in dry dock under repair.
In 1789 Mr. Perry began building the famous Bruns-
wick Dock, now the East India Export Dock. It was
divided into two basins, each with its own exit to the
BRUNSWICK DOCK 85
river. The largest held 30 first-class Indiamen, and
the other 30 smaller vessels. At the west end of the
dock he put a masthouse, such a building as has long
now gone the way of all things. This masthouse
became one of the most well-known landmarks on the
Thames. For sixty years it showed against the smoke -
laden London sky — the anxiously-looked for symbol of
home to hundreds of returning Indiamen. It was
shaped something like an American grain elevator,
with a long projecting body, in which the sails and gear
of East Indiamen were stowed. From the top of its
tower a crane for handling the masts reared its head
above the vessels lying alongside the wharf.
The first ship masted here was the East Indiaman
Lord Macaulay, on the 25th October, 1791. The yard
records state that "the whole suit of masts and bowsprit
were raised and fixed in three hours and forty minutes. "
The Friend of the Family.
In 1800 and war time, the Brunswick Dock and
Blackwall Yard were the scene of many a national event,
for here the troops embarked on transports for the war.
Well-known public men were constantly present on
these occasions, including the great Pitt himself.
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
King George, also, was a frequent visitor, and was so
courteous to Perry that, amongst the latter 's intimates,
the King was jokingly referred to as "The Friend of the
King George III. drinks with a "True Blue."
On one occasion King George was inspecting the
embarkation of some cavalry before a large number of
spectators, when a jolly tar, who was described as "three
sheets in the wind and brimful of loyalty, " forced his
36 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
way to the side of the King and held out a quart mug
full of porter. Then after "tonguing his quid, un-
shipping his skyscraper and hitching up his canvas,"
he expressed the hope that His Majesty would not
refuse a drink with a "true blue."
George III., as maybe imagined, was somewhat taken
aback ; the undaunted tar, however, again urged him
to " take a sup , " Whereupon the King good humouredly
took the mug, and giving the toast, "The Army and
the Navy, " drank down the porter ; then presenting the
jolly tar with a guinea, desired him to drink success to
the campaign and long life to the King and Queen.
About this time the boy, George Green, became
an apprentice in the yard, at the age of fifteen. And he
used to relate with pride how he had once buckled on
King George's spurs. The boy soon proved himself so
keen a worker that he attracted the notice of Mr. Perry,
and he was often to be found in the workshops long after
everyone had left, busily studying the higher elements
of his profession.
Such a boy, under a good master, was bound to get on ;
and we soon find him, like Hogarth's model apprentice,
marrying his employer's daughter and being taken into
partnership. This happened in 1796, and not long
afterwards Perry married George Green's sister.
George Green was the second son of a brewer in Chelsea
named John Green, and was born in 1767. John Green
died in 1772, leaving his business in rather a bad way,
and it was for this reason that George Green had to
fend for himself and thus became an apprentice in the
Blackwall Yard. George Green was as charitable and
popular in the East End as his son Richard. Besides
[To face Page '■
SIR ROBERT WIGRAM 87
building almshouses and schools in Poplar, he erected
Green's Sailors' Home in the East India Dock Road,
in 1840-1. He also built the Trinity Schools and
Trinity Chapel. He married twice and was eighty-two
years of age when he died in 1849.
Sir Robert Wigram.
With the death of Mr. Perry in 1810, the yard
again changed hands, Sir Robert Wigram buying the
Perry shares. This man, the founder of the Wigram
fortunes, was one of the greatest business men of his day.
Though of good descent, he was a self-made man like
his partner, George Green, and his history is worth
relating. His father, John Wigram of Wexford, was
born in 1712. Little is known about him except that
he was a sailor and the commander of a privateer called
the Boyne. In 1742 he sailed from Bristol bound for
Malaga, but was compelled to put back for repairs to the
Wexford coast ; here he met Miss Clifford staying with a
Mr. Tinche at Ballyhally. Again he sailed but again
put back owing to bad weather, and this time he used
the opportunity to marry Miss Clifford.
Robert Wigram was born at Wexford on 30th January,
1744, but he never saw his father who was lost at sea,
and he was brought up by his uncle and mother. On
his eighteenth year he set out for London with £200 in
his pocket and a letter from his mother to a certain
Dr. Allen, both his uncle and his mother being anxious
that he should be taught medicine by their friend Dr.
Allen. Robert Wigram arrived in London in 1762, and
as he did not know a soul in the great city, went off
early the following morning to Dulwich, where Dr. Allen
lived, in order to present his mother's letter, and in
hopes, as he said, of being offered some breakfast.
