Capt Robert Williams

Bob Ballard

Chapter 1

Robert Williams was born on 23rd  May 1869 at  Tyn y Wern in Llaniestyn. His parents were John Williams, seaman, and Margaret Williams, nee Jones.

 Ruins of Tyn y Wern, Llaniestyn

John was the eldest son of Robert and Elizabeth who by April 1861 were living at Bryn Bach, Nevin and who had 5 other children, Ellin, Elizabeth, Evan, William and Maria.

Robert Snr is shown as born in Nevin in 1805 and is described in the Census return for 1861 as a mariner. In 1853 he was the master of the Two Sisters of Nevin of 21 tons and journeying along the North Wales coast at least as far as Runcorn. An article in Maritime Wales no 11 reports the brothers Robert and William Williams of Bryn Bach as working as lime burners at regular intervals at a rate of 3 shillings a day.


Lime Kiln on Morfa Nevin beach and Porthdinllaen carrier

An interesting record shows the time worked by the two men during November/December 1875. From 20th November until the end of the year, they worked every day except Sunday and they even worked half a day on Christmas Day. They were also employed for trimming cargoes of both coal and culm {anthracite dust}. In the article, which quotes from the account books of David Rice Hughes, a Victorian entrepreneur of Morfa Nefyn, is a record of a payment to Robert and William Williams of Bryn Bach “2 tides trimming culm @2/6 per tide from Sloop “HOPE”. Interestingly Robert must have been around 70 years old at this date.

Nothing is known of Elizabeth’s family

Schooner on Morfa Nevin beach

John’s wife Margaret was born in 1847 and in 1861 was living with her parents Samuel and Margaret Jones at Tyn y Wern, Llaniestyn. Samuel is described as an agricultural labourer at that time but by the 1871 census he is described as a mason. In the valley below Tyn y Wern there is now a disused quarry and it is possible that this was where Samuel worked.

Samuel was born in Tudweiliog and his wife Margaret in Llanengan and they were married in Tudweiliog on 16th November 1832. Margaret’s parents had 5 children and she was the 3rd child. She was in fact the second Margaret as their first child Margaret died at about 1 month old.

At the April 1871 census John and Margaret are living at Tan y Fron, Bodfean, with Robert their son and 10 years later at the next census they have moved to 21 East Avenue, Porthmadog and now have 3 more children, Samuel, Elizabeth Alice and John Richard.


Tan y Fron

Samuel was born at Bodfean but the other two at Porthmadog so the move from Bodfean was between 1872 and 1875. Two more children were born in Porthmadog, Margaret and Evan. Many master mariners from the Lleyn were moving to Porthmadog at that time as the port was gaining importance for the export of slates.


Loading slates at Porthmadog

Details of Robert’s education are unknown but he would probably have been educated using the English language although talking Welsh at home and at play.


“Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.”

Psalm 107 v 23

Chapter 2

Robert began his maritime career on his father’s ship, the Alice Chamney, a schooner of 85 tons.  He joined on 12th August 1882 at Porthmadog in the role of Boy at 13 years of age and his rate of pay was 15 shillings a month. This first voyage ended at Britton Ferry on 15th September the same year. The next record available shows him rejoining the Alice Chamney again at Porthmadog on 24/3/1883, still as Boy but a rate of 1 pound a month. This voyage ends in London on 5/7/83 and continues on 14/7/83 to return to Porthmadog by 24/12/83 when he is shown as “laid-off”. He was to serve on the Alice Chamney again, now as Ordinary Seaman, between 8/4/85 and 9/7/85, between 18/7/85 and 8/8/85, and between 8/1/85 and 25/11/85 on which date the vessel was wrecked on the North Goodwin Sands on a voyage from Hull to Plymouth. The crew of 4 are reported to have been saved by the Ramsgate lifeboat but the RNLI has no record of the incident.

