News from 1922/1929: Retirement and Death of Capt Hambelton


Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 28 April 1929

CAPT. HAMBELTON DIES; COMMANDER OF LINERS
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On Olympic When Retired---Was on Two Ships Sunk by Submarines or Mines
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Wireless to The New York Times
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LONDON, April 27---Captain A. E. S. Hambelton, who was commander of the White Star liner Olympic at his retirement in 1923, died in a nursing home here today. Before going to the Olympic, he had served as master of the Celtic, Baltic, Belgic, Justicia and Adriatic. The decoration of commander of the British Empire was awarded to him in 1920 for his services during the World War.
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Captain Hambelton served the British Government for four and one-half years of the World War in the Arctic Ocean as far east as Archangel, in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Although two ships on which he was a passenger were torpedoed by submarines or sunk by mines and he had experience with raiders, he escaped personal injury. After the war, however, when in command of the Celtic, he was struck by a motor truck in New York and for a while was not expected to live.

While Captain Hambelton was relieved of his command by Captain David, that he might take a trip in the Justicia, that vessel was sunk after a running battle with eight submarines, which lasted twelve hours. On another occasion the captain had been relieved of command of the Celtic by Captain Hayes, owing to illness, and a steamship in which he was a passenger was struck by a mine and sank in shallow water off the Isle of Man.

Captain Hambelton was known as the "Mark Twain of the Atlantic," having an almsot [sic] inexhaustible répertoire of humorous stories and tales of adventure. He served his time in famous clipper ships, and had been second mate in the Cutty Sark. He was in the White Star Line for thirty-six years, twenty-seven of which he spent in command, commencing with the Gallic in the San Francisco and China trade. He had passed forty-four years at sea. He was one of the most popular commanders on the North Atlantic run.

On his final voyage as commander of the Olympic, Captain Hambelton had two gastric hemmorhages on the way here. He spent forty-four years way here. [sic] Since his retirement he had made two voyages from London to New Zealand for his health.

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[Moderator's Note: Edited 12/2/08 to correct my persistent misspelling of "Hambelton" when I transcribed this story. MAB]
 

Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 15 October 1922

DOG BACKS SKIPPER IN DOMESTIC ROW
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Wife of Captain Hambelton of the Olympic Not on Speaking Terms
With Cicero
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DIDN'T PROVIDE BONE DIET
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So Irish Terrier Goes out and Plucks Forget-Me-Nots as Reminder to Her
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Captain A. E. S. Hambleton, [sic] the master of the White Star liner Olympic,
is very proud of his Irish terrier Cicero, which will be his companion
when he retires from the sea next spring to the house he has recently
purchased at Golders Green, near London. Together they will explore the
ponds on Hampstead Heath and see if the tadpoles discovered by Mr.
Picklick are still there. The captain swears that if they are Cicero
will find them. Captain Ham­belton is a modest man and dislikes telling
stories about the dog's sagacity because he is afraid that his friends
will not believe them. Here are two he told yesterday before the Olympic
sailed for Southampton:

"You must understand that Cicero and I are great chums. My wife does
not like the dog. They barely speak to each other when I am away. One
day Mrs. Hambelton went to the coun­try and did not take any bones
for Cicero. When she returned the next afternoon there was a small bunch
of wild forget-me-nots lying on the door­steps."

"The day before I sailed last voyage," the Captain continued unabashed,
"I was sitting at breakfast with my wife and we had a slight argument
about some letters addressed to me which she had opened and mislaid.
Cicero was sitting beside my chair and looked up at my face in a
sympathetic manner. He understood what we had been talking about and was
on my side. Just then the letter carrier knocked at the door and thrust
two letters through the aperaure. [sic] Directly they fell on to the mat
Cicero rushed to the door and brought one back in his mouth and gave it
to me and left the other letter lying there."