38 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
He arrived at Dr. Allen's about 9 o'clock and was
greeted with the words:— "So, young man, you are
come to London. It is a place where, if you fall down,
no one will pick you up.'' But when the boy was
leaving, the kindly old doctor softened and said :—
"Come any morning you like before 8 o'clock and I will
give you some breakfast. " This Robert Wigram often
did, and used to relate how he hurried across the open
ground about Kennington in order not to be late.
Robert Wigram was undoubtedly a boy of unusual
character; very shrewd, long sighted and business like,
yet he was noted for his generosity.
When quite a boy, having been given a few pence, he
once saw a man being carried off to prison for debt.
He immediately ran up to the man and offered him the
pennies. In after life whenever one of his numerous
children was born, he made a practice of going and
releasing some prisoner confined for debt by paying up
for him. And he had such a rare sense of gratitude
that he always tried to show acknowledgment in kind
for any gift or help from man, and any mercy or blessing
Dr. Allen showed himself a true friend. He took the
boy as his apprentice ; and in two years Robert Wigram
took his diploma and started his career by sailing for
India as surgeon of the East Indiaman Admiral Watson,
of 400 tons. William Money, who became Robert
Wigram 's life -long friend, was second officer of this
ship. The Admiral Watson sailed from Portsmouth
on 24th February, 1764, and arrived home on 21st
Wigram 's second voyage was made in the Duke of
Richmond, of 499 tons, to Bencoolen. She left the Downs,
2nd March, 1768, and arrived home 16th June, 1769.
SIR ROBERT WIGRAM. Bart., M.P.
[ To face Page 38.
SIR ROBERT WIGRAM 39
His third and last voyage was made in the British
King, of 499 tons, to Bencoolen and China, sailing from
Plymouth on 21st February, 1770, and arriving back in
the Downs on 25th May, 1772.
Whilst in China during this vojage, Wigram con-
tracted ophthalmia, which so injured his eyesight that
he gave up all idea of going to sea again, as it unfitted
him for a surgeon's work. But a man of his brain had
not been to sea for eight years and visited the wonderful
East for nothing. He had indeed gained such a know-
ledge of the drug trade that he was able to set up for
himself as a drug merchant.
He relates that the Dutch and Germans bought
nearly all their wholesale drugs in London, and that
with his knowledge of the trade he was able to turn his
small capital to advantage. This capital was only
£3000, and the year he started business he also married
a wife, Catherine, daughter of John Brodhurst, the
wedding taking place on 19th December, 1772. Sixteen
years later he adventured his whole capital in buying
his first ship; this was the celebrated General Goddard,
of 755 tons, which he purchased from his old friend, the
well-known Commander William Money, in the East
India Company's employ.
The "General Goddard," East Indiaman.
Robert Wigram bought the General Goddard after
her arrival home from her second voyage. She turned
out a very good investment, being taken up regularly
every voyage by the East India Company. On her
fifth voyage she was commanded by William Taylor
Money. She sailed from England on 2nd May, 1793.
In the year 1795 she was waiting for a convoy home
from St. Helena, when news arrived then that the
40 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Dutch Revolutionary Party had joined France in the
war. A Dutch fleet of seven East Indiamen were
expected to arrive at St. Helena at any moment.
Captain Money hastily fitted out the General Goddard
as a 30-gun frigate, and started on a cruise with H.M.
ship Sceptre, 64 guns, the Burbridge an East Indiaman,
and the Swallow packet, in order to intercept the Dutch-
men. The General Goddard was the first to sight the
Dutch East Indiamen, and after chasing them all night
he came up with them and at daylight captured
the lot of them, the other three ships being too far
off to give him any assistance. The prizes were
carried into St. Helena, where Captain Money received
the thanks of Vice -Admiral Sir William Essington
and a sword of honour from the Governor of the Island,
The prize money, two -thirds of the value of the
Dutch ships and their cargoes, came to £76,664- 14s., of
which £61,331 15s. 2d. was awarded to the General
Goddard, Sceptre, Burbridge, Swallow and Asia, whilst
Governor Brooke and the St. Helena garrison and a
number of other ships in the Roads were given
£15,332 18s. lOd. I cannot attempt to explain the
queer vagaries of the prize court, though their cal-
culations were so exact as to involve the use of shillings
The General Goddard made one more voyage to India
for the company in 1795-6 under Captain Thomas
The "True Briton,*' East Indiaman.
The ship, however, which really founded the
large fortune of Robert Wigram was the True Briton,
whose name was kept up in the Wigram fleet to the end.
TRUE BRITON 41
She was built for Wigram in Well's Yard, Deptford, in
1790, and measured 1198 tons.
Her voyages under the East India Company's gridiron
were as follows : —
1st voyage — season 1790-1 — Capt. Henry Farrer, to Coast and China
2nd ,, ,, 1793-4 — „ ,, Bombay and China
3rd ,, ,, 1795-6 — Capt. \Vm. Stanley Clarke, to China
4th „ ,, 1798-9 — Capt. Henry Farrer, to Coast and China
5th ,. „ 1800-1— Capt. Wm. T. Clarke.
