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Local Stories

Part eight; The Martell Family

User Avatar Katie Heaton 08/09/2021 12:14:16
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Following on from our latest Featured Object about the 'Superb' by Arthur Bradbury and the question “What other mysteries did Bradbury feature on the back of his paintings?”  We can reveal that we found another lead to investigate.

The thought-provoking note scribbled on the back of Arthur Bradbury’s painting of the Antagonist hints at a tragedy that befell the vessel and crew.  The note, in Bradbury’s handwriting, reads; “Antagonist, Capt. Martell Poole.  Run down.  Capt M & one son DROWNED.”

A search of Find a Grave Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records reveals the grave of Arthur Martell at St. Mary’s Churchyard, Longfleet.  It reads; “In loving memory of my beloved husband Arthur Martell aged 58.  Captain of The “Antagonist” and our son Frederick aged 22 who were drowned in the North Sea on September 22nd 1922.”

Arthur Martell married Julia Fisher on 17th November 1888 at St. James Church, Poole.  He was aged 24 and a Master Mariner, she was aged 21 and the daughter of a Pilot. By 1911 the census shows that the family resided at 15 Emerson Road, Poole.  Arthur and Julia had twelve children- ten were still alive in 1911.  Their two oldest sons, Arthur and Alfred were also mariners.

An exploration of crew lists indicates that Arthur Martell Snr was on the Antagonist from at least 1882- he was recorded on board aged 17, an Able Seaman.  We know that six years later he became Master Mariner and stayed with the Antagonist until his death. 

In 1915 the crew list for the Antagonist shows that Arthur is on board with four of his sons- Alfred, Mate, aged 23, Horace, Able Seaman, aged 17, Frederick, Ordinary Seaman, aged 15 and Archibald, Boy, aged 20, all part of the Merchant Navy.  The Poole at War website shows that Arthur Jnr served on a different ship in the war, the HMS White Oak, Poole Naval Base Arthur Martell : Poole Museum (pooleww1.org.uk)

On 28th September 1922 The Poole and Dorset Herald reported;

“It was with the profoundest regret that Poole learned on Saturday morning of the tragedy that had overtaken the ketch “Antagonist” resulting in the loss of her mater and owner, Captain Arthur Martell, of Emerson Road, Poole and his son Fred.

The ketch was on its way from the Isle of Wight to the Tyne and when about 30 miles off Bridlington, near Flamborough Head, a collision occurred between the “Antagonist” and the Hull steam trawler “Field Marshall Sir William Robertson.”  Captain Martell was rescued but died from the effects of his terrifying experience.  The son Fred went down with the ship and the two other sons- Horace and John- were saved.

Captain Martell, who was 58 years of age, had spent his life in the seafaring profession and bore a splendid record.  His ketch, which was a familiar sight in Poole, had the repute of being the cleanest and best kept ship in the port.  It figured prominently in the film, “The Elusive Pimpernel,” a British production which attracted considerable attention locally.  The “Antagonist” was of 67 tons nett and appeared in the Shipping Intelligence in the Herald over half a century ago.  During the war the little craft carried on her trading despite many dangers.”

The Poole and Dorset Herald 2nd October 1922 describes the inquest; “At the conclusion of the two day’s inquest at Hull the jury returned a verdict of “gross carelessness” on the part of the trawler’s crew.”  The Herald also reveals the story of the two surviving brothers:

“With regard to the condition of the trawler’s crew, Horace said that the mate in charge of the watch was rolling about, while the boatswain and one of the stokers had also had a fair amount to drink.  Horace learned from one of the crew that the mate was below at the time of the collision.  “It’s a funny thing,” said Horace, “but they had the whole of the North Sea to dodge us in.”  Horace went on to relate that he was told that no one was on deck at the time of the collision, but one seaman was at the wheel.  Eventually the trawler put into Bridlington, where there was a huge crowd, and then to Hull, where the unfortunate sons were landed.

Relating his experiences, John said that he remembered swimming to the surface after going down a great depth.  He saw Capt. Martell and got hold of him, the two being supported by an old paint drum which was floating about.  “If it hadn’t been for John, we should have never found Dad,”  concluded Horace.”

Horace Martell appeared in the newspaper again in 1944, this time the Aberdeen Evening Express, when he was involved in a rescue at sea:

“Recently the little thirty-year-old harbour tug Cherbourgeois got her big chance and took it, steaming out of the Clyde 250 miles into the Atlantic to bring safely to harbour a rudderless merchant ship of 10,000 tons, laden with grain.

The tug was off duty when the SOS came, but messages flashed on cinema screens and a tour of the district by the police and patrols resulted in getting a crew together.

The master of the tug, Skipper A. Martell Poole was away on important business, so his brother Skipper H. Martell also of Poole took command.

Two firemen were borrowed from a mercantile marine pool a rating was lent by a patrol boat, and sixty-seven-year-old Chief Officer Robert Reid, of Belfast, left his sick bed in another tug, the Duchess of Abercorn, and went along.

The wireless operator was William Blake, Cambuslang, the chief engineer H. Hall, Burnley and the second engineer A. Purvis, Rothesay.

Throughout the four days they were away the crew had practically no sleep and little to eat.”

It’s incredible that an artist’s rough note on his painting can open up such a dramatic and tragic story of a local seafaring family and the dangers they faced at sea, and how despite the tragedy they continued with their livelihood through the generations and two world wars.




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