Ancestor of the month

John Vinton

A native of South Shields, John is connected to my Sage family through the marriage of his daughter Mary Ann into the Elringtons, who in turn connect to the Prestons and thence the Sages.

Born in 1828, John was the son of a shipwright and in turn took up a maritime career which turned out to be one of incident and tragedy. In 1851 he is himself listed in the census as a shipwright, but by 1861 he was a mariner living with his wife Elizabeth at Smithy Street, just a few streets from Mount Terrace where he had been brought up. John's father is elusive in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, so possibly he was working on board ships at these times? John had married Elizabeth Farraday in 1856.

John's career was developing, and in 1868 he received his master's certificate. From this point his voyages can easily be traced in Lloyd's Master's Index. There are fairly long gaps between some of his passages, so he either spent periods ashore, or else took work as a crewman rather than as a master or mate at these times. After a trip on the Stolpemunde in 1869, he served on several voyages aboard the Madagascar, engaged in trade to North America. In 1871, John is on board the Madagascar at Leith, together with his wife and their youngest child Joseph. Lloyds records the end of his work on this ship starkly: "wrecked 11 July 1871". The New York Times reported the loss; The Madagascar was in collision with the steamer Widgeon in thick fog near the Eddystone light. Fortunately the sea was smooth and although both vessels sunk, the crews were able to take to boats and reach the shore without loss.

John now shipped for several passages on the Lady Seymour, also engaged in trade to America, followed by trips to Mediterranean ports on several different vessels. By late 1877 he was working on the Chowdean for several trips.

The Lloyds Index entry in volume 41 begins simply "John Vinton - dead", and records his final shipment in the vessel Sapphire but no information on what became of John. Contemporary newspaper reports supply some details. The Sapphire was carrying a mixed cargo including rail iron and petroleum to Philadelphia, having made passage via Antwerp. After a safe passage, there was a terrible and fatal incident during unloading. The Northern Echo and the Newcastle Courant reported an explosion on board resulting in the death of four crew: John Vinton, James Barber, George Pearson and an unnamed Belgian seaman. The North American also reported the explosion in graphic terms, and accused Vinton (referred to as Vincent) of causing the tragedy by attempting to enlarge the opening in an oil barrel using a red hot poker. Their report describes the crew members being blown through a wooden partition by the blast, and the cook and other crew leaping into the harbour in flames. It also describes John Vinton staying on board the vessel and successfully extinguishing the fire with the assistance of other officers despite his injuries. John died at hospital, early the following day.

Whatever the truth of the lurid report in the North American, any culpability of John Vinton's in the affair was rejected at the inquest. Those present stated that no-one had any hot iron or other sort of light. Fumes penetrating to the stove in the adjoining galley may have been the most likely cause. So ended the life of John. The newspapers reported that he left a widow and grown-up family. The youngest member of that grown-up family was James Vinton, aged 6.