hartlepool history logo

Roll of Honour

Hartlepool seafarers lost at sea

Fergus, Ralph

95, Dent Street, West Hartlepool
West Hartlepool

Lost on the Boarding Vessel HMS Char (formerly the N.E.R. steam tug Stranton).

The following short family history has been compiled from information kindly received from P. Janet Clark-Gardiner, Susan Scott, Gillian Smith and other members of the Fergus and Rowley families:

The earliest information we have on the Fergus family is the marriage of Thomas Fergus to Sarah Breckon on the 13th February, 1777 in Whitby. Thomas and Sarah had a son, John, born on 3rd April, 1778 in Whitby.
John married Elizabeth Gatenby in Danby on the 7th August, 1804. They had 7 children, including Ralph (born 1807), Ann (born 1813), and John (born May 12th, 1823 in Whitby).

John Fergus (1823), married Elizabeth Hewison in 1856. They had a son Ralph born in 1857 and then James Clarkson Fergus born in 1858.
James Clarkson (an iron shipwright), married Betsey Adamson (formerly Harvey) on the 24th February 1879 in Whitby. Their son Ralph was born not long after they married, and his birth was registered in the June quarter of 1879.

Census records show that between 1881 and 1891 the Fergus family lived in Church Street, Whitby, but by 1901 had moved to Blandford Street, in Throston, the Hartlepools.
There was a curious article in the Whitby Gazette dated November 21st, 1901, in which it was reported that “Mr. Ralph Fergus, seaman, eldest son of Mrs. James Clarkson Fergus, riveter of 67, Blandford Street, East Hartlepool, and late of the Imperial Hotel, Whitby, had died of a fever aged 22 years at Santos, Brazil, South America.” Clearly this was not the case, as in 1906 Ralph, aged 27, married Ada Rowley from West Hartlepool, whose father, Watson Rowley was a Guard on the railway. Watson would eventually marry three times, and was father to twenty children and five step-children.

Ralph and Ada had two sons, Ralph Clarkson Fergus, Edward Watson Fergus, and also a stepson, John William Rowley, by Ada from a previous relationship. 
Ralph Clarkson Fergus, born on September 28th,, 1906, clearly had the sea in his blood as he went on to have a career as a Navigation Officer in the Merchant Navy. He died in Colchester in 1977.
Edward Watson Fergus was born on the 27th of September 1907, but died relatively young on the 21st of January 1928, and was buried at Seaton Carew.
John William Rowley, born in 1901, died at Gateshead in 1938.

By 1911, Ralph, Ada and the three boys were living at No.91 Dent Street, but by 1915 they had moved a few doors down and were now living at No.95.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Ralph was serving as Mate on the North Eastern Railway tug Stranton, based in the Hartlepools. The Stranton was quickly requisitioned by the Admiralty and renamed HMS Char. In order to stay with their vessel, Fergus and the other seven members of the crew all volunteered to enrol in the Royal Navy, with Fergus now having the rank of Petty Officer.

As a Patrol and Inspection vessel, HMS Char operated in the Downs off the Kent coast. On the 16th of January, 1915, in a strong gale and heavy seas, she foundered following a collision with the Belgian steam tanker Frivan. All sixteen crew were lost, including Ralph and his seven Stranton crewmates.
Ralph left £102-3s-8d to Ada in his Will.

The following appeared in the N.E.R.'s Magazine shortly after the loss of the vessel: [Ralph Fergus] “Joined the N.E.R. (North Eastern Railways), in 1906, as a dock gateman, and was made mate of the Stranton a few months later. He was a most reliable man and acted as tug master for several years whenever relief was required for the regular men. He leaves a widow and two sons, aged seven and eight respectively.”

Ada married again, in 1916, to William Lodge, a widower from Felling on Tyne with three children. William was a steel worker living at 'Ivanhoe', Windermere Road, West Hartlepool.
At one time Ada owned property in Berwick Street, West Hartlepool and is known at some point to have lived in Owton Manor Lane in a bungalow called ‘The Laurels’, where she bred budgerigars.

Her son, Ralph Clarkson Fergus, lived next door with his wife Winifred Noddings, in a bungalow called Fernod. Ralph and Winifred moved to Harwich, Essex, when he became Captain of the ferry “Prince of Wales”, running between Harwich and The Hague. It is believed they had a daughter, Margaret.

Ada died on October 26th, 1948 at No.46 Kings Road, Harwich, and left her son Ralph £40-12s-6d in her Will.



Related items :