Search This Blog

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mrs. Alexander's maiden voyage

Floating proudly at the Australian National Maritime Museum is the wonderfully restored James Craig, sister ship of the Louisa Craig, painted by Ron, and pictured above.

An iron-hulled bark, the James Craig was launched as the Clan Macleod in Sunderland, England, in 1874, and over the next 26 years she carried cargo around the world, doubling Cape Horn 23 times.  Then, in 1900, she was bought by an Auckland shipowner, renamed James Craig, and plied the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.  As the competition from steamships began to bite, she was converted from a collier to a coal hulk, an ignominious fate that came to an end when she was abandoned at Recherche Bay in Tasmania.  In 1972, forty years after she was sunk by fishermen who blasted a hole in her hull, a team of dedicated volunteers commenced a salvage and restoration project. In 1981 she was towed to Sydney, where she was finally, over many years, converted to the splendid state she is in today.

It was her maiden voyage that really interested me, and was what I had in mind when I re-explored her last week.  Then, she was under the command of Captain James Alexander, who was accompanied by his wife.   

And these were Mrs. Alexander's accommodations:

The cabin table, where she ate in the company of the two ship's officers, and any supernumeraries who might be on board.  At the forward end of this after cabin is the surprisingly elaborate fireplace:

Naturally, the ornaments would be taken down and carefully stored before the ship left port.

The settee, unusually, was in the captain's stateroom, which (of course) was on the starboard quarter:

This did give Mrs. Alexander some privacy during the day.  One can only imagine what she did while sitting there -- not much light to read or sew, but undoubtedly she managed.  When her husband was writing up his journal or posting his books, he would keep her company, because the chart table was also in the captain's stateroom.

And this is where she slept -- with her husband, in a narrow double berth with a thin mattress, on top of a bank of lockers and drawers.  As you can see, she had a ladder to mount to get into bed.  

So what was her voyage like?

Eventful.  First they ran out of fresh water on the long passage down the Atlantic, and Captain Alexander had to make an unscheduled stop at Rio de Janeiro.  Then came the rough leg about Cape Horn.  The coal she was carrying was discharged in Callao, Peru, and then he steered for Portland, Oregon, to load wheat and flour for the United Kingdom. On 29 November, 1874, Mrs. Alexander gave birth to a son, who was named William Macleod Alexander, in the time-honored tradition of naming the baby after the ship.  One hopes he was a good, quiet baby, as the homeward journey through the Atlantic took 171 days. The vessel finally came to anchor in the Humber on 10 July 1875, but before berthing she parted her anchor cable and grounded on a sandbank. Fortunately she came off without assistance and was later towed into dock.

It was a presage of the many times the grand old merchant ship was rescued from oblivion.

No comments: