A decade aboard the Geraldine – Cox Brothers, Waterford

On St Patrick’s Day 1880 the Waterford-owned sailing vessel Geraldine lay in New York.  Under British registry, the ship was supposed to fly its national flag, a requirement of any ship in a foreign port. 

However as it was St Patrick’s Day, the crew in an expression of national pride, hoisted the Green Ensign from her masthead, a flag that made obvious her Irish origin, but against the law.  It fluttered, proudly 160 feet above the dock.  The captain and crew departed.  Only a watchman remained. 

New York port of the era. Public Domain, Wikimedia

When the flag was noticed a policeman came aboard. The watchman explained to the Irish American cop that the men were gone to “wet the shamrock”.  The policeman decided that he could not lower the flag and so returned ashore, spending the remainder of the day in ”pursuit” while the flag continued to fly from on high. 

Captain William Walsh was located eventually and was brought before a court where Justice O’Sullivan decided on a penalty of “detention during the session of the court” and an apology.  The crew were feted in Waterford on their return where a new green flag was presented to them and was carried all over the world by the Geraldine – although perhaps not flown in the same manner[1].

The Geraldine was built at St Joseph de Levis, Quebec in 1879.  The area is located at the confluence of the Chaudière and the St. Lawrence rivers, and it was originally known as Pointe-Lévy.  She was listed as belonging to Michael J Cox of the Mall, Waterford.  The vessel was 196.5 feet long, 38.1 feet wide, 23 feet deep classed as A1 – the highest or best classification available.  Her master was William Walsh (sometimes spelt Walshe). He seems to have been born in either Ballyhack or Arthurstown (see link below to the crew). She had a registered tonnage of 1,168 tons, International code signal was V.Q.L.G and her official number was #77885.[2]

As interesting as this story is, and I do not doubt the occurrence, the details I have found don’t add up.  You see Geraldine had sailed from New York before Patrick’s Day 1880… in fact she was cleared in late February.[3]

And far from enjoying the revelry and hospitality we might imagine in New York for the patron saint of ‘Oirlands feast day’…the Geraldine was battling a gale in mid Atlantic on March 16th, the crew struggling to preserve their ship and their lives. When she arrived at Passage on March 30th she had lost sail, boats, water casks and other stores and some of the cargo of maize was jettisoned while much of the rest was presumed damaged.[4]

Image of the Geraldine courtesy of Cian Manning and Waterford Museum of Teasurers

But perhaps it was another Patrick’s Day?  Well, perhaps.  However, from her launch day in 1879 to her sale in 1890 she seems to be never in port and certainly not in New York in March.  December 1879 she was loading at London for the New York trip, already referenced. 

In 1881 she sailed from Baltimore in February, put into Fortress Monroe (Virginia) arriving at Passage East anchorage on April 23rd with maize. Her next trip was a return trip to Baltimore in May where it was recorded she had 25 young emigrant men aboard.[5] Just as well it wasn’t this year, as she like any other vessel inbound to Baltimore would be locked out after the tragic collision with the Francis Scott Key Bridge by a vessel five times longer.

An earlier version of the Green Ensign. Public Domain Wikipedia

In 1882 she arrived in San Francisco on April 6th with coal from Cardiff.  In ’83 she was in Hull loading for a trip to Philadelphia where she arrived in May.  While in Hull, some unpleasantness occurred occasioning a trip to court for Captain Walsh.  This time however he was on the right side of the law- as a witness against a young man with 34 previous convictions who had cut the fenders from the Geraldine, apparently to have the rope.  The value of his ill-gotten gain was put at 1 penny…he forfeited the rope but got 30 days of hard labour instead.[6]

Geraldine dropped anchor in Hobson Bay in January 1884 having sailed from Saguenay, Quebec.  I wonder did Walsh and crew give a thought to the fact that they were anchored in a bay named for a Waterford born naval officer William Hobson who had become the first Governor of New Zealand…I’d imagine they did. 

They departed again on March 30th and although I don’t know if they went via Cape Horn of the Cape of Good Hope, they arrived safely into Passage with Australian wheat in early August. 

Advert of the firm from Waterford Standard – Wednesday 03 January 1877, Page 1
Timber advert via the Waterford Citizen – Friday 28 July 1871; page 2

January 1885 saw the vessel in the Atlantic heading homewards when a young Tramore man named Bussell was washed off the deck of the ship. The report doesn’t make clear if he was crew or a passenger.[7]  In March ‘86 they were outbound from Cardiff to Rio de Janeiro; March ‘87 at Queenstown having arrived from Inuique.  I’m speculating this was Puerto de Iquique, Chile.  

In 1888 Geraldine was cleared from Pensacola on February 6th for Buenos Aires[8] and in 1889 was damaged on the same run putting in for temporary repairs to St Thomas’ in the ‘West Indian Islands’.  There were no details of the damage except that the ship was leaking and needing dry dock. As the cost of repairs at St Thomas’ was said to be high, it was presumed this would happen elsewhere.[9]

The Geraldine was put up for sale in 1890, and it was reported by the Waterford Chronicle to have sold for a high price.  It also mentions in an understated way that their “splendid ship…made rapid passages…from Waterford to the most distant parts of the world”[10]  The Geraldine, Captain Walsh and his crews most certainly did. While details on the origins of the crew were scant, mention of Waterford and Slade, Wexford did pop up in the accounts.

Although I can’t find any specific evidence of the New York incident, I believe that their hoisting of the Green Ensign is true.  Perhaps not on St Patrick’s Day, or perhaps not New York…but would the police of Baltimore, San Francisco or Pensacola be any laxer? 

Whatever the truth, I hope this piece captures some of the reality, the hardship, and the sheer courage of Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and many others seafarers who sailed before the mast.  Can you just imagine what other adventures and misadventures they got up to? A full list of the ship’s crews throughout the time is available.

If any reader had any more details on the Cox Brother operation or the ships they owned, I would be delighted to receive it.  Any other details on Captain Walsh or other crew would also be welcomed.

I’m indebted to Cian Manning for giving me the piece on the Geraldine and the Green Ensign over two years ago. I’d hoped to post it long before now. It’s an excerpt from the papers of T.F. Drohan, originally from Ferrybank, who worked for the Harbour Commissioners. The papers were acquired by Waterford Treasures. My thanks also to Donnchadh O Ceallachain – Museum Curator; Waterford Treasures Museum.

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[1] Account taken from private papers of T.F. Drohan, an employee of Waterford Harbour Commissioners – Waterford Treasures Museum

[2] Lloyd’s Register of Shipping 1881: https://archive.org/details/HECROS1881/page/n421/mode/2up

[3] Liverpool Shipping Telegraph and Daily Commercial Advertiser – Saturday 13 March 1880; page 4

[4] Shields Daily Gazette – Thursday 01 April 1880; page 5

[5] Wexford and Kilkenny Express – Saturday 28 May 1881; page 4

[6] Hull Packet – Friday 17 November 1882; page 8

[7] Wexford and Kilkenny Express – Saturday 21 February 1885; page 7

[8] Lloyd’s List – Saturday 18 February 1888

[9] Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor – Thursday 21 March 1889; page 2

[10] Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 13 September 1890; page 2