Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

Capt. Osborn
Capt. Osborn in his retirement, at home in Osborn House,
 Brow Top, Workington.

Joseph Osborn was born at Allonby in 1823, the son of a yeoman farmer and one of seven children. He first went to sea in 1840 aboard the ‘Concorde’ sailing, out of Maryport, to the West Indies and South Africa.

In 1846 he married Jane Roper; they had at least ten children. By 1850, he had moved to Liverpool and was making long voyages to Canada, Cuba and South America.

Between 1853 and 1875, Joseph kept a record of all his voyages, first as a Mate and then as Master.

These were purchased by the National Maritime Museum in 1980 and are now available for research there.

As well as containing the standard information one would expect, (bearings, weather details, journal entries, etc), the logs also contain nearly one hundred drawings and sketches in ink, pencil and watercolour of various ships, coastline profiles, and sea-birds.

Capt Osborn was at sea for over thirty-five years. He traded out of Liverpool to Cape Town , Calcutta , Amoy , Singapore , Hong Kong , Foochow , Demerara, Bombay , Madras , Sydney , and many other ports around the world.

For eight months he was on Government Service, carrying supplies from Bombay to Abyssinia for the war that Britain had declared, in 1855, on the "King-of-Kings" Theodore.

Pages from Capt. Osborn's logs
Pages from the captain's logbook.

His direct descendant, Paul Osborn, writes:-

“Some of his voyages to the far east would take him away from home for sixteen months at a time. One voyage lasted just short of two years. There was no Suez canal in those days, so it was a long old voyage around the Cape and then back by sail. He never sailed on any steam ships, always on clippers and barques. Everything was loaded and unloaded by hand, as there was no such thing as cranes back then. Just imagine unloading hundreds of railway bars and sleepers by hand !  When empty they would then load up with jute, cotton, wool etc for the trip back home. This discharging and loading would sometimes go on for two or three months!  And then you had the long voyage back home . . . What a life!”

Capt Osborn and his house
Capt. Osborn outside his house in Liverpool.

His longest period of service was the twelve years he spent on the barque 'Recorder'. His last command was the ‘Jane Sprott’ on which he made several voyages to Australia . He retired from the sea in 1875 due to failing eyesight and spent the next eight years overseeing the building and fitting of Liverpool ships for the firm of Fisher and Sprott. He retired altogether in 1883, at 60 and died in 1908, aged 85.

Sailing ship
The 'Jane Sprott'

version of this

National Maritime Museum

West Cumberland Shipping

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Captain Joseph Osborn