The Ketch ‘T. W. Ashton’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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T W Ashton was a ketch rigged cargo vessel of 79 tons and 83 feet long. Built at John Wray & Son shipyard at Burton Stather by Joseph Garside for Thomas Ashton Junior of 66, Marine View, Hedon Road, Hull who was owner and skipper of the ship.


She was built under the survey of Lloyds surveyors and classed 12 A1 on completion in December 1891. The keel was American elm. The keelson was English oak with a steel rider keelson, the timbers, knightheads, aprons and transom were also English oak. The carvel planking was pitch pine and beech. The deck was 2 ¾ inch yellow pine. She had two full depth bulkheads and two loading hatches on the deck, one 20 x 9 feet, the other 12 x 5, these were sealed by tarpaulins while at sea. She carried two pumps and two bower anchors and one stream anchor.

The masts were pitch pine with standing rigging of wire and running rigging of chain and hemp. She had a full set of sails bent on the rigging and another full spare set and an additional square sail. The main sail had a patent reefing system. She carried one boat, fully equipped, and the usual life saving appliances necessary for vessels of this size according to the requirements of the Board of Trade.

Early Trade

A Ketch rigged vessel in Dundee Docks
A Ketch rigged vessel in Dundee Docks

In the early days she worked the UK coastal trade, usually the North Sea from Scotland to London also crossing to Northern European ports. She is recorded as carrying a variety of general cargoes such as potatoes, fish, wheat, cotton, cement, chemicals and even manure.

A Rough Passage

On the 23rd of September 1896 the T W Ashton arrived in Dundee with a cargo of loam from London. The ship and crew had suffered stormy conditions during the voyage and some damage had been done to the vessel during the passage. After discharging the cargo she was put into Dundee's West Graving Dock for repairs.

The repairs were carried out by David Brown Livie Junior, boatbuilder and shipwright on Victoria dock, Dundee. This led to some controversy when owner/skipper Ashton failed to pay for the repairs and was sued by the shipwright at The Dundee Sheriff Court on the 31st of March 1897.


Decision has just been given in the action raised by John Mess, OA., trustee on the sequestrated estate of David Brown Livie, jnr., boatbuilder, Dundee, against T. W. Ashton, Hedon Road, Hull, master and part owner of the schooner T. W. Ashton, of Hull, for £53 3s 3d. Livie executed certain repairs on the vessel, for which alleged had never been paid. Defender declared that he paid the account, and produced the discharged receipt, which the pursuer alleged was not a receipt all, but a voucher signed by the bankrupt to enable the defender to recover the cost the repairs from an Insurance Company. Sheriff Substitute Campbell Smith found that the account had not been paid, and the defender appealed to Sheriff Principal Comrie Thomson, who adheres to his Substitute's decision, and finds the pursuer entitled to additional expenses. Agents: For pursuer, Mr James Buchan; for defender, Mr Joseph Wilkie.

Dundee Evening Telegraph
3rd of August 1897

A Change of Ownership

In 1900 the T W Ashton was sold by her namesake to Captain David Wallace Foreman, of 26 South Street, St Andrews, making him the owner of four vessels. The Dundee Courier describes her as a particularly smart ketch and says she can carry 10 tons more cargo on less water than the R Passmore, another of Captain Foreman's ships, and which comes into St Andrews regularly. The R Passmore was another ketch built at Burton Stather, a year before T W Ashton for Foreman. Foreman being a master mariner himself, could not sail all four of his vessels at once, Captain Walker sailed the T W Ashton for him.

In 1903 the T W Ashton was unfortunate enough to lose one of her crewmen, Able Seaman Harold Laws. But his life was not lost at sea, but on land while in Bo'ness dock.


An English seaman named Harold W. Laws met with a terrible death on the railway at Bo'ness Dock. He was last seen alive at ten o'clock. The following morning his body was found by railway official stretched across the line, opposite the Dock foundry belonging Bo'ness Iron Company. The head was almost severed from the body. It is supposed that the poor man was run over by train of waggons which passed up about midnight. The body was conveyed to the police mortuary.

Edinburgh Evening News
31st of August 1903
William Montagu Douglas Scott 6th Duke of Buccleuch
William Montagu Douglas Scott,
6th Duke of Buccleuch

Later that same year there were fears for the entire crew. On the 12th of September the ship left Sunderland for Copenhagen with 850 barrels of herring and by October had still not arrived in Denmark.

On the 1st and 2nd of December 1902 the ketch was damaged by grounding on a reef in Granton Harbour. In 1904 Foreman and co-owner John William Bell sued the Duke of Buccleuch £1000 for damages to the vessel. The case being that the Duke, as proprietor of the harbour was bound to take all reasonable measures for warning shipmasters of the presence of the rock.

