A BARGAIN buy at an antiques fair has unleashed a tale of life on the ocean wave.
Fred Roberts, officer-in-charge at Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade, paid just £2 for a stack of discharge certificates chronicling the career of seafarer Mark Allan in Victorian times.
Now he is hoping to track down descendents of Wearside-born Mark, who spent his life sailing the globe, with the aim of reuniting them with the unique piece of maritime heritage.
“Seamen would be given a discharge certificate each time they left a ship,” said Fred. “The ones Mark collected over the years are absolutely fascinating – he really did travel far and wide.
“It is very rare to come across such a collection, but the seller said he’d throw them away if I didn’t buy them, so I did. There are not many about like this – especially so many for one man.”
Records reveal that Mark’s father, also called Mark, was born in June 1831 – to parents Mark and Ann Allan, of Lion Street in Sunderland – and grew up to become a merchant seaman.
Mark senior married his sweetheart Ann Russell in 1853 and after setting up home at 75 Lees Street, the couple went on to have several children – including Mark junior in 1855.
By the time of the 1871 census, however, Ann had sadly been widowed. Young Mark had to grow up without a father and, once he reached the age of 16, he was making his living at sea.
“The earliest certificate dates from 1871 and shows him serving as an engineer’s steward aboard the SS Aquila,” said Fred, a former shipyard worker. “It is very hard, though, to make out the name of his first destination.
“After that, he moves from ship to ship, travelling around the world. All sorts of destinations are stamped on his certificates, from South Shields to America and Cardiff to Tripoli.”
Mark obviously took time out from his travels to find love, however, as the 1881 census shows him living at 4, South Street with his wife, Mary, and newborn son Mark Thompson Allan.
But, although he made a steady income from the sea, it did not make him rich. By the time of the 1901 census, Mark, Mary and their five children were sharing just three rooms at a house in Crow Street.
Oldest son, Mark T Allan, was an apprentice engine fitter at the time, as was middle son John, then 17. Daughter Barbara was a dressmaker, while a younger son and daughter were still at school.
“It has been fascinating to find out more about the man behind the certificates,” said Fred, who lives in Whitburn. “He is no longer just a name, but a real man who lived a very real life.”
The 1911 census shows Mark’s wife, Mary, as the head of the family at 9, Randolph Street. Sons John, a seagoing engineer, and plumber George, 22, also lived there, as did youngest daughter Stella.
It is believed Mark was at sea when the survey was carried out, while oldest son Mark T had finally flown the nest – marrying Alice Swinney and setting up home at 4, Onslow Street.
Mark T went on to follow make his living as a sailor too. Official shipping reports show he travelled on the White Star steamship Regina in 1923, from Montreal to Liverpool – the same year his father died.
“The certificates I bought for £2 document one man’s whole life at sea,” said Fred. “It is amazing to have access to such information and I am so pleased that they didn’t end up in the dustbin.
“Many of the ships he sailed on were blown up or lost at sea after he left them. He obviously had some luck when at sea, and I hope I have the same when trying to track down his descendents.”
** Are you related to Mark Allan? Contact Fred on 529 1561.
MARK Allan was a sailor man and boy . Here are just some of the ships he worked on.
SS Horton: Cook and steward in 1891. The Short Brothers-built ship went missing in 1905 after passing Brunsbuttel on the way to Rotterdam.
SS Glenmoor: Cook on a passage to River Plate in 1895. Built by John Priestman, of Southwick, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915.
SS Dewsland: Steward in 1884. The steamer was built by J.L. Thompson’s in 1883 and sunk by a German U-boat on June 1, 1916, near Cape Carbon.
SS William Symington (later renamed SS Fedelta): Steward on Mediterranean passage in 1898. The ship was built by J.L. Thompson’s in 1877 and sunk by a U-boat in 1916.
SS Andalusia (later renamed SS Sirius): Steward in 1890. The ship was launched in 1881 by Strand Slipway Co, Monkwearmouth, and wrecked in a collision in the Baltic in 1902.
SS Cornucopia (later renamed SS Astrid): Cook and steward in 1894. The ship was built by Osbourne, Graham and Co, of North Hylton, in 1882 and lost at sea in 1910.
SS Robert Adamson: Steward for a passage to Naples in 1896. The ship was built by Short Bros, Pallion, in 1895 and torpedoed by a U-boat in 1916 en-route to Harve.
SS Orsino: Cook on a passage to Virginia in 1880. The ship was built by Robert Thompson and Sons, Sunderland, in 1880. It was wrecked near Sicily in 1898.
SS Perseverance: Steward in 1890. The ship was lost during a voyage from Glenelg River to Murray River, Australia, in 1898, after running aground.
SS Harbringer: Steward in 1887. The ship was launched in 1846 as HMS Recruit as a 12-gun sailing brig, but converted to a screw steamer and renamed Harbringer in 1852.
SS Sunniside: Cook and steward in 1890. The ship was built by Goole Shipbuilding and sunk by a mine from a German submarine on a voyage from Hull to Rotterdam in 1916.
SS Universal: Cook on passage to Marseilles in 1888. The ship was built by Short Bros in 1878 and renamed Ardens in 1916. It was sunk by a U-boat torpedo in 1917.
SS Ashburne: Promoted to steward during 1894 Tripoli voyage. Mark left the steamship in April that year and, the following month, it was wrecked in the North Sea.