A BOATMAN'S TALE.     |       Click here to buy the book or look at our other local books.


Once again I have not attempted to reproduce the pages as they appear in the book but just published the some of the raw material for the book all the pictures appear in the book in monochrome.  
Introduction ~

The first part of a 'Boatman's Tale' is an account of the lives and times of the East Kent maritime community, as encountered by way of research undertaken in the process of compiling my family tree. Such has been the fullness of existing accounts, the stories I originally heard from my Grandfather have proven every part the truth, although it must be said that not all of these were easy to come upon, for initial verification.

Such stories that have been formerly preserved separately are herein presented in one volume. It should be said however that many more such tales remain for the interested reader to discover, in the pages of Victorian history books. I have selected largely those tales specifically relevant to my own family's endeavors, but not all of these are included.

Stephen N Holbourn.

In the late days preceding the general use of steam powered shipping, the sea levied a heavy toll along the Kent coast, aside from the dangers of storm and the notorious Goodwin Sands, many a life has been lost through the deeds of unwary mariners. Shipping disasters may not always be put down to an act of God.

An interesting example of such on oversight in my mind is clearly recorded in the pages of the `Kentish Gazette' on the 8th of January 1822, which reveals:

`We regret to learn the distressing account of the wind in the night of Friday last. In the evening of that day a sloop was observed on the `Columbine sand' opposite Whitstable.

It was reported that those able mariners Messes Bell of Herne Bay had observed her dangerous position.

They put off and offered to take charge of her, but although, when they reached her, the vessel had then beat off her rudder, the Captain refused their assistance, declaring he would ride out the gale. They however, remained by her, putting one man on board, and making fast a boat to her, in which was another of their crew, when towards morning a tremendous sea broke over the sloop, and forced her on her beam ends, sweeping all on board into the sea (except the Captain who had since been found dead clinging to the shrouds) with the mariner who had been put on board, off the deck into the deep water where the whole perished. Thomas `Holbans', the unfortunate mariner who was lost with the crew was a native of Whitstable and has left a wife and two children.

Given that the population of Whitstable in 1831, nine years after this incident was only one thousand nine hundred and twenty six, and had only increased by 731 since 1801, and that the `unfortunate mariner' Thomas had perished, I am certain that the reporter on this story had received an incorrect interpretation of the lost mariners true name. It is a fact also that a Thomas Holbourn was baptized at Herne in 1756, as was his brother John, in 1758 and their sister in 1760.

This Thomas, with his brothers and sisters were the children of the local farmer Thomas Holbourn, who although born in Wingham, near Canterbury, in 1719, held land in Herne as a freeholder and `Husbandsman' until his death in 1813. (A recent housing development at Herne has included in its structure a road named `Holbourn Close', which seems likely to refer to the said farm.)

Now, it is then not surprising to find that a Grandson of farmer Thomas, through his eldest son of the same name was a boy named Thomas. This child was born in 1789 and started out in life to become a seaman. He married an Hannah and they raised two sons, the first born 1819, also to become a mariner and baptized Thomas and whose own son was to become a Customs Officer, James Isaac Joseph Holbourn and the second child who was born in 1821, Robert Thomas also of the maritime community.

Given that farmer Tom had several other children and between them they constituted a large family in a small village, and as yet, no further record of `the unfortunate mariner' have come to light to contest my realization, I am content to at least speculate as to the possibility of this being a first recorded reference to my family of Shipwright's actively involving themselves in offshore rescue attempts.

In any event the good deed of the Bell family of mariners of Herne and those that accompanied them on that fateful night is one of great merit and must surely rank high amongst the long list of heroic rescue attempts off our coastline. Unfortunate as its outcome was, to demonstrate clearly the selfless quality of the boatmen of the times, who all too often have been criticized for placing maritime salvage rights from ships wrecked, often before the welfare of those they have nevertheless rescued from a certain watery grave. The rights of salvage were often a critical factor, because the mariners boat represented their means of survival, which they could not be expected to risk without some form of compensation for their efforts.

SN Holbourn.

Solomon Holbourn, Shipwright of Chatham Dockyard, was the uncle of Solomon of Bradstowe, (old Broadstairs) who like his father, Thomas, was also to become a Shipwright. Born in 1797, Solomon of Bradstowe was to raise his own family of Shipwright's and mariners in Broadstairs, during the locally celebrated era of the Culmer ~ White's boat building years in the little Harbour town. Young Solomon had grown up in old “Bradstowe”, and the works of the Collating the stories told to his son by the Shipwright Frederick George Holbourn of Ramsgate in Kent. (Shipwright b .St Lawrence, Ramsgate. local shipbuilder's 'Culmer & White' must have been apparent to him.

Frederick George Holbourn (pictured above) was a Ramsgate Shipwright and the founding genealogist of his family history, and author of the notes that made this work possible.
In memorandum:

This journal of reports and records of the general history of the lives of Thanet boatmen and related matters is dedicated to the grandson of Frederick George Holbourn~ a diligent historian himself, Mr. Stanley Holbourn of Gravesend. (D 2005 aged 89).

Stan Holbourn pictured on the deck of the “Turk” at Chatham, Sun Wharf:  2004.

Publishers Note

It give me great pleasure to publish Mr Holbourn's book about both his family and the history of our Kentish seafarers. The book is the product of considerable and detailed research, now permanently preserved in book form.

It adds considerably to our range of books about this areas maritime history being the first on this subject that has never been in print before.

The publication was relatively easy from our point of view as Mr Holbourn provided us with a C.D. with the document and pictures on it, this enables us to get the book into print quickly.

Needless to say if any of you have done a great deal of research on some aspect of our local history and have it on your computer I would be happy to publish for you.

Michael Child Ramsgate 12th May 2007