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The Personal Side of Some of the Popular Captains of Atlantic Liners

"I suppose Captain V— is still in command of the A?" asked a woman, as she was about to engage her passage on one of the fleet transatlantic liners, sailing from New York to an English port.

Not for this trip," replied the clerk. "He wanted to attend the wedding of his niece in London, and, to enable him to do it, we have arranged to have him take command of the B— sailing a week later."

"I have been going over for five years in the A—, because I have so much faith in Captain V—, and I would rather wait a week to sail with him."

This conversation, which was heard last week at the office of one of the principal steamship lines, is one of many instances of the manner in which the personality of a captain influences intending tourists in their choice of a steamship. The practice has become so marked in recent years that nearly all the commanders of the principal vessels have their circle of friends on whom they can count to meet on shipboard every year.

It is not so much a matter of sentiment as a sensation of safety that leads ocean travelers to select a vessel captained by one with whom they have been brought in personal relations, and in whose seamanship they have the greatest confidence. When a captain has once been assigned to the command of a vessel that bridges in five days the two hemispheres he has reached a rank that has been won over hardships and obstacles that few men in other walks of life are called upon to encounter and overcome. His qualifications for the post have been so exhaustively tested that the company feels every assurance in giving him a command over a flying force of probably fifteen thousand tons, carrying within its bulk sometimes as many as two thousand persons. It is rare, indeed, that the judgment of the companies in selecting their commanders has been shown to be unsound.

The custom of late years has brought the captain more into social relationship with the saloon passengers. It is quite a privilege to be seated at the captain's table, where, instead of playing the part of host, he is treated more as an honored guest. He meets the passengers on his tours of inspection about the ship, and if the voyage is quite free from fogs, gales, and other dangers that require his almost constant presence on the bridge, he can give part of his spare time to some of the cabin and deck diversions. The American tourists especially have a high regard for the friendship of a captain under whom they have made several trips. One well-known English commander informed the writer that he frequently received from Americans with whom he had crossed as many as forty invitations, after one voyage, to visit them at their city or country homes. He felt that he had to decline all of them, because he did not wish to accept some at the risk of having his preference the subject of unfavorable comment among those whose invitations had to be declined. Another captain, when asked about the custom of travelers in choosing a vessel for their voyage more for the sake of the man in command than the ship itself, replied that in his own experience he generally met each year on his ship several passengers who had crossed the ocean ferry with him in his first command, fifteen year ago, and who, when their convenience permitted, had since made their trips abroad and return in all of the steamships to which he had been assigned.

As a mark of appreciation for the management of their vessels during the trip of Prince Henry of Prussia to this country and return, the German Emperor may confer decorations of appropriate insignia upon Captains Richter, of the Kronprinz Wilhelm, and Albers, of the Deutschland.

Captain John Cameron is the senior commander of the White Star fleet, having spent nearly a quarter of a century in the company's service. He joined as fourth officer of the Baltic. He was put in charge of the Adriatic in 1886, and has since commanded the Germanic, the Teutonic, and the Oceanic. Captain Cameron has been the recipient of several awards from both American and English societies for heroic rescues of life at sea. His most noteworthy achievement in this direction was when he was on the Teutonic, five years ago. Arriving off Sandy Hook, he found a blizzard raging, and decided it would be too hazardous to attempt to make port. He put to sea again, and fell in with an American fishing vessel which was fast becoming submerged. Boats were lowered from the Teutonic to take off the imperiled crew, but the driving storm prevented them from reaching the vessel. Captain Cameron kept maneuvering the steamship until he had her in a position from which the boats could be kept sheltered by the liner while they made their way to the scene of rescue. Eleven men were taken from the foundering vessel. For this action Captain Cameron received an appropriately engraved watch from the Life Saving Service, and each of the crew manning the boats a money award.

