News from 1907/1909: Retirement/Death of Capt Cameron

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Mark Baber

The New York Times, 15 March 1909

Veteran White Star Commander Was One of the Best Known Atlantic Skippers
President Gave Him a Watch for Rescuing Schooner's Crew in a
Blizzard---Spent His Life at Sea
Captain John C. [sic; should be "G."] Cameron of the White Star Line, who
for a quarter of a century was one of the best known transatlantic liner
commanders on the Atlantic, and who, until April of last year, was in
command of the great White Star liner Oceanic, died in Southampton,
England, yesterday. The news of Capt. Cameron's death was received by
John Lee, the Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine
Company, yesterday afternoon.

Few sea captains were better known to the American transatlantic
traveling public than Capt. Cameron, and as commander of the Oceanic for
so many years, he had as passengers some of the best known men and women
of this country and Europe. He wore a splendid gold watch that
President Cleveland presented to him as a token of the Government's
appreciation of his rescue of the crew of the American schooner Jose
Reeves, off Fire Island, during a terrible blizzard in February, 1895.

Capt. Cameron at that time commanded the Teutonic, and was off Fire
Island when the blizzard raged the fiercest. So terrific was the force
of the storm that Capt. Cameron decided to pit to sea again, and during
the two days that he was delayed, while waiting for the storm to abate,
he effected the rescue of the crew of the Reeves, which was in a
waterlogged condition and in momentary danger of sinking, while the crew
were helpless. In addition to presenting the watch to Capt. Cameron,
the President also wrote him a personal letter of congratulation.

Capt. Cameron was a big, fine-looking man, typically English in
appearance, and one of the strictest disciplinarians in the
transatlantic service. It is said of him that a certain famous woman
once asked him, as the Oceanic cleared Sandy Hook on the way to England,
if he thought the ship would reach Liverpool in time to catch a certain
train for London.

"Madam," Capt. Cameron replied, "you will have just seven minutes to get
that train when the Oceanic docks in Liverpool."

It was said that the woman had just eight minutes leeway when she
stepped ashore in England, but she got the train.

Capt. Cameron insisted on his ship that perfect decorum on the part of
officers, crew, and passengers should always prevail. A story is told
of a Welsh Mersey pilot who yelled an order to one of the officers.
Capt. Cameron promptly reproved the pilot and told him he had
quartermasters stationed along the ship to carry messages and did not
want any more "bawling on the Oceanic."

"Well, I will be blowed," remarked the pilot. "I never though this was
a bloomin' warship;" but he did not bawl again.

Capt. Cameron was 56 years old, and from the age of sixteen until April
1907, he was almost continually at sea. He was connected with the White
Star Line for thirty-four years and was the Commodore of the White Star
fleet of steamers. For twenty-five years of that time he was a Captain.
He was also a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve.

In 1907 Capt. Cameron relinquished command of the Oceanic to become the
Superintendent of the White Star Line in Southampton, when that port was
made the terminal for the express liners of the line, between England
and New York. He resigned that position a few weeks ago.


Inger Sheil

Thanks for that, MAB - I believe that the subject of Cameron's pre- and post- Oceanic career has come up for discussion, and that piece answers a lot of questions. I had no idea he was so terribly young when he passed away. The anecdotes are gorgeous, and fit in very well with Lightoller's characterisation of the man! I'll be adding that one to my WSL officer database.

Mark Baber

I had no idea he was so terribly young when he passed away.

Neither did I. The NYT article says that he quit as Southampton superintendent a few weeks before he died; somewhere in my folders I have an article from The Times (London), 11 March 1909, announcing Cameron's retirement for health reasons. Neither article makes any reference as to the nature of his illness.

Inger Sheil

Now that you've given us an idea of the date he'll be easy to trace material for - I'll add him to the list of look ups. Will see what the Soton papers had to say about it as well. The obit really fills in an important piece of WSL history.

Mark Baber

The New York Times, 22 March 1907

Veteran Commander of the Oceanic Has Been a Sailor 38 Years

After thirty-four years' service with the White Star Line, Capt. John C. [sic; should be "G."] Cameron, Commodore of the fleet, is to retire from active sea duty and become the company's superintendent at Southampton, at the inauguration of the new Royal Mail Service of the White Star Line between that port and New York. Capt. Cameron will end his sea-going service when his present command, the steamer Oceanic, which arrived yesterday, again reaches Liverpool.

