Introduction: William Stavers or Stavert (1722-1799)

  This is the story of a family that, over several generations, produced an extraordinary number of adventurous merchant sea captains.

  It begins with William Stavert or Stavers (c.1722-1799), a Scotsman who – according to a memoir written by one of his grandsons (T.R. Stavers) – fled Scotland “during the War of Stuart”, i.e. the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. It is unclear whether he had supported Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and fled when the rebellion was suppressed, or whether he just wanted to escape the fighting. There were several families of Staverts at that time in the Scottish borders and he is probably William Stavert born to Thomas Stavert and Marion Williamson on 26 May 1723 and baptised two days later at Galashiels, Selkirk. The origin of the name is unknown, but it is thought by some to come from Staward, meaning “black”. 1

    William settled in the peaceful rural Northumberland village of Humshaugh on the river Tyne and in the parish of Simonsburn. He married Elizabeth Reed, the daughter of a local family. When he first appears in the parish records, he is described as “Stavert or Stavers”, but Stavers seems to have become quickly established as the normal form. The couple produced nine children, six sons and three daughters (several of whom died young). The first son, Joseph, was baptised on the same day as his parents’ marriage, so was presumably born out of wedlock. He died age 75 in 1799 and is buried in Simonburn.

  Two of his sons, John Stavers (1749-1841) and William Stavers (1765-1817) were the founders of the dynasties of master mariners described in this essay. What happened to the other sons has yet to be discovered. Although their deaths are not recorded in the Simonburn parish register, some may have died young. By the time of the 1841 census , however, there were several families of Stavers living around Tyneside, and it seems possible – as the name is an unusual one – that they were descended from one or more of William and Elizabeth’s other sons. Indeed, apart from an ancient family based at Castle Combe in Cambridge (of whom there is a possible off-shoot in Essex), there is no mention in any of the easily accessible records of any Stavers in England before William Stavers or Stavert.

  Simonburn is quite a way from the sea and there is no evidence that William of Humshaugh was at any time a mariner. But Northumberland was a county of sea-farers (as well as of agriculture and coal), and there was no shortage of young boys who wanted to go to sea, whatever their background. It seems likely that both his sons John and William were lured by the romance of the sea and started as cabin boys or apprentices, working their way up in the traditional merchant navy way to become master mariners.

  William’s two seafaring sons went in divergent directions. John, the elder, hunted whales in the Arctic at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries and he and his descendants (with one exception), remained based in Northumberland. William, on the other hand, after a brief foray into Arctic whaling, moved to the Thames estuary, where he and his descendants became deeply involved in the South Seas whaling trade, and his descendants seem not to have maintained any particular links with Northumberland.




1. Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland.