This appeared in the Llanelli Star (30 Nov 2000), where it was given the title "When Randells ruled the Waves", and is provided here with the Editor's permission.
The Randell family of Kidwelly and later Pembrey over four generations from 1797 and until 1910 contributed much to the sailing lore of the Carmarthenshire coast.
The Patriarch of the family Francis Randell, was born in Clovelly in 1772 the son of Thomas Randell a member of a Devonian family whose seafaring history went back to the 15th. century.
Francis Randell would probably have served an early sea going apprenticeship with his father because he is known to have been appointed Master of the "Friends Delight" when he joined the vessel at Plymouth on 16th. September 1793.
The "Friend's Delight" was an 84 ton brigantine and one of the many ships that Francis Randell commanded over the next four decades.
Roads being almost non-existent, trade between South Wales and South West England and indeed beyond was almost all done by sea. There would have been dozens of small sailing boats usually about 50 burthen tons plying between, on the one side Bristol, Burnham, Barnstaple, Clovelly and other Devon and Cornish ports and on the opposite coast Neath, Swansea, Llanelly, Pembrey, Kidwelly, Milford and Carmarthen. The ports mentioned represent only a small proportion of those used because it was essential that the goods being carried were taken to the nearest possible point of discharge as they were subsequently moved on by wagon.
Francis Randell and his family before him were actively involved in this trade. There is ample record of James Randell master of the "Blessing" sailing from Clovelly to Neath and Swanzey in 1681 to load coal and William Randell master of the "St. George" and Thomas Randell master of the "Happy Couple" both loading stone coal at Kidwelly in 1766. In any event sometime in the spring of 1794 or soon afterwards Francis Randell having crossed the Bristol Channel and safely negotiated the notorious and treacherous Cefn Siden sands quietly sailed up the Gwendraeth Fach estuary to tie up alongside the quay in Kidwelly.
Once ashore he would have contacted or been contacted by a colliery or tinplate works agent as to the cargo to be loaded and would have inevitably spent some time in the local hostelry. Were he to have been there over a weekend it is possible that he would have attended the local church but by whatever means he made the acquaintance of Rebecca Thomas. Rebecca was the daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Thomas and had been christened at St. John's Church, Kidwelly on 28th. November 1774.
Nothing is known about Rebecca's parents other than they lived in Kidwelly. It's possible that they may have had misgivings about the intentions of the mariner with a roving eye, and so having sought her hand he was required to enter into a contract whereby he promised to pay the Bishop of St. David's Two Hundred Pounds in the event of their marriage not being solemized.
This he duly signed, in the presence of one Thomas Jones and witnessed by a friend and fellow Devonian Richard Ashton on the 14th. January 1797. He was obviously a man of decision as the marriage followed three days later on 17th. January 1797 conducted by David Williams the Vicar of St. Mary's Church, Kidwelly.
Francis Randell having decided to forsake the county and country of his birth set about establishing his family in Kidwelly. Initially he and his bride rented a house in Bower Street, following which he leased from the Earl of Cawdor a piece of land on which to construct a dwelling house of brick or stone 25 feet high with the front windows sashed, this was in Causey St. otherwise called Bridge St. Sometime later the property was converted into an inn called the "Hope and Anchor", this by all accounts was not an uncomman practice for active mariners. An additional tie with the town was established when, and having paid the requisite fee, Francis Randell became a Burgess of the Borough, this was but days after his marriage, on 30th. January 1797.
During the next month, on 23rd. February in fact, he wrote a letter to his newly married wife from Milford Haven where he was engaged on a repair to his ship. In this he described how the Government mail boat from Ireland had been chased into port by a French frigate and the subsequent round up by Earl Cawdor's force of the French soldiers who had landed at Fishguard the previous day. The letter sealed with wax, was delivered to Kidwelly by coach.
He continued to pursue an active career at sea until the end of his life, despite in his will describing himself as a Victualer. Some of the vessels of which he was master were the "Mary" 1803 to 1808, she was a 53 ton Brigatine, a prize from the French, the "Prince Regent" built in Carmarthen in 1811, the "Eleanor and Catherine" a 33 ton sloop of Llanelly which was subsequently lost on the Cefn Siden sands in February 1823, the "Active" a 47 ton sloop in 1821, the "Neptune" to which reference was made in his obituary in the "Cambrian" dated 22nd. June 1839 and finally "The Bristol Packet" of Carmarthen in the" Carmarthen Journal" dated 21st. June 1839. Apart from coal mined in South Wales the boats were involved in the export of tinplate and bar iron for the proprietors of the Kidwelly Tinplate Works.