Capt. Cameron was born in Liverpool 54 years ago. He went to sea when he was 16 years old. He entered the employ of the White Star Line as chief officer of the Ring Dove, a bark sailing from Liverpool to Valparaiso, and rose steadily to his present high place. As Commodore he took the Oceanic when she came out, and at that time she was the largest steamship afloat.

The skipper of the Oceanic is wearing a magnificent gold watch presented to him by the President of the United States in recognition of his services while Captain of the Teutonic in saving the crew of the American schooner Josie Reeves off Fire Island in the blizzard of Feb. 8, 1895.

Capt. Cameron has been twenty-five years a commander on the sea. He is married and lives near Liverpool.


Inger Sheil

Yet more great background and leads to follow up, MAB. Has anyone heard of the 'Ring Dove'? I might pop out tomorrow and check Lloyds to see what turns up under that name. The Josie Reeves story also looks well worth chasing.

Mark Baber

Has anyone heard of the 'Ring Dove'?

Nope, and she's not in the incomplete sailing ship lists contained in Anderson or Oldham.

The Josie Reeves story also looks well worth chasing.

I've got it; details will appear here shortly. However, there's apparently nothing in The New York Times about the watch other than these two articles.

[MAB Note: "Shortly," as it turned out, meant "almost two years," but the story of the rescue of Josie Reeves now appears here.]

Inger Sheil

Unusual name, 'Ring Dove'! Will see what turns up. Do you think there's a possibility it's an error in the article, or that it's a potential addition to the Anderson or Oldham lists? Too little data to say yet, I imagine...

Good to hear that there's more on the Josie Reeves story to come! At this rate, the Cameron folder is expanding fast.
I posted this to the TML but will also put it here. Lightoller is commenting on the Oceanic, and gives his own portrait of John G. Cameron.

"Last, but by no means least, her Captain, John G. Cameron. A martinet to his fingertips, who set a standard, that I, for one, found it difficult to live up to. He was deep voiced and bluff, but a splendid seaman, and proud of his ship. With his blue eyes and ginger beard he was a broad shouldered edition of Captain Kettle. Head erect and shoulders back, he would walk out on the bridge, and fire off a volley of questions, and woe betide the unfortunate officer that hadn’t an answer ready. Not to be able to answer each, and every one, as quickly as they were shot at you, in his deep staccato tones, was to invite the brief but pungent query, “Then what the hell are you here for?” To give any back chat or even look what you felt would not only put a term to your services in that ship, but probably ruin your prospects in the Line. Yet to be appointed to her was the most signal compliment. Of course, we all knew the questions he was most likely to ask, and had answers ready. They usually ran: “What are the revolutions?” “What’s on the log at eight bells?” “How’s the barometer?” “Where’s the wind?” “What time does the moon rise?” This latter was not an easy one to answer correctly, and meant a lot of figuring out. As a rule, a broad guess was near enough, for John G. didn’t always bear your replies in mind. One officer, six feet three inches, and misnamed “Little,” well liked throughout the Line, and not least by John G., was saluted one evening with the usual rattle of questions, the last one being, “What time does the moon rise?” to which Little replied, “Eleven-fifteen, sir.” It then being seven-thirty o’clock and Cameron in full mess kit on his way down to dinner. With that Cameron turned smartly round and left the bridge, but as he was going down the ladder to the promenade deck, behold a cloud rolled away, leaving a full moon high up in the sky. Cameron saw it, and, for a wonder remembered what Little had said, so when he returned to the bridge after dinner, with his cigar a-cock-bill, his first question was in a particular “Now I’ve got you, my lad” tone:

“You told me the moon rose at eleven fifteen, sir?”

Little, not to be caught out, replied:

“I’m awfully sorry, sir, I got hold of last year’s calendar.”

“You did, did you? Bring it here and let me see it,” said Cameron, with a suspicious squint out of the corner of his eye. Little immediately replied, in a tone of deep respect:

“I threw it overboard sir, so that no one else should make the same mistake.”

