News from 1913 and 1934: Retirement/Death of Capt Kempson

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Mark Baber

Staff member
The Evening Post, Wellington, 6 March 1934
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,


Fifty-four years' service with the Shaw, Savill, and Albion Co., Ltd., was
the record of Captain C. H. Kempson, news of whose death at Paignton, South
Devon, on January 23, at the age of 82, has been received by the New Zealand
office of the company. A man of fine character, he was in command of the
Athenic for over eleven years. Many thousands of New Zealanders travelled
with him, and he had many friends in the Dominion. In fact, on his last
voyage, twenty-one years ago, he remarked that he had far more friends, and
knew far more people in New Zealand than he did in England.

Captain Kempson was forty-four years at sea. After his retirement from sea
service he was appointed marine superintendent at Plymouth for the White
Star Line and associated companies, from which position he retired in 1923.
He was one of the few men who served his apprenticeship with the White Star
Line and remained with it during the whole of his career at sea. In all he
made 70 round-the-world voyages, 64 of which were in the New Zealand trade,
and during the whole of his long service at sea he did not have a single
mishap. He made 27 voyages in the Athenic during his command of over 11
years of that vessel.

Captain Kempson's first visit to New Zealand was made in 1883 as third
officer of the first Ionic, on her maiden voyage. Subsequently he was
promoted to second officer. In that capacity he transferred to the Coptic in
May, 1884, and he afterwards served as chief officer in the same ship. In
June, 1889, he received his appointment as master in the White Star Line,
his first command being the old Oceanic, the pioneer steamer of the line. A
few months later he was appointed to the Coptic in the New Zealand service.
He transferred to the Doric in January, 1893, and ten months later to the
first Ionic, of which he had command in the New Zealand service until she
was sold in 1900. His next command was the Runic, on her maiden voyage to
Australia in 1900. After making two voyages in her he went to Belfast to
take command of the Athenic when she was delivered by her builders in
December, 1901. The Athenic was the first of the famous trio of sister-ships
specially built for the New Zealand trade, the others being the Corinthic
and second Ionic, and for many years these vessels were easily the largest
in the New Zealand trade.

Early in his sea-going career Captain Kempson joined the Royal Naval
Reserve. He received his first commission as lieutenant in 1886, and in 1897
was placed on the retired list. Under his command the Athenic always flew
the Naval Reserve flag. When he was appointed marine superintendent at
Plymouth twenty-one years ago, he was the senior employee of the White Star


Mark Baber

Staff member
MAB Note: The voyage referred to here ended with Athenic's arrival at
Gravesend on 10 March 1913.

The Evening Post, Wellington, 15 January 1913
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,


It is reported that Captain Charles H. Kempson, of the White Star liner
Athenic, and one of the best known and most popular commanders in the
Shaw-Savill passenger service, is about to retire from his active sea-going
career. He is at present in New Zealand waters on what is understood to be
his last voyage. On his return to England it is understood that he will take
up the shore appointment of Marine Superintendent for the White Star Line at

Few shipmasters in the New Zealand trade have had a longer or more
successful career than Captain Kempson. Over forty years ago he started as
cadet on board the Liverpool training-ship Conway, and later he served his
sea-going apprenticeship in one of the sailing ships belonging to the White
Star Line. After gaining his second officer's certificate he continued for a
time in the firm's sailing ships, and then served as junior officer in
several of the steamers. He was third officer of the Coptic in the early
eighties, the late Captain E. J. Smith, of the ill-fated Titanic, being
second officer. After serving some time in the White Star mail steamers
between San Francisco and China, Captain Kempson was engaged in the New
Zealand trade as an officer in the Coptic. When Captain Bence, of that
steamer, died on the passage to London, Captain Kempson, who was then chief
officer, took command.

In 1902 the Athenic, the first of the three big 12,000 ton liners built by
the White Star line for the New Zealand trade, was commissioned, and Captain
Kempson, who was then in command of the Runic in the Australian trade, was
appointed commander of the new ship. How successful his career in that
vessel has been is evidenced by the fact that the Athenic, which has been
trading constantly between London and New Zealand for twelve years, and is
now on her 27th round voyage, has never met with a single accident, and has
never had any other commander during that long period. As master of the
Athenic Captain Kempson has travelled over 650,000 knots between London and
New Zealand, and has carried many thousands of passengers.

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