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STRIKE, William Carter (1814-1892) Captain William Strike of Porthleven (Second edition) by Neil Hawke

Professor Neil Hawke 

To Alexander and

Theo Hawke, and

William Pickering

First published 2010

Second Edition, 2015

Published by Neil Hawke, 12 Islingword Place, Brighton BN2 9XH

Copyright Neil Hawke 2010

Printed in Brighton, U.K.


Mike Bevan, National Maritime Museum Greenwich; Vanessa

Bourguignon, Cornish Studies Library Redruth; Cornwall County

Record Office and, in particular Alison Spence, Deborah Tritton

and Jennie Hancock; Captain Martin Corner, Exeter; Rachel

Darlington, County Wexford; Chris Hawke, Penzance; Mary L

Hawke; Paula Marshall, Memorial University of Newfoundland;

Gerald Richards; Janet Spargo, Helston Museum; Brian Stevens,

Curator, St Ives Museum; Monica and Victor Strike; Ian

Whitehead, Keeper of Maritime History, Tyne and Wear

Museums; Jim Skelton; Tony Pawlyn, National Maritime

Museum, Falmouth and Stephen Crabbe, Western Australia.

Photographs of Porthleven, and of ‘Ready Rhino’ pictured on the

front cover, courtesy of Helston Museum

William Strike and 19th century Porthleven


William Carter Strike was born at Porthleven in 1814, the third son of Hannibal Strike

and Jenifer Carter. Jenifer was a member of the Carter family of nearby Prussia Cove, a

family well known for smuggling and their exploits in attempting to outwit the Revenue

cutters. Hannibal and Jenifer had six children. That William went to sea is hardly

surprising, bearing in mind that Porthleven was a busy fishing and trading port.

Porthleven: a new port

Porthleven is the most southerly port in England whose entrance faces south westerly

and is therefore vulnerable to the prevailing wind, and sea. An artificial harbour was

authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1811 though there was little confidence that this

construction would aid sea borne access. Indeed, the seemingly surprising object of the

new enterprise was to provide a place of refuge for shipping though this has to be seen

in the context of events at nearby Loe Bar following the wreck of HMS Anson in 1807,

which resulted in an appalling loss of life. With the need to provide a refuge in mind, the

legislation authorised the imposition of a levy on passing shipping as a means of funding

the project. Quite how this financial arrangement was intended to work – or to be

enforced – is unclear. Until the coming of the new artificial harbour fishing boats were

winched out of the water and up the cliff at what was known as Johnson’s Cove.

An artificial harbour

The Act of 1811 was promoted by a group of London merchants who designated their

new corporate venture, the Porthleven Harbour Company although the rather more

popular name was to be the ‘Prince of Wales’s Harbour’. The preparatory measures

prior to construction gave rise to enormous difficulty, primarily because it became clear

that a lot of mud and gravel had to be removed. Eventually the new harbour was


completed in 1818, seven years after the grant of the statutory authorisation, some of

the labour being provided by Napoleonic prisoners of war. That the new artificial harbour

was ever completed at all is a source of some amazement, if only because the

promoters were often embroiled in arguments and disagreements amongst themselves

about the direction of the project. Tragically the harbour was very badly damaged in

1824 in the course of what was described as the ‘Calamitous Storm’ which occurred in

November of that year. Equally tragic was the loss of no fewer than thirteen local fishing


A year after the storm of 1824 the promoters determined to rebuild the harbour and

posted an interesting, and certainly optimistic, notice. That notice stated that

‘…this Harbour and Port being completed and open with perfect security to all

vessels trading in timber from the Baltic, and with coals and other merchantize so as to

afford means for the winter supplies in the working of the numerous mines now open in

its immediate neighbourhood…All mine agents, traders and other persons desirous of

landing and forming depots of timber, coals, [etc.] … may be accommodated with

premises to any extent on the commodious wharfs’.


Seven years later there is evidence that the directors of the Harbour Company had grave

misgivings about their corporate enterprise. In July 1831 those directors gave notice of a

sale, by auction, of the ‘town’ and port, candidly taking responsibility for the failure

through their own disunity, as well as pointing to a ‘lack of material’, whatever that might

have meant. The evidence of heavy expenditure is clear, with something approaching

£70,000 having been spent on development, maintenance and repair, often

superintended by a number of eminent engineers of the day. These works were

grandiosely described as ‘the march of improvement’, through which any new investor

would be assured of profits of several thousand pounds in just a few short years.


Harveys of Hayle

Despite widespread criticisms of the harbour building project, the storm damage of 1824

and the economic uncertainties just described , there were forty six registered fishing

vessels operating out of Porthleven by 1850. The local economy clearly benefited to a

certain extent because fishing then provided employment for nearly three hundred

fishermen and fish packers. Nevertheless, the economics of the port left a lot to be

desired and further improvements were needed if trade in and out of the port was to be

sustained. In 1855 Harveys of Hayle decided to invest in the port through a purchase of

the Porthleven Harbour Co. though it seems highly unlikely that the company based

nearby in Hayle was influenced by the promoters’ prospectus dating back to 1831.

Harvey’s investment took the form of the construction of a new breakwater and of what

would become a wet dock, or inner harbour, where vessels could remain afloat at all

states of the tide.

Towards the 1870s it was clear to Harveys that the local port economy was not at all

healthy, if only because of a growing depression in the mining industry locally.

