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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters
Part Six





Copies of various papers relating to the Barque "Emerald Isle".  ( Captain Rackham)


CUSTOM HOUSE,  London    20th. day of Sept. 1864


These are to certify that Mr. Rogers Popplewell (Agent) the Emerald Isle of 302 tons register of Londonderry from London to Demerara hath paid the sum of two Pounds fourteen Shillings nine Pence for Light &c. Duties for the said Voyage   (etc.)


This is to certify that John Murphy brought the ship in to the Proper Anchorage quite to my satisfaction.

F Hamilton     Mate


Emerald Isle    Febry 25 / 65


Received from Captain Rackham One Pound for Pilotage

February 25 1865

John Murphy


Recd. on board the Barque Emerald Isle three Puncheons of water from the Water tank Nud Cosnet (?).   June 16th 1865


John Tickill    Mate


April 15


owner of the Emerald Isle to John Read for one weeks wages   one pound one Shilling


john Read




Barque Emerald Isle

at anchor in Dungeness

East Bay     Sept 24th.      [1864]


My Dear Polly


I arrived here at about 1 oclock today and as the wind is blowing strong up Channel we shall wait awhile for a change. I like my ship very well indeed and so far as I can Judge at present I have a very quiet and obedient crew. I hope we shall soon get a fair Wind and start on our voyage again. Here is another Ship laying here which left London with me bound to the same place and I want to get there before he does. It will be a new hat into my Pocket if I do. The Owner spoke very kind and encouragingly before he left & promised that if I do well and make a prosperous voyage that he would make me a handsome present.


I have but little time to write in as the Boat is waiting for my letter so give my kind Love to all at home and accept the same to yourself & do not forget to write to your


Loving Husband

W Rackham








(Half sheet missing from beginning of this letter)


……during the last few days we have had frequent showers of rain which in the heat of the day seemed quite refreshing. You would have thought our sailors real water dogs had you been here and seen them throw off all their upper clothes and turn up their trowsers to get what might be called a first class shower bath, for you must not think the rain of these parts is any thing like the drizzly showers at home. No when it rains here it comes down quite in earnest I do assure you. I should think about as much rain fell here in one hour as would fall in London in 6 days steady rain.


We have not seen a ship for this last fortnight although we have sailed over nearly 2000 miles in that time with the wind constantly blowing from the same direction. We are all very comfortable and my crew are a quiet, orderly lot of men. We have got the ship all nicely cleaned and painted and I had a desperate battle with some passengers who have shared my bed with me untill I found they wanted it all their own way. Then I declared war to the death with the Bug family and I think I may claim a complete victory, for I have not seen or felt one since. We are provided with most of the common nesessaries of life in the way of eating and drinking but I sometimes think there is some truth in the old saying God sends meat but Satan sends Cooks for mine is none of the best and if I come next voyage to this part of the world I must look out for a good-looking  stewardess. She must be good-looking, aged about 25, Married with strict habits of cleanliness and obedience to the lawful commands of her Master. No objection to one child (a little girl who can run about) as it  might afford some amusement to the Captain in teaching her to read, write, sing, dance or play on the concertina, the only musical instrument the Captn is acquainted with and which he has often regretted leaving at home.


My dear P. I scrolled this one day at sea when we were about a weeks sail from Demerara, and as I can make my letter nearly weigh ½ an ounce without incurring the  double postage I have made up my mind to send you two sheets instead of one, and in return I hope to get a nice long one from you. This is friday the 18th of November. We arrived here on the 12th. but as there is no mail for England untill the 23rd you will see that I have commenced writing all in good time but I want to get yours done so that I shall have time to consider over my letters to my owners and the Merchants who chartered this Ship in London. I am glad to tell you that we made a passage out here under the average length of time and I find that among 14 different Ships arriving here from England lately, only one has beaten us. Perhaps you remember the Ship that hauled through the Dock gates before us that afternoon when we went out. She was bound to Berbice about 60 miles from here (nearer home) but has not arrived yet, so that myself & Mr. Hamilton (the Mate) are entitled to our new hats from the Owners


(the rest missing)



Note.  I do not know whether your greatgrandmother and grandmother made more than one voyage to the West Indies. I used to be fascinated by the little fragments they told us about life on board ship and in foreign ports. Mother (your Grandma) would just have had her 3rd. birth day but those exciting days made a deep impression on her mind. She was evidently petted by the sailors and she remembered playing about on the deck wearing only frock and knickers, very much starched so that they would not cling to her skin too much and make her too hot. One of the crew was boasting that he was not afraid of mosquito bites; he allowed one to settle on his arm. A few days [later] he was so ill that he had to be left ashore. She remembers how excited she was when she went ashore and saw and tasted bananas. I think they had a monkey for a pet on this voyage too. Grandma Rackham had a great time and got into quite lot of mischief climbing up riggings etc. to prove what a good Able Seaman she was. I believe "the Captain" had to scold her several times and even to threaten her with being put into Irons for disobedience!


