Master mariner who perished in a storm

Paul Johnson (right) with his dad, also called Paul
Paul Johnson (right) with his dad, also called Paul

EVERY now and then, life throws up some remarkable twists.

Such a link connects two men at opposite ends of the country.

CHRIS CORDNER explains how Norman Dawkins and Paul Johnson are compatriots in genealogy.

TALK about coincidences!

Former Hartlepool man Paul Johnson has researched one of his ancestors - and it’s the very same man who featured in Family Roots just weeks ago.

Quite by chance, Paul’s great-great-great-great grandfather William Dawkins was also being researched by Norman Dawkins, 66, from the Stockton Road area of Hartlepool, who had contacted us a few weeks earlier.

Both men had tracked down the same William Dawkins, William’s wife Eliza Dawkins, and their children and found out that they were listed on the crew of the ship Sea Nymph.

Eliza was the great-great grandmother of retired MoD engineer Norman.

As far as he was concerned, the findings on William were the proof he needed that the tales he was told as a child - of sea captains in his family - were true.

Yet by complete chance, former Hartlepool man Paul was looking into the same man and had found out even more facts about William who was his great-great-great-great grandfather.

Sadly it is a story which ends in tragedy as this feature shows.

Paul, 40, from Sandhurst in Berkshire and a civil servant for the Ministry of Justice, found out that William was born in April 1824, in Woodnesborough, Kent.

He said: “Eliza was easy to follow but, because William’s occupation was a mariner, he often did not appear on Census records because he would be at sea when the Census was conducted.”

But Paul researched further and found out more last year.

First, he discovered William listed in a national archive search of wills in the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar - showing he had effects of under £100.

Then, as the months drew on last year, he found further detail on William in a newspaper article of February 1863.

It showed that numerous ships had gone down in a severe gale.

The article stated that it was “greatly feared” that one of the ships to sink was the barque Cimbria of Hartlepool, of Messrs William Gray & Co.

And its master was William Dawkins - the first man to become the master of the ship after it had been bought by the Hartlepool shipping firm.

It was making its first voyage in the grain trade and was bound for Leith when it called in at Falmouth.

She left there on February 14 but “has never since been heard of,” said the article.

It described the storms in which she perished as “exceptionally destructive.”

Numerous ship’s captains were caught in it.

Some tried to sail towards Norway and the Flemish coast. For many, including the Cimbria, it was an attempt they would never succeed in making.

And this time, William’s loving family were not on board with him. Records showed they were back home in Hartlepool - waiting for news of the loving husband and father who would never return.

William’s sombre certificate of service - held with the Register of Shipping and Seamen - simply states: “Left Falmouth for Leith. Not since heard of. Supposed drowned.”

Tragically, that final journey happened just two years after he and his family sailed on the Sea Nymph.

The tearful findings are remarkable details but Paul’s quest for more goes on.

He wants to find a death certificate for William.

“I would also like to find some of the records of some of the ships that he sailed on.

“And I could visit Woodnesborough in Kent to find out about what it was like there when William was born.”

But in the meantime, Paul and Norman are pals in research.

Norman said: “Paul has been very helpful.”

But Paul, who went to Lynnfield School and later Dyke House Comprehensive in Hartlepool, before leaving town in his mid-twenties, has words of advice to other genealogists.

“Wait until you retire. It is addictive. You will get hooked very quickly.

“But you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.”