Main Sections
Blog Categories

Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters


Captain Wilby Rackham was lost at sea in 1868. Following his death, his widow, Mary Billington Rackham, earned her living as a Monthly Nurse, at Hanley in Staffordshire, where she had family connections. At some time before 1881 she came to the Isle of Man with her aged parents, William and Sarah Crosbie, and with her daughter Mary Jordan Rackham and her son Charles Wilby Rackham. She rented a property at 17, Victoria Terrace, Douglas, which she ran as a small guest house. In due course her son, Charles Wilby, went to Liverpool as a ship’s carpenter and in 1885 her daughter Mary Jordan married James Caine.

In later years Wilby’s widow, Mary, lived with her daughter and her husband James at his drapery shop at 49, Athol Street, Douglas. It was here that she would recount to her grandchildren, of whom Nance Caine was one, episodes in the lives of her late husband and herself. Alice Caine also recalled her grandmother in an article in "Manx Life", published in August 1993 and entitled "Memories of Childhood", in which she wrote that her grandmother would tell her "...stories about 'The Captain', my grandfather, and how she sailed with him to the West Indies and about the pet monkey on the ship and the pig who was known as Dennis...". Nance Caine, too, remembered grandmother Rackham reading from the letters which Wilby had sent to her, and, later when her grandmother’s eyes were failing, reading the letters to her.

Mary Billington Rackham died in 1920 in her eighty-first year. She had lovingly preserved her late husband’s letters along with various other letters and papers. In 1939 Nance Caine undertook the task of transcribing and arranging this collection. The completed transcript, which amounted to around 105 pages, she presented to her niece Mary Rackham (Mollie) Teare, who was born in 1920 just before Mary Rackham’s death, along with a letter which forms the prologue to her transcription.

In the course of time, the letters passed into the possession of Mollie’s brother Martin and I am indebted to him for the loan of the collection for use in my studies of our family history. The letters solved the mystery of where and when my grandmother, Mary Jordan Caine, was born and ended family speculation on that topic.

Apart from the purely genealogical interest, the letters portray a picture of life which is now difficult to imagine. They tell, amongst other matters, of voyages lasting up to ten months, of living in lodgings convenient to the seaports, of a journey from Glasgow to Liverpool made by ship when we would now go overland and of open railway carriages exposed to the weather. In the final part, the cohesion of the Rackham family unit when Wilby’s vessel was overdue, becomes very apparent.

The letters have been reproduced by computer using Optical Character Recognition. They have been modified in places by the insertion of punctuation and of capitals to assist in reading, but in general the original layout has been followed. Original notes by Nance Caine are in brackets (----) whereas my own additions and notes inserted into Nance’s text are in square brackets [----].

John Wilby Caine.



Isle of Man.

25th April 1998.


Wilby Rackham  was born at Wrentham, about eight miles south of Lowestoft, in the county of Suffolk. The surname Rackham is frequently found in East Anglia, and occurs in Norfolk and more especially, in Suffolk. The earliest known member of Wilby’s branch of the Rackham family was a Benjamin Rackham who was born in about 1656. Benjamin’s son Natham Rackham was born at Farnham, about six and a half miles west north west of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast in 1705. He married a Mary Mayhew, at Melton, about eleven and a half miles west south west of Aldeburgh, on 25th July 1731. Their son Thomas Rackham was born on 15th June 1740 at Tunstall, a few miles south of Farnham, and married Margaret Elizabeth Langley on 31st December 1764 at North Cove, between Beccles and Lowestoft. Their daughter Maria Rackham was baptised on 11th January 1780 and was the unmarried mother of John Rackham, born on 23rd September 1798 at Rushmere, about two miles due west of Kessingland. These places are situated on or near the Suffolk seaboard between North Cove at the northern extremity to Melton in the south, within an area approximately 27 miles in length.

