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Chapter 1

Pinkham & Co.

James Pinkham was born on the 6th May 1857 in the small Devon village of Stokeinteignhead. Even today this is a small village in a picturesque dell, about one mile south of the estuary of the Teign and half a mile from the seacoast.James was the youngest son of William and Mary Ann. He had four brothers and three sisters and was born into a very nautical family, at least the three previous generations being recorded as mariners. So it was not just being brought up close to the sea that made him yearn for a life on the waves.

James’s father, Captain William Pinkham, was born on the 5th September 1816 in Stokeinteignhead, the son of Thomas, a Mariner from Denbury. William first went to sea in 1833 and is listed as being a Master in 1845, the first time a central registration of officers was introduced.At this time each British seaman leaving the United Kingdom had to have a Register Ticket.In the registers William is described as being 5’8” tall with a florid complexion and hazel eyes.

As well as being a Master Mariner, William owned, or had controlling shares in several schooners and brigantines based in Teignmouth. William and Members of the family were masters of some of the company’s vessels and the crews were often recruited locally. The Pinkham fleet was engaged in ocean trade to South America and the Mediterranean. Much was demanded from their ships and crews. Mansfield’s Strand Shipyard of Teignmouth managed to meet William’s exacting requirements. This shipyard built at least four of William’s ships including the “Polly Pinkham” and the “Kitty Pinkham”. When a Lloyd’s surveyor dared to give ‘Kitty Pinkham’ classification for eight years rather than nine, William Pinkham wrote indignantly to Lloyd’s committee in London stating

‘I have myself inspected this vessel….and with confidence say that a more faithful vessel cannot be built’!

The “Polly Pinkham” and “Kitty Pinkham” were built for William in 1867. From 1825 the ownership of vessels had to be held in sixty-fourth shares. William and a merchant from Newton Abbott, called Joseph Soper, owned thirty-two shares each in “Polly Pinkham”. William had twenty-eight shares in “Kitty Pinkham” with his brother, John Butcher Pinkham holding twenty shares, the remaining sixteen going to James King, a merchant from Plymouth. No doubt these vessels were built to replace the “Pink” which was lost entering the harbour of St John, Newfoundland in October 1866. William’s brother, James senior, had owned part shares in the Brigantine “Keturah” since she was built in 1855, the major shareholder being Joseph Soper. In 1866 the Pinkhams bought out Joseph Soper’s interests and James senior became half owner with another brother Cyprian.

The brigantines “Amy” and “Eshcol” were owned by the Pinkham Company from the time they were built; the “Amy” being built in 1868 and the “Eshcol” in 1870. However, until about 1875 Joseph Soper had the major shareholding in the “Eshcol”. Between 1875 and 1879 William moved from Stokeinteighnhead to Newton Abbot. At this time James Pinkham senior and John Butcher Pinkham took a majority stake in the newly built “Eldra”.

The life of the “Kitty Pinkham” was short. In 1868, on the way from Cardiff to Palarmo with a cargo of coal, she was run down and sunk off Tarifa by the frigate “Bird” of Bergen. Although no lives were lost in this incident, life at sea was extremely dangerous with several family members being taken by the deep, including James’s brother, Captain John Waymouth Pinkham who drowned at the age of 33 in 1880 and his cousin, Edwin, who died at the tragically young age of 20 in 1875.

"Wreck of the Polly Pink'un Annestown Feb 12th 1881"
A contemporary watercolour, artist unknown, courtesy of John Galloway

In 1881 the “Polly Pinkham” was lost off Annestown, county Tipperary, on the way from Rio Grande. Until 1880 the masters of “Polly Pinkham” included John Waymouth Pinkham and young James’s uncle, George Pinkham. However, Edward Bennett now commanded the boat. He and the mate managed to swim ashore. The remaining five crew members, none of them Pinkhams, lost their lives. The subsequent enquiry found the captain negligent in allowing the vessel to be driven ashore. William had given Captain Bennett a glowing reference, which the enquiry took into account when passing quite a lenient sentence by suspending his master’s certificate for only six months.

Around 1886 it appears that William retired. The ownership of the “Amy” was transferred to William Phillips and the “Eshcol” was taken over by John Butcher Pinkham. In November of that year, the “Eshcol” was wrecked at Port Michean in Nova Scotia.

William retired at about the right time, as this was the end of the age of the merchant sailing ship. Steam ships now dominated the merchant trade. He died at 2 Milber View, Newton Abbott on the 30th January 1897 at the age of 80.

In April 1871, at the age of fourteen, young James began his apprenticeship on board the “Eshcol”, the master being his uncle George. He served the four years of his apprenticeship and spent a further year on board before applying for his examination as Mate, which he passed in Plymouth on the 30th August 1876. His first voyage as mate was on board the “Amy”, which sailed a month later. He continued serving as mate on board the “Amy” for the next two and a half years by which time he had gained enough experience to take his master's examination in Plymouth on the 10th July 1879.

James’s first voyage as Master saw him return to the “Eshcol” which he captained for the next three years. The “Eshcol” was the last boat from the Pinkham fleet on which James sailed. He may have seen the decline in the business opportunities for small sailing vessels and felt that the way of the future was on board the larger steam ships. He therefore sought the employ of the Angier Line together with his cousins Richard and Charles. James remained with the Angier Line as master of the “Angers”, “Anjer Head”, “Tangier”, “Progressist” and the “Federation” for eighteen years, his last voyage being in June 1900.

Just before a trip to South America on board the “Eshcol”, James married Jessie Salter in Croydon on the 29th June 1880. Jessie was born in Exeter on the 15th October 1859. Over the next 16 years they were to have seven children. However the marriage was clearly not a happy one and Jessie petitioned for a judicial separation in 1903. At that time divorce was still quite unusual with approximately 800 divorces completed that year, despite being legalised in 1857. It was even more unusual for a wife to divorce her husband and an exceptional case had to be proved. In her petition Jessie cited adultery and cruelty by the transmission of a venereal disease in 1900, about the time when James left the Angier line. However no proof of this was presented to the courts and no co-respondents were named. It appears that the case was struck out of the list of causes for hearing in 1905. No record of the decree absolute has been found.

Although no third parties were named in Jessie's petition it seems very likely that James was having an affair with a very pretty young lady called Florence Lilian Elliot Elliott, known as Lilian. She was born Florence Lilian Elliot Badcock in St Thomas, Exeter, in 1881 but at some point the family took the mother's maiden name of Elliott. Florence gave birth to their only son, James, my grandfather, on the 29th January 1906 on the Channel Island of Jersey. Captain James did not sail at all from the end of 1900 until September 1908. He must have accumulated reasonable wealth from his earlier voyages as he is noted as being of independent means on his son’s birth certificate.

On the 6th September 1908 Captain James took to sea again this time for the Norfolk and North American Steam Shipping Company as mate on board the “West Point”, a schooner rigged steam ship, on a voyage to the West Indies.

On returning, he took over as master and made several trips to United States. He longed to be with Lilian and his young son and would send postcards to them both on arrival in America, arranging to meet in Liverpool on his return. However, a voyage of the “West Point” commencing in August 1910 did not go according to plan and proved to be quite eventful.

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