Furthermore, Porthleven was never going to be a significant port in its own right. Indeed,

local shipping records, for example, in relation to Customs and Excise, show that

Porthleven was only ever a minor port under the influence of Penzance on the other side

of Mounts Bay. In terms of port registration it was ‘Penzance’ that appeared on the stern

of trading vessels rather than ‘Porthleven’ even though they may often have been owned

and manned from the latter port.

By 1878 the Royal County Directory for Cornwall describes a pier 465 feet long together

with a basin – the inner harbour, presumably – capable of holding vessels of 200 tons

burthen and enclosed by granite jetties with wharfage on either side. The entrance is

said to be easy to access, being 100 feet wide at the mouth or narrowest point. The

Directory goes on to describe the principal exports as china clay, china stone, iron ore,


and fish. Imports are listed as coal, timber, iron, brick, slate and limestone. Population is

given as 1,560.

Porthleven merchants and shipowners

Where merchants and shipowners are concerned, three individuals seem to typify

Porthleven as a trading port in the first part of the 19th century. Not surprisingly each of

these individuals will have affected the life and prospects of someone like William Strike.

The three are William Cudlip, Captain William Holman and Solomon Rowe.

William Cudlip was a prominent merchant at Porthleven in the early 19th century, as well as acting as harbourmaster. Cudlip was also the owner of land surrounding the port, as well as being a shipowner. Records show that in 1826 Cudlip had the schooner-rigged vessel ‘William and Ann’ built at Porthleven. The schooner was built with a 59 foot keel, a standing bowsprit and square stern. Six years later the ‘William and Ann’ would be one of William Strike’s first ships. During nine year’s service on this small, 55 ton schooner, Strike rose from being ship’s boy, to seaman and finally, to mate. Like so many

Porthleven ships, the ‘William and Ann’ was registered at Penzance. From the age of 18

to 27 William Strike will have learned a lot about life at sea, though limited to coastwise

trade. That trade typically was concentrated on the export of tin, copper and other ores

from Porthleven to the smelters of South Wales, with return cargoes of coal to the home

port both for domestic and industrial purposes. These industrial purposes are no more

than references to the need to generate steam power for the local mining machinery.

A fairly typical charter of the ‘William and Ann’ occurred in the early part of 1827, just a

year after the completion of the schooner. Records show that the vessel was chartered

to take lead ore to Bristol and sailed from Porthleven on January 26th . Two days later

and due to what was described as ‘poor navigation’, the ‘William and Ann’ stranded on

rocks off the Flat Holmes in the Bristol Channel. So that the schooner might be towed off

the rocks, the lead ore cargo was thrown over the side and the masts cut away.

Lightening the vessel had the desired result, and she was towed to Bristol. Aboard the

schooner for this charter was the mine agent who demonstrated great fortitude in hiring

a fleet of small boats locally for the purpose of gathering up as much of the ore as

possible from the surrounding shoreline, and ferrying it to Bristol, at a cost of £133.

Just over twenty years later, in 1848, William Cudlip was declared bankrupt. A

conveyance and assignment of the estate and effects indicated, among other things, that

his ship, the ‘William and Ann’ – which was heavily mortgaged - would be transferred to

his creditors, a firm of Helston bankers. Subsequently the ‘William and Ann’ was sold by

the creditors to Josiah Wright of Paul near Penzance. The sale documentation set out a

concise description stating that the ship was of 55 tons, built at Porthleven in 1826,

measuring 50 feet long, 15 feet wide and 9 feet deep, and was schooner rigged. The

‘William and Ann’ traded for fifty years: on March 18, 1876 the schooner sailed from

Milford Haven for Penzance and was not heard of again.

Captain William Holman was another Porthleven shipowner and, in 1860, he bought the

elderly 91 ton schooner ‘Ocean’, like the ‘William and Ann’, a coasting vessel used

almost exclusively in trade between Cornwall and South Wales. The ‘Ocean’ had been

built in Padstow in 1831. William Strike served on the ‘Ocean’ for three years, between

1843 and 1845, well before Holman assumed ownership. However, Holman was not the

outright owner since he had 48 of the 64 parts into which vessel ownership was


traditionally divided: the remaining 16 parts were in the ownership of a Francis Arthur of

Feock. The ‘Ocean’ was William Strike’s first command after his first foreign-going

experience in another Penzance registered vessel, the ‘Lady Rowley’. A permanent

reminder of William Holman is found in the name of a row of houses at Torleven in

Porthleven: ‘Holman’s Place’.

Before 1860, when Captain William Holman bought the ‘Ocean’ another major

Porthleven shipowner was Solomon Rowe and his fleet of trading schooners featured

regularly in Porthleven trade. Included in this fleet was the 73 ton coasting schooner

‘Vesper’ which, typically, was engaged in the coal and copper trade between Porthleven

and South Wales. It was not unusual to find that vessels owned in Porthleven were

employed in pilchard exports to Italy. Records show that the ‘Vesper’ was employed in

the pilchard trade to the Mediterranean, as when she sailed for Italy in 1843, two years

after William Strike had left the vessel after nearly three year’s service as mate. Solomon

Rowe also owned just over half the shares in the schooner ‘Cambria’ of which Hannibal

Strike – one of William Strike’s sons and himself the owner of 8 of the 64 shares in the

vessel - was master for some years after she was first registered at Penzance in 1869.

Boom and bust?

There is no doubt that Porthleven enjoyed a considerable volume of trade, almost

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