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CAPTAIN SAMUEL BROOKS

1831-1904

by Robert A. Priestley

 

Memorial to Captain Brooks at Cross Stone

At the age of 6 years I was taken to Cross Stone Burial Ground to see this incredible monument to Captain Brooks. It towered above me, blackened by pollution. I was most impressed. Sadly, the elements did their work and the monument had to be replaced by a simple slab.

Born in 1831, Samuel was the eldest son of John and Charlotte Brooks of 48, York Street, Todmorden. John Brooks was a carrier and flour dealer. There were 6 other children: Emma, Alice, Ann, William, Ellen and Martha.

   
Samuel had one ambition, and that was to go to sea. Father was pestered until he agreed that Samuel should have a nautical career. Taking the advice of a relative who was a coast guard in Cornwall, it was arranged that Samuel, in 1846, aged 15 years, be apprenticed as a cabin boy aboard the schooner 'Patriot' , 114 tons, under the command of Captain B. Hooper of Plymouth. Sailing between Liverpool and Naples the 'Patriot' was engaged in the Mediterranean fruit trade; oranges, lemons and almonds.

The Schooner 'Patriot'. Not to scale

 
During the years 1846 to 1850 Samuel travelled some 25,000 miles, lucky to be on a ship of this kind, it meant short and therefore healthier journeys. Captain Hooper would also have more time to supervise his education in seamanship.
   

The Brig 'Bessie'. Not to scale.

On completion of his apprenticeship, Samuel joined the brig 'Bessie' of Bristol as an able seaman before the mast. In 1850, the 'Bessie' began a voyage to the pacific coast of Panama, a hazardous journey involving passage round Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Five per cent of all ships making this passage were lost, and the 'Bessie' was a small ship.
 

The voyage was full of misadventure and disaster. Twice they nearly starved for want of food and water. After leaving Panama for the homeward journey, first the Captain and then the First Officer died of Yellow Fever. Meeting a British man o' war they asked for help. The help they were offered was to have a Royal Navy Officer with some sailors to sail them home, or choose a member of their own crew to do the job. It says a lot for Samuel, as he was preferred over the Naval Officer. Aged barely 20, Samuel brought them safely back to Britain.

   
After studying for and obtaining his Master's Certificate, in 1852 Samuel joined the barque 'Kedegree' of Belfast as Chief Officer. This ship was employed in the lucrative jute trade, sailing between Belfast and Calcutta via the Cape of Good Hope.

The Barque Kedegree. Not to scale

   

It was during these two voyages that Samuel realised that steamships were the ships of the future. So in 1854 he joined the Liverpool, New York and Philadelphia Steamship Company, better known as the Inman Line, and signed on as Second Officer on the 'City of Baltimore' . Although by rights a Captain, he needed some experience in steamships, hence the slight demotion.

 

The 'City of Baltimore'

   

The Inman Line at pier 45 then

The two Richardson brothers and William Inman founded the Inman Line in 1850. Inman was the driving force behind the company and within 5 years had taken control. The company never used sailing ships or paddle driven ships. Iron built, propeller driven ships used less coal, had more space for cargo, so more profit. Their first ships were the 'City of Manchester' and the 'City of Glasgow'. Each weighed 1,600 tons.
 

At first they only carried saloon and second-class passengers, but in 1852 Inman ordered bunks, benches, tables and washing facilities for 400 people to be installed in both ships. The Inman Line was the first steamship company to carry emigrants to North America. The ships were ordered to call at Queenstown in Ireland to pick up passengers there and save them the journey to Liverpool.

   
 

Conditions on board the ships were far superior to those on wooden sailing ships, all food was found, 3 meals a day, washrooms with soap, towels, mirrors and water, separate accommodation for families and single people, men to the bows, women aft, all for £10. You had to provide your own bedding and eating utensils, although these could be purchased at the company's store.

The site of pier 45 now

   

By the time Samuel joined the Inman Line, the 'City of Glasgow' had been lost at sea. Fire, storm or ice could have been the cause, no one will ever know. A new ship, the 'City of Philadelphia' was purchased. This ship left Liverpool on August 9th 1854 and was wrecked 10 days later at Cape race. Fortunately, all were saved. The company then bought the 'Kangaroo' and had two unfinished ships on the stocks, the Cities of 'Baltimore' and 'Washington' .

 

At the same time that Samuel had joined the company, the Crimean War broke out. Inmans chartered the ships to the French Government as troop ships, transports and hospital ships. The now completed 'City of Baltimore' was sent to Marseilles to ferry troops to Constantinople, and once there was used as a hospital ship.

On April 23rd 1856 the 'City of Baltimore' , with Samuel as Chief Officer, began trans-Atlantic crossings. Between 1856 and 1857, 85,000 people crossed the Atlantic, one third of them in Inman ships. On Inman ships, first class paid £22.05.00d., second-class £14.05.00d., and emigrants £10. The first class passengers were in the stern half, second-class in the forward part, and emigrants, strictly segregated, were under the water line. Rules had to be obeyed:

"Passengers must be cheerful and must follow the rules cheerfully and without grumble, there fore the bar will be open for the sale of wines and spirits from 6am. And will close at 11pm."

 

Only dogs suffered any real inconvenience:

 

"Dogs are not allowed near the main mast".

