Lady Jessie Richmond

by Margaret Reid

A long-standing and good friend of the James Craig, Lady Jessie Richmond died March 26th 1985. She was one of the last links with the era of sailing ships which traded across the Tasman Sea. The sixth child of Joseph James Craig, owner of the James Craig and the Jessie Craig which was named for her.

Her contribution to the Museum is largely unknown to the greater part of our membership. The museum pursues research into the background of the James Craig and the Craig Family of Ships, and it was in this context we met Lady Richmond, by correspondence, as she lived in New Zealand.

We sought from her just about everything pertaining to the Craig ships. She was so gallant, for in spite of being in her eighties and with poor eyesight she would always turn up something of value; information, documents, photographs, books and most of all, full support for the authentic restoration of the James Craig.

She loved the sea. In the 1950s she had the foresight to write to some of the then surviving masters and others who had served in her father’s ships asking to be told all they remembered of those far-off days. Their replies provide us with wonderful information. Her contribution to the maritime history of Australia and New Zealand is of inestimable historic value. We shall miss her.

The following is the transcript of a tape she wrote and produced herself for the museum. Her voice, with every syllable enunciated clearly, is light and measured:

My name is Jessie Richmond . . . and I am the eldest living descendant of my late father, Joseph James Craig, merchant and shipowner of Auckland, New Zealand, and one time owner of the James Craig and others of the Craig line.

I have been asked to remember all I can of those far off days of the sailing ships— unfortunately, although I was born in 1899, I can only pass on what others have told me. It was not until the 1950s that I felt it was time to get in touch with as many as I could of the sea captains and their wives and others who had sailed under the Craig house flag.
The Craig line sailed out of Auckland and called at various ports around the New Zealand coast and was also in the trans – Tasman intercolonial trade. Each year, my father, accompanied by my mother, visited Australia to attend to his various business affairs. In one of his last letters to me June 1916, he wrote from The Astor, Sydney – “I have travelled over 3,000 miles on the railway since I arrived here – 8 nights on the train in 11 days.”

Captain C. Chaplin wrote to me in the 1950s, and he was a Trinity House pilot. He had served in the Jesse Craig and sent me many photographs of the sailing ships. He said that in 1908 or 1909 whilst serving in the Jesse Craig, and I quote:

“There still remained on board every log book from her first voyage as Isola onward, including several years under the Danish flag as the Else, and finally after being acquired by J.J. Craig, so they must have covered forty years.

There was quite a pile of them and I recalled they were stowed in the ransom locker in the after cabin. Often on a Sunday afternoon when in some westcoast timber port, having no attractions to tempt me ashore, I used to get out some of the very early ones and read of those daily happenings. On her first voyage she was chartered to carry immigrants out to Brisbane before entering the trade for which she was built, namely, the copper-ore trade from the west coast of South America. I have never heard of such a collection remaining in a ship for so many years. They were all the more interesting, for back in those days they often contained irrelevant and domestic matters such as would never be seen today, and I recall one that solved a problem that had for some time puzzled me.

On an outward voyage off Cape Horn they weathered very heavy weather, and the log book contained the entry of the damage sustained, which included that the brass top on the forward capstan had been wrenched off and lost. Some time later, evidently when in better weather, there was another curious entry – the captain employed himself in carving a new top for the forward capstan. Poor man, must have been in need of something to do. That teak wood top was still there in my time – it had frequently puzzled me why such an eminent shipbuilder should have fitted a sturdy iron capstan with a wood top, the usual thing being a brass casting engraved with the ship’s name and date. There was my answer in an old log book.

The log of the first voyage when she had 130 passengers bound for Brisbane, was full of interest and I wish I could have kept it. I never heard what became of the Craig collection, but I suppose they were destroyed when the vessel became a hulk. The life story of a ship just lost because no one cared . . .”

I tried to find out from the Harbour Master of Tasmania in 1968 but gave up. I wrote to Mr C.A. Woods who wrote that the whereabouts of the log books and the figurehead of the Jessie Craig were unknown by the Marine Board of Hobart. Without my going into the ship’s history, it is interesting to note that in 1953 the Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand Ltd at Melbourne owned her, and in later years, the Jessie Craig was transferred to Hobart where she was employed as a hulk,and in 1953 the company handed her over to the Tasmanian Government and in 1954 the then Minister for Agriculture, the late Honourable J. Dwyer, VC, arranged to have the ship towed to New Harbour on the west coat of Tasmania where she was beached and sunk to provide a breakwater at the harbour entrance. In a matter of weeks the prevailing wind soon demolished her and left no evidence of a fine ship.