Wilby was one of John Rackham’s eleven children. John Rackham was married on 15th November 1821 to Sarah Wealey, who was born in about 1793. Sarah was the widow of William Wealey, or more correctly, Whalley, who died in 1818 at Covehithe, near the coast south east of Wrentham. All of their family had died as infants. The Wrentham marriage register noted  - 15 November 1821 John Rackham, bachelor, Sarah Wealey, widow, both of this parish with consent of parties by banns. There were six children of John Rackham's first marriage. Their baptismal entries in the parish registers for Wrentham gave, in each case, the parents as John and Sarah Rackham of Wrentham. John Rackham's occupation was given as "Labourer" in the case of the first born child and as "Shoemaker" in the case of subsequent children.

John and Sarah Rackham’s first born was baptised as John at Wrentham parish church on 17th December 1821. George was baptised on 26th June 1823, and daughter Hannah on 25th July 1824. Charles was baptised on 9th December 1825. He went to sea as a boy around 1840 and we will encounter him again in this account. Twin sons Edward and Robert were both baptised privately on 4th November 1829 which suggests that they were sickly at birth and both died within a short time afterwards. Edward was buried on 9th November and Robert on 6th December 1829. Their mother, Sarah, also died and was buried on 30th December 1829, aged 36.

Following the death of his wife Sarah, John Rackham married again and the marriage is recorded on 15th August 1830 in the parish register for Wrentham, a village about 3 miles south west of Kessingland, near Lowestoft, Suffolk. The entry reads - MARRIAGES solemnised in the Parish of Wrentham in the County of Suffolk in the Year 1830. John Rackham of this Parish widower, and Elizabeth Simons of this Parish spinster were married in this church by Banns this Fifteenth day of August in the Year One thousand eight hundred and thirty. The register entry, number 121 of page 41, shows that the bride signed the entry as Elizabeth Simmons, not Simons.

John and Elizabeth Rackham had five children. The first four were baptised at what appears to have been a mass baptism on 30th July 1837 at the Anglican church of St Nicholas at Wrentham. John Rackham’s family by his second marriage were as follows.

Wilby was born 21st January 1831 although the date is given in error by Suffolk Record Office as 31st January 1831. Frederick was born 17th December 1832. He emigrated to Australia in 1852 where he married Ellen Bloodworth. He died at Millicent, in Australia, aged 60 on 13th August 1893. George was born in about 1834 and died of smallpox in 1847 at Kessingland, aged 13. Jemima was born in about 1836 and married George William Bird, a sluice manager, on 3rd February 1856 at Kessingland. They lived at Gisleham. Jemima died in 1883 aged 47.

John and Elizabeth Rackham’s fifth child, Edward, was born on 16th April 1839 after the family had moved to Kessingland in about 1838. Edward married Miranda Dann on 25th May 1865 at Shottesham, Norfolk. In 1868 Edward Rackham had charge of the Kessingland Post Office and his daughters continued to be involved with the same Office until at least 1946. Mary Jordan Caine, wife of James Caine, visited her cousins Kate and Ada Rackham at the Post Office in 1929.

The letters of Edward Rackham and his wife Miranda, and those of Jemima Bird, nee Rackham, feature amongst those which Wilby’s wife, Mary Billington Crosbie, treasured so much and which Nance Caine transcribed for her niece Mary Rackham (Mollie) Faragher and in so doing preserved them for posterity. Edward and Miranda named their first child, born in Kessingland in 1866, Wilby Edward after the child’s uncle and father. Sadly, he died within a few months. Their next son was William Alfred, born 4th May 1868, and referred to by Miranda as “My Darling little boy” in her letters of 19th November and 23rd December 1868 to Wilby’s widow, Mary.

Wilby’s parents, John and Elizabeth Rackham, made a further move to Gisleham at some time prior to the 1851 Census. The villages of Wrentham, Kessingland and Gisleham are all within a few miles of each other.

Research into Wilby’s birth was dogged by a series of false leads. He was the first child of John Rackham and his second wife, Elizabeth Simmons, and was first noted in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) for Suffolk which listed the baptism on the 26th. February 1831 of a Welby (sic) Rackham, son of John and Elizabeth Rackham at Wrentham Independent Congregational Church. The register of that church gives the date of birth as 22nd January 1831. Also listed in the IGI, as the son of the same parents, is a baptismal entry from the register of the Wrentham Anglican parish church of St Nicholas for a Wilby Rackham at Wrentham on 30th July 1837.

