23 November 2011

Nautical Ancestors

I've been lucky enough to find out about my ancestors over recent years and have found, to my delight, a couple of nautical links. Here they are.

Pill Pilots about 1880 - probably a relative here!
On my fathers side, his grandfather was John Smith Flannagan, a well know Bristol Channel pilot.  He married Sarah Jane Percival, daughter of John Percival the pilot chosen to take SS Demerara down the Avon after its launching in Bristol. The story of the fated journey makes interesting reading.  Anyway the story is that Sarah Jane objected to taking the Flannagan name so John left it off and we all subsequently became Smiths.  They came from Pill, the pilot station for the port of Bristol, but shifted to Penarth in 1883 when the Pill pilots and their famous Bristol Channel Cutters lost their stranglehold on the pilotage of Bristol due to the advent of steam powered pilot boats. Apparently the pilots of Pill were all closely related and the stories are many.  John Smith's parents both died of TB in 1869 and the younger part of the family had to be taken in by the Muller Orphanage in Bristol.  Hester, John's grandmother, is mentioned in the Muller records for her affair with another pilot while her husband was at sea.  John was old enough to survive independently.  After he married Sarah Jane and shifted across the Channel he eventually became the harbourmaster at Penarth, the port of Cardiff. His son, James Thomas, was my grandfather.

'Yankee Harry' - Charles Franklin Smith Burt

On my mothers side her grandfather was an American seaman, Charles Franklin Smith Burt, known in the family as 'Yankee Harry'. Yankee Harry was born in Northampton, Massachucetts. He was said to have fought in the American Civil War and made his way to New Orleans where he saw slaves bought and sold. He became associated with the shipping of cotton to Europe and eventually made his way to Australia on an American ship. Here his ship’s company became bankrupt and he was effectively stranded in Australia. He signed on to the Betty Parlback to sail to New Zealand and he and a Negro were said to have had the captain and first mate under lock and key when they arrived in Port Nicholson, Wellington in 1863. The captain, apparently, had been knocking the cabin boy about. They didn’t like their chances as mutineers however and swam ashore and hid in the hills above Naenae. They were searched for by the police for a while but, after the ship sailed on, he and his Negro shipmate came out of the bush and he started building houses in the Hutt Valley. He was a ships carpenter and his tool chest is still in the family.

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