William Reginald Corfield 2 3
- Born: 1841, Worcester, Worcestershire, England. 2
- Marriage (1): Jane Sophia Gwillim in Jan 1871-Mar 1871 in Hereford, Herefordshire, England. 1
- Marriage (2): Margaret Elizabeth Francis in 1878 in Barton Regis (Bristol) 1
- Marriage (3): Kate Ray
- Died: 11 Jun 1919, 131 Cathedral Road, Cardiff, Wales. aged 78 2 4
- Buried: Abbeydare. 4
In 1845 the local railway company acquired the house they lived in, building Shrub Hill Station, and the family moved to Gloucester, travelling by stage coach.
WILLIAM R CORFIELD (1841-1919) William R Corfield was born in 1841 and when he was eight he ran away from home working as a cabin boy on a north country brig sailing to London. The brig was later wrecked and the boy was washed ashore at Dungeness, and hiked back home. He was then sent to the Crypt School in Gloucester where he remained until he was 14. Eager to travel, when he did become 14, he joined a London barque and sailed to Russia for the Crimean War.
The War had broken out in March 1854, and the ship in which William sailed took him to the Russian port of Sevastopol which the British and their French allies were besieging. William's son continues the story:
The vessel first went into Balaclava Bay to discharge, and after the fall of Sevastopol, was moved round to that harbour: On one Sunday the three apprentices [William and his two friends] were allowed to take the dingy and go ashore for the day, with the strictest orders from the Admiral that NO movement was allowed in the harbour after the sunset gun and any civilians found on the streets would be treated as either spies or, if allies, as deserters - and liable to be shot.
The three kids went off gaily and had a wonderful day going all over the three enormous forts - Redan, taken by the British at the third attempt after two most bloody failures - and the Mameluke and Marethon captured by the French: and finally started for the jetty where their boat was due to arrive there as the sunset gun fired. They went to get in the boat but were stopped by the sentry. They went into a huddle and fixed a plan - Two of them would go begging with the sentry and the third would get behind him, go down on his knees, and the front two would go for the sentry who would trip over the boy behind and go backwards into the drink!
It worked splendidly, sentry went in head first - William R Corfield chucked his musket in after him - the three of them piled into their boat and in less than two minutes the general alarm had been sounded and boats were putting off from ships and shore.
They were taken by a Naval cutter to the Flagship and the following day were sentenced at 'quarters' to be lashed in the mainrigging the next morning and be given three dozen each with the cal-o-nine-tails - a sentence that was almost a death warrant, or at best, disablement for life, However, their Captain after a really hard fight of it with the Admiral, and incidentally with a good word from the sentry (an Irishman who seemed to see the funny side)..- pleaded for 'the young devils', got them off on the promise of his giving the rope's ending himself on the poop of his own ship and in sight of the troops on the jetty and the Naval vessels in the harbour
In 1860 William arrived in Sydney, Australia, having been attracted by stories of gold diggings, but was unable to make his fortune there, and travelled to the United States where he briefly drove bullock teams until he was able to return to sea as Sailing Master of a US ship by the end of 1861. During that time he was wrecked on the Maldives where he was stranded for several months; had his ship burnt out in the Indian Ocean surviving for 27 days in a rowing boat before reaching Durban, South Africa.
In April 1861 the American Civil War broke out with the Southern States seceding and forming the Confederate States of America. The Northern 'Yankee' States then invaded the South to enforce federal US rule.
In 1863 William Corfield was Sailing Master of the Live Oak, which had a half-white, half-black crew. It was stoned by rioting Irish as it left Boston due to disputes over conscription. The ship sailed for South Africa and from there into the Indian Ocean. There William R Corfield tried to find work on other US ships but was unable to find many sailing because of the Civil War. Thus he decided to try the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and China. The boat he was in was heading for Singapore when it was intercepted by the Confederate cruiser Alabama. The Alabama was one of the eight Confederate cruisers that sailed around the world harassing US ships wherever they found them. Their aim was to destroy the US merchant navy and force wealthy ship-owners such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, to put pressure on Abraham Lincoln to press for a peaceful resolution to the American Civil War.