 

Meals were at these times for 1st and 2nd class:

 

Breakfast......7-30am

Lunch..........12 to 1pm

Dinner..........4pm

Tea............ 7-30pm

Supper.......  10pm

Third class or emigrants:

 

Breakfast...........8am

Dinner...............1pm

Supper...............6pm

Oatmeal gruel.....8pm

 

On 31st May 1859 Samuel married Harriet Elizabeth Holden of Myrtle Street, Todmorden at St. Paul's Church, Cross Stone.

 

The City of Washington

In December 1859 Samuel became Captain of the 'Kangaroo'. The Inman Line thrived, new ships were ordered, old ones lengthened, and second hand ships bought. They were not luxury liners. Over the following years Samuel was transferred from one ship to another.

1860 'Edinborough'
1861 'City of Washington'
1862 'Etna'
1863 'City of Washington'
1866 'City of Boston'
1867 'City of London'
   
 

The City of Boston

The City of London

   
On 13th February 1869 Samuel became the Chief Captain of the Line, and Captain of the brand new 'City of Brooklyn' , the largest ship in the fleet. He was known as the highly respected Captain Brooks. In January 1870 he was ordered to take the 'City of Boston' for a return voyage to the USA, but at the last minute he was transferred and Captain Halcrow took command. The ship sailed, arrived safely and departed New York January 25th with 177 souls on board and was never heard of again.
 

The City of Brooklyn

 
In 1870 Inman Line ships carried 3,600 cabin and 40,500 steerage passengers, exceeding the Cunard Line. During the 1870's, the White Star Line began building luxurious ships, the first being the 'Oceanic' . Inman countered this challenge by building two new ships of 4,800tons and each being capable of carrying 132 cabin and 1,310 steerage passengers. These ships were the Cities of 'Chester' and 'Richmond' .

The City of Chester

 

The layout of the ships had changed; the first class accommodation was in the centre of the ship. The saloon was between the two funnels and ran the full width of 43 feet, decorated with maple and walnut panels. The ceiling, a huge glass roof, was decorated with gold mounting. Passengers sat on individual revolving chairs. The curtains were crimson damask and velvet. There were bathrooms with hot and cold water, surgeons and barbers, two ladies' sitting rooms and a piano. However, smoking was only allowed on deck, as fire was a great danger.

The term "floating hotel" began to be used to describe ships. People began to travel for pleasure, Americans gong to Europe for the Grand Tour, some looking for titled husbands. Magazines described sea trips as "cures" for damaged emotions; those left at the altar or for the jilted. For the British, holidays in the USA were offered "25 days with 7 days in New York and Niagara". Sea voyages could still be dangerous so the magazines suggested that the saloon passengers should dress sensibly but well because "a body washed ashore in good clothes with good labels in them would receive more respect and kinder care than if dressed in clothes fit for the rag bag". This was true for the victims of the 'SS Schiller' but not for those of the 'SS Atlantic'.

 

Other advice was given to ladies: "Never sit on deck in the dark ", "wear heavy skirts, no light frilly dresses and sew weights in to the hems because ships are so windy a lady would have no wish to cause embarrassment to the sailors when going round corners".

Samuel was in command of the 'City of Richmond' when it made a record crossing of 7 days, 8 hours and 50 minutes. On 4 th November 1873, whilst 4 days out of New York, the engines became disabled, so they continued the journey under sail. Great anxiety was felt because the ship was over due. There was no way of calling for help, as radio had not been invented. Fortunately, a ship the 'Kenilworth' saw them and reported that all was well. Samuel became known as "Brave Brooks".

In 1876 Samuel was in command of the 'City of Chester' and remained so until his retirement in 1881. Whilst on the 'Chester' three incidents occurred:

 

Four hundred miles out of New York the rudder broke. He sailed the ship back to New York. The propeller shaft broke eight hundred miles from Queenstown, and they sailed the ship along until they met the company's ship, the 'City of Paris' , which took them in tow. During a storm, Samuel left the bridge minutes before a huge wave carried it away.

 

William Inman died in 1881 and Samuel decided to retire, chiefly because of rheumatism. By 1882 he had returned to the sea, joining the Guion Line and taking command of the 'Arizona'. In 1879 the ship had crashed at full speed in to an iceberg in the dead of night. No one was killed but many were injured. Twenty-five feet of the bows were crushed, but the ship made it safely to port where a temporary wooden bow was fitted. The ship was very popular with nervous passengers and was always fully booked.

Samuel was a popular Captain on a popular ship. Amongst his passengers he could number stars of the theatre including Miss Ellen Terry, Lily Langtry, Dame Nellie Melba, Madame Adelina Patti and many more.

 
In 1888 he entered a competition in Tit Bits Magazine as to who had travelled furthest. He won £10. He had made 690 trans-Atlantic crossings and a mileage of 2,437,712 miles in his entire career and never lost a passenger. He was described as "of white hair and beard, of strong will and superior intelligence, his appearance arrests attention".
 

Samuel retired in 1894 when the Guion Line closed down and for a short time he was a nautical assessor. He died on 17th February 1904 at his home at Brampton Court, Claughton, Charlesville, Birkenhead. He was buried at Cross Stone 2nd February 1904.

 

The photographs of all the ships by permission of the Mariners' Museum,

Newport News, Virginia, USA

http://www.mariner.org/

and the photos of Captain Brooks with permission from Roger Birch

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