20 May 2015

Lost at Sea

In the course of researching family history you often uncover tragedy and sadness. This is one of those stories.

My second cousin three times removed, Martin Hodgetts Bust, was born on 9 August 1884 in England, in the small Lincolnshire village of Winterton. On his father’s side, Martin came from farming stock – in fact, the Bust family had been farming in various parts of Lincolnshire since the sixteenth century. Martin’s grandfather Henry was a farmer of 600-odd acres, a substantial holding in the mid 1800s, and his father Frederic was an agricultural engineer. Frederic and his brother Joseph were noted for inventing, manufacturing and selling agricultural machinery, and held several patents for chaff-cutting and ensilage-making machines.

A watercolour of Winterton by C. M. Gunnell, 1992.
Martin’s mother Sallie had been born in India, where her father was a tea planter, though Martin never knew grandfather Hodgetts – he had died in India in 1860, aged just 38. In fact, Martin never met any of his grandparents as all four had died before he was born.

Martin’s parents, Frederic Bust and Sallie Hodgetts were married in 1879 in Bridlington, Yorkshire, Sallie’s hometown, but made their home in Park Street, Winterton. Martin had two older siblings: his brother Frederic was born in 1881 and his sister Millicent was born in 1882, and the family’s domestic servant Betsy Barr also lived with them in their Winterton home.

Sadly, tragedy struck the Bust family soon after Martin was born. He never had the chance to get to know his father as Frederic Bust died in June 1885 when he was only 31 and Martin was not quite 10 months old. Without her husband’s income and with three children under five years old, it would have been difficult for Sally to cope, even though I’m sure she had help from both her husband’s and her own family.

Without his brother to assist with the agricultural business, Martin’s uncle Joseph found things tough going so put the agricultural business up for sale in 1887 and decided to make a life for himself in America. Sallie and her children would have gained some benefit from the sale of the business but that wouldn’t have kept the family in food and lodgings for long. It’s no surprise then to find that, at the time of the 1891 census, both Martin and his sister Millicent were boarding with sisters Frances and Florence Robinson in Sallie’s hometown of Bridlington, in Yorkshire. The Robinson women were teachers so I assume this was how the children received at least part of their education, though Martin also attended Grammar School in Driffield. 

HMS Conway. Image by Flapdragon. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMSConway1.jpg#/media/File:HMSConway1.jpg

In September 1898, shortly after celebrating his fourteenth birthday, Martin started a new life in Liverpool. He had been enrolled at HMS Conway, a naval training ship moored off Rock Ferry Pier on the river Mersey. Founded in 1859 by the Mercantile Marine Service Association as a means of training seaman for the Merchant Navy, HMS Conway, during Martin’s time at the school, was actually the former Rodney-class ship HMS Nile. She was a full-rigged wooden battleship, with a beam of 54ft 5in and 205ft 6in long at the gun deck, and was home to about 250 cadets at any one time.

National School Admission Registers & Log-books 1870-1914, School name: HMS Conway training ship,
Archive reference D/CON/13/12, Liverpool Maritime Museum


Though it would have been a very different life from farming, Martin seems to have excelled as a seaman cadet, receiving more comments of ‘very good’ than just ‘good’ in his training record book. The cadets would have been excited in July 1899 by the visit of the Duke of York, later King George V, who presented prizes to the top cadets and delivered a speech on the qualities essential to success in seamanship, ‘truthfulness, obedience and zeal’. Sadly for Martin, 1999 was also tainted with personal tragedy, as his mother Sallie died in March that year, in Winterton, aged just 48.

Martin graduated from HMS Conway in July 1900 and must immediately have gone to sea, as he was not in England when the 1901 census was taken on 31 March. I have only been able to find the name of one ship Martin served on, though I do know that by the end of 1903, he was qualified to serve as a Second Mate on a foreign-going ship, as witnessed by these two Certificates of Competency dated 29 December 1903 and 3 July 1907.


In May 1907 Martin is shown sailing, as a passenger rather than crew, on the Mary Isabel from Hokianga in New Zealand to Sydney, Australia. Perhaps he had been visiting members of his extended family, who were then living in Auckland, before beginning his next posting.

Soon after reaching Sydney, Martin joined the crew of the Hartfield. She was an iron-hulled British sailing ship, 261.7ft long and 39.3ft wide, with a gross tonnage of 1866.5 tons. Built in 1884 in Whitehaven, in the English county of Cumberland, the Hartfield had been thoroughly overhauled while in London during December 1906-January 1907 and was classed A1 by Lloyd’s. In January 1907 she left London bound for Sydney, carrying a general cargo, then loaded a cargo of coal and sailed for Valparaiso, in Chile, where she arrived about 21 August 1907 after a very stormy passage. The coal was discharged in Valparaiso and the Hartfield then took on 1030 tons of sand ballast in preparation for a voyage to Tacoma, Washington, where a cargo of wheat awaited her.

Hartfield. Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, www.sfpl.org/sfphotos

The Hartfield departed Valparaiso for Tacoma on 25 October 1907 with a crew of 22, including Second Mate Martin Bust, and was never seen again.

The only clues as to the fate of the ship came from the lighthouse keeper at St Estevan Point on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. In a letter to the Agent of the Marine and Fisheries Department he reported that  

when he was at Hesquiat on 22nd December, 1907, he began a search along the coast and continued it up to the 6th January, 1908. He had found two life belts, some hardwood cabin fittings, and a miniature life buoy, upon which latter appeared the words "Hartfield," Liverpool. Beyond this there is nothing to show what became of this vessel. At the time this man wrote it had been blowing a hurricane from the south and south-west, so whether she was blown on shore or whether the cargo shifted and she capsized there is no evidence.

The loss of the ship was widely reported in newspapers around the world in January 1908 and that may be how Martin’s family came to know of his death. He was just 23 years of age. 

I imagine it was his sister Millicent who was most saddened by his loss and it was probably she who arranged for the commemorative plaque that can still be found on the wall of the south aisle in All Saints' Church, in Martin’s home town of Winterton. It reads simply, ‘In memory of Martin Hodgetts Bust. Born August 9 1884. Lost at sea December 1907.’ 

Left: All Saints' Church, Winterton. Image by David Wright. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_Saints_Church_Winterton.jpg. Right: Image from church website: lincoln.ourchurchweb.org.uk/winterton