Grandma always spoke of Grandfather as a most stern disciplinarian as well as a kind and considerate man, ready for many a joke, practical ones too.





Barque Emerald Isle

River Essiquibo

Decbr. 8th. / '64


My Dear Polly


I hope my last letter to you is getting near to its destination by this time and that it may find you all well at home. I am glad to tell you that I enjoy the best of health and am getting on rapidly with my homeward Cargo, and hope to be ready to leave this country about the new year, and then I shall be wishing for a fair wind to make a speedy run home to my beloved Polly whose large bright eyes I know will look brighter still when they behold the Father of your little darling who is so good. My dear I have been thinking over your going to Glasgow to spend the new year and I do not think you will have the money to spare to pay the train fare which you know will amount to nearly £3. 10s there and back and as to your going by the Steamer really it is such a bad time of the year that I cannot think of your going that way. And another thing what have you to go for. You can as well write to Mr. Tomlinson as any of your other friends and let the visit be untill we can be both there together. The cargo I am taking in at present is as likely to go to Greenock or Glasgow as to any port in Britain and how can your Father spare you now that poor Mother’s leg is so bad. Away with such silly notion and content yourself at home untill my return and you will have time to make me some of those things which I mentioned in a letter to you not long ago. I sent in my last letter to you a first of Exchange of a draft on the Colonial Bank 13 Bishopgate St. for 10 pounds which I hope you will receive all right, but in case any thing should happen to the letter I enclose the second in this which is payable in case of the first not being paid. I would send you more but my owners have placed me on rather short allowance of money but if you should get any from them you will perhaps be able to let Father have a little as I know he will find it very acceptable at this time. If I have 5 pounds left after paying my bills in Demerara I may send it to you. I have bought a little Green Parrot very much like Charley's but the tail is not so long. I am trying to learn it to speak but have not much time or patience to spend upon it. They are very cheap here. I see flocks of 50 or 60 wild ones pass the Ship every evening, but as the weather will be very cold when I get towards home it will be a great chance if they live to reach home, so I shall get two only as that will be plenty to lose in case they should die.


I will write again before I leave and tell you about what time I expect to arrive in Queenstown and I hope to get another letter from you by the mail tomorrow. My dear I did not tell you to go to any office in London for your money, only to write and send your note to the Owners to Londonderry in Ireland the people in London have nothing to do with paying your allotment but I am rather surprised that Captn. Watterson did not answer your letter. I hope he has done so before this time as he promised me he would attend to it himself ------


(the rest of this letter is missing)




Barque Emerald Isle

River Essequibo

Jany. 6th. 1865


My Dearest Polly


Our cargo is now all on board and we have just made a Start towards the sea again. It is about 50 miles to go before we get out of the River and we have no steamer to tug the ships here so it will take us untill about Saturday night or Sunday to reach the place where we start from finally. The next mail leaves here on the 8th. inst so you may expect to hear of our arrival in Queenstown about 3 weeks or so after this reaches you. I passed rather a dull Christmas here among the woods, we could not get even a peice of meat or a fowl to make a fresh mess with. I had to go to Georgetown on the 29th. ult and took passage in a small schooner going that way. I found she was very badly fitted for passengers for I could scarcely obtain shelter from the rain and no bed to lay on, but the greatest trouble was, they run the vessel aground and none of them knew how to get her off again. This happened at midnight and a very wet and windy one it was, so I had to get up off my miserable hard Pallet and direct the black Captain and his crew how to get his vessel afloat again. We soon after got her off, but I got wet in the time and caught cold which is very dangerous to us in these hot Climates and when I got to town had to go on the sick list. I was ill for three days and then I began to get round again and the Doctor told me on Tuesday morning last that I could go out again after my business. You talk about being changed in a short time. I do beleive that I have lost about a stone of flesh this last week but never mind that so long as I get good health back again for it. I must trust to you for making me fat again when I come home. The last letter I sent you should have brought the other part of the Bill but when I went to the Post I found it was left on board the Ship. I put it in this one but I suppose the first was paid all right. My Owners mentioned in their last that they supposed I should like coming to London to discharge my cargo as my wife lives there but they did not tell me whether or not they paid you any money. I did not like to mention it to them in my letter as I sent you the ten pounds, and we shall be able to do without their allotment another voyage. Although if you can get any from them by writing for it do so by all means, as you can be making me some clothes and get yourself some too. Some of my White shirts are quite done now I cannot wear them any longer, and the under flannels are nearly worn up. I hope you have been all well and able to enjoy the Christmas and New Year. Father's house should be getting far on towards the finish now. I wish we were home again so that I could assist him a little but perhaps I may not be too late yet. Give my kind Love to them all and I hope Charlie and Rob are doing all they can for the completion of the house and the benefit of the Old folk. Take care of yourself and our dear little polly and accept the kind love and best wishes of


