Alfred’s long career during days of sail

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THE LONG and colourful life of a seaman whose career began in the glory days of sail was featured in the Mail in June 1959 and ANDREW LEVETT looks back.

A LOVE affair can begin many ways – but a shipwreck must be one of the more unusual.

For Alfred Tyrell, his passion for Hartlepool began in 1887, when his vessel ran ashore off Middleton Sands.

72 years later the cabin boy who became a captain looked back over his long career from his home in Albion Terrace, Hartlepool.

He had run away to sea aged 14 the year before that first sight of Hartlepool – and that voyage too had ended with shipwreck.

Alfred recalled he didn’t like school and had “learned many more lessons after he left”.

He signed on the schooner Firefly but running up the coast in a strong northeaster the crew had to abandon ship off Smithic Sands, near Flamborough Head, being rescued by Bridlington lifeboat.

Undaunted, Alfred stuck with his naval career, but a year later was shiprecked again when his three-masted brig ran aground off Middleton sands when attemptin to put into Hartlepool during rough weather.

He continued to serve in sailing vessels until 1898 and recalled unforgettable experiences rounding Cape Horn.

“Often the top of the foreyard touched the water,” he told the Mail.

The food was memorable too, with meat that had often been salted years before.

Alfred recalled the ship’s carpenter once carved a tiny coffin from one rock-hard piece of beef.

Despite all these experiences Alfred was convinced of the superiority of sail but in 1898 bowed to the inevitable and joined the Great Eastern Railway’s continentsl steamers, rising to the rank of captain.

He skippered troop ships and hospital ships during the First World War and had much better luck than on his first sailing voyages.

Several time he left a vessel which on its next voyage was either sunk or captured. In one case, he said, the Germans captured the ship and shot the whole crew.

Alfred retired 22 years before the Mail’s interview in 1959. He said he enjoyed watching the yachtsmen in Hartlepool Bay each weekend and was convinced he could “teach them a few things”.

His two sons were also seafarers with one, Captain E A Tyrell, Hartlepool’s assistant dock master in 1959.

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.