EMAIL 21st November 2008
Is it possible to find out anything about a great-uncle of mine, Frederick Smith, who worked as a steward and bartender on Union-Castle ships for part of his career? I believe he had retired by 1918. He was born in Southampton in 1857 and died there in 1927.
Many thanks for any help you can provide.
EMAIL 15th December 2008
Thanks very much for your reply, and for offering to put my great-uncle’s name on your web site. As you say, it’s a long shot, but one never knows.
Unfortunately I have no original documents related to his sea-going career. On his death in 1927 he left his estate to my father (his nephew) and my aunts. In going over the correspondence from the Southampton solicitors I learned he had been a steward/bartender on the Union Castle line. Which line he worked for before the merger is unknown to me. They mentioned that he had been a great story-teller about his life on the liners but gave no details (other than that he was a friend of Barney Barnato, the South African diamond and gold king, who allegedly jumped overboard from the liner Scot while returning to England in 1897).
Unfortunately I do not know the names of the ships on which he served, so hunting through the Crew Lists would be an enormous job. I was working in the Southampton City archives some months ago but did not check any Union/Castle lists for that reason. The people there, particularly Joanne Smith, were very helpful and let me look through the Central Index Registry of Merchant Seamen. Frederick Smith was not there, so I assume he had retired by 1918 when the registry began. I could find no obituary in the 1927 Southampton newspapers in the city library, but my search was very hurried.
I have been wondering if he belonged to a seaman’s union which might have published some kind of obituary in a bulletin or magazine issued to members. Was there such a publication for merchant mariners in the catering service? I imagine there’s not much hope of locating his personal file in the Union/Castle records, wherever they are kept, but if you have any tips I can follow up I’d be greatly obliged to you.
I might mention that in the past I have consulted the Crew Lists now kept in the Memorial University’s Maritime History Archives (in St. John’s, Nfld, by the way, not in Halifax, N.S.). They are immensely helpful although of course incomplete. I was pursuing the maritime career of my grandfather George F. Smith (brother of Frederick) who was also from Southampton. He went from apprentice to master in sailing ships of the old John Ransom company, and later sailed out of Greenock, Scotland before setting down in St. John’s, Newfoundland. There he married and captained his own brigantine, in which he was lost returning from Italy in 1892. Thanks to the Crew Lists in Southampton City archives, others at Memorial, and a few in Greenwich, I now have a nearly complete story of his career in the merchant marine from 1872 to 1892. Incidentally, if anyone or any organization in Britain is interested, I’d be glad to write a brief summary of the career of this Southampton native.
Many thanks for your help. Sincerely,
EMAIL 17th December 2008
Thanks for the quick reply.
Good idea, about the Scot. If I ever get back to Southampton I’ll check the Crew Lists.That looks like the only possible point of entry right now.
Do you have any thoughts on the question I asked earlier: Is there any seamen’s union or company magazine that might contain an obituary of Frederick Smith ca. 1927?