Captain E. J. Smith, of the White Star line steamship Majestic, has followed the calling of seamanship since 1869 when he was nineteen years of age. For eleven years he was in sailing vessels, rising to a command in 1876. He joined the White Star fleet in 1880 as fourth officer on the old Celtic. His first command in this service was the Republic, in 1887. He has been on the Majestic for nearly seven years taking her on two trips as a transport to South Africa at the beginning of the hostilities there. On one of these trips he visited the estate of the late Cecil Rhodes, outside of Capetown.

Captain Henry Walker. the commodore of the Cunard fleet, has commanded the Campania since 1895. He will celebrate his fiftieth year of service in seamanship next year. He was in the Indian transport service during the Indian mutiny, and the Chinese war. He entered the service of the Cunard Company in 1867, receiving his first command in 1875. During the Zulu campaign, in 1879 he was in charge of the transport Olympus, one of the earliest Cunard screw vessels. He was assigned to the Servia, the company's first express steamer, in 1881, and succeeded in establishing for the vessel a record passage of seven days, less ten minutes, between Queenstown and New York. Captain Walker has since commanded the Aurania, the Etruria, and the Campania.

Captain Alexander McKay, of the Cunard liner Lucania, has a record of forty-seven years at sea, seventeen of which were spent in the Australia and East India sailing trade, and thirty in the service of the Cunard line. Following the sea as a calling is a strong hereditary trait in the family. His father spent fifty-three years on shipboard, and his brother, Horatio McKay, was the commodore of the Cunard line until his retirement, last January. Another brother, now deceased. was also commander of an ocean vessel. Captain Alexander McKay's first appointment in the Cunard fleet was to the Abyssinia as fourth officer, in 1872. Eight years ago he joined the Aurania, running between Liverpool and New York, succeeding to the command of the Etruria, on which he remained until the first of the present year, when he was assigned to the Lucania, from which his brother had just retired. Captain McKay took the Aurania to South Africa as a transport for British troops two years ago.

Captain John C. Jamison, the senior commander of the American line, is a native of Brooklyn, where his family now resides. His career in seamanship extends over a period of thirty-eight years, of which twenty-six have been spent in steamships. He joined the American line service in 1876 as second officer of the Pennsylvania. He became captain in 1880, being assigned to the Vaderland, of the Red Star line, which, with the American line, is controlled by the International Navigation Company. His present command is the St. Paul, which he has held since 1896.

Captain F. M. Passow, of the American line steamship St. Louis, entered the service of the Inman line as a British subject twenty-five years ago. When the Inman line came under the control of the International Navigation Company, and the Government Subsidy Act required that all commanders of the American line should be American citizens, Captain Passow adopted this country as his legal residence. He has been in charge of the St. Louis for three years. He was the chief officer of the City of Paris, now the Philadelphia, on her eventful trip from Southampton, in March 1890, when an explosion of the starboard engine threatened to sink the vessel, with her passengers and crew of more than one thousand, off the Irish coast. Passow, with six men, put to sea in a lifeboat to seek assistance. After nearly three days and nights spent in the search, they returned to the City of Paris, which was later towed to Queenstown in a sinking condition. Captain Passow was the navigating officer of the Harvard, with the rank of commander, during the Spanish-American War.

Captain A. Albers commands the Hamburg-American flyer Deutschland, on which Prince Henry of Prussia returned from his recent trip to this country. He is the commodore of the company's fleet. He began his sea career in 1857, and received a master's commission at the age of twenty -two. A year later he entered the Hamburg-American service, and was appointed a captain in 1877. Two of his best-known commands before the Deutschland were the Auguste Victoria and the Fürst Bismarck. Captain Albers wears a valuable decoration which he received from the King of Denmark in recognition of his heroic rescue of the passengers and crew of the steamship Geyser, which was sunk in collision with the Thingvalla in 1887. The German Emperor and the Sultan of Turkey have also honored him for similar services.

