The Enderby Family of Enderby Wharf by Sally Jenkinson

( basic text from Enderby Wharf by Sally Jenkinson, Published Gordon Teachers Centre. Plus some additions)

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The map of Antarctica shows names linked to the whaling firm of Samuel Enderby and Sons, which occupied the site in the early nineteenth century – the Auckland Islands, Balleny Islands, the Weddell Sea, Enderby Land, Mount Biscoe. The company was so well known in its day that Herman Melville in “Moby Dick” says “in my poor whaleman’s opinion the whaling house of Enderby and Sons comes not far behind the united royal houses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in point of real historical interest.”

Samuel Enderby

The first Samuel Enderby was born in 1717 and apprenticed as a cooper. Later he bceame the partners of an oil merchant called Charles Buxton and he married Buxton’s daughter in 1752. In 1775 he took over the business and in the same year began to fit out ships for hunting the sperm whale. Hi ships were registered in both London and Boston and it is said that the famous consignment of tea that caused the Boston Tea Party was carried in his ships. The embargo on the British merchant navy in the ensuing War of Independence cut Enderby off from his normal trade routes so he then began to send ships off to the largely uncharted whaling grounds of the Southern oceans and the Pacific.

These early voyages are described in Moby Dick: – “In 1778 a fine ship, the Amelia, fitted out for the express purpose and at the sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape Horn, and was the first among the nations to lower a whale boat of any sort in the great South Sea. The voyage was a skilful and lucky one; and returning to her berth with her hold full of the precious sperm, the Amelia’s example was soon followed by other ships, English and American, and thus the vast Sperm Whale grounds of the Pacific were thrown open. But not content with this good deed, the indefatigable house again bestirred itself; Samuel and all his sons – how many, their mother only knows – and under their immediate auspices, and partly, I think, at their expense, the British government was induced to send the sloop -of war Rattler on a whaling voyage of discovery to the South Sea. Commanded by a naval Post-captain, the Rattler made a rattling voyage of it and did some service; how much does not appear. But this is not all. In 1819 the same house fitted out a discovery whale ship of their own, to go on a testing cruise to the remote waters of Japan. That ship – well called the Siren – made a noble experimental cruise; and it was thus that the great Japanese Whaling Ground first became generally known.”

The Dictionary of National Biography gives a later date, 1789, for the voyage of the “Amelia” and gives more detail of the “Rattler”; she was under the command of Lieutenant James Colnett, R.N. Who was commanded to survey whaling grounds in the South Pacific? The voyage lasted from January 1793 to November 1794 and made a survey of the Galapagos Islands.

Enderby’s ships were also used to carry convicts out to the penal colony in Australia. He tried to persuade the government to use his ships for this purpose on a regular basis, but without success. However in 1800 permission was obtained for them to carry supplies to the colony on their outward voyage and we read that the “Greenwich” reached Sydney in May 1801 with cargoes “well adapted to the inhabitants”.

There was good money to be had from whaling in those days. Between 1750 and 1788 Britain paid her whalemen bounties of over £1,000,000. Samuel Enderby himself became a man of considerable wealth. By 1790 he estimated that he controlled sixty-eight whalers all engaged in the Southern Fishery trade. He had estates in Lewisham, Bermondsey, Eltham and Lee and lived in an impressive home in Blackheath, Crooms Hill House. In 1787 he made his sons Charles and Samuel partners in the company and a few years later they were joined by his younger son, George. In his will he was able to leave them each £8,000 in “ships, debts, goods, wares, merchandise or otherwise.” Samuel Enderby II After his death in 1797 his sons and later his grandsons continued to run the company on the same lines, encouraging their captains to discover more of the great uncharted seas of the Antarctic.

The second Samuel Enderby had a large family, five sons and three daughters. It is worth noting that his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who married Henry William Gordon at St. Alphege’s Church in 1817, became the mother of General Gordon, the hero of Khartoum.

Three of Samuel’s sons Henry, Charles and George carried on the family business after his death in 1829. They found the premises at St. Paul’s Wharf in Lower Thames Street which the family had occupied for about 80 years were now too small for their needs and moved the firm to Great St. Helen’s in the City. At much the same time they started to set up a rope and sail manufactory on the undeveloped fields of East Greenwich.

