How John Chichester bought Bessie Ellen

Across the water from Plymouth lies the small village of Turnchapel, with the small peninsular of Mount Batten leading off it. It was here, in Clovelly bay that William Samuel Kelly, a shipyard owner, had his premises. It was in 1904 that he commenced the building of Bessie Ellen – she was being built as a “chopping block”. This was a project to keep the shipwrights busy in the time of a slack period, meaning that Bessie Ellen took two years to complete before being ready for launching towards the end of 1906. William Kelly had built Bessie Ellen for the Newfoundland trade; with a fine clipper bow and a transom stern she had the appearance of a fast sailer.

It was in the summer of 1906 that John Chichester, a ship owner captain arrived to pick up a cargo in his little ship, the Julie. Whilst in port, he heard mention of a 150-ton ship that was being built over the water in Mount Batten which he duly went to inspect.

When John had decided on buying the ketch, the shipping firm of Clarke, Incledon and Clarke approached him, asking if he would like to go into a partnership of the vessel. John declined though he did borrow some of the capital from Harry Clarke, Harry being his brother -in-law. Bessie, John’s wife also provided some of the funding. With his finances secure, John went back to Plymouth with his son Jack to buy the ship. During the journey on the train, father pulled out a bag of gold sovereigns and said to his son” I don’t suppose you have seen them before, and I doubt you will ever see them again” at which the bag went back in his pocket until his arrival at Williams yard where he laid them on the table and paid for his ship.

Although finished at the end of 1906, John withheld the launching date until January 1907, an apparent gain of a year regarding her age. John’s two daughters, Ellen 13, and Bessie 11 performed the ceremony between them, Ellen naming the vessel Bessie Ellen, and Bessie breaking the wine bottle on her bow. (Today in possession of the Chichester family is the postcard of Plymouth Hoe. Dated January 3rd 1907 it contains the message to his wife Bessie, saying that he was sending their children home, their part being done.)

Thus, after registration in Barnstaple, Bessie Ellen became the beloved ship of the Chichester family.


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