The disappearance of the Lady Combe

This blog post is about my maternal great, great-uncle who was from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland and latterly lived in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland and Jamestown, Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

My great, great-uncle George Barr was born in Rutherglen Road, Glasgow in 1885, married Elizabeth Little in 1910 in Jamestown, Dunbartonshire and died at sea in 1927. The censuses have George living in Rutherglen Road, Glasgow in 1891, Govan Street, Glasgow in 1901 and Kildonan Street, Coatbridge in 1911. At the time of his death George was living in Levenbank Terrace, Jamestown.

I had been searching for George’s death for many, many years (I’ve been researching my family history since 1990) and a few years ago I found a likely death record for George Barr in the Scottish Marine Death returns. My genealogy tip in this blog post is therefore to include searching the marine returns when you are looking for your ancestors. This blog post explores the story of the final voyage of the Lady Combe which disappeared in December 1927 resulting in a crew of 18 supposed drowned.

This is George:

George Barr

The Lady Combe was a 500 ton, 350 feet long Clyde-built dredger launched on 30 June 1927 and was built for service at Lagos Harbour in Nigeria.

The dredger sailed from the Lobnitz shipyard at Renfrew on 9 December 1927 for Lagos. The Lady Combe carried enough coal to last for 3 weeks and was meant to take on more coal at Dakar, Senegal so panic started when there was no sign of the Lady Combe after those 3 weeks.

The Lady Combe had departed a few days after a sand suction dredger, Lady Thomson, and a barge. and all 3 had been expected to arrive in Lagos at approximately the same time. The Lady Thomson and the barge safely arrived at Lagos after a very stormy passage but neither spotted the Lady Combe nor did any other vessel.

The crew were: Master Joseph Flett of Stobcross Street, Glasgow, mate J Martin of Mosspark Boulevard, Glasgow, W Butler of Dawsholm Road, Glasgow, John Beadley of Reid Street, Bridgeton, W O’Donnell of Brown Street, Glasgow, J Quinn of Clark Street, Kinning Park, Robert Thomson of Marquis Street, Bidgeton, John McGovern of Newton Terrace, Renfrew, William Carson of Newton Street, Renfrew, D Murray of Muir Street, Renfrew, W Mitchell of London Street, Glasgow, John Veitch of Fulbar Street, Renfrew, Andrew Savage of Castlebank Street, Partick, Andrew Cochrane of Fulbar Street, Renfrew, S Sutherland of Newton Street, Renfrew, Joseph Fleming of Eglinton Lane, Glasgow, George Barr of Levenbank Terrace, Jamestown and Hugh Gillongley of Broomlands, Greenock. My great, great-uncle George Barr was cook and steward on the Lady Combe.

The initial reports in January in the newspapers note that, when the Lady Combe was due to sail from Renfrew, 2 of the crew failed to turn up and 2 unemployed men on the quay were given their jobs, that Captain Flett, originally a Pittenweem man, was one of the best-known sailors on Clydeside and that there had been a mysterious disappearance 25 years before of a dredger on the way from Renfrew to Russia.

In August 1928 there was a further clue reported. Red trousers were washed up on the beach at Rothesay which were identified by the wife of the 3rd engineer, John Veitch. It was therefore believed that the Lady Combe, which at that time was thought to have last been spotted passing Greenock, had foundered in the Firth of Clyde and not on the high seas as previously assumed. The newspapers did admit though that there was a possibility that the trousers had been hung up to to dry after washing and were swept overboard.

In December 1928 the Board of Trade held an enquiry at Glasgow into the disappearance of the Lady Combe at which 3 points of evidence were given, one of which was Mrs Veitch’s evidence of her husband’s trousers. The other evidence was from a director of the ship-builders and from a lighthouse keeper on the Isle of Man.

It was suggested to the ship builders that perhaps the Lady Combe was not stable enough to sail in bad winter weather and that, if the Lady Combe had sailed with her dredger buckets pointing downwards and was fitted with a wireless, both of these alterations may have helped.

A lighthouse keeper at Hickens Rock, Isle of Man stated that he saw the Lady Combe sheltering for 24 hours at the Calf of Man before she headed off in a south-easterly direction and that the gales resumed that night.

The conclusion appears to be that my great, great-uncle George Barr drowned along with his 17 crew mates south of the Isle of Man.

I also have in my possession a job application of George Barr’s dated 1911 detailing his skills and employment history (typed up I believe by either George or my great-grandmother who died in 1917) which I shall share in a future blog post.

Sources used: personal and family knowledge, Scotland’s People website (birth,marriage and death certificates and census records), Fnd My Past website (merchant seaman records), British Newspaper Archive website (Sunday Post 8 January 1928, Westminster Gazette 10 January 1928, The Scotsman 10 January 1928, Port Glasgow Express 11 January 1928, Westminster Gazette 13 January 1928, Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette 14 January 1928, Sheffield Daily Telegraph 5 December 1928 and Dundee Courier 6 December 1928).

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