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The Skeleton Closet

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 the command of his father Captain David Jarvis, as a young lad. He was considered to be a brilliant seaman and was given his first command already at the early age of 23.

The brace winch invented by Captain Jarvis proved highly successful, but it was rarely installed on British ships. However, its labour saving value was recognised by the Germans. F. Laeisz tried the Jarvis winch on the full-rigged ship Preussen in 1897. The rest of the fleet was equipped with Jarvis winches after this trial. The Bullivant Company of London, manufactured Jarvis winches for use in the British Isles, while F.C.W. Wetzel and later Wetzel & Freytag had the licence to manufacture and sell them in Germany. However, due to a flaw in the contract with the German manufacturer no royalties were ever paid to Captain Jarvis for his invention.

The Jarvis' brace which was not only a labour saving device but 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.

Here we see how the use of his invention in an accident situation allowed a ship to 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.

Captain Jarvis also took a great interest in the eductation of the apprentices aboard his ships. In 1883 he was awarded a large bonus for bringing the 368 emigrants on board the Cicero safely from England to Port Adelaide.

In 1883 Captain Jarvis arrived in Adelaide in the fullrigged ship Cicero. When he had finished his business in Port Adelaide he sailed to Newcastle, NSW where he was married to Mary Baxter. The family of the bride had emigrated from Cowdenbeath, Fife, several years before on the Earl Dalhousie commanded by Captain David Jarvis (his father) and on which John Jarvis had served as second mate. Mary Baxter was at that time not much more than a child, but John Jarvis was so taken with her, that he made up his mind then that he should marry the girl when the time was right. During his visit to Newcastle John Jarvis decided to keep his promise and marry her in spite of her parents' disapproval, thinking that she was still too young. The newly wed couple then sailed in the Cicero to San Francisco arriveing there on October 4, 1883.

On his retirement from the sea Captain Jarvis lived for a while in Scotland. Here he entered into an argument with the customs office at the end of the 1920's over import duty on couple of pounds of tobacco that his son David had sent him. Captain 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 only under protest and as a result of his continued argument with British authorities, decided to return to America. However he had forgotten to renew his passport and the American Consul in Edinburg refused to issue him a new one. Captain Jarvis travelled to America without passport and was refused entry on arrival. After interrogation by the officials at Ellis Island, contact was made with Washington and confirmation was received that his American citizenship had never been revoked, he was subsequently allowed to re-enter the United States.

5 August 1857 - Born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Captain David Jarvis.

1869 - Cabin boy on the barque Grecian, under command of his father Captain David Jarvis.

1874 - Served on the barque Earl Dalhousie under his father and advanced to third mate. Met his future wife on a voyage to Australia.

1879 - Passed Master's Examination in Dundee.

1880 - Master of the barque Earl Dalhousie at the early age of 23 years.

1883 - Master of the iron barque Cicero (1861), A. Stephen & Son, Dundee.

1883 - Married Mary Baxter from Newcastle, NSW.

May 1884 - Master of the four-masted barque Earl of Dalhousie for A. Stephen & Son, Dundee.

12May 1885 - The Earl of Dalhousie capsised in San Francisco Bay when she was being towed to the Oakland Flats for cleaning and painting of the lower sides. To ensure stability without any ballast Captain 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 springing up before noon, and the tugboat Result had to labour to counter the incoming tide. When the Result turned to starboard to avoid the anchored American ship Bell O'Brian, the strong breeze made the Earl 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.

26September 1890 - Patent for Improved means for bracing the yards of square-rigged ships was filed by Captain Jarvis for his Jarvis brace winch. [Patent]

1891 - Extra Master Examination.

1891 - Master of the iron ship Duntrune (1875). This was the first ship to be equipped with Captain Jarvis brace winch.

1892 - The Duntrune collided with an ice-berg at 43° S and was partially dis-masted. Under jury-rig Captain Jarvis sailed the ship round Cape Horn to Falmouth for orders.

1896 - Captain Jarvis was arrested in Portland, Oregon, for not having requisitioned a tug boat and sailing a ship up to her anchorage unassisted. The 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 to New York by sea round Cape Horn. During the return voyage they paid a visit to Pitcairn Island.

1898 - Employed as a teacher at the navigation school in Dundee.

1September 1899 - 21 January 1911 - Master of the four-masted steel barque Lawhill (1892), Anglo American Oil Co., London.

April 1911 - Master of the four-masted steel barque Alcides (1892), Anglo American Oil Co., London.

March 1912 - Cargo Inspector at Anglo American Oil Co. for a short period of time before he sailed with a Texaco tanker.

1915-1916 - Master of the tankers Muskogee and Glenpool, Anglo American Oil Co., London.

1919 - Retired from the sea.

10 September 1935 - Captain Jarvis passed at Bay Shore, New York.