The Brig ‘Silvery Wave’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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The Silvery Wave was a brig, 201 tons and 107 feet in length, launched on the 6th of May 1863 for Bullard King & Co of London.

On Wednesday morning a fine clipper brig was launched from the yard of Messrs Wray and Son, at Burton Stather. She will carry about 400 tons, is of 12 years class A1, and is intended for a passenger ship between London and Port Natal, and is owned by Messrs Bullard, King, and Co, London. She was named the Silvery Wave by Mrs Warren, the wife of Mr C. Warren, who is the captain.

Messrs J. Wray and Son the builders took the opportunity of inviting to tea all these who assisted in putting out the late fire at their works. About 300 people assembled, and all took tea in the mould loft which is already re-built.

Hull Packet
8th May 1863

This was the first ship launched since the fire at the yard back in March, the last ship launched before the fire being the Anglo Saxon.

With her hull sheathed with felt and yellow metal to survive deep tropical waters, she was the first ship John Wray & Son built for Bullard King & Co specifically for the London to Port Natal (Durban) trade, to join their White Cross Line of Clipper Packets. At this time Natal was South Africa's busiest port. Wray would later build them Verulam and the Burton Stather to add to the Natal fleet and had previously built Johns and Sarah King for the UK coastal trade for Rawling & King, as the company were then known.

The Maiden Voyage

Silvery Wave Advertisment
Silvery Wave Advertisment for the
return voyage

The Silvery Wave began her maiden working voyage from London to Natal on the 1st of August 1863. The man chosen to sail the ship was Captain Charles Warren, who would go on to take command of the Burton Stather three years later.

After an unexpectedly long voyage of three months she arrived in Natal at the end of October. The Natal Mercury printed a rather charming letter written by one of the passengers giving a personal account of the voyage describing both the social activities of the passengers and the weather conditions and how they affected their progress.

The Passengers

The shipping Intelligence in the Natal press published a passenger list with the following information.

SILVERY WAVE, 201 tons, C. Warren, from London;
Sailed August 1. Passengers:

  • Cabin,
    • Mr and Mrs Tarbotton
    • Mr and Mrs Wilkes and family
    • Messrs Lyne, North, Peace and Cundle
  • 2nd Cabin,
    • Mr and Mrs Brooks
    • Miss Dyson
    • Messrs Turner (2)
    • Messrs Wilson, Grice, Long, Scott and J. Hardy
    • Mr and Mrs Brenken and family

General Cargo - Handley and Dixon Agents.

The letter mentions a Mr Jarvis of Natal, who does not appear on this list.

Setting Sail

Torquay Harbour in the 19th Century
Torquay Harbour in the 19th Century

On beginning the voyage they had a fine North Easterly wind to carry them into the Channel. By the time they reached the Isle of Wight it had turned to a head wind forcing them to make short tacks and little headway. They put into Torquay to wait for more favourable winds. This gave the crew a break and the passengers some time to enjoy the sights of Devon.

They commenced the voyage on the 10th of August, exiting the Channel on the 12th to cross the Bay of Biscay. Here there was no shortage of wind and a heavy swell rolling in from the Atlantic. The sails were reduced to close reefed topsails.

Here also were tested the sea-going qualities of the Silvery Wave, for this was her maiden voyage, and if any ship walked the water like a thing of life this gallant little vessel does. - buoyant as a cork, quick in stays, dry as terra firma, she is meet in all things to gladden a sailors heart.

Passenger account
The Natal Mercury, 1st November 1863

On catching the North-East Trade Winds, they were only light and their progress was slowed down. To pass the time, the passenger made their own entertainment by forming The Silvery Wave Debating Society in which passengers took turns to present lectures to the others.

Crossing The Line

After three weeks in the doldrums they crossed the equator on the 18th of September, the brig making her first entry into the Southern Hemisphere and a cause for celebration. We crossed the line and gave Father Neptune a hearty welcome on board. The day was rounded off with a party and dance on the quarter deck that evening. The South-East trade winds were more favourable carrying them swiftly down the West of Africa, but on reaching the Cape they were held back by a strong easterly.

But at last this voyage, though a pleasant one, drew to a close and as we hoped in two or three days to sight land, it was desired to testify to the well-deserved respect we bore to Captain Warren, by the presentation of a testimonial expressive of our high opinion regarding him as a seaman, a gentleman, and a Christian. Mr Peace took the chair, Mr Wilkes presented the Testimonial, and Mr Jenkins a Bible as an earnest of their high regard.