Cameron looked straight at him and then turned on his heel with an irrepressible chuckle, and the slow, but pungent remark, “You damned liar.”

He never minced matters in his remarks to his officers, although heaven help the man who took them literally.

The Oceanic’s bridge was covered with expensive white rubber, laid in narrow strips, representing planks. This had to be scrubbed every morning with bath brick, until it was snow white. Incidentally if it was not scrubbed and got salt water on in, it became so abominably slippery that we had to lay down coir matting to walk on. She had a bow fronted wheel house, and covered in bridge amidships. After a shower I used to amuse myself, when she had got a slight roll on, by trying to slide from one side of the bridge to the other, without touching anything. It was rather difficult to negotiate the forward bulge of the wheel house, steering between this and the wheel on the bridge. With much practice I became so proficient that four out of five times I would make the passage without touching. One morning, after several ineffectual attempts, I at last came across in one beautiful sweep, shooting both wheel house and wheel, when, to my horror, on the opposite side, out stepped John G. Cameron.

“And what the hell do you think you’re doing, sir?”

I replied, “I’m awfully sorry, sir. I slipped.”

“Slipped, did you? I wish you had broken your damned neck, sir, as you nearly broke mine.”

And with that the incident was closed.

Lightoller Titanic and Other Ships

Pat W

Mark Baber

The New York Times, 9 February 1895


Inger Sheil

Now that is what you want your Captain - or your King, to look like! You can just see that he's The Right Sort! Put him up next to Edward VII, George V or Nicholas II of Russia and he'd be right at home. Or colleague Edward J Smith. None of this cleanshaven nonsense. Ah, for the days when to be hirsute was de rigeur among our leaders...

Great image, MAB! One to add to the library of ship's crews and masters.

Mark Baber

Great image

I thought so, too. I first located (but didn't copy) it a few months ago, and only found it again (and cleaned up a so-so photocopy) this week. The article also had a drawng of Teutonic accompanying it; when I get the chance, I'll clean that up as well.

This Cameron and a similar Isidor Straus from 1893 sorta make me wonder what else in the same vein might have appeared in The Times in its pre-photographic days.
Great stuff MAB!

I found a wonderful sketch of Archibald Butt in the Philadelphia Public Ledger from April 17,1912 that I want to put up here as soon as I get another scanner.

I may get some direction from you on cleaning it up a bit.

Rosanne MacIntyre

Inger Sheil

That has scrubbed up well, MAB! A nice line drawing is much easier to get those tell-tale microfilm stripes off than a photo (although with the wonders of today's graphics programs, it's remarkable what can be done in that direction as well).

Looking forward to seeing the Archibald Butt sketch, Ro. I need to get sorted with a scanner as well - is quite frustrating being without one at the moment.

Mark Baber

From The Strand Magazine, July 1897, retrieved through Google Books.

From a Photo. by Falk, New York

Mark Baber

The Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand, 18 March 1909
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site

News has been received by cable of the death in England of Captain J. G.
Cameron, of the White Star Line, who was well known in New Zealand some
years ago as the captain of the Ionic - the forerunner of the ship which now
bears the same name. It was as captain of that ship that he made his first
trip to New Zealand about twenty-three years ago, and since then, as
commodore of the White Star fleet, he has held many important commands. Of
late years, however, his health gave way, due, probably, in the first place
to an experience he had as captain of the Teutonic. She encountered a
terrible blizzard. Captain Cameron for thirty-six hours never left the
bridge, and he never fully recovered from the consequent strain. His last
command was the Oceanic, which he left two or three years ago to take up the
position of the company's General Superintendent on shore. Shortly
afterwards he was granted twelve months' leave of absence, which was partly
spent, with his wife and family, in New Zealand. He returned to England
about a year ago, but his health did not improve, and on Sunday he passed
away at his home in Southampton. Captain Cameron, who was in his fifty-ninth
year, was well known to many New Zealanders who have gone to or from the Old
Country by way of America. He was a man of sterling qualities, a capable and
fearless sailor, and one who had a singular facility of endearing himself to
those with whom he came in contact. He married the third daughter of the
late Mr. John Martin, and was, therefore, brother-in-law of Dr. Martin and
Mr. Robert O'Connor, of this city. He leaves a widow and a son and daughter.

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