The Brig ‘Doctor’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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The Doctor was a brig built by Wray for James Fisher & Sons of Barrow in Furness. She was 148 tons and 103 feet long, fastened with iron bolts and the hull clad with felt and yellow metal. She was launched at The Stather on Tuesday the 24th of May 1864, initially registered at Lancaster.

Fisher's Ships

James Fisher house flag

James Fisher & Sons of Barrow in Furness once owned the largest fleet of coasters in Great Britain. Founded in 1847 for transporting haematite from the Cumbrian hills. The company still exists to this day. Eight of the ships were built by John Wray & Son at Burton Stather,2 they are as follows:-

James Fisher
James Fisher, Mayor of Barrow
  1. Emma - Schooner, August 1863
  2. Morecambe Belle - Schooner, March 1864
  3. Squire - Brig, April 1864
  4. Doctor - Brig, May 1864
  5. Agnes Porter - Schooner, November 1864
  6. Eleventh Lancashire - Brig, February 1865
  7. Sea King - Barque, September 1866
  8. Lizzy - Barque, January 1868

Perils of The Atlantic

In September of 1869 the ship met with rough squally conditions and tragedy while on passage from Philadelphia to Plymouth with a cargo of corn.

A report has been received of a vessel which has for some time been one of the best craft of the port, and which has made some extraordinary quick passages from different parts of our coast. We refer to the Doctor, which was on a voyage from Philadelphia, and which is reported to be dismasted, and the master and three men drowned.

Lancaster Gazette
2nd October 1869

The Doctor left Philadelphia under the command of William Jones of Cardigan. He was accompanied by seven crewmen, the mate, William Samuel, Able Seaman Elcohorn, two lads: John Roberts and E Brown, two Portuguese crew and the ships' cook.

While at 47° 50N, 24° 40W they encountered a strong gale and heavy seas. After enduring the storm for about 24 hours, a huge wave broke over the stern about midnight on Friday the 17th. Samuel, the mate, was at the wheel, AB Elcohorn, Roberts and Brown were on deck with him when the wave struck.

The mate was completely overwhelmed by the surge of water which carried him off his feet. For a while he was unsure whether he was still on deck or in the sea. When he came to his senses, he found himself on his back, gasping for air and clinging to a rope which was laid in the deck.

The sea had swept the deck, smashing away the wheel and taking with it the three other sailors who were on deck. The masts had fallen and hung over the side, putting the vessel on her beam ends.

The captain and the cook were down below when the sea struck. On hearing the mighty crack, the cook rushed to the foot of the companion. As he did, a torrent of water cascaded over him from the hatch above, flooding the cabin where the captain was smoking.

The cook and two Portuguese sailors made it safely on deck, but Captain Jones was drowned by the water in the cabin. There was further damage, the ships' boat and water casks were smashed and the food supplies were saturated by the in-flooding sea water. The four crew men remaining did what they could to save the ship and themselves. The masts were cut free so the vessel would right herself and water was pumped out from below.

At 8 o'clock the Captain, William Jones was buried at sea. His body was sewn in canvas and a prayer said for him. He left behind a widow, Mary and one child. Mate, William Samuel would now take command of the stricken vessel. He wrote in the ships' log on Saturday the 18th of September:-

Weather strong and showery. Ship rolling heavily. Midnight the same. At daylight we rigged jury mast aft, and set the mainsail on it to keep the ship's head to the wind. Ship made less water.

Next day, Sunday, a jury mast was rigged forward, and all possible sail was set on it, and the pumps were carefully tended.

Monday the bulwarks were repaired to keep the water off the decks. A sail hove in sight that day, and on Tuesday they spoke the barque Arbitrator, bound to Liverpool, and asked to be taken in tow. The captain refused! -but promised to report the brig to the owners. Later, another sail hove in sight, but did not come within signalling distance.

William Samuel
Mate acting in command of the Doctor
Ships log for the Doctor of Barrow

At about 5 in the morning on Monday the 27th, after more than a week after the disaster, the ship made contact with a French mail boat, bound for New York from Brest. The French sent a boat out to the Doctor and asked if there was anything they needed. With provisions running low, and what little they had drenched in salt water, the Doctors' crew were grateful to receive supplies of bread, water, beef, potatoes and coal.

Another week passed in the Atlantic, then at 9am on Monday the 4th of October they met with another ship belonging to James Fishers fleet. The Squire, also built at Burton Stather was on voyage to Gibraltar. The Squires' captain agreed to take the Doctor in tow and turn back toward Plymouth.

The following day they came within sight of the Scilly Light and met the the Brigantine Scottish Maid, bound for Milford Haven. With the wind now coming from the East, there was no prospect of getting to Plymouth. So the Scottish Maid took the Doctor in tow and the Squire continued on her voyage to Gibraltar.

They eventually reached Milford Haven on Tuesday the 7th. There arrangements were made between the owners and underwriters for the cargo to be discharged at Gloucester. After the wheel was repaired, the doctor was towed into Gloucester by steam tug on the Sunday.

A New Owner

The ship is listed in the Lloyds Register and The Mercantile Navy Lists as a Brig, which is typically defined as a two masted vessel. But later is listed as a schooner with three masts, so possibly the rigging was altered at some time. In the 1870's her port of registration changed to Barrow.

The ship continued working for Fisher until 1890, when she was bought by Henry John Watts of Watchett, Somerset.

The Storm of 1894

Weather charts for December 1894

The Doctor met her fate on Saturday the 22nd of December 1894, another black day for UK shipping. A large depression passed across the country from the Atlantic, over to the Baltic, causing stormy conditions leaving a trail of destruction and shipping casualties. There are two other Stather built vessels we know of that were lost that day. They were both Hull fishing smacks, The Vigilant and The Romantic, both lost in the North Sea.

The Doctor was not sailing on open water at the time though, she was at anchor awaiting a cargo of pitch for Cardiff at Carrickfergus in Belfast Lough. The high winds drove her South East across the Lough onto the rocks of Ballymacormick Point near Groomsport. There, she was said to have broken up immediately. Three crew were killed in the wreck.

Vessel Details for Doctor

Official Number:47798
Code Flags:VQDLCode flag - VictorCode flag - QuebecCode flag - DeltaCode flag - Lima
Vessel Name:Doctor
  • James Fisher of Barrow
  • Henry John Watts of Watchett Somerset 1890
  • William Jones of Cardigan 1869
  • J J Edwards 1870
  • James Poole of Ulverston 1881
  • W Samuel 1883
  • Lancaster
  • Barrow
Construction:Sheathed with yellow metal. Iron bolts. Later rigged as a 3 mast schooner.
Trade:Trans Atlantic.
Incidents:Demasted on the Atlantic on passage from Philadelphia, 17th Sept 1869. The incident killed 3 crew and the master William Jones.
Fate:Wrecked 22nd Dec 1894 at Ballymacormick Point, three lives lost. Lost the same day as the Ketches Vigilant and Romantic of Hull.


  1. Lloyd's Register of Ships.
  2. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. Lancaster Gazette.
  6. Western Daily Press.
  7. Liverpool Daily Post.
  8. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette..

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