In a letter from Captain John Sinclair Stuart of Williamstown, Victoria in 1957 he wrote:

“You and I met only once, I was Second Mate in the Kathleen Hilda Captain Neagle was in charge. We were moored at Hobsons Bay Wharf, Auckland, after general overhaul. She was a fine looking ship and at the time looking her best – black with gold board outside and inboard pale green and white enamel. The spars were white, i.e. scraped and varnished, the iron bands on same printed post office red. J.J. supplied everything his officers and crew really needed, all his ships being well found and fed, and if not, it was the captain’s fault and Captain Campbell soon made a change. One afternoon Captain Neagle brought you, Alexander and sister on board, and I was detailed to entertain you three. I put up swings under the boat skids and made a merry-go-round. I pushed the capstan round while you three sat in a hammock hung between two bars. The cook, a Negro, made cakes and sweets, probably a cockroach here and there for the Kathleen Hilda was alive with them. J.J. called with his tandem pair and took you three home, tired and dirty.”

I must mention here that my eldest sister, Hazel, told me when she was taken on board in her best clothes, she always wore gloves. Captain Stuart goes on to say-

“I was in the Craig line from 1900 to 1912, the last five years as Master. In those days a boy in a good shipping line, who worked hard and studied in-between, rose fast. I was 4 1/2 years before the mast, one year as Second Mate, 1 1/2 years as Mate the 5 years Master before I joined steam.”

Captain Stuart died in 1958. It was in a post script he said to me that his parents were very poor in Auckland and he and his brother used to make extra money when they could for his big family. They collected certain leaves which they found on J.J. Craig’s property of 14 acres at Omana, Epsom, Auckland. These leaves were sold by the sackful to the chemist and the money meant a great deal to them as a family. The boys were brought to Omana House and were seen by J.J. who asked them what they were doing, and when he heard their story, gave them full permission to gather as much as they wanted and when they wanted. Captain Stuart said when he was older he again arrived at the house, and this time it was to ask for a job, which he received, and so joined the Craig line as an AB, where he remained for twelve years.

Now Captain Finlay Murchison arrived in Australia in 1906 from Scotland as an apprentice on board the barque Loch Lomand of Glasgow and ran away in Melbourne. He joined the Jessie Craig as an AB with Captain Donald Urquhart as Master. When Captain Urquhart retired he became a Sea Pilot of Melbourne. Captain Murchison wrote:

“The conditions on board the Craig vessels were excellent – the wages were Four Pounds Ten per month for an AB, quite good for 50 years ago. All the cargo was worked in and out of the vessels by the crew, the food was all that could be desired and we were living on the fat of the land.”

He also wrote that a great number of the men who served in the Craig vessels left their mark on Australian and New Zealand maritime history. Many commanded the finest ships belonging to New Zealand and Australia, also, in the business world of both countries. Captain Finlay Murchison retired from a position of Commissioner of the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales with control of all the ports in the State, and prior to that, he served as a Harbour Master of Sydney, and before that Sea Pilot for Sydney and Newcastle, for 31 years.

Captain John MacFarlane served his apprenticeship of four years in the vessels trading between London and New Zealand, but in 1899 he joined the Royal Tar. She was built of Australian hardwood on one of the northern rivers of New South Wales, probably the Bellinger River. He held the record of any Australian ship between Melbourne and Newcastle – time, four days. I am still quoting –

Now Captain MacFarlane, at the age of 26 in 1901, became Second Mate in the barque Quathlamba, late the Hazel Craig, and went from Melbourne to Lyttleton, New Zealand, and on to Auckland where there was a change of Master and he writes –

“Three days after the ship left Auckland she was dismasted. We lost the fore top mast and the main topgallant mast. This happened on my watch below and in daylight. All hands were called, and when we got on deck I found the crew headed by the Master and the Mate, using axes and hammers cutting away at the wreck. The Mate was an old man and much more of a steamship than a sailing ship man. The Master was a young man in his first command, and they both seemed to lose their heads.

