from Cardiff to Marseilles. The case file for the inquiry includes depositions from the owner concerning the ship, her ballast and insurance, the chief accountant to the colliery which supplied the coal, a foreman trimmer who remembered loading the coal and a Government Inspector of Mines for South Wales who advised on the likelihood of explosive gas forming. In this case there was no definite decision about the cause of the loss, but a year later there were more definite conclusions about the SS Penwith of Hayle, which disappeared having left Penarth bound for the Rio Grande. She carried 422 tons of South Wales steam coal, drawn from collieries in the Rhondda and Ogmore valleys. The coal was notorious for the explosive gas it emitted. In his report to the court, the Inspector of Mines outlined the importance of ventilation, since gas was normally given off some days after the coal was wrought, and he criticised the situation whereby the hatches were the only form of ventilation even though these might well have to be closed in bad weather. In concluding that ventilation on the ship was inadequate, the court attributed blame both to the builder and to the master of the ship as well as to the owner.

Inquiries concerning ships lost in mysterious circumstances obviously generated a greater amount of paper work since more possibilities had to be examined and more people questioned. In 1907 the SS Grindon Hall was supposed lost with all hands in the Black Sea when bound from Sulina in modern Romania to Glasgow. Only part of her lifeboat was ever found. Amongst the case papers for this particular inquiry are telegrams received from the master concerning the passage of the ship and copies of letters received by and from the master.




There are sad personal details of the master’s recent return to sea after his wife’s long illness, and his last letter reporting the final completion of loading after much trouble and delay which concluded …hoping we shall have a fine run home. Evidence seemed to indicate some instability after loading and in considering this, the court carefully examined plans of the ship, lists of repairs whilst in dry dock, a manifest of the cargo, and the testimony of former mates as to the ship’s sea-worthiness. The papers combine to supply a full and personal insight into the ship and her crew.



A common issue was the inability of crews to understand English. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 had attempted to address this problem by stipulating a requirement for sufficient knowledge of the English language to understand the necessary orders. However, a judge dismissed this stipulation as …futile and illusory… in 1908 when he investigated the stranding and loss of the SS Huddersfield of Cardiff off the coast of Devon. He had heard in the evidence how a Brazilian seaman was on look-out at night during heavy seas and failed to report any lights. The seaman’s knowledge of English was found to be so deficient that:

…he was not able to understand necessary orders nor to report intelligibly objects he saw. He had a wrong idea of the port and starboard sides of a vessel calling port starboard and starboard port.

At midnight he had handed over to a Greek seaman who had a similar lack of understanding of English for …he was not able to report broken water if he saw it. The case of the Huddersfield was again recalled in the inquiry concerning the loss of the SS Mark Lane of London off Spain in 1912. No inquiry of the Spanish look-out man’s English had been made before his engagement and he too showed total confusion between port and starboard.

The language barrier may also have been a factor in the tragedy which ensued after a collision in heavy fog between the SS Kate B. Jones of Cardiff, bound from Swansea to Catania in Sicily and SS Inveric of Glasgow. After the collision, the crew of the SS Kate had asked the Inveric to throw ropes but this was not done either because the request was not heard or the man on look-out did not understand. Worse still, the first and second officers proceeded immediately to abandon ship and board the Inveric. Left suddenly on his own, the master took the precaution of placing his wife and a Miss Yates of Chester in the starboard lifeboat along with three other members of the crew, whilst he examined the ship for damage. The lifeboat was lowered and suspended half-way and the rest of the crew crowded into the port lifeboat. When it was discovered that little water was entering the ship, the crew were recalled but the starboard lifeboat was found in the water towing by her stern tackle only, with the occupants nowhere to be seen. The court’s verdict on the sad events was sympathetic to the master but strongly censured the officers who abandoned ship:

The conduct of these two officers immediately after the collision was most culpable and without precedence in the history of British officers of the mercantile marine … such misconduct on the part of these two officers this court has no jurisdiction to punish except by exposure to the reprobation it deserves.

