Family Names

Sunday, 29 May 2022

John Williamson, the Hapless Marine Engineer

John became a Marine Engineer at the age of 33. Initially qualified as a toolmaker, he also had experience as a factory supervisor, and more recently as a Workshop Supervisor with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. [i] [ii] [iii] This background positioned John well to be a Marine engineer with lots of hands-on experience with power generation and maintenance.

Why John chose to go to sea at this time is not clear but some say he was running away to sea to avoid the problems of his first marriage.


John’s new work environment was very different from what he had previously known but one free of everyday domestic demands. The Merchant Navy was not the same as when his father had been a seafaring engineer, it had been gutted by the recent world war, which had ended in 1946.

“From 1950 to the late 1970s the British Merchant Marine was desperately seeking really good marine engineers to replace the dreadful losses during WW2, and the best of our Australian engineers rushed overseas to get away from the frightful conditions prevalent on the Australian coast ships. … What was left on the Australian, and to a certain extent, the New Zealand ships were those so-called engineers who were virtually unemployable elsewhere, uninterested in their profession and unwilling, perhaps even incapable, of training junior engineers.[iv]

It was in this environment that John was introduced to the new skills he needed to become a competent Marine Engineer.  He rose quickly up in his first position on the vessel SS Arafura where he began as 8th Engineer in April 1957, becoming 6th Engineer by 28th December that same year.

“During this period, he was on watch with a Senior Engineer for eight hours per day on the Main Engines and Boilers[v]

Photographer unknown, John Williamson in his Engineer’s Uniform on the deck of SS Nellore, circa October 1957, at Sea[W182]

Then he went on to work as the Junior Engineer Officer on the S.S. Nellore from 11 September 1957 to 12 December 1957.

“During this time he was second in seniority of a regular watch, of eight hours in twenty four, on Main Engines and boilers.”[vi]

The Engine Room of a Ship

“The Environment is generally hot and noisy inside the Engine room. The temperature may even rise as high as 55 Degrees Celsius. However, they don’t generally spend more time down there apart from Scheduled Maintenance which is generally done while the ship is in Port. Marine Engineers make regular inspections and carry out any repair and maintenance according to the schedule.”[vii]

The job requires physical endurance and deep technical knowledge with immense troubleshooting skills. When something goes wrong engineers will work until it is resolved, no matter how long it takes using the limited resources available on the ship.

Then John joined the crew of the S.S Monowai in early 1858.

“The Monowai was a very old ship, built in 1925 and her service ended in 1960, … she was being allowed to ‘run down’, at least as far as Lloyds and the Ministry of Transport would permit”.[viii]

Photographer unknown, Heading out of Sydney Harbour on the SS Monowai, 24th June 1958, Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW, Australia [T329]

While onboard the SS Monowai John was involved in two incidents. The first incident was in February 1958:

“This is how it happened, During the time of manoeuvring the ship engine room has to be run in a manner that is not very efficient but capable of swift changes.  So that as soon as the job is going full ahead as it is soon after leaving the wharf certain valves have to be opened & others closed in the interests of this efficiency … short, largely due to insufficient instruction … I mistakenly closed the wrong valve and shortly afterwards the engine room was plunged into pitch darkness & filled with steam and smoke and everything (as has been said before) ground to a halt. …”[ix]

The second incident was in March 1958:

We had a major breakdown coming out of Wellington which made my [previous] effort look sissy.  Sheared the bolts in the main coupling on the port engine.  So it was everybody down into the nuts & bolts to sweat it out.  The anchor being dropped.”[x]

The incident was also reported in the local New Zealand press on 4 March 1958, as the Monowai returned to Port for repairs.[xi] John did not cause the incident but during the recovery phase after he did not perform well:

During the struggle I made a simple but critical mistake so I am now fired.”[xii]

With the shortage of labour John soon found employment with the Adelaide S.S. Company. John the joined the S.S. Baroota on 11 April 1958 in Freemantle, with the rank of 5th Engineer and began working twelve-hour shifts.[xiii]

I can’t help being amazed by the difference in atmosphere between this job & the ‘Monowai’.  Everyone is friendly, so co-operative & helpful.  Nothing is a trouble.  The chief is a real old gentleman with a fine sense of humour & a ready wit.  The second is a very superior type, quiet, unassuming. He certainly inspires confidence.  Considerate is the word. … I’m still working eleven or twelve hours every day but under such conditions that is no trouble at all. …”[xiv]

