Capt. A.C.M. Black
Captain Black's family history, a letter in the B&C Review, August 1967:
As the days of Clipper ships have made news recently, the connection that both sides of my family had with that era might be of interest.
My grandfather on my father's side was master of the fast passenger sailing ship "Loch Garry" in about 1860-75.
In 1872, while on passage from Australia to U.K., my grandfather, in agreement with the passengers, put into the bay of Islands in North Island, New Zealand, where a son, christened Watson, was born to his wife. Two years passed before he had an opportunity to call again at the bay of Islands to collect his wife and child.
In 1865, while on passage from Australia to U.K., my grandparents portraits were painted by H.L. Collins, R.A. My grandfather's portrait is in my possession. So far as the Greenwich Maritime Museum is aware, this is the only painting in existence of the master of a first-class passenger sailing ship of that era.
I have also a painting by J. Murray, done in 1838, of the "Ada", a brig which my great-grandfather commanded.
My uncle, Watson Black, obtained command with Union-Castle Line and died on active service in 1917.
My father served on the Clipper "Sierra Ventana" and my uncle in the "Sierra Cordoba". On one passage the "Sierra Cordoba" was continuously at sea for 256 days and was presumed lost.
My grandfather on my mother's side was owner-master in about 1881 of the full-rigged ship "King Cedric", on passage from U.K. to Bombay. While off the bay of Cintra, West Africa, my mother was born on May 27. She was christened May Cenrica Cintra Bass in Bombay Cathedral and subsequently registered at Stepney.
Mrs. Elizabeth Saunders* aged 97 the eldest sister of my deceased mother, is alive and well and residing at Weston-super-Mare. She is the widow of Captain James Saunders*, whose last command was the full-rigged ship "Colonial Empire", lost on Cape Recife in 1921.
Mrs. Saunders* spent many years at sea with her husband, son and daughter and recollects how many days would pass when hove to rounding Cape Horn, during which time she did not see Captain Saunders* and could hear only the sound of his whistle above the noise of the storm as he blew to the men on the yards. Several years ago a society in Bristol, interested in nautical tradition, considered that my aunt had rounded Cape Horn more times than any other woman - probably some twenty or thirty times.
Some of the famous sailing ships commanded by my uncle were "Robert Fearney"**, "Ditton", "Lawhill", and best known of all, "Macrahanish".
"Macrahanish" and "Loch Garry" made passages that Sir Francis Chichester was unable to equal.
* Spelling maybe Sanders.
** Should be "Sir Robert Fernie".
Recollections of Captain Black by Owen Keen
Captain Black was perhaps amongst the last of the ‘gentleman’ Master’s, his German wife; a charming if not always discrete lady, they had no children. When war with Germany broke out in 1939 instead of keeping a sensibly low profile Mrs. Black made it quite clear that whilst being no supporter of Mr. Adolph Hitler she was confident that Germany would win the war, this was not a popular opinion and soon came to the attention of the authorities. Mrs. Black was going to be interned but my father interceded and Mrs. Black kept a more diplomatic freedom. When I joined the “Kenilworth Castle” Captain Black’s welcome to me was to acknowledge a debt he owed my father and that, if he could he would repay with a similar kindness to me.
An idiosyncrasy of ‘Ackum’s was to ask every European pilot when going up Dutch, Belgian or German rivers was “What did you do during the war pilot?” (remember this was 1953 only 8 years after the end of the war in Europe) Back would come the replies of joining the free Dutch, Belgian or French forces in England or having been in ‘the Resistance’. Then one day this little wizened man came up the ladder at Flushing to take us up to Antwerp, he wore a somewhat grubby tan raincoat and a permanently gloomy expression. He looked, in every way, everyone’s idea of ‘a dirty old man’. Very soon came the question, “And what did you do during the war pilot?”
“I worked for the Germans” came the reply.
“Oh, what did you do pilot?”
“I ran barges on the canals.”
“And what was it like working for the Germans?”
“Better than working for the Belgians!” was the prompt response. ‘Ackum’ turned to us on the bridge and said, “Here is the most honest man in Europe.”
He was in all respects a remarkable man, very quietly spoken the strongest language he ever used was “oh cricky” and if the situation was really serious “oh crumbs”. Upon meeting him you would never once think that here was a man who would, in an act of complete disregard to his own safety rescue his shipmates. On the 12th of November 1942 the “Warwick Castle” was struck by a torpedo and began sinking rapidly by the head and it was necessary to abandon ship as rapidly as possible. Captain Black as 1st officer was the senior surviving deck officer, in his report to the Company he mentions many brave and skilful acts but makes absolutely no mention of his own, he returned below decks to check everyone was out. It is so very typical of the man and I think the attitude shown to him by the Company and I’m sorry to say many who sailed with him that, whilst the sinking of the “Warwick” is covered in detail by at least two of the books on the Company not one mentions his bravery.
Mildly eccentric ‘Ackum’ had some odd ideas about dress, winter woolies, long johns and all were worn in all climates, it was just his uniform that was either worn or not according to the temperature and humidity.
On one voyage when half way down West Africa he came to the bridge to ask the Second Officer Mr Jacques if he had by any chance told him where the ship was supposed to be going. On being told no, ‘Ackum’ went off muttering that he’d mislaid his letter of instructions!
