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CAPTAIN FRANCIS J. D. INCH (May 30, 1877- April 22, 1932)

This page is, as is true with other pages, in progress! It will offer the data I presently have available about Francis J. D. Inch, Captain of the Volturno in 1913. The data is slowly expanding. But there are giant gaps in the data! If you can help me fill in any of those gaps, I would surely welcome the help. If any of the links do not work, or work incorrectly, do please let me know, so they can be corrected.

The data on this page is reaching the stage where it needs to be rewritten and re-sequenced. But that must await another day.

Data about Captain Inch is very limited indeed, or perhaps I should better say that the data about him that the webmaster has so far located is limited indeed. That fact is perhaps best illustrated by his name, where the names which result in the initials 'J. D.' were until very recently quite unknown to me (but read below for an update on that matter). There are lots of published references to Captain Inch. But no published text that I have so far seen, gives his full and complete name. Not even the Spurgeon book.

He would seem to have been a very private man. Who did not enjoy the attention becoming to a hero. When this site first started, I learned that he had written a series of 10 articles entitled 'Captain Inch spins a yarn' that were published in the 1914 Chum's and available via the Chum's 1914 annual. I had hoped that I would find in his own words a description of the Volturno disaster. But the articles did no such thing, alas.

The above image of Captain Inch originated in the Spurgeