Thursday, 30 January 2014

Captain Thomas Yardley Powles (Click) 

The son of a mine proprietor is never meant to go to sea.  However Thomas Yardley Powles did just that.  After working to persuade his parents, he enrolled in the Conway Academy, Cheshire, to train to be a sailor, serving on the training vessel, Conway. 

Thomas Powles at 24 years of age obtained his Masters certificate No. 81780  on 29 Nov. 1870 following which he received a letter notifying him that after only 9 years at sea, he was to become commander of his first ship, the Prince Oscar.   In the letter, M.C.Lars wrote, “If the result  of the voyage is satisfactory to the owners, a present (bonus) will be added to your wages.”  The result must have been satisfactory, as he remained Captain until his marriage to Jane Plummer on 31st January 1878. 

Thomas Powles had always planned to sail with his wife and as the owner of the Prince Oscar would not allow captain’s wives on board ship, he resigned his position.  With the exception of one voyage he searched for a suitable ship, the couple sailed together until her death in 1901.  As he enjoyed his own life at sea, Captain Powles did all he could to ensure that his crew enjoyed their time under his command as well.

In his book, The Last of the Windjammers, Basil Lubbock writes  “Captain and Mrs Powles treated  everyone, high and low, with the same unfailing courtesy, liberality and kindness… he loved his ship and took a human interest in those under him.”

 With a keen interest in music and the arts, the couple always sailed
with a grand piano and small organ in their quarters.

The John O’Gaunt and James Kerr were famed for their concerts, and all crew members were invited to participate. The ships were also known for their sporting prowess, as Thomas Powles adored cricket and organized Saturday afternoon cricket matches played ashore if in port or in the dog watches if at sea.

  Cricket match on SS John O' Gaunt 1888
The Mariner’s Cricket Club in Calcutta was founded by Captain Powles. In 1893, he organized a race between the two rival Academies, and always ensured a crew from his ship competed in any regattas held at port.

Marine Board of New South Wales Pilot Certificate
for the Port of Newcastle, Australia  dated 3 12 1890 
Captain Thomas Y. Powles of the British ship, SS James Kerr, can photograph an object through a solid body without the aid of a Crooks tube. 

All he uses is the lens of the ship's masthead light and a mirror.  With the aid of the lens in the masthead light and a mirror focused the sun's rays on the animal he photographed objects on the deck of the vessel through the body of his greyhound Spray and then took a snap shot. 

In talking about his latest picture yesterday the captain said: "I cannot explain the matter any more than you can. There is the picture and it must speak for itself. I have been asked why the dog's ribs don't stow, and that question 1 cannot answer either. I know I took that picture and developed, it myself, so I am sure everything is all straight as far as I am concerned. 

During the voyage from Newcastle, Australia, to San Francisco I read a great deal about the X rays and made up my mind to see what I could do with ray camera the first opportunity. While the ship was at Port Costa loading wheat I took the picture we are talking about.  I got the ship's masthead light, which is fitted with a dioptric lens. I took the burner out of the lamp and in its place I inserted a small mirror. I then got G. Price, one of the apprentices, to focus the apparatus until the sun shone on the mirror and threw a ray through the lens on the combing of the catch.

I then got Spray in position, told Price to throw the light on her breast, pointed my camera at her, pressed the button and the trick was done. I couldn't get the dog to stand still again, as on the second attempt the boy threw the light into both her eyes and frightened her. Do what I would I couldn't get her to stand still after I once lifted the camera. I have taken dozens of prints from that negative and they are all the same.
The bags you see in the picture are full of sand and are used in ballasting the ship's boats when we go sailing. It was an exceedingly hot day when the picture was taken". 

Captain Powles is an enthusiastic dog fancier as well as photographer. The father of Spray is also on the James Kerr and is a magnificent greyhound. He is called Spring, and is by Fullerton, out of Rose; stands 30 inches at the shoulder and weighs 75 pounds when in condition. Spring won many a hard-fought course in Australia, and Captain Powles says that Spray is going to be as good as her father.


The sight of a dainty, sylphlike woman clad in flowing drapery, her face protected from rough winds by a gauzy veil while she does her “trick at the wheel” is not yet sufficiently common to escape the notice of those who travel by sea.  A sight which induces more protracted reflection upon a woman’s end of the century achievements in fields of industry hitherto monopolized by the sterner sex is that of a woman commanding a vessel.

Pilots of the female sex are not yet sufficiently numerous to threaten the displacement of men in navigation, but there is scarcely a shipping center that cannot boast of at least one woman licensed to guide steam craft within a certain district.