In earlier days ropes had been made by hand with the aid of horses to form and lay the ropes but during the first half of the nineteenth century the process was mechanised. The Enderby’s property can be seen on the map of 1835. The ropewalk, a long narrow building through which the full length of rope could be taken in one stretch, stands out clearly. Enderby House, close by on the riverfront, was built at about this time and still stands: it is now owned by S.T.C.

Fire at Enderby Wharf
Much of the premises were destroyed by a big fire in 1845. The Illustrated London News gave a full account of the disaster which included a detailed description of the property and so it is worth quoting in full: – “About eight o’clock, on Sunday evening, the extensive premises belonging to Messrs. Charles. Henry and George Enderby, patent rope, twine and canvas manufacturers, at East Greenwich, were discovered’. – to be on fire. The flames were first observed from without, in the ropewalk at the rear of the factory, which was a strong brick building of about 100 feet long by forty feet deep. It was not till daybreak on Monday morning that the fire- men could extinguish the flames, when a scene of the utmost desolation presented itself. Of the main factory, which faced the Thames, and was the most prominent object on that bank of the river between Greenwich Hospital and Woolwich, nothing remained but its lofty walls, which in the course of the day were blown down with tremendous force by the wind. The machinery it contained was most extensive, and its immense value can be better judged from the fact that its completion has occupied a space of ten years. The whole of it was destroyed. It is proved that flames were first seen raging in the storeroom in the rope manufactory, which was detached from the main building, where there had not been a light for several weeks. There was a considerable quantity of manufactured goods deposited there, which was seen, perfectly safe a few hours before the outbreak. The supposition is, therefore, that the fire either arose firefrom spontaneous combustion or was wilfully caused by some incendiary. The factory, or waterside premises, containing joiners’ workshops, spinning, card and loom rooms, is completely destroyed. The hemp and spinning rooms over the engine and boiler house are burned out and the iron roof has fallen in. The engine room beneath is considerably damaged. The weaving workshops, fronting the factory, are greatly damaged; the roof has been partly demolished by the falling of the opposite walls. They contained twelve weaving looms, worked by machinery, which are all damaged. The dwelling house of Mr. Enderby, on the north side of the factory, is much damaged by fire, and most of the furniture and its contents destroyed; as are also the stores at the back, and part of the rope manufactory. The rope gallery, adjoining the manufactory, is a quarter of a mile in length; about 100 feet is gone, and but for the firemen cutting off the communication, the whole would have been levelled to the ground.

Unhappily, upwards of 250 workmen are thrown out of employment by this calamitous event. The exertions made by the military, parochial and other authorities, as well as by the neighbours and work- people, during the conflagration were very efficient in saving much valuable property. The loss to the worthy proprietors, we are happy to add, is well covered by insurances.”

Charles Enderby

Of the three Enderby brothers it was Charles who played the greatest part in carrying on the family’s reputation for encouraging exploration. He was one of the original members of the Royal Geographical Society when it was founded in 1830 and took an active interest in its affairs over the next forty years. He was fascinated by the Antarctic and set up further voyages to the southern oceans. The most important one was the circumnavigation of Antarctica undertaken by John Biscoe between 1830 and 1833; he was the first man to confirm that it really was a continent. Charles was motivated by scientific interest and patriotism rather than hope of profit and these expeditions, although of great geographic value, placed an enormous strain on the Enderbys ‘ fortunes at a time when the British whaling industry was dwindling in the face of American competition. For a few short years there was good money to be made from sealing round the South Shetland Islands, south of the Falkland Islands: when they were first surveyed in 1819 seals were found in multitudes but within three short years they had been indiscriminately slaughtered in such vast quantities that sealing in those waters ceased to be a viable financial proposition.

The Auckland Islands

In 1847, in the hope of reviving their flagging fortunes, the Enderbys obtained from Parliament a concession for the exclusive possession of the Auckland Islands as a whaling station and set up the Southern Whale Fishery Company. Meetings with the Enderbys at this time are recorded in a book by R. McCormick. He writes: “Thursday January 4th 1849. Charles Enderby, who is going out to the Auckland Islands to establish a fishery there, had a long conversation with me on these is- lands asking me if I had any drawings of them. which I promised to furnish him with. He gave me an invitation to dinner to meet some friends interested in the subject.”

