Author Topic: Thomas Waghorn  (Read 4538 times)

Offline stuartwaters

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Re: Thomas Waghorn
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2023, 08:36:54 AM »
This is excellent stuff, thank you so much for putting it on here. This is the kind of stuff the Forum is crying out for. Thank you.
"I did not say the French would not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Admiral Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent.

Offline Stewie

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Thomas Waghorn
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2023, 07:07:02 AM »
I wrote the following article for a members presentations evening to the Chatham Historic Society. Constructed from multiple sources available on the internet I actually found this to be quiet an interesting story and gives some background to one of Chatham's famous sons:

Thomas Fletcher Waghorn

Thomas Fletcher Waghorn was born on Chatham naval base, on 20th June 1800 and was baptised at St Mary Church (on Dock Road) on 16th July 1800. His father also named Thomas, was a butcher who supplied meat to the navy and had married Thomas’ mother Ann (nee Goodhugh), at All Saints church in Snodland on 28th July 1794.

Thomas joined the Royal Navy aged 12 in Chatham in November 1812 as a midshipman on HMS Bahama which had originally been a Spanish 74 gun ship captured at the battle Trafalgar. In its new role, the Bahama was being used to house prisoners of war and was anchored on the river Medway. In 1813, he transferred to HMS Tigris which was a newly built 36 gun frigate (originally as HMS Forth) and stayed with this ship until 1817 when the navy was slimmed down following the cessation of hostilities with France. By all accounts he was a big man and possessed tremendous energy, courage, a stubborn honesty of purpose, a handsome appearance and a forceful personality that commanded attention. He was hindered by a lack of formal education and a reportedly disjointed and exaggerated way of arguing his case. He explained this away stating "I am a plain blunt fellow”.

In 1818 aged 18, Thomas left England, taking the position of third mate on the ‘Thalia’, a merchant ship, sailing to Calcutta, where he settled on arrival. Joining the Bengal Pilot service of the East India Company in 1819 he piloted ships from the Bay of Bengal along the Hooghly River to Calcutta. Thomas has obviously set down roots in India and on 11 June 1822 he married Elizabeth Bartlett at St John’s Cathedral, Calcutta.
Temporarily re-joining the navy in 1824, Thomas fought in the First Burmese war which was a costly conflict in terms of both money and casualties between the Burmese and British empires over control of North Eastern India. During this period he commanded an East India company cutter called ‘Matchless’. The war ended with a British victory in 1826, however he had suffered with bouts of sickness during the conflict and this led him to go on furlough in 1827. Regaining his health, he returned to his career in the Bengal Pilot service and began to take an interest in establishing a steamship route from England to India and the East, being inspired by the journey from England of the paddle steamer Enterprise in 1825 a ship he would later pilot on the Hooghly River at Calcutta.

In 1824 a group of Indian merchants headed by Lord Amhurst offered a prize of 20,000 rupees for the first steamship to complete a voyage from Great Britain to India in 70 days. Taking up the challenge, a syndicate headed by Lieutenant J.H. Johnston bought the Deptford built wooden paddle steamer ‘Enterprise’. The Enterprise sailed from Falmouth on 16th August 1825 under command of Captain Johnston with 17 passengers on board and 85 days later she reached Cape Town (only 35 days under steam). She reached Calcutta on 7th December 1825, 113 days after leaving Falmouth and although not achieving the passage time stipulated, the journey time was considered impressive enough to warrant her owners receiving half the prize money. The ship was later sold to the government of Bengal for £40,000 and subsequently passed to the government of Bombay for the Suez to Bombay mail service.
Thomas continued to champion the idea of a steam ship route between England and India in speeches and pamphlets and in 1827 demonstrated a plan for the use of steamships on the Cape Town route to the Bengal Steam Fund, a group of merchants interested in the advantages of a steamship service between England and India. These merchants paid Waghorn £10,000 and asked him to go to London and try to persuade the government to accept the idea. On arrival in England in April 1828 however, he found that postal rates to India, were set by an Act of Parliament and could not be changed and because for his own plan to make a profit needed higher rates, the sea route via Cape Town was not feasible. Remaining in England, in 1829 he was commissioned by Lord Ellenborough of the East India Company to test the feasibility of an overland route from England to India via Egypt carrying dispatches for the governor of Bombay by the way of Suez. Thomas was tasked with both surveying and completing the journey to India in 90 days. As part of the arrangement, the paddle steamer "Enterprise" would be waiting for him in Suez on the 8th December to take him on to India. What Thomas did not know was that the Enterprise had been charted by another syndicate and their representative, a Mr. James Taylor, would also be catching the paddle steamer at Suez!