In the absence of an age at death for Capt. Wilby Rackman, it had seemed that either child could have been him. However, it was thought  unlikely that two sons would have been given the same name during the lifetime of the first born and the 1831 child might have died in infancy.

In 1997, Maritime Research of Hythe, Southampton were commissioned to investigate Captain Wilby Rackham and their findings proved this assumption was incorrect and that the child Wilby, who had become a seafarer, had, in fact, been born in 1831. This was evidenced by an application for an examination for his Master's Certificate, signed by Wilby Rackham on which he gave his date of birth as 21st January 1831.

In August 1997 Suffolk County Council Records Office was engaged under its Postal Research Service to check the entry in the registers of the 1837 baptism to see if an indication of the child's age was noted. Their record of the Wrentham parish register entry was -

30th July 1837. Wilby son of John and Elizabeth Rackham of Wrentham shoemaker born 31 January 1831.

This transcript of the parish register, supplied by Suffolk Record Office, gives the date of birth of this child as 31st January 1831. This is at variance with Wilby’s own statement as to his date of birth and is probably an error in computerising the registers where 31 has been entered rather than 21. However, it did become clear that there was only the one son named Wilby and that he was baptised twice, once in the non-conformist congregational church in1831 and again six years later in the Anglican parish church.

Wilby Rackham was not the only one of John Rackham's eleven children to have been baptised on two occasions. His brother Frederick was baptised on 5th March 1833 at the Wrentham Congregational church and again at the parish church on 30th July 1837.

Charles Rackham, a son of John and Sarah Rackham who had been privately baptised on 9th December 1825, is recorded in the Wrentham parish church registers as having been publicly (sic) baptised on 30th July 1837. It is noteworthy that on that date all four children of John and Elizabeth Rackham, who had been born at Wrentham, were also baptised. Charles Rackham, who was a half brother of Wilby, went to sea as a boy around 1840 when he would have been 14 or 15 years of age. He was serving as an able seaman aboard the clipper "Phaeton", carrying Chinese passengers from Hong Kong to the Australian goldfields, when he was shipwrecked at Guichen Bay, near Robe, in the vicinity of Adelaide, Australia, on 2nd February 1857. There, by chance, he met Frederick Rackham, who was his own half brother, and a blood brother of Wilby Rackham. Frederick, had emigrated by assisted passage in 1852 and had settled in Robe. Charles married Ellen Parsons at Robe in 1860. They christened their son Wilby Rackham after Charles Rackham's half brother Captain Wilby Rackham, who, in turn, christened his son Charles Wilby after Charles Rackham. Charles Rackham's descendants still live in Australia.

The use of the name Wilby became something of a tradition with the Australian Rackham family and in 1998 four members of the family, still living, had this name.

John Rackham died at Gisleham on 2nd October 1866. His death certificate gave the cause of death as cholera, his age as 68 and his occupation as a shoemaker. The Gisleham register of burials, page 25, entry No. 193, records his burial there on 5th October 1866. His wife Elizabeth died at Gisleham on 27th April 1864 aged 65. The Gisleham burial register, entry No. 182 for 1864, lists her burial there on 3rd May 1864.

Wilby’s half brother Charles, born in 1825 and some 6 or 7 years older than Wilby, went to sea in about 1840. Whether this influenced Wilby in his choice of career or whether living on the Suffolk coast was a natural draw towards a seafaring life, we will never know.

However, Wilby did decide to go to sea and the earliest record of this is his Register Ticket issued at Yarmouth on 16th May 1845. This reads  –


No. of                                       137, 791                            Register Ticket


Wilby Rackham


Born at  Wrentham   in the County of   Suffolk   21  day of  January 1831.

