It was 1880: Ismay named his new ship from his country home of Dawpool Manor from the tiny hamlet of that name within the Parish of Thurstaston, Wirral. He was by this time a very wealthy shipping magnate and his Dawpool Manor was a testament to that success.

Sadly this stately home was demolished in 1927 and Ismay today is remembered locally by both by the lych-gate on entry to St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, for which he was a benefactor, and his family tomb within that graveyard.

Technical Specifications

It is important to note that in 1879 the Dawpool and British Merchant were the sister ships to the Lord Dufferin, pioneer of the Dixon’s Lord Line. No more perfect ships were ever built than these Harland & Wolff 1877-1880 productions. Besides good carrying power and great seaworthiness they possessed unusual speed. Dawpool also carried a similar sail plan to that of Harland & Wolff’s successful sister ships Slieve More and Slieve Bawn being jute clippers with heavy sail plans and stunsails at the fore.

Gross Tons: 1778. Iron plated full-rigged ship.
Nett tons : 1697
Length : 262ft 9ins
Width : 38ft 3ins
Depth : 23ft 3ins
Bowsprit : 23ft
Jibboom(outside cap) : 42ft
Total length (Bowsprit & Jibboom) : 65ft
Foremast lower mast (deck to cap) : 64ft
Doubling: l’r & t’pm’st in one.
Topmast : 52ft (top-cap)
Doubling: 9ft 6ins
Topgallant mast : 58ft
Mainmast lower mast(deck to cap) : 66ft 6ins
Doubling: l’r & t’pm’st in one.
Topmast : 53ft 6ins (top-cap).
Doubling: 9ft 6ins
Topgallant mast : 60ft 2ins
Fore and Main lower yards : 87ft 11ins
Lower Topsail yard : 78ft 6ins
Upper “ “ : 71ft 6ins
Single Topgallant yard : 54ft
Royal yard : 40ft
Mizzen lower mast (deck to cap) : 60ft
Doubling: : l’r & t’pm’st in one.
Topmast : 47ft 9ins (top-cap).
Doubling: : 7ft 7ins
Topgallant mast : 45ft 3ins
Cossjack yard : 71ft
Lower topsail yard : 61ft 6ins
Upper “ “ : 54ft 9ins
Single Topgallant yard : 42ft 3ins
Jigger mast spanker gaff : 45ft 8ins
Boom : 55ft
Rake of masts : 1 inch to 1 foot.

On the last point above, Harland & Wolff as British ship-builders were visibly set apart from others in their use of raked masts; they never built an ugly ship and the rake of their masts was a distinguishing feature. With the complete development of the iron full-rigged ship was the realisation that the zenith had been reached in sailing ship design; Dawpool was a classical reality of that achievement. Coupled with good design was the widespread use of good deck equipment: donkey engines; deck capstans; windlasses; brace winches; rigging screws; patent sheaves; and wire running gear to mention but a few. A combination of these attributes, good design and a good seamanship gave almost mishap-free passages time and time again.

For the skilled modeller a faintly printed starboard-side elevation of the Harland & Wolff plan of Dawpool appears in Lubbock’s encyclopaedic work: “The Last of the Windjammers”, Brown, Vol 1. Archival material, including plans, from Harland & Wolff is ‘buried’ in the Public Record Office, Belfast. Also many ships’ plans are held in the Science Museum, Wroughton, Swindon.

Days under British Ownership – 1880 to 1895

Dawpool followed the Lord Dufferin off the stocks in January 1880 and British Merchant a little later in August. In the books Dawpool appeared first with Ismay and Imrie & Co, then the North West Shipping Co and then The Oceanic Steam Navigation Co but very quickly became identified with the house-flag of the parent White Star Line. Captain J.F.Smith took first command followed by Captain W.H.C.Warren and lastly under British ownership by Captain J.C. Fearon from 1888 to 1895.

Voyages globally began on 12th May 1881 under the command of Captain John Smith bound toward Sydney. However, it is to Captain Fearon that we turn to learn most of Dawpool’s operations. He wrote: ‘Certainly I was fortunate. At the age of 32 I was master of a really fine ship, with owners who were second to none. The managing owner was a gentleman and it was a privilege to serve him.’

