For many years, I’ve been fascinated with the life of our ancestor, Alexander Greig. The fascination began as a young boy when my father showed me a photo of Alexander – one of those old photos that had been etched on to a metal plate referred to as a “tintype,” when photography was a fairly new technology.
Sadly, the photo has not yet been found by my siblings in the possessions of my mom when she passed away but I still have hope that it will be (we have found another tintype photo, but can’t be sure who it is – but it is not the same one my father had shown me when I was a boy).
The one I remember showed Alexander with a beard, smoking a pipe and apparently standing aboard a ship that he was the Captain of. I was told that he had a whaling ship that sailed out of Dundee – something that I’ve been interested in confirming over the past 15+ years with no luck until now.
The confirmation however is not exactly what I had been lead to believe by my father, but I forgive him for that; I’ve discovered that some oral traditions get confused through the generations. Nevertheless, I’d imagine what life would have been like for my Great-Great-Grandfather as I’d read books of sailing adventure as a child.
A Fascinating Life
Back in about 2007 when I began earnestly to try to trace our family roots, I was aware of exactly what position Alexander Greig (sometimes spelled Grieg or Grig) held in our family tree. His daughter, Jane Wilson Grieg, had married our Great-Great Grandfather John Scott in Dundee, Scotland. This was confirmed by our Family Bible, that the same Grandfather had began and had been passed down through the generations.
In 2007, I literally spent weeks trying to research his life including place of birth, death, and sort out some mysteries that I had come across. After awhile, I put the research on this man on hold so I could focus on some of the other mysteries in our family history. Every so often I’d go back and try to find more details.
During some times in 2007 when I was very confused as the details I was discovering made no sense, I wrote this and this. Much has been cleared up since then (no, he did not have three wives) but there is much more to find out.
A Seaman’s Life
Knowing that Alex had probably reached the rank of “Captain” (officially referred to as “Master”), I began searching whatever marine records I could find. At one point some years ago, I did come across a “Master’s Certificate Of Service” issued to Alexander Greig (matched his birthplace, age, and signature I had seen elsewhere), issued on the 18th of February, 1851. The Certificate mentions that Alex had served 30 years in the British Merchant Service. Upon seeing that, I realized that the visions I had of him, standing on board a whaling ship with harpoons in hand as waves swept over the bow might not be accurate.
The Application For The Certificate
When I discovered the Certificate of Service, I doubled up on my research – but do you know how many Alexander Greigs/Griegs there were? Do you know how many of them were Seamen and even Captains of ships? A lot! Some even have similar birth dates to the one I was looking for, yet none exactly matched. This is a big danger in doing any kind of genealogy research – not noticing details that should encourage skepticism. Often people jump to conclusions about a record, and don’t dig deeper. They don’t want to know that the hours they spent really did result in a dead end. But if you want to get to truth, healthy skepticism is required.
Yesterday (May 24th, 2021), I opened my email only to find an amazing document that would have been attached to Alexander Greig’s Certificate of Service. It was the application. I have nothing but deep gratitude to some person using the handle, “GenealogyMum” who sent to me. I have no other details about this person, but I hope they understand just how grateful and appreciative I am.
As I read the application, I literally got goosebumps – it provided a list of all the ships that Alex Greig had served on, and a fantastic outline of his seaman career up to February 1851.
Indeed, our Alexander had worked aboard a whaling ship, but it was only his second time at sea, as a seaman following his apprentice journey.
In The Service Of Ships
My father passed on to me a love for knowing more about adventures at sea, and of course romantic ideas of being aboard a sailing ship in the days when naviagation was done by compass, stars, and the sun, battles were the winds, and the sea could be your grave or your passage way to paradises you’ve heard of but never visited.
Our Alexander Greig, it turns out, likely knew all of that. Not only was he involved in whaling, he was involved in short routes, but also visited “the other side” of the world, traveled the Atlantic, as well as the Baltic. In short, Alexander Greig likely lead a seaman’s life that any person only dreaming of what it might be like, Alexander Greig would know it and might be their model.
The Ships & Routes of Alexander Greig
I’ll do more research – I’ve already tried a bit and for a couple of the ships, I found nothing; others some really interesting information. But as written on Alexander Greig’s “Application,”:
The Defiance – Three Years An Apprentice
This was the first ship that Alexander was employed on, as an Apprentice Seaman. His service began 10th March 1821 and his apprenticeship ended exactly three years later, on the 10th of March, 1824.
Take a look at teenagers today, and consider that our Alex began his seaman career before his 17th birthday. This was not uncommon in those days with even teenage males becoming apprentice seamen at the age of 14 or 15. In my father’s collection, I discovered a book entitled “Manual Of Seamanship For Boys Training Ships Of The Royal Navy. 1891.”
