Thursday, January 13, 2011

Did Jack Poingdestre Get Shipwrecked On The Elland Canal?


It started with a vintage picture postcard of Elland I bought on eBay for 99 pence. Elland is just down the road and I always try to keep a watch for cheap vintage postcards of local scenes. It was a picture of Elland Town Hall and I thought it might be interesting to compare the view in 1908 (the year the card was used) with the view now. When the card arrived through the post, I flipped it over and read the message on the reverse.


The message reads as follows:
To:  Miss Eva Poingdestre, Navy Cottage, Millbank, Island of Jersey, Europe
Dear Eva, Hoping you are all still living. You seem to think I'm dead. I have not heard from you for a long time. Write seen, Weather very cold. Kind regards to all. From your loving Cousin Jack.

I spend a short time trying to work out why Jack Poingdestre might come to be in Elland before I noticed the postage stamps which were not British, but Canadian. So here we have a lad with a somewhat unusual name, whose family live in the Channel Islands sending a picture postcard of Elland, West Yorkshire from Canada. There must be a story there somewhere for someone with a vivid imagination. The story I came up with - based on a relatively brief internet search - turns out to be much more unusual than anything my vivid imagination could have invented.

John Thomas "Jack" Poingdestre was born on the Isle of Jersey in 1878, one of twelve children. He left home at an early age and went to sea where he served as an Able Seaman on the trans-Atlantic liners (this is perhaps why he was sending postcards from Canada although it does not explain why it was a picture postcard of Elland). In 1912 he was serving on board the Oceana when it sank off Newhaven. He survived the ordeal, and immediately signed up to go to sea again on another ship. Unfortunately he chose the Titanic which was about to make its maiden voyage from Southampton. When the Titanic started sinking he was put in charge of lifeboat 12, one of the last lifeboats to escape the sinking ship. He had managed to collect some 70 survivors of the disaster in his boat before eventually being picked up by the Carpathia.

You would think such an experience would put anyone off the sea for life, but not Jack. A few years later he was on active service during World War I on board the Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic which was serving as a hospital ship in the Mediterranean. With Jack on board, her fate was sealed : she was sunk after striking a mine off the Greek coast in November 1916. Jack survived once again and little else is known of his life or when he died. With luck like his you half expect him to still be alive now.

There is no definite evidence that the Jack Poingdestre of my postcard is the same John Thomas "Jack" Poingdestre of the Titanic, but it would seem likely. However, his incredible story does nothing to explain why he was sending picture postcards of Elland (which is at least 50 miles from the sea).

If you want to see what the view of Elland Town Hall looks like today, take a look at my latest Picture Post entry.

26 comments:

  1. I still see him sailing up & down the Calder Canal most days!
    A nice bit of detective work Alan !

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  2. Tony : It's a lovely thought isn't it. Running to ground at Salterhebble Locks or ramming another boat in Sowerby Bridge Basin.

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  3. A real 'Jonah' with an interesting tale, even if he might not be the same man.

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  4. you got my mind a spinning...this is really facinating stuff...and i can def see a story in there...

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  5. Alan, when I was at sea, we'd pick up postcards from some place and post them somewhere else, as invariably there wasn't time to both write and post them in the port of purchase (usually from the Flying Angel).

    The word Jonah comes to mind.

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  6. John : Yes Jonah seems appropriate.
    Brian : You couldn't make it up if you tried could you.
    CB : Interesting theory, but how come he visited Elland?

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  7. What a tale! Wonderful research--amazing the stories you draw out of these old postcards & photos. Also, looking at your picture post blog, it seems that the Town Hall area isn't all that much changed. Good stuff, as always.

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  8. What a great story. Sounds like a blurb for a novel. Great detective work.

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  9. Maybe he stopped in Elland while on a trip from Newcastle or Hull to Liverpool, going from one port to another. I know Liverpool is home port to a bunch of cruise lines, and I think I remember hearing that Hull was also, at least in the early part of the 20th Century. Maybe he left one ship and was heading to another on the other coast.

    As for Jack Poingdestre, he sounds like a candidate for a modern Flying Dutchman!

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  10. Alan - perhaps the padre at the Flying Angel had received a job lot.

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  11. Roy and CB : Both excellent suggestions.
    Roy : The main rail line from Hull to Liverpool did come along the Calder Valley (Elland is in the Calder Valley) at the time. So your scenario is a distinct possibility.
    CB : And what else would you do with a job lot of picture postcards of Elland Town Hall.

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  12. "You seem to think I'm dead." Little wonder, given his record!

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  13. Have so much enjoyed these two linked post and all the comments. What a fascinating story. It's a very uncommon name, I would think, so that makes your interpretation the more likely. Isn't it a shame no-one writes postcards anymore - will people still ponder over tweets in years to come?

    As regards your comment about Sir T Salt, I can only guess... they started renting Crow Nest in 1844 (well before Saltaire) but they had to move out in 1858 when the owner wanted to live in it himself. They apparently liked it very much and bought it outright in 1867. He then lived there til he died. Some of his sons lived in the Saltaire area but I believe they had to build new houses - so perhaps there wasn't anything grand enough round here at the time. And I guess the gentry liked to keep a bit of distance from the workers. No doubt Lady S had something to say on the matter. She hot-footed it down south as soon as hubby died!

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  14. Wow... what a story, Alan. You know, the last time I swam on a beach, I got out a little bit too far and almost paniced. I was losing energy fast and it was scarey. So from my experience, I have to hand it to our old Jack. Must have been a brother to Sea Wolf. :)Lord Thomas of Wellington

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  15. Good grief, that man should have bought a lottery ticket. Fascinating story. I guess he name is unusual enough to suggest it probably was the same fellow.

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  16. Lovely piece of internet stalking, Alan! Utterly enthralling. This has the bones of a wonderful book. Perhaps, you should write it!

    A quick little search of my own suggests that a Bertha Poingdestre immigrated to Canada in 1914 (RootsWeb). She was born in Jersey in 1887. Perhaps Jack was in Canada on leave looking up his younger sister?

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  17. What an amazing story! I'd like to think that he finally retired from the sea, married an attractive barmaid, and bought a pub where he is still spinning tales. . .

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  18. I do so enjoy your postcard sleuthing, Alan. Fascinating stuff.

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  19. Alan, I awarded you the Stylish Blogger Award. This was awarded to me from http://adrielleroyale.blogspot.com/
    Please come over to my Award post and see the instructions.
    :)Lord Thomas of Wellington

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  20. Wow! Now that really is an amazing story! Some people are just born lucky! What an enjoyable read!

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  21. There may be no direct evidence that the two Jack Poingdestres are one and the same, but the nautical house name, Navy Cottage, is a good bit of circumstantial.

    The card also says a lot about his personality in a few words. His droll, dry humour would go with the personality of one who kept going to sea despite his ships sinking!

    As an adult the Titanic Poindestre lived, when not at sea, in Southampton - but he might well have had a cousin in Elland.

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  22. Reread post - I see! A postcard of Elland sent to Jersey, not Elland. Almost certainly one and the same.

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  23. There is a Poingdestres Angling Centre in Shirley, Southampton. Surely no coincidence that JP lived in Shirley. Perhaps they're into family history?

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  24. What a fascinating story! I'm glad I never had the misfortune of travelling with him!

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  25. What a wonderful, wonderful story. The man is a Rasputin of the sea. :<) I'm amazed that you could find this information. I wonder if the name is a form of Poindexter? And what a message- 'you seem to think I'm dead' - wow.

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  26. What a great bit of sleuthing on your part, Alan. It would appear to be the same man. Fascinating story.

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