Former home of ship’s captain Robert Thomas, Caernarfon

Link to Welsh translationFormer home of ship’s captain Robert Thomas, Caernarfon

Captain Robert Thomas lived here, in Segontium Road South, with his wife and two daughters, before moving to Liverpool. He was famous for fast voyages between Britain and California.

Robert was born in Llandwrog, near Caernarfon, and lost his father at an early age. After a childhood of poverty, by November 1858 he was an apprentice aboard the Pioneer, where employees were poorly treated. After two gruelling voyages, Robert left before the ship’s next sailing – when it was lost with all hands.

By 1864 he was employed by the Davies family of Menai Bridge, gaining steady promotion. As first mate of the Minnehaha, he was lucky to survive in 1874 when the ship struck rocks and sank near the Scilly Isles.

Robert became a captain in April 1875. In 1877 he married Catherine Bruce Jameson, daughter of a ship’s captain from Lerwick, Shetland.

Photo of the iron barque Afon Alaw
The Afon Alaw under tow, courtesy of the
State Library of South Australia, PRG 1373/5/16

In 1881 Captain Thomas became master of the Meirioneth, one of the first iron ships of the Davies family’s new fleet. He wrote his recollections during his years on board. They, along with his detailed and extensive letters to his family, are a treasure trove of historical information about life at sea during the transition from wooden to iron sailing ships, and about the stresses and professional loneliness of captains.

In October 1887 the Meirioneth left Cardiff for San Francisco via Cape Horn. The voyage was completed in 96 days, a record for the time and much celebrated. The voyage home took 95 days!

Robert later commanded the Afon Alaw, an 1891-built iron barque (eventually sunk by enemy action in 1918). After a voyage to San Francisco in atrocious conditions in 1902, he was taken ill. His health continued to decline at St Luke’s Hospital. His daughter Catherine travelled to nurse him through what would be his last few weeks. Officially his death was attributed to “senility and sclerosis”, but his family and peers were adamant it was as a result of the stress and strain of his final voyage. He was buried at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, San Francisco, on 6 May 1903.

With thanks to Robert Humphreys, of Caernarfon Civic Society

Postcode: LL55 2PN   View Location Map

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