By the early 20th century over-insurance of ships had become a sinister and recurring theme. In 1910 what the Western Mail described as …the most important and sensational inquiry ever conducted in South Wales under the Merchant Shipping Act… was held after the loss of the SS British Standard of Cardiff off Negra Point in Brazil. Between July and August, a packed court listened in dismay to detailed testimonies of the crew which highlighted conflicting evidence and glaring discrepancies between the log and the master’s report of the mysterious sinking. It became clear that even if the sinking was not caused by human agency, the loss itself could have been averted had the master and chief engineer not been guilty of gross negligence.

The motive for the wilful sinking of the SS British Standard emerged as it was revealed that the promotion of the British Standard Steamship Company as a public company had not been a financial success. Paul Braun, the master of the vessel, the same Paul Brown who appeared on the company’s register of shareholders, had helped to finance the Company but had concealed the fact from the underwriters. His brother, the managing owner of the company, owed him £40,000. Most suspicious of all, the ship although valued only at £46,378 was insured for over £55,300. The Chief Engineer had insured his personal effects for the first time.

There were worrying implications for Cardiff itself. Great controversy ensued when it emerged that underwriters demanded higher insurance premiums for Cardiff-based ships as they were considered a bad risk. When the judge delivered his two and a half hour judgement, …the expectant hush which fell upon the crowded court reminded one of a great criminal trial. His observations outlined clearly the dangers of over-insurance:

Where a vessel is over-insured, one of the most powerful incentives for keeping her in good condition and seaworthiness is removed.

He called for legislation to prevent the abuse. The master was suspended for eighteen months and ordered to pay one thousand guineas towards the costs of the inquiry. The Chief Engineer was suspended for twelve months and ordered to contribute fifty guineas as costs. The third engineer was censured for misleading the court with false statements and for his conduct.

Unhappy reflections upon the outcome of inquiries and the relative impotence of the courts, often surface in the reports to the Board of Trade. The judge was not happy in the case of the SS Ouse of Cardiff, lost off the north coast of Devon in 1911, when no deposition was received from the man at the wheel at the time of the stranding since he had returned to sea. When the SS Powis of Cardiff was lost off Greece in 1907 …probably due to human agency, the judge in his report gave the opinion:

…wreck inquiries are of very doubtful utility. Owing to the conditions under which a vessel is lost or stranded, the absence of eye witnesses who are independent, the rare production of log books or other such valuable documentary evidence, the dispersing of the crew before an inquiry is held and the almost invariable absence of the most important witnesses… the court has but rarely the material to enable it to ascertain the whole truth.

Whatever the doubts of those participating at the time as to the usefulness of the shipping inquires, the records combine to provide a fascinating insight into the problems and hazards which beset merchant shipping in the past.

Subordination and Devastation: Two Sea Voyages from the Port of Cardiff

Glamorgan Archives holds crew agreements and log books for ships registered at the Port of Cardiff for the years 1863-1913 (ref.: DCA).  The following incidents illustrate two extraordinary occurrences recorded in these logs.

The master of the Talca (official number 50438), Charles Woollacott, a Devonshire man, aged 41, must have wondered at the events which dogged his ship during a voyage carrying coal from Cardiff to Australia, which began in July 1869 and ended in December 1870. The cook was the main cause of trouble, as Woollacott recorded in January 1870:

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…we find that the man Thom[as] Roelph engaged as cook and steward at £5 per month, does not know anything about Cooking. He cannot Boil a Potatoe…It is intended to reduce his Wages in proportion to his Incompetency.

On a long voyage food was of great importance and a cook’s inability to provide good food was a threat to the health of the crew and hence their ability to work. The problem was even more serious because the Talca was a sailing ship and the work, therefore, even more strenuous. The problems on the Talca continued, and in February an entry in the log stated:

All hands came aft to say they could not do their work if they could not get their victules better cooked.

Mercifully five days later in Freemantle, Australia, Charles Woollacott noted:

This day Thomas Raulph [sic] deserted the ship.

