barque Lota 1891

from Turnbull’s Register 1889
from Turnbull’s Register 1889

The North East of England was such a centre for shipbuilding in the 19th and 20th centuries that the focus of my work is most often on the production end of the shipping business. Thousands of ships were built on the Tyne and the Wear and for many we know little more than which shipyard built them, when they were launched, their dimensions and the name of their first owners.

Last week I was in the Fine Art store choosing some paintings to add to the shipbuilding gallery in Sunderland Museum. A painting of Lota, by local marine artist John Hudson, caught my eye and I would like to put it on display. Lota was a three-masted steel barque of 1,367 gross tons, built in 1891 by Robert Thompson at his Southwick shipyard, Sunderland. But who was she built for and what happened to her after she left the River Wear?

Turner Edwards house flag’

Turner Edwards house flag’

 Lota was part of a late upsurge in the building of sailing ships that took place between 1888 and 1892. She was ordered by Turner Edwards & Co of Bristol and I wondered what business they were in. An e-mail to Andy King, an old friend at Bristol Museums, produced some details of the company’s history. Turner Edwards’s core business was importing brandy and wine from France, Portugal and Spain for local wine merchants such as Harvey, the world famous sherry blender. But Mark Turner was also in the agricultural fertilizer business and he saw an opportunity to enter another profitable trade. Lota was built to carry nitrate from Chile, ‘taking advantage of the productive capacity and cheapness of north British shipyards’.

Painting of the barque LOTA by John Hudson – B9432’

Painting of the barque LOTA by John Hudson – B9432’

The painting shows Lota off the mouth of the river Tyne. There are waving figures on her deck and passengers on a paddle steamer returning their waves. I think the painting may show her setting off on her maiden voyage to the West Coast of South America, perhaps having loaded coal on the Tyne. So my research continues on this one. In a future posting I hope I can add some more information about what is going on in the painting and also about the nitrate trade around Cape Horn.

27 Responses to barque Lota 1891

  1. Ian Preston says:

    My wife’s great grandfather, John Toppin of Maryport, was the Lota’s carpenter on two voyages to Valparaiso, in 1894-95 and 95-96. The Bristol Record Office has a good run of crew agreements for the ship. They also have copies of some photos which I believe may have been taken off Valparaiso. We also have a splendid oil painting of the Lota, although I haven’t been able to spot an artists name on it. The ship was wrecked on Sable Island and the figurehead is in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, museum. There’s a photo on their website.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      I’m delighted to hear news of your family connection to Lota and thank you also for the information about other Lota material. Further research since the original post hasn’t revealed much more up to now, except an account of the launch in the Newcastle Daily Journal of Friday August 21st 1891. I have searched in vain for a report of Lota leaving the Tyne on her maiden voyage. However you never know what will turn up – seeing your comment about John Toppin, the Lota’s carpenter, made my day.

  2. Rosemary Atkins says:

    I have just acquired a Bill of Lading for the “good ship called the Lota” which states it is “in good order and well conditioned by Gibbs & Co.” The goods being shipped were 719,471 kg of ferruginous copper from Carrizal Bajo via Valparaiso to Swansea. The Master was Charles Stephens and he has signed and dated the document 28th June 1882. Gibbs & Co. were a firm of London importers/exporters who turned their attention from Spain & Portugal to South America, in particular the west coast. This may be a different ship to yours but strange to have two ships of the same name sailing around the same time.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Rosemary
      Interesting to hear of your Bill of Lading for a Lota in 1882, bringing copper from the west coast of South America to Swansea. As you suggest I am sure this is a different ship not least because she is trading 9 years before our Lota was launched. I had a look in Lloyds register for 1883-4 and found Lota, a wooden barque built in Liverpool in 1861. Around the time of your Bill of Lading she was registered in London and was commanded and owned by W M Dudfield. At that time it was the only ship he owned. Since these details don’t match with your Lota’s master and owners it seems that there may have been 3 Lotas sailing at about this time! I suspect all the ships were named after a Chilean coal mining town, Lota, that boomed in the mid 19th century.

      The truth is that ship’s names are used over and over again and even unusual names like Lota may be given to several different ships. It can be a research nightmare if you are trying to trace a ship with a very common name such as ‘Elizabeth’ or ‘Mary’!

