Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
When Wilfrid Hine died on 26th February, 1921, The West Cumberland Times was fulsome in its praise: “He had a deserved reputation as a keen business man, a reliable counsellor, a great public speaker, a generous philanthropist and one of the best benefactors of Maryport.”
Wilfrid Hine and his younger brother, Alfred, had made their money in shipping. Wilfrid had returned home to Maryport from Liverpool in 1873. He had been closely involved with the shipowners Richard Nicholson and Son, and now, he and his brother were about to establish their own shipping line.
By 1886 the brothers owned eighteen ships, eleven steamers and seven sailing ships, which were sailing out of Maryport to all parts of the world. Some of the ships were named for their Cumberland origin. There was the Abbey Holme and the Eden Holme, the Aikshaw and the West Cumberland.
Robert Peel has tracked the voyages of these ships and others through the lifetime of the firm, recording all he can find about their crew and their voyages, their cargoes and ports of call.
The Abbey Holme, for instance, was a three-masted clincher-built barque, built in Sunderland in 1869. Wilfrid Hine was well pleased with the iron vessel: “I proceeded to Sunderland yesterday to examine her & were so well satisfied with her that we made the contract for her at once. We got her for quite £150 less than I was prepared to give.”
In October that year she sailed for Valparaiso in Chile. Two years later “the magnificent double A1 Clipper Abbey Holme” was taking first and second class passengers to Brisbane. Captain Wedgewood Robinson reported that she left the Downs on 31st May and passed Madeira when they were twelve days out. They crossed the equator after a further eighteen days. “From the meridian of the Cape of Good Hope to Tasmania encountered very unsettled stormy weather. On the 2nd inst. rounded Tasmania, and had strong southerly winds to abreast Sydney.”
On her third voyage the Abbey Holme survived a collision with a steamer in the English Channel. The Lapwing came straight towards her, and although the Abbey Holme took avoiding action, she was holed. The Lapwing was breached amidships and sank almost immediately. The hole in the Abbey Holme’s hull was “tommed” over with a large topsail and she was towed into Portsmouth harbour for repairs.
In 1882 The Maryport Advertiser was reporting that the headboard of the Abbey Home had been washed up on the shore near Aberdovey shortly after she had left Workington with a cargo of steel rails bound for Port Adelaide. Later news told of the ship rescuing a shipwrecked crew stranded on Inaccessible Island in the South Atlantic and landing them at Simon’s Bay.
On 9th April, 1890, Hine Brothers issued a statement about the Abbey Holme: “We very much regret to inform you that in entering the Tyne last night for shelter during a strong northerly gale, the tow line parted, and the vessel drove on the rocks at South Shields.” She was “a total wreck”. The Hine Brothers had made a profit of £1298 ..16s exclusive of insurance.
Like other wealthy ship owners, Wilfrid and Alfred Hine lived on Parkhill, where they could watch their ships sail out to sea to all corners of the globe. Maryport was in its heyday, a prosperous, bustling town, buzzing with tales of ships and the sea. “Not only did Hines Brothers bring trade to the port and materially help local industries, but the ships were manned mostly by Maryport men.”
Robert Peel tells the stories of these Maryport ships and Maryport men through the exhaustive documentation of Lloyd’s listings and newspaper reports from around the world. The wealth of information in all its mundane detail brings the romance and danger of ships and the sea vividly to life.