Leaving the Alice Chamney for the first time there is a gap until 3/4/84 when Robert joined the 51 ton schooner Jane Anwyl, master William Griffith, at Porthmadog still as Boy, pay unknown. He remained in this ship until 7/7/84 sailing around the UK coast, Porthmadog/Cardiff/Aberaeron/Porthmadog/Swansea/Cricieth/Portsmouth/Porthmadog. Leaving the Jane Anwyl Robert next joined the Elizabeth and Ellen, an 80 ton schooner, on 23/7/84 as Ordinary Seaman but only remained with her until 29/8/84. His certificate application then shows him as “on board” the Catherine but there are no dates or other details for this time on the application. There is however a note in his notebook showing 2 months on the Catherine from September 1884. Before rejoining his father on the Alice Chamney he served for a month between 9/3/85 and 8/4/85 on the 146 ton brigantine Nanhoron  once more as Ordinary Seaman.

Following the loss of the Alice Chamney Robert was on the 92 ton schooner Hedessa, as Cook/Ordinary Seaman from 23/12/85 to 6/3/86. Once again there is a reference to a time spent “on board”, this time on the Jane Ellen, thought to be a 42 ton schooner, before he once again joins his father this time on the Messenger, a 82 ton schooner.  Now an Able Seaman he remains on this ship from 1/6/86 to 16/7/86.

At this stage, now aged 17, Robert makes his first foreign voyage as Able Seaman on the ship Coimbatore of 1193 tons. He joined in Middlesboro and sailed to Calcutta returning to Dunkirk.

This was followed by another short time coasting on the 132 ton brigantine Geraldine from 17/8/87 to 29/10/87, joining in Porthmadog and leaving in Bangor. The master was Evan Pierce and Robert’s younger brother Samuel was also on board as an Ordinary Seaman. His pay as Able Seaman had now reached 3 pounds a month. Then follows another gap in the record with a reference to the Cardiganshire, details unknown.

Foreign voyages now begin in earnest and Robert gets a berth as 3rd mate on the barque Stanmore of 1768 tons.



He joins on 15/5/88 in Cardiff sailing on 18/5/88 to Lornz, Iquique [Chile], arriving 22/8/88 and sailing to Pisagua[Chile] on 25/3/88. He remained on board until 28/5/89. The notebook shows sailed from Pisagua 22/1/89 towards Falmouth  and off Cape Horn  [off Staten Island] 5/3/89. In the notebook there is reference to Newcastle 2/7/88. On his next ship, the screw steamer North Anglia of 1358 tons, he has to revert to Able Seaman and he is on this ship from 25/6/89 to 2/2/90. The notebook records joining at Cardiff.

Chapter 3

At this point Robert sits for his 2nd Mate’s certificate on square rigged ships at South Shields although the certificate, dated 11th March 1890, shows Sunderland as the issuing port.

He appears to have failed the navigation examination at his first sitting on 4th March. In the application papers he is shown as 5 feet 5 inches tall, with dark complexion, probably as the result of his foreign travels, and dark eyes and fair hair. The certificate number is 022204. On the 1060 ton ship Ben Nevis, which he joins on 18/6/90 in Cardiff, he serves as 2nd mate until 16/3/91 having visited Simons Bay, Calcutta and Port Cholm.. There is now a year’s service as 2nd mate on the barque Elizabeth Nicholson, 904 tons, from 20/4/91, joining in Sydney and then again sailing round the Horn via Honolulu, Laysan [Hawaian Islands], and St. Helena before being reported at the Prawle Point Signal station [Devon]. He left the ship on 20/4/92. Eric Lubbock mentions the Elizabeth Nicholson in “The China Clippers” in the context of a race with the Lord Macaulay commanded by Captain Care. Both ships were approaching a narrow passage between two islands in the Java Seas and Capt Care began to shorten sail as if meaning to bring up for the night. The other captain, new to the China Seas, followed suit. Care then called out for the anchor to be dropped but took no action but the Elizabeth Nicholson did at which point Care then hoisted sail and sped on giving him a lead of some 70 miles. Although the Elizabeth Nicholson was sighted again off the Scillies she was beaten home by nearly a week. This took place when the Elizabeth Nicholson was a new ship some 30 years before Robert served on her.