Ship-owners and Captains alike were ever conscious of a ship’s performance. Although many significant passages are worthy of note, one was more so; in Captain Fearon’s words: ‘the Dawpool sailed from Liverpool on 14th June 1888 and arrived at Melbourne on 3rd September, a passage of 81 days. While running the easting down the ship sailed 5168 miles in 21 consecutive days, an average of 246 miles per day which is equal to a speed of 10.4 knots.’ This was a major achievement in the Roaring Forties and Villiers noted: ‘Captain Fearon got good passages out her [Dawpool] by running a well-disciplined, contented ship and sailing her thoroughly well all the time which meant endless attention to all detail, not just belting along when a favouring gale chanced to turn up.’

Being most modest Captain Fearon acknowledged that performance depended upon good maintenance and observed that when the Dawpool was dry-docked in Calcutta she was well coated with white lead and tallow. He wrote: ‘She made two good passages after this which I attribute mainly to the white lead and tallow. I consider this a long way superior to any of the patent compositions whose main virtue consists in quick drying, thus enabling ships to get quickly in and out of dry dock.’ Very ably he proved the advantages of that clean hull on a passage from San Francisco toward Liverpool; leaving on 4th June 1890 the Dawpool passed Queenstown on 9th September, being 97 days out and having sailed 16,000 miles. “Fairplay” of October 1890 called this: ‘one of the best passages ever made.’

Hazards of the Horn

To all mariners old and new the Horn is held in fear, fascination and respect. Captain Fearon is on record as having made 36 roundings of the Horn in all capacities from boy to master, and in his words: ‘It is about the toughest bit of sailing in the world.’ Dawpool was severely hammered on one occasion that nearly spelt disaster; several accounts tell of this story. On 23rd July 1831, Dawpool at latitude 53 degrees south, longitude 52 degrees west, was running before a very heavy south-westerly gale when it was reported that a hatch had been stove-in threatening the very life of man and ship. It was midnight – pitch black. Fearon personally superintended the recovery and on the third attempt closed the hatch against all odds. Captain Guy de Mattos, who was one of Dawpool’s apprentices on this occasion, wrote in his log: “a truly terrible night; one not to be easily forgotten. Captain Fearon behaved with remarkable coolness.” Captain Fearon subsequently wrote: ‘the night was one of the worst I had ever put in at sea.’

Captain T.C Fearon served as Harbour Master and Port Commissioner at Lancaster for many years and died peacefully at the age of 75 years in March 1931.

German Ownership – 1895 to 1905

Dawpool was sold to the German firm of C.H.H.Winters, Elsfleth in 1895 and renamed, Willkommen being translated means ‘welcome’. Sadly the operations of this company cannot currently be traced. However, this period, on the turn of the century, was the toughest commercially for the sailing ships. The Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index of 7th September 1905 lists well over 3,500 large and medium-sized sailing ships, including some large brigs. That day, 800 of them were British, 550 Norwegian, 350 Italian, 250 German, 215 French, 150 American and 52 Russian. Almost all the British, German and French were large vessels over 1,200 tons and many over 2,500. During the years the Willkommen served its German masters it was competing against the largest fleet in Germany of the famous Hamburg Flying ‘P’ Line. Shortly before his death in 1901, the 72 year-old Carl Laeisz, owner of the ‘P’ Line, realised that the sombre outlook for sailing ships was a reality. The main source of revenue was then the sodium nitrate business. Hamburg now sought refrigerated ships to move fruit, particularly bananas, from Africa. The days of the sailing ship were now being severely monitored. Also at this time many of the skippers of sail were retiring and in Germany one of their finest, Captain Robert Hilgendorf, also of the ‘P’ Line, retired in 1901 at the age of 50.

