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The Loss Of The Perseverance


Perseverance was a three masted barque under the command of my Great x 4 Granduncle James Marshall, which was lost - with all hands - in the Arctic around 1901. As a ship's master myself for thirty years, the more that I read the various reports and in particular the details of the ship revealed in the Inquiry the more puzzled I am as to why James Marshall accepted the command of the vessel.

The following are various newspaper reports and extracts from the Board of Trade Inquiry concerning the loss. These were very kindly researched by Alison Kennedy of Aberdeen.

Richard Collinson

The Buchan Observer, Tuesday, November 4, 1902



9 Peterhead Men Lost

The Dundee whaler Eclipse, which passed Peterhead on Saturday evening, and arrived at Dundee on Sunday morning from the Greenland fishing, brings news of terrible disaster in the Arctic seas; of the whaler Perseverance, formerly belonging to Peterhead, having been lost in Cumberland Gulf with all hands, and of the wreck of the whaler Nova Zembla of Dundee, the crew, of which, however, are reported safe, several of them being brought home with the Eclipse. Captain Milne, of the Eclipse, reported the disasters on passing Peterhead on Saturday evening. No details were given of the loss of the Perseverance, save that the disaster occurred in Cumberland Gulf in the end of the autumn of last year. The Perseverance, at one time a whaler belonging to Peterhead, but latterly owned in London, was chartered last year by Mr Charles White, Aberdeen, for the salmon fishing in the fiords of Cumberland Gulf, an enterprise in which Mr White had met with considerable success in the ketch Theodora, now owned in Peterhead.

Mr White, on this ill-fated voyage, was accompanied by three of his sons and by an English gentleman named Scott. The vessel was fitted out in London in July of last year. The Perseverance, which was a barque of 250 tons, was under the command of Captain James Marshall, belonging to Peterhead, while another Peterhead man, John Watson, was engaged as mate. When the vessel left London, the other members of the crew consisted of Englishmen, but on the passage north a disagreement took place, and when the vessel put into Peterhead Bay, the whole of the crew, with the exception of the master and the mate, deserted. Considerable difficulty was experienced in finding another crew, but after about a fortnight's detention, other seven Peterhead seamen were secured to take the place of those who had deserted. The vessel finally left Peterhead on 7th August of last year with the intention of returning in the autumn. The vessel had a protracted voyage of two months going out, and when the brig Alert of Peterhead returned last autumn after considerable difficulty in getting through the ice, the Perseverance was still up the gulf, and it was thought there was little hope of her being able to force her way through, seeing that she was but a sailing vessel. Her non-return last autumn for a time occasioned no concern, as it was hoped the vessel had wintered, and that though the crew must necessarily have been short of provisions, they might have been able to get supplies, from one or other of Messrs Noble's stations. However, as time went on and there was no appearance of the return of the missing voyagers, considerable anxiety has been manifested, though until Saturday all hope of their return had not been given up. The news of the disaster which had befallen the crew created the greatest consternation in Peterhead.


Mr Charles White, the charterer of the vessel was a son the late Mr James White, butcher to the Queen, Aberdeen, and brother of Mr James White, flesher, New Market, and of The Glen, Dyce. After receiving his elementary education, Mr White attended Aberdeen University with the view of becoming a medical man. The sea had an attraction for him, and he sailed on board whalers to the northern seas as ship's doctor. His experience of those northern latitudes led him into trade, and he found scope for himself in the catching and preserving of salmon in the rivers which flow into Cumberland Straits. As is well known, the rivers there are teeming with salmon, which are speared as they swim about the water, being often so thickly packed that the clear sand in the pools can scarcely be seen for fish. Mr White joined the vessel from Aberdeen when she was on what has proved her last voyage to northern regions. Mr White, who would be about 55 years of age, is survived by his widow, who is resident in the south of England.

Three sons of Mr Whyte (sic). The eldest, Charles, was second mate, and the other two were named Allan and Duncan.