Chapter 4

Robert then gained his 1st mate’s square rigged Certificate on 7/5/92 again at South Shields. At this time he is said to have fair complexion and brown eyes and to be 5 foot 6 inches tall. After a gap of nearly 7 months he joined the Dryden, a screw steamer of 2812 tons as 3rd mate in Liverpool on 15/11/92. The notebook seems to show that he joined the Olbers at No 2 Huskinson Dock on 2/9/92 and then the Dryden on 11/9/92. Did he get a better offer? The next port of call was River Plate followed by Bahia Blanca then Las Palmas to Dunkirk and Antwerp, He was on the Dryden unti1 5/3/93. On his next ship, the Rona, which he joined on 15/4/93, he sails for the first time as 1st mate from Liverpool. She is a 638 ton barque and after calling  in Lisbon, Holyhead, Jamaica, Montego Bay, and Jamaica again [as recorded in Lloyds Lists but strange to have 3 separate reports of Jamaica]. This voyage resulted in the second shipwreck of his career. Returning from Montego Bay, Jamaica, with a cargo of rum and mahogany the Rona ran aground in dense fog on the Stag Rocks off Castletown, Co. Cork on the 15th October 1893. The vessel was badly holed on the rocks and water rose to a depth of 8 feet in the hold in 3 hours, and despite attempting to keep the level down by pumping, it proved futile. The wreck then took on a severe list to port and the captain ordered all hands to abandon ship in their own boats. One boat was unfortunately smashed by the sea in lowering, injuring a crewman and throwing him into the sea. Three other crew then manned a second boat and rowed after their companion who was now drifting rapidly away on the tide, eventually picking him up a mile and a half away. Otherwise all ten crew landed safely. In this incident Robert lost his copy of his Certificate of Competence and had to obtain a replacement resulting in him having two numbers for his certificates. The new number was 027105.

Despite this wreck Robert was soon at sea again as 1st mate on the John Roberts, a brig of 197 tons sailing from Porthmadog on 25/11/93 to Cardiff, and Huelva [Spain] and leaving at Amlwch on 21/2/94.The master was David Davies and his pay had risen to 4 pounds 15 shillings a month. Reverting to 2nd mate he then joined the 4 masted barque Lynton of 2324 tons on 5/4/94 and remained with her until 25/7/94 under Captain T. G. Fraser. The Lynton was said to be one of the handsomest barques ever built in the Mersey. She was beautifully fitted and finished off with lots of carved teak, and was always very smartly kept up. Although a full model lifting 3800 tons dead-weight she was a good sailor particularly when close hauled; with all sails set and the yards on the backstays she easily logged 11 knots. She was also a very easy ship to steer even with the wind aft.


He next joined the 876 ton barque Valdivia on 1/8/94 as 1st mate for nearly 2 years until 27/4/96. During this time he is found at Liverpool, Talcahuano [Chile], Calcutta, Cape Agulhas, St. Helena, Barbados, Trincomalee, and Bremerhaven. When he left this vessel the master signing his discharge letter was J. Thorburn. There is reference to arriving at Shields on 1/4/95 in the notebook.


Chapter 5

Having obtained his square rigged foreign master’s Certificate on 1/6/96 at South Shields Robert now gets his first command as Captain on the 202 ton brigantine Netherton. He was to remain with her for nearly 3 years mainly in foreign trade with some coastal work. Throughout this time the Netherton was owned by John Jones of Netherton House, Madoc Street, Porthmadog.


The first voyage started from Porthmadog on 8/7/96 with his younger brother John as bosun and visited Cadiz, Gaspe and Shippegan [New Brunswick], Rio de Janeiro, Nantes before returning to UK to Poplar in London by 7/7/97. Interestingly 3 crew members one Norwegian, one German and one from Pwllheli are shown as deserting even before the ship sailed from Porthmadog. The next trip left London on 26/7/97 and visited St Helena, Ascension Island, Montserrat [weighed 30/11/97] and returned to Liverpool on 24/1/98. On this second voyage Robert’s youngest brother Evan was a crew member as Ordinary Seaman. There was a Barbadian deserter at St Helena on this voyage. Leaving Liverpool on 10/2/98 intending apparently to go to Para at the mouth of the Amazon with a cargo of coal the ship began to leak badly and had to return to Holyhead for repairs. Once again there were deserters before the ship left Liverpool. This time they were a Swede and two British sailors, one from Rochdale and one from Liverpool. A cook engaged at Holyhead deserted  before sailing. Repairs completed, the Netherton sailed again on 22/3/98 after 21 days in harbour and travelled to Cadiz, St. Johns Newfoundland and then to Glasgow arriving 12\8\98, there were no family members on this voyage. The 2nd mate Griffith F. Hughes of Caernarvon was drowned at some point before reaching Cadiz. At St Johns the ship’s crew list was left behind and had to be sent to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, London. Leaving Glasgow after a short turn-round this next journey took Robert to St Johns, Pernambuco, and Barbados returning to Ipswich on 26/4/99 and again Robert’s brother John  was with him as 2nd mate. The 1st mate, William Evans of Morfa  Nevin , suffered a sprained ankle when handling the top gallant haliyards which broke and was discharged at Pernambuco. There were 5 deserters, 4 at St Johns and 1 in Pernambuco. The last journey on the Netherton was from Ipswich to Porthmadog where she arrived on 9/5/99, once again John sailed with him as mate. Rations for the crew were typical of the time. In addition to a daily issue of lime or lemon juice they were allowed 1 pound of bread daily, 1½ pounds of beef  4 days a week with 11/4 pounds of pork on the other days, ½ pound of flour daily, 1/3 pint of peas 3 days a week,1/8 ounce of tea, ¼ ounce of coffee and 2 ounces of sugar plus 3 quarts of water daily.

