Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Two Year Two Month World Voyage of the "S.S. Otterburn", 1907 - 1910


The Engineers of the "S.S. Otterburn"
taken at Port Pirie, South Australia,
c.1908-09. My Grandfather, William
Dykes, is at centre in front row.
[From my own collection]


My Grandfather, William Dykes (1880 - 1971), whom I remember well, spent the early years of the last century working as an Engineer on various cargo steamships, mostly voyages to South Africa, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) with the Scottish "Clan Line". His service on the "S.S. Otterburn" commencing in December 1907 was to be his eleventh and final voyage but also his longest and most interesting, not signing off until February 1910.

I am lucky that my Grandfather, an intelligent and a highly skilled Engineer, a prolific writer in his latter years, biographer and keen family genealogist, recorded in his memoirs the experiences of these early years which add so much to any family story.

The 4,936 ton "S.S. Otterburn" had only been launched in Glasgow in September 1907 with my Grandfather signing up as 3rd Engineer at the port of Rotterdam in Holland on the 21st December 1907. During this extended voyage, which criss-crossed and eventually circumnavigated the world, he would experience many interesting sights and adventures while additionally being promoted to Chief Engineer.


Across the Atlantic Ocean to
To Philadelphia, USA (Dec 1907 to Jan 1908) :

From Rotterdam Holland to Philadelphia USA

"We sailed for Philadelphia in ballast and a very rough and protracted trip across the North Atlantic of 19 days." 


To California via The Straits of Magellan (From Jan 1908) :

From Philadelphia USA to Southern California
via Barbadoes and Punta Arenas

"We were chartered by the U.S. Government to load coal for their battle fleet in California waters, there was no Panama Canal then and we set out on the long voyage round South America, we topped up our bunkers at Barbadoes, eventually passed the Falkland Islands and made for Punta Arenas in the Straits of Magellan, could only proceed during the day, anchored at least two nights ere open seas allowed the voyage to continue. The Straits are unlit, very bleak and mountainous on either side." 



Battleships of the US Navy which formed part of
the Pacific "Great White Fleet" in 1908
[Source : Naval Analyses]

Coaling the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet (early 1908) :

"Eventually we arrived at Magdalene [sic Magdalena] Bay in Southern California and found the fleet there and many other ships with coal, I think it took us about 59 days from Philadelphia. The Fleet were carrying out big gun battle practice at night and day, making our crockery in our pantries rattle, the targets were towed with search lights trained on them.  Coal ships went alongside an anchored Battleship at dawn, their crews only working the coal, a band played most of the day, towards evening the coal ship had to move to an anchorage well clear of any warship. In due time we had discharged all our coal after a stay of 10 days or so and on the last day received orders from our owners by [the] wireless of a Battleship that we were to proceed to Newcastle N.S.W. (This was our first experience of wireless and considered it marvellous)." 


Across the Pacific Ocean to
 Newcastle, N.S.W. Australia & Penang, Malaysia 
(early to mid part of 1908)  :

Newcastle N.S.W. Australia to Penang, Malaysia

"On arrival there found we were to load coal for Penang, I think we went north of Australia, called at Singapore and then onto Penang, after discharge came back to Newcastle, via Straits of Sunda, passing Xmas Island en-route."

A Drunken Mistake and Promotion to Chief Engineer (22 Jun 1908) :


My Grandfather's certificate of Competency
as a First Class Mechanical Engineer, 1906
[From my own collection]

"Back in Australia, I was promoted to Chief Engineer of the ship, my predecessor while in drink burnt his certificate in the galley fire, and as a ship must have a Chief Engineer with a 1st Class certificate, the Captain dismissed him and I, having the only 1st Class certificate in the ship was promoted on 22 June 1908 and held the position until our return to the U.K. in February 1910 when I gave up the sea. This Chief was the builders guarantee man for a certain time being a new ship; the Captain told me later that he insisted with owners that he wanted another man aboard with a 1st Class certificate in case of trouble." 


The "S.S. Otterburn" at Timaru, New Zealand, c.1908-09
[From my own collection]

To New Zealand Ports :

From Newcastle N.S.W. to New Zealand Ports

"It was at this time that the ship was chartered by the Union Steam Ship Company on New Zealand for 6 months taking coal from Newcastle to NZ ports, returning to Sydney with chaff etc visiting Auckland, Picton, Lyttleton, Oamaru and Bluff." 

It was after having visited and seen parts of New Zealand at this time that my Grandfather later decided to emigrate here.


To Manila Philippines :

Newcastle N.S.W. to Manila Philippines

"On the completion of this charter, Macondrey & Co. of Manila chartered the ship for a period from Newcastle making four voyages up past New Guinea and other islands, one had a more or less active volcano, cloud capped, puffs of steam rose from the crater regularly about every ten minutes. At times we saw American Hospital ships leaving Manila, fighting was still going on in the interior. The coal we carried I think was for the American Government, and once we went to IloIlo near Manila for final discharge." 

To Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan :

Manila Philippines to Muroran, Hokkaido Japan

A small silvered metal jewellery box, which, according to my
mother, was purchased by my grandfather while in Japan
[From my own collection]

"On our last trip, after discharge we received owners orders to proceed to a port called Muroran in Northern Japan to load oak railway sleepers for Harriman’s railways in Mexico, the port of discharge Guaymos on the mainland about halfway up the Gulf of California, the charterers were the Dollar Company of San Francisco, owning passenger vessels to China & Japan etc. "


Across the Pacific Ocean to 
Guaymos, Mexico :

Muroran Hokkaido Japan to Guaymos Mexico

"During our visit to Guaymos, several of us from the ship one Sunday attended the weekly bull fight held in a large horseshoe shaped arena, grandstand covered all the seating needed for several thousand spectators, women and children too, being a warm climate we had all our white suits on and had good seats close to the bullfighter who had two armed guards standing beside him, also through the audience soldiers with fixed bayonets stood in the aisles. A brass band enlivened the proceedings. We saw several bulls killed, all very interesting and the behaviour of the onlookers as well. We went because we might we might never be able to see such a scene as this in our lifetime again." 

Across the Pacific Ocean to
Port Pirie South Australia, Melbourne Victoria, 
and Sydney New South Wales, Australia (1909) :

Guyamos Mexico to Australia and
(via the Suez Canal) Dunkirk France,
 Hull England, and Antwerp Belgium 

"We returned to Australia passing many of the well-known South Sea Islands, to load wool and concentrates at Port Pirie, South Australia, Melbourne and Sydney provided our wool cargo and we sailed for home via the Suez Canal." 


To Dunkirk France and Hull England 
via the Suez Canal (early 1910) :

"I think we discharged wool at Dunkirk and the balance at Hull in England, the concentrates for discharge at Antwerp." 


To Antwerp Belgium (February 1910) :

"At Hull a new crew was signed on and I went to Antwerp with the new Engineer to coach them, and then returned to Scotland free of the sea, at the end of February 1910."

He was discharged from duty at Hull on the 13th February 1910. William’s ability and general conduct were rated as “Very Good”.

A Reference from the Master, Feb 1910 :

At the end of this voyage William Dykes received a written reference from the ship's Master :

S.S. “Otterburn”
Antwerp
22nd February 1910

Bearer Mr W. Dykes has been on the above vessel (?) as 3rd Engineer 20.12.07 until 22.6.08 then as Chief Engineer from 23.6.08 until 13.2.10  I have much pleasure in certifying him being a good careful man most attentive at all times to his duties, economical and a strictly sober man. Always have great interest in all the machinery and boilers under his charge.

David Swan 

Master S.S. Otterburn


Sources :

- Dykes family papers


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