An Account of the Motor Vessel Eilian
And her Master – Jack Newcombe


By Peter R. Newcombe

This story concerns one of the last trading schooners in Britain, the Braunton owned vessel Eilian, launched 100 years ago on the 14 August 1908 by William Thomas & Sons at Amlwch on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. Eilian was the finest vessel built by Thomas & Sons and the first steel schooner fitted with an auxiliary engine. Eilian voyaged throughout the British Isles and to the continental Channel ports, but latterly was in the home trade chiefly shipping clay or coal in Westcountry waters. Thomas & Sons decided to name their schooner Eilian because Thomas's had previously owned another vessel bearing the same name which had proved to be successful to them. Eilian being a local Amlwch topographical name as in Ffynnon Eilian the local commitiatory well which flowed in response to the prayers of the 6th century saint Eilian whose name it bears. Other places being Mynydd Eilian, Porth Eilian, LlanEilian and Bryn Eilian. Thomas's had also used the name in three other vessels they had built.


Picture of Eilian


I am the son of Ray Newcombe and Sheila nee Knill; both of whom were born in Braunton (and were in fact eighth cousins twice removed). Ray Newcombe was the eldest son of Master Mariner, Jack Newcombe who skippered the schooner Eilian and his wife Susie Hernaman. As a youth Ray sailed aboard Eilian during the school holidays with his father. His love of the sea made him join the Merchant Navy as a Navigating Officer on 28 September 1945 and he spent 8 years voyaging around the world before entering banking with the National Provincial Bank. At one time my father was Bank Manager for the National Westminster Bank plc at Northam and my mother was on the staff at Northam Health Centre in North Devon; before they moved to Budleigh Salterton in East Devon. They were both proud to be 'North Devon Savages'.

I trained as a civil engineer and worked many years overseas in the Middle East. Upon returning to England I set up home in Exeter and now work for Cowlin Construction Ltd who are part of the Balfour Beatty Group, as their Planning Manager for Devon and Cornwall.

My lifetime hobby has been genealogy and as a result I have been interested in collecting information about my grandfathers schooner Eilian.

Like many other would-be authors I did not set out to write a book or to get my research published; but ones aspirations change with the accumulation of time and voluminous records from research. My main hobby is genealogy and this of course involves the life experience of ones ancestors. Fortunately my paternal grandfather had a rather interesting life as the master mariner of the schooner Eilian. Although I was interested in my family's history from the age of 17, here were unfortunately very few original documents to collect or examine as my grandparents like many others had thrown away what they perceived as old rubbish that no one would be interested in and my parents did not think to give their paperwork a home. My romantic view of Eilian was not shared by my grandfather, to him she was a tool to earn a living, albeit in a maritime career that he enjoyed and wished to follow in the footsteps of his Drake ancestors who lived in the hamlet of Wrafton in Heanton Punchardon. The rediscovery of my grandfathers' maritime background was therefore second hand; from discussions with my father, aunts, uncles and others who knew my grandfather or his schooner Eilian. I am now 52 years of age, so it has taken me 35 years to actually publish my research; motivated by the desire to leave a memorial to my Newcombe family and my grandfather. The final drive to publish was the thought that this 14 August 2008 will be the centenary of Eilian's launch and if I miss that publication deadline then I never will see my work published.

This story concerns one of the last trading schooners in Britain, the Eilian, launched 100 years ago on the 14 August 1908 by William Thomas & Sons at Amlwch. Eilian was the finest vessel built by Thomas & Sons and the first steel schooner fitted with an auxiliary engine. Eilian voyaged throughout the British Isles and to the continental Channel ports, but latterly was in the home trade chiefly shipping clay or coal in Westcountry waters and was particularly well known in Ilfracombe where she brought coal from South Wales to feed the power station in the 1940's and 50's.

Eilian's story covers the period 1908 to 1957, in which period she made 1464 cargo voyages totalling 289,602 tons; amongst which were asbestos, bricks, cement, clay, coal, glass, iron ore, stone and even tea. Her chief cargo was coal which made up 71% of all her trade, followed by clay at 11% and other cargos at 18%. My book gives an in-depth study into one of the last of the sailing schooners, plus a full transcript of the cargo books between 1914-1957 and covers the maritime career of her master Jack Newcombe; giving useful examples of information available to the marine family historian and a little history of Jack Newcombe's ancestry.

