Ferrying troops and emigrants – Captain Edward Grisdale of Workington

Posted: January 9, 2014 in History
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On 10 June 1814, Arthur Wellesley, the Marquis of Wellington, had only just arrived in Bordeaux from St. Jean de Luz in the southwest of France. It seemed that the long war against Napoleon was over. In April an allied army had entered Paris and the strutting French emperor had abdicated. The French army had surrendered to the British after the Battle of Toulouse. Napoleon had been sent into exile on the Isle of Elba. Wellington was keen to get home and quit his army life; he had other things he wanted to do. But the evacuation of the British army in France was not yet complete. Wellington was busying himself with ordering his remaining forces to come to Bordeaux; from there to take ship to England. He was just waiting for sufficient transport ships to arrive.

Back in England ships were getting ready to sail to Bordeaux to pick up the troops. On 10 June an announcement appeared in the Liverpool newspapers which read as follows:

June 10 1814 for Bordeaux to sail in all this week the brig ‘NELSON’ Edward GRISDALE Master.

Captain Edward Grisdale was just one of the dozens of merchant masters and ship owners who had agreed (for a price) to go to Bordeaux to bring back the army. But of course he wanted to take some paying cargo onboard for the outward voyage to make the trip more profitable.

Quite a number of the ‘Matterdale’ Grisdales had served in the British army and navy throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the most famous being Levi Grisdale (see here). Levi had fought at the Battle of Toulouse in April, but, being a member of an elite cavalry regiment, the 10th Hussars, he, together with the rest of the cavalry, was to embark for home from the channel ports rather than from more distant Bordeaux.

In 1814 Captain Grisdale was forty-nine years old. He had been a mariner operating out of the Cumberland ports, as well as from Liverpool, since he was a young man. Edward was born in the bustling port of Workington in 1765. His father John, like his grandfather Edward too, had also been a Workington mariner. But sadly in 1777, when Edward was just twelve, his father drowned. On 27 December 1777 a Whitehaven newspaper reported:

Whitehaven, this morning: Workington mariner John Grisdale was found drowned in the harbour; he has left a wife, and several children.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

Edward was one of at least four children. He had three sisters: Bella, Mary and Ann. As the only son Edward would have needed to start work as soon as possible to help support his widowed mother and sisters. Following his father and grandfather to sea was the logical course. Workington was quite a thriving town; its growth having been spurred by the discovery and mining of coal. Jollie’s Guide said the following about Workington in 1811:

WORKINGTON stands near the mouth of the Derwent, and is a considerable market-town and sea-port, containing about 6000 inhabitants. Many of the streets are narrow and irregular; but some are elegant and neat; and, upon the whole, this town is more agreeable than most ports of equal size in the kingdom. Though it seems to have been anciently the chief haven in Cumberland, yet it appears, that in 1566, only one vessel belonging thereto was of so great a burden as ten tons: and, on a survey taken of the maritime strength of the county about 20 years after that period, when England commanded the seas, all the vessels which Cumberland could put to sea amounted only to 10 in number, and their mariners to 198.

Workington has increased rapidly of late years, and many handsome buildings have been erected. The coal trade to Ireland is its chief support: a few vessels are, however, employed in the Baltic trade. The imports are timber, bar-iron, and flax. The river is navigable for ships of 400 tons burden; and the harbour is commodious, and extremely safe from all winds. There are now about 160 vessels belonging to this port; upon an average, of about 130 tons each. – The principal manufactories are of sail-cloth and cordage. The public buildings are modern; the church is a handsome structure, with a tower, or steeple, in the Gothic style. Here is a small but neat assembly-room, and a playhouse. – A new square, consisting of about 20 neat houses, was a few years ago built in the upper town, where the corn-market is held. – The butchers’ shambles are commodious. – The quays have been much widened and lengthened within the last 30 years. Not far from the town, a spacious workhouse, for the reception and support of the poor, was erected a few years ago, which cost the inhabitants £1600, and is calculated to contain 150 persons. – A considerable salmon fishery on this river belongs to Lord Lonsdale.

The collieries in the vicinity of Workington, which are numerous and valuable, belong to Mr. Curwen, who ships from thence about 150 waggons per day (Sundays excepted), each waggon containing three English tons of coals. Several steam-engines are employed in these coal-works, and between 500 and 600 men.

