The Wanderer

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Model of a masted ship

The Wanderer. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I like this story because I have kept diaries and holiday logs like the boy who wrote about the Wanderer.

Personal accounts are of great importance as they help future generations understand earlier eras. I believe not many personal narratives will survive from today because few people record their experiences in any depth.

The 19th century left a rich legacy because so much was recorded in minute detail, from records of meetings and speeches to long business and private letters on every subject. Newspapers and magazines were crammed with articles skilfully crafted to answer every query.

A 14-year-old apprentice left a remarkable account of the maiden voyage of the Wanderer, one of the last sailing ships built in Liverpool – a beautiful vessel that brought bad luck in her wake.

The captain died in a raging storm on that first voyage in 1891 and just 16 years later – following numerous unsettling incidents - the Wanderer sank after being rammed by a German liner.

The boy’s name was H Watson and a section of his detailed log is on display alongside a fine 1: 100 scale model of the Wanderer in Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Watson gives details of the death of Captain George Currie and several other incidents which blighted the initial voyage.

Captain Currie died less than two days out of Liverpool heading for San Francisco:

“It was near midnight and the captain was on the poop (the raised stern deck) firing rockets as signals of distress. While thus engaged he was struck by the skysail yard (a wooden spar used to suspend a sail) and knocked down on deck insensible.

“The second mate was first to see him and he, along with the third mate and steward, got him into his room. He lay insensible until 4 o’clock on Monday morning and then expired.”

The Wanderer was a four-masted barque built by W H Potter & Sons at Queens Dock, Liverpool, At 309 ft long and displacing nearly 3,000 tons, Wanderer was said at that time to be the biggest sailing ship ever built.

John Masefield, a former seafarer who trained on HMS Conway in Liverpool, was fascinated by the ship. His first book after being appointed Poet Laureate in 1930 was called The Wanderer of Liverpool. Wanderer’s end came in1907 while she was at anchor in the River Elbe. She was sunk by the Gertrud Woermann in 24 ft of water but thankfully this time no-one died.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).