A Move To Jersey

In October 1908 Foreman sold the ketch to Mr Mark Davey of Navarino House, Stopford Road, Jersey for £800. Davey would captain the vessel himself taking her further a field, across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Final Voyage

On the 22nd of October 1909 she was in Brigus on the East Coast of Newfoundland, when she completed loading with a cargo of dried cod after previously taking on part of the load at Holton on the Coast of Labrador. Davey left Conception Bay bound for Exeter on the 23rd with pilot W Hiscock who left the ketch one mile out, when clear of danger. Hiscock later said that the vessel was in splendid condition and in good sailing trim. He would not know at the time of leaving the ship he was the last to see the ketch and crew of five men, for she never arrived in Exeter.

The Enquiry

A Board of Trade Inquiry was held on the 24th August, 1910, at the offices of the Board of Trade, 8, Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London, when Mr George C Vaux conducted the proceedings on behalf of the Solicitor to the Board of Trade, Sir R Ellis Cunliffe.

As no one knows for certain what exactly happened to the T W Ashton, the enquiry into her disappearance was inconclusive and a matter of some conjecture. It was known that there was some very bad weather in the Atlantic at the time.

Mark Davey's father W Davey was the master of the schooner Rose. He left Nipper's Harbour, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland for Lisbon on the 22nd, a day before T W Ashton set sail. He said there was fair weather until about the 29th of October when he was at a longitude around that of The Azores (about 26° west). He then experienced exceptionally bad weather for about ten days with hard gales from East-North-East then East-South-East with very high sea running. The waves pounded the schooner, smashing the ship's boat and the galley away. Conditions were so bad that the captain at times thought they would not make it. The Rose did eventually arrive in Lisbon after a particularly long voyage of 25 days.

It was thought that the T W Ashton, being the smarter vessel, would have gained on the Rose making up the one day she was behind, and be in a similar vicinity to the schooner at the time of the storm and thus succumbed to the heavy seas. The question was why the T W Ashton did not ride out the storm that the Rose has survived.

Evidence gathered for the inquiry told that the vessel was well maintained and in good seaworthy condition. The cargo was properly stowed so as not to suffer shifting loads and not overloaded leaving her in good trim with sufficient freeboard.

The one thing on-board that was not in good working order was the patent reefing system on the main sail which was damaged. Davey's father suggested that the inability to reef the main sail could have been the reason for the vessel's loss. But the Board of Trade inspector F Lyon disagreed, as the apparatus could have been repaired on-board and if that had failed the sail could have been reefed in the conventional way, it having eyelets to which reef points could be fitted. This was backed up by Mr J Edward, master of the schooner Nelly, who was previously mate on the T W Ashton and had experience of reefing the sail with the damaged reefing apparatus.

The cause of the vessel not having been heard of since the pilot left her, in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, on or about the 23rd October last, is a matter of conjecture, and she must have perished through some unknown cause. She may have struck some heavy wreckage or derelict, or she may have been in collision with some unknown vessel, but I am of opinion that in all probability she succumbed to the terrific gale she must have experienced on her voyage, as she left Conception Bay a day after the schooner Rose left Nipper's Harbour, and the master of the Rose, in his deposition, described encountering a terrific gale from E.N.E. to E.S.E, with high sea running, causing him to heave to for 10 days, oil bags being put over the side on account of the heavy sea breaking, and at times he thought the Rose could not possibly weather the gale.

F. C. A. LYON. Inspector.
The Assistant Secretary, Marine Department, Board of Trade.
26th August, 1910.

The Lost Crew

The names of the five crewmen lost with the T. W. Ashton were:-

  • Mark Davy - Master.
  • F. Gerard - Mate.
  • Charles Piquet - A.B.
  • Wilfred Le Breton - A.B.
  • H. Vautier - Cook.


Map showing the approximate location where the vessel was thought to have been lost, or the last known position.

Vessel Details for T. W. Ashton

Official Number:99558
Code Flags:MPGQCode flag - MikeCode flag - PapaCode flag - GolfCode flag - Quebec
Vessel Name:T. W. Ashton
  • Thomas Ashton Jnr of Hull until 1900
  • David Wallace Foreman of St Andrews 1904
  • Mark Davey of Jersey 1910
  • T Ashton
  • Walker
  • Mark Davey
  • Hull
  • Jersey 1908
Construction:Frames of English Oak, planked with Pitch Pine. Two full depth bulkheads.
Trade:UK, Europe and Trans Atlantic.
Incidents:23rd Sept 1896, damaged in stormy passage from London to Dundee. 1st Dec 1902, damaged by reef in Granton Harbour. Aug 1903, crewman killed by train at Boness dock.
Fate:Left Brigus, E of Newfoundland, 23rd Oct 1909 for Exeter with a cargo of dried cod, was never seen again.


  1. Lloyd's Register of Ships.
  2. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. The Dundee Courier
  4. Dundee Evening Telegraph
  5. Edinburgh Evening News
  6. Shields Daily Gazette
  7. Board of Trade Wreck Report for T W Ashton, 1910

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© 2017 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.