      • Rosemary Atkins says:

        Many thanks, Ian, for all that information. I thought it probably wasn’t the same ship but didn’t think to check Lloyd’s Register.

        • I came across this site while researching informaton to caption pictures in the photographic collection of the Cumbrian Railways Association. We have photo (ref M00004) which shows the LOTA – a three-masted barque – at the Carrs Flour Mill quay at Silloth, date unknown.

          • Ian Whitehead says:

            Hi Peter
            Thank you for taking the trouble to comment and letting us know about your photograph.
            I hope the blog about our painting of LOTA helped you with your research. Nitrate, Grain and Flour cargoes were all carried in sacks so it would have been easy to switch from the nitrate trade to carrying grain. Inspired by your comment I found this newspaper report on the website of the Australian National Library – The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 21 March 1900 p 8 Article
            … ‘The barque Lota, loaded by Messrs. J. S. Mailler and Co., cleared the Heads yesterday. Her cargo consisted of 1507 bales wool, 1522 sacks tallow, &c,; also, 1400 HW tons wheat and flour, and sundries.’

            So we know LOTA was carrying grain and flour in 1900 although that’s a long way from dating your photograph to that year.

            I’m pleased to say that Carrs are still in business in their quayside mill at Silloth and I often use their flour to make bread at home.

  3. Barbara Muir says:

    Amongst my mother’s effects I found a letter from a James C. C. Johnston from the Barque Lota. Written as they sailed down the English Channel heading for Valparaiso. The letter is written to ‘his dear father’ but only dated April 22nd no year given. He talks of a death on board ship whilst still in the English Channel. He also says he thinks she is coming back to Leith. I have no idea who this man is whether he is a relative or not. The name Johnston is a a family name I think as a couple of aunts etc have it as a middle name. I am going to look into the Bristol Record office to see if I can find any further information.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Barbara
      When I first posted about the barque LOTA I didn’t think there would be so many people with a connection to the ship. I’ll be interested to know if you find out any more at the Bristol Record Office.
      If you have the name of the person who died that might be another route to identifying the year of the voyage. From 1837-1874, copies of log book entries recording deaths at sea were sent direct to GRO (Somerset House) at voyage end.
      After 1874, they were sent to Reg.General of Shipping & Seamen (Cardiff) first, who compiled lists as BT 159 and BT 160. Then GRO received them, and they (Somerset House) made up a ‘Marine Register’ of these events, which they should still have. But this sytem was dependent upon the ship/master/logbook arriving back safely, to report the death.

  4. Ian Preston says:

    Just caught up with this site.
    There’s no James Johnson in the 1895/6 crew list, but as I said the Bristol Record office have along run of them. They are very informative. Crewman’s home address, last ship, rate pay, etc.
    See for the photos of the ship

  5. Hazel Plastow says:

    Really excited to come across this website and the posts!!

    My great grandfather – Harold Horatio Prosser – was the ship’s doctor on the Lota on a voyage to Australia in 1907/8. (They left Fredrikshald, Norway on 8/9/07 with a cargo of timber bound for Melbourne, picked up 500 tons of sand ballast in Melbourne 8/2/08 and swapped this for a cargo of wheat in Sydney on 26/2/08 for the return journey).

    I have his daily diary entries for the two trips – which give an amazing insight into life on board – no photos, but a parchment certificate on crossing the equator. I have thought about transcribing them (the first diary is about 18,000 words) and getting them on to the web for others to see – so it’s lovely to read about others who have a connection with the ship; it gives me a new reason to look at this again.

  6. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Hazel
    Welcome to the growing band of people with connections to the barque LOTA who have commented on the blog. Your great grandfather’s diaries are a brilliant historical source and I can only encourage you to transcribe them. It would be great if they could be made available via the web as you suggest.

    The painting of LOTA, which was the subject of the original posting, is now on display in the ‘Launched on Wearside’ gallery of Sunderland Museum. I hope to put some more information up about LOTA in the near future.