I can remember my gran Susie, nee Hernaman, saying that she heard it said that her late husband was known as 'Mad Jack'. This was not in malice, but in recognition of the fact that he would never turn down a cargo, and set sail without any undue delay, scant regard being paid to weather forecasts. This attitude is reflected in how long Eilian was working whilst other ships were long since laid up.

The book was wholly produced by me on my computer using MSWord. I decided on layout, font, illustrations, photographs in fact the whole content. I transcribed the cargo books into Excel spreadsheets and used the data to produce pie charts, histogram's etc. I printed out a few copies of my work on my inkjet printer at different stages of its' development to see what it looked like and then modify and revise various aspects. After years of research intertwined with years of non-activity due to my working overseas or boredom with researching Eilian; I finally thought I would make one supreme effort to extract that last bit of information that may be out there somewhere awaiting my attention. So I did an evening class for 8 weeks on how to produce a web site and actually produced one by Christmas 2004. My web site contained my family history and information about Eilian; see newcombe.info over the following 3 years I received very little response to the sum of my knowledge about Eilian; except for two fabulous pieces of good fortune; I acquired a pair of Reuben Chappell paintings of Eilian and I made contact with Susan Satterthwaite who was researching Charles G. Bonner R.N. who was commander of H.M.S. Eilian during the Great War and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Victoria Cross; so I thoroughly recommend having a web site to advertise your interest to the world at large.

Last year in June 2007 I was in a position to finally source a publisher. Andrew Byrom a friend of mine had been involved with the publication of D'Arcy Andrew's book 'Braunton Home Of The Last Sailing Coasters' and he advised me of his experiences of the route to publication and that a colleague of his had tried LULU, but was unhappy with the results. I found LULU at lulu.com and their web site gives a very thorough review of what they have to offer. Essentially you produce the book in its' entirety, which I had done using MSWord. Save the work (in my case a 180MB in an Adobe pdf file); upload the pdf file to Lulu and wait for the book to arrive. The good thing about Lulu is you can have one book printed or 10 or 1000 it's up to you, it is a print on demand facility.

I was pleasantly surprised with the printing quality and the paper seemed the right thickness. All in all I thought it was the way forward with my publication; but there is a limited choice of formats and some formats are of inferior quality; the colour version was very expensive working out at about £45 per book but with discount off bulk orders. To make the book more affordable I decided to publish in black and white but still with a hardback colour cover; but not with Lulu due to the lack of quality provided in my chosen format.

So I went straight to D'Arcy Andrew's printer called Westprint at Clyst St. Mary, Exeter and happily they could provide exactly what I wanted.

This book gives an in-depth study into one of the last of the sailing schooners, plus a full transcript of the cargo books between 1914-1957 and covers the maritime career of her master Jack Newcombe; giving useful examples of information available to the marine family historian.

The book is hardback casebound, 362 pages, 273x210 format, with circa 324 illustrations, weighing about 1.35kg (3Ib). Due to printing costs the book is produced for sale as a limited signed edition of 250 numbered copies in greyscale with a hardback colour cover (ISBN 978-0-9559343-0-8), with all proceeds going to aid Braunton & District Museum in North Devon.

Also available is a compact disk (CD) eBook (ISBN 978-0-9559343-2-2), of the book but with contents in colour, cargo data spreadsheets and also many photos & illustrations used in the book, so that other marine and family historians can use and manipulate the data for their research and to 'future proof' my hardcopy book version. Priced at £9.99 each plus U.K. postage & packing £2 = £11.99.

Available for sale from the 14 August 2008 through Braunton & District Museum; telephone 01271-816688. Website via: devonmuseums.net. Further information on-line at newcombe.info.

Braunton & District Museum,
The Bakehouse Centre,
Caen Street,
BRAUNTON,
North Devon,
EX33 2ED

















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