Tree of death

Family lore has it that my great,great,great grandfather Richard Bibbens Stephens was lost at sea while commanding the brig Harriot of Poole. His early days had been spent in the Newfoundland fishing industry aboard the snow Samuel.

I have at home a portrait of the man posing with a chart and a pair of dividers. There is also a ‘pierhead painting’ of Harriot leaving Copenhagen in 1836.

Finally I have his ‘medicine chest’ a rosewood box inscribed with his name on a metal plate and inside 12 cut glass containers which still smell of rum.

But none of these objects mean much without knowing what happened to him. Over the years we have tried to find out but come up against blind alleys.

Now it looks as though we might have some interesting leads thanks to the help of an excellent maritime museum based in Teignmouth, Devon, where he was born.

The Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum has experts in maritime history and they have kindly searched their archives. I now have an idea of which newspaper libraries to troll through.

Meanwhile if ever you are in Teignmouth the museum is well worth a visit at No 8 Teign Street. They have brochures on Donald Crowhurst, who set out from that port on his fateful Golden Globe voyage aboard the trimaran Teignmouth Electron, and also on a famous yacht designer and son of the port, Morgan Giles.