The overland route was not a new idea and had been used before as a trade route connecting the Mediterranean and Red Sea ports until 1498, when Vasco da Gama found a sea route to India. After 1498, it was virtually abandoned, and by the end of the 18th century was largely forgotten.
The details of the journey sounds like something straight from the pages of Phileas Fogg. On 28th October 1829, Thomas left London by an Eagle stage coach and crossed the English Channel by steamer. On reaching Paris he learnt that the Simplon Pass between Switzerland and Italy was closed due to heavy snowfall. He chose instead to travel by coach using the more southerly route via Mount Cenis on the French / Italian border to Trieste on the Adriatic coast in north east Italy. Arriving in Trietse in just nine days after leaving London, he delivered a copy of the London Times to the British Consul in Trieste.
The next part of the voyage was down the Adriatic and into the Mediterranean to Alexandria in Egypt, his initial choice of an Austrian ship came to nothing so catching a Spanish ship instead Thomas reached Egypt after 16 long days at sea sailing into headwinds. From Alexandria, Thomas took a two day 40 mile donkey ride to the Nile river at Rosetta where after meeting the British Consul (and agent for the East India Company), he continued on a Nile river boat to Cairo. This part of the journey also had its problems when the boat ran aground and Thomas abandoned the boat and reached Cairo on another donkey.

In Cairo, Thomas had an audience with Muhammad Ali the viceroy of Egypt (later to become the Pasha) who was at the time one of the strongest rulers in the Ottoman Empire, and he immediately saw the value to Egypt in the restoring the overland route and issued a "firman" (a permit of safe conduct) through Egypt. Armed with this Thomas made the 86 mile journey from Cairo to Suez by camel in three days arriving there on December 5.
The paddle steamer Enterprise had not arrived in Suez, so Thomas charted an open boat which took him 620 miles down the Red Sea to Jeddah in search of the missing steamer only to discover that it was in fact stranded in India with engine troubles. After the stress of the journey, Thomas was struck down with a fever and after resting for six weeks eventually reached Bombay on 21st March 1830 aboard the sailing-vessel ‘Thetis’. Reputedly whilst aboard this ship he met his rival James Taylor who had also been delayed.
The total journey time from London to Bombay had taken four months and 21 days. It was a still faster than the sea route via the Cape of Good Hope but it was still a lot longer than the 90 days he had said was possible, and the East India Company lost interest in the overland route as a viable alternative and ordered him back to the Bengal Pilot service.

Undaunted by this setback to his plans, in 1831 Thomas resigned his role with East India Company and once again joined the Royal Navy serving aboard the wooden paddle steamers HMS African and HMS Firebrand in the Mediterranean. This appointment gave him first-hand experience in the workings of steamships in the Mediterranean although this commission only lasted until the 10th November 1832 when he was paid off.
Thomas once again undertook an experimental journey to India via Egypt but again delays beset him and with a journey time of four and a half months, the response was lukewarm. However, on his return journey he once again met up with Muhammad Ali now the Pasha of Egypt and he assisted Thomas in setting up a safe route from Cairo through the desert to the Red Sea.
1834 was to be a significant year in Thomas’ life, on the 8th March His wife died in Calcutta, and returning to England he addressed a select committee in London on steam navigation via Egypt. In December the same year, he re married this time to Harriet Martin daughter of the miller at Snodland and around the same time he inherited a substantial amount from his late grandfather. This new found wealth enabled the newlyweds to build a house in Snodland and also gave him the resources to set up his business venture transporting mails and passenger to India and the East via Egypt.

