Orphaned at 12, John Charles Robinson went at 15 as a midshipman on one of the great passenger and cargo sailing ships to Australia. At 16 he narrowly excaped drowning in Sydney Harbour. He rose to be one of the best known and most popular commanders - toasted by royalty! - On the Union-Castle Line, whose mail and passenger steamships ran regularly as clockwork between England and South Africa. His fervent Christianity, prompted by a dramatic shipwreck as a young officer, earned him the nicknames of “JC” and “Holy Joe”.
In his 70s, just after the First World war, he wrote his memoirs that have now been published for the first time. He recalls a kaleidoscope of events on sea and land, personalities of the day - Gladstone, Rhodes, Currie and African, Danish and English Royalty - and his Boer War experiences, including the celebrated episode of the Hymn-singing PoWs. He enjoyed mingling with the great and humble and his genial disposition and sense of humour shine through all.
The book “To The Sea In Ships” is published in 2013 by Royd House
Captain Robinson became something of a legend in the Company. He was one of the old Currie Line sailing ship masters, he commanded the finest of them all, the "Carnarvon Castle". With Donald Curry entering the Cape Mail race he turned to steam and in 1895 Captain Robinson was commanding the "Tantallon Castle", one of Currie's bench mark mail ships.
A staunch Christian Captain Robinson (Marischal Murray) was known as 'Holy Joe', however I heard his nick name was, like another later but very similar master with the same initials of J.C., very much more direct. He always gave new officers a bible, calling it 'The Book of Rules'.
In 1900 with the amalgamation of the Union and Castle lines it was J.C. Robinson who created the familiar house flag from those of the Union and Castle lines.
In 1900 Captain Robinson was in command of the "Kildonan Castle" when given the potentially difficult task of holding Boer prisoners of war at Simonstown.
Captain Robison had not earned the respect and friendship of Donald Currie, his passengers and crew for nothing.
The Boers were treated with respect and kindness, they returned the compliment and what could have been a disastrous situation was instead as pleasant a time as the situation allowed.
Captain Robinson's last command was the "Armadale Castle" before coming ashore as the Company's Marine Superintendent in London. He died in 1925.