Your Loving Husband

W, Rackham





To his Parents-in-Law


Barque Emerald Isle

at Havana   July 16 1865

Dear Parants


We have at last got rid of our outward cargo and are now ready to proceed to another port in Cuba called "Nuevitas" where we are to load our homeward cargo. Our cargo will consist of timber, Rum, Sugar, Mollasses, Honey &c.


I intend leaving here tomorrow and the passage up to Nuevitas will probably occupy about a week  On tuesday last I discharged Charlie at his own request and got him shipped as Steward in the Barque "Archibald" of Belfast  Capt. Delargy. His wages are 4£ pr Month there, he got no advance and I enclose Draft for 5£ payable on demand to father's Order. I think the Bank is at No 2 Princes St. near the Bank of England or at the corner of Vauxhall Rd. and Victoria St. The money is a part of what was due to him from me. He required the remainder for some clothes, Shoes &c. He has got a good Ship and she is all ready for sea bound for Queenstown for Orders. I told the Capt. not to discharge him in Queenstown but to make him stay untill the Ship arrives at her final port. Mary, myself and the little one are quite well at present and send our kind Love to you all. I hope you are doing well with the House and successful enough to obtain a good tenant for that part which you intend letting out.


I think Charlie might do better to continue going to sea for a while yet untill he can get a nice sum of money together to start anything on Shore with. If he goes home again off this voyage and stops a month or two he will still be as far back as ever. I shall perhaps  write again before I leave, it depends on circumstances but if I do you will make it welcome although it should cost you 1/6. The Postage is all payable In England


I Am Dr

Yours very Affectionately

W. & M. Rackham


for daddie & Grammie

          & Willie & Bobbie

                  & Aunty Sally

M. J. R.



Dear Father & Mother


Since I wrote this letter I have found that Charlie did not perform his promise to me, in going on board of his ship at the time appointed but went on shore and did not join his ship untill this morning as she was passing out of the harbour- I am also Informed that he has made away with his chest and all his Clothes. If such is the case, he is not worthy of your sympathy or support as he had a good prospect and has abused the confidence I placed in him, disgraced the recommendation I gave him and returned me ingratitude for kindness. He need never come to me for employment again; we are all quite well on board and send our kind love to you all


hoping this will meet you all well


                                           We are


(Signature torn)





To His Brother, Edward Rackham at Kessingland, Suffolk.


Bk Emerald Isle

Stanley Dock   L'Pool

Mar. 5th. 1866


My Dear Brother


I have Just returned from the Town and received your letter. I need not say that I was merely Glad to see it, for it gives me the greatest of Pleasure, in fact it brings better news and more welcome tidings than I have had the pleasure of reading for some time past but how is it that you did not tell me in your last of your marriage, as Mary was here then and would have shared with me the unexpected Joy. However, I shall write and tell her about it, and the first time she sees you She will reprimand you for keeping all your good news so long at home. I expect her down from London in a day or two, where she has been on a visit to her Father and Mother &c.


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.


My Ship is not sold yet but there is a good Inquiry after her and I think she will not be long in the Market as She is a very fine vessel and also a very usefull kind of a ship. My Owner has another larger one he wants me to command if this one is sold. I will let you know when the change takes place and where I am going to. Mary and our little daughter are both first rate sailors and if I go on a Pleasant voyage they will accompany me again. Give my kind Love to all at home and I hope the day is not far distant when we shall have the Pleasure of seeing you and your dear Miranda. Give her a kiss for me and another for Mary and tell her not to allow them Kessingland People to get into her debt.


Hoping you will write often to


Your Affect. Brother & Sister

W. & M. Rackham