On this voyage Sir Robert Wigram gave her to his son
Robert Wigram, junior.
6th voyage — season 1803-4 — Capt. Henry Hughes, to China
7th ,, ,, 1806-7— Capt. Wm. T. Clarke, Bombay and China
8th „ ,, 1808-9 — Capt. George Bonham,
On this voyage she parted company with the other
East India ships in the China Seas on the 18th October,
1809, and was never heard of again.
The second True Briton was nothing like as fine a ship
as the first. She was built in the Blackwall Yard in
1835, and only measured 646 tons, and I find I have the
following note of her appearance: — "Very ugly bow,
almost straight stem, foremast pitched right in the eyes,
galleried stern, an ugly ship."
The third True Briton, of 1046 tons, built in 1861,
was, however, a very fine ship and the last thing in
On the opposite page I give a list of the East Indiamen
owned by Sir Robert Wigram and taken up by the East
Robert Wigram was possessed of far too much energy
to content himself with his drug business and that of
being an India-husband; and besides becoming a ship-
builder by acquiring the ruling interest in the Blackwall
Yard, he became a partner in Reid's Brewery (now
Watney, Combe, Reid & Co.) was the promoter of
THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
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SIR ROBERT WIGRAM ■ 43
Huddart's patent for hemp cables — a patent by means
of which every strand in a cable received its fair share of
work — and got elected to Parliament as member for the
little seaport of Fowey, in Cormvall As if this was
not enough occupation for one man, he became chairman
of the new East India Docks, which were opened in 1810.
Incidentally he became the father of twenty-three
sons, and in later years it was his custom to ride to
business attended by a bodyguard of never less than
seven of these sons, to the admiration of the neighbour-
hood. Many of these sons became well-known men of
their time, notably William, immortalised by Macaulay
as "the most obstinate of the East India Directors,"
who was for many years Master of the Pucker idge
Foxhounds. Another became Bishop of Rochester: a
third was a Q.C. and member for Cambridge University.
Two of them. Money and Henry Loftus, became partners
in the Black wall Yard.
Robert Wigram was made a baronet by Pitt, of whom
he was a most staunch supporter. One day, before Pitt
had become acquainted with the member for Fowey, he
was leaving the House after making an important speech,
which was very strongly opposed, when he noticed
Robert Wigram amongst the few members, who showed
him their support, by attending him to the door. And
turning to one of his friends Pitt asked, "Who is the
little man in shorts?"
This incident probably refers to April, 1805, when the
attack on Lord Melville was carried by the Opposition
with the aid of the Speaker's vote.
In 1819 Sir Robert Wigram retired from business and
sold the whole of the Blackwall Yard estate to George
Green and his two sons. Money and Henry Loftus
Wigram, for £40i500. Green took a half share and the
U THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
twoWigrams a quarter each. Before his death Sir
Robert Wigram made handsome provision for each of
his sons, besides leaving his second wife a house and
estate at Walthamstow and about £5000 a year. He
died on 6th November, 1830.
The Last of John Company's East Indiamen.
The early years of the nineteenth century found
the Hon. .John Company's East Indiamen at their
zenith, as has invariably been the case with every type
of ship just before her eclipse.
The first-class East Indiaman, during the first twenty-
five years of the nineteenth century, was of about 1.325
tons burthen, mounted 26 guns and had a complement
of 130 men. These ships were fit to be compared with
naval corvettes, not only in the perfect way in which
they were kept up and run, but in their discipline, in
the social status of their ofiicers and in the fine quality
of the men before the mast: they were, in fact, run like
men-of-war, and to be in the employ of the Hon. Joim
Company was considered fit for any man, be his blood
never so blue. Indeed the younger sons of the nobility
contested with the moneyed scions of merchant princes
and the offspring of the professions for the honour and
privilege of becoming officers in the "Mcrcliant Service"
as that of the East India Company was called, in order
to distinguish it from the Navy and the free-traders.
And when the E.I. Co. 's charters expired and their ships
were sold, it v/as a long time before the Mercantile
Marine of Great Britain recovered its lost status, if
indeed it ever has, for not only was there a tremendous
falHng off in the size and efficiency of the ships and the
quality and professional capacity of the officers and
men, but the dignity of trade also collapsed.
