Allan Jackson - 2005
6 of my diary I mentioned the sailing vessel Modwena,
which had operated out of Durban for a time and then been
scuttled nearby. I wrote:
was talking about the many shipwrecks which litter the approaches
to Durban and about the fact that a goodly number of these
were vessels which had outlived their usefulness and been
scuttled. A book by Tony Large, In Deep and Troubled Waters
[see Sources], which recently came my way mentions one such
"She was the Modwena and had been the private yacht
of sewing machine magnate Mortimer Singer. She was a sailing
barque and, when Tony knew her, she was owned by prominent
Durbanite T.B. Davis and used for trading between Durban
and Madagascar. Tony's father commanded her on his last
two seagoing voyages, but she was later paid-off because
she was uneconomic.
"Tony remembers seeing her swinging round a buoy near
Salisbury Island before she was taken out and scuttled sometime
in the early 1930s. Going by a picture I've seen, Modwena
was a really pretty ship and it's a great pity she wasn't
where I thought things would rest until I received a surprising
e-mail from Jim Stevens in Canada. He wrote on 26 September
am trying to find out about a schooner named the Modwena.
I have a painting of the boat and it is the last one my
grandfather Joseph Charles Kingston Stevens sailed on. He
emigrated to Canada about 1923 or 1924 I guess. Is there
any imformation on it you could pass on?"
passed Jim's message on to Tony Large who sent us copies of
pictures he had obtained of Modwena. It isn't entirely clear
where or when they were taken.
courtesy Tony Large
- Click images to view enlargements
wrote the following to Tony and I on 6 October 2005:
I was about 10 years old my uncle, who lived with my grandparents
had a painting done. I was told it was the last boat my
grandfather sailed on. My grand father immigrated to Canada
around 1923 to 1925 I am guessing. When my grandparents
had passed away the family got into a bit of a tiff over
the estate and I didn't see the painting again. My aunt
and uncle died and when my cousin was over at their place
getting a few things there that belong to him, he saw the
painting set to go in the dumpster.
"My grandfather was one hell of a man and loved by
anyone who knew him. He was born in 1888 and lived in Penzance,
England. He was indentured to be a barber and was one when
he came to Canada. I understand his father, my great grandfather
owned boats that ran coal or tin from the Penzance area.
sent us a picture of his painting of Modwena.
courtesy Jim Stevens
wrote on 29 November 2005:
can just give you the bare bones about Modwena. Built in
Glasgow in 1908 for a man named Edgar Thornton, he sold
her to Mrs Marian Thornton in 1910. I presume she was his
wife and I have learned that she was a keen and competent
yachtswoman who raced in the English Channel, but not in
Modwena. In 1912 Modwena was sold to Sir Mortimer Singer
who lived (the family having migrated from the US to England
early in the century) in Devon. Singer presumably sailed
her in the English Channel as a large yacht until the first
war and I gather that she was laid up while the fighting
"After WW One Modwena appears in Durban, owned by TB
Davis and now, I'm reasonably sure, registered with Lloyds
as a small merchant vessel. I suspect that TB Davis owned
and operated her from 1918 to 1924. This has to be the era
of your grandfather and my father, and they may well have
sailed together. How we'll ever find this out, Heaven knows.
"Just wait on this one. I've got an idea or two but
don't hold your breath!
Our relatives took her to Madagascar and Mauritius and at
some time she must have run aground for there are records
of a Court of Enquiry in South Africa into the 'wreck' of
the Modwena in 1924. I have applied to get a copy of these
documents. Obviously the 'wreck' didn't sink her for she
was sold to Mrs B Davidson, also of Durban and thereafter
she is called Strathclyde, is fitted with diesel engines
and her occupation is fishing. She must have become uneconomical
to run for, as I mentioned before, she was moored in Durban
Harbour when I was a boy and my brother remembers her being
towed out to sea in or about 1935 and scuttled. As far as
I know, Mrs Davidson still owned her then.
"Sir M Singer committed suicide in 1929 and I am looking
for his will. I do know that there was a sale of his 'effects'
at the large London auction house of Christies in 1931 and
I have approached Christies for a catalogue of what was
put up for sale. They replied that they do not keep old
catalogues. And all for a glimpse of Modwena!
"TB Davis died in 1942 in Durban and I'm informed that
his will was simple. What happened to all the memorabilia
I cannot guess, but still hope to find out. His children
are long dead and I'm slowly finding relatives in the UK
and in South Africa, whom I propose to approach."
since received two pictures of Modwena from the National Maritime
Museum at Greenwich. They were apparently taken on Southampton
Water in 1913. I do not have permission to reproduce them
here but she does look like a real beauty.
source of material on Modwena is Windjammer 'Prentice, the
memoirs of Captain Vincent Large. The book is the fascinating
story of how Vincent went to sea as an apprentice on the sailing
vessel Shakespeare and, although the book is largely about
his exploits during the two voyages he had aboard Shakespeare,
there is a section describing his time aboard Modwena. I'll
write that up when I have a minute.