Leafing through the book, one can only be amazed at what knowledge and skills were expected (and very possible) of teenagers aged 14+ to learn; not only to learn but to master.
Our Alex was not on a “training” ship however, which were likely adapted to make things a bit easier and no economic loss for mistakes made. Our Alex went out onboard at 16 years old to work with seasoned men of the salt who’s serious labours included making a living for their family and ensuring the ship did not go down.
A job of an apprentice would have meant doing all the dirty jobs that no one else wanted to do. It would have been tough, hard, work while being expected to learn, for three years, before being promoted to the level of seaman and earning a seaman’s wages.
There is not a lot of information about the first vessel Greig was employed on, but we know from the record it was 94 tons, and originally owned by the “Dundee & Perth Shipping Company,” and built in 1807. It was later purchased by Arbroath & London Shipping Co., London. Reference here.
The Advice – Whaling Ship
After completing his apprenticeship, we can only imagine after three hard years at the mast on the Dundee to London to Dundee route, that only a person who really loved the sea would continue in the career. And, onto a whaling ship no less.
Our record indicates that as a full seaman, Alexander Greig signed on to serve on The Advice and was employed on board on the 17th of March, 1824 – just 7 days after completing his 3 year apprenticeship aboard the Defiance.
At 20 years old, he would have signed on for one of the toughest and perhaps most dangerous types of seafaring work ever – and while today, we might scorn the idea of hunting whales, up to the mid 19th century, whale oil was indispensable to other industries, including the manufacturing of clothing, health and science research, security (used for lighting), and many other necessities including heating. It was used to make soap, was the major source of Vitamin D even into the mid 20th century, and was important in the manufacturing of nitroglycerin.
The sailors who signed on to whaling ships did so at great risk. Many whaling ships never returned as they often operated in harsh conditions above the Arctic Circle, were wrecked, and crews lost on ice floes.
If our Alexander Greig had remained on The Advice for the rest of his career, none of us might even exist. In 1837, ten years before Alex would marry Ann Scott, the Advice was wrecked and lost 59 of her 69 men on board. Just how tough was this job?
It was a tough and demanding life, it needed rugged hard-muscled men.
The ever present danger of the seas, men in small whaleboats, overturned by a harpooned whale, drowning in seconds in the freezing water, being stranded on ice flows as the ship was carried away by pack ice and men frozen to death on ice flows, also those who lost limbs from frostbite or met death from ‘scurvy’. In 1892 James McIntosh of the schooner ‘Chieftain’ watched 4 comrades drinking seawater in their stranded open boat and die, one by one, insane, he, left alone ate his own hat and survived, but had both frostbitten legs removed on his return to Dundee. Journals written by the frostbitten fingers of survivors tell of the men, taking off the clothes of those who dropped dead in front of them just to use them to keep warm. After one Newfoundland disaster 25 bodies lay in a frozen mass and had to be cut apart and thawed before being placed in coffins. One Dundee whaler, the Advice, was wrecked and lost 59 men out of 69 in 1837.
But the Advice made another 22 trips to the Arctic before being lost after 74 years’ service. Her story is typical of the fortitude and depths of courage shown by the whale men of Dundee.The wrecks of 40 Dundee whalers lie beneath the ice of the Arctic whaling grounds. Almost without exception they are the stout, wooden-hulled sailing ships that met their fate crushed by converging floes, swelling the number of vessels that had ‘left their bones in the battlefield of Melville Bay’. Ships like the Rodney, Achilles, Three Brothers, Middleton, Advice, Nova Zemba, Alert and Windward.
Perhaps our Dundee ancestor met Eskimos, or participated in helping to chart new seas and lands as is known Dundee whaling ships participated in. According to the reports from the above mentioned website, crews on Dundee whaling ships might even be found playing football with Inuit Eskimos in -40 temperatures.
But it seems that Alex completed his whaling experiences on the 9th of November, 1824 and took a bit of a rest before his next sailing adventure.
The Atlas – Voyage To The Other Side Of The World
If there ever was a ship that a sailor who wanted to see the world would try to sign up for, it would be The Atlas. Sailing out of London, this 1200 ton ship was designed and built expressly for the East India/China – London trade.
It is ironic to me that as a boy, I had a book on sailing ships, and it was this painting of The Atlas on the book’s cover; how much more it would have meant to me to have known at at that time that the ancestor I was fascinated with was likely on board this very same ship when the artist did the painting?!?
Up until her sixth voyage completed in 1824, The Atlas was captained by Charles Otway Mayne, who apparently defrauded his officers over the years and made a fortune with this ship. During Alex Greig’s time on board, the vessel was captained by John Hine, an experienced British merchant seaman who had captained two ships previous to The Atlas.
Alexander Greig, on this journey which began in March, 1825 would have seen Madras, Penang, Mallaca, Singapore, and Whampoa before arriving home in Dundee by way of Blackwall.
