Jun 15, 2009

Epitaph: Captain Thomas Nicholson Clarkson (1837-1909)


Carved in stone in Christchurch's principal square is a monument to the "Canterbury Pilgrims" of the "First Four Ships" of 1850. There are no monuments to the thousand or so settlers who had come before them in the previous fourteen years.

Tom Clarkson celebrated his third birhday just four days before the Bolton dropped anchor in Port Nicholson on the 30th of April 1840. It had been an arduous five and a half month voyage from London for his parents and their five children. William, his father and a former Royal Navy seaman, set himself up as a boatman on Lambton Quay, ferrying passengers and their luggage from the vessels that lay off the nascent township that would eventually become the Capital city.



With the family increased to ten children, in 1849 the Clarksons moved to Lyttelton, where Tom's father built a cottage above the southern end of Dampier's Bay on the western side of the port. Seen above in this detail from an early 1852 sketch, their home was reached by steps cut into the bank above the beach. Assisted by his elder sons, William continued in the trade of a boatman and their sailing cutter can be seen lying below the steps.


By 1852 fifteen year-old Tom Clarkson was ferrying settlers from Lyttelton to Ferrymead (above). Situated at the estuary of the Heathcote River, coach and carrier's services would then convey the passengers and their luggage to Christchurch. He would go on to enjoy a considerable reputation as a Pilot for vessels crossing the notorious Sumner Bar and destined for the wharves of the Port of Christchurch at what is now suburban Woolston.

In 1857, at the age of twenty, Tom gained a Master's Certificate and also married Caroline Brighting at the Christchurch Registrar's Office. About this time his parents and elder brother took up farming beside the Heathcote River and Tom and Caroline set up home in the family's Dampier's Bay cottage. Here they began a family that eventually included seven sons and seven daughters, all of whom were born at Lyttelton.

For the next three decades Tom Clarkson commanded a number of Lyttelton sailing vessels, originally for John & Peter Cameron of Norwich Quay, then William Langdown (1825-1903) and then for the almost forgotten Christchurch shipowner Charles Wesley Turner (1834–1906). In a maritime career spanning six decades Tom lost only a single vessel. She was the schooner Triumph, which was driven ashore at Kaikoura on the 3rd of February 1868, when her moorings gave way in a gale.


Titan 1866-1901

Mana 1890-1948

Subsequent to the loss of the Shaw, Savill & Albion Line's 1,180 ton emigrant ship Lyttelton in Timaru Harbour in June 1886, the port needed a new Pilot, who also acted as the Deputy Harbour Master, and in October Tom Clarkson was appointed. He is subsequently recorded as Master of the paddle tugs Titan and Mana (above). Promoted to that port's Harbour Master in 1887, it would be a post that he would fulfill, without mishap, until 1909.


Born at London on the 26th of April 1837, Captain Thomas Nicholson Clarkson is recorded as having been a man of a quiet and retiring dispostion, with a proud and haughty wife. He died at his home on Le Cren's Terrace (now The Terrace), Timaru at 6.30 am on the 27th of September 1909, aged 73 years.

Tom Clarkson's pioneering parents William and Sarah are buried in Lyttelton's Church of England Cemetery. It was estimated that by 1989 they had about four thousand descendants.

9 comments:

Jayne said...

Now there was a man who obviously loved his job and did it well!
Gorgeous headstone!

Canterbury Heritage said...

He seems to have been what was called an "Old Salt" in those days and the sea remained in his veins from his first voyage in 1839 until his demise 70 years later. But the deep and briney may have also been a welcome relief from a haughty wife and 14 kids.

It certainly is an exceptionally fine headstone, that it has survived in such good condition might well be attributed to its location in the provinces second city, where higher value is placed upon cultural heritage than is the case in Canterbury's Capital.

Rose said...

Tom Clarkson's parents, William and Sarah are my 4x great grandparents. I have managed to trace Sarah's family, but am at a brick wall with William. I have some information about him when he was living in London, before they emmigrated, but I am pretty stuck as to where he was before that.
I notice that in this article, you mention that William was a Royal Navy seaman. I was just wondering if you could tell me where you got that from, and if you have any more info about him.
Cheers, Rose.

Lynda said...

Hi Rose,
William and Sarah are my great, great, great grandparents and Thomas and Caroline my great, great grandparents. Would love to get in touch with you and exchange family history - is that possible?
regards,
Lynda

Irene Bateman ex Price said...

This unsigned article was a nice idea on the hundredth anniversary of Tom's death, but the writer was less than careful with the facts.
First there is no evidence that William lived on the west side of
Dampiers Bay In fact in a Jury List of 1852 he is said to live at Norwich Quay which would make much more sense.
Tom did live at the east end of Dampiers Bay (Simeon Quay) before he went to Timaru. Perhaps this has confused the writer.
Secondly there were several unrelated lots of Clarksons in Canterbury at that time. The farmers in Heathcote (some with the same names) were the Clarkson brothers, sons of Colonel Clarkson, and their farm on section 196 was called Sandridge farm. David and Samuel Clarkson were carpenters and David eventually went into a general store in Christchurch. The sons of William Clarkson always called themselves mariners and were too active in shipping to become farmers. Irene

Irene Bateman said...

The question of William being in the Royal Navy comes from him calling himself a "man o wars" man on a childs birth certificate. Tom also repeats this in an interview and it is on Tom's death cert. Man o wars means the vessel is armed, but of course the British East India Company which we know he worked for, had armed ships. He was 27 when he married and came ashore so he could have done both.
Irene

Irene Bateman said...

I apologise for previous rudeness, but have to ask if the writer of the article had any evidence that the small house shown on the west side of Dampiers Bay in 1851 was built by William Clarkson. I suppose it is possible that his family could have lived there and he and the older boys lived in Lyttelton where they were "on call" as boatmen until the boys acquired sailing skills. I would be very grateful for a reply.
Thanks, Irene

Anonymous said...

Well done for your assiduous work! All we descendants are in your debt.I would love to investigate Caroline Brighting's personality a little further. In the National Archive's a grandchild describes her as having a proud demeanor and a German accent, evidently from her parents ??My father visited Tom and Caroline(Grandparents) annually with his parents.

Irene said...

Caroline's father, Saul, was east European - Brighting is an invented name. Her mother was of German descent- Weeber - but had lived in London for several generations. I often think the whalebone corsets ladies wore would have been extremely uncomfortable and made the wearer irritable and unable to bend much.
George Clarkson is listed as living in London Street, as is William in the 1854 electoral roll,so perhaps that is where the family lived. William could have come to Lyttelton first and lived in the boatshed which was built on Norwich Quay specially for boatmen, as they were in high demand because most ships could not be tied up at the 1 small jetty and had to anchor out in the harbour.