Capacity   Boy

Height   4 ft  7 1/4    Hair   Brown    Complexion   Ruddy    Eyes   Grey

Marks   Scar on ??   ????


First went to sea as   Boy   in the year   1845


Has served in the Royal Navy     No                 Has been in Foreign Service     No

When unemployed resides at       Kessingland

Age when Ticketed     14                          Can Write      Yes

Issued at     Yarmouth        16   day of    May         18  45

Printed to the right of the above details are vertical columns. The first two are headed 1845 and 1846. The first of these, that for 1845, reads 684 and 108. The number 108 refers to Yarmouth as the port of Registry of the vessel he sailed on. The number 684 is known as the Port Rotation Number. Beneath these numbers are the figures 12  45 signifying the date of December 1845. For 1846 there are two sets of numbers, 138  108,  6 46, and 299  108,  12 46. These refer to a further two voyages on a Yarmouth registered vessel, probably that on which he sailed in December 1845, and these voyages were in June and December 1846.

A Register Ticket for Wilby’s half brother Charles, No. 311, 066, was issued at Yarmouth in March 1846. This gives his place of birth as Wrentham on 6th December 1825. He is described as a Mariner and when unemployed he lived at Wangford. Research by Mr. Stan Rackham indicates that Charles’ and Wilby’s paths may have crossed on occasion. Wilby was ticketed in Yarmouth in May 1845 and Charles was aboard a vessel there the following month.

A further Register Ticket was issued, this time at Newcastle, and bears the same date as his apprenticeship indenture.  This reads  -



No. of                                       350,122                            Register Ticket


William Rackham


Born at  Wrentham   in the County of   Suffolk   21  day of  January 1831.

Capacity   App. [rentice]

Height   Growing    Hair   Brown    Complexion   Fair    Eyes   Grey    Marks   None


First went to sea as   Boy   in the year   1845


Has served in the Royal Navy     No                 Has been in Foreign Service     No

When unemployed resides at       N. Shields

Age when Ticketed     16                          Can Write      Yes

Issued at     Newcastle        3   day of    Feby         18  47


Wilby’s given name has been mis-spelled as William.

Two further documents relating to Wilby’s apprenticeship with a shipping company and with his early days at sea, which were formerly in the possession of Martin Faragher, are now held by the writer. The first is his Indenture of Apprenticeship. He was indentured to William Elliott of North Shields in the county of Northumberland on 3rd February 1847 at the age of 16 for a period of 4 years. It is endorsed, (very faintly),  "North Shields  Port of Newcastle. 3rd February 1847. Parolled  (??)" and with a signature.  Another endorsement on this document reads  "This is to Certify that the within named Wilby Rackham has served the full term of his Apprenticeship to the satisfaction of his Employers.  Wm. Elliott". This document has the earliest known example of his signature and he signed it Wilby Rackham which refutes the baptismal spelling of Welby in the register of the Independent Congregational church at Wrentham. (The name Elliott also occurs in a firm at Newcastle by the name of Elliott, Lowrey and Dunford operating in 1860 and in a firm trading in 1899 under the name of Dunford and Elliott).

The second document relates that after completing his apprenticeship, he sailed on the Brig Elliotts as an Able Seaman in March 1851 but it is noted that on 14th March he was "Discharged on Loss of Ship" after a voyage of 6 days. The document, entitled "No. 1 Dis"  [Discharge], reads - "This is to Certify that Wilby Rackham whose Register Ticket is numbered 350.122 served as Seaman on board the Brig Elliotts from the 8th day of March to the 14th day of March 1851 and was discharged from the Ship at Stornoway on the loss of the Ship.     Stornoway   March 24th / 51.  Robert Walker. Master.

Amongst the records which were discovered by Maritime Research was one entitled List of Testimonials and Statement of Service.  This is a record, entered on an official form and verified at the Register Office of Seamen. It covers the period 3rd February 1847 to 1st January 1859. During that time he served on “Elliotts” of North Shields, “Defender” of Newcastle, “Prompt” of Shields, “Jason” of London, “Arethusa” of North Shields, “Leipzig” of Grimsby, “Rose” of Sunderland and “Royalist” of Newcastle, in each case as an able seaman. In August 1855 he joined the “Cresswell” of Shields as Cook and Steward. The following year he served as an able seaman for the last time on the “Ambassador” of Shields.

