Lost at sea

Tales my grandfather would have told me. A sailor's life 1910-1941

A sailor’s life – 18. Corsar’s flying horse figurehead

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Monkbarns' flying horse figurehead - built to advertise Corsars' sailcloth

Monkbarns' flying horse figurehead - built to advertise Corsars' sail canvas, (private collection, Australia)

Monkbarns was a wet ship. Even in moderate seas timber breakwaters had to be put up to shelter the door to the officers’ accommodation aft as a foot of water ran up and down the deck. The steward carrying the master’s dinner from the galley amidships during a “blow” had to dodge up on to the poop deck and down the companionway (stairs) by the wheel, greatly to the glee of the crew who kept their own feet dry by balancing on the pin rails where the ropes were fastened.

She had been built in 1895 in Dumbarton, Scotland, one of three off-the-peg iron-hulled sailing ships commissioned by a flax mill owner from Arbroath with romantic leanings and canny notions about commercial branding somewhat ahead of his time.

Charles Webster Corsar was a large jolly man, a pillar of the church and community, often to be seen striding between the frames and looms of his family’s steam-driven mills, his coat snowy with the choking clouds of flax dust. Monkbarns was a cargo carrier, an ocean-going freighter built neither for speed nor beauty, yet he gave her fine teak fittings, a handsome saloon, and reportedly every labour-saving device available for working cargo and sails, except a powered winch. He even provided comfortable accommodation for the fo’c’sle hands. But what made his ships memorable to dockside loungers around the world were the tiny white winged horse figureheads on their prows.

Corsar & Sons had been founded in the early 19th century by a handloom weaver who had seen James Watt set up the first mill engine in the town in 1806 and went on to buy it. Charles Webster was a younger son who had entered the business in the shadow of older brothers, but by the time he was senior partner, the family owned some 60,000 to 70,000 spindles, hackling, spinning, bleaching and weaving flax from the Baltic into yards of Reliance sailcloth that carried the name of Corsar around the world, stencilled onto each bolt over the image of Pegasus, the flying horse.

Read on: The sailmaker’s palm
Previously: The devil provides the cook

Work in progress: the book I never wrote about the sailor grandfather I never knew, from his apprenticeship on the square-rigger Monkbarns to his death by U97, presumed lost with all hands aboard the Shell oil tanker Chama in 1941 Blogroll


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  1. […] From the bridge of his Shell oil tanker, not so many years later, Bert acknowledged the past discomforts. “One night,” he wrote, “I think it was last Tuesday, some very heavy squalls came along when I was on watch, accompanied by torrential rain. While they were on I just looked up aloft and smiled to myself that there were no sails up there to be looked after. I kept that watch on the bridge without oilskins or sea-boots and at midnight when I was relieved I was as dry as a bone  … and people wonder why they can’t get officers for sail.” *Victor Fall and Harry Fountain, ex-Monkbarns apprentices Read on: A sailor’s life – 18. Corsars’ flying horse figurehead […]

  2. This is great blog and you have taken out very interesting topic, endeed , yes it is. with great interest i am reading the stuff there.
    I once was reading the book “the wheel kick and the wind sing” was the titlle so? well anyway the outhor was capt A.G. Cursese or something like that – there was a part of a tale of the J.Steward’s ships, and the short tale of the mutyny of the Monkbarns – I have forgot the ditals of those ruffians demans.


    July 6, 2010 at 7:49 am

    • Dear Harry,
      Yup, that’s the book. The Wheel’s Kick and the Wind’s Song, by Captain AG Course. Of course, he didn’t sail on Monkbarns himself. But then, neither did I. Keep reading. Nice to know you are out there.

      Jay Sivell

      July 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

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