From “Heavy the Beat of the Weary Waves” – an Old Dirge from the Isle of Mull
Robert McTavish born 23rd September 1859 at Oban, the fifth child, second son of Duncan McTavish a fisherman and first child of Elizabeth McFadyen, the daughter of a fisherman left a scant paper trail during his brief life.
Finishing school during his early teens, employment would be found on the many fishing or cargo vessels operating out of Oban as the following article from the Oban Times, June 1879 discloses, in a not too favourable light.
JP Court – Yesterday before A Brown Esq. and Bailie Menzies, John McFadyen and Robert McTavish hands on board the smack “Isabella” of Oban were charged with stealing several gallons of porter from a cask while on the voyage from Oban to Kinlochspelve, Mull. After hearing evidence the charge was dismissed as not proven.
Possibly, Robert and his uncle, John McFadyen worked for the Cumstie family, merchants in Oban who ran cargo between the mainland and islands: a google of “smack Isabella” took me to e-bay. For sale was an invoice from the Commissioners of the Burgh of Oban, Proprietors of the North Pier addressed to Mr W Cumstie for “dues to smack Isabella, Nov 1900 to Jan 1901”.
After residing in High Street, thirty plus years and wondering what prompted the McTavish family’s move to Shore Street (1881 census) an article in the Oban Times, 25 October 1879 explains – “There are a number of buildings in town in course of erection or nearly finished. High Street will soon be rebuilt and when the old houses have disappeared it will be one of the best streets in the town”. Let’s hope it was spacious for all eleven: -
- Duncan Sr. noted as formerly fisherman age 60 and wife Elizabeth 41;
- Alexander fisherman 32, Elizabeth domestic servant 18 and fourteen year old Duncan who ran errands for a baker;
- Robert 21 unemployed mariner;
- Mary 8 and Catherine 5 attended school as did eight year old grandson Duncan McTavish;
- Four year old pre-schooler Flora and baby Donald age 1.
The next Statutory Record for Robert, an entry in the Return of Deaths at Sea dated 22 February 1886.
On the 25th December 1885, Abel Seaman Robert McTavish 26 of Oban drowned abroad the Aigel official ship no. 86720 with 21 year old Hugh Kennedy a cook and engineer’s steward of Glasgow. Whether both were swept overboard together or one dived in to save the other or two separate incidents occurred, we’ll never know.
Unsatisfied with the lack of detail on his death record I exhausted my amateur detective skills to discover where “abroad” was.
After a lot of searching for information on the Aigel, I believe the ship’s name was incorrectly transcribed. Using www.crewlist.org.uk a database set up to improve access to the records of merchant seafarers on registered British ships for the years 1861 to 1913, I restricted my search to the ship’s official number, getting a hit for the S.S. Nigel later renamed Juno.
Robert Steele & Co, Shipbuilders of great repute with an interesting history, opened its Cartsdyke West yard near Greenock in 1854 to produce iron-hulled screw steamers instead of wooden-hulled paddle steamships. Orders were slow until the end of the decade when the company secured a contract with J & A Allan Line of Glasgow and Montreal to build a 2,000 ton screw steamer the “Canadian” a business relationship which continued for many years.3
The company also produced smaller screw steamers and in October 1882 delivered to George Hood & Co., Shipping Agents of Glasgow the S.S. Nigel.
George Hood & Co., operated steam packets from Liverpool to various destinations as illustrated in the Glasgow Post Office Directory 1882-83 at page 1043.
And still none the wiser, Robert could have worked on any of these routes. Undeterred further searches took me to http://www.mariners-list.com/.
“Founded 1885, Glasgow by Joseph Maclay and Walter McIntyre with six small steamers to operate tramp services. 1886 – Established the Glasgow United Shipping Co. By 1896 the company owned 33 ships, concentrating on the coal trade to Algoa Bay (a wide inlet along the South African east coast, 425 miles east of the Cape of Good Hope) and the ore trade from the Mediterranean. Joseph Maclay retired in 1905 the business was then run by Walter McIntyre”.4
The SS Nigel was sold in 1890 to the Bristol Steam Navigation Company and in 1901 renamed Juno. A search of the National Archives (UK) describes it as a continental trader.5
On 2 May 1917, the SS Juno was fatally torpedoed in the ballast by a U-Boat 17 miles East by South of Cape Barfleur, Rouen for Cardiff.
Although I haven’t solved the question of where “abroad” may be it was certainly an interesting exercise in locating maritime information.
Previous update by Stuart Cameron; Photo supplied by Internet source as JUNO; Additional data by Bruce Biddulph; Last updated by George Robinson from the original records by Stuart Cameron.
s.s. NIGEL a cargo ship, tonnage 1384 grt; length 240.5ft and breadth 33.2ft built by Robert Steele & Company, Yard No 123 for G Hood of Glasgow was launched on 20th October 1882; sold in 1886 to Maclay & McIntyre, Glasgow; sold in 1890 to Bristol Steam Navigation Company; last name 1901 JUNO. Status: Fatally Torpedoed in ballast by UB 18 on 2 May 1917, 17 miles E by S of Cape Barfleur, Rouen for Cardiff.
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3 Mark Howard’s paper “Robert Steele & Company: Shipbuilders of Glasgow” provides a history of the company from its humble beginnings in the 1700s through the period of growth and expansion until its liquidation in 1883 – an excellent read. The link for downloading http://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol02/tnm_2_3_17-29.pdf.
Steamers sold to Maclay & McIntyre: Ivanhoe GT 942; Nigel GT 1384; Peveril GT 731 and Rowena GT 1353
5 Searches for Crew Lists: The National Archives (UK) Crew Lists for the Nigel/Juno 30182/553 no date: Contents: Years on Register 1889-1913. Official No. 86720. Description Screw Steamer, continental trader. Crew Lists 1889-1913. (Held by the Bristol Office)