Communications and instructions from owner to master at that time have survived:

Telegraph address; Jones Netherton Porthmadog

Same address will do on letters, do not accept a charter for United States on any a/c unless you have good inducement to accept cargoes towards Cape or any long distance. Always charter towards home. Send port charges and advance to crew before you sail from port, before all the cargo will be out at Brazil and no freight offering cable home the word “Nothing” and proceed to Barbadoes.  John Jones

Netherton  Capt Williams

Carries dead weight 340t, requires ballast 90 to 120 tons according to distance. Draft loaded 13-9 aft, 12-6 forward trim ? loaded ? ? by the stern requires with ?        20 tons stone ballast aft, never load her too deep in winter. Wire or cable on arrival at every port, write with every mail wherever you are, should you receive any damage or misfortune wire to Insurance Porthmadog.  ? your freight as soon as possible after arrival at each port and draw on the outward freight.

The Netherton was sunk by a submarine 16 miles off Anvil point on 18th December 1917.

Leaving the Netherton Robert took command of the larger barque, the Earlshall, in Goole. She was owned by Morgan Jones of High Street Porthmadog. He served on this vessel from May 1899 to September 1900. From Goole he visited Borm, ?ern, Aruba, London, Cadiz, London, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Barbados, Phosphate Harbour, Lisbon , Cuxhaven [Germany]. The notebook has mention of Queenstown on 20/7/98.


Earlshall Letter

The Earlshall was later sold to Job Bros and Co., St John’s, Newfoundland in 1912 and that summer was converted to a barquentine in Liverpool and had a 150 hp Bolinder heavy oil engine fitted.  On her return to St John’s with 600 tons of coal from the River Clyde she had to put back for repairs 3 times. In Newfoundland she was the largest of the Job fleet and was a good sailor making a passage to Brazil on average in 27 days. She was wrecked at Quidi Vidi, a small cove in Shoal Bay , Newfoundland, on the 24th June 1915. She had left Newfoundland with a cargo of codfish arriving 24 days later in Pernambuco. The return trip started on 23rd December 1914 and she met heavy gales which caused damage that had to be repaired delaying her return north. Ice and snow were met off the home coast and it seems that she lost track of her position striking the rocks at about 4.15am. The sea conditions were such that it took 3 hours to launch the boats and all the crew were saved.

Chapter 6

Having left the Earlshall Robert finishes his deep sea connection. There is an undated draft letter to C P Grylls, secretary of the Mercantile Marine Services Association, Liverpool asking for his name to be removed from the books since he now hopes to work ashore. He joins the Thames Conservancy as mate of No 1 Hopper, a sand dredger, on 17/12/1900 at a salary of 2 pound 5 shillings a week. He was appointed Master of this vessel on 24/2/02 with a salary increase to 3 pounds a week. On 3/6/03 he was appointed to the command of  No 4 Hopper. By then he appears to have met his future wife for he marries Ethel Marchant of 89 Whitta Rd, Forest Gate on 3rd August 1903 at All Saints Parish Church. There is a poem in Robert’s notebook  which is not dedicated to anybody but presumably was to Ethel.

I have loved thee in sickness

I’ll love thee in health,

And if want be our portion

My love be our wealth.

Thy comfort in sorrow

Thy stay when most weak,

The vows I have uttered

I never will break.

Another year has brought again

The cycle of thy birth

Adding a new link to the chain

That binds thee to the earth.

Oft may this day with joy return

With little of care or sorrow

Till happy age at last may yearn

For hope’s eternal morrow.



Robert and Ethel about time of marriage

Following his service on the Thames hoppers  Robert was aware of the building of a new suction dredger for use on the river and paid several visits to Liverpool to study sand dredging techniques and on 5th October 1907 applied for the position of master. His draft of his application is shown below.

Application letter

The dredger had been ordered in 1905/6 and cost £76,278. The launch of the Lord Desborough was recorded in the Greenock Telegraph of 11th November 1907 as follows:


The twin-screw sand pump hopper dredger “Lord Desborough”, which has been constructed for the Thames Conservancy Board by Messrs Ferguson Brothers, Port-Glasgow, was launched on Saturday, when those present included Mr Robert Philipson, the secretary of the Board.  The christening ceremony was performed by Mrs Philipson, the vessel being named after the chairman of the Conservancy.

Lord Desborough

The vessel has been built to work on the Leigh Middle Shoal in the Thames estuary, through which a channel will be formed 1,000 feet wide and 30 feet deep at low water, this being part of the Conservancy scheme for providing a channel of that width and depth from the Nore to Gravesend. It is estimated that it will be necessary to remove at least 6,000,000 cubic yards of material from the shoal to obtain a channel of the dimensions named. The vessel is the largest dredger built on the Clyde, and is, in point of fact, the largest afloat. Her dimensions are 330 ft. by 54 ft. 6 in. by 23 ft. She is fitted with double suction pipes arranged to ship inboard, and is capable of raising 4,500 tons of sand per hour from a depth of 70 ft. below water level. The navigating and pipe manoeuvring bridges are placed forward of the hopper, and the chart room and steering house on the upper and lower bridges respectively. An accommodation gangway leads from lower bridge to engine casing, and on this gangway the gearing for working lander doors, wash-out valves, and hopper valves is arranged. The accommodation for officers is arranged aft of machinery space. There is also a special suite of rooms for the superintending engineer. The crew’s quarters are forward of the hopper. The propelling and pumping engines, which have been constructed by the builders, are of the triple-expansion type, having a working pressure of 180 lbs. per square inch. Steam is supplied by three multitubular boilers, each 15 ft. in diameter. The vessel has the following auxiliaries : Three sets of Weir’s pumps, one Weir’s evaporator and feed heater, four Gwynne’s centrifugals, Kirkcaldy’s distiller and pump, also separate duplex for water supply to sand pumps. Electric light is fitted throughout. The telegraphs are by Messrs Chadburn , and consist of seven transmitters and six indicators. The pipe manoeuvring winches are of massive design, each having four barrels and weighing about 20 tons. The vessel has been constructed under the direction of Mr. A. G. Lyster of Liverpool, assisted by Messrs H. West & Sons, Liverpool. Messrs Ferguson Brothers have constructed within the last three years the latest and largest dredgers for the Mersey, the Clyde, and the Thames.

On the 5th December Robert was instructed by the Thames Conservancy to proceed to Port Glasgow with the First and Second Engineers [J. Aitken and  R. L. White] and sail with the dredger down the Thames.

The rates of pay of the crew were given in a letter dated 12th December 1907.

Rates of Pay

When the Dredging Superintendent William Wiseman retired at the end of September 1911 he wrote a testimonial for Robert.           

Testimonial from Captain Wiseman

The Lord Desborough was involved straight away in the massive dredging campaign authorised by the Thames Conservancy in the area of the river from Gravesend Reach down to the Nore. In 1909, the Lord Desborough was amongst the vessels, plant and equipment transferred from the Thames Conservancy to the newly-created Port of London Authority.


The following extracts from the PLA Board Minutes record the history of the vessel:-

* 16th December 1909. Six tenders received for the overhaul and repair of the LD. Best tender was from the London Graving Dock Company for £2,317, and this was accepted.

* 1st June 1912. Four tenders received for the overhaul of the vessel, the lowest being for £2,159 from Glengall Iron Works Ltd., which was accepted.

