"Capt Harri Parry"
1836 ~ 1919
One who spent most of his life sailing the coast between Llyn and the Mersey was Harri Parry from Uwchmynydd. He belonged to that special breed of men who plied their trade sailing along the coast supplying the needs of this remote area of Wales. In the 19th C the sea was the lifeline for most of the little villages of Llyn and the little ships brought the basic goods such as coal, culm and limestone. The men that sailed these ships had great talent and skill and they knew every inch of the coast, the different marks used for navigation, the tides and of course the weather signs. They were by nature hard men who made a living battling the elements, living and working on their little ships with little or no comforts. Harri was one of these hardy souls, great of stature and spirit. He often sailed his ship single handed with only his little dog Prince for company. The first ship he sailed as owner skipper was the ‘Catherine’ he was mate on her for some time when she was owned by Evan Hughes Dafarn Dywarch Aberdaron. It was on the 1st of July 1879 that Harri became her Captain and Thomas Parry 21 years old and from Aberdaron was the mate (his son?)
"Catherine's log for 1883"
"Catherine at Porth y Sgaden, Tudweiliog in 1886"
It may have been at this time that Harri was called upon
to sort out some unruly Scandinavian sailors in one of Pwllheli’s taverns. The
Scandinavians were frequent visitors to Pwllheli as they used to bring timber to
the port. As we mentioned previously Harri was a big strong man and not used
to suffering fools gladly (his turn over of crew is testament to this !!!) So in
he walks, large as life and the only thing he says is “Close the door behind
me lads” and in no time all was quiet in the tavern and peace restored once
again and according to legend he knocked them all out single handed. The
‘Catherine’ was later sold to Bangor and Harri bought the ‘Messenger’.
Aled Eames and Emrys Hughes mention the ‘Messenger’ in Porthmadog ships :-
‘Built in Barmouth 1841 owned 1886 by Henry Parry Bryn
Chwilog Aberdaron. M/M certificate cancelled and Reg closed 4th
January 1907. Vessel converted to dwelling at Abersoch. Advice from owner Reg no
One who knew Harri was J Glynne Davies whose family
hailed from Edern, but was brought up in Liverpool, where he went on to teach at
the University. J Glynne Davies spent most of his holidays in Llyn with his
family and he spent much of his time playing on the beach at Portinllaen amongst
the ships and sailors there. He got to know many of them and developed a
lifetime’s passion with the sea and seafarers. He wrote articles about them as
well as many poems and songs in Welsh that are known to most and still sung to
this day. In the WEA publication Lleufer J Glynne Davies describes Harri thus:-
‘ Harri ‘Messenger’ A tall, bony specimen of a man, and his old Smack that was sixty years old half a century ago that he paid £25 for. I was at the wheel once on a trip from Bardsey listening to Harri poetically describing every ship we passed when he gave the orders ‘Hard Down’ and I steered the ‘Messenger’ into Abersoch and onto the sands where as far as I know she still rests. But that’s another story.’
"Messenger at Abersoch"
Which J Glynne Davies wrote about in another edition of
The coasting trade was unique and a world apart, the
seamen were masters of their perilous work. Not all seamen were capable of
undertaking the skills needed for coasting, for one they had to have an intimate
knowledge of the coast and every mark on land as well knowing the turns and
eddies of the tides to secure safe passage from port to port. I was once caught
on Bardsey for a week, the winds and the turbulent Sound preventing my safe
return to Aberdaron on one of the island’s boats. The only opportunity to make
it to the mainland was on board the old smack the ‘Messenger’ that had just
finished discharging coal from Birkenhead. She was an old crock of a ship, built
in Barmouth in 1832. She was falling apart and how she was still allowed to sail
the seas I’ll never know. Her owner paid £25 for her, which gives you some
indication of her condition being a. The skipper was older than the ship, a
tall, bony man with a weather beaten face that was less than handsome. As the
saying goes at sea “He must have been at the back of the queue when good looks
were handed out”!!