Francis and Rebecca Randell had eight children. The eldest son born in 1800 was named, as was usual in those days after his father, the first born a daughter, had been called Rebecca. Francis Randell II grew up in Kidwelly and would have started his maritime career as an apprentice with his father. Sometime following his marriage to Margaret Williams on 17th. October 1822 he decided to move to Pembrey. This decision probably resulted from the fact that with the increased tonnage of the boats being used, the silting up of the Gwendraeth Fach to Kidwelly Quay, and the continuing hazard of the Cefn Siden sands, the harbour facilities developed by Edward Gaunt in 1814 at Pembrey were an attractive propositon, and the later constuction of the Burry Port harbour which opened in 1832.
Francis Randell II and his wife when they first moved to Pembrey lived in the "Ashburnham Arms", they later moved to a house in the main village square which became the "Commercial Arms", and is today known as the "Pembrey Arms". Francis Randell II was master of the "Eleanor and Catherine" in 1821 and when she was lost on the Cefn Siden sands 4th. April 1823. Previous to 1832 he was licenced as a Pilot which it is believed, continued until 10th. May 1836 when he was reputed to have put the "Syria" aground in the harbour entrance and was complained about by Jno. Biddulph of the New Dock Co., Llanelly. He was, in some shape or form involved on a fairly regularly basis with the transport of coal to various ports on the south coast of England, including Shoreham.
Francis Randell III and his wife Ann Thomas had nine children including three sons who followed the family tradition in responding to the call of the sea. Francis Randell III, initially in company with his father and later with his eldest son John Randell probably did more than any other member of the family to further its influence in shipping affairs along the coast in that part of South Wales. Further it is believed that the village square in Pembrey "Randell Square" was named after him.
Francis Randell III at the age of 22 in 1845 signed on as a seaman on the "Ringdove" at £2.15.0 per month. He was mate on the "Albion" of Llanelly in January 1846 at the rate of £2.15.0 per month and mate again on the "Radiant" of Shoreham at the time of the christening of his daughter in 1847. Between September 1848 and October 1853 he was master of the "Leonora" of Llanelly. The vessel was wrecked off St. Ann's head on the 21st. October of that year following which wreckage was picked up at Milford marked Francis Randell of "Leonora" of Llanelly. Fortunately he had left the boat and been replaced by John Charles at the time of the loss.
On 13th. September the vessel the "Margaret Jane" was advertised for sale in London and was acquired by Francis Randell III and others by a bill of sale on 11th. October of that year. He was Master from that time until January or February 1865.
Possibly with his father until he died in 1870, and later with his son John Randell, he was either master of, or owned/chartered a great number of vessels associated with maritime trade round the world. A list of these, probably by no means complete, is as follows.
Margaret Jane, registered 11.10.1853.
Glanmor, registered 16.03.1863. lost 04.04.1869.
Phoenix, registered 11.04.1864. sold 28.11.1874.
Maggie, registered 25.07.1864, lost 03.09.1883.
Ellen, registered 13.01.1865, lost 14.02.1875.
Henry & Dora, acquired Jan/Feb 1866 lost 05.02.1869.
Towy, registered 27.04.1866, stranded, 1898.
Mary B, registered 09.07.1867, lost 18.01.1872.
Burry, launched March 1868, lost Aug.1879.
Silverlight, registered 24.03.1868, lost 11.12.1869.
Fanny Alice, acquired Sept. 1868, lost 1872.
William/Annie, registered 09.03.1869, broken up, 1896.
Flirt, registered 24.04.1871, sold 10.04.1879.
Arbitrator, registered 11.12.1873, sold 25.10.1888.
Tantivy, acquired 07.07.1873, lost 02.12.1875.
Ida, registered 05.01.1874, sold 00.03.1886.
William Brown, registered 19.01.1876, lost 1880.
Vintex, registered 29.05.1876, lost 27.07.1883.
Atlanta, registered 21.08.1876, lost 28.02.1884.
Whitehall, acquired 1880, lost 07.02.1883.
Hannah, registered 23.09.1880, lost 1889.
W.H.B. acquired 17.06.1884, sold 1884.
Such were the hazards of the seas, and having regard to the extent of the voyages taken it is perhaps not suprising that 16 of the vessels listed above were lost at sea. The average tonnage had increased from those sailed by Captain Randell at the time of his original vists to Kidwelly -from 50/60 tons burthen to 100/400 tons and voyages to Odessa, Barbados, Montevideo and round the Horn to Chile were not considered unusual.
