TALES OF THE STAVERS CAPTAINS

PART 2: THE ROTHERHITHE STAVERS

 

2.4. John Reid Stavers (1791-1847) and his sons John Lindsay Stavers (c.1818-1935) and William Stavers  (1828-1876)

 

    All four of William and Margaret’s younger sons became master mariners, all of them at some point in their liver commanding South Sea whaling ships. Whaling voyages to the South Seas (the southern Pacific Ocean) could last up to three years, and the brothers did not see much of each other, although every so often their ships coincided in some faraway port and sometimes they managed to sail in convoy. Interestingly, the three youngest ones married three sisters, perhaps a reflection of the limited social circle from which to choose wives that was available to whaling captains away from  home for years at a time.

    John Reid Stavers (1791-1847), the next brother after William, was baptised like his brother at St Mary Rotherhithe.  The name Reid (also spelt Reed) was presumably after his Northumbrian grandmother Elizabeth Reed. He followed his father into the whaling trade. In 1813, he was the Mate on board his father’s ship Seringapatam when it was captured by the American frigate Essex.  

    By 1818 he was captain of the Earl of Morley, originally a French ship that had been seized by the British during the Napoleonic wars. The journey started inauspiciously, as the ship, “having been 100 leagues westward was obliged to bear up [at Plymouth]  in consequence of the mutinous state of the crew”.1 He made a couple of whaling voyages to the South Seas with the Earl of Morley, the second beginning in May 1821 when he left Portsmouth on the same day as two ships commanded by his Stavers cousins: the Tuscan commanded by Francis Stavers and the Zephyr commanded by Peter Mellish Stavers, the three ships no doubt forming a family convoy.2

 

    His next ship was the Offley, with which he set sail in July 1824, carrying letters from the King of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) back home – the king had caught measles during a visit to London and was dying.3  His younger brother T.R. Stavers recalls meeting him in the Sandwich Islands in 1826, when John helped his brother Tom with much-needed provisions, and the two brothers decided to return in convoy to the UK. He made a further whaling expedition with the Offley between 1828 and 1831, when he arrived off Dover with a massive cargo of 2,700 barrels of sperm oil.

    He made a further journey with the Offley the following year, arriving back in 1835. T.R. Stavers recalled meeting him in the whaling grounds off the coast of Central America in 1835, describing him as “very sick and a bad set of people round him”. Altogether this seems to have been a most unfortunate voyage in which John did not show to good effect. As was usual, the owners of the Offley had entered into a contract with John, requiring him to take the Offley to the southern whale fishery and bring back a cargo of “sperm oil, head-matter, ambergris, whale oil, sealskins or any other produce”  while being as frugal as possible with the stores and provisions of the ship. In return the owners agreed to pay the captain one twelfth of the net proceeds of the cargo. The ship returned with 374 tons of sperm oil etc., but the owners refused to pay up on the basis that John had been profligate with the provisions; had stopped at to many ports in order to trade on his own account (it was quite common for captains to take on and sell cargo for their own personal gain on these long journeys), and on various occasions “was drunk and intoxicated and caused and suffered irregularity” in the ship. John took the owners to court and won his case (which established an important precedent in English contract law, still quoted today).4

    Lloyds Register has him as the master of a vessel called the Osby between 1836 and 1839, but rather curiously there is no record of any voyages by such a vessel in Lloyd’s List during that period. By 1841, however, he was master of the Jane, plying between London and Australia, carrying various sorts of merchandise and “colonial produce”, and sometimes passengers. In December 1841, a man working his passage to Australia on the Jane complained on arrival to the Australian authorites that he had been illegally flogged by John. The man had apparently been asked to clean some lamps and one of them disappeared. John believed that the man had thrown it overboard (in fact it was later found). He allegedly tied him to the windlass and flogged him to make him confess. The opening of the case is described in the Sydney Herald of 21.12.41. It is not clear what happened in the end, but the ship did not leave Sydney until at least April the following year.

 

    There is no further record of him in the marine newspapers after that. According to  the electoral registers he had a house in Coborn Street, Bow, in the East End of London between 1835 and 1841. But he seems to have moved to India with his family, as he died in Calcutta in 18475 and two of his daughters were married out there.

 

Ships commanded by John Reid Stavers

 

Earl of Morley (built 1809 in France, 358 tons): 1818-1824.

Offley: 1824-35

Jane:  (London-Sydney barque 301 tons built 1839) 1841-2.

 

 

    He married Ann Susannah Lindsay in 1817 at St Dunstans, Stepney.  They had three daughters and two sons, both of whom lost their lives at sea. Their eldest son, John Lindsay Stavers (c.1818-1835) was with his father when he met T.R. Stavers in 1835, but he then embarked on another ship and, according to T.R. Stavers, was killed by a whale later in the same year off the coast of New Zealand, when just 17. T.R. Stavers’ apt comment was:  “He met his death as his Grandfather did before him and indeed, most of our family have been wounded or killed in this adventurous business, but it is what we have been all brought up to and we think nothing of it”.

    Their second son, Captain William Stavers (1828-1876) was born on 25 March 1828, but was not baptised until 1932, no doubt because at the time of his birth his father was at sea. His baptism place is given as Bull Lane, Stepney. He was lost at sea in a storm on 22 July 1876 when the barque Moneymark that  he was commanding foundered with all hands lost off Broughton Island (new South Wales, Australia) while on a journey from Newcastle to Timaru in New Zealand. His wife Emma was with him on board, together with a crew of nine. He seems to have been based in New Zealand at the time, as his death was well reported in the New Zealand press, and he was described in a death notice in the Sydney Evening News as being “late of Auckland”.6 The vessel was laden with coal, so he did not follow his father into the whaling trade.

 

 Notes

1. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 26.6.1818.

2. Ibid 15.5.1821.

3. Morning Post 13 July 1824.

4. John Scott, Cases in the Court of Common Pleas and Exchequer Chamber (1834-1840), Stavers v. Curling (1836), pub.1837.

5. Parish register transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, 1713-1948, British Library

6. Evening News Sydney 6.11.1876. There is also a description of the loss in the Sydney Morning Herald of 30.1876. No doubt his death was not announced in the press until November because his family hoped against all the odds that he would be found alive.

NEXT