An Englishman named Scott, a friend of Mr White, went out on a pleasure expedition, mainly for photography. He was about 30 years of age, and unmarried.

James Marshall, shipmaster, Marischal Street, Peterhead, who was over 60 years of age, leaves a widow living in Peterhead, and one son who is in Brazil. Captain Marshall was engaged in the whaling industry practically all his life, and has had many exciting adventures in the Arctic regions. He was at one time master of the Peterhead whaler Germania, and was shipwrecked in Cumberland Gulf twelve years ago.

John Watson, first mate, son of the late David Watson, tailor, Peterhead. He was considered a most careful and experienced seaman. He was master of the Alert for two years, and was three years in the whaler Chieftain of Dundee, which was lost about twenty years ago. For several years he served under Captain Adams, Dundee, of whaling fame. Deceased latterly resided in Dundee, and leaves a widow and grown-up family.

Thomas Mitchell, cook, is son of Thomas Mitchell, formerly foreman of Peterhead Bone Mill. He leaves a widow, but no family.

James Alexander, A.B., cousin of David Alexander, tobacconist, Peterhead, leaves a wife and child.

John Gibson, Thistle Street, Peterhead, son of the late John Gibson, seaman, leaves a wife and four of a family.

Alexander Cruden, Seagate, Peterhead, was a young man of 21 years, and unmarried.

Thomas Keith, son of William Keith, crofter, St Fergus, was unmarried.

Robert Grieve, unmarried, also hails from St Fergus, where his father is a crofter.

D. MacWilliam, son of Peter Macwilliam (sic), Peterhead, unmarried.


The Perseverance was built in Sunderland about sixty years ago, and was purchased by Captain Brown, late of Howe o'Buchan, Peterhead, for the Greenland fishing. Subsequently she was bought by Mr John Ewen, Peterhead, for the cryolite trade, which was carried on very successfully for a time, Captain Simpson, the present Harbourmaster, being master of the vessel for six years. She next fell into the hands of the Hudson Bay Company, who employed her principally for taking out provisions to stations at Cumberland Gulf. Latterly she was owned by a London company, of which it was understood Mr White was partner, to prosecute salmon fishing at Cumberland Gulf. The unfortunate craft had a rather protracted voyage going out, which she could ill afford, as she had only six months' provisions. Under ordinary circumstances the Perseverance should have returned in November last.


Mr David Watson, Maiden Street, Peterhead, brother of the first mate, has had some remarkable experiences in the Arctic regions, being for three years in Hudson Straits. He states that he considered it was rather fool-hardy to venture up Cumberland Gulf at so late a period of the year, and advised his brother to remain at home. The vessel should have been leaving the gulf at the time she left Peterhead for the outward voyage. He was almost certain that the vessel would get nipped in the ice, and all along he feared that the crew were doomed, as they had only provisions for six months. The supplies, he thinks, were far too scanty, and he fears the crew had perished of hunger, and no doubt had had a hard struggle. Not one survived, however, to tell the awful tale.

Much sympathy is being expressed for the wives and families who have been deprived of their breadwinners, and many of whom are not in the best of circumstances.


The Buchan Observer, Tuesday, March 8, 1903

The Missing Whaler
Board of Trade Inquiry

We are indebted to Mr Toohey, Superintendent of Customs, Peterhead, for a report of a preliminary inquiry into the supposed loss of the British sailing ship Perseverance, of the port of London, which was held by the Local Marine Board, consisting of Messrs Howard Smith and A. Wood, in the Caxton Hall, Victoria Street, London, on 23rd and 24th January, 1903, Mr George C. Vaux appearing for the Board of Trade. The more important details of the report are as follows:

The Perseverance was built of wood in Sunderland in 1852. She was rigged as a barque, and her registered tonnage was 163.53 tons. At the time of her loss she was the property of the British Columbian Steamship Trading & Agency Company, Limited, Mr Edmund Wm. Dawson, of 9 and 10 Pancras Lane, London, being her registered managing owner. The Perseverance left Burnham-on-Crouch on 15th July, 1901, and arrived at Peterhead on the 28th of the same month, left that port on the 8th August with a crew of 14 hands all told, and arrived off Blacklead Island in the Cumberland Gulf on 2nd Oct. She started on her return voyage to the United Kingdom on 22nd October, since which date she has not been heard of, and there is no doubt that she has been lost, with all hands.