These Confederate cruisers stopped and searched many hundreds of vessels, and if they found any US ships or cargoes, they seized them, or destroyed them. Over a hundred ships were burned or scuttled - and as the Confederate States and the United States were at war, belligerents in the Civil War, these actions were not the work of pirates, but of naval vessels manned by a handful of resolute Confederate officers who raised their crew from any port they could on the promise of action and prize-money. Although denied access to their own ports, they sailed around the World destroying much of the US merchant navy. It has been alleged that the British Government openly and secretly aided and abetted these cruisers with the aim of crippling the US merchant navy - US merchant traffic having tripled in the fifteen years before the American Civil War. As one US authority wrote:
Contrary to the public position of the Queen's Foreign Minister, English citizens were more than willing to accept Confederate gold and cotton in return for cruisers, blockade runners, arms, ammunition and supplies. If that was not enough, Englishmen manned the cruisers, fired the guns, boarded prizes, looted the cargoes, and struck tire matches that burned the American interloper to the waterline. For two years Confederate commanders swept the seas of Union shipping with little interference from the American Navy. To minimise their losses, American shippers began liquidating their fleets. Some sold their vessels to English merchants at bargain-basement prices. Others changed their registries to Brazil, Italy, Uruguay, Chile or all), other country that would protect their interests and save their ships from the torch.
The Alabama was one of the Confederate cruisers. It was captained by Raphael Semmes and in its short career the crew burned 52 Union ships. The first ships it destroyed were in the Atlantic Ocean, and soon it was hard to find US ships so the Alabama sailed for the Far East and captured several boats: Amanda (6 November 1863); Winged Racer (10 November); and Contest (11 November).
William Reginald Corfield, according to his account, was taken aboard the Confederate cruiser which sailed for South Africa, and then taken to Ascension Island in the Atlantic where, he and the others who had been captured by the Confederates, were landed.
After some months on Ascension, William was able to get a passage on a boat to St Helena and from there to Nassau in the Bahamas. The Federal US forces were by this stage blockading Charlestown, one of the last Confederate sea-ports with Nassau operating as a base for many of the blockade minters. Having been previously captured and imprisoned (at sea) by the Confederates, William now started working for the Confederacy by running the US blockade, and ending up in a US Federal prison.
On his release at the end of the US Civil War, William went to Nova Scotia, where in 1868 he gained command of a ship, Dependent, carrying lumber to Liverpool. The ship, on arrival in England, was bought by Charles Hill & Sons of Bristol; and was completely refitted and was renamed Avonmore. After making two voyages, in autumn 1869, the Avonmore loaded coal at Newport for a trip across the Atlantic, and was lost in a heavy gale near Hartland Point, North Devon. An account of this, by William, was later published in The Bristol Times and Mirror.
After getting on his feet once more William was sent out to Boston to take over a new ship, just finished by the greatest shipbuilder in New England - Donald Mackay, and after coming across with timber, loaded coal from Newport and after lying wind-bound off that port for 12 days, on a slight change of wind, up anchored and got away, passing through over 70 vessels in Penarth Roads, including Hills' crack ship the Her Royal Highness, commanded by their senior captain- He had a good run to St Johns, New Brunswick, then towed round to the Bay of Fundy, got quick despatch, left in a howling gale from the SW, made a near record run home and passed Her Royal Highness in Penarth Roads, having thus made a double crossing while the other ship was waiting for a fair 'slant' to get under weigh.
Soon Capt W R Corfield was in the Pacific Ocean sailing backwards and forwards between Hong Kong and San Francisco, taking emigrants, tea and general cargo to the United States; and wheat to China. William then returned to England and in January 1872 [or 1870?] married Jane Sophia Gwillam, and the couple initially lived at Eastview Villa, St Martin, Hereford. Their eldest child was born on 25 December 1872 when the couple were staying with William's mother. Soon after the birth, a vicar was sent for to christen the baby, but the grandmother said 'Call it anything, it isn't going to live.' The baby was called Christian Reginald, because he was born on Christmas Day, but always referred to by the family as Reginald 'Rego`. The couple later had three more children: Harold, born 1873; Mabel, born 1875; and Gwendoline, born 1876 (all born at sea).
William R Corfield.
