Courtesy of Shetland Archives, Angus Johnson, Archivist.

Shetland Times, 18 April 1914.



Captain and Mrs W. Bairnson celebrated their golden wedding at their residence, Slatey-road, Claughton, on Monday 8th instant, when a host of friends and admirers paid their respects and were entertained to dinner by the old couple. Captain Bairnson is well known in Birkenhead and Liverpool shipping circles, and was the first captain to bring home a consignment of chilled and live sheep from Montreal. In his earlier days he spent some time at whaling in the ship “Prince of Wales,” and claims to have seen the last of the Franklin expedition as it sailed away in the distance.

He also sailed in the traveller [sic] “Gambier and “Great Britain,” after which he sailed on the sailing ship “Underwriter” when she called flour, biscuits, and ammunition for the American Government during the Civil War, his brother John being part owner, whilst his younger brother James (author of “Bairnson’s Ex- Meridian Tables”) sailed as junior officer.

Captain Bairnson had an exciting experience in the sailing ship “Royal Family” when on a voyage from India, when they had to pump out 50 tons of water a day for 2 months, in consequence of her being badly built. He also picked up a crew from a schooner which was wrecked the same night as the Forth Bridge disaster, and carried them to Portland. He also had the experience of being jammed in the ice for three weeks on board the sailing ship “Lake Champlain,” during which time they had several successful seal hunts. He joined the Beaver Line when it was in its infancy, and superintended the building of several of their steamers. Captain Bairnson also had the unique experience of commanding the sailing ship “Lake Ontario,” from which he retired when he was the Company’s commodore in the year 1887. Although now in his 91st year, the captain takes the keenest interest in shipping and current events, and is a most interest- ing old gentleman to talk to, as he has a great fund of knowledge of the Arctic regions and other interest- places in the Northern Seas. Captain Bairnson also brought home some relics of the Ross expedition, including the top of a cabin table and a brass candle- stick with a half burnt candle, which latter is supposed to be in the British Museum to-day.

Captain William Bairnson, above referred to, is a native of Shetland, and brother of Mrs Manson, Widows’ Asylum, Lerwick.

Journal of Commerce, November 24, 1917



The death took place on Thursday, at his residence, Slatey Road, Birkenhead, in his 95th year, of Captain Wm. Bairnson, who had had a most romantic career in the Merchant Service before his retirement some years ago.

Captain Bairnson was a native of the Shetland Islands, and like his two brothers took early to the sea. After gaining a varied experience in coasting vessels, he took to deep sea craft when he was 18 years of age, shipping aboard the Traveller, a Hull whaler, which was chartered for the Artic. During the five ears he spent in the whaling trade in several vessels, Captain Bairnson became very familiar with Lancaster Sound, along the shores of which he and his companions found the deserted camp of the Ross expedition. Ross and his crew, having lost their ship, lived on the shores of Lancaster Sound for seven years before a particularly fine summer allowed them to put to sea in small boats. On entering Baffin Bay they took a wrong course, and had they not providentially fallen in with a Hull whaler they would never have been heard of again. During the seven years the party spent on Lancaster Sound only one man died, the carpenter, and the reason for the general freedom from mortality was owing to the fact that there was plenty of food, salmon abounding in the neighbouring waters.

In the camp found by Capt. Bairnson’s party some years after the explorers made their highly fortunate cruise into Baffin Bay, there were discovered various stores, including flour and canned soup. The party brought back to England many interesting relics, including the surgeon’s diary. Capt. Bairnson had another vivid recollection of Arctic exploration. A whaler in which he was serving in Baffin Bay was the last ship to sight the three vessels of the Franklin expedition sailing for the North-west passage and doom. In all probability he was the last surviving link that binds us to this ineffably sad but glorious chapter of British Arctic exploration.

After leaving the whaling trade, Captain Bairnson entered the service of the Red Star Line, whose vessels (American owned) were among the finest sailing between New York and Liverpool. During his seven years’ connection with this line he was on vessels chartered by the U.S. Government to carry stores and troops to ports in the Southern States. While he was mate in the Red Star boat Underwriter, of which one of his brothers was captain and another second mate, he had an exciting experience in Mid-Atlantic. The Underwriter fell in with the notorious Confederate commerce-destroying cruiser Alabama, and the only thing that promised a chance of safety was running up the English flag. The ruse was successful, and the Union Jack saved the liner.

After sailing as master of several English vessels to India, Captain Bairnson joined the Canada Shipping Company, more familiar perhaps under the title of the Beaver Line, which had a great share of the trade between the Mersey and St. Lawrence. His first ship was the Lake Ontario, a fine sailing vessel, but he was very soon given the command of the Lake Champlain, a new steamer. His merit was so conspicuous that he was chosen to superintend the building of several of the company’s steamers. Captain Bairnson, who even- tually became commodore of the Canada Shipping fleet, retired from the sea in 1887, his last ship being the second Lake Ontario, one of the finest steamers of her day.

The interment will take place on Monday, at 2.45, at Bebington Cemetry.


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