During the early part of the war when Captain Hambelton was in
command of the auxilliary [sic] cruiser Celtic in the South Atlantic, he
spent his spare time study­ing aerial navigation and wrote a paper on
the steering of airplanes. He gained his knowledge, he said, from
watching the flight of the bo'sun birds round the big rock that has been
named after them. These birds have a caudal ap­pendage, in addition to
the ordinary ­tail, which is about eighteen inches long and shaped like
the marlin spike that was used for centuries on board ships when there
were real sailors.

The Captain, accompanied by a quartermaster, whom he said, had a
scien­tific turn of mind, landed on the rock frequently and noted that
these big seabirds used the tail like a rudder as they sailed through
the air. When the Bo'sun birds wanted to change from the port to the
starboard tack, the Cap­tain said they just shifted the spike tail over
and away they went. In order to make a test of this he caught several of
them and plucked the spike off which did not do the birds any injury but
made them topheavy. They turned sommersaults in the air and zigzagged
wildly until they regained their equilibrium by using their wings like
the port and starboard propellers of a steamship. Captain Hambelton
added that the British Admiralty did not ap­pear enthusiastic over
the paper he wrote on aerial navigation.

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Inger Sheil

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There's nothing like a dog story! Hambleton certainly doesn't seem to fit the taciturn model of a ship's master, does he? Seems quite chatty and gregarious...wonderful sense of inquisitiveness about the natural world, too! They did love their dogs, these old sailors - Hambleton, Lightoller, Lowe, Boxhall...even Smith, it seems.

One small point -
quote:

his companion when he retires from the sea next spring to the house he has recently purchased at Golden Green, near London. Together they will explore the ponds on Hempstead Heath and see if the tadpoles discovered by Mr. Picklick are still there.
I suspect that should be 'Golders Green' rather than 'Golden Green', and 'Hampstead Heath' rather than 'Hempstead'. My father lived in Golders Green back in the 50s, and I lived near Highgate on the other side of Hampstead Heath until last year. Golders Green is quite handy to Hampstead Heath, and I know the ponds mentioned in the article very well - I used to include them in my running route if I was going through the Heath, and I have lovely memories of passing them just as the sun was going down one summer evening. The blazing sunset was reflected in the ponds, and all was perfectly still. No tadpoles I can recall, unfortunately.​
 

Mark Baber

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that should be 'Golders Green' rather than 'Golden Green', and 'Hampstead Heath'

Yep, and that's how they appear in the article; my spellchecker changed 'em both. I've corrected the article.

Seems quite chatty and gregarious

Yep; sorta bears out what The Times' obit said about him. Sounds like quite an interesting character.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Aren't spellcheckers wonderful? Mine greatly improves the spelling in my business letters, and its insistence on changing my name at the end to 'Godforsaken' is a small price to pay.
 

Inger Sheil

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Bob Godforsaken, eh? Mark comes up with a fairly conventional 'Mark Barber', but I get 'Niger Sheila' (sounds like I'm an Aussie via an African river system).

Wonder if Hambleton ever thought about putting those yarns down in writing? And if there are any descendants still around? I might see if there are any local obits when I get back to the UK. Amazing life - everything up to and including being hit by a car. Reminds me of that saying that exists in various permutations on the net: 'Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "...what a ride!"'
 

Mark Baber

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I thought, apparently incorrectly, that I had once transcribed and posted here a series of articles from The New York Times about Hambleton's final trip as Olympic's commander. Until I get a chance to pull them out and post them, here's a summary:

11 January 1923: A day after Olympic leaves Southampton, Capt. Alexander E. S. Hambleton, making his final voyage before retiring, collapses on the bridge as a result of two gastric hemorrhages. He will remain under the care of the ship's physician, in critical condition, for the balance of the trip to New York. Although Hambleton's successor, Capt. H. F. David, is on board as an observer, Olympic's Assistant Commander E. R. White assumes command after the captain's collapse.

17 January 1923: When Olympic arrives in New York, Capt. Alexander E. S. Hambleton is taken by ambulance to a Dr. McMillan's private hospital on East Sixty-First Street in Manhattan, after having "nearly slipped his cable two or three times" since collapsing on 11 January. Capt. H. F. David will command Olympic on her return to Southampton.