COURTESY JOYCE EDDY
In 1877 the family went to sea in a new ship, named the Avonmore, which was chartered to trade off the coast of South America. Rego, then aged 4, was left at home, the reason he was later told by his father was because “We were all pretty tough in those days, but when you were 4 years old, you could swear harder than anyone on the ship - and something had to be done about it: it was no good thrashing you; it only made you swear worse.”
Early in the morning of 9 May, whilst the Avonmore was moored at Huanillos, Peru, an earthquake and tidal waves wreaked havoc down much of South America's Pacific coastline, centering on Iquique, and badly affecting nearby Huanillos. In total deaths were estimated at 600, and even the Sandwich Islands were badly devastated. William Reginald Corfield's son wrote:
In May 1877, the Avonmore with 15 other ships, including a very large US ship, the Governor Goodwin ,were lying in the harbour of Huanillos in Peru, when about 10 PM an exceptional tidal wave swept the Peru and Chile coast for hundreds of miles. I myself have rowed over the old town of Iquique which was bodily sucked out to sea by the backwash.
The Avonmore's cables held, but the Governor Goodwin broke adrift and struck the Avonmore amidships, cutting her right down. Father had the crew get the long boat off the skids and ready for lowering, but was afraid to put Mother and the children into her owing to the danger of her being crushed as she was lowered, the sea being very wild, so ordered the bos'n to take charge and drop her astern and he would lower Mother and the children into her and their the officers and himself would jump: but the crew pulled clear away from the ship, and after giving up all hope, father told the Officers to get life belts on and jump for it and he and the Chief Officer put life belts on Mother and the nurse. The nurse took the baby, father secured Harold and Mabel to his belt and lowered himself down. In the darkness and noise of the seas, he lost touch with the others and at daylight, finding that Mabel was dead, he took of her sash, put Harold across his shoulders and tied him there with the sash. During the forenoon he was seen floating on the edge of the breakers, and a lifeboat, manned by officers off ships which had been driven ashore, after being washed back five times, finally got out to him, unconscious, and brought them ashore. They put them in hospital, but Harold died during the day from exposure and father was in hospital with brain fever for some weeks. My mother's body was found the day after the storm some 2 or 3 miles down the beach; and nurse, with the baby still in her arms, lying not far from her - and Mabel’s body carne ashore a day later. A merchant in Huanillos, a friend of father’s had a large coffin made of boiler plate and had them all enclosed in it and sent home by one of the PSNC steamers, paying all expenses, and placing 100 pounds to Father's credit, as he had lost everything but what he stood up in.
On his return to England from S America, he decided to give up the sea, and, Swansea advertising for the post of Harbour Master, he applied for it, got into the short list, and finally down to the finalists, but learning that his opposite number was a young captain who had recently lost his wife and was most desperately anxious to get the job. As both he and his wife were only children he had no relations with whom to leave his two small daughters, and was dreading that he would have to put them in some institution, father withdrew his application and went to Cyprus as Harbour Master at Famagusta and was in charge of the building of the docks there. He returned to England in 1879 and joined Messrs Christie Bros of Cardiff and about that time he married again - to the mother of a11 the family, from Francis to Hubert - including several who died in childhood or were still-born - in all - he had 22 children!! His first position with Christies was as Captain of their SS Topaz in which he made several Cardiff- Black Sea voyages and one or two to India, and was then relieved of his command in her by the owners and sent up north to supervise the fitting out of their new vessel being built by Richardsons - The Turquoise - and although she was in an advanced state of construction he was able to incorporate a number of ideas of his own, very much to the owner’s approval, so much so, that after commanding her for a few Black Sea and Atlantic trips, they took him out of her and sent him to Richardsons, giving him practically carte blanche as to her construction within certain limits of the new steamer they were ordering and he was in charge of her from first till last - my stepmother christening her Tourmaline and father took her to sea.
