Captain Arthur HOWELL
Born: Pembroke, Wales,1890; died 18 November 1918, Wellington, New Zealand; buried 19 November 1918.
The SS Port Alma berthed at Wellington on the 27 October 1918. She had, according to a later report in the local (Wellington) daily newspaper “Evening Post”, “been loading on the New Zealand coast for Home”. The following morning she was berthed at the Glasgow wharf. Shortly afterwards several of the crew were taken ill with influenza. Amongst those so affected was the Acting Master, a young man of 28, by the name of Arthur HOWELL.
"The surname Howell is the anglicised form of the Welsh patrynomic name Hywel. It is quite a common name in Wales, although it is predominantly found on the south coast. It is from the same root as the following Welsh surnames: Hywel, Howells and Powell (ap Howell)."
When Arthur's condition declined he was transferred to the SS Takapuna which was berthed nearby which had been set up as a temporary hospital to care for the many seaman who had become ill while their ships were in Wellington.
On the 18th November Arthur died, with pneumonia supervening[i] the influenza infection.
When the 10-year Census was taken in the UK in 1891 Arthur was four months old and living with his parents James and Mary Ann Howell and nine older siblings in Harcourt Terrace, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales. The nearby town of Pembroke Dock was founded in 1814 when the Royal Navy Dockyard was established. On 10 February 1816 the first two ships were launched and it continued as a naval dockyard until it was deemed redundant to Admiralty needs and closed in 1925.
In 1891 Arthur’s father, and his two oldest brothers Howard and Thomas (aged 16 and 14 respectively) were all employed at the dockyard. James was a ship’s joiner, Howard was a fitter’s assistant, and Thomas a joiner’s apprentice. Two doors away there was another Howell family and the father was employed as a shipwright. Harcourt Terrace is in an area of terrace housing about 3 miles (c. 4.5 kms) from the dockyard.
Arthur was baptised on 22 December 1890 at nearby St Michael’s Anglican church, which has medieval origins and has been a Grade II listed building since 1951.
In 1901, when the next Census was taken, Mary Ann was recorded as Head of the household, and there were four siblings younger than Arthur. The family was living in the same area, and obviously James was absent for some reason on the night the Census was taken. However, in 1911 he is once again present with his family living still in the same area. Arthur is not included as a family member in the 1911 Census. He had been apprenticed to a George Dodd in 1906, and served the whole of his apprenticeship on the SS Don Diego, owned by the Buenos Ayres and Pacific Railway Co. Ltd. ,[i] By 1911, now aged 21, he would have been at sea for several years. There were altogether 14 children born to James and Mary Ann, and by the time of the 1911 Census, two had died.
Before becoming Acting Master of the SS Port Alma Arthur had served for several years in “Indra” ships. The Indra Line was founded in 1901 by Thomas B Royden & Co. which started as a shipbuilding company in Liverpool in 1800. Their main routes were to New York and the Far East. One of their fleet, the Indralema was built in 1901 and in 1914 it was transferred to the Commonwealth & Dominion Line and renamed 'Port Alma' in 1916. The Commonwealth & Dominion Line / Port Line was formed in 1914 with 23 ships contributed by J. P. Corry & Co, Wm. Milburn & Co, Thos. B. Royden & Co and Tyser & Co. to operate services to Australia and New Zealand. In 1916 the share capital of the company was purchased by Cunard.
Arthur had been serving on the Port Adelaide (formerly the Indrapura), another of the Commonwealth & Dominion Line / Port Line ships in 1917 when it was struck by a torpedo in the Atlantic on 3 December 1917 in the approaches to the English Channel.
“SS Port Adelaide was 8,181grt and a defensively-armed British merchantship. She was built as the INDRAPURA in 1911. On the 3rd February 1917 when 180 miles SW from Fastnet, Ireland she was torpedoed without warning and sunk by a submarine. Master made prisoner and there were no casualties.”
Arthur survived this incident and transferred sometime in the next 11 months to the Port Alma.
Arthur’s funeral took place on 19 November, the day after he died. He was one of 63 people buried in Karori Cemetery that day. His funeral consisted of pallbearers from ship’s company, and representatives of head office and agents.
The report of 20 November in the Dominion described the funeral:
“The pallbearers were of the ship's company. Messrs. Perry and Miller represented the head office staff, and Mr. A. Kitching Messrs. Bannatyne and Co., the local agents. Other shipping companies were also represented. The late Captain Howell, who was a single man, about 30 years of age, leaves a mother and sister in South Wales”
His fine tombstone in the Anglican section of the cemetery was erected by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line, and includes the following poignant verse, presumably requested by Arthur’s mother:
And now he is sleeping his last long sleep
And his grave I may never see
But some gentle hand in that distant land may scatter some flowers for me
And some tender heart may shed a tear for a mother in anguish sore
For the life so fair that hath ended there away on that distant shore.
After nearly 100 years, this verse captures the ethos of the 1918 Influenza Project, remembering those who died, some of them very far from home and unlikely to be visited or tended to by family and descendants. In Arthur's case, however, it is known by descendants of his wider family that he was buried in Karori Cemetery, and some have been able to visit over the years. His nephew, Glynn Howell, also a mariner, has traced telegrams and letters from friends in Wellington sent to Arthur's mother at the time of his death
On 20 November this notice appeared in the shipping information in the Dominion newspaper, signalling the prospect of the Port Alma continuing with it's trade, leaving it's young Acting Master and several crew to rest forever at Karori:
Research conducted by John Boyd
[i] Buenos Ayres & Pacific Railway Co.; 1906; J. Readhead & Sons; 3,632 tons; 350x50-1x23-2; 326 n.h.p.; triple-expansion engines.
The British ship Don Diego was intercepted by a German submarine on May 21st, 1917, 40 miles east by south of Linosa. The ship was shelled and sunk, and five of the crew were killed.
[ii] occur as an interruption or change to an existing situation.
The four photos above are courtesy of Captain Glyn Howell, nephew of Arthur Howell.