Commodore William Strutt

Commander of the first voyage of the Mail Service in 1857 aboard Dane (1)

On Saturday 31st October 1857 an advertisement placed in the Cape Argus stated that the R.M.S. Dane was expected to arrive from England.   This was the Union Line’s inaugural voyage on what was to be the Cape Mail Service, one that would serve both countries well for the following hundred and twenty years or so.

What is not known is where did Captain Strutt originate from?   What was his background?  To find out his sea career I think you only need to read Captain Crutchley's book 'My Life at Sea', because Strutt's would have followed an almost identical pattern, an apprenticeship in sail, most likely only going over to steam fairly late in his sea career, it is even possible, but not likely, that the R.M.St. "Dane" was his first steam ship.  Not likely because surely the Directors of the fledgling Union Line would surely look for an experienced master to start their enterprise?  And where did Captain Strutt come from, the Union Line was very much a Southampton company, for one of Britain's largest ports it is an odd fact that the Union Line is the only Southampton based company ever!  So it would be an odd thing if the directors chose, for their first master, a master unknown to them, from another port.

The Dane was again advertised on the 24th April 1858 when she was again loading for England Captain Strutt in command.    By July that year Captain Strutt was again in Cape Town, now in command of the new ship Athens.  

Taking the dates of sailing for England from Cape Town it is clear that the round voyage was expected to take something in the order of four or more months, with the following vessels making up the service.   Athens, Dane, Celt, Norman, Phoebe.

On Tuesday 25th of October 1859 William Anderson, the Union Line’s agent in Cape Town was advertising the Athens departure for Southampton on the 20th November but with Captain Herbert Hoffman in command.   Where was Captain Strutt?

The answer is found in another advertisement placed by Mr Anderson in the Cape Argus for the arrival of the new ‘splendid and commodious’ vessel Cambrian, on the 17th of November 1860, ‘expected hourly’.

Clearly Captain Strutt, having been in command of Union Line ships almost from the inception of the company was a highly regarded and experienced master.   It is reasonable to assume that with his experience of the Cape trade he was brought ashore to advise on the construction of the new vessel.

In May 1861 the Cambrian is again in Cape Town, her last advertised sailing for the year with Captain Strutt as master is in September.

1862 opens with the new ship Briton, Captain John Boxer in command, sailing being delayed by the Governor because the Cambrian was late on arriving in January.   This was almost a monthly rule, obviously the Governor and his civil servants needed to receive the latest dispatches from London, thus if the mail ship was late in arriving, a common if not invariable occurrence, the outward vessel was held back.   The only means of direct communication with the ‘mother land’ was via the mail ships, the Cape Argus depended upon the monthly arrivals for its foreign news.

The Service has now settled down with the Briton, Cambrian, Dane, Norman, and Athens.   Captain Strutt’s Cambrian being in Cape Town in June/July and December 1862.

1863 and another change in command, in April the Cambrian arrives with Captain Edward Baynton as master.   William Strutt is again commissioning another new vessel, the Roman.

Captain Strutt remains in command of the Roman whilst other new ships appeared, the Anglian and Saxon making their maiden voyages in 1864.   But their is a subtle change in Captain Strutt’s title.

In February 1864 Anderson & Co. placed an advertisement in the Argus advising that the mail service was to be extended to Algoa Bay, (Port Elizabeth) and the first vessel to inaugurate was the Roman with, appropriately, William Strutt in command, but he is now given the title of Commodore Strutt.

In April 1865 Commodore Strutt apparently makes his last voyage in command of a Union Line vessel, having been master for eight years.

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