The mate was younger, smaller, sturdier and surprisingly agile. He was less than appreciative of his Captain’s virtues and not impressed with the ship’s provisions. “And what do you think the old devil gave me to eat all week a piece of skate that was turning rancid in the forepeak”. There wasn’t much love lost between the pair of them and I couldn’t blame them for it. On Sunday morning I saw yet another sign of this lack of consideration between skipper and mate. I noticed the mate walking up from the Cafn (harbour) towards the chapel and I enquired “Where’s the Captain?” “He’s on the ship” said the mate. “Isn’t he coming to chapel?” I enquired again. “ He can’t the boat’s ashore”. I walked down towards the Cafn and could see the old Captain looking up furiously from the scuttle. I launched the boat and went to get the old fellow, after getting the coal dust from his old straw hat by knocking it hard against the mast, he came ashore with me and we walked up to the chapel together. He had a very devotional look on his face but his soul was seething with anger directed solely at the mate. He listened intently to the sermon and came out of the service refreshed in the knowledge that the mate would probably roast in hell in the life to come!!
"J Glynne Davies at Aberdaron, on
I had to return to my work as a Librarian at The University in Aberystwyth and the only way I could see to get to the mainland was to sign on the ‘Messenger’ as seaman, without knowing exactly where I’d end up, apart from Holyhead if the winds stayed the same. There was a heavy fog the morning we sailed, and the big Bardsey boat towed us out to the Sound. I was at the helm and the skylight in front of me was like a big box on the cabin. She was only carrying 7 tons of ballast and her bows were so high out of the water that I couldn’t see the Bardsey boat in front of me without jumping up and down between the wheel and the skylight. Eventually the Bardsey boat cast us off with a cry of three Hurrahs . There was no point my carrying on to steer as there was no wind and we were carried along by the tide. “What’s the course Captain?” I asked “ Sow and by East” he said and down he went to his cabin to read a book leaving me to wonder where we were going. The foghorn could be heard and we were nearing that dangerous place ‘Trwyn y Fynwent’ and we were on the ebb so I set course for the Tudwals, the tide would carry us the rest of the way, if the old fellow stayed down below to read his book and leave the old ship to go on her way. And that’s as it was. Within the hour he emerged on deck quite content with the course the ship was taking. We put up more sails as the breeze had picked up and to crown it all was the gaff topsail. Even though she was so old the ‘Messenger’ sped gracefully through the waves. The old Captain was in good spirits and musing about every ship we passed. I went down with him to his cabin for lunch, the bread looked less than appetising and the slices were blackened with the coal dust that was engrained on his hands, but I was so hungry I’d have willingly eaten the book he was reading!!! Abersoch came into view I could see its houses racing towards us. “What’s the course Captain?” I asked as the cliffs slid by the port beam.” Hard down” he said after a while and down went the wheel, and the ship turned and sped up the sandy bottom coming to halt on the beach and as far as I know she’s still there to this day. Having gone aground I imagined I could go ashore in the boat. But I wasn’t. The Captain didn’t trust the mate to bring the boat back. It was getting late and I had an eight mile trek to Aberdaron where I was to stay the night with family there. Whilst the old captain read his book, I had a quiet word with the mate. He gave me a rope and a piece of string I fixed the rope to the bowsprit, slid down it with my clothes neatly packed in a bundle on my head. I descended up to my armpits and waded up to shore and dry land. I bade Farewell to the ‘Messenger’. Did I enjoy it, yes every minute spent aboard was a pleasure a fine day, fair wind and good company ten times better than my usual job stuck inside the Library at Aberystwyth’
"Harri Parry and other mariners
J Glynne Davies had a short but good trip on board the
‘Messenger’ Harri had a lifetime of trading along the coast in all
conditions fair and foul weather, battling the elements, racing against time to
supply the needs of a remote community and to earn a living. He eventually came
aground in Abersoch (1907) and stayed there living on the old ship until she
could no longer provide him with shelter. He spent some time at the workhouse in
Pwllheli, but on September 11th 1916 his daughter Eliza went to fetch
him home to Ael Bryn Rhiw, he couldn’t settle and went to Uwchmynydd where he
lived at Penbryn Bach until he died on the fourth of May 1919. He was buried in
the churchyard in Aberdaron on the eighth of May in the sound of the sea that
was his life for most of it. He was one of a breed of special men that are now
only a distant memory lost in the sea of time. Hardy men, skilled seamen,
masters of their craft in both senses, battling the elements to earn a living,
yet so in tune with the sea and its varying moods.
Thanks to Harry's family for letting us take the photograph of the bell
Copyright © Rhiw.com