In addition to Wilby’s List of Testimonials and Statement of Service, Maritime Research of Southampton produced a further seven documents which included his Certificate of Competency as Second Mate. This was issued under the Seal of the Board of Trade on 6th October 1856 and entered at the General Register and Record Office of Seamen on 7th October. The certificate that he had passed the requisite examination as Second Mate was issued at North Shields and gave Wilby’s address as Dock Lane, Bull Ring, North Shields, Northumberland. Immediately after qualifying as Second Mate he passed, again at North Shields, the examination as Only Mate and his certificate was issued on the 16th October 1856.

In October 1856, Wilby, as a qualified Mate, sailed as such on the “Eliza and Caroline” of Shields. This was followed in April 1858 by a position as Mate of the “Queen Victoria” of London and then in August 1858 as Mate of the Brig “Harriet Julia” registered at Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis. It was whilst serving on the “Harriet Julia” that her Master died at sea and Wilby became Master on 17th December of that year. He was not then in possession of a Master’s Certificate.

Another document produced by Maritime Research was an Application to be Examined for a Master's Ordinary Certificate of Competency in the Foreign trade. Wilby Rackham declared on this form, which he signed on 3rd February 1859, that he was born at WRENTHAM in the county of SUFFOLK on 21st January 1831. He gave his address as GISLEHAM, Near Lowestoft, Suffolk. (Gisleham is a tiny village approximately midway between Lowestoft and Kessingland and Wilby's parents were living there in February 1859 at Black Street.). The application was addressed to the Local Marine Board for the Port of Glasgow and he requested that his Certificate be sent to the Shipping Office or Custom House at Glasgow. At the foot of the form is a note dated 4th February 1859 that he had "Passed as Ordinary Master". The resulting Certificate of Competency as Master was sealed and issued by the Board of Trade on 8th February 1859.

Wilby’s Statement of Service from February 1847 to January 1859 gave his time served at sea during that period as 9 years, 3 months and 15 days. This included the four years of his apprenticeship. The printed Statement of Service form included the words “Time served at sea for which I now produce certificates” and these certificates are probably the Discharge Certificates issued at the end of a voyage such as the one issued to him when the Brig Elliotts was lost on his first six day voyage as an able seaman after completing his apprenticeship. Four years are noted as being served without certificates and these are the four years of his apprenticeship.

Another item which has survived is Capt. Rackham's notebook, actually a diary published under the name “The Mercantile Memorandum Book for 1861” in which he entered some financial information. The pages which he headed “Acc. of Wages since Oct 1856” help to give meaning to the value of money during the period covered by his letters to his wife. He listed the vessel on which he served, the length of time and his monthly rate of pay which varied on the Brig “Harriet Julia”, for example, from £4 as Mate to £9 as Master.

Brig ELIZA AND CAROLINE at £6 pr Mo.  11 Mo. 26 days - £77. 2. 8

QUEEN VICTORIA  Brig. at £4. 10  for 3½  month - £14. 5. 0

Brig HARRIET JULIA,  Mate from Aug to Nov  4£ per Mo - £12. 0. 0   Master  6½  Mo at 9£ £58.10. 0

Ship SPES, Mate at 6£ pr Mo  for 11 mo  2 days - £66. 8. 0

Ship ST. MAGNUS  at 6£ pr Mo  7 mo & 1 day - £42. 4. 0

Total in 5 years                                                             £270. 9. 8

It becomes clear from the addresses which Wilby gave on official documents that he would move from port to port as employment was available. When he took his examination for Master he asked for his certificate to be sent to Glasgow and it was there that he met and married his wife Mary Billington Crosbie.