Now, when the first Avonmore was wrecked off Hartland father was down there for some time looking after the salvaging of the ship and cargo etc - and got to know a number of prominent local people, amongst them a Mr. W. Walker, with whom he became very friendly, and who later made several trips with him when father went into steam. Mr. Walker was a wealthy man and, during the building of Tourmaline father saw a lot of him at Welcombe, his home in Devon, and finally Mr. Walker took a majority interest in a ship to be built after father and fixed up and closed up with Christies; and so, after he had taken the Tourmaline a couple of trips, he resigned and started for himself, having Richardsons build him a steamer to his own design - the Welcombe - named after the largest shareholder's home - a vessel said to be, at the time she was completed, the biggest robber of Lloyds measurement rules ever built and which caused them shortly afterwards, to amend them. Father took an office in Mt. Stuart Sq, Cardiff - took the cashier from Christies into partnership, stuck up a shingle 'Corfield and Robson' put Robson in the office - took command of the Welcombe himself and went off to his beloved East once more. It was during the time of the Franco-Chinese War, or the Tonkin War as it was better known as, and the Welcombe became the most notorious ship on the China coast - running the French blockade again and again for over a year. However the Chinese General, having tried to put one over him - and failing - thereupon gave him away to the French Fleet, but Dad hearing of it from some Chinese friend, switched his run, and instead of going South to Hong Kong, went North to Nagasaki, and took a cargo of coal to HK. There he contacted the French Admiral and chartered the Welcombe to the French Government as a provision ship to the French navy - whose headquarters were in the Pescadores -for six months. He then went down to Saigon, loaded a cargo of rice for East London, S Africa, discharged there, and left for Bombay; and 40 hours out from East London, the Second Mate, taking over from the Mate, mistook the course the latter gave him, and instead of slipping down from the bridge to the Chart Room to read up the 'Night Order Book', took it as read, had the Quartermaster alter course from NE by E (to NE by N). In ten minutes she was piled up in the breakers with half her bottom torn out. The Mater, Francis, Harry, a small baby sister who later died - and Ah Chung, the Chinese 'boy'- a thundering good sort - were sent off in No 1 lifeboat with the Chief Officer, and made E London in 3 days. Father and the rest of the crew held on until all chance of getting her off had gone, then joined the others and came home in the Donald Currie crack liner Scot - and that brought to an end W R Corfield's days at sea. And as his whole life from then on was a complete change.
Soon after this, William went to Wyoming USA where he met William Frederick Cody 'Buffalo Bill' (1846-1917) who had received a large land grant in Wyoming. William became a mining partner of Buffalo Bill but returned to Britain where he was head of a firm of coal exporters in Cardiff, living at 131 Cathedral Rd. William married Margaret Elizabeth Francis, and they had six surviving children:
William R Corfield was Director of W R Corfield & Co. steamship owners, which operated from the Exchange Buildings, Cardiff; and also Director of the Hills' Dry Dock & Engineering Co.
Capt Corfield's company expanded and flourished during the First World War and he died at 131 Cathedral Rd, Cardiff, 11 June 1919. His estate was valued at £17,654, and he was buried in Abbeydare.
THE LOSS OF THE SHIP AVONMORE OF BRISTOL.THE CAPTAIN'S DESCRIPTION OF THE WRECK
Among the many disasters of the late gales, one of the most sad was the loss of the fine and almost new ship Avonmore, belonging to Messrs Hill and Sons, of this city, and the drowning of several of the crew. The Avonmore discharged a cargo of timber in Bristol a very short time since, after which she proceeded to Cardiff, and took in a cargo of coals for Monte Video. She left Cardiff on last Monday week, and was towed to Ilfracombe, and the pilot let her under sail on the following Thursday evening on her ill-fated voyage.
A gentlemen residing at Clovelly, North Devon sends us the following: 'The ship Avonmore, 1,800 tons, of Bristol, bound from Cardiff to Monte Video, was sighted off Bude about eight o'clock on Monday morning. Mr. Simpson, the coast-guard officer at Bude, and his men followed her along the coast with the rocket apparatus as far as Moorwinstow, where she struck about twelve o'clock. A heavy sea struck her, and washed overboard seven men (amongst whom was the second mate), who were drowned, The captain (Mr. Corfield) and the remainder of the men, thirteen in all, were got on shore safely by means of the rocket apparatus. The hull of the ship remains at about low-water mark at Moorwinstow. A heavy gale was blowing from WNW.'
The following copy of a letter front the captain of the Avonmore will be read with painful interest:
"Cleave, near Stratton, Cornwall, Sept 14, 1869.
"Messrs Charles Hill and Sons - Gentlemen: I regret to inform you of the total loss of the Avonmore; fifteen saved; second mate and six hands drowned. We were taken off the wreck by the coast-guard, with rocket lines...