The Captain spoke in a most feeling manner, reciprocating the kindly wishes, and expressing his gratification at being held so well in their estimation. A very pleasant evening was then passed. After the usual loyal toasts, the health of the Lieutenant-Governor and Legislative Council of Natal was given, and several others followed, all responded to by various passengers.

Passenger account
The Natal Mercury, 1st November 1863

The Great Sea Serpent

We have another quite extraordinary passenger account of a voyage from London to Natal on the Silvery Wave dated the 13th of June 1872 by a Mr J Cobbin of Durban who wrote to the Natal Colonist with the following story.

During my last passage from London, I saw no less than three sea serpents, but an account of the last will suffice. On 30th. December last, on board the Silvery Wave, in lat. about 35' 0" S., and long. 33' 30" E., at 6.20 P.M. solar time, an enormous sea-serpent passing nearly across our bows compelled the alteration of our course. He was at least one thousand yards long, of which about one third appeared on the surface of the water at every stroke of his enormous fan-shaped tail, with which he propelled himself, raising it high above the waves, and arching his back like a landsnake or a caterpillar. In shape and proportion he much resembled the cobra, being marked by the same knotty and swollen protuberance at the back of the head on the neck. The latter was the thickest part of the serpent. His head was like a bull's in shape, his eyes large and glowing, his ears had circular tips and were level with his eyes, and his head was surrounded by a horny crest, which he erected and depressed at pleasure. He swam with great rapidity and lashed the sea into a foam, like breakers dashing over jagged rocks. The sun shone brightly upon him; and with a good glass I saw his overlapping scales open and shut with every arch of his sinuous back coloured like the rainbow.

Mr J Cobbin of Durban
The Natal Colonist

Needless to say, this account should be taken with a quite large pinch of sea salt! The story is one of a number of similar incredible tales re-printed in the cryptozoology book The Great Sea-Serpent by A C Oudemans 1892, in Chapter Two: Attempts to discredit the Sea-Serpent. Cheats and Hoaxes.

A Time of Change

The Quay side at the Point, Natal
The Quay side at the Point, Natal

As the company gained more new ships for the London Natal line the Silvery Wave was moved on to travel further west, for the West Indies trade, with top Captain Charles Warren moving on to the new top ship Burton Stather, T H Jarvis taking his place on the Silvery Wave.

Change of Ownership

Having survived giant sea serpents and the debating society the Silvery Wave changed hands in 1873 from Bullard & King to Sidney Sanderson, when she widened her span of the globe yet further, travelling east this time. The South Australian Register places her in Adelaide on the 2nd of March 1874 with Sanderson as the skipper having arrived from Mauritius.

In 1874 she again changed hands to Henry Bee of 7 Sussex Place, Southampton. She then appears to end her globe trotting ways, sticking much closer to UK ports such as Southampton, Sunderland, Cardiff, Cowes, Newhaven and Swansea.

The End?

We have yet to discover the eventual fate of the brig, but it is clear that she is listed in the 1882 Mercantile Navy List but is absent from the 1883 lists and onward without reason given.

Vessel Details for Silvery Wave

Official Number:47352
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Vessel Name:Silvery Wave
  • Bullard & Co of London
  • S Sanderson 1873
  • Sir C Wheatstone of London 1887 5
  • Henry Bee of Southampton 1880 82
  • Charles Warren 1863
  • T E Parker 1865
  • T H Jarvis 1870
  • Henry Smith 1870 - 73
  • James Hobbs 1873
  • Sidney Sanderson 1874
  • John Bee 1876 - 80
  • London
Notes:Voyages London to Port Natal 1863 to 1872 London Trinidad 1873 London, Cape of Good Hope 1874 same and Mauritius 1876 Cardiff, Newhaven, Swansea, Cowes, Sunderland 1877, 1879 Southampton, Sunderland 1880 Southampton, Sunderland, Cardiff.
Construction:Felt and Yellow Metal. Iron Bolts. Some repairs 67.
Trade:London to Natal, London to West Indies run.


  1. Lloyd's Register of Ships.
  2. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. The Hull Packet
  4. The Natal Mercury
  5. The Natal Colonist
  6. The Great Sea-Serpent by A C Oudemans, 1892
  7. The National Archives Crew lists and Ships Agreements

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Creative Commons. Background Photograph by Hansenit. Used with modifications under license.