Alexander Chalmers, Merchant Seaman

My heart ached for my great-great-great-grandfather last night.  I never met him – he died a hundred years ago, and these events happened nearly 150 years ago, but it was so sad.

I had stayed up way too late to try to make sense of what I found on my England genealogy trip, combined with a week’s subscription to an online historical newspaper site.  A little more digging at and Scotland’s People, and I had the story.

This is what we already knew about Alexander Chalmers before he married Henrietta Aylesford Murray:

Alexander Chalmers was born in Aberdeen, Scotland about 1835-36.  (For all my Nutting/Chalmers relatives, this was Bertie’s grandfather. And for those of my generation who grew up with stories about Dodo, Bertie was her husband.)

Anyway, Alexander’s parents, George Chalmers & Isabella Cheyne, were deceased and he was a widower when he married Henrietta Aylesford Murray in Edinburgh on 27 March 1866.

He was a shipmaster.  Ship registration logs show the Industry coming in to Leith, Scotland on 9/25/1865, with him as master and owner.  The ship belonged to Aberdeen, and was coming from Sunderland, England with 108 tons of marl (fish).

In the last three weeks, this is what I’ve discovered:

According to the Master & Mates Certificate records (National Archives), Alexander was born in Turriff, Aberdeenshire in 1835.

At age 23, seaman Alexander (whose father George was a laborer),  married Jessie Lawrence, a 31 year old cheesemaker, on July 27, 1858.  She was the daughter of William Lawrence (ship carpenter, deceased) and Janet Lawrence née Greig).  They were married at their residence at 59 Park St., Aberdeen, according to the rites of the Church of Scotland.  (marriage certificate)

Alexander received his Mate’s Certificate (#24,013) as 2nd Mate on 3 Aug 1861 at Aberdeen. He sailed on the Theophilus from 1861-1862.

In 1861, Jessie Lawrence Chalmers (listed in the census as Janet Chalmers) is living with her 71-year-old mother, Janet Lawrence,  and her one-year-old daughter, Jessie A. L. Chalmers.  Jessie/Janet Chalmers is shown as the head of household, a “milliner & dressmaker (seaman’s wife).”  She was born in Aberdeen, and her mother was born in New Deer, Aberdeenshire. (1861 census)

Alexander sailed on the Isabel in 1862 and the Theophilus again in 1863.

Little Jessie Ann Lawrence Chalmers, age 3 ½ , died at home on Feb 28, 1863 after three days of measles and diptheria.  Alexander is not the informant, so he probably wasn’t there. (death certificate)

Eight months later, on Nov 15, 1863, 36-year-old Jesse Chalmers died of chronic bronchitis and phthisis (an old term for TB).  Alexander reported her death and stated that he was present. (death certificate)

However, the Theophilus is reported to have sailed again on Nov 12, with Alexander as Master, headed for Newcastle.  It is impossible to tell if he didn’t sail with the ship, left the ship for his wife’s death, or if he wasn’t actually present when she died.  No matter the circumstances, he had lost his wife and daughter in a relatively short space of time.

To top it off, after picking up a load of coal in Newcastle, the Theophilus wrecked in the middle of the night on its way back to Aberdeen.

The Newcastle Courant said, ““HAUXLEY – LIFEBOAT SERVICES – The schooner Theophilus, of and for Aberdeen, coal laden, went upon the Bondicar Bush Rocks, on the night of the 26th ult. The wind at the time was blowing strong, and there was a heavy sea, the weather being dull and foggy. Some fishing cobles attempted to reach the vessel, but failed.  Thereupon the lifeboat of the National Lifeboat Institution was launched and succeeded in bringing ashore the schooner’s crew of five men in safety. “

The shipping report in Lloyd’s Lists said, “WARKWORTH, 28th Nov.  The THEOPHILUS (brig), of and for Aberdeen, from the Tyne, with coals, got on shore on Bondicar rocks, yesterday morning, during foggy weather, with a heavy sea, bilged, and sunk on the flood; the greater part of her materials are landed, and she is likely to become a wreck; crew saved by the lifeboat of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.”

Alexander was back at sea on the Isabel again in a few weeks, but he must have been grief-stricken.  Poor man.

If anyone wants more details, please let me know.  Anyone who finds this who is not in my immediate circle of cousins, etc., please contact me to share information!

I’ll post more about his married life with Henrietta later.

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