He later describes a dinner at Enderby House: -“On the day after my return -from town late in the evening I found Mr. George Enderby awaiting my return at my lodgings, to ask me to come on Wednesday next to their dinner, and at 6 p.m. on the 17th eight of us sat down, including the two brothers, at the octagonal table in an octagonal shaped room. I sat next to Colonel Colquhoun, having Professor Airy, the Astronomer Royal, opposite to me. Mr. Charles Enderby showed us a New Zealand Tui, or parson bird, in a glass case, which he had kept alive in England for two years. He also showed me a bedstead of King Henry VIII and Ann of Cleves in fine state of preservation, bearing the date on an inscription at its head curiously carved and inlaid throughout in the old English style. It had been for a century in the possession of Enderby’s family, having belonged to his grandfather.”

In the first few years after the Auckland Islands had been discovered by one of Samuel Enderby’s men. Captain Bristow, at the beginning of the century, the islands had provided a plentiful supply of seals. Eleven thousand skins were taken on the first visit alone but the animals were slaughtered in such multitudes that the industry collapsed rapidly and the islands were left deserted for many years. In 1841 it was suggested that the Aucklands might make a penal colony, but the Secretary of State for Colonies decided that it was too wet and damp. The following year a group of Maoris landed there in canoes. They were still there when the three hundred Enderby settlers arrived in 1850. The colony was intended to be a centre for shore-based whaling, ship repair and refitting and the provision of fresh meat and vegetables, but the results were disastrous. The sun rarely shone, gales alternated with fogs and the sour peaty soil produced no crops so the settlers soon became disillusioned.

The colony was abandoned in 1852 and two years later Charles Enderby dissolved the Southern Whale Fishery Company. In the same year the Enderbys sold their premises in Greenwich. Although they had continued to occupy Enderby House they had never re-opened the rope and sail works after the disastrous fire of 1845.

The Voyages of Enderby Ships

1778 THE EMILIA The first ship to catch sperm whale in the Pacific and to return by rounding the Horn.
1793 THE RATTLER Surveyed the Galapagos Islands.
1801 THE GREENWICH Carried goods to the penal colonies in Australia.
1805 THE OCEAN Captain Bristow discovered the Auckland Islands but was unable to land. In 1807 he returned and took possession of the islands for Britain.
1808 THE SWAN Captain Lindsay sighted land in latitude 54°24’South and longitude 31 15’ East whilst on a sealing trip, but could not approach the island because of the ice.
1819 THE SIREN Found whaling ground in the unknown waters around Japan.
1822 THE JANE AND THE BEAUFOY Captain James Weddell established a record for the furthest voyage south – 74°15′ in the perilous ice bound sea that bears his name.
1825 SPRIGHTLY Captain Norris rediscovered Bouvetoya Land while on a sealing voyage and hoisted the Union Jack there.
1833 Captain John Biscoe circumnavigated Antarctica. Enderby Land, Adelaide Island and Mount Biscoe received their names from this voyage.
1839 Captain John Balleny sighted the Balleny Islands.

Captain John Biscoe

All the long voyages to the uncharted waters of the Antarctic were extremely perilous and demanded qualities of great courage and endurance from the captains and their men. The hazards of these icy seas are graphically recorded in Captain John Biscoe’s journal. He prepared two copies of it for Charles Enderby; one was presented to the Royal Geographical Society and the other was given to the British Museum. Captain Biscoe set off from Gravesend in January 1830 on the brig “Tula” accompanied by the cutter “Lively”. It now seems amazing that such small ships should have undertaken such a voyage; the “Tula” was only twenty-two and a half metres long and the “Lively” was much smaller than that. After about four months they reached the Falkland Islands where they searched unsuccessfully for seals and then they headed further south, crossing the Antarctic Circle on January 22nd 1831. They continued south for another week before turning east when their way became blocked by ice. For nearly a month they skirted the pack ice and the towering icebergs until they had a clear sight of the unknown continent. Captain Biscoe wrote in his log: – “4p.m. saw several hummocks to the southward, which much resembled tops of mountains, and at 6p.m. clearly distinguished it to be land, and to considerable extent: to my great satisfaction what we had first seen being the black tops of mountains showing themselves through the snow on the lower land, which however appeared to be a great distance off, and completely beset with snow, field ice and icebergs. The body of the land bearing South East.

