News from 1923 Retirement of Capt Crossland

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
MAB Note: On 28 September 1923 Athenic arrived at Southampton to conclude
Capt Crossland's final voyage as a White Star commander. That voyage began
when Athenic left Wellington on 16 August.

The Evening Post, Wellington, 13 August 1923
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,


Captain J. E. Crossland, R.N.R., R.D., master of the Royal mail steamer
Athenic, at present in port, will leave his ship for good when she arrives
in London. He has been at sea for over forty years, and many of those years
in the Athenic, and feels it about time for settling down. In a little talk
had with Captain Crossland by a representative of "The Post," much that was
personal and everything that was interesting was learned of the life of one
who has plied "a swift shuttle of an Empire's loom," as Kipling calls the
mail steamer. The sun was just over the foreyard at the time, the place was
Captain Crossland's cabin on the Athenic---a ship, it was evident, that was to
him as a home.

It came out that the captain is Canadian born, his birthplace being
Hamilton, Ontario. As a boy he yearned to go to sea, like hundreds of
thousands of other boys; and his father, with no delusions about a life on
the sea, wished him to stay on shore, just as hundreds of thousands of other
fathers have done. As Captain Crossland's father looked at the matter---he was
an architect---the boy's choice lay between a life of wandering, hard living,
danger, rough fare, and incessant toil, and a gentlemanly profession (his
own) with highly remunerative possibilities, although not to be compared
with the variety of life and incident at sea. However, for all that he had
no delusions about the sea, for all that the glamour of adventure possessed
no charms for himself, he gave way to the boy Crossland, and put him to
school on board H.M.S. Conway. As the boy insisted on going to sea, he
appeared to argue, he might as well do it in proper style. So young
Crossland became a Conway boy, and he is finishing his career of 44 years at
sea as the master of a Royal mail steamer, and with no regrets that, after
all, his father let him make his choice.


Captain Crossland left the Conway with a double extra certificate, and a
winner of seamanship and English history and other prizes. He no doubt
looked a nice, clean, wholesome lad in his navy blue uniform and bright
brass buttons; but that appearance did not last long once he went aboard the
ship Kirkwood, belonging to Joseph Steele and Sons, Liverpool. They were
limejuice days, and the harness cask and hard bread barrel with eternal
split peas furnished the fundamentals of the daily meal. Captain Crossland
was four years in the Kirkwood, and might have been longer, but she was
dismasted and foundered in the North Atlantic, after having been stranded on
the bar of the Columbia River, Portland, Oregon. All were saved from the
Kirkwood ere she went down.

"My father," said Captain Crossland, "hoped, after this experience, that I
would give up the sea; but its fascination was too much for me. I would go
on; and so I sat for my first examination, and as a result was appointed
second mate of the Earlscourt, another Liverpool vessel. After twelve months
in her I was one of six survivors of the ship. She was wrecked on the Margin
Sands, in the Bristol Channel. However, I would not leave the sea, so sat
for another examination, got my ticket, and went second mate of the Clymne,
a proper, solid British tramp steamer, belonging to Cardiff. My experience
in the Clymne enabled me to sit for a master's certificate, and having
obtained it I decided to make the British mercantile marine my profession.

In 1887 I joined the P. and O. Company as fifth officer of the Carthage, and
rose to second officer of the Himalaya, both mail steamers. I served in many
trades of the P. and O. Company.


"In 1896 I married ---

"Why do girls marry sailors?"

"Yes; why? However, when I married I recognised that I had had very little
home life from a boy upward, and this fact, together with long service in
tropical waters, made me think of the Western Ocean trade. So I resigned
from the P. and O. service. The company was most reluctant to
accept my resignation, pointing to the prospects the service held and the
value to me of the years of service I had put in. But I had made up my mind.
I saw the P. and O. point of view, and I saw my own---both clearly.
Nevertheless, I obtained an appointment with the White Star Company, and I
have never regretted it.

"Now I am going Home; going for good from New Zealand, which has also been
to me as another home. When I take the Athenic out of Port Nicholson, it
will be for the last time as her commander; out past Pencarrow and round the
corner for the last time. I am leaving New Zealand with many regrets, as
you may be sure; snapping many ties of friendships but carrying away very
pleasant recollections of them. There is just a note of sadness in it all;
but there must be a last passage homeward for all of us."


Captain Crossland has a distinguished career at sea. In 1892 he obtained a
commission in the Royal Naval Reserve, and in 1908 he was awarded by the
late King Edward the Royal Navy Reserve decoration for long and
distinguished service as a commissioned officer. He has commanded the White
Star liners Tropic, Bovic, Corinthic, Cymric, and Ceramic. His first
experience of warfare was on the Mediterranean Station, where he served as
lieutenant in the flagship H.M.S. Revenge. He was present and took part in
the bombardment of Suda Bay, Crete, in 1897. He was offered a commission in
the Royal Navy, but preferred service in the mercantile marine. He entered
the White Star Company's service in 1898.


When the Great War broke out in 1914 Captain Crossland was commanding the
Athenic, which arrived in Wellington four days after hostilities had begun.
The liner was there and then taken over as a transport of New Zealand
troops. The Athenic carried the first New Zealand Main Body men to Egypt and
subsequently the 20th and 27th Reinforcements under Captain Crossland. He
was not in the Athenic all the time of the war, being transferred to the
Cymric, carrying munitions. She was the only one of five vessels in company
which got past the German submarines; four were sent to the bottom Captain
Crossland escaped with the Cymric. Then he was appointed to the Corinthic,
taking soldiers back to Australia; after that he commandeded [sic] the
Ceramic, and for six months carried American troops acros [sic] the
Atlantic. In March, 1920, Captain Crossland was transferred to the Athenic.
During his trooping services, Captain Crossland lost but two men, one being
a soldier, who committed suicide on the Corinthic, and the other a coloured
soldier in the American Army, who died of heart disease.

It was while in command of the Athenic that Captain Crossland effected a
rescue at sea that earned for him a much-prized recognition from the United
States Government. It is a handsome gold watch, the gift of the late
President Harding, on behalf of the American people. In response to
a wireless call when near San Salvador the Athenic made with all speed for
Gardiner Reef arriving on 3rd May, 1920. There the United States steamer
Munama [sic; should be "Munamar"] was hard ashore and eighty-three
passengers were on the reef. The Athenic took them off, bag and baggage,
landing them all well at Newport News.

Captain Crossland will leave very many friends behind him in New Zealand
when he takes the Athenic out of Wellington Harbour next Wednesday.

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