Captain William Macey

The Star, May 9, 1895. Reprinted from the Leyton Free Press, May 4, 1895.

The popularity of Captain Macey in Wanstead Slip is shown by the fact that he headed the poll in that division at the recent District Council Election after having occupied the second position on the poll of the previous year, which was the first occasion of his seeking the suffrages of the electors. He was also returned unopposed as a member of the Essex County Council at the recent election. Many will therefore be glad to learn something of his past history.

Most varied have been the life experiences of our public men, but none, we venture to think, have been of so romantic a character as those of Captain Macey, whose journeying over all parts of the world in the Merchant Services, during a period of nearly forty years, have been filled with incidents of unusual interest.

Captain Macey was born at St Peter’s-Port, Isle of Guernsey, in the year 1836, and is the son of the late Mr George Macey, who established the first livery stables in that pretty channel isle. He died when the Captain was but a child. Mrs Macey, his mother, who was a strict Wesleyan, and an ardent temperance advocate, has also long since passed away.

After receiving an education in a private school in Guernsey, the sea life of the popular Captain began by his entering as a cabin boy at the age of 14 on board the brig Louisa, of Guernsey, bound for the West Indies. This first voyage gave the sailor boy an insight into the dangers attendant upon those who ‘go down to the sea in ships,’ for whilst at Havannah a number of the crew were stricken down with yellow fever, or ‘yellow Jack,' as it is commonly called, from which they never recovered. Macey passed through the offices of ordinary seaman, boatswain, mate, until at the age of 22 he received his first command, in 1859. Whilst occupying the position of Captain of the brig Lord Strangford, his first charge, which traded between England and French ports, he added to the events of his career by marrying the daughter of the late Mr Wheeler, of Guernsey. In 1861, after having taken charge of various sailing ships from time to time he had the sad experience of witnessing his vessel, the Water Witch, wrecked at Terceria in the Azores, along with no less than 22 other vessels. This terrible circumstance so remarkable in the enormous destruction of property, involved also the loss of 21 lives. The Captain then had a period of quieter experiences with a number of other vessels, including the Queen of the Clippers, a very fast sailing ship, from November 1866 to March 1869, with which he made some smart voyages to the West Indies and the Azores, trading also in many ports of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea; also the Elizabeth Tatham and the Victoria Tatham, the latter barque being the last sailing vessel which he commanded. With this ship he traded between the United States, the Southern ports of America, Falkland Islands, Patagonia, Russian Ports, Pernambuco, Brazil &c. [There follows an anecdote about yellow fever at Pernambuco, British ship Doloris.]

Captain Macey then began his experience with steamers, but still continued in the service of the same firm. His first steamer was the Oceana, which traded in the West Indies and Azores. Then the Albatross, the Graphic, and the Memphis were in turn under his command. The latter vessel was used as a transport ship in the Russo-Turkish war in 1878, and was running contraband of war sometimes of one side and sometimes for the other, and was fortunate enough not to be ‘caught’ by the enemy. After this he commanded the Praetoria, John Brogden, and the Tangier, taking charge of the later vessel, of which he was part owner, in 1880. After this he traded with the Japanese and the Angier Head, of which he was in command from January 1883, to January 1888, when he sent in his resignation to the Angier Line and retired from service altogether.

The captain remembers some interesting circumstances connected with the voyages he made in his last vessel, the Angier Head. He traded to India, China, and Japan, and used his vessel as transport ship in the 1885 Sudan War, taking the navvies from the London Docks to build the projected railway between Suakim and Berbar. During the campaign he lay at Suakim with stores for the troops. As our readers are aware only 20 miles of railway were laid owing to the difficulty experienced in protecting the navvies from raids of the Sudanese, and he brought the navvies back to London. Enteric fever made a number of victims here among the navvies before steaming home.

In the same vessel he made many journeys from Bombay and Calcutta laden with Mohammedan pilgrims to Jeddah. In these voyages he sometimes had as many as 1,100 pilgrims on board at a time, many of whom would die through diseases contracted on the plains before their return. On his last journey from Jeddah to Kurrachi he has as a passenger the Rajah of Hyderabad, accompanied by his two princesses and 13 pretty Circassian wives, whom he had just purchased at Mecca. An amusing incident occurred at this time in connection with these two princesses which the captain is fond of relating. It is customary for these two princesses to be brought on board in Sedan chairs, whilst all retire to their cabins lest the princesses should be seen. They are then placed in a cabin in a saloon, and guards put outside to prevent admittance. Sixty armed retainers, under special license of the British Government, travel with him on his pilgrimage, but they are, of course, unarmed by the captain on entering the ship. At Aden, all vessels carrying pilgrims to Indian ports have to put into port for inspection, and whilst the Rajah of Hyderabad was on board, the doctor proceeded as usual to inspect the passengers, lest any disease might be conveyed home. The Captain told the doctor the case of the two princesses. The doctor, delighted at the prospect of a joke, declared he would carry out the law by seeing them, but was persuaded by the captain not to cause unpleasantness, and to take his word that all was safe. An attendant of the Rajah overheard the conversation and told his master, who was so pleased that Capt. Macey was afterwards the recipient of £20 at his hands.

Captain Macey has resided when at home, since 1880 in Wanstead Slip, his residence, ’Tangier House,’ Cann Hall-road, then being the eighth and last house in the road. The buildings erected in this and other roads since that time has long since far removed it from the position of an end house, neither can it now be regarded as a suburban villa, which doubtless the Captain regarded it then. Previous to this he had a residence at Burdett-road for about 10 years. About 12 years ago he had the misfortune to lose his wife, but subsequently married again, this time marrying the daughter of Mr Joseph Hill, of Guernsey. He has five children—three sons, and two daughters. The eldest, William, is chief officer in the SS Arabian Prince, now on a voyage to Central America. His second, Arthur, whose experience in the gold field has induced him to go prospecting in Western Australia, is now on the way to Adelaide, whilst his youngest son, Albert, is serving as a midshipman in the Elder Line. His eldest daughter recently married Mr C J Wright, of Forest Gate, a merchant on the London Corn Exchange, and his youngest daughter resides with the Captain.

In politics the Captain is a Conservative. In religious matters he is of a Wesleyan inclination, being an attendant at the Stratford Wesleyan Church. Having plenty of time at his disposal, Captain Macey sought to place it at the service of his fellow ratepayers by standing as a candidate for the Leyton Local Board in 1892, and succeeded in gaining the seat which he still holds. He is also the representative of his district on the Essex County Council, his candidature in March last being unopposed. His membership of the Marine Biological and other Committees of the Council will doubtless be of great service to the Council.

A very excellent portrait accompanies the sketch of the above well-known officer.