Thomas went to Egypt and set himself up as an independent agent for transporting mails, goods and passengers from England, via Alexandria, Cairo and Suez to India, with his business registered at Cornhill in the City of London. "Without," as he wrote, "official recommendation, and with a sort of official stigma on my sanity." In his first year of operations, 275 passengers used his service, ten years later this number would rise to more than 3000. In practice. the 90-day trip to England, for either mail or passengers, was now commonplace, thanks largely to the speed of the vital overland link through Egypt and the service was so well organised that the Post Office was obliged to officially recognise it as the fastest and safest way to send mail to India. On the 7th of March, 1835, the overland route was authorised to handle the English mails.
The impact of the traffic generated by this new route for Egypt was enormous. A luxurious hotel was opened in Cairo and others were opened in Alexandria and Suez to cater to the new trade. As the business became established it expanded by supplying guides, river-boats, horses and carriages for travellers and sight-seeing tours in Egypt were organized by a certain Mr. Thomas Cook. Muhammad Ali's international reputation was enhanced and Egypt again became an important player in world politics.
At the moment of his success, rivals had begun to contest Thomas’ monopoly of this route with two Englishmen named Hill and Raven backed by investors in India, operating a competing service together with new hotels and were soon were cutting into his business. This competition resulted in a merger between the two companies under the name of J. R. Hill and Co. Following on from this, the East India Company took an interest in the operation and backed a rival company, the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Co, better known today as P & O. A result of this was that by 1840 steamships were soon carrying mail running on regular schedules between Southampton and Alexandria and by 1844 from Suez to India. By the 1850s with the advent of steam ships, railways and Nile steam boats, the journey between England and India was reduced to around 35-40 days instead of the initial three months.
The final blow to Thomas’ operation came in 1841, when his stock of 300 horses in Egypt was mostly destroyed by a plague. The Pasha, Muhammad Ali, bought out J. R. Hill and Co. and put the future development of the Overland Route into the hands of a government department called the Egyptian Transit Company.
After his service in the navy, Thomas had felt that rank of Lieutenant would aid him in his efforts in India and so from 1832 to 1842 he had repeatedly asked to be granted this. Finally on the 23rd of March 1842, he was given the honorary rank of Lieutenant for his efforts in establishing the overland route, by the Admiralty.
With his focus no longer on the Egypt, Thomas’ turned his attention to speeding the mails through Europe, in particular trying a journey via Austria and Trieste to avoid the normal French route (which sometimes had problems). The growing railway system was providing new opportunities for faster travel and Thomas’ experiments were largely successful in that they were faster by up to two days, however this activity was to bring about his downfall. The British government had promised to reimburse his costs in making these trials, but failed to do so, leaving him in debt (by his own account) of £5000. A late pension of £100 by the East India Company and the proceeds of a public testimonial did little to alleviate these debts. In his last years Thomas was also promoting the extension of steam routes to the Far East and Australia. It is interesting that his brother Edward and sisters Ann and Sarah all emigrated there.
After all of the setbacks, Thomas became disillusioned with his pet project and after a brief holiday in Malta he returned to his house in Islington, where he died on 7 January 1850 aged 49, he was buried at All Saints church in Snodland, on the 14th January. His grave may be found outside the Vestry door, near many of his relatives. A memorial to him is on the south wall of the nave. His wife Harriet passed away 4 years later and was buried with him.
Thomas Waghorn’s legacy was that he had achieved his aspiration of establishing the overland route and this continued to be used until being superseded partly by a rail link between Cairo and Suez in 1858 and then finally by the Suez Canal in 1869.
Memorials
There are a number of memorials to Thomas Waghorn and his career. Perhaps the most relevant are:
A contemporary example would have been letters which used the service and were stamped "The Overland Route c/o Mr. Waghorn," of which there are possibly about 121 still in existence and have to become sought after by stamp collectors around the world.
Thomas has a portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London painted by Sir George Hayter
engraved about 1847.
There was a large bronze bust of Thomas Waghorn overlooking the mouth of the Suez Canal at the port of Tewfik (now Suez). This was installed in 1859 by Ferdinand de Lesseps, developer of the Suez Canal but was destroyed around 1956 as part of the anti-British feeling in Egypt due to the Suez Crisis.
A large bronze statue was erected in Railway Street, Chatham and was designed to show him explaining the advantages of his overland route to India, one hand pointing to the East, and the other directed to a map spread out on his knee. On the pedestal a map showing the overland route from Great Britain to India. The statue was unveiled on 10 August 1888 by the Earl of Northbrook who was a former viceroy to India and had carried out a special commission in Egypt on behalf of the British government.
The statue’s extending arm actually points to the North and this is because the statue was originally intended to be placed at a different location in Victoria Gardens roughly opposite Hammond Hill. However, both the Chatham council and local traders preferred the site near to Gibraltar Hill as this would be seen by many visitors to the town arriving by train. This statue is traditionally decorated by members of the local populace with an orange traffic cone and has become a famous local landmark on the strength of this!
The Thomas Waghorn public house commemorates Thomas and like most Wetherspoons public houses has some information about him within the building. The public house occupies the former Chatham Post Office which also gives a neat connection between the two!

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