The marriage of Wilby Rackham and Mary Crosbie took place at Kingston church, Glasgow. The following is from a typewritten copy made by Annie Isabel (Nance) Caine but the date does not contain the year. It would appear to be 1860 and this is confirmed by the existence of Mary's wedding ring engraved " W.R. - M.C.  1860 " and would also tie in with the ages given.

On the thirty first day of December at 54 Clyde Place Glasgow Marriage (after Banns) was solemnised between us according to the forms of the Established Church of Scotland.

Wilby Rackham   Mate  (Merchant Service)   Bachelor   Aged 29

Mary Crosbie   Spinster    Aged 21

The couple’s parents are listed as –

John Rackham  Boot Maker (Master) and Elizabeth Rackham.  Maiden name  Simmonds

William Crosbie  Wine & Spirit Merchant and Sarah Crosbie.  Maiden name  Billington

The ceremony was conducted by Robert Pollok, Minister of Kingston Church, Glasgow with Alexander Barry and R. Crosbie, the bride’s brother, as witnesses. The entry was signed by Thomas Pollok, Assistant Registrar, and Nicol McDougal, Registrar.

An entry in the International Genealogical Index of the Church of Latter Day Saints records the marriage in the county of Lanarkshire and confirms the date -

RACKHAM,  Willy  (&)  Mary Crosbie  31 December 1860  Lanark, Glasgow, Tradeston.

Wilby's name has been miscopied and appears as Willy.

At his marriage Wilby gave his occupation as “Mate. Merchant Service”. Although he held a Master’s Certificate of Competency he appears to have been the Mate of the “Spes” or possibly of the Ship “St. Magnus” at that time.

Wilby’s wife Mary lived with her parents, William and Sarah Crosbie, at “Ivy Cottage”, Langside, Glasgow. Judged by the details given in the advertisement for sale, the property was a substantial four bedroomed house, with stable and glass houses. It was described as forming a very desirable residence”. In later years it was occupied by a Doctor. By the date of the advertisement in 1861 the Crosbies appear to have moved to the Bull’s Head Inn, Tottenham Court Road, London. In November 1861, Mary travelled from Glasgow to Hanley, where she had family, and in December she joined her parents in London. Wilby’s letter of 24th February 1862 contains the first hint that Mary is expecting their first child. He wrote – “If it is over before I get home you will please save me a piece of the Christening cake and a drop of the stuff to wash it down with”.

A letter dated 25th July 1862 to Wilby Rackham from his mother-in-law Sarah Crosbie confirmed the birth. It read - "Dear Wilby,  We received your letter and was very happy to hear that you had arrived safe and found all well. In regard to Mary and the little one I am happy to say they are getting on very well but for all that you must come home on Tuesday without fail....". The "little one" was, of course, Mary Jordan Rackham who, in 1885, was to marry James Caine at Kirk Braddan. Other evidence, namely an envelope addressed to Mary at the Bull’s Head in September 1862, strongly suggests that their daughter had been born there. The exact date was not clear but a letter dated 20th July, with no year stated, which Wilby wrote to his wife from the ship Lord Elgin at anchor in the river St Lawrence, Canada,  read - "I was thinking of you and our dear little Polly [his pet name for both wife and daughter] yesterday and she is one year old and I was wondering whether you took her down to St James's Park for a drink of New Milk on the first anniversary of her birth...". As the child was one year old this fixes the year of the letter as 1863. So taking this literally, a letter written on 20th July 1863 which speaks of his daughter's first birthday as being "yesterday" means that she was born on 19th July 1862. At the foot of the letter Wilby had written his daughter's initials  M.J.R.

The date and place of Wilby’s first child, Mary Jordan Rackham, my grandmother, had long been the subject of speculation. Up until that point in my research into our family history, the only record of her birth place was in the 1881 Census for Douglas which states that she was born in England. As to the date of her birth, the best that could be done was to calculate back from her age at death which was stated to be 76 on 21st May 1939. This would give an earliest possible date of birth of 22nd May 1862. She was listed as aged 18 in the Manx Census of 3rd / 4th April 1881. This would indicate an earliest possible birth date of 4th April 1862. Wilby’s letters have provided the answer to this question.