I called the Master aside and pointed out to him that I understood J.J. Craig insured his vessels in his own office and that there was no benefit in cutting away good standing rigging as the wreckage was on deck and we could save all the rigging possible, so he told me to go ahead and do it my way. It blew hard for several days but eventually we got all the wreckage clear and the ship under jury rig and arrived back in Auckland in about 12 days.

Captain Campbell came on board and I understood the first question he asked the Mate was- “Did you save the rigging?” The Master, being an honest man, told the Captain that thanks to the Second Mate that most of the rigging was saved. Then Captain Campbell asked him if he thought the Second Mate could re-rig the ship, and was told that no doubt the Second Mate could if he would – if he liked. So I was called to the cabin for my first meeting with the Marine Superintendent. He asked me if I would re-rig the ship, so I told him it was the Mate’s job and not Second Mate’s. Captain Campbell told me that the Mate would be appointed but not for a week, or more, anyway. We finally agreed that I would do the job and that no one was to interfere except Captain Campbell himself.”

After Captain MacFarlane passed his Second Mate’s certificate he was anxious to become a first-class sailor and so went to a rigging loft in Glasgow for eighteen months and rigged many ships. Captain MacFarlane wrote of the Master’s accommodation in the Marjorie Craig and said:

“There was a large bedroom, 16′ x 12′, and double-bed, a private bathroom, and a sitting room, 20′ by 16′. There was a tiled fireplace and it was all most comfortable. There was ample room to carry a wife and family, but I was a single man the, while in J.J. Craig’s employ. The Marjorie had a Scandinavian goddess as a figurehead – I think it was `Thea’.”

For 4 1/2 years Captain Macfarlane was Master and then joined the Jessie Craig, then the SS Ihumata which was owned by J.J. Craig and R.S. Lamb of Sydney.

In 1981, I was honoured to represent the Craig family on the important occasion when a gala welcome was given to the James Craig on the Sydney harbour. My husband and I flew from New Zealand to be with you all. The James Craig was named after my eldest brother and sailed under the Craig flag for 11 years from 1900, carrying out a trading pattern between New Zealand and Australia, exporting timber and bringing back coal, wheat, hardwoods for railway sleepers, etc., etc. My father named certain ships after members of his family and the Clan Macleod became the James Craig in1905, when her white hull was painted in gunport style in conformity with the rest of the fleet. In 1911, she left New Zealand for Sydney where she was sold.

My mother, who as the daughter of Captain Alexander Campbell, remembered being on board his ship with her mother at Timaru in May 1882 when a storm blew up on a lee shore. My mother, who was then about fourteen, and others, were put ashore when the weather threatened, and Captain Campbell took his ship to sea and survived the gale. Two other ships, the Ben Venue and City of Perth were driven ashore with some loss of life. So you see, I have inherited the love of the sea from both sides of my parents, and I also had the temerity to marry a sailor. Captain Campbell took over the Clan Macleod in 1900, as he assumed command of each ship as they were added to the fleet.

I shall now mention a few men who served under the Craig house flag, as well as those I have mentioned. The late, and Very Reverend Donald Muir MacDiarmid, MBE, born in 1886 in New South Wales. He served four years in the mercantile marine, 18 as a missionary and finally, from 1954-55, he became the Moderator of the General Assembly Church of New Zealand, and, it is also interesting to note that Sir Muirhead Bone, the famous wartime artist, served before the mast.

Then there was Lt Commander William Edwards Sanders, VC, DSO, RNR, born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1883. He joined the Craig line in 1906 and served in the Marjorie, the Louisa and Joseph Craig. Incidentally, the Louisa and the Joseph were named after my paternal grandparents. Sanders was awarded the VC on 30th April, 1917 while he was in command of HMS Prize a three- masted topsail schooner. She was one of the famous “Q” Ships of World War 1. Sadly lost his life at sea in August 1917.

It is wonderful to know that the James Craig is to be returned to full glory. This is due to the foresight and devoted work of many enthusiastic lovers of the sea and the ships. So far the various committees have had a difficult task of raising vast sums of money, and of keeping up the enthusiasm for the project. In this they have been manifestly successful as the events show.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing to life again this ship, and may she give great satisfaction to young and old as she graces the Waterfront Museum, or elsewhere, for years to come, a reminder of the pioneering and difficult days borne by our forefathers and their wives who sometimes accompanied them on voyages across the Tasman.

I will close now with the hope that I have recalled something of those days and as Mansfield puts it –

“Long since when all the docks were filled with that sea beauty, man ceased to build.”