2.6. THOMAS REED STAVERS (1798-1867)


    Thomas (Tom) Reed Stavers is by far the best documented of the Stavers captains on account of the journal of his life that he left, giving an exceptionally graphic picture of the hardships and perils of whaling in the 19th century, so I will not dwell on his career in too much detail.1

    To summarise, at the age of 12 or 13, his father took him from school put him aboard a cargo ship going to the Davis Strait (in the North Atlantic) as a ship’s boy, undertaking various menial tasks.  On this trip he saw the first of the many deaths at sea when he witnessed when another boy with whom he had become friendly go overboard.  In 1812, when not yet 14, he joined the Mary Ann, a South Sea whaler, as an apprentice seaman. This was his first trip to the south Pacific. His next voyage was to the north Atlantic whaling ground. He gradually worked his way up via a number of vessels, including the Perseverance, commanded by his father, and was witness to his father’s death when the whale which his father was trying to harpoon destroyed the boat in which he was.

    In 1824, at the age of 26, Tom became the Captain of the Tuscan, after his elder brother Francis, its previous Captain, decided he did not wish to take her on another voyage. Over the next twelve years, he took the Tuscan on a total of four Pacific whaling trips, each lasting up to three years with gaps of four or five months in between each one.

    His first trip as a young captain started horrendously. The ship suffered a major leak and he put into the port of Santa (probably Santa Marta) in Colombia, where he contrived to lose the ship’s papers, as a result of which the Tuscan was plundered and detained by the Colombians, even though they had previously seen and approved the papers. Fortunately a British man of war turned up and the Tuscan was able to escape.

    Generally, however, he was successful in bringing back good amounts of whale oil; and he was probably the most adventurous of the brothers when it came to exploring the Pacific and appeared to enjoy that aspect. Unlike his brothers, who would set out either eastward or westward to reach the Pacific and then come back the same way, his two last voyages circumnavigated the globe. On his last voyage with Tuscan (1833-36), the ship’s surgeon, Frederick Debell Bennett, had a passion for flora and fauna – and for native customs – and he wrote a book describing the voyage in some detail.2 This was a relatively trouble-free voyage during which, Debell noted, not a single person on board was lost to accident or disease.

    Shortly after his return, Tom and his brother Francis bought a half-share in a brig called the Onyx, and in 1837 Tom took her on what was to be his last whaling voyage. It was not a happy one. The Onyx was not really suited to whaling and the crew were troublesome. When he returned, he was able to sell the cargo at a good price, but decided on an end to his whaling career and determined to move to Java, from which he had heard good things from his eldest brother William. The Onyx was sold and he and his wife set sail in 1839, leaving their children at a boarding school (they joined their parents in 1845).

    Tom undertook a number of enterprises in Java, from shipbuilding to running a sugar mill, some more successful than others. But he began to go blind and in 1864 he returned to England, where he died three years later.

    Tom married Frances (Fanny) McNeill, the sister of the wives of his brothers Francis and Peter, and they had five children. Two died young, but the three remaining daughters married Dutchmen that they met in Java and have a number of descendants in the Netherlands.


Ships commanded by Thomas Reed Stavers

Tuscan (built 1808 for the French, prize ship) 1824-36

Onyx (barque 243 tons built 1822) 1837-39

Van der Cappellen (steamship, Surabaya to Jakarta) 1840

City of Glasgow (steamship, London to Jakarta) 1855




1. http://whalesite.org/anthology/trstaversjournal.htm

2. Frederick Debell Bennett,  Narrative of a Whaling Voyage Round the Globe from the Year 1833 to 1836, 1840. At https://books.google.co.uk/