Enderby Land was the name he gave to his discovery. Further along the coast he saw land which he named Cape Ann but which is now Known as Mount Biscoe. At the beginning of March the weather turned nasty: the icy winds whipped up to hurricane force in a storm, which raged for five days. The two ships lost sight of each other as the Tula was blown more than a hundred miles off course to the northwest. It was March 16th before the wind dropped enough to allow Biscoe to turn south again. He continued to sail eastward round the continent but by the beginning of April neither his ship nor his men were in any condition to continue nor the bitter Antarctic winter was drawing in. He was forced to alter course and head for New Zealand. Scurvy was taking its toll of his exhausted crew and the last stage of the journey became a nightmare. The carpenter died on April 23rd and within a few days only Biscoe, three men and a boy were in any condition to handle the ship. It was essential that they reached port as soon as possible so Biscoe changed course again and made for Hobart in Tasmania. By the time they arrived there another member of the crew had died and the rest were dangerously ill. The little cutter Lively fared even worse than the Tula. Of the original crew of ten only three survived the appalling conditions. After the ships were separated in the storm the Captain tried to make for Hobart but was blown off course and eventually reached land on an uninhabited part of the Australian coast. A contemporary account tells of their suffering: – “So dreadful was the situation of these unfortunate men that the bodies of two of the number who died below deck could not be got up for several days to be thrown overboard, the survivors being so reduced by sickness and infirmity as to be totally unable to perform the painful and distressing task.  At last the master, partially recovering his strength, contrived to make a rope fast round their bodies, and by the help of the tackle succeeded in hauling first one and then the other and launching them into the deep.” While the three survivors were ashore trying to regain their strength another misfortune struck. The Lively dragged her anchor and was blown out of sight into an inlet. The men must have been in despair as they searched to find her. It took them several weeks to do so and then they had to struggle to get her afloat. Eventually they were able to put to sea again and they eventually reached Hobart at the beginning of September. Captain Biscoe was amazed when the Lively arrived at Hobart just as he was preparing to set off on another Antarctic voyage. He waited for a good month until the little ship and her men were fit and ready to join him and then they set sail again. After three months cruising round New Zealand in an unsuccessful search for seals they headed south and east on another voyage of exploration. In February he sighted more unknown land, which Biscoe called Adelaide Island after the Queen. As he sailed on eastwards he passed the group of islands that now bears his name and eventually reached a point where the men were able to pull ashore towards the mainland. From there they headed for the South Shetlands and so completed their circumnavigation of the continent. The Lively was lost soon after this; she was wrecked off the Falklands as Biscoe headed in for repairs. In spite of all he had gone through Biscoe was still prepared to spend another season in southern waters in hope of making a profitable catch but his men had had enough and one by one they deserted.

The Royal Geographical Society awarded Biscoe its highest honours, in recognition of his achievements but that proved little compensation for the irrevocable damage to his health from the hardships of his voyage. Within ten years he died destitute and an appeal was launched to raise money to provide for his widow and four children.

The Balleny Islands
A contemporary account describes the discovery of the Balleny Islands in 1839: – “they got abreast of the eastern island…. The cutter’s boat went ashore, though there was no landing or beach; but for the bare rocks whence the ice- bergs had broken, it would not have been known for land at first; still, as they stood in for it, smoke was plainly seen rising from its peaks. Its stone, or rather cinders, also prove this island to be volcanic: the cliffs are perpendicular, and what would probably have been valley and beaches, are occupied by solid blocks of ice…. On the 13th were seen numerous whales, penguins, a few Cape pigeons, and a small white bird: but no albatrosses nor mollymawks. P.M. came on a thick fog; but many whales and seals were seen, with icebergs and drift ice.”

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