What a journey that must have been for a young man of 21 years old from Dundee, Scotland! You can imagine the tales he might have had that he shared with his family and friends upon his return home. But, sailing was obviously in his blood, and he did not take a long break.
Less than three weeks would pass after what must have been an adventure of a lifetime for many, and our Alexander Greig was again employed by the Dundee & Perth Union Shipping Co., as a seaman aboard the merchant sailing ship, Elbe. At 121 tons, slightly larger than the first ship Greig served on but considerably smaller than the Atlas. Smaller sailing ships were needed for the Dundee/London trade – large ships simply couldn’t sail up the Thames River.
I’ve been unable to find much information about this vessel other than it’s ownership and that it was registered in Dundee. But for a year and half, Alexander would serve on board the Elbe in the position of seaman, between the 9th of June, 1826 and 2nd of January, 1828.
Between voyages to London and back, Alex would have had to manage his time in order to court the lady he would marry. Who knows when exactly he had met Ann McLaren – had he known her before his voyage to China? Was she impressed with his tales when he arrived back, and look forward to his return to Dundee on his trips to London?
During one of the breaks, he and Ann got married on 3rd of December, 1826.
The Charlotte – Baltic Sea
I cannot find enough information to confirm, but it may have actually been the Princess Charlotte, registered at Dundee and in use as a whaling ship. Whatever this ship’s actual name, Alex listed the “Baltic” as the waters it plied.
If not whaling, it could have involved trade with Baltic Sea nations including Russia, Sweden, Poland, and neighbouring countries that share the Baltic.
I just don’t know at this time, but it would be for 11 months, between March 1st, 1828 and February 2nd, 1829 that Alexander would have been on board as a Seaman.
The Robert – Off To America!
Another ship that I could find no information on, but apparently sailed to New York from Dundee with Alex aboard as a seaman. Much smaller than The Atlas, but larger than the whaling and merchant vessels that carried goods between London and Dundee, the Robert was apparently 300 tons.
By the 1820’s, New York City was becoming one of the top cities in the world, a centre of commerce, finance, business and trade. Of course, it was also a port for many hopeful immigrants, looking for a new life and a new start. This would have been what met Alexander Greig in 1829 when he served on the Robert sailing from Dundee and out across the Atlantic to New York City.
Upon his return to Dundee on the 20th of December, 1829, Alexander would have been considered a well-seasoned seaman – and probably looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife.
(I plan on doing more research to see if I can get more information about this ship, Robert).
The Humber – And A Promotion
If Ann had hopes of keeping Alexander home, they’d soon be dashed. Perhaps she had settled in to the role of being a “Sailor’s Wife” as reported on at least one of the census. Likely for Alex, the prospect of finally rising above the “rank” of seaman was enticing, and on the 10th of February, 1830, Alex was officially assigned to be a Mate on the Humber, a 95 ton vessel owned by the Dundee Hull Shipping Co.
As the Mate on a smallish ship, Alexander had a great deal of responsibility including the safety and security of the ship and welfare of the crew. He would have been relied on by the Captain (in this case, apparently Captain Buist) to assist with decisions that had to be made, and would deal with some discipline matters where required that the Captain did not need to be aware of. Hey may have assisted with and directed any training needs while also being responsible at certain times for the ship’s navigation.
At this time, more research is needed to find out where the Humber may have taken Alexander during the 7 years he was aboard the vessel. By this age, it’s possible that Alexander had settled into sailing shorter routes that would allow him time with his wife and growing family – on 26th October, 1831, his first child, a son that was named Alexander McLaren Greig, was born. (What do you think Wee Alex would end up doing when he grew up? Following in “father’s footsteps” would apply here).
However, it seems that most of the shipping that the Dundee & Hull Shipping Co. did was between Dundee and Kingston upon Hull, usually abbreviated to just Hull.
Years of service as Mate on The Humber: 10 February 1830 to 03 March 1837.
The Fame – And Continued Service Dundee & Hull
After finishing on the Humber, Alexander took a three week break before being assigned the Mate of the Fame, another vessel owned by the Dundee & Hull Shipping Co. It’s probably significant that he would go on to be employed by the same firm another 2 years, for a total of almost 10 years in their employee.
Slightly smaller at 85 tons, the Fame likely also provided similar shipping services between Dundee and Hull, although I don’t know for sure. One thing we know is that the age of steam ships was upon the world, and the Dundee & Hull Shipping Co owned the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer built in Dundee in 1834.
The Forfarshire went down near the Faroe Islands, lost in a gale on the 7th September 1838. It is quite likely that Alexander knew at least some of the crew.
On the 3rd of February, 1839, Alexander’s time as Mate on the Fame would come to an end.
Years as Mate of the Fame: 21 March 1837 to 3 February 1839.