Norwegian Ownership – 1905 to 1917

The Christiania Seilskuteklubb of Norway, a private organisation that cares for old ships and their history, contributed this photograph and data. This is possibly the last known picture of our Dawpool. In 1907, now the Haakon, a male given name to many kings of Norway meaning ‘High Son’, was brought to Tvedestrand, Norway by Alexander Bech on behalf of an incorporated company. In May 1916 the company was taken over by Johs.A.Henschien in Tvedestrand and was then finally renamed Vestelv in July 1916 meaning ‘West River’. Her Captains were:

From 1907: on Haakon: Capt.D.Arnoldson
“ 1912: “ : Capt.H.M.Jensen
“ 1913: “ : Capt.D.Arnoldsen
“ 1916: on Vestelv: Capt.E.Walscott

Demise of the Dawpool – Vestelv – 22nd April 1917

Early in 1917 the German High Command stepped up its U-Boat Campaign and in response to this with the loss of Lusitania and for other compound reasons the United States declared war on the Germans on 6th April 1917. Loss of commercial shipping in the Atlantic was enormously heavy. Norway alone lost half its merchant fleet; percentage-wise the highest loss of any nation’s merchant fleet. On the 22nd April 1917 and at the North Channel, an ocean-going diesel-powered torpedo attack U-Boat 93 intercepted the full-rigged, iron-hulled Norwegian Vestelv. She was transporting at the time a cargo of pitch pine from Mobile, Alabama to Liverpool. She almost made it but being 14 miles NW off the Tory Island, off the NW coast of County Donegal, Ireland, she met her final hour.

From U-Boat 93, above, a party was sent on board her armed with explosive charges. Vestelv was scuttled at 1230hrs. Her position was 55.26N and 08.39W. Fortunately the crew of the Vestelv were allowed to take to their boats and row to the Tory Island light house from where they journeyed to Liverpool and reported the loss. The U-Boat was U-Boat 93 under command of the young Kapitanleutnant Baron Edgar von Spielgel von und zu Peckelsheim. [Born 9th October 1885 and died 15th May 1965 at Bremen].

In the early post war years he wrote “War Diary of U202” in which he accused the British of using hospital ships to transport troops to France! Perhaps the story of Dawpool and her subsequent re-naming could end here but it is very interesting to learn a little more about Edgar von Spielgel.

On the 30th April 1917, U-Boat 93 still under the command of von Spielgel met the small British three-masted topsail schooner “Prize” in the Channel. Von Spielgel surfaced and planned to sink the sailing ship with his gun. Some of the crew of the “Prize” took to life boats. Others, however, remained on board risking their lives against gunfire. They would have appeared to von Spielgel as panic-stricken through binoculars. Unknown to him, this was as life-like a charade as could be mustered by the British crew who deliberately played out their act of ‘surprise and panic’ to mislead the German. The “Prize” was in fact a Q Ship; HMS Prize.

It was a decoy; a warship disguised as a merchant ship with hidden armament intended to lure a U-Boat close enough as to then sink it. The plan worked, as soon as U-Boat 93 was within 80-120 yards, HMS Prize opened fire with its formerly concealed 12 pounders, then ran up the White Ensign. Gun fire was exchanged by HMS Prize and U-Boat 93 and both suffered badly. The U-Boat 93 tried to ram, lost control and disappeared into the mist. Edgar plus two of his submariners were thrown into the sea and picked up by HMS Prize. Believing the submarine sunk, HMS Prize, seriously crippled, managed to return safely to Kinsale; Edgar and his fellows surrendered and saw the War out at the Donnington Hall POW Camp.

Unknown to any during the actual engagement, the Second-in-Command of the U-Boat 93, Oberleutnant zur See Wilhelm Ziegner slipped away and sailed his stricken sub to Wilhelmshaven arriving on 11th May 1917. Quite separately, Ziegner finally on 15th January 1918 went missing with his crew of 43, all hands were lost. He was also unsuccessful in further action.

Below is a picture of the very brave skipper of HMS Prize. He was Lt Cdr W.E.Sanders,VC,DSO,RNR decorated with the VC for this engagement with von Spielgel. Sadly, along with his entire crew Sanders was drowned in an unrelated action in the Atlantic on 14th August 1917. Sanders is remembered today in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand.

Wing Comander Roland R Parsons (RNZAF & RAFO)
Rtd, FRGS, psc,
19 Clyde Road,
Christchurch 8041,