John Henry Hesketh White Star Apprentice



The White Star Line Engineering  Works began in 1873 in Neptune Street, Liverpool, but because of the accelerating development of the line it had to relocate to larger premises in Strand Road, Bootle where it occupied c.440 square yards on three floors and being closer to the company’s ships.

The offices were on the ground floor with the brass foundry, blacksmith’s shops, general plumbing and victualling stores, boiler house, fitting shop and paint store.  On the first floor was the drawing office, opticians’ room, joiners’ shop, fitting shop, copper shop, upholsterers’ shop and laundry that was capable of dealing with thousands of pieces of linen a day.

The second floor contained the pattern makers’ stores, brass shop, sheet metal workers’ shop, japanning, brazing and silversmiths’ shops, upholsterers’ store, sail makers’ loft, and accommodation for the janitor.

John Henry Hesketh aka ‘Harry’ was the only Engineer who worked exclusively for the White Star Line from the start of his apprenticeship on 1st of May 1893 , until his death on Titanic 19 years later.  When J H Hesketh started his apprenticeship in 1893 aged 14, he would, because of his father’s job as an engine driver, already have a good appreciation of the workings of steam powered engines.  On many occasions he would have ridden with his father in the cab of his train.  After his six years as an apprentice Marine Engineer, he sailed to New York on the maiden voyage of SS Afric on 7th of February 1899,  returning briefly to the Engineering Works prior to the official start of his seagoing career.

SS Afric was a steamship built for White Star Line by Harland & Wolff shipyards. She was of the Jubilee Class, had a reported tonnage of 11,948, and had a port of registry of Liverpool  Afric was launched on November 16, 1898, and was involved in shipping between Liverpool and Australia.

SS Afric was the first of five Jubilee Class ships built by White Star Line for their new service to Australia, the others were Medic, Persic, Runic and Survic. Afric was a single funnel liner with capacity for 320 Third class passengers on three decks, she also had substantial cargo capacity with seven cargo holds, most of them refrigerated for the transport of Australian meat.

SS Afric made her maiden voyage on 8 February 1899, between Liverpool and New York, this was considered a test run, and when she returned she underwent further work to prepare her for her intended career on the Australia service. She entered service between Liverpool and Sydney via Cape Town on 9 September 1899.

During the Boer War from 1900 to 1902, Afric was used to transport troops and horses to South Africa on the outbound part of her journey, returning them to the UK on the return journey.

Experienced marine engineers were highly paid compared to the crew, not only because of their skills and the level  responsibility that the work involved, but also because they had been quite  scarce throughout the 19th Century.  Over the years many able Engineers found that they could not handle life at sea and despite their mechanical abilities, were forced to return to shore employment.  It took a special kind of person to deal with life at sea and with managing machinery.  Although not all firemen and trimmers were drunkards, many drank and were a tough lot who needed to be kept under control by the Engineer in charge of the watch.  It was rumoured that one Engineer who made enemies  in the Black Gang, went into a ships boiler room one night and was never seen again!  Another had his finger bitten off while trying to break up a fight.

On the 23rd of June 1909, The White Star Line declared its last year’s profit.  The White Star Company’s working profit for 1908 was £229,940, compared with £848,486 in 1907.  The company had 29 steamers, whose total tonnage was 386,000.  The late Mr T H Ismay founded it in 1869.  Steamers flying the White Star traded between England and America at first; now they run to the Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canadian ports.  The vessels in the New Zealand trade include the Athenic, Corinthic and Ionic.  Titanic’s keel was laid down in Belfast at yard No 401.

With appreciation and thanks to Chris Hughes great, great, niece of J H Hesketh.







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