* 17th February 1914. Reported that on the 27th January 1914 the LD and the schooner 'Restless' were in collision off Shoeburyness. The schooner sank with the loss of three of her crew drowned. [The PLA prepared themselves for a Court of Inquiry into the collision, but there is no record of one taking place.]

* March 1914. The PLA Chief Engineer reported that the LD required overhaul and repairs at an estimated cost of £2,470.

* 30th April 1914. A tender of £2,457 for repairs and overhaul of the LD was accepted from the London Graving Dock Company, and the work authorised.

* 28th May 1914. Request from Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for the loan of the LD for a period of not less than 6 months agreed as the channel through the Yantlet Sands now 30 ft deep at low water and 1000 f6t wide. The charter fee paid by MD & HB to the PLA for the charter of the vessel was £300 per week with effect from the 6th January 1915.

* 22nd June 1916. Total loss insurance of the LD whilst chartered to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB) was amended upwards to £ 120,000.

* 26th July 1917. The LD was valued for insurance purposes at a replacement cost of £ 154,029.

*11th July 1918. The MD & HB terminated the charter of the LD as from the 3Oth June 1918 and arrangements were made for the return of the vessel to London.

* By December 1918 the PLA had waived charges of around £1,000 owed by MD & HB for hire and repairs.

* 26th March 1919. Agreed to sell the LD with initial interest from France, the asking price to be £90,000.

* 16th March 1922. The LD was still unsold, and it was agreed to offer the vessel to the MD & HB for £45,000.

* 29th June 1922. Reported that MD & HB were not interested in purchasing the LD at the asking price. Agreed to advertise the vessel for sale in the weekly and daily press inviting tenders.

* 27th July 1922. The sale price of the LD was fixed at £45,000, and £210 was authorised for docking, scraping and painting the bottom of the vessel.

1st February 1923. Reported that the LD had been sold to the MD & HB for £25,000.

When the Lord Desborough arrived at the Mersey she was renamed the Burbo. She appears to have then worked without major incident at Brunswick Dock river entrance and also the main sea channels through to 1944 when she went to war. The Burbo was sent to the Normandy Beaches to reinforce the Mulberry Harbours used for the D-Day landings. The ship’s agent, on behalf of the Ministry of War transport, was T. Phelan, probably of Birkenhead.

Charles J Goodwin, 2 Rock Bank, Upton, Wirral, Cheshire, CH49 OT5 was a sea-going gunner in the 1st Maritime Royal Artillery and has written “I joined the ship in the West Float in Birkenhead after the landings in France June 1944. We sailed via Milford Haven and then joined the convoy to Arromanches. There were about 6 gunners. We sailed down to the American beachhead [Omaha] where we dredged sand and gravel and tried to fill the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches. I say tried to fill because if the weather was a bit rough  we did more damage to them. I never knew whether we were sinking or not as there was always plenty of water on deck. As we were the only British ship on Omaha the Americans had cameras and took loads of film but alas they never gave us any. I remember seeing the  Burbo on TV which showed her at the beachhead.”

C R Bennett, 4 Braidwood Court, St. Andrews Rd. North, Lytham St. Annes,FY8 2JT was the Radio Officer and has slightly different memories. He joined the Burbo on 27th June 1944 and has the ship at Gold Beach, the British beachhead from 30th June to 25th October. The Burbo was accompanied by another Liverpool dredger, the Leviathan. Mr Bennett says “Initially we had trouble finding sand along the French coast at sufficient depth to afford proper suction until we “struck oil” off the Marcouf Islands. There was great competition between the two vessels as to which would “strike” first and our Old Man spent long periods with glasses trained on the Leviathan to note any success [I think we won]. I had a specially built radio shack of wood, which after a few trips to Southampton for bunkers- about every 2 weeks- showed signs of wear and I had to seal the walls up with putty to keep out wind and water. We had one or two hairy trips across the Channel having shallow draught, heavy suction pipes weighing 26 tons [with gear] each side plus tripod staging and chutes each side to carry sand over the high sided Pheonixes”

The Liverpool Journal of Commerce of 1st August 1944 says “Report from the artificial harbour at Arromanches where she was hard at work helping in the “winterisation” of that part by filling with sand the concrete caissons forming the breakwater. This will assist them to withstand the winter gales.