And then a disaster struck:

“Mr. Williamson was on watch with me at 6.40a.m. on the 23.4.58. When examining the gland of the No.2 Steam Generator he accidentally tripped and fell and his left hand was caught between the engine flywheel and engine bed-plate. The rotation of the flywheel being clockwise his left hand was drawn into a space of 3/8ths of an inch. The machine was almost stopped by the friction between his left hand and the flywheel, and I was unable to free his hand before it was badly injured. Eventually the action of the machine slowing down enable us to free his left hand.” [xv]

John had

“stumbled on the plates between the two main generators, and put [his] left hand out to save [himself] which slipped on the plates and became caught between the flywheel of the operating generator and the deck.” [xvi]

Recovery:

“Have had a 2 h[ou]r operation of grafting done to the back of the fingers.  Was subsequently told it was unlikely that index finger could be saved & amputation would be necessary.  However doctor now says it’s a miracle & I’ll probably keep the fingers.  Also complicated skin graft requiring “tunnel to be cut in stomach thru which hand is inserted” no longer necessary.  But further grafting will require further operations. ”[xvii]

“I’ve had my second skin graft.  My hand begins to look more like a hand although the news is not so good as it has become infected.  If it’s less than 60% take we’ll have to go thru it again which I’d rather not thanks anyway I’ll be fresh out of hide if we keep this up.

They’ve taken the skin for the back of my hand from my thigh so I’m going to have a very hairy back of hand.  In fact it strikes me that my hand will be rather patchwork with a muscular biscep [sic], [probably intends biceps] (ahem!) on the back of my fingers.”[xviii]

My hand is much better, thanks.  Still very ugly of course (who cares?) & a little stiff and uncomfortable.  I’m having daily ray & physiotherapy but manage to get to work at about 10am in the drawing office where I’m working as a glorified office boy, light duties, ahem, but I should be back at sea by Monday week, thank goodness.”[xix]

Back at Sea on the Beltana

“At first I was a bit shaky about going down into the engine room but I’m gradually gaining confidence & the Chief & the second engineer seem quite pleased with me which is encouraging.”[xx]

Then while waiting for his next assignment John does a five-day trip for the company with his old ship the S.S.Baroota working in the same engine room where he had his serious accident. He was replacing two colleagues on sick leave one off with a hernia, the other suffering from contact dermatitis.[xxi]

John next joined the S.S.Beltana where the fourth and final incident happened in April 1959.

“[O]n Thursday we had a major disaster. The steam pipe to the steering engine burst. Which meant of course, that the ship was entirely out of commission. So natch [colloquial, for naturally], your hero was in it up to his ears, …”[xxii]

The engine room of a ship can be a very dangerous place, and although John did not seriously get hurt this time the danger was ever-present. By the end of 1959 after three years at sea John resigns on 1 November after a month of leave returning permanently to land.[xxiii] He begins a new life with his new partner, Judith, who he met on the S.S. Monowai in 1958, the only passenger ship he worked on during his short seafaring career.

Inspiration

This post was written in response to the writing prompt May Day - Ancestor injuries and deaths, for more detail, see Elizabeth Swanay O'Neal, "The Genealogy Blog Party: May Day!," Heart of the Family™ (https://www.thefamilyheart.com/genealogy-blog-party-may-day/ : accessed May 28, 2022).

Useful links for background

WikiTree Profile for John Palmer Williamson (1923 - 2006)

T. S. S. Monowai, 1925 - 1960. http://www.nzmaritime.co.nz/monowai/monowai.htm. Accessed 28 May 2022.

For further reading

Christine Filiamundi, A Story to Tell: Letters from John Williamson to Judy Todman 1958 to 1959, 2021, self-published.

Related Posts

A thoroughly modern woman Judy and her Vespa

When Judy met John

Blogpost Meta Data

The URL for this post is: https://ancestralresearchjournal.blogspot.com/2022/05/john-williamson-hapless-marine-engineer.html originally published 29 May 2022

Author 2022, Sandra Williamson

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post. Share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest using the icons below. Or contact me by email via the Contact Form on the Blog.