The story did not end here. In Freemantle another man, Richard Evans, was engaged as replacement cook. As the document among the ship’s papers proves, Evans had been a criminal transported to Australia, and, having completed his sentence he was working his passage back to England (although he deserted in Dunkirk). The crew list gives his age as 32, and his place of birth as Liverpool. It is likely that Captain Woollacott would have preferred Richard Evans to have stayed in Australia. The new cook proved insolent, insubordinate and incompetent, refusing to obey orders, until the master was forced to enter in the Log:

I did not know when I shipped him that he had been a convict. Upon the next occasion I intend to put him in confinement for the sake of Subordination of the Ship, called him aft and read this entry to him. Received a insullent reply and a threat of-what he-would do when he got home.

Transportation does not appear to have reformed Richard Evans.

In contrast, the master’s entry for the S.S. Afonwen (official number 105191) for December 1908 records an event of a different kind. Whilst the ship was docked in Messina, Sicily, on a voyage carrying coal, the area was struck by a severe earthquake. The crew members acted with great bravery, two of them being awarded the Albert medal and a third was decorated by the King of Italy for attempts to rescue local people from the disaster, risking their own lives. The ship was used to bring the injured to safety in Naples. The master, William Owen, shows professional restraint in his entry in the official log for 28 December 1908 and mentions only the physical effects of the earthquake on his ship:

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At 5.15 all hands disturbed by heavy earthquake shock causing great confusion on board, rushing on deck but being pitched dark and the air full of dust was unable to see anything; same time tidal wave came over quay which raised the ship bodily tearing adrift all moorings… unknown steamer which was adrift collided with our starboard bow damaging same… the water now receded and ship grounded… At 7 a.m. sky cleared when we found out the quay had collapsed and town destroyed…

One member of the crew, Ali Hassan, was reported as being ashore at the time and the entry against his name in the crew list gives him as …supposed killed in earthquake.

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An article in the Western Mail for 15 December 1965, using letters and recollections of the crew, tells a more vivid tale. Captain Owen, by then in retirement in his native Amlwch, Anglesey, recalled:

a great wall of water sprang up with appalling violence; it was a miracle we came through it. The wind howled around us and waves continually swamped us as though a squall had come on. Vast eddying clouds of dust settled on the ship like a fog.

Many people fleeing the earthquake tried to swim for the ships in the harbour.  Nineteen such people are said to have reached the Afonwen including by a strange coincidence, a man from Cardiff. The next morning Captain Owen took a party of three men ashore to seek instructions at the British Consulate, but they found it had been destroyed. He wrote in the Log for 29 December 1908:

At 8 a.m. this day-I went on shore but unable to find any means of communication and no one to give instructions I returned on board and decided to proceed to Naples, sailing from Messina 10 a.m.

One of the crew who went ashore with him was Eric Possart, given in the crew list as an 18 year old apprentice from Cardiff. He wrote of the incident in a letter home to his father:

The people were all cut and bleeding… As fast as we could we were taking them aboard ships. We could only find one doctor alive. Little girls and boys saw their own hair turning white as snow

Over 100,000 people were reported to have been killed.

The majority of voyages recorded in the Cardiff crew agreements were less eventful, but the records are no less interesting as they give valuable insight into trade from Glamorgan ports, life on board a ship, as well as information on the crew and on the conditions under which they served.


‘Confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship’: A voyage from Wales to Australia

The collection at Glamorgan Archives holds many items relating to Glamorgan inhabitants who emigrated from Wales, including several who left to start new lives in Australia and New Zealand.  One of these was Levi Davies of Pontypridd, who left his home on 21st August 1863 and finally arrived in Melbourne on 6th January 1864 after a voyage of some 18 weeks.  Levi’s diary details every day of his courageous voyage across the oceans to the other side of the world.

Levi’s journey didn’t get off to the most exciting of starts:

Left Pontypridd August 21st 1863 By the 9 o clock train to Cardiff thence by the Great Western Railway through Gloucester to Paddington Station arrived there at 4.45pm…

And some days later, he was still in London:

Tuesday 25th August: This was the great day appointed for the ship to leave London for Melbourne, went on board in the morning and soon ascertained she would not sail that day.