Messrs. Fenton and Murray, of Leeds, are erecting a steam-engine at Isabella pit, Chapel Bank, of 160 horse power, which exceeds in power any engine ever erected. The depth of the shaft is 150 fathoms, which is deeper than any of the shafts at Newcastle.

The manor house of the family of Curwen stands upon a fine eminence on the banks of the Derwent. It is an elegant quadrangular building, surrounded with excellent lands, in a fine state of cultivation. The house commands a prospect of the town, the river, and its northern banks, and the western ocean for a considerable tract. Mary, Queen of Scots, took refuge at this house, when she landed at Workington after her flight from Dundrannon, in Galloway, – and was hospitably entertained by Sir Henry Curwen, till the pleasure of Elizabeth was known; when she was removed, first to Cockermouth and then to Carlisle castle. The chamber in which she slept at Workington Hall is still called the Queen’s chamber.

Edward would certainly have been involved in the ‘Irish coal trade’, but he was obviously a man of some ambition and talent because not only did he eventually become a captain but he also was to own at least one ship himself, called the Mary after his wife Mary Robinson.

Workington St Michaels church

Workington St Michaels church

Edward married Mary Robinson in St. Michael’s Church in Workington on 26 October 1791. He was said to be a mariner. In 1811 we find Captain Edward Grisdale living in Town Head in Workington and it was said he was the Captain and owner of the 150 ton schooner Mary. Edward and Mary had several children: Sarah 1792, John 1796-1796 Mary Ann 1798, Edward 1802, Dorothy 1805-1811, Grace 1807 and Jane 1815. John died in infancy; Dorothy when she was just six. Edward, his only surviving son, was also later to become a Workington mariner, married a convict in Australia, and later became a ship’s captain himself, before disappearing from the records (see here).

Our Captain Grisdale had command of several ships during his long sea-faring career, such as the Mary (his own ship), the Nelson and the Frances Watson. There were probably others. After he’d brought back the soldiers from Bordeaux in 1814 we find him making trips to Canada and the United states, carrying both cargo and emigrants.

In 1825 Edward took command of the Maryport brig Francis Watson for its first voyage to New Orleans. The Cumberland Pacquet, Tuesday, 8th February 1825:

On Saturday was launched from the building yard of Messrs. K. Wood and Son, Maryport, a very fine copper-bottomed brig called the Francis Watson, burthen per register, 333 tons, and built for Messrs. Wood and Watson, of Liverpool.

‘At 333 tons, the Francis Watson was very large for a brig, but the newspaper report is consistent with the shipping registers, at least until 1830, when she was listed as a ship. The first voyage of the Francis Watson was from Maryport, departed Monday, 28th February 1825 for New Orleans.’ With, we know, Captain Grisdale in command.

Grisdale probably stayed with the Frances Watson for several transatlantic journeys, but later he was succeeded by another Cumberland captain called Sampson Bragg. Just to give a feel for what life could be like on board such ships, I quote the following report from 1829:

On the 30th June 1829 the master of the Francis Watson, Sampson Bragge, was arrested at London, accused of the murder of his steward, Lewis Sinclair. Evidence was taken from the crew, describing the ill-treatment of the steward on the voyage, which had started at Liverpool, then proceeded to Batavia, then Singapore and finally London. The steward had become drunk at Batavia and had been removed from his post to do the duties of a seaman. He was not up to the task, and the ill-treatment started subsequently. It included starvation, denial of water, beatings from the captain, mate and the “black fellows”, being hauled over the ship’s side, being forced to eat a lump of chalk and being smoked out of a hiding hole. The ill-treatment lasted two months until the victim became deranged, then eventually died, off the Scilly Isles on the 13th June. Bragge and the mate were committed to Newgate to await trial at the High Court. At that trial the evidence was repeated, but the jury found that the death of Lewis could not be ascribed to any particular act of violence, and the prisoners were acquitted. A similar sorry tale of ill-treatment can be found in the story of the Valiant two years earlier, the perpetrator being Captain Joseph Bragg, of Whitehaven.

Not long after the Francis Watson, with Bragg still as captain, ‘was driven on shore and wrecked, after landing her cargo, in Algoa Bay, during a gale, on the 13th January 1830’.