One of the youngest commanders in the trans-Atlantic passenger service is Captain Carl Kaempff, of the Hamburg-American steamship Auguste Victoria. He passed a captain's examination at the age of twenty-four, and a year later joined the Hamburg-American line as fourth officer of the Gellert. In 1886, when he was in his thirty-third year, he was placed in command of a vessel running between Hamburg and West Indian ports. His commands in recent years have been in the Hamburg-New York service. Captain Kaempff's most trying experience was that which he met when in command of the Gellert in 1893. Fire was discovered in the after part of the vessel when she was midway between Hamburg and New York. The six hundred passengers were kept forward, while the captain and the crew battled with the flames for fifty-four hours, a gale blowing all the time. His company awarded him a gold medal and a sum of money for bringing the passengers, crew, and ship safely through the ordeal. The German Emperor presented to Captain Kaempff the Kronen Order on the occasion of the opening of the North Sea Canal, in 1895.

Captain Heinrich W. Englebart is the commodore and probably the best-known commander of the North German Lloyd fleet. His popularity reached its height when he was in command of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. He was retired from this vessel about a year ago to superintend the construction of the Kaiser Wilhelm II., which he will command upon her completion next spring. Captain Englebart went to sea at the age of fourteen. His first command of a North German Lloyd vessel was the Hapsburg in 1886. He has been honored on several occasions by the German Emperor for his distinguished services in seamanship, having received the first decoration of the German Imperial Standard awarded to a private citizen.

Captain F. Albrecht, of the Red Star line steamship Vaderland, has spent thirty-nine years at sea, nineteen in sailing ships and twenty in the service of the Red Star line. He entered this service as fourth officer of the old Vaderland, obtaining his first command in 1895, on the Switzerland.

Captain Sauveur Santelli, who for many years has commanded the express steamships of the French line, is one of the most popular commanders of that fleet. He is now inspector of the line's agency at Havre.

Related Biographies

Edward John Smith

Comment and discuss

  1. Lorraine Murphy

    Lorraine Murphy said:

    Hello, I have just found information about my Grandfather, Captain William Beastall Wilkinson. I believe that he was the sole survivor of Cunard flyer "Etruria" Does anyone have any other information on this subject? He died in Mauritius in 1938. I have been unable to get much on the wreck Thanks Lorraine Murphy

  2. elizabeth (151)

    elizabeth (151) said:

    hello Lorraine, my husbands father was commodore Horatio McKay who served with Cunard for 40 years , during my research i understood the Etruria was eventually sent for scrap ?i would be interested to know if you are right! thanks ELIZABETH MCKAY

  3. Lorraine Murphy

    Lorraine Murphy said:

    Hi Elizabeth, I have since found out that the ship that sunk was "SS Alpha" Dec 1900 on yellow rock island off the coast of Vancouver BC. I have managed to collect some info from the Vancouver Maritime Museum which has clarified this story. I still do not know where my Naval and Merchant sea captain grandfather, William Beastall Wilkinson has died. He mysteriously dissappeared in 1930 and presumed to have died in Mauritius. Have you heard of this captain in your search? Lorraine

  4. Lorraine Murphy

    Lorraine Murphy said:

    Hi Elizabeth, I have since found out that my Grandfather, William Beastall Wilkinson was 1st mate on "SS Alpha" that went down off Yellow Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Vancouver BC in Dec 1900. I have a few newspaper articles on this tradegy but I am looking for more information on WBW as he disappeared in 1930 and was arrested in Sydney before sailing out for the last time. We believe that he may have died in Mauritius in 1938 but have no evidence of this. Do you have anything at all on him or any site that we may visit to help our research. Thanks Lorraine Murphy

  5. Patricia (4958)

    Patricia (4958) said:

    My Great Grandfather was Captain Alexander McKay, brother of Horacio. I am proud to be a descendent of of seafaring family!

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2008) Masters of the Sea (Town and Country, Saturday 19th April 1902, ref: #8005, published 11 August 2008, generated 29th November 2021 08:04:54 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/masters-of-the-sea.html