The Perseverance was originally used as a whaler, and was double planked to protect her from ice. In June, 1891, she was purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company, by whom she was employed to carry stores to their stations within the Arctic circle, and to bring back valuable cargoes, principally consisting of furs. The vessels belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, are, we are informed, overhauled yearly, and in accordance with that practice the Perseverance was put into dry dock in the spring of 1901, when she was overhauled by Mr John Edmonds, shipwright, manager to the Glengall Ironworks Company, Millwall. Mr Edmonds came to the conclusion that the vessel was not fit for the work of the Hudson's Bay Company, and was not worth repairing. When she left the dry dock he did not consider her sea-worthy for a voyage to Cumberland Gulf. On 29th March, 1901, Captain Inglis, Marine Superintendent of the Hudson's Bay Company, reported in similar terms, and advised the chartering of another vessel.

In accordance with this advice the Perseverance was sold to Mr Morgan Richards, Shipbroker, for the sum of £220. Mr J.J. Neil, another Shipbroker, who was aware that Mr Edmond Dawson was contemplating, in conjunction with Mr Chas. White, an expedition to Cumberland Gulf, thought that the Perseverance would be a suitable vessel for the expedition, and he therefore bought her from Mr Morgan Richards for the sum of £250, and sold her to Mr Dawson for the sum of £260 on 22nd June, 1901. Mr Dawson was then a member of the Salmon Fisheries Syndicate. In December, 1897, a company under the name of the British Columbian Steamship Trading and Agency Company, Ltd., had been duly registered with a capital of £7, which capital was increased in 1901 to £2000, for the purpose of taking over the Salmon Fisheries Syndicate. To this company Mr Dawson ultimately sold the Perseverance for the sum of £300, the bill of sale bearing date 12th December, 1901, Mr Dawson being the registered managing owner. Before the Perseverance left the dock, the required repairs were effected to the satisfaction of Mr Penny, who stated that from the manner in which the bolts held, he was satisfied that there was no weakness in the timbers, and he also told us that, in his opinion, the vessel was then in a sea-worthy condition.

A crew consisting of 14 hands all told was shipped in London under yacht articles, which contained, among other terms, "that the crew and officers were to work on board and on shore, as desired by Mr Charles White, in fishing, shooting, traveling, and other duties he might require of them." The crew consisted of Charles White, in charge of the expedition; James Marshall, master; John Watson, mate; Charles White, second mate; Duncan White, and Allan White, no rating, all sons of Charles White. There were, in addition, four able seamen, two ordinary seamen, and a cook, most, if not all of them natives of Peterhead. The Perseverance, which was insured on a voyage policy for £1000, at a premium of £10 10s per cent., was towed to Burnham-on-Crouch, in Essex, which port she left on 4th July, 1901, in ballast, and carrying 500 empty casks. She experienced head winds and did not arrive at Peterhead until the 28th of the same month.

There six of the Peterhead men left the ship and refused to proceed in her. They complained to the Superintendent of Mercantile Marine at that port of their advance notes had not been forwarded to their wives, and asked him whether they were obliged to remain with the ship. On the articles being produced, they were found to be irregular, and the men did not return to the vessel. Robert Milne, one of these men, was examined before us, and he complained that during the voyage to Peterhead the vessel was making too much water, but we must observe that he did not allege this fact to the Superintendent as a cause for his desire to quit the ship. His real reasons for so doing, he ultimately stated to us, were the lateness of the season and his apprehension of being compelled to pass the winter in the Arctic regions on board a vessel, as he alleged, insufficiently provided with provisions. Six other men were shipped, under ordinary articles, in the place of those who had left the ship. Their names are: Peter McWilliams, James Alexander, Robert Greiver, Thomas Keith, Thomas Mitchell, all A.B's; and Alex. Cruden, O.S.