The Bristol Times and Mirror. COURTESY Prof. P W R CORFIELD
The Times 27/6/1877. The American papers received at Cork on Thursday night per the Guion steamer Montana have details of the terrific earthquake and tidal wave in South America. A Lima correspondent furnished the following particulars: 'At about 8.30 on the night of the 9th a severe earth-quake shock, lasting from four to five minutes, moved the entire southern coast, even reaching as far down as Antofagasta. So severe was the movement that in many places it was impossible to stand upright without support. The English ship Avonmore, Capt Corfield, is a total loss. The Captain's wife, three children, nurse, carpenter, and steward were drowned. Capt Corfield was saved, though one of his children was killed in his arms. Capt Trick, of the bark Arctic, which escaped uninjured, was on board the Avonmore at the time.'
Shipping (1/711896), p1308-9. COURTESY Prof. P W R CORFIELD
A leading merchant prince some few years ago, whilst on a visit to Cardiff, remarked that from its geographical proximity to the coal fields and safe anchorage in the roads, with a Chamber of Commerce whose discussions were felt in the councils of the nation, and with an Association of Shipowners whose during enterprise was the admiration of other towns, Cardiff could not fail to become one of the leading ports of the commercial world. In taking Captain W R Corfield as a subject for our monthly biographical sketch, we make the selection for two reasons - firstly because that gentleman is the chairman of the Cardiff Shipowners' Association and a member of the Chamber of Commerce; and, secondly, because anyone who has visited the metropolis of Wales cannot fail to have come across the genial and open-hearted Englishman who, although ever busily engaged in his multifarious duties, can yet find time to treat those who approach him with consideration and courtesy.
Few men are better known amongst the commercial community of Cardiff than Captain Corfield, and few possess talents of a rarer order or have a greater reputation for business tact and energetic enterprise. Born in 1843 (sic) at Worcester, Captain Corfield is an exemplification of the old saying that 'the home-staying youth hath homely wit,' for his experiences, gained in all quarters of the globe, had their commencement when, as a lad of thirteen years of age, he went to sea in a Government transport ship just at the close of the Crimean War. Four years later we find young Corfield leaving his ship at Sydney for the greater attractions and renounce of the Australian gold-diggings. Bad luck, combined with the spirit of unrest and an insatiable thirst for broader experience, soon prompted this precocious youth to work his way, in the capacity of a driver of a large bullock team, to the coast, where his roving propensities prompted him to accept a berth on the deck of a Yankee boat trading with the States. During the voyage he gave so many proofs of his daring and sagacity that he was offered and accepted the post of first mate. He was captured by the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah (sic) during the American four years' civil war. With experiences behind him which were many and varied, young Corfield, eventually, at the age of twenty-three, obtained his first command, and in the comparatively short space of eleven years was able to retire from the merchant service. The insatiable thirst for travel, however, was still unquenched, and the next few years find Captain Corfield travelling all over the world. He was in Cyprus when that island was ceded to the British. Foreseeing that, owing to coming events, an opening for enterprise would accrue in the Eastern seas, Captain Corfield, in 1879, went into steam; and later built, fitted, and equipped his own vessel, and during the Franco-Chinese war was enabled to regale his appetite for adventure to the fullest extent. Some ten years ago he finally retired from the sea, and since that time he has been occupied in building up the business of which he is now the head, and which owns steamers running on the Chinese coast and across the Pacific, in addition to managing the Cardiff Steamship Company Ltd, with steamers running to the West Indies and the United States, and a regular line between Cardiff and Bordeaux. We need hardly point out that Captain Corfield's practical sea experience has enabled him to acquire a wide knowledge of shipping, and when appointed as witness on Parliamentary committees, this knowledge has proved most valuable to his party. He is strongly opposed to the 'New Rule of the Road at Sea', and affirms that the proposed system of sound signals in fogs can only tend to serious disaster. Interesting as is the subject of our sketch, it would require the space of a volume, and the pen of a Clark Russell, to do justice to the fund of reminiscences and adventure which Captain Corfield could regale us. A man who has been wrecked no less than seven times may be expected to have much of interest to relate. It is needless to say that his peculiar experiences gained in all quarters of the globe have obtained him many friends. If proof of this were needed a visit to his house would show that wherever he has travelled he has been appreciated at his proper worth, for in every nook and comer and in every room are practical expressions of good-will; carved ebony tables inlaid with soap-stones from China, and ancient and hideous curios from Japan, are mingled with a mass of bric-a-brac, the origin of which may have been North or South America, the South Sea Islands, or Scandinavia; but perhaps amongst the most valued of these gifts are several presents from underwriters for services rendered at sea, a noticeable presentation being a valuable silver service, which was subscribed for by the English, United States and French underwriters jointly, and presented to him some year ago at the Town Hall of the city of his adoption. Captain Corfield's house is witness to the roving and adventurous spirit of the man, who, by taking the tide at the flood has gone oil to fortune, and has by his own resource and capacity arrived at a position which is alike honourable and to be honoured, and which shows that although he has passed through many trials and tribulations he rises superior to them all.
