Is it a mariner’s life for me?
James Ernest Caithness was born at No.7 George Row, Bermondsey (just south of the River Thames) on 17 May 1839. His father James Ramsey Caithness (1815-60), a Master Mariner, and mother Elizabeth Watson nee Ridges (1815-51) had married the previous year in
had been both born & baptised as James Edward but decided he preferred the
middle name Ernest at some point during his life.
There was a strong maritime tradition in his family. His grandfather James Caithness had seen action whilst serving in the Royal Navy against the French in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His father James Ramsey and his uncle George had received their education at the
of the Royal
Hospital Greenwich and joined the Merchant Service rather than the Royal Navy. Lower
The Royal Hospital, Greenwich
James Ramsey Caithness decided to settle in
and in the early 1840’s brought his
wife and the young son James Ernest out to join him. They were to have five
more children, born in either South
Africa Cape Town or , before
his wife Elizabeth Watson died in early 1851. He remarried by the end of the
year. Port Elizabeth
Young James Ernest was to witness the harsh realities of a mariner’s life. His father James Ramsey had his fair share of accidents – through no fault of his own. The worst incident perhaps was in 1855 when one of James Ernest’s brothers, likely to have been Alfred Douglas, was killed during a fire on board the ‘Flying Dragon’ whilst his father was in command (the same ship had also caught fire the previous year under Captain Carter off Simon’s Bay). James Ramsey Caithness himself died in 1860 ‘after a long and painful illness’ aged 44.
Family oral tradition mentions that James Ernest tried his hand at sheep farming in
. Life at home was apparently hard. His mother and father had died and his
widowed step-mother had five step-children and three of her own children to
support. James Ernest Caithness
disappears for a while and next shows up at his wedding in South Africa in 1877. His life has taken a new direction – London ! Eureka
Guest Post by Tom Sheldon, 2 x great grandson of James Ernest Caithness
Photo portrait by kind permission of June B-R