No further stores or provisions were taken in at Peterhead, which port the Perseverance left on 8th August, and after a long voyage arrived in Niatilik Harbour, Cumberland Gulf, on the 2nd October, from which place Mr White wrote the following letter to Mr Dawson:

"5th October, 1901

We dropped anchor here on the night of the 2nd inst - just eight weeks after leaving Peterhead. It has been an exceedingly trying voyage. Hardly a fair wind was experienced, and dead calms were frequent. All are agreed that it has been a record voyage for ill luck. From the middle of September we were hardly ever free from ice, and often had to lose much ground by turning off to avoid it. All this meant much additional delay. Bergs were very numerous in Davis Strait.

A strong wind was blowing down the Gulf as we neared it, and making the mouth of it was a very slow matter. At the finish a light S.E. breeze came along, and we came in here comfortably. We are only here for fresh water and to arrange for the natives I require for working purposes. I shall take the first opportunity allowed by the state of the wind in getting over to the other side. I am afraid from what I am told by the natives that nearly all the salmon have gone up to the lakes. In that case our cargo will be a light one. The land being almost entirely covered with snow, prospecting is a difficult matter. Mr Scott and Charles have been ashore here and secured specimens of mica, etc. As the ice will shortly begin to form, we can stay but a very short time. We should arrive home about the end of November. Of course if we get shut in by ice here we shall have to winter, but you may rely upon my using every effort to get out. If unable to start homeward until the summer, the only consolation will be that we shall have a splendid cargo. I have two of the best natives come to see me from Blacklead, and am about to sound them on the concession business. The shortness of time available is likely to make this a difficult thing to negotiate.

The Brig "Alert" (the only vessel here this year) will be leaving for home before us, and is taking this letter."

And on the 6th of October, Mr Marshall wrote the following letter to his wife:

I do not know if we will be home this fall, as the ice is making fast, and we have to go 18 miles further up to take in fresh water and ballast, and that will take us a fortnight, but the ice makes in one night. I will not risk if there is ice at the mouth of the Gulf. I will examine it before leaving. If we are not home don't be alarmed, as we will not have left. I rather fear we will not get home this year, as it was understood before we sailed that the ship was to winter out at the Gulf, and as we had not secured anything, it would be very useless for us to come home instead of wintering

These letters were brought home by the store carrier "Alert" which left Cumberland Bay on 11th October.

Mr Joseph Mitchell, mate of the whaling steamer "Balaena" of Dundee, who was then mate of the "Alert," the Rev. Edmund J. Peck, Clerk in Holy Orders, formerly acting as a missionary at Blacklead Island, and Mr James Shepherd Mutch, whaling station agent at the same place, gave evidence before us as to the arrival and stay of the "Perseverance" off Blacklead Island in the Cumberland Gulf, from which we find that, owing to the lateness of the season, and to the conditions of the ice, the voyage to the westward, in pursuit of salmon, was abandoned and Mr White determined to return home. As the vessel had been rather light on the outward voyage, about two hundred of the empty barrels were landed and additional stone ballast was shipped by natives, whose labour was requited with bread from the ship. Mr White obtained from Mr Mutch one cwt. of beef, 20lbs of sugar, and 20lbs of tobacco from the store, and on being requested to pay for the same in bread, stated to Mr Mutch that he was unable to do so as he had only sufficient bread for the return voyage to the United Kingdom.

