Thursday, 16 August 2012

The City of Ragusa

A few years ago, I got my hands on "A Speck on the sea" by William H Longyard; a book of sea crossing accounts that have occurred over the past 400 years; particularly voyages made in tiny crafts.  Anyway.... I was captivated by a particular story; the story of a vessel called 'The City of Ragusa' - which sailed from Liverpool to New York in 1871 and back in 1872 (Primoraz & Hayter); piloted by Captain John Buckley, and his mate Nicholas Primoraz (who possibly financed the voyage) who was also known as Nicholas Di Costa; the reason for the name change is not really known, but Longyard assumed that it was to do with the political turmoil in Primoraz's homeland of Croatia, at least that's what the area is known as now. Being a resident of Birkenhead; and interested in Maritime history; I decided to get on the case.  

Edward T.W Hayter (left) and Primoraz(right) The dog that travelled on the outbound trip, was a Labrador; which died en route. This is obviously bull terrier type breed; possibly an Irish staff' 

The " Ragusa " had been a life-boat, and was refitted by an active seaman, whose days had been passed fighting in the Indian wars, and to whom quiet retirement was punishment. The boat measured only twenty-one feet in length, and three feet six inches in width; her build was "lap-streak," and the only alteration made in her for the ocean passage was the addition of a yawl-rig, and a deck running from stem to stern. She had been on the water eighty days, having left Liverpool June 1st, and safely ridden through a terrific storm in which many large ships were sunk. Her quarter-inch planks withstood seas which crushed in the thick iron-plates of a mail steamer, and her miniature compass unerringly guided her to the desired port. Extremes of heat and cold caused a leakage once, but this was ingeniously mended with soap. Heavy seas deluged her and almost swamped her, but by skill and courage Captain Buckley and his mate, Nicholas Primoraz, (and their dog) won the laurels of a most wonderful undertaking. Primoraz, crossed the Atlantic again the following year, with a New Zealander, by the name of Edward T.W Hayter,making the passage from New York to Liverpool in thirty days. 

 I wanted to know what became of the vessel- in 'A speck on the sea' - Longyard  reported that it was put on display at the Royal Rock hotel in Rock Ferry, but another report stated that it was used on Birkenhead park's lake as an attraction, where it eventually rotted, and sank;  so I wrote into my local newspaper (my letter to the globe) - but that fell on deaf ears. This line of enquiry essentially came to an end. I was not surprised, as the Wirral Globe, and the Wallasey News; are shocking publications on all levels in my opinion. 

A few years went by, and I was at college in Liverpool; and with an abundance of 'time to burn' - I decided to contact William Longyard to let him know that I was on the case again (after previously notifying him I was digging for information). I had found a snippet of information on google (shame) about what actually became of Primoraz. So I headed over to the  Liverpool library archives, on a grey miserable Thursday, in January 2012, and spent a few hours trawling through news reels from well over a hundred years ago.  Here's what I unearthed.


A strange scene was witnessed yesterday in Duke-street shortly after noon yesterday. Nicholas Primorz, a tobacconist and stationer residing at 56 in that thoroughfare, was seen walking about there with gun in his hand, shooting recklessly at the persons who passed along. He fired three times, but fortunately, only shot a dog, which fell down wounded. He then went into his shop, brought a dagger out, and knelt down as if to prey, after which he went to his house again, returning with an axe. Two police officers were attracted to the spot, and as he was in the act of flourishing the the axe, they seized him from behind and took him to the Main Bridewell, where it was found that his mind was affected. It appears from another account, that he shot at a man on the corner of York Street, and Duke Street, who narrowly escaped being hit.  It is said that unfortunate person who caused all this consternation is the individual who came from New York some time ago in an open boat- the Ragusa- with a dog as his only companion. Attention was first directed to the extraordinary  conduct of Primoraz by two little children ran up Duke street crying, and exclaiming "There's a man going to shoot everybody." The man was removed during the course of the day to the Liverpool workhouse asylum.   

Newspaper:   Liverpool Daily Courier
Date: 27th December 1878

The second one I found was a carbon copy of the first but with the following added to the end of it....


...He shot at the man  on the corner of York street and Duke-street, and the man says he does not know how he escaped. this same man is now in possession of the shop, whilst the prisoner is being conveyed to  Bridewell. The dog was shot in the mouth, but does not appear to be dead yet. Great consternation was caused amongst the pedestrians going up Duke-street, and the people were highly satisfied when the man was cleverly secured by the two policemen. The prisoner came from New York some time ago in an open boat- the Ragusa- with the dog as the only "passenger"

Newspaper: Liverpool Albion
Date: Friday 27th December 1878

They failed to mention that he actually went to New York from Liverpool in the first place, and the boat was actually called "The City of Ragusa", not "Ragusa" - so how plausible the actual account is remains questionable. Shoddy journalism is plentiful in today's Liverpool Echo reports; so it wouldn't be the acme of foolishness to presume that reporting back could have been similarly poor. 