After this time the Burbo was returned to the MD and HB and carried on working until she was sold for scrap in 1954 to T W Ward Ltd for £24,600. She arrived at Barrow in Furness for breaking up on 23rd September 1954.

Some time close to the start of the 1914/18 war it was decided to build a bridge of boats across the Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury both as a barrier on the river and also to provide a rapid means of getting soldiers across the river. Some 70 Thames swim head lighters were used in the construction which had a centre section that could be withdrawn to allow passage of legitimate traffic. It is said that a number of ships managed to ram the bridge at times. Robert was the senior officer in charge of the bridge, probably throughout the war years. He and his daughter and son walked across the Thames on the bridge at least once.

Pontoon Bridge over the Thames

In 1918 when the Lord Desborough returned to the Thames she was laid up in the West India Docks until sold in 1923. On 6/2/23 Robert was placed on the retired list with a pension of 2 pounds 1 penny a week.

Chapter 7

Ship details,

Alice Chamney. No 27944  85t schooner 68 ft long. Built by Wilson at Portdinorwic in 1857. Sank Goodwin Sands 1885.

Jane Anwyl. No 28818   57t schooner 67 ft long. Built by Annwyl family at Barmouth in 1860. Mostly traded Portmadoc/Portsmouth.

Elizabeth and Ellen. No 18886  81t schooner  68 ft long. Built by Wm Griffith at Borthygest in 1857.Lost in collision 1892.

Nanhoron. No 27433  147t brigantine  93 ft long. Built by Thomas at Nevin in 1859. Lost when stranded on Waneroog near Elbe in Germany in 1899.

Hedessa. No 24213  92t schooner 65ft long. Built at Newquay Cardiganshire in 1853. Sunk in collision off Ramsgate.

Messenger. No 24093  82t schooner 69 ft long. Built at Aberystwyth in 1841.

Coimbatore. No 29929  1193t ship 216 ft long. Built by Barclay, Curle and Co at Glasgow in 1865.

Geraldine. No 28813  143t brigantine 89 ft long. Built by Jones at Barmouth in 1869. Lost one day out of Portmadoc.

Stanmore. No 93692  1768t barque 269 ft long. Built by Harland and Wolff at Belfast in 1886.

North Anglia. No 87148  1358t screw steamer 276ft long. Built by Palmers at Newcasle in 1883.

Ben Nevis. No 60369  1060t ship 218 ft long. Built by Barclay, Curle and Co at Glasgow in 1868.

Elizabeth Nicholson. No 47226  904t barque  192 ft long. Built by Nicholson at Annan in 1863.

Dryden. No 91268  2812t screw steamer  311 ft long. Built by A. Leslie and Co at Newcastle in 1885.

Rona. No 60033  638t barque  156 ft long. Built by A.Stephens and Sons at Glasgow in 1867. Lost  on Stag Rocks Cork in 1893.

John Roberts. No 70306  197t brig  106ft long. Built by Roberts of Pwllheli in 1875. Stranded at Marsden, Co. Durham in 1901, later wrecked in collision in 1907.

Lynton. No 102141  2324t 4 masted barque  300 ft long. Built by R and J Evans  and Co at Liverpool in 1894.Valdivia. No 84155  875t barque  202 ft long. Built by J Reid and Co at Port Glasgow.

Netherton. No 67267  202t brigantine  103 ft long. Built by Vivian at Salcombe in 1872.

Earlshall. No 73405 142t barque  142 ft long.  Built by W B Thompson at Dundee in 1876. 


(Footnote) What of Robert after retirement from the Port of London Authority ?

During the 1914/18 war he seems to have been living at 83 Whitta Road, Manor Park but also has 37 Clarence Place, Gravesend as a residence until at least 1926. After 1918 at some point he seems to have lived at Milton Grange, Old Road East, Gravesend and is reputed to have owned a coal yard.

During the 1930’s the family lived at Combe View, Thundersly, Essex.

In 1938 Robert and Ethel bought The Plas, Llaniestyn from Ivor Pryce and renamed it The Old Rectory. They lived there over the war years and Ethel died in 1945. Robert survived her until 9th October 1951. They are both buried at Morfa Nevin Church.


If anyone can add to this story or can correct any details, please could you contacts me through this website.


Many thanks to Mr Bob Ballard, for this fascinating and thoroughly researched family history.

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