Capt. Gerald E Stephenson


Of Gerald many stories were told, he was in his time something of a legend.   I think perhaps the oft told story of Gerald, very likely untrue but it epitomises how he was seen and regarded with affection in those in the Company.

Gerald so the tale goes, was on staff duties in London in the Royal Albert Docks. You of my generation will recall the abysmal toilet arrangements, all ship's loo's were supposedly locked up and the call of nature was supposedly answered in the Port of London's facility on the wharf.   I never myself ventured into one but am led to believe that once was enough for Genghis Khan.

After a couple of weeks of staff duty Gerald was summoned to Bleak House to account for a daily amount of two shillings and sixpence on his expenses claim.   With a look of pained perplexity Captain Stephenson regarded the Clerk and said, "It's my taxi fare to the Aldgate public toilets after breakfast - it is a rule of mine - I never shit east of Aldgate!"

Captain Stephenson according to the story told amongst us cadets, served his time with the British India Company.   He enjoyed playing the piano, possibly not terribly well, and the time came when the ship's master could no longer endure listening to Gerald's tinkling on the keys of the ship's piano.   (One version of the tale was that it was actually Gerald's piano.)   The master summoning Stephenson to his quarters ordered the piano to be put over the ship's side forthwith. Some time later the master was enraged when once again he heard the infuriating tinkling of the piano.   Storming out on deck there was Gerald, the piano slung over the ship's side on slings with a cheerful cadet Stephenson seated on a painting stage at the keys!

I have myself never believed this story but it does paint a very good picture of the man.

For myself I only knew Captain Stephenson for a very brief period, he relieved Captain Norman Lloyd for the voyage from London to Newcastle on the "Tantallon Castle".   In those few days he managed to give 'Swiv' Lloyd apoplexy upon his rejoining the ship. The brass, of which there was a plenitude on the "Tantallon's" bridge was Swiv's pride and joy and the cadets nightmare.   Gerald had a loathing for the smell of Brasso or so he said and had ordered all the bridge brass to be painted over!   I suspect he was chuckling all the way down the gangway in Newcastle thinking of Swiv's reaction when he saw his beloved brass!

Like several other master's Captain Stephenson seemingly must have run foul of somebody in Bleak House for he was never given a command of a passenger ship whilst other's such as Captain Hort of similar seniority were promoted to passenger vessels.

I believe Captain Stephenson was retired early, according to legend he then became a teacher of English in Madrid.

From the B&C Review, August 1965:

Captain Gerald Esmond Stephenson came ashore from the "Rothsay Castle" in March and retired at the end of July.

Born in 1905, he joined the Union-Castle Company on the 27th May 1936, and served afloat in the deck department; he attained his first command, the Roxburgh Castle, on the 19th March, 1952.   During his service Captain Stephenson has been principally engaged in refrigerated and dry cargo vessels, but he sailed also in the Intermediate liners Kenya Castle and Warwick Castle and the mailship Carnarvon Castle.

A curious epitaph for one so well liked afloat, clearly the writer, having little to write about felt he had to 'pad it out' by saying Gerald was in the deck department!

O.G.K.

From B&C Review April 1962

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