Sources:


[i] Christine Filiamundi, A Story to Tell: Letters from John Williamson to Judy Todman 1958 to 1959, 2021, self-published, page 5.

[ii] E.Quale(Chief Engineer), Letter of Service for Mr. John Williamson at Selmer Engineering, 12 September 1953, Personal papers of John Williamson.

[iii] Christine Filiamundi, A Story to Tell: Letters from John Williamson to Judy Todman 1958 to 1959, 2021, self-published, page 5.

[iv] Letter Bill Riley to Christine Filiamundi, March 2015, Personal papers of Christine Filiamundi

[v] A.J. Norman (Chief Engineer), Letter of Service for Mr. J.P.Williamson on the S.S.ARAFURA, 3.12.56 to  12.4.57, 12 April 1957, Personal papers of John Williamson.

[vi] Alex. J. Sommerville (Chief Engineer Officer), Letter of Service for Mr. J.P.Williamson on the S.S.NELLORE, 11 September 1957 to 12 December 1957, Personal papers of John Williamson.

[vii] ‘What Is the Life of a Marine Engineer Like?’ Quora, https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-life-of-a-marine-engineer-like. Accessed 28 May 2022.

[viii] Letter Bill Riley to Christine Filiamundi, March 2015, Personal papers of Christine Filiamundi

[x] Letter dated March 1958 from John Williamson, SS Monowai to Judy Todman, New Zealand. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xi] MONOWAI RETURNS TO PORT, PRESS, VOLUME XCVII, ISSUE 28526, 4 MARCH 1958, PAGE 7, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19580304.2.53  accessed 28 May 2022

[xii] Letter dated 29 March 1958 from John Williamson, Sydney to Judy Todman, New Zealand. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xiii] John Williamson injury on the SS Baroota NAA:D935, 1958/121 citing Account of Wages and Effects of a Seaman Left behind on the Ground of Unfitness or Inability to proceed on the Voyage

[xiv] Letter dated 21 April 1958 from John Williamson, S.S. Baroota at Sea to Judy Todman. . (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xv] John Williamson injury on the SS Baroota NAA:D935, 1958/121 citing Inquiry report section concerning the Witness  Statement of Alan Charles KEATING (2nd Engineer of the “Baroota”), 8 May 1958

[xvi] John Williamson injury on the SS Baroota NAA:D935, 1958/121 citing Witness statement 2nd page [first page missing] of John Williamson in his own handwriting recording the events of the accident, witnessed on 1 May 1958.

[xvii] Letter dated 21 April 1958 from John Williamson, S.S. Baroota at Sea to Judy Todman. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.) [letter begun 21 April 1958 but finished several days later his accident. This letter has the first news of the injury to John’s hand.]

[xviii] Undated letter circa 3 May 1958, Williga Nursing Home, Adelaide from John Williamson to Judy Todman (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xix] Letter 29 July 1958 from John Williamson, c/o Adelaide Steamship Co., Drawing Office, East Balmain to Judy Todman, New Zealand. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xx] Letter 2 September 1958 from John Williamson, S.S. Beltana to Judith Todman, New Zealand. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xxi] Letter 28 January 1959 from John Williamson, S.S. Beltana to Judith Todman, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xxii] Letter 3 April 1959 from John Williamson, S.S. Beltana to Judith Todman, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. (from Judith Williamson’s collection of personal papers, original copy now held by Sandra Williamson.)

[xxiii] Register of engineer, Employment Record Card for J.P.Williamson, joined Adelaide Steamship Company  11 April 1958, resigned 1 November 1959, citing Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Register of engineer Jan 1946 - Dec 1949 (Creation), Reference code AU NBAC N46-914

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Matching Faces & Names

Unidentified photos in the family archive

Before telephones and the internet, keeping in touch was done by sending letters and photographs to relatives in far-flung places. They were precious reminders of extended family. As the years passed these artefacts became keepsakes, kept in albums, boxes or old biscuit tins. Some were labelled with names and dates but often the identifying details of the photos were contained in the accompanying letters they arrived with.  As the photographs travelled through time and were passed to the next generation they were often carefully divided amongst descendants and their accompanying correspondence discarded and/or separated from one or more of the photographs.

