News from 1894/1908: Retirement and death of Capt. Jennings

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB note: To the extent that this article says that Jennings spent two and a half years on the Hong Kong-San Francisco route, it's wrong. He only took Oceanic I on her first two transpacific roundtrips in 1875, and then returned to the North Atlantic.

The Evening Post, Wellington, 16 November 1894
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,

Captain J. W. Jennings, late of the Gothic, having retired from active
duty, intends spending the remainder of his days in well-earned retirement,
and the following particulars of his career may be of interest:---Captain
Jennings is the senior commander in the British merchant service. His
record is a splendid and unique one, being absolutely free from accident,
though it covers a period of 64 years at sea. He first shipped in 1830, and
has commanded several ships in the China, East India, and Australian
trades---the Julia, Philip Dean, Surthomley, Contest---his last sailing ship
being the well-known Dhuleep Singh, in the fleet of Messrs. Ismay,
Tomlinson, and Co., Liverpool. From 1871 to 1894 he commanded the following
White Star liners---Asiatic, Gaelic, Oceanic, Baltic, Celtic, Adriatic,
Doric, and last of all the splendid vessel now in port, the s.s. Gothic---a
record of 10 years on the Atlantic from Liverpool to New York, 10 1/2 years
in the trade from London to New Zealand, and the other two and a-half years
in the Pacific, Brazil, China, Japan, and San Francisco lines.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB notes: 1. A virtually identical article appeared in a number of
newspapers in Australia and New Zealand in December 1908; this is the
earliest one I've found so far with the 6 November dateline, and I have not
found any report that contains the actual date of Jennings's death. 2.
Brazil was not a call on the transpacific service, as suggested here, but
was a call on the homeward leg of the New Zealand service. 3. Jennings
also made at least one White Star steamer voyage to South America, in 1873
on Gaelic I. 4. See note in the message above this one.

The Marlborough Express, Blenheim, New Zealand, 21 December 1908
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,


LONDON, Nov. 6

By the death of Captain John William Jennings, R.N.R., at the advanced age
of 91, the shipping world suffers the loss of probably its oldest and most
remarkable member, and one whose seafaring record was spread over 64 years
of active service. An Irishman by descent, Captain Jennings was born on
September 24, 1817, at Llanfaethlu, in Anglesey. His love of the sea was
shown at an early age, for he is reported to have run away from home in the
year 1830, to be apprenticed to Messrs J. Moss and Co., of Liverpool. In six
years, at the age of 19, he had become second officer, and then served for
three years as mate with Messrs Hornby. Taking his master's certificate in
1840, when only 23, he was a captain of Messrs Moore's ships for 20 years,
and subsequently for a further ten years with Messrs Imrie, Tomlinson and

In 1871 Captain Jennings became master in the White Star line, the Shaw,
Savill and Albion Company, and remained in their service as active captain
until his retirement in 1894 at the great age of 77, after commanding eight
of the company's steamers, and attaining a record of 54 years as active
shipmaster. During his 23 years' connection with the White Star line he had
sailed ships for three years in the Pacific, Brazil, China, Japan, and San
Francisco lines, for ten years in the Atlantic, and for another ten years
from London to New Zealand. In the course of his 64 years at sea Captain
Jennings sailed 41 times round the world, and his most rapid voyage, in the
ship Doric, occupied 76 days 6 hours, and covered a distance of 25,000

This unique record is rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that
during all these long years he never caused a single claim to be made on the


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB notes: 1. The day before this article appeared, The Evening Post
reported that the purse consisted of 300 sovereigns and that the ceremony
was at 4 p.m. 2. Unstated in this article (and indeed in all of the
reporting of this visit of Gothic to New Zealand) is that this would be
Jennings' final trip to New Zealand as Gothic's comamnder. Whether his
impending retirement was known at the time of this ceremony I know not.

The Evening Post, Wellington, 26 July 1894
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,
Papers Past

The purse of sovereigns and address from the passengers on the last outward
trip of the Gothic were presented to Captain Jennings in the smoking saloon
of his fine vessel yesterday afternoon. Those present at the ceremony were
Mr. G. E. Tolhurst (General Manager of the Union Bank in New Zealand),
Captain Babot (Marine Superintendent of the Shaw Savill Company), Captain
Rose (General Manager of the New Zealand Shipping Company), and Messrs
Edward Pearce (Levin & Co.), N. Reid and A. Turnbull (W. & G. Turnbull &
Co.), A. H. Miles (Murray, Roberts, & Co.), Charles Pharazyn, and E. D.

Mr. Tolhurst said that he received a letter from Sir George Grey and others
who were passengers on the last Homeward trip, intimating their
determination to ask Captain Jennings' acceptance of an address and gift,
and when it became known here several others expressed a desire to join in
the presentation. The contributions had been sent to him with a request that
he would make the presentation, which he had much pleasure in undertaking.
At the same time he had to express the regret of many of the subscribers
that they could not be present. Amongst the signatures to the address there
would be noticed that of the Right Hon. Sir George Grey. He hoped Captain
Jennings would be pleased with the gift, and that they would have the
pleasure of seeing him in these waters on many future occasions. (Applause.)

The address, handsomely illumined by Mr. W. R. Bock, of this city, and
enclosed in a portfolio, read as follows:---

"To Captain Jennings, R.N.R., commanding the R.M.S. Gothic.

Dear Sir---We, whose names are attached to this address, desire in a few
words to give expression to the high esteem and respect in which you are
held, not only by us, but by all who have the privilege of your friendship,
and with this address we beg you to be good enough to accept the
accompanying purse as a trifling token of our regard.

"Those of us who have had the pleasure of sailing with you can bear
testimony to your unfailing courtesy, and to the kind attention you
constantly give to ensure the comfort and convenience of all on board yonr

"In the language of the Psalmist of old 'your way is in the sea and your
paths in the great waters,' and no more worthy representative of your noble
profession has ever visited these shores. You have attained a time of life
when most men seek rest from labour, but we rejoice to know that the vigour
of health remains with you still, and we earnestly hope that strength may be
given you to continue for many years to actively follow the calling you love
so well.

"Again assuring you of our deep regard,
"We subscribe ourselves,
"Your Sincere Friends."

Captain Jennings said his friends who made the gift had placed him in just
such a fix as the old farmer who had a cartload of potatoes and a big hill
in front of him. When he got to the top the linch-pin came out, the cart
tilted, and the whole lot of the potatoes rolled down the hill. Taking off
his hat, the old farmer mopped his perspiring head, and exclaimed, "I won't
swear, because I can't do it justice." (Laughter.) Well, he was in'a similar
predicament. (Laughter.) He would not make a long speech, because he could
not do it justice, but he would ask Mr. Tolhurst to tender his sincere
thanks to those absent friends, as he did in person to those who were
present, for their splendid gift and their kind wishes. He could not find
sufficiently expressive language to tell them half what he felt in his
heart. (Applause.)

The health of the popular skipper---"the Grand Old Man of the Ocean" someone
appropriately termed him---was then honoured by the company.


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