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5208Re: [Peterhead] Re: Losses of Seamen and Fishermen from Peterhead

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  • Stephen Hutchison
    Feb 7, 2010
      Hi Alison,
      Maybe you are aware of the following story from 1861, as follows.

      Died on Kekerton Island, Cumberland Strait while wintering ashore,
      harpoonist on a whaling vessel.

      The Aberdeen Journal, Wednesday, October 9, 1861

      THE "ALERT" OF PETERHEAD - SUFFERINGS OF THE CREW - The Sentinel says that a
      number of rumours are flying about town with reference to the conduct at the
      ice of Mr Forbes Milne, the nominal captain of the vessel - charges of
      cruelty, &c, being flatly and broadly brought against him, with what amount
      of authority or truthfulness it is impossible for us to say. However, the
      greater part of the complications in the melancholy matter seem to have
      arisen from the fact of his having been placed on board of the vessel as
      actual and practical Captain, while he neither appeared in the books of the
      Custom House in that capacity, nor possessed a certificate entitling him to
      hold that office. With regard to the charges brought against Mr Milne by the
      crew, we forbear alluding to them until the matter be properly and fully
      investigated by the authorities. The Alert left Peterhead for the Straits on
      the 18th May, 1860, and sighted the ice on June 8. On July 27, a boat was
      capsized following a fish, and two of the crew, Burnett and Mitchell, were
      never seen after being pitched out of the boat. On August 12, five boats
      chased and kept in a number of white whales on a shoal till the tide
      receded. 111 of them were killed. On October 25, a number of the men were
      ill, and only a boat's crew out of the whole ship's company were able to
      "flinch" a fish that was caught, which could not be done for a few days in
      consequence of the severity of the weather. On November 3, the Alert bore up
      for home with a northerly wind, but after several endeavours, could not get
      out of the Gulf. On the 25th she was driven up into a bay about 20 miles
      equi-distant from Niatlik and New Boyes stations. At this place she
      wintered. Serious misunderstandings are said to have taken place between Mr
      Milne and the crew on the score of provisions &c. Between the 11th November,
      1860, and 31st July 1861, other eight men died. Fuel ran short, and proper
      food, even when it could be had, could not be properly cooked. Sometimes a
      couple of days' allowance of beef would be served out, and then for some
      weeks no more would be allowed. The crew had little or any sugar (so
      essential in these regions) for the whole of this time. The bread got done,
      and flour and Indian meal (got from the American ships) was served out as
      food; but in consequence of the scarcity of fuel, it could not be rendered
      properly available. For some time a number of the crew left the ship,
      existing by what they could get at the stations and from other ships. Seals
      flesh, whale skins, blubber, &c., had to be eaten on board the ship. Mr
      Milne, however, remained all along in the vessel - for some time alone, with
      the exception of a couple of boys, the rest of the crew being taken away by
      Captain Simpson of the "Union," and Mr Thompson, manager of the Aberdeen
      Artic Company at Kickarton, as they were all dangerously ill at the time.
      The most deaths occurred in the commencement of the thaw, the cases being
      scurvy, exhaustion, and exposure to the weather - none of the crew being
      prepared with the necessary clothing or anything else for an Artic winter.
      On the 23d August of this year, when the "Alert" was preparing to proceed
      home, on the representation of the crew, and investigation into the
      differences between Mr Milne and them was held on board the "Artic" of
      Aberdeen - Captain Reid of the "Artic," Captain Simpson of the "Union," and
      Captain Mackinnon of the "Alibi," acting as judges in the matter. The result
      of their deliberations was that they decided on displacing Mr Forbes Milne
      from his post as Captain, filling his place by Mr Taylor the mate. Mr
      Robertson of the "Alibi" was then obtained to act as mate. Matters now went
      on more smoothly, and a full supply of provisions having been obtained from
      the depots of the Aberdeen Artic Company, the vessel bore up for home
      immediately, and arrived here on Tuesday forenoon (as stated in our last).
      The names of the men dead are - John Mitchell, New Deer, and William
      Bennett, Strichen, drowned by the upsetting of a boat, 27th July 1860; John
      Walker, Peterhead, 11th November 1860; John McKenzie, Portknockie, 13th
      December 1860; William McKenzie, Peterhead, 24th April 1861; Peter Campbell,
      Sutherlandshire, 30th May; Alex. Pickard, Longside, 3d June; Robert Milne,
      carpenter, Peterhead, 25th June; William Nicol, Peterhead, 31st July. The
      "Alert" brings intelligence of the loss of the "Union" of this port. She
      sank at her station in the month of May, but her cargo, amounting to some 25
      or 30 tons of oil, and her casks, do, have been saved. Her men were living
      at their station-houses, and were all saved.
      William Nicol, was among those who died on that expedition, and it's great
      to have some
      more information. William died of rheumatism and scurvy at Kekerten Island
      in the Cumberland Sound. His death was entered in the Marine Register and
      later transcribed into the Peterhead register.

      It would seem that the Alert had not planned to spend the winter in the
      Arctic, which might explain the lack of appropriate clothing and adequate
      provisions. If John Walker was the Ship Master, how did it come about that
      Forbes Milne is described as "nominal captain" and later in the article as
      "actual and practical captain". I note that John Walker died on 11November
      1860, and, except for the two who drowned when a boat capsized, all the
      other deaths came after that. I wonder if Forbes Milne took over command of
      the vessel after the death of John Walker? There was a Forbes Milne born in
      Peterhead in 1830. Could this be the one? If so, he was the brother of
      William Nicol's wife Helen.