Wilby wrote also in his letter of 25th July 1862 that  "....if we take up our residence apart from Father and Mother [his in-laws] it must be somewhere near the River or Docks, I often think about those pretty little houses on the Deptford Road....". This was not to be. In the course of a visit by Mary to Wilby, a second daughter was born at Newport, Monmouthshire, on 2nd September 1863 but lived for only a few hours. A son was born at Bucknell House, Park Road, New Wandsworth, London, on 14th December 1866. This property was built speculatively by William Crosbie and Wilby also had a financial interest in the venture. The birth was registered in the name of Wilby Crosbie Rackham at Battersea, London. The baptism in the name of Charles Wilby Rackham took place on 7th July 1867 at St Peter's church, Langrove Street, Everton, Liverpool. It was from Liverpool that Wilby sailed from 1866 to 1868.

Mr Stan Rackham of Victoria, Australia has details of vessels on which Capt. Rackham served between 1856 and 1868. This information was researched at the Public Records Office, Kew. He has supplied the main details for 1866 to 1868 as follows -

1866   Official Number   51026   STAR OF THE SEA

1866   Official Number   29970   ALCAIG    Liverpool to Lagos

1867   Official Number   29970   ALCAIG    Liverpool - Lagos - Africa - Liverpool

1868   Official Number   29970   ALCAIG    Liverpool - Lagos. Supposed drowned. Ship not heard of since 10th March. The departure date from Liverpool is confirmed by the surviving Crew List which states that the crew joined the vessel on 28th February and sailed on 10 March.

This last entry, although not the complete story, does at least fix the time scale involved in Wilby’s death and eliminates the speculation as to the locality. It was through the World Wide Web Internet that some other Rackham researchers, notably Mr Stan Rackham of Australia, were introduced.

Mr Rackham commented in 1998 that  " With regard to the "Memories of Childhood" stories. In 1864 Wilby was the master of a ship EMERALD ISLE OF ST. JOHN which sailed to Georgetown in British Guiana. The West Indies story could well be true ".  This refers to the article in "Manx Life",  published in August 1993 entitled "Memories of Childhood" by the late Miss Alice Caine who recalled that her grandmother, Mary Billington Rackham, who died in 1920, would tell her "...stories about 'The Captain', my grandfather, and how she sailed with him to the West Indies and about the pet monkey on the ship and the pig who was known as Dennis...". However, this 1864 voyage to Georgetown was probably not the one on which Wilby’s wife and daughter accompanied him.

The following year a letter to his parents-in-law from the “Emerald Isle” at Havana and dated 16th July 1865 includes the words Mary, myself and the little one are quite well at present . The letter is signed  Yours very Affectionately   W. & M. Rackham . This clearly indicates that his wife Mary and their daughter were with him. There was also a footnote intended to be a greeting from their daughter Mary Jordan Rackham to the child’s grandparents. This read  –


for daddie & Grammie

& Willie & Bobbie

& Aunty Sally

M. J. R.

Wilby wrote in a letter of 5th May 1866 to his brother Edward that -  “Mary and our little daughter are both first rate sailors and if I go on a Pleasant voyage they will accompany me again”.

It is evident from Wilby’s later letters from West Africa that he traded on his own behalf and presumably this was one of the privileges of a ship’s Master. Nance Caine has written of the speculative building projects in which Wilby’s father-in-law, William Crosbie, was involved, none too successfully. Wilby seems to have emulated his father-in-law by investing in the development of Bucknall House in New Wandsworth, London. In a letter of the 5th March 1866 from the Barque Emerald Isle at Stanley Dock, Liverpool, to his brother Edward Rackham at Kessingland, Wilby wrote -   "I expect her [his wife Mary] down from London in a day or two, where she has been on a visit to her Father and Mother. Her father has built a new house since I left London and I have invested some money in it. The Address is Mr Wm. Crosbie, Bucknall House, Park Rd. New Wandsworth, London S.W. its estimated value is about £1200 and after another year or so we intend to sell it and build some others in another part of the Country".