Tuesday 1st September: Went on board in the morning and was told she would sail some time in the evening remained on board all day, at 6.30pm she made her first start, went as far as the lock the other end of the basin, stayed there until 3pm the following day

Despite that less than auspicious start, they finally set sail on Wednesday 2nd September.  But again, they didn’t get very far:

…at 3pm it being at full tide, the first mate gave the signal to start and we did… we had two Tugg Boats (steamers) to tow us as far as Gravesend where we casted anchor for the night…

A contrary wind meant that they were forced stay put for more than a week:

Thursday 10th September: At 4.30am was awakened by the sound of the sailors heaving up the anchor… was informed by the First Mate that the wind had changed and was amenable for us to sail… now opposite Dover Castle

Once underway, Levi found that not all the passengers adapted well to life at sea.  Only a few days after leaving London, Levi notes:

…sea very rough, ship rocking worse than a cradle, men women and children vomiting and purging effected by sea sickness.

But as for Levi himself, I am hitherto quite free from the least effects of it.  His secret?  …drinking salt water is very good to prevent sea sickness…

It’s interesting to discover from the diary how the crew and passengers survived such a long journey without putting in to port to collect supplies.  Obviously they had provisions on board, but they also made the most of their surroundings, and Levi refers to some of their food:

Saturday 26th September: Threw 3 alive pigs over board, the remainder of 15 that died from distemper.

Friday 11th September: …spent the morning in company with the Mate of the ship fishing, caught 2 Dog fishes, their skins as hard as Badger

Saturday 3rd October: …at twilight caught a fish called Baracoota…

Tuesday 13th October: …caught upwards of 2500 gallons of rain water for drinking and cooking etc.

Sunday 29th November: …caught a porpoise weighing about 150lbs ate some of it for breakfast.

Levi also details the habits of his fellow passengers, of which he didn’t always approve.  While they were still anchored at Gravesend, waiting for the wind to change, he noted:

Wednesday 9th September: …some of the passengers proposed going on shore in a Boat, to which I objected… about 1pm they went and returned at 6pm, more than half drunk…

Those travelling with Levi on the Trebolgan to Melbourne were from various places, but seemed to band together by nationality:

Thursday 3rd September: …Irishmen gathered together to give us a jig, Englishmen took to play cards, Scotch men to play Draughts, and Dutch men to play Chess, I and my partner amused ourselves by walking backwards and forward on the Deck…

Levi and his fellow countrymen, all of whom were nonconformists, made every effort to keep the Sabbath during their travels:

Sunday 6th September: We Welshmen gathered together and formed a Bible class, we are only 4 Welshmen on board, one man and wife besides Thomas and me, the others are English, Irish, Scotch and Dutchmen, very little respects they show towards Sunday more than any other day.

As you would expect, the voyage was far from smooth.  At times it proved truly terrifying for those on board, passengers and crew alike:

Friday 18th September: …explosion of thunder such as I never heard before nor any other one on board this ship, the forked lightning exhibiting in various shapes on the sky, dividing the heavens as it were, the howling of the wind, the roaring of the big waves raising up like mountains tossing the ship like a ball and the pouring of the rain… was enough to sink us all in despondency and give up all hopes of ever reaching any port… all of us expected every moment to be dashed to atoms and buried under the waves…


Sunday 20th September: Was awakened this morning by the loud splashing of the great waves against the thin planks which separate us from sudden death…

Thursday 22nd October: Tremendous heavy squalls at 2am which aroused us from bed, ship almost capsized several times…  I was asking some of the sailors at breakfast time what did they think of the weather last night… they said, that is just the sort of weather for us… but actions and manners speak louder than words sometimes, although they answered in that way when the uneasy moments were over, they did not mean it, there was seriousness imparted on every countenance at the time the squall occurred…

At such times of despair, and on such a long journey, Levi’s thoughts naturally turned to home and to the friends and family he had left behind:

Thursday 24th September: …many times I climbed up the rigging turning my face towards home anxious to know the state of your mind concerning me, but many a long month must pass before it is possible for me to hear from you on account of the long journey which is before me.  Please God I shall see the end of it.

And he began to wonder whether he had made the correct decision:

The 115th day of our voyage: The light of another Christmas Day has dawned upon us  …I had some thoughts of sadness about the past and some of anxiety when I looked into the uncertainty of the future…

And, although life on board was dull at times…

Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday the 11th 12th 13th and 14th November: Nothing of much moment occurred these last few days…


The 115th day of our voyage: Now I am upon the sea with nothing to relieve the dull monotony which I have now had (with little exception) for four weary months, confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship, with nothing but strangers for our companions.