Additionally the loss of life must have been considerable, David Randell son of Francis Randell II was reported in the "Cambrian" dated 4th. August 1854 as having died aboard the "Fifeshire" while on a passage home from Peru. Francis William Randell and William Thomas Randell aged 13, sons of Francis Randell III were drowned when their ship the "Burry" was lost off the North Foreland on 5th.August 1879.
A study of the above vessels is an interesting exercise and with the help of Dr.R.Craig this is a relatively easy task. The "Ellen" is perhaps typical of the others, she was a sailing ship a wooden barque, carvel built 117'-5''long x 26'-0''in beam x 14'-9''deep, and 257 tons burthen. Square sterned and without head rails the "Ellen" had a single deck three masts with the fore and main masts square rigged and the mizzen mast rigged fore and aft. She was acquired by the Randell family in September 1864, registered in Llanelly on the 13th. January 1865 and lost off Cherbourg on the 14th. February 1875. During this period the "Ellen" spent the bulk of her life at sea, the period October 1866 to October 1868 is a typical period.
October 6th. 1866, left Llanelly for Buenos Aires.
December 16th., arrived Buenos Aires.
January 3rd. 1867, left Buenos Aires for Barbados.
May 31st. arrived Barbados.
June 13th. left Barbados for London.
July 16th. Arrived Gravesend.
September 13th. Left London for Valparaiso, Chile,
round Cape Horn.
December 19th. Arrived Valparaiso.
January 20th.1868 Left Valparaiso for Iquque.
March 17th. Left Iquque for Europe.
July 19th. Arrived Falmouth.
July 22nd. Left Falmouth for Altonia and Hamburg.
September 13th. Arrived Pembrey.
September. Vessel surveyed.
October 12th. Left Llanelly for Cadiz and Montevideo.
The "Ellen" during this period was manned by a crew of 8, the master was John Randell age 26, and included in the crew was his younger brother Francis William Randell age 16, who was paid one pound and ten shillings per month. One final detail of the crew signing on agreement is worthy of note, it was that the diet of the crew should include 1lb. bread per day, 1/2lb. beef on alternate days and on other days 1/4lb. pork, 1/2lb. flour on alternate days and 3qts. of water daily. There was also a ration of 2 ozs. sugar and 1/2 oz. of tea or coffee. Spirits alas were completely banned.
John Randell gained his Masters Certificate (No. 23919, South Shields) in 1864. Until he retired about 1885 he was master of or owner of many ships. Probably his most notable voyage, was, while master of the "William Bowen" he rescued the crew of an American vessel the "Hudson". For this he was highly commended and presented with a gold chronometer watch and chain with anchor pendant by the President Garfield of the United States of America.
The citation stated that on January 7th. 1878 in lat. 47.33 N and long. 10.15 W Capt. John Randell sighted a ship which indicated by signals that she was sinking. He bore down on the ship which was the "Hudson" of New York. There was a strong gale and a heavy sea and the master of the "Hudson" requested him to lie by as he was intending to abandon his vessel. The "Hudson" was at that time settling down fast by the head having been seriously damaged. Captain Randell endeavoured to use the long boat which was however stove in. He took 5 men from the pinnace of the "Hudson", 15 others from the lifeboat and subsequently the reminder of the crew, 33 men in all were rescued, much peril was encountered in consequence of the heavy sea. Having rescued the whole crew, Captain Randell proceeded on his voyage and landed the distressed men at Madeira a fortnight afterwards.
John Randell in later life moved to Swansea where he became a Ships Broker, Marine Surveyor and Nautical Assessor. His company "Randell & Co." was listed as being Coal Exporters and Commision Agents. They were shipping agents for The Somerset Dorset Railway Co.'s Steamers, Great Mountain Collieries and proprietors of the Mynachty Colliery in Ynysbwl near Pontypridd.
John Randell died at his home in Swansea 8th. Jan. 1909.
The Randell family represented but one of the many families of Kidwelly, Pembrey , Burry Port. and the Carmarthen area who were engaged in the coastal trade of those years and who made such a significant contribution to the industrial development of South Wales.
In composing this modest account of the sailing history from 1797 to 1910, of part of the Randell family, due acknowledgement must be paid to Dr.R.Craig, Marine Historian who has researched and provided much of the detail shown, indeed without his help it probably would not have been possible.
Brian Randell, 27 Aug 2001