The Jasper & The Master
I can find no information about the John Kennedy & Co company, but apparently was based out of St. Andrews, Fife. But within a day of leaving the Dundee & Hull Shipping Co., Alexander was in St. Andrews, Fife, and ready to sign on as the Master of the Jasper. On his Certificate, it appears he became the Captain of the Jasper on February 4th, 1839.
At some point during this year (exact date unknown), a daughter, Catherine, would be born to Ann and Alexander. But Alexander would be taking on new responsibilities and for a new company.
The ship he would take command of was a sloop built in Inverkeithing, Fife – but the builder is unknown – it may be have had a different name when it was completed in 1828. According to a repair record, the ship’s regular route for its owners was St. Andrews port (in St. Andrews, Fife) to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. At that time, Newcastle was a bustling port during the industrial revolution, but like London, larger ships would likely not be able to travel up the Tyne River to Newcastle.
We don’t know what ports the Jasper would call into with Alexander as Master, but it’s significant that the Certificate Application notes, “Coasting & Foreign” which would mean the ship sailed to ports in the United Kingdom as well as to foreign destinations.
On the 10th of March, 1842, Alexander ceased being the Master of the Jasper.
Years As Master of the Jasper: 4th February 1839 to 10th March 1842.
Lady Panmure – Return to Dundee
After a two year hiatus from the sea – perhaps at the behest of his wife – the family now had three children with another on the way in 1843, Alex returned to seafaring as Master of the Lady Panmure, registered in Dundee on August 1st, 1844.
The Lady Panmure was built (1839) in Ferry Port On Craig, now more commonly known as Tayport, in Fife. Interestingly, there could have been some other relationships between Alexander Greig and both the owner and a previous master of the ship. According to the Lloyds Register Foundations, the Lady Panmure had been built by David Calman – who apparently had a ship building yard in Dundee that he sold to members of the Stephen family (possible strange relation to other relatives).
The ship was owned by William Low. This is interesting because one of Alexander’s daughters would marry a Francis Low, and their daughter Mary Ann Low is mentioned in Alexander’s Last Will & Testament. I’m not yet sure if there this information is related.
Another possible relationship is the fact that a previous Master of the ship was a one Robert Scott. Alexander’s would marry for a second time, to an Ann Scott after his first wife passed away. Whether there is any relationship between Ann Scott and Robert is unknown at this time.
According to a ship repair record, the Lady Panmure sailed between Dundee and Dunkirk but we don’t know if this was its regular route while Alexander was the Master.
As with the Jasper, the Certificate Application reports “Coasting & Foreign” implying the ship was involved in both domestic and foreign trade with Alexander as Master.
Perhaps it was a 1 year contract – exactly a year after he took the Captaincy of the Lady Panmure, his service ended on August 1st, 1845.
Years As Master of the Lady Panmure: 1st August 1844 to 1st August 1845.
The Fishers – Return After Hiautus
Alexander took some time off it appears, from seafaring. Perhaps his wife was suffering with health problems as she would pass away on the 29th of November, 1846. With several children, it would have been a tumultous time for anyone.
In the following year, 1847, Alex would marry for a second time to Ann Scott. It was with Ann that Jane Wilson Grieg would be born on the 3rd of November, 1848. Jane Greig would later go on to marry Great-Great-Grandfather John Scott in Dundee.
It is here that we see a second line of Scotts; Jane’s mother being a Scott.
Before Jane was born, but after he married Ann Scott, Alex returned to seafaring on the 3rd of September, 1848 aboard the Fishers, registered at Leith.
Unfortunately, I can find nothing about any ship named “Fishers” – we can only know at this point that it was a 35 ton ship involved in domestic and foreign trade.
While on board the Fishers, Alexander served as the Mate, for a year, up until the 3rd of September, 1849.
Presently, I have no information as to any sailing Alexander was involved in after 1849. While his last child (Jane) was born in 1848, it’s hard to imagine that he would stop sailing all together. He was only about 44 years old, and still had a family to feed. Sailing was likely all he knew as far as employment and making a living (although late in his life, he did work as a watchman (security) at an iron foundry, I believe it was.
We know that he applied for his Master’s Certificate in 1851 and it’s hard to imagine he would do that if he had no further intention of sailing.
My father had told me that he believed Alex owned his own ship at some point; the above history suggests that if this is true, that was yet to come. Indeed, when my father showed me the tintype photo, I believe he told me that the ship Alex was standing aboard on was his a ship he owned.
More research is needed, but even after a life that so far was only 47 years old, Alex had seen and accomplished a lot.
A Huge Thank you to “GenealogyMum” for sending me Alexander Greig’s Application for Master Certificate.
Master’s Certificate Of Service:
Claim For Certificate Of Service:
Please feel free to leave a comment, additional information, etc., below in the comment section.