Captain John Charles Barron Jarvis (1857-1935)

Captain John Charles Barron Jarvis was a Scottish Sea Captain and inventor of improvements to rigging and sails, among which a brace winch which bears his name. Captain Jarvis came from a sea-faring family and he first went to sea on the barque Grecian under command of his father Captain David Jarvis. He was considered a superb seaman and was given his first command already at the early age of 23 years.

Although the brace winch invented by Capt. Jarvis proved highly successful, it was seldom installed on British ships. Instead its value as a labour reducing device was recognised by the Germans. F. Laeisz tried the Jarvis winch on the full-rigged ship Preussen in 1897 and based on their satisfaction with the trial, the rest of the fleet was equipped with winches. The Bullivant Company, London, manufactured these winches for the British Isles. F.C.W. Wetzel (Wetzel & Freytag from 1902) had the licence to manufacture and sell the winches in Germany. However, due to a flaw in the contract with the German manufacturer no royalties were ever paid to Captain Jarvis.

The Jarvis' brace which was not only a labour saving device, it also improved the safety of the men who had to handle the braces by bringing them in from the sides of the ship to the safety of the middle of the vessel.

The following accident illustrates how a ship could be manoeuvred in an emergency with a minimal number of men with the help of Jarvis' brace winch.

One night when the Lawhill was off New York the third mate fell overboard; the bosun and one man backed the main mainyard whilst the rest of the crew got a boat over, and he was picked up in a very short time. Other inventions made by Captain Jarvis are the patent leech lines which checked the sails when furling so that they would not blow back and the sail furling gaskets secured to double jackstays.

Capt. Jarvis also took a great interest in the eductation of the apprentices onboard his ships. In 1883 he was awarded a handsome bonus for bringing the 368 emigrants on board the Cicero safe and sound from England to Port Adelaide.

In 1883 Captain Jarvis arrived to Adelaide in the fullrigged ship Cicero. When he had finished his business in Port Adelaide he sailed to Newcastle, NSA, where he married. The family of the bride had emigrated from Cowdenbeath, Fife, several years before and travelled on the Earl Dalhousie commanded by Captain David Jarvis and on which John Jarvis had served as second mate. Mary Baxter was at the time not much more than a child, but already at the time John Jarvis made up his mind that he should once marry the girl. During his visit to Newcastle John Jarvis decided to carry out his promise and marry the girl in spite of the parents' protests, thinking that she was still too young.

The newly wed couple then sailed with the Cicero to San Francisco where they arrived on October 4, 1883. There is a photograph of the young couple taken in Newcastle, NSW, in the Maritime Museum of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, also reproduced by Cookson.

After having retired from the sea Captain Jarvis lived for a time in Scotland. Here he entered into a quarrel with the customs office at the end of the 1920s over import duty put on couple of pounds of tobacco that his son David had sent him. As could be expected John Jarvis refused to pay the duty and instead quit smoking.

After his wife's death he fought the taxation authorities when they taxed his monthly pension. In the end the good captain had to give in and pay but made so under protest and as a result decided to return to America. However he had overlooked to renew his passport and the American consul to the United States of America in Edinburg refused to issue him a new passport. Capt. Jarvis travelled to America without passport and was of course refused entrance at arrival. After interrogation by the highest official at Ellis Island, contact was made with Washington who confirmed that Capt. Jarvis' American citizenship had never been revoked and he was subsequently allowed to re-enter the United States.

1857 August 5
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Captain David Jarvis.
Cabin boy on the barque Grecian which was under command of his father.
Served on the barque Earl Dalhousie (1862) under his father and advanced to third mate.
Passed Master's Examination in Dundee.
Master of the barque Earl Dalhousie (1862) at the early age of 23 years.
Master of the iron barque Cicero (1861), A. Stephen & Son, Dundee.
Married Mary Baxter from Newcastle, NSW.
1884 May
Master of the four-masted barque Earl of Dalhousie (1884), A. Stephen & Son, Dundee.
1885 May 12
The Earl of Dalhousie capsised in the San Francisco Bay when she was going to be towed to the Oakland Flats for cleaning and painting of the lower sides. To ensure stability without any ballast Capt. Jarvis took down all yards except for the mainyard. The top-sail yards were slung three-by-three over the sides, while the other yards were stowed on deck. It was the intention to tow the ship in the morning when it was supposed to be calm.

That day the afternoon breeze came unusually early for that time of year, already before noon and the tugboat Result had to labour to also counter the incoming tide. When the Result turned starboard to avoid the anchored American ship Bell O'Brian, the strong breeze made the Earl of Dalhousie heel hard over. The first time she managed righten herself, but at the next gust of wind she lay over on her side and eventually turned over completely.

As a result of the accident Captain Jarvis was suspended for six months. The ship was subsequently salvaged and re-rigged under supervision of Captain John Jarvis assisted by his father.

1890 September 26
Patent for Improved means for bracing the yards of square-rigged ships was filed.
Extra Master Examination.
Master of the iron ship Duntrune (1875). This was the first ship ever equipped with Captain Jarvis brace winch.
The Duntrune collided with an ice-berg at 43° S and was partially dis-masted. Under jury-rig Captain Jarvis sailed the ship round the Cape Horn to Falmouth for orders.
Arrested in Portland, OR, for not having requisitioned a tug boat but had sailed up to her anchorage unassisted. Charges were filed by the tugboat men, claiming that he had impeded the chain ferry. Captain Jarvis was later released on bail, but forfeited the bail by sailing before the case was tried.
His wife and the youngest daughter returned to New York overland while the elder daughter accompanied her father back round the Cape Horn. During the return voyage the Pitcairn Island was visited.
Teacher at the navigation school in Dundee.
1899 September 1 - 1911 January 21
Master of the four-masted steel barque Lawhill (1892), Anglo American Oil Co., London.
1911 April
Master of the four-masted steel barque Alcides (1892), Anglo American Oil Co., London.
1912 March
Cargo Inspector at Anglo American Oil Co. for a short period of time before he sailed with a Texaco tanker.
Master of the tankers Muskogee and Glenpool, Anglo American Oil Co., London.
Retired from the sea.
1935 September 10
Died at Bay Shore, New York.


Updated 1997-05-06 by Lars Bruzelius

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.