The following arrived during the week:
“I was thrilled to find, by chance in your collection, a photo of my Great Grandfather’s boat. The Ethel May was built at Rhyl, North Wales, in 1878 (65 tons) owned by John Kearney of Co. Down. I am assuming it was a schooner? My Great Grandfather, Richard Coppack was her captain. My Aunt was named after the boat, although she always felt it should have been the other way around.
Both of my mother’s grandparents were mariners, one a river pilot on the Dee. The Coppacks were mariners of Connah’s Quay on the North Wales coast. During a hurricane (!) in November 1890 (The Times 12th November 1890) my Great Grandfather drowned, having been washed overboard whilst his boat was being rescued.
I have a pair of binoculars which belong either to Richard or my other Great Grandfather, Stephen. Sadly, my mother cannot remember which (she is 101). I found your website as I am trying to track Richard Coppack down. He is on the census of 1881 on the ‘George Evans’ in Cardigan and prior to that in Whitehaven on a “vessel”. I would love to know more about what he was doing there, his cargo etc.
From the photo, it looks like it could have been taken in Liverpool, on the Mersey. I hope you’ve found this interesting? It was amazing to find the photo, out of the blue. Sadly, I have no photographs of my great grandparents.”
In my reply I included the following:
“Hearing from those who have connections with the various vessels I have published was one of the very reasons for doing so. The vessels do have an inherent beauty but it is the people who are associated with them that seem to me as important – not just the captain and crew, but their families – and what we, their descendants, have learnt from them. The collective memories not only come from inherited objects, like your binoculars, but in the knowledge, skills and attitudes they passed down through their families. (Their genes too – it certainly sounds as if your mother inherited a definite toughness!)”
I am not alone in thinking this. These photographs are now online, but, paradoxically, they are becoming rarer. The personal notes written on the back of the actual photographs are sketchy. Those who wrote them, whether they sailed in or merely observed the vessels in question, are no longer with us. But their descendants are and the slim, half-remembered, threads that run through the generations still speak to us.
If these photographs bring back memories or even create new ones, then they will have served their purpose. If you want to take it further, feel free – “from many threads . . .”
In the meantime, if you know about Richard Coppack, ‘George Evans’ in Cardigan or the “vessel” in Whitehaven, let me know.
This and other photographs of merchant sailing vessels can be found here.