      Kekerten Island is referred to in the article as "Kickarton". It was the
      location of a Scottish whaling station in the 1850s and 1860s. The site is
      now part of a Canadian Historic Site and National Park. There is a photo of
      the whaling station at:
      I have a copy of a document, a single page, source unknown, with a farewell
      letter from William Nicol to his wife Helen, and a memorial to William. My
      cousin found it among papers belonging to his father (who was also a
      It is typeset, so presumably came from a published book or pamphlet, and
      it's very touching.
      Here is the text:
      �Alert�, 1st June 1861.
      My Dear Helen,
      I write you these few lines to let you know in what state I penned these few
      lines. I was taken badly with rheumatism in the fall of the last year, and I
      recovered, but, in a short time after, about the New Year, it again
      relapsed, and up to this time I have been bedfast, and I feel that I am
      getting very rapidly worse, which is the reason of me writing this letter to
      let you know in what state this leaves me. I do not expect to survive many
      days from this date. But, my dear, dear Helen, give your heart entirely unto
      the Lord, and then I shall expect to see you in Heaven; for I have tried as
      much as I could, since I have been afflicted, to walk in all His statutes
      and commandments, for I have found peace with God, and am this moment
      relying on His mercy, so I shall expect to meet you in Heaven; and my dear,
      darling children-Matthew, William (,) Francis, and the other of which I know
      not the name, as far as your ability goes, bring them up in the nurture and
      admonition of the Lord, so that they may not wander so long as we have done
      �Strangers to His saving grace.� Oh! my darling, darling Helen - the only
      woman ever I have loved on earth, the dear and faithful partner of my bosom.
      I now bid you goodbye; so farewell for a time, and I shall expect to meet
      you in Heaven. God bless you and protect you, and may He, in your
      experience, prove a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless. So
      farewell! My darling Wife and Children. I am too weak now to say any more;
      so farewell! My dear, darling, faithful partner. I shall meet you in Heaven.
      Good-bye! - From your affectionate Husband,
      With a Sore Heart.

      In Memory of WILLIAM NICOL Late Seaman on Board the "Alert" who died on
      shore, JULY 31 1861, AGED 28 YEARS.

      Farewell! for all my sufferings are,
      And all my sorrows gone;
      I go to live upon the shore
      Where Christ shall be my home. [Item provided by Mary Barnes.]
      (See William Penny article)
      Email from malcolm.simpson@... to fiona.riddell@...
      Dear Fiona,
      Have just read your e-mail about the "Alert". My gGrandfather James Taylor
      was the Mate during that terrible voyage,the passage home being his first
      command. He was lost with all hands in the Bristol channel in the barque
      "Nerbudda"of London in a great storm 1886.
      You will find reference to this in the Peterhead Sentinel. My ggGrandfather
      George Simpson was a well known whaling master,mainly in command of the
      "Traveller" and three sons also became whaling masters, John the eldest
      being master of the "Union"involved in the "Alert" story.
      Hope this proves of some interest.
      Best wishes in your project, Malcolm Simpson.

      There is more in "The Aberdeen Journal" (from the "Sentinel") 9 Oct 1861
      ............... Captain Mr Forbes MILNE (didn't hold a ticket!). BARNETT &
      MITCHELL were pitched out of the boat when it was upset by a whale and not
      seen again July 27th 1860. A harrowing story about how the men were
      mistreated by the captain ie. not rationed properly. The names of the dead
      John MITCHELL, New Deer 27 Jul 1860
      William BURNETT, Strichen 27 Jul 1860
      John WALKER, Peterhead 11 Nov 1860
      John M'KENZIE, Portknockie 13 Dec 1860
      William M'KENZIE, Peterhead 24 Apr 1861
      Peter CAMBELL, Sutherlandshire 30 May
      Alex PICKARD, Longside 3 Jun
      Robert MILNE, carpenter, Peterhead 25 Jun
      William NICOL, Peterhead 31 Jul
      It is reported that she wintered about 20 miles equi-distant from Niatlik
      and New Boyen stations and was preparing to head home 23 Aug 1861.

      Regards Steve

      On 7 February 2010 11:28, Alison Kennedy <alison2kennedy@...>wrote:

      > The Peterhead list has been a bit quiet lately so I'm hoping that there may
      > be someone still out there who may be able to assist me.
      > As part of a University course which I am currently undertaking I need to
      > write dissertation, of approx 8,000 words, before the end of April 2010.
      > The subject which I would like to write about, if I can gather enough
      > information, is the loss at sea, by death or drowning, of either seamen or
      > fishermen, singularly or crews of boats, who came from Peterhead or the
      > surrounding area (north as far as St Fergus, west as far as Longside, and as
      > far south as Cruden).
      > I'm thinking of a timescale, probably of 10 years, sometime within the 19th
      > century, but, until I see how much information I can acquire, I haven't
      > decided yet made a final decision on which decade that this will be.
      > If anyone has any information which they think may be able to assist then I
      > would be grateful if they could contact me - either through the Peterhead
      > list (where others may see your connection) or off-line. Often these
      > deaths were not officially registered and if the only information which you
      > have is a name and approx date and from Peterhead area then that's fine -
      > I'll see if I can do the donkey work of researching the death if necessary.
      > Many thanks to all in advance.
      > Alison
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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