A woman versed in the laws of navigation and possessed of sufficient experience to secure a sailing master’s papers is indeed a novelty, and the fact that such a woman is visiting the Port of San Francisco is attracting attention.  Mrs Jane Powles has for seven years carried second mate’s papers and is prepared to undergo examination for a master’s certificate when she returns to her home in England.  Mrs Powles is the wife of Captain T.Y. Powles, master of the big British ship James Kerr, recently arrived in this Port from Newcastle N.S.W., with a cargo of coal.

For 18 years Mrs Powles has been at sea with her husband, accompanying him on every voyage he has made since they were married, during which period they have circled the globe 19 times and visited every port of note on the face of the earth, and a great many more that are not of note. Mrs Powles has been a student of navigation ever since she has been at sea, and her husband declares that she is as competent as he is to sail the big ship on which they live.

Mrs Powles has been in command of the James Kerr on more than one occasion, proving herself a cool and competent master.  She is always a favourite with the crew, no matter from what nations they hail, and cheers greet her when she appears on the bridge or takes a turn at the wheel.  Captain Powles has great confidence in his wife’s ability, and more for the novelty of the thing from any other motive he has often urged her to take out a master’s papers.  Mrs Powles will therefore present herself for the required examination when opportunity offers.

Mrs Powles is the daughter of the Rev. M. Plummer, rector of Stratford Tony parish, Salisbury, England.  She is a charming and accomplished woman, speaking and reading nearly all modern tongues with ease.  She has acquired since marriage an enviable knowledge of more than one science.

An hour spent in the big, roomy cabin of the James Kerr is a delightful experience. Captain Powles is an enthusiastic photographer, and several large albums full of pictures from every section of the globe attest his many journeys on sea and land.  Every picture has its bit of interesting history or romance, and these Mrs Powles relates charmingly, with just a touch of sea lore for colouring.  Mrs Powles sits at the piano and accompanies the captain in a rollicking sea ditty until the deck beams overhead quiver from the resonance of his tone.

The British ship Prince Oscar was Mrs Powles’ first home at sea, but she is most strongly attached to the ship John o”gaunt, to which Captain Powles was transferred soon after marriage.  On the latter vessel their first and only child was born on a voyage from Calcutta to San  Francisco, Oct 29 1880.  He was christened in this city by Rev. Dr. Linee and has always lived at sea with his parents until two years ago, when he was placed on the training ship Conway at Liverpool.  This young man has finished his course and is now on his way to become an apprentice on the James Kerr. He will arrive in January.

In his 27 years experience as a master, Captain Powles has never lost a ship or experienced a serious disaster.  His vessels are known among sailors as “good living” ships, and the crew is always well treated.

Captain and Mrs Powles are fond of their dogs, and have half a dozen on board.  Just now their affections are centered on some fine Australian kangaroo hounds.  There are other pets aboard, among them a dozen cages full of song birds, and the Blue Mountain hill pehlo, a winged soloist found only in the glades of Australia.

Captain and Mrs Powles are not visiting San Francisco for the first time.  Early in the seventies the captain, while hunting in the bay, short a sea lion weighing 1 and a half tons, which was declared at the time to be the largest ever seen in these waters.  Newspaper clippings detailing the exploit are still preserved in the family archives. 

During one of his former sojourns here Captain Powles adorned yard arms of his ship with lanterns one dark night and hoaxed a pedantic doctor who was aboard the vessel and anxious to see and investigate St Elmo’s lights.  A boy was sent aloft and instructed to enact a mock performance of touching the lights and falling insensible across the yard.  The doctor published a long account of his “scientific” researches on the subject when he landed, but Powles refuted him by the truth.

The best part of the joke was that the doctor went home to Australia on the steamer Zealandia, and her master, a particular friend of Captain Powles, perpetrated the same joke.  

In 1900, aboard the SS Wyefield as 3rd Officer, Thomas Powles passed his father and mother aboard their ship, the James Kerr, in San Francisco Bay. Barely a week later, after a 79 day voyage from Newcastle, NSW, his mother passed away. 

Captain Powles writes of her death in detail in his journal, starting and ending his entry with the line “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”.  Jane was struck by a sudden illness, and he documents what the doctor told him in the journal, and his reluctance to accept her death:  “Captain, now you are a man of the sea, and I know will be prepared for what I am going to tell you: and that is that no human power, in my estimation, can save your wife”.  A few lines later he writes that he responded  “While there is life, there is hope”. 

He continues writing that at 12.20pm, she passed away having spent the last hours only able to take small chips of ice and sips of champagne.  She passed away calmly, peacefully and with a lovely expression on her face.  Of his feelings at her death, he wrote “And now came the hardest struggle of my life, to think that I was separated forever in this world from one who had sailed with me for 22 years to almost all parts of the world, had braved the dangers of the deep, through storms to calms, extreme heat and cold, fire and sickness and all the other dangers connected with navigation, such as unruly crews, and deaths from sickness or accidents, was almost unbearable.  And I prayed for strength.” 

Captain Powles arrived five minutes late for the funeral, arranged by a friend who had also taken responsibility for his ship the James Kerr.  On arrival, he was surprised to find standing room only in the small chapel, noting that he was pleased so many people had turned out to say goodbye to their old friend. 

Jane (Plummer) Powles was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Her grave was strewn with wreaths and flowers.  The headpiece had been given by the crew of the James Kerr, and all who could be spared from duty were present.  Jane’s death had an enormous effect on the ship, as they had lost an important member of the crew. His ship was looked after by an old friend in San Francisco while he spent a week in Martinez to allow himself to grieve. 

Monotony and boredom was common at sea. With his longest voyages lasting over 150 days, it was important to have interests to engage in during the free hours.  For Captain Powles, this time was spent writing in his journal, taking and framing photographs, an unusual and expensive hobby for a sea captain, and caring for the numerous animals, fowls, pigs, St Bernards and Border Collies, on board.  He writes that filling his day made time pass more quickly, and broke up the monotony of the long voyages. 

Captain Thomas Yardley Powles retired from the sea in late 1902, a year after losing his wife Jane.
Letter written by Thomas Y Powles to his sister Louie? 25 5 1908

For the remaining years until his death, he was involved in various maritime institutions, such as the Mercantile Marine Services Association.  In an eerie twist, the James Kerr, which he had captained without any mishap from 1892 until his retirement had her first serious accident in Cuxhaven, Germany when she ran aground at the exact moment that Captain Powles, who died on 18 Feb 1911 at Toxteth Park, Liverpool, was being buried in Liverpool, England.

Public Notice (1911) re Estate TY Powles

Thomas Distin Mariner POWLES 
29 10 1880
00 00 19??
Thomas Distin Mariner Powles, the son of Thomas Yardley Powles and Jane Plummer was born at sea on board the John O’Gaunt on, October 29th 1880. His birth certificate, hand painted by his mother Jane, or Jeanie as she was called by her husband, has only the name Mariner as well as two crossed flags, the date of  birth, the name of the ship and the latitude and longitude references of the birthplace. The reverse displays photographs taken by Thomas Yardley of Mariner’s childhood at sea.  Thomas Mariner was baptized on Christmas Day in San Francisco Harbour, a location which would become significant for their small family. Thomas like his father before him became a sailor and was a Lieutenant at sea during WW1.

After his father’s death Thomas Distin Mariner Powles gathered his father’s belongings and kept them with him as he traveled.  After leaving the Navy, Thomas Powles was a businessman and publican and his father’s belongings went with him from home to home, from Bundaberg to the Darling Downs and Brisbane.

Thomas Powles married Susan Clara Campbell (Dede) on 2/6/1917. Their son Thomas Francis was born 4/8/1920 and they eventually settled in Dutton Park. Thomas Distin Mariner died 23/8/1943, his wife Dede moved to Wolloongabba.  It was under the old Queenslander that documents, letters, photographs and even a violin over a hundred years old were discovered.  Thomas Francis Powles did not follow family tradition, he joined the Army at the outbreak of WW2 and spent time in the Middle East and Borneo during the war years.

Four Generations of Powles
Thomas Mariner Yardley Powles
Captain Thomas Yardley
John Richard POWLES (Photo)
John Diston POWLES (Painting held by Captain Yardley) 

Powles family on board John 0'Gaunt 1888

  Captain Powles "Dentist on board"

Thomas and violin with mother Jane on board John 0'Gaunt 

Thomas with 500lb sunfish

Thomas with ships cricket team
Thomas with mother and father

 Thomas and Jane with Spot and Brandy

Thomas with model ship, Jane and crew members

Thomas with ships dogs

Thomas Crossing the Equator

Thomas watching crew skinning an Albatross

Thomas Yardley Powles

Thomas Yardley Powles and mother Jane

Captain Thomas Yardley Powles - Thomas Mariner Yardley Powles
Jane (Plummer) Powles