Cardigan People 24: Owen Roberts, Feidrfair, sailor, cook (1848–1904/05)

A note in Bethania Chapel Minutes first brought Owen Roberts to my attention. Under a list of deaths for 1905 is the following:

Owen Roberts, Feidrfair. Hwyliodd o China i Vladivostock Hydref 1904. Ni chlywyd dim oddi wrthynt drachefn yn yr SS Claverdale.
[He sailed from China to Vladivostock in October 1904. Nothing more was heard of them in the SS Claverdale]

A bit of Googling revealed a few interesting items.

Under the heading ‘Fate of the Claverdale’ the Evening Express published the following account on 31 January 1905:

A boat belonging to the overdue British steamer Claverdale has been picked up and taken to Fukuyajna. None of the crew was on board. The Claverdale left Barry on September 1 for Manila, with a cargo of between 5,000 and 6,000 tons of coal on Russian account. On October 29 she was reported at Sabang, and on November 23 left Hong Kong for Vladivostok. Nothing has been heard of her since, and it is presumed that in running the blockade she kept in too close to the land and struck a sunken rock. Captain Thomas, the master of the Claverdale, is a native of Cardigan, and is well known in Cardiff shipping circles.

The Claverdale was the pioneer ship of the Claverdale Steamship Company (Limited), owned by Messrs. E. Haslehust and Co., who claimed that this is the first vessel they had lost. She was built in 1899 by Messrs. Graig, Taylor, and Co., of Stockton-on-Tees, is 330 feet long, with a 45 feet beam, and a draught of 18 feet, while her engines registered a nominal horse-power of 278.
 [Correction gratefully received from Mr by Reg Smart: “the Claverdale Steamship company, owned by E. Haslehust (not Hazelhurst) and Co., had two ships called the Claverdale.  The one you mention was sold in 1903 and replaced by a second, built by J. Priestman & Co. of Sunderland.  This new Claverdale was launched on May 31 1904.  She was 345 feet long and 48.8 feet in beam, with a draught of 20.9 feet; her nominal horsepower was 357 (National Archives BT 110/116/30).  I have a copy of the blueprint plans, courtesy of the National Maritime Museum.  It was her maiden voyage that ended so tragically.]

By 09 September 1905 the Cardiff Times reported that a Vladivostok telegram dated August 31st stated that a steamer stranded north of Olga was reported to be the missing British s.s. Claverdale, bound from Cardiff to Vladivostok via Hong Kong.

But further inquiries found that the rumour was not true and the reporter on the Cardiff Times was not happy:

This is the second time that such a report has been cabled home from Vladivostok respecting the same ship, and it is unfortunate that the authorities do not make an effort to secure the name of the stranded vessel before telegraphing to England.

The mystery of the missing ship seemed to have been solved by November 1905, according to a report in the County Echo, quoting the Daily Chronicle:

Dispatches received in London reveal for the first time the identity of the wreck which has frequently been sighted to the south of Vladivostok, near the mouth of the Tandse River. The vessel turns out to be the British steamer Claverdale, which left a Chinese port last November with a full cargo of coal for the Russian cruisers at Vladivostok, and which has not since been heard of. As the result of a visit paid to the stranded steamer, it has been ascertained that the vessel has been pillaged by the natives in the neighbourhood, and every article of value taken away. The inhabitants residing in the vicinity, who were interrogated, declared that the crew of the Claverdale’ were removed shortly after the wreck by two boats presumed to be Japanese.

But the missing crew remained missing : Neither owners nor relatives, however, have heard from any of the men. By November 1905 the headline in the Weekly Mail suggested that worse was to come.

WRECK OF THE CLAVERDALE: SUPPOSED MURDER OF MEMBERS OF THE CREW.

