Captain William Clay - Lower Town

The Clay family of Lower Town were mariners for a number of generations.

William Clay born in 1826, was the son of William Clay and Elizabeth David(ies), both of the town. William was born on 21st October 1826 – it was likely that at this time, his father, also William, was away at sea as his parents did not marry until 25th December 1826.

When just three years old his mother died, Elizabeth herself was only 23 years old and so with his father away at sea, it is possible he was raised by his grandparents, (his grandfather was another William Clay!!). His father married again in 1833 and raised a second family but of course young William was at sea by the time he was twelve years old and so would have spent little time with his half siblings.

Unfortunately there are no records of his early years at sea. His marriage certificate in 1848 when he married local girl, Margaret Evans, daughter of James Evans, a tailor in the town, recorded him as being a mariner.  In 1851, he was awarded his Mate’s Certificate and this recorded that he had served as apprentice, seaman and mate for 13 years in the British Merchant Service in the coastal and foreign trade.

Certificates of competency were not compulsory until 1850 and anyone already serving at that time was issued with a certificate based on their experience. However, in order for William to become a Master Mariner (ie Captain) he would have being required to undergo formal examination by the Board of Trade. This he did, in 1855 and as part of his evidence of suitability he was required to provide a Master Mariner’s Logbook which showed his knowledge and capabilities.  His Master Mariner’s logbook has survived and more information about it can be found at William Clay’s logbook

The only census in which William appears is that of 1871. His wife and children are recorded on the 1851 and 1861 census but presumably William was at sea at the time the information was collected.

In April 1871, William, his wife Margaret and their two youngest children were living in Vergam, Fishguard.  Sadly, only six months later, in November 1871, William and his crew were lost at sea. William was just 46 years old. His ship, the SS Esperanza had left Swansea for a voyage to Montreal and was last heard of on the 11th November 1871.

The SS Esperanza was a sailing ship of 538 tons which was first registered at Prince Edward Island in 1868 – so it was quite a new ship. The photograph above is believed to be the only known image of the vessel.

Margaret, the widow of William continued to live in Fishguard until her death in 1908 at the age of 81 years – at the time of her death she was living in Lewis Terrace.


With thanks to Charles MacKay, the great great grandson of William Clay, who kindly gave us William’s Master Mariners Logbook which helped to tell the story of this son of Lower Town.

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