We were told that there was some friction between Mr White and Mr Marshall, but we were unable to ascertain the cause of it. The Perseverance left Blacklead Island and proceeded to sea on the 22nd October, 1901, and as far as we were able to ascertain, she was then properly ballasted. Since that date she has not been seen or heard of. All the witnesses who had experience of the Arctic regions stated that, having regard to the ice, a sailing vessel leaving Blacklead Island so late in the year would encounter great difficulty in reaching the open sea. It does not appear that a stay during the winter at Blacklead Island was ever contemplated, and Mr Peck stated that it would have been difficult to procure sufficient food for the crew if they had stayed.

The report continues:

We do not find that the Perseverance was unseaworthy for her intended voyage as regards her hull and equipment; although the evidence induces us to believe that the vessel was making too much water. In this connection we cannot forget the fact that she was reported to be leaking on her last voyage before she was sold to Mr Richards, and the statements contained in the letter of Mr Inglis to the Hudson's Bay Company, but these statements, we believe, were founded on the report of Mr Edmunds, who was, in our judgment, unable to form an opinion as to the extent and nature of the leak without more thorough examination than he subjected the vessel to, and as to her general seaworthiness, we do not think he could form a definitely trustworthy opinion without having caused her to be opened out. On the other hand we are impressed by the fact that the vessel did not make very much water on her voyage to Peterhead, for if she had done so, the crew would assuredly have alleged this fact to the Superintendent there, as a reason for leaving the vessel, and after a voyage in her for a period exceeding three weeks, it is not probable that Mr Marshall, a man of very great experience, would have consented to have taken her further, or that Mr White, another gentleman of nautical experiences, would have gone in her and have allowed his three sons to accompany him if they had found her unseaworthy. We are of opinion that the "Perseverance" was properly manned, equipped, and provided with life-saving apparatus required by the statute, and we find that she was commanded by a master of great competency and experience in navigating the Arctic seas. In our judges, however, the vessel when purchased by Mr Dawson should have been placed in dry dock, and her condition definitely ascertained. We do not forget that after the repairs recommended by Mr Penny had been effected, that gentleman raised no further objection to her proceeding to sea. This negative action, however, on his part by no means guaranteed her seaworthiness, for, as we have already pointed out, his duty was confined to pointing out such defects as were apparent to him, which duty her performed, and unless unseaworthiness was apparent, he could not be expected to interfere. Having very carefully considered the facts that have been proved, and the proper inferences to be drawn from them, we have come to the conclusion that we ought to find that, as regards her hull and equipment, the "Perseverance" was seaworthy for a voyage to the Arctic regions. Having regard to the probable duration of that voyage, and considering the late date of her departure from Peterhead, and in consequence the possibility and even probability of her detention in the Arctic Seas until the next summer by reason of ice, we are of opinion that the "Perseverance" had not sufficient provisions on board.

The report concludes:

It is impossible for us to assign a definite cause for the loss of this vessel. We must, however, call attention to the fact that all the witnesses who have had experience of navigation in high northern latitudes stated that in their judgment the 22nd of October was too late for a sailing vessel to leave the Cumberland Gulf with a fair prospect of getting clear of the ice, and this, on the evidence, we find: Whether the "Perseverance" was frozen in we are of course unable to decide; but if she was, we find that, with only about enough food to last the crew during an ordinary voyage to the United Kingdom, and here we must state that as far as we could ascertain she had been provided with only two cases of lime juice, there was but little prospect of her crew being able to survive until the following summer, unless they were able to obtain some animal food on the ice, which we were told by the experienced witnesses was very improbable.

The Buchan Observer, Tuesday, May 12, 1903

Births, Marriages and Deaths

MARSHALL - Perished at sea on board the barque Perseverance of London, after leaving Cumberland Gulf, Davis Straits, in October 1901, James Marshall, shipmaster, 19 Marischal Street, Peterhead, aged 64 years.


He is gone and never will return again to his own home,
And though the raging roaring sea be lashed into a foam,
And though the monsters of the deep about him nightly crowd,
He lies in calm and perfect peace, the green seaweed his shroud.