Former home of African sailor Tom Savage, Newport

Former home of African sailor Tom Savage, 9 Charles Street, Newport

This building, now home to Carpet Gallery, was the last residence of sailor Tom Savage, who died in the Second World War.

Portrait of Tom Savage of NewportTom was born in Sierra Leone and was a member of the Kru tribe. He was one of five brothers, all known as Tom Savage. He came to Newport in 1917 and initially lived at the African boarding house, 3 George Street. The property was owned by a West African named John Davies and housed fellow Africans. Many seamen lodged in the Pill area.

Tom lost one of his brothers in Newport in June 1919. He was involved in the Newport race riots of the same year. The photo of him on the right appeared in the South Wales Argus in 1940.

He was a fireman and trimmer on merchant ships throughout his adult life. As a fireman, he shovelled coal into the boilers and maintained the fires to generate enough steam for the engines. The trimmer’s job was to move coal from the bunker to the firemen and keep the coal in the bunker evenly distributed. Both jobs were dirty and strenuous, in the dark lower decks where evacuation in an emergency was more difficult than on upper decks.

Tom nearly died in 1921 when he was accidentally shot by a fellow seaman and countryman, who had picked up a loaded revolver. Tom married Maud Matilda Jones in 1933.

The last of his many voyages was in early 1940 on the SS Cheldale. Ships’ running lights had to be dimmed or unlit to reduce the risk of detection by enemy submarines. The Cheldale was showing dim sidelights as it appoached the port of Durban, South Africa, on 17 February. It collided with another ship, the Greystoke Castle, which showed no lights until just before the accident.

The Cheldale soon sank with the loss of 16 men, including Tom and several others from Newport who had signed onto the ship 11 months previously. Tom was 49 years old. He left effects worth £38 (c.£2,200 today) to Maud.

He is commemorated on the Merchant Navy memorial in Tower Hill, London, and is one of the sailors honoured on Newport’s Merchant Navy memorial.

With thanks to Rebecca Eversley-Dawes, of the Historic Dock Project

Postcode: NP20 1JU    View Location Map

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