…the new experiences Levi encountered during his voyage were wonderful indeed:

Wednesday 30th September: …saw a big fish called by some Turtle, by others Tortoise, it’s a fish with hard shells on his back.

Saturday 24th October: Crossed the line (Equator) at 6pm when old Neptune’s Secretary came on board… stated that his Divine Master was ill of cold which confined him to his room… medicine exactly to his disease not being obtainable in the waste of waters… wishing it to be understood that that particular kind of distilled spirit called rum was particularly suited to his Master’s disease…

Sunday 1st November: A meteor commencing eastwards flashed up and along the sky, towards s. west, lighting the whole heavens more clearly than anything I ever saw except the sun itself, it must have lasted about 5 seconds and then exploded in sparks, leaving a luminous streak in its course behind it, which gradually disappeared, leaving everything in darkness as before…

Wednesday 4th November: A matter of considerable excitement occurred today, a report spread among the passengers and crew that a shark was to be seen hovering about the prow of the vessel… the assertion was repeated that the rapacious monster was still there… The Captain… making his appearance with a large fishing hook in one hand and a piece of pork in the other (about 2lbs) the bait was fixed immediately and the hook attached to a rope which was carried by the Captain to the side of the ship and thrown over, in a very short time Mr Shark made his appearance… his jaws closed upon the bait… the word past, hoist away, and in a few moments we landed him safely on the Deck.

Tuesday 1st December: In this part of the world it is not dark until 9pm.  I never saw daylight before at 9pm on the 1st December.


Thursday 10th December: …sighted an iceberg about twice as large as this ship…

After months at sea, Levi and his fellow passengers finally caught sight of their destination:

Monday 4th January: Was called this morning at 5am by the First Mate (Mr Armstrong) to see land Cape Otway which was on the left of us just before we entered into Hobson’s Bay…

And, at last, they landed in Australia:

Wednesday 6th January 1864: At 3pm went to shore on a boat, walked about in Williamstown landing and St. Kilda Hill…

We don’t know a great deal as to Levi’s fate once he reached Australia.  Some notes in the diary give us clues regarding what he did in the few short years following his arrival:

Commenced work at a Farm near Bald Hills ‘Henry Loader’ on the 13th January 1864. 

L. A. Davies was appointed Secretary of the Bonshaw ‘Accident Fund’ on the 13th day of March 1868.

If any reader knows what happened to Levi Davies after his adventure on the high seas, we would be very pleased indeed to find out.

The Cardiff Society of Sailmakers

The Cardiff Society of Sailmakers was founded in 1855.  It survived the shipping industry’s transition from sail to steam, and was finally disbanded in 1938.  Records of the Society, covering the period 1893 to its close, are held at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: CL/MS 4.1166).

In the period documented the Society met monthly at the Bute Street Coffee Tavern and, from 1904, at the Adelphi Hotel, also in Bute Street.  The collection includes minute books, financial records, contribution books and pre-First World War rule books which list the officers’ duties and salaries, working practices to protect members’ employment, fines for rule breaking and the method of appeal against such fines.  Hours of work, meal breaks and rates of pay for day work and overtime are detailed.  Members refusing to work on wet sails were to be supported and a separate rule governed conduct at Society meetings, at which members were to stand when addressing the President, and refrain from interrupting speakers.  Swearing and insulting language carried the penalty of a sixpenny fine or expulsion from the meeting if the offender persisted.


Bundles of correspondence have also survived relating to negotiations with employers, membership applications and the Federation of Sailmakers of Great Britain and Ireland.  The Federation was formed in October 1889, combining existing sailmakers’ friendly societies in various ports.  Monthly reports from the Federation’s head office at Hull are included in the Cardiff Society’s archive.  These give the state of trade at various British ports with annotations and remarks by the General Secretary on matters of particular significance.  The Cardiff Sailmakers broke away from the Federation in 1903, and did not rejoin until 1914.  Records of the national Federation from 1889, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick Library, reflect the concerns of a declining trade, in particular, the introduction of machinery and the employment of untrained workers, including women.