The death took place yesterday of Captain W R Corfield, shipowner, Cathedral Rd, Cardiff. He travelled much in the Western United States of America. At one time he was closely associated with Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) and was in partnership with him in some mining properties in Wyoming. Mr. Corfield, who was generally referred to as Captain Corfield from his long connection with the Mercantile Marine, came to Cardiff from Worcester nearly a half century ago. He was in his 78th year, and retired from business some two years ago. His illness was of long duration.
Mr Corfield leaves a widow and seven children. Four of his sons were farming on ranches in Idaho USA but all came home when war broke out and joined the Army. Capt Hubert R Corfield, RFA, died of wounds in Palestine. The other sons are Capt C R Corfield, Royal Engineers, Mr W F Corfield (demobilised), London Scottish; Capt R B Corfield RAF (who has just been awarded the Air Force Cross) and a boy at school. The daughters are Mrs Campbell, wife of Capt W A Campbell, Durham Light Infantry (who was a prisoner in Germany and now demobilised) and two unmarried daughters living at home.
Mr Corfield carne from one of the oldest families in Shropshire. For hundreds of years the Corfields have been Lords of the Manor of Longville, also of Chatwall, Cardington, Salop, which is still the family seat. Mr Corfield was a director of Hills Dry Dock & Engineering Co Ltd. In 1896 Mr Corfield was the Chairman of Cardiff Shipowners Association. The body will be taken to Golders Green on Friday, and the remains will be buried at Abbeydare, Herefordshire.
William Reginald Corfield.
South Wales Morning Post 12/6/1919, p6.
William Reginald Corfield arrived in Liverpool on the Cunard liner Carmania from New York on January 22nd 1906.
Index to the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London (Guildhall Library Ms 18567)
CORFIELD, William Reginald b. Worcester 1841 C87290 changed to C04373 vol.17 Bristol 1866 Steam 1877 Extra 1878
vol.3 1867-1873; vol.17 1874, 1876-1877, 1879; vol.30 1880-1886; vol.45 no voyages listed; vol.60 no voyages listed; vol.75 no voyages listed
His estate was valued at £17,654
Events in his life were:
• Occupation: Master mariner. 5
• Residence, 1841-1845, Worcester, England. 4
• Census: Head. Aged 59. Ship owner, 31 Mar 1901, 13 Cathedral Road, Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales. 6
William married Jane Sophia Gwillim, daughter of John Gwillim and Unknown, in Jan 1871-Mar 1871 in Hereford, Herefordshire, England..1 (Jane Sophia Gwillim was born in 1843 in Vowchurch Court Farm, Vowchurch, Herefordshire, England. and died on 10 May 1877 on board the Avonmore at anchor. Huanillos, Chile. 2.) The cause of her death was Drowning.
Marriage registered in the quarter ending March 1871.
William next married Margaret Elizabeth Francis, daughter of Thomas Francis and Unknown, in 1878 in Barton Regis (Bristol).1 (Margaret Elizabeth Francis was born in 1851 in Coquimbo, Chile,2 died in 1905 in Chepstow. 1 and was buried in St Arvans Church, St Arvans, nr Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales. 2.)
Marriage registered in the quarter ending December 1878.
District: Barton R
William next married Kate Ray, daughter of Ray and Unknown. (Kate Ray was born about 1873 in Hong Kong.)