    • Ian Preston says:

      Hello again Ian.
      I was interested to hear about the Australian connections, as some while ago I came across yet another painting of the Lota on the website of an Australian art gallery. Unfortunately the computer I had at the time suffered a hard drive failure, and I lost the bookmark and I’ve never been able to find it since then. Perhaps with your museum connections you may be able to find it. As far as I can recall, it was one of the major state or city galleries. It’s amazing how much information is turning up about what must have been a relatively unimportant little ship.

      • Andrea Storey says:

        Dear Ian. I found your comments whilst searching my Great Grandfather John Toppin of Maryport. This of course means that I must be related to your wife! We would be thrilled if you/your wife could let us have more information about John Toppin as currently we do not know the ship from which he was lost, when or where. My sincere apologies for highjacking this web chat – I hope I can be forgiven! I would love to hear from you – please contact me on Kindest regards, Andrea Storey

  7. Ruth McConnell says:

    Hi, I just wanted to clarify that the “Turner” of Turner Edwards and Co, was John Edwards’ son-in-law, William Turner. William married Susannah, John Edwards’ first born. The “Mark Turner” you mention is William and Susannah’s son, Mark Edwards Turner, and yes he was indeed involved in the fertilizer business. I believe that part of the business expanded after John Edwards died in 1860. John Edwards is my great great grandfather.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Ruth

      Thanks for making that clarification. I was looking at a scan of a company history of Turner Edwards and Co when I sketched out the reasons why Lota was ordered so it was all clear to me. Now I can’t find where I have stored the scan and am unable to refer to it, I’m rather less certain!



    • I am interested in Turner Edwards & Co, as William Turner was a cousin of the artist J.M.W.Turner. I have discovered a certain amount about the Turner and Edwards families, but am keen to learn more.

      • Ian Whitehead says:

        Another twist to the story with the news that William Turner was a cousin of the artist J.M.W. Turner. Since the Turner Edwards company was very much connected with Bristol I can only suggest you try the Bristol Record Office to see what they hold on Turner Edwards.

        kind regards


      • Ruth McConnell says:

        We should talk. Yes, the Turner families were related – distantly. However, a family story among the Edwards is that there were “three small Turners” (paintings) in the family. Ian can you give Shelby my email address please?

        • ian whitehead says:

          Hi Ruth
          Fascinating stuff with the”family” Turner paintings story. I’ll send Shelby your email address shortly.

          Best wishes


          • ian whitehead says:


            Apologies for getting your name wrong in my previous comment. I just noticed when I was about to send you the email.



  8. Andrew Hewitt says:

    Going through my mother’s papers I have come across an A4 booklet about Turner Edwards 150 years of History in the Wine Trade 1834-1984 by R M Parsons.
    This was sent to her by Roger A Crane Chairman in 1984.

  9. Troy Bates says:

    Hi – in researching my family history I discovered that my great great uncle – Matthew James Armitage Bates – actually died aboard the Lota and was buried at sea in 1894. It would be interesting to find out the history of this event if possible.

    Troy Bates

  10. James Shuttleworth says:

    I am looking for information about the marine artist and inventor Ebenezer Poulson of Sunderland. He lived in the 1850s. I have also seen a newspaper advertisement from him dated 1871. He painted the ship City of Carlisle in your museum and another of a slaver at the Penobscott Maritime Museum in Searsport, Maine USA. He may have been in jail in Durham for Debtor Insolvency in 1850. In court proceedings he is listed as a marine artist. He also held several patents for ship related inventions. He is listed in Roger Finch’s The Pierhead Painters, page 49, and The Ship Painters page 80. Thank you.

    James Shuttleworth
    Rowland Hts,California, USA

    • Ros Poulson says:

      Hello James. I am interested in your question. Ebenezer Poulson is my 3x great grandfather and I have various pieces of information about him that I am happy to share.

  11. Ian Preston says:

    The original half block shipbuilders model of the Lota was sold, in March this year, by Bonhams for over £4000.

  12. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Ian
    Thank you for posting this information about the sale of the Lota half model. You were the first to comment on the blog, on November 10th 2010, and have continued to add useful information ever since.
    I have just looked at the photograph of the half model in the Bonham’s catalogue and it looks a nice example of the type. I’m not surprised by the £4,000 plus price.
    Ideally one would have a painting and a half model, making it possible to admire the ship under full sail and also the beauty of the shape of the hull. In my dreams!

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