The Cardiff Sailmakers had to deal with the same problems.  The first resolution recorded in the minute book on 9 July 1901 is ‘that we finish no work that is commenced by machein while their is men out of work’.  In January 1914, before rejoining the Federation, the Society’s negotiators accepted the employers’ terms for wages and hours, on condition that no machines were introduced in any sail loft for one year.  The Society’s first act on rejoining the Federation was to forward a resolution to the annual conference opposing the manufacture of canvas articles aboard steamers by officers and seamen, whose legitimate duties were ‘more than sufficient, without undertaking duties pertaining to a separate trade’.  It may be significant, in light of its years outside the Federation, that when the Cardiff Society’s rules were revised in 1914 for its readmission, the clause stating that any member working on machine-sewn sail ‘shall be expelled from all benefits of this Society’ was dropped.

The First World War accelerated the pace of change.  Untrained labour was introduced in many trades to replace men needed for the armed forces.  In sail lofts machines became more widely used and were often operated by women.  The minutes of the 1920s record complaints against employers for not keeping to agreements about female labour, and an undated letter to J. S. Frazer of Frazer & Co., with whom the Society was normally on cordial terms, sets out the sailmakers’ opposition to the ‘unnecessary number of young girls and women’ employed in Cardiff and Newport lofts.

Athough the great days of the Sailmakers Society were over before the surviving records begin, up to the 1920s the minutes and accounts record lively debates and social events, an annual dinner, a smoking concert, and, in July 1904, a picnic.  Agreements with employers were negotiated, conferences attended and contributions made to the strike funds of other branches, the Life Boat Donation Fund and the Labour Party Committee; J. R. MacDonald was sent 2s. 6d. in 1904, although the minutes note that the proposed 5s. contribution in 1908 was not sent.  No explanation is given.  When the Society joined the Federation in 1914 its membership stood at 19 (the Grimsby branch had 30 members at that date).  During the period documented the highest membership was 27 in 1921 and 1922.  Thereafter the records show a steady decline.  The minutes of the meetings became briefer until they record merely that the meeting opened at 7pm and closed at 9pm.  The Society survived the Federation which disbanded in about 1927, but by the 1930s the membership was hardly sufficient to provide the necessary officers, and in November 1938 the Cardiff Sailmakers Club was closed ‘owing to lack of members’.  Its remaining funds of £2 1s. 1d. were divided between the five final members.

The Crew List Index Project at Glamorgan Archives

Year of the Sea 2018 is a campaign by the Welsh Government to celebrate Wales’ outstanding coastline. For Glamorgan Archives it is an opportunity to celebrate and promote one of our volunteer projects which we undertake in partnership with the Crew List Index Project

Since 2012 two groups of volunteers have worked enthusiastically to clean, and then to transcribe details of the crew provided within crew agreements held for the Port of Cardiff. So far they have completed 1901 and have almost finished 1911. The Glamorgan Family History Society had already provided a database recording crew detailed within agreements for the years 1863, 1871, 1881 and 1891. At present these databases are only available in house and can be searched on request, however once editing is complete they will be available for all to view online.


Crew agreements had to be kept on board by the master, completed by him and handed to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen at the end of the voyage. They record details of every crew member on board including place of birth, occupation, the last ship they served on, date of joining the crew and reason for leaving if they did so before the voyage was completed. In addition the destination of the ship and its cargo are recorded. Glamorgan Archives holds crew agreements for Cardiff registered ships (1863-1913) although many of the master mariners and crew in these agreements were not local men. In some cases these men eventually made their homes in Cardiff, whilst others were passing through.


The crew agreements will tell you:

  • name of the crew member
  • age
  • town of birth
  • name of the last ship and its port of registration
  • date of joining ship
  • occupation and wages
  • names of apprentices on board
  • particulars of discharge, date and place
  • signature of crew member
  • births, deaths and marriages (if any) on board.

The agreement also bears the dated stamps of consulates in the ports of call on the voyage, enabling the course and the duration of the voyage to be plotted.


More information about the crew agreements (DCA) is available on the Glamorgan Archives catalogue Canfod