The property appears to have been named after Bucknall, a town to the south-east of Hanley, in the Potteries district of Staffordshire where Mary Rackham had family connections. His wife, Mary, lived at Bucknall House for a time with her parents and her son Charles Wilby (Crosbie) Rackham was born there. It does seem that perhaps Wilby hoped to amass sufficient funds to give up his seafaring life and to live and work ashore, settled with his family.

This, as we know, was not to be. Wilby Rackham had been sailing, according to his Register Ticket entry, from when he  “First went to Sea as  Boy  in the Year  1845”  at the age of 14 and following this he was apprenticed on 3rd February 1847 at the age of 16 for a period of 4 years. During the next 21 years he had sailed to the Atlantic coasts of north and south America from New Brunswick in Canada, to New York, to Havana, Matanzas and Nuevitas in Cuba, to Georgetown in British Guyana and down to Buenos Aires in Argentina. On a voyage to Calloa in Peru he had, presumably, rounded the notorious Cape Horn. As well as passages around the British Isles, he had carried cargos along the European coastlines to as far south as Cadiz and into the Mediterranean Sea. In his final years at sea he had been involved with the West Coast of Africa and it was on a passage to Lagos that this story of Wilby Rackham’s life at sea comes to an end.

It had long been tradition in our family that Capt. Wilby Rackham was lost at sea. Philip Wilby Caine, his grandson, stated that this occurred in 1868. One family tradition, which the compiler of these notes and other members of the family had been brought up on, was that his vessel had foundered on the Goodwin Sands. However, there had always been some doubt about the locality of the loss and it is now established that his ship, the "Alcaig", Official Number 29970, of 190 tons, sailed from Liverpool on 10 March 1868 for Lagos, Nigeria, was not heard of since that date. He and his crew of eight were supposed drowned. So, although family tradition was wrong as far as the locality was concerned, the year 1868 was correct. Part Eight of the Letters includes one to Wilby from Mary, by then a widow although she was not aware of the fact. This is dated June 9th 1868.

The name "WILBY" was given to Capt. Wilby Rackham's son, Charles Wilby Crosbie Rackham, to his grandson, Philip Wilby Caine, and to his great grand son John Wilby Caine. In addition there are several descendants of his half brother Charles Rackham, who was shipwrecked at Guichen Bay near Robe, in South Australia, who were named after Wilby Rackham and in whom the name is perpetuated to this day.

The name Wilby is used within our family as a given name but is really a Suffolk placename. There is a small hamlet called Wilby, in the parish of the same name, to the east of the town of Eye and about nine or ten miles to the south south west of Halesworth in Suffolk. Near to the village are Wilby Hall and Wilby Green. The name Wilby was also used as a surname. An example of this was a John Wilby who lived in Wrentham around 1715. What appears to be a variant spelling of the surname in the form of "Weelby" is also to be found in the Suffolk registers.

Nance Caine wrote in her Prologue – “I should like to know where his name Wilby came from, his wife evidently teased him about it”. Mr Stan Rackham of Rosanna, Victoria, Australia, whose father was another Wilby Rackham and a son of Charles Rackham, Capt. Wilby Rackham’s half brother, has given me a possible explanation of this surname’s use as a first name. As already noted there was a Wilby family established in Wrentham around 1715. A descendant of this family, a William Wilby, was a witness in 1760 to the marriage of Robert W. Carter. In 1776 a Charles Carter acted as a witness when William Wilby, who was then a widower, remarried. By 1807 the surname Wilby was in use as a first name in the Carter family in the person of a Wilby Carter. There were other examples. In 1853 a Robert Wilby Carter, aged 70, was buried and he had a son William Wilby Carter who died aged 34 in 1849. Both Robert Wilby Carter and William Wilby Carter are listed in the 1841 Wrentham Census. Mr Stan Rackham says – “My guess is that John Rackham knew the Carter family and that he used the name Wilby as a given name for his first son with Elizabeth”.