The crew who are supposed to have been killed on the Manchuria coast, where the ship was wrecked, included:

H. H. Thomas, Cardigan, commander;
D. Llewellyn, St. Dogmaels, mate
James Reed, Swansea, second mate
D. Jones, Cardiff, carpenter
J. S Campbell, Sunderland, steward
Owen Roberts, Cardigan, cook
Watkin Evans, second steward
John Waddle, boatswain
A. Tripolis, A.B. seaman
R. Thomas, Liverpool, A.B. seaman
G. Marromatic, A.B. seaman
Frederick Cooper, Sunderland, chief engineer
Frederick Walker, second engineer
James Beadle, Sunderland, third engineer
Cornelius Gray, Sunderland, fourth engineer
Carl Lundin (of Sweden), donkeyman
Richard McGuire, Bootle, fireman
B. Mynes, Brumiskin, fireman
W. Flagg, fireman
Gus Langer, fireman
R. J. Jones, fireman
S. Ostovski, fireman
W. Howrie, apprentice
G. B. McLaren, apprentice
Reginald Turner, North-street, Lewes, apprentice
G. A. Saunders, Kingston-road, Portsmouth, apprentice
In addition to these, two other hands, names and nationalities unknown, were taken on to Hong Kong. These were possibly Chinese.

[Additional information from Mr Reg Smart: Of the 27 to 30 men on board (sources differ) when she was lost four were from Cardigan:
Captain Thomas, aged 52, of Priory Street, Cardigan.  He had previously lived at Ovingham House, Llangoedmore. (His widow, Laura née Morris, was the long-time headmistress of Llangoedmore School; her obituary is on page 1 of the Cardigan and Tivyside Observer dated 23/10/1925).
D. Llewellyn, the mate, aged 47, was born in St. Dogmaels, which is also given as his address (no further details).
Owen Roberts, the cook, aged 56, was born in Holyhead, and his address is given as 26 Mary’s Crescent, Cardigan.
David Jones, the carpenter, aged 43, was also born in Cardigan, but his address is given as 172 Corporation Road, Cardiff.]

It was claimed that the ship had been boarded by Manchurian pirates and the crew thrown overboard.

In March 1906 the Cardiff Times reported on the proceedings of the Probate Court where the captain named as Edward Evan Thomas, Llangoedmore was presumed dead:

The vessel was found 450 miles north of Vladivostok ashore in the Gull of Tartary deserted, with her decks dismantled. In February, 1905, a boat belonging to the ship was found, and in May the ship was posted at Lloyd’s as a total loss. Eventually the vessel was discovered a total wreck, and only about 300 or 400 tons of cargo remained. The master and crew had disappeared. Captain Thomas left about £1,400. His Lordship granted leave to presume the death of Mr Thomas accordingly.

[Further details from Mr Reg Smart: When the Claverdale reached Hong Kong it was revealed that she would be going on to Vladivostok, which was being blockaded by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War.  Several ships had already fallen victim to the blockade.  Consequently the crew, who had been hitherto unaware that they would be sailing through a war-zone, were given the option to leave the ship.  Seven men did so including David Jones, the second mate, aged 29, born in Cardigan, address 1 Greenfield Row, Cardigan; there is a brief interview with him on page 2 of the Cardiff Evening Express dated 12/1/1905. As to the fate of the Claverdale I have little to add.  It seems pretty certain that to avoid the Japanese blockade she took the much longer route to the east of Japan and was thus having to negotiate the la Perouse strait and approach Vladivostok from the north.  Possibly her rudder was put out of action in the hostile winter environment, as happened to at least one other vessel at this time.  The precise location of the wreck is also a mystery.  Contemporary reports, including one from the Salvage Association, say that she was found at the mouth of the Taudse (or Tandse?) River, north of Ternei Bay, but I have been unable to discover a river of that name.]

After all this we’re none the wiser, I’m afraid, as to what actually happened but suffice to say these brave local sailors probably came to a watery end: H. H. Thomas, Cardigan, D. Llewellyn, St. Dogmaels, and Owen Roberts, Cardigan, the cook from Feidrfair.

If a photograph exists of any of these gentlemen I would be pleased to add a copy here.

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