EAST INDIAMEN 45
Up to the last days of the East India Company, trade
was still considered in the romantic light of Elizabethan
days. Those who opened up new trades were still
distinguished as social lions and called "gentlemen
adventurers." And it was only after the East India
Company had lost its privileges and its power that
merchants and shipowners came to be considered dull
and prosaic money-makers with no quality of romance
The following of these splendid first-class East
Indiamen were built in the Black wall Yard during the
last days of the Hon. East India Company: — 1813,
Lady Melville, 1321 tons; 1816, Waterloo, 1325 tons;
1817, Canning, 1326 tons; Duke of York, 1327 tons, and
Thomas Coutts, 1384 tons; 1818, Kellie Castle, 1350
tons, and Dunira, 1325 tons; 1820, Repulse, 1333 tons;
Rotjal George, 1333 tons, and Kent, 1332 tons; 1821,
Duchess of Athol, 1333 tons; Sural Castle, 1223 tons;
1825, Abercrombie Robinson, 1325 tons, and Edinburgh,
Probably the best known of the above was the beauti-
ful Thomas Coutts, of which there is a well-known
aquatint by Huggins. She crossed three skysail yards
and would have been a fast ship in any company.
In 1826, under the command of Alexander Chrystie,
she went out to Bombay in 82 days from the Channel,
arriving in Bombay harbour on 2nd June. From
Bombay she went on to China, calling at Singapore, and
she finally arrived in the Downs on 2nd March, 1827,
having made the quickest voyage on record, being out
ten days less than a year.
The Kent is celebrated for a very tragic reason ; for in
1825 she was destroyed by fire in the Bay of Biscay
when carrying troops— her end being always given a
46 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
very prominent place in all books dealing with disasters
Henry Green apprenticed as a Shipwright.
In 1822, Henry Green, George Green's second son and
the future partner of the firm of R. & H. Green, was
apprenticed as a shipwright at the age of fourteen, and
he made such progress that in 1824 he was appomted
assistant foreman in the building of the ship -Simon
Taylor, of 408 tons. The following year he was sent
to sea as fifth officer of the East Indiaman VansittarU
Captain Dalrymple, and in 1827 he went a second
voyage in the well-known Charles Grant. It will thus
be seen that he had an all-round training.
The "Carn Brae Castle."
The year 1824 was a notable one in the fortunes of
the Blackwall Yard. Besides the Sural Castle, two
smaller East Indiamen were launched— the Lord
Amherst, 506 tons, and the Cam Brae Castle, of 570 tons.
This last vessel was the first of her type.. She was
designed by Captain Huddart specially for the passenger
trade to Calcutta and was considered the finest vessel of
her day. She was afterwards lost in Freshwater Bay,
Isle of Wight, on the day she left Portsmouth, having
stood in too close to the land whilst the captain and
passengers were at dinner. She was owned, by the way,
by Captain Davey, a retired John Company officer.
The *'Sir Edward Paget," Pioneer Ship of
Green's Blackwall Line.
In this year, also, the Sir Edward Paget was
purchased by Mr. George Green on his own account and
thus was the first of Green's Line of passenger ships to
GREEN'S HOUSE-FLAG 47
The Paget, as she was usually called, was a very smart
ship and most elaborately fitted. She was commanded
by Captain Geary, a Captain in the Royal Navy.
The Origin of Green's House-FIag.
The Paget hoisted a square white flag with a St.
George's Cross through the centre as the house-flag of the
new line. This, however, was not allowed to fly for
long. On her arrival at Spithead, when outward bound,
she flew her new flag at the main. The Admiral of the
port immediately sent off to inquire what ship it was
that dared to fly an Admiral's flag. On learning the
facts of the case, he at once ordered it to be hauled down.
The story goes that the chief officer of the Paget, on
hearing of the peremptory command of the port Admiral,
dashed aloft, swarmed the flagpole, and cutting off the
tail of his blue coat, pinned it in the centre of the flag.
This makes a good story — but it was also said that a
sailor's blue handkerchief was sewn in the centre of the
flag in order to satisfy the Admiral and comply with
the Navy Regulations. Of the two, this seems the
more likely yarn, but whichever way the difficulty was
overcome this makeshift flag henceforth became the
house-flag of the Blackwall Line: and when the two
families of Green and Wigram dissolved partnership in
1843, they settled the matter of altering the flag in a
verv neat way. Wigram retained the flag in its old
form, of blue square over red cross, whilst Green put
the red cross over the blue square.
The ♦♦Paget" run Man-of-War Fashion.
After this slight set-back the lordly Paget
continued her voyage. On her arrival back in the
Thames, she brought up off the yard, and George Green
immediately went on board to inspect her. To his
48 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
amazement he was received in real man-of-war fashion.
The yards were manned, a sakite fired and the ship's
band played "The Conquering Hero." And he soon
found that down to the smallest detail the ship was run
Navy fashion. However, Captain Geary's heavy man-
of-war style of carrying on was far from being a financial
success, and on her second voyage the Paget received a
new captain and a new set of ships' regulations.
The Shipwrights' Strike on the Thames.
In 1825, besides the sister ships Abercrombie
Robinson and Edinburgh, Green & Wigram built the
Roxburgh Castle, of 565 tons, and chartered her to the
In 1826 they built the Hudson Bay trader Prince