The third and final article I found was a little upsetting; for me personally as a bit of an animal lover. 


Yesterday forenoon, the inhabitants in the neighbourhood immediately adjoining the sailor's home, were rather startled by seeing a man rushing  about the streets with a loaded firearm, evidently intent upon shooting someone. His name was found to be Nicholas Primoraz, tobacconist and stationer, carrying on business at 56 Duke-street, and with considerable difficulty he was secured and locked up.  As he is evidently out of his mind, he will be taken  to a lunatic asylum. Primoraz is the man who a few years ago sailed across the Atlantic in a tiny boat named the City of Ragusa, his only companion being the dog. This dog yesterday attempted to bite a police constable who snatched a pistol from its master and was afterwards shot with the same weapon .The faithful animal was not killed by the shot, but was afterwards drowned at the Jordan street pinfold. 

Newspaper: Liverpool Mercury
Date 27th December 1878

I was saddened when I read the last article; knowing the eventual fate of Primoraz; a work asylum. One can only imagine how his life ended, and in what barbaric circumstances(There is a registered death of a Nicola Primoraz, age 43, in 1886)  His loyal companion, the dog, pictured above, obviously defending his owner from the police officers' advances, loyal to the end; getting shot, and then brutally drowned!  I had thought of investigating where Primoraz ended up, but this is where my amateur interest had got me, and I wasn't going any further. I remember at the time being overcome with emotions at what I'd found. I felt a little guilty as well...kind of like I was one of them pathetic anorak sporting trainspotters, buzzing off something so trivial.  It was special though, because I was probably the only person alive at that point in time, who knew the fate of Nicholas Primoraz, and his dog- anyone else with that knowledge was probably long dead. I thought it would have been amazing if I was an out and out narcissist. I guess now that I've put this on the internet, more people are going to know; and I'm glad that I've been able to unearth a small piece of the puzzle; of an event that happened over 130 years ago.  I can definitely see how a career in history, and research could be rewarding; but- at the same time, how much of the time is spent reading through none relevant stuff? I was sitting there for hours reading tonnes of brutal stories- multitudes of suicides, acid baths, strangled babies, to name a few stories.   I found my stint as a Maritime Research assistant thoroughly rewarding, and I feel lucky to have been involved with it. As with many stories from the past, questions will always remain. What happened to City of Ragusa? Did it end up sinking at Birkenhead park? What became of Nicholas Primoraz? What became of Captain John Charles Buckley? Why didn't he come back Liverpool on the return journey?  Why did the man that Primoraz was shooting at take over his shop when he was incarcerated ? Why did they drown the dog?    I'm guessing that we'll never know.  

Sincerest thanks go out to William Longyard and Mr Nenad Goll

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ten 'nautical' Songs

Here's my list, in no particular order; of my favourite  maritime or nautical; if you like, related that, I mean there's some sort of literal link within the songs gist.   Don't worry; I've omitted Crosby, Stills, and Nash from the selection as well as Rod fucking Stewart AND Enya in the spirit of not being an obvious tool.

 Styx. I love this song; and if I'm ever in the vicinity of  alcohol, and a guitar, I usually play it. It sounds abysmal when I do it, obviously, as you need a piano really.....

The Doors, Ship of fools....I could have maybe put 'land ho' but, I like this song a little more...

 Sloop John B, While I've posted the Beach Boys version, I do prefer the Kingston Trio's version, but they'll be appearing later in this list, and quite frankly, I think that Brian Wilson is a genius! I went to see him in Liverpool a few years ago, and he was laden with session musicians. I'm not sure if it was awesome, but I am sure that Pet Sounds is one of the greatest records- ever. 

 Ship to Shore- Chris De Burgh. I know what you're thinking. Just click play, and try and block out the abysmal 80's synth sound; it's a decent song, promise. 

Reuben James by The Kingston Trio- I love a good story song. This song pays tribute to the men who lost their lives aboard the USS Reuben James(U-boat casualty). I did want to post "Oh, sail away" by the Kingston Trio, but there's not a suitable version, that I can find, and the lyrics are a little bit questionable, by today's ultra PC standards.

  Luka Bloom - My sunny sailor boy.  Some of Luka's music is amazing, he's also got a fair chunk of abysmal shit released. If you can sift through the shit stuff, he's a worthwhile artist to follow.  

Split Enz - Six months in a leaky boat, by default, any music project with Neil Finn involved is amazing, or at least, that's what I think. 

Surely no Nautical 'mix tape',  would be complete with out a Jimmy Buffet song? Changes in Latitude

Shadows Fall - The Coral = This is the EP version.

God Knows - The Coral - "We go out, we come in, but god knows where we've been" Taken from their second EP 'The oldest path'  

That's it. My top ten nautical or maritime themed songs, in no particular order. I hope it has bored you as much as compiling it bored me.