10 February 1923: Cedric leaves New York for Liverpool, with Capt. George R. Metcalfe in command. One of Cedric's passengers is Capt. Alexander E. S. Hambleton, who is returning home to retirement after collapsing on Olympic's bridge on 11 January. Although still weakened by his illness, Hambleton takes the time to regale reporters at the pier with reminiscences of his fifty-year career at sea.

(Source: The New York Times, 18 January and 11 February 1923.)

Here's what I have for his being hit, nor by a car, but by a truck in New York in 1919:

11 February 1919: Celtic II, which arrived on 1 February, leaves New York for Liverpool without her commander, Capt. Alexander Hambleton. On a date I have not yet found, Hambleton was struck by a truck at 23rd Street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. He suffered a spinal injury, two fractured ribs and two deep cuts in his head, and was taken unconscious to Bellevue Hospital in such grave condition from that doctors did not expect him to survive.

(Source: The New York Times, 2 and 11 February and 14 April 1919.)

There's no report of the accident itself in The Times, but I have this on a "to do" list for an anticipated trip to the New York Public Library in the next month or so; maybe one on NYC's other papers had something.
 

Inger Sheil

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quote:

Although still weakened by his illness, Hambleton takes the time to regale reporters at the pier with reminiscences of his fifty-year career at sea.
I love that line. It seems to sum him up. The more you tell us about Hambleton, the more I like him!​
 

Mark Baber

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In this thread, elsewhere on this board and in several other fora, I have routinely spelled the name of the officer in question as "Hambleton," based on several New York Times articles. In digging through some Ellis Island manifests over the past few days, I've come to realize that the correct spelling is "Hambelton" and the two NYT articles in this thread have been revised to account for that. Similar corrections will be forthcoming elsewhere.

And, from a number of memorial notices placed in The Times on anniversaries of Capt. Hambelton's death, I now know that the initials "E. S." stand for "Elvin Sherwin."
 

Mark Baber

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The Times, 29 April 1929

CAPTAIN HAMBELTON
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Captain Alexander E. S. Hambelton, C.B.E., late master mariner of the
White Star line, died at a nursing home at Golders Green on Saturday. He
retired from active service in January, 1923, after over 30 years'
service with the company, which he had joined as a junior officer in
1892. His commands included the Celtic, Belgic, Baltic, and Adriatic and
in 1921 he succeeded Sir Bertram Hayes in command of the Olympic. He was
made a C.B.E. in April, 1920, in recognition of his services during the
War. His great personal charm and sense of humour had endeared him to a
host of friends. The funeral service will be at Golders Green to-morrow
at 2.30.

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Mark Baber

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The Times, 27 November 1922

OLYMPIC CAPTAIN'S RETIREMENT
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Captain Alex. E. S. Hambelton, C.B.E., Commander of the White Star Line
steamer Olympic, will retire under the company's age limit at the end of the
year. Captain Hambelton was born sixty years ago at Barking, and his first
voyage, at the age of ten, was in his grandfather's vessel. He joined the
White Star Line in 1892, and since 1903 has been in command successively of
the Celtic, Baltic, Adriatic, and Olympic.

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Mark Baber

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MAB Note: The following has nothing to do with Hambelton's retirement or death, but it fits here better than in the other thread devoted to him. This is an excerpt from a long article describing Celtic's first war-time arrival at New York.

The New York Times, 16 August 1914

CELTIC BRINGS 1,566 AND PLEA TO WILSON
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Capt. A. E. S. Hambelton of the Celtic said that he went north of the usual
route and encountered foggy weather the first half of the voyage. He said
that Americans in Europe appeared to be nervous and worried over how they
should get back home. An old friend of his, an engineer, telegraphed him
from Paris to the ship at Liverpool: "How shall I get back to Providence?
All steamers are full." The Captain replied laconically: "Swim."
***

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