Around the year 2005, six Australian fourth Generation Descendants of Alfred Ellis and Martha Bartlett started to work loosely together to search out and contact other descendants and relatives. This work resulted in the discovery of eleven new relatives. Information, memories and images were all shared via the now-defunct Yahoo message boards in group called EllisCousins.[i]

Like the image of Alfred’s shop in England sent to his daughter in Western Australia. Other photographs were located, often multiple copies of the same photograph some with notations written on the back, some glued into Albums and others nameless sitting in old biscuit tins. Images and their information were gathered, compared and shared; people once unidentified became known. The remaining images still unidentified continue to be discussed and researched, timelines drawn up, foreheads, noses and chins compared against each other.

Alfred Ellis with his wife Martha Bartlett were the parents of seven children of which five migrated to Australia:

1.       Alfred Ellis born 1865, migrated to Australia constantly moving between New South Wales and Western Australia.

2.       Edward Ellis born 1867, migrated to Australia initially to New South Wales and finally settled in Victoria.

3.       Martha Sarah (Ellis) Simpson born 1870, migrated to Australia initially to Western Australia but finally settled in Victoria.

4.       Kate Ellen (Ellis) Wardle born 1872, migrated to Australia and settled in Western Australia.

5.       Charles Ellis born 1874, migrated to Scotland and then moved between Scotland and Australia before he finally settled in Western Australia.

6.       Walter Ellis born 1875, stayed in England.

7.       Frederick Ellis born 1876, migrated to Ireland but returned to England.

Martha died prematurely in 1880, leaving Alfred with children aged between fifteen and four, the youngest 5 still living at home in the 1881 Census.[ii] [iii] Alfred married Mary Elizabeth Southgate in 1883. Alfred with Mary then went on to have three children, one of who migrated to Australia:

1.       Horace Richard Ellis born 1884, died as a child in England.

2.       Millie Elizabeth (Ellis) Kennedy born 1885, migrated to Australia and settled in Western Australia.

3.       Hugh Alfred Ellis born 1887, stayed in England.

 Eventually, six of Alfred's ten children immigrated to Australia, settling on both the west and east coasts, a few moving frequently between states. This headcount does not include those that moved within the United Kingdom to Ireland and Scotland. Not everyone in the family would have the time, the money or the inclination to send letters and mementoes

Below is an example of two images found in someone’s collection of a man whose identity currently eludes us. No duplicates have yet been located.

Photographer unknown, Nameless gent, no details known, photo from Jim Bennett's Private Photo  Collection currently held by Dorothy Bennett [T023]


Photographer unknown, Nameless gent, no details known, photo from Jim Bennett's Private Photo Collection currently held by Dorothy Bennett [T023]

His face is similar to others in the collection perhaps a brother or cousin to someone, where and when the photos were taken is not known. But one day we might get lucky and be able to identify this gentleman and how he may or may not be related to our family or perhaps the wider family.

Other images relating to Alfred’s family can be seen in the following places

Inspiration

Sepia Saturday - Using old Images as Prompt for New Reflections – Prompt 620 : 7 May 2022

Useful Links

For more about Alfred Ellis's descendants see the Family Group Sheet for Alfred Ellis on WikiTree

Related Posts

Comparing two identical photos located on different sides of Australia 

A photograph of Alfred Edward Leigh Ellis with his Zither 

Article containing images of Walter Todman who married Martha Sarah Ellis

Article containing an image of Ted otherwise known as Edward Ellis 

 Blogpost Meta Data

The URL for this post is: https://ancestralresearchjournal.blogspot.com/2022/05/matching-faces-names.html originally published 5 May 2022 

Author 2022, Sandra Williamson

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post. Share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest using the icons below. Or contact me by email via the Contact Form on the Blog.

Sources

[i] Personal memory of the Sandra Williamson, moderator of the EllisCousins on Yahoo Groups, recalled 2020

[ii] General Register Office, England, Death certificate of Martha Lee, died 2 September 1888 while residing at 245 St George Road, Camberwell registration district, sub-district St George in the County of Surrey; GRO Reference: 1880 S Quarter in CAMBERWELL Volume 01D Page 534 [Aged 40]

[iii] 1881 English Census, Household of Alfred Lee, widower, residing with children Martha, Kate, Charles, Walter & Frederick Lee at 245 St Georges Rd, Camberwell registration district, sub-district St George, County of London, Enumeration District 21; RG11; Piece: 698; Folio: 21; Page: 35