On my first voyage on the “Kenilworth Castle” we were heading in up the Maas River to Rotterdam, it was pitch dark, I on my first trip was utterly lost and desperately trying to look as if I knew what I was doing. We had passed numerous colourful winking lights which to me were just that, numerous winking lights, the page of the bridge note book was waiting for an entry. Captain Black was outside peering over the side from the bridge wing, he was there for some minutes before returning to the wheelhouse. Saying nothing he stood beside the pilot for some while before asking, “Pilot, what speed do you think we are doing?”
“About ten knots” replied our Dutch pilot.
“Would you say then that if we are doing ten knots the water will be going past the ship?”
“Well its not, we are aground!”
It was all said so calmly without any hint of annoyance or panic, he told the pilot to go and sit down, to me he said I was not to take any orders other than for tea from the pilot and he was going down to his cabin. In half an hours time Ackum reappeared on the bridge, calmly ordered full astern, we slid off the bank and Captain Black anchored his ship until the morning.. Outside Ackum had not been daydreaming, being the seaman he was he was quietly assessing what to do and calculating the state of the tide, realising it would start to flood shortly he knew just when to try to un-stick the old ship.
When dealing with drunken seamen Captain Black was in a class of his own, one morning in Cape Town a very drunk oiler climbed the ladder to the Captain’s deck where Ackum was in conversation with the Marine Superintendent, Captain Maryat. The drunken oiler was clearly intent on starting a fight, Ackum stood calmly waiting for him to reach the top of the ladder, when about to set foot on the top step Ackum calmly gave the oiler a shove on the chest sending him reeling backwards. “Good heavens” exclaimed Captain Black, “did you see that poor man trip?”
Meeting him for the first time I think the first impression was of a good natured farmer, not a very fine seaman from the old school who had won his O.B.E. for extreme gallantry during the war. He was a very fine man and an excellent ship’s Master.
Mr. A.C.M. Black joined the Company as a junior officer 21st August 1930.
Captain Black retired as master of the "Rhodesia Castle" in 1967
Message from Alistair Kerr
I came across your interesting website the other day. In 1949, I did a nine-month trip in a ship which I have never seen listed in any U-C.M.S.Co. Fleet lists. She was the Fort Carillon and her Master was Capt. Black I joined her in London initially to fill in two weeks on a run up to Middlesbrough and back as I had a job in a Shaw Savill ship coming up.(I had not been home [NZ} for two years! However, Ted, my watch mate on the trip told me that he was signing on for the Foreign-Going voyage as she was to stay in Port Elizabeth for three weeks and he was to be married. He asked me to be his best man so after much 'nagging' I did that, met my wife (who was the chief bridesmaid) and that was the end of my sea-going career. Well, not quite! We had been in EVERY port between Suez and PE where we loaded a full cargo of bombs for the RAF Base at Suez then all the way back again to Walvis Bay, Hamburg and London. I did a round trip to NZ in the Dominion Monarch and came to SA on a delivery job in the SAR&H new tug J.D. White.
Capt. Black was just as described in your website. He was unusual in that, unlike so many Masters in British ships he actually engaged the common AB's in conversation! Yes I can remember one early morning off the East African coast, (Lindi, I think it was) I was on the wheel when the promised Pilot didn't show up as we drifted ever closer to the shore. All Capt. Black said was "Crumbs! Where on earth is that jolly Pilot?" So unusual was he that he and Mr. Steen, the Mate actually came to Ted's wedding and also visited the family for a party some days later! I remember him with real affection. Have you any information on the Fort Carillon? I don't know how long the Company had her. I do know that she later became the Mount Royal and I have a photograph of her under that name, in PE of all places! I remember that if we were in port with a Mailship or an Intermediate ship, we had to haul down our house flag!
Looking forward to hearing from you
Message from Tony White
I have just been having a read and a chuckle regarding the writing on dear "Ackum" and his dress. To accompany the Long Johns, did he not also wear Sock Suspenders?
I have a recollection of entering his cabin with a message while he was dressing, and seeing black suspenders, so ensuring that his socks would not part company with the bottom of the L J's?
14 Nov 2014
I sailed with Capt. Black in the Fort Carillon 1948-1949. He was a bit unusual- well, to this Kiwi's eye- as unlike most of the British Captains I had encountered, he enjoyed interacting with all members of the crew, officers and men alike.
I think he was regarded by some of his colleagues as being a bit eccentric because of this trait. Also, he NEVER swore or raised his voice.
I remember early one morning off the East African port of Mikindani-Mtwara. I was on the wheel and the ship was stopped, awaiting a Pilot. But the bright moonlight showed that the current was setting her dangerously close to a reef. Capt. Black just said, "Crumbs! Where on earth is that jolly Pilot? I'll just give her a touch ahead. Put about ten of port on and we'll go clear." no panic-ever
I think he later commanded he Kenilworth Castle and the Braemar Castle. I have fond memories of AKKUM as he was known
Does anyone else remember him?
The photo was taken in the board room of a much under-whelmed Captain Black at the presentation of a silver hot-water jug by the chairman. Never one to stand on ceremony, I think the surprising thing about the photograph is that they got Ackum to go up to London in the first place!
From B&C Review June/August 1959
From B&C Review August 1964