Death of John Franklin

Death of John Franklin

In the summer of 1826, we find Captain Grisdale in Quebec in command of the brig Nelson. He arrived in July from Liverpool and departed to Liverpool in September. While he was in Quebec the local newspapers were reporting the latest news of arctic explorer Captain John Franklin:

Arctic Land Expedition.— Despatches have been received from Captain Franklin, of the Arctic land expedition, dated Winter-quarters, Fort Franklin, on the great Bear Lake, September 6. During the summer, three expeditions, under Captain Franklin, Lieutenant Bach, and Dr. Richardson, were made, preparatory to the great objects to be undertaken next year. The expedition under Captain Franklin went to the mouth of the Mackenzie river, which he found to discharge itself into an open sea; there is one island near its mouth, called by Captain Franklin Garry’s Island.— From the summit of this island the Captain saw the sea to the northward all clear of ice or islands; to the westward he saw the coast to a great distance, his view terminating at very lofty mountains, which he calculates were in longitude 188 deg. west. The expedition would proceed early in the spring on its ulterior objects. The officers and men were all well and in spirits at the favourable circumstances which had hitherto attended their proceedings.

King's Wharf Quebec 1827

King’s Wharf Quebec 1827

The next year Grisdale was back in America, once again in New Orleans, this time as captain of the James Grant. He arrived from Liverpool on 10 December 1827. On arrival he made the following declaration:

DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI – PORT OF NEW ORLEANS

I, E. Grisdale, Master or Commander of the ship James Grant, do solemnly, sincerely and truly swear, that the within list, signed by me and now delivered to the Collector of this District, contains the names of all the Passengers, taken on board the said James Grant at the Port of Liverpool or at any time since, and that all matters therein set forth are, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, just and true. I do further swear that none of the said Passengers have died on the voyage. Sworn before me, this 10 day of Decr. 1827. (signed) B. Chew, Collector, E. Grisdale.

List of all passengers taken on board the James Grant whereof Ed Grisdale is Master, at the Port of Liverpool and bound for New-Orleans.

Columns represent: name, age, sex, occupation, country to which they belong, country of which they intend to become inhabitants.

1 R. Ferriday      25  male    merchant   England   Alabama
2  Edw. Flynn       40  male    farmer     Ireland   Alabama
3  Pat. O’Bryan     35  male    farmer     Ireland   N. Orleans
4  Jno. McRea       28  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
5 Ml. Eagan        30  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
6  O. Flynn         10  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
7  Dan. Flynn        8  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
8  Mary Flynn       30  female             Ireland   Tennessee

(Signed)  E. Grisdale

New Orleans Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras

This wasn’t, as we have seen, Grisdale’s first visit to New Orleans, but it is perhaps interesting to note that New Orleans had only recently became part of the United States after the American government had ‘purchased’ Louisiana from the defeated French. The people of New Orleans were now free to dance and play music again. Only a few months before Edward Grisdale arrived on the Frances Watson, the first Mardi Gras had taken place:

February 27, 1827: The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans.

The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans. Inspired by similar celebrations in Paris, group of masked students paraded through the street on this day, marking the first Mardi Gras celebrations. Early French settlers had had similar celebrations, but they had been banned throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Once Louisiana became part of the US, the ban was lifted and Mardi Gras celebrations began to take place annually.

We find a few others mentions of Captain Grisdale in the records, but soon after his 1827 New Orleans voyage Edward Grisdale probably either took his retirement, or perhaps died. Perhaps he saw off his son Edward on the convict ship Numa in 1834. Son Edward was, I believe, a mate on the Numa (he was certainly part of the ship’s crew).

Captain Grisdale left no descendants with the Grisdale name as far as I can see. His daughter Grace (1807) went on to marry Workington registrar Henry Hayton and had a number of children. She lived with her unmarried older sister Sarah, who was a schoolmistress.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

And that is about all I know about Captain Edward Grisdale. When had his family first come to Workington? As I mentioned both his father John (born in 1741 in Workington) and his grandfather Edward had been Workington mariners. But where had grandfather Edward come from? I don’t yet know for sure. He certainly had not been born in Workington nor in the other Cumberland ports of Whitehaven or Maryport. I tend to think he was related to seventeenth century Edward Grisdale Senior and Edward Grisdale Junior, both of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. This is based on some circumstantial evidence regarding family naming patterns, dates and by a process of exclusion, but I can’t yet definitively prove the link.

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  1. […] Ferrying troops and emigrants – Captain Edward Grisdale of Workington […]

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