The Ketch ‘Cornflower’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Corn flower was a ketch rigged fishing smack, 77 tons. Launched at Burton Stather in 1877 for William White of Cogan Street, Hull.1 Registered in Hull as H1085.2

The 1881 Census shows her in Hull Docks with a crew of five hands.3

George CooperM28Scarborough, YorksMaster
John PerretM27Bristol, GloucesterMate
William DavisM42Hull, YorksThird Hand
John William MacklebeyU15Hull, YorksCook
William Henry WhiteU17Hull, YorksDeck Boy

Theft In The Docks

It was not uncommon for thieves to prowl around the docks at night, looking to steal from the smacks. It was sometimes the smacks-men themselves, stealing from each other. Some of these crimes may seem fairly petty today, but they were taken very seriously.

In the early hours of April the 10th 1886, two fishermen, William Holmes and John Beadle were on board the smack Harold (H1358) in the Alexandra Dock, Hull. They were moored close by the Cornflower. Holmes saw a man jump on board the Cornflower and disappear. He later reappeared and jumped ashore with two balls of twine. Holmes pointed the thief out to Beadle, who followed him down the quay side. The man went to the smack Evangelist (H878), jumped on board, opened the main hatch and threw in the twine. Beadle asked another man who was on the quayside near the Evangelist, what he as doing with the twine. He replied I've never seen it.

PC Bailey apprehended the thief, named William Johnson, at 8:30am on the 13th. PC Stamp apprehended the other man, John Barry AKA Berry, and they appeared in court that day. Both pleaded guilty, Johnson saying that Berry had asked him to take the twine. Berry got two months hard labour, Johnson, having been previously committed for felony, got three months imprisonment.4a

Incidents at Sea

The Cornflower fished with the Red Cross Fleet, and like many of the smacks involved in fleeting, she had her share of scrapes. At 8am on the 22nd of January 1886 the Cornflower was fishing 150 miles off Spurn Point. Crewman R Minards broke his arm and injured his leg when the warp flew off the capstan.2

20th of July the Cornflower was in collision with the smack Day Spring (H983).2 14th of May 1891 collision with Good Hope, breaking the bowsprit.2 8th of October collision with Ocean Queen.2 On the 7th of February 1893, she collided with another Stather built smack, the Vigilant.2 14th of February 1893 collision with the City of Bristol.2

Absenting Skipper

By 1894 the Cornflower belonged to Joseph Henry Hobbs of 116, Somerset Street, Hull (Hobbs Bros).1 On the 20th of April she set off from Hull to join the Red Cross Fleet off Sylt, West of Denmark. She was under the command of skipper Thomas Henry Bolton, at least for some of the time.5

After being at sea for less than three weeks, the skipper and second hand, R Rich, took the boat and went ashore one Saturday, leaving just the three young deck hands on board. They returned on the Monday. After being on board only a couple of hours, they went ashore again until Friday. Their excuse was that the wind had prevented them from returning earlier.5

Three weeks later they were back at Sylt. Bolton and Rich went ashore again on the Sunday. That afternoon a breeze sprang up from the South West. By Wednesday the wind had increased to a gale, the skipper and mate had not returned. That night the small boat got adrift. The lads had to haul the gear to enable them to go after it. In doing so they broke the beam and tore the net.5 After two or three days, the breeze moderated and they attempted to enter the small river, but were grounded on a sand bank.4b They had to pay £25 for assistance in getting the vessel off. The skipper and mate returned on the Saturday.5

Bolton appeared before an inquiry on the 8th of August that year charged with misconduct.4b Hobbs, the owner estimated the damages and costs resulting from his absence to be £142. Evidence was heard and he admitted to everything, giving no excuse.5 The chairman said he seemed to have perfect disregard for the lives and property for which he was held responsible4b. The case was also heard against the mate, Rich, who admitted going ashore.

The court considered it was a case of gross misconduct and Bolton's certificate was suspended for two years. They were more lenient with Rich, as second hand he may have been invited ashore by his skipper. He was suspended for nine months.5

More Collisions

On the 21st of June 1896 the Cornflower was in collision with the smack Earnest William of Hull, again breaking the bowsprit.2

There was another collision with another Stather built smack on the 14th of October when the Regalia broke the starboard rail and two of three stanchions.2 This was followed by damage to the boat and port rail a few days later on the 18th, in a collision with the smack Guide of Yarmouth.2

The End

The register was closed for the Cornflower in 1897.1 We do not know as yet for what reason, but quite possibly sold to the continent. Reports show she was still fishing as late as September in that year.4c

Vessel Details for Cornflower

Official Number:77484
Fishing Number:H1085
Vessel Name:Cornflower
New Names:
  • Valdimar
  • William White of Hull 1880
  • Ann Eliza White of Hull 1890
  • Joseph Henry Hobbs 1894
  • B Bjarnason 1903 1919
  • George Cooper 1881
  • Joseph Backhouse 1884
  • Peter Stone 1887
  • Thomas White Thomas Henry Bolton 1894
  • Harold Frederick Rose 1895
  • Hull
  • Engey 1903 19
Notes:UK Register closed 1897. On Danish register until 1919.
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:21st Jun 1896 North Sea. Collision with the smack Ernest William of Hull causing us to break our bowsprit. 14th October 1896 North Sea. Collided with the smack Regalia, broke starboard rail 3 or 4 stanchions. 18th Oct 1896 North Sea. Damaged our boat port rail. Collision with Yarmouth smack Guide.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Hull History Centre
  3. UK Census 1881
  4. Hull Daily Mail.
    1. 13th April 1886
    2. 8th August 1894
    3. 10th September 1897
  5. Shields Daily Gazette. 11th August 1894

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.