Bill's Genealogy Blog

Bill Buchanan is a long-time genealogy enthusiast, living in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. This blog will describe my experiences as I research my family history and help others.

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Location: Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada

I am a retired online school teacher. I love family history. Since 2007, I have spent much of my time providing part-time support for the world's largest free family history site This is very rewarding. I have helped others with the Family Tree and related FamilySearch products.
In 2010-2018 Iserved in the Edmonton Riverbend Family History Centre. I have a FHC blog at Bill's Family History Center Blog For information the Latter-day Saints and family history click

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wreck of the "John Geddie"

As I was researching Judy's Kinney ancestors. I came across a manifest listing Judy's ancestor William "James" Kinney as a sailor on the wooden sailing ship "John Geddie". Eleven years later, this ship came to a blazing end.

Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919
Name: James Kinney
Age: 26
Birth Year: abt 1843
Birth Place: Dublin
Event Date: 31 May 1869
Port of Registry: Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Ship Name: John Geddie
Official Number: 54117
Reference Number: 387CRE/479
"James Kinney 26 born Dublin, certification RVS 34710, previous ship Chillianwallah Quebec Dec/68 Lpool, joined ship 31 May Lpool, capacity AB [Able Bodied seaman], time aboard 2 June, wages 2 15 0 2 15 0,  discharged 1 Nov/69 LPool"
[This is on so it may not be visible without a subscription ]

The CHILLIANWALLAH was a square-rigged wooden sailing vessel.
Ship's master: C. Conway
Tonnage: 1,249 tons
Dimensions: 182.8 feet long, 39.1 foot beam and holds 24.7 feet deep
Construction: 1864, Lachance in Qu├ębec; repairs to damages in 1866

04/12/1877 Chillianwallah SV (+1877) wreck
On December 4th, 1877, the Canadian wooden sailing ship CHILLIANWALLAH, built in 1865, on voyage from New York to Antwerp with a cargo of resin and staves, was abandoned by her crew in leaking condition. There were no casualties.

The story of the wreck of the John Geddie: Here is an excerpt from the official report:

The "John Geddie," official No. 56,117, was a barque built of wood at Maitland, Nova Scotia, in 1866. Her registered tonnage was 650.57 tons, and at the time of her loss she was the property of Mr. John A. Ledwood, of Liverpool, at which port she was registered. ...

The ship had recently delivered a cargo in London of American mineral oil, and another at Rouen, where it was found that twenty barrels of the oil had leaked out. [I notice that the oil was actually shipped in barrels. The John Geddie was no supertanker!] From Rouen she went to Penarth, where, in January last, she underwent the following repairs: She was caulked on each side from copper to covering board, including waterway, seams, and butts on deck; she was supplied with new main and mizen masts, and her rigging received some repair.

While the vessel was at Penarth, Capt. James Alexander took charge of her, and he informed the Court that he found her hold in a very dirty state, the whole of the skin beams and between decks being saturated with crude oil, of which there was a strong smell. Amongst the dunnage wood in the hold he found a cask of crude oil, which he caused to be put into the fore part of the between decks.

On the 28th, 29th, and 31st January she loaded 1,007 tons 13 cwt. of the Ocean Company's semi-anthracite steam coal, worked at the pit between the 27th and 29th, the weather during the time of loading being wet. [I note that this far exceeds its licensed capacity, but that did not seem to be an issue at the time.]

The cargo was stowed in the following manner: Between the fore mast and mizen mast she was full, with the exception of an air space in the middle line of the ship, through which a man could crawl. From the fore mast the coals sloped forward, leaving a space for about 50 tons, the between decks from the after part of the fore hatchway to the stern being clear of coals. In the after end of the vessel the coals were sloped in a similar manner, leaving about 30 tons space. In the between decks forward there were stowed the cask of crude oil, ropes, planking, pitch, and potatoes. ...

Thus loaded and fitted, the "John Geddie" sailed for Montevideo on the 12th February, with a crew of thirteen hands, including the master, James Alexander, who holds a certificate of competency, No. 89,099, her draft of water being aft 18 ft. 9 in. and forward 18 ft. 2 in.

During the passage the fore and aft hatchways and the chain pipes appear to have been kept open on all possible occasions, and the master, who has had much experience in carrying coal cargoes, stated that, although he had no thermometer on board, he was in the habit of examining hatchways, chain pipes, and after ventilator frequently, with the object of seeing whether there was any symptom of the cargo heating. The crew, moreover, were in the constant habit of going below into the fore part of the between decks for stores and provisions, and thus had the opportunity of detecting any unusual heat.

Up to the 4th of April nothing of importance occurred; on that day the master, thinking the vessel to be too much by the stern, sent one watch into the hold to trim the coals. The men were at work for some four hours, but noticed no unusual heat, gas, or smoke.

On the 14th April, the weather being fine, the water smooth, wind from S.E., course S.W. 1/2 W., all plain sail set, the fore and after hatches off, ventilators open during the whole day, there was no manifestation of smoke, heat, or other cause of alarm.

At 8 p.m. the master and boatswain left the deck, and went to their cabins ..., the chief mate, who was not present at the inquiry, taking charge of the deck. About 9 p.m. the wind came from the N.E., and the sails were trimmed accordingly.

About 10.30 p.m. the look-out man on the forecastle saw a quantity of white smoke coming up the fore hatchway. He at once gave the alarm of fire, and the chief mate ordered the hatches to be put on, and called all hands. On being aroused, the master, boatswain, and steward, who slept in the cabin, found the cabin full of smoke, accompanied by a very offensive smell. As soon as the master reached the deck he ordered water to be poured down the chain pipes. In a very short time, however, smoke was seen issuing through the seams of the deck. No hope remained of saving the ship, and he ordered the boats to be got out, provisioned, and watered; rockets were sent up in the hope of attracting the notice of a vessel which had been spoken in the evening. These signals of distress were seen by the barque "Napier," of Quebec, who bore down to their assistance. At 2 a.m. on the 15th the master and crew abandoned the burning ship, and were received on board the "Napier."

In some fifteen minutes after her crew had reached the "Napier," the "John Geddie" burst into one sheet of flame, and in a few minutes was burnt to the water's edge, her destruction taking some four or five hours from the first alarm.

James Kinney and his shipmates lived a dangerous life. Fortunately, he wasn't serving on the John Geddie when it became a floating inferno! But the possibility of disaster was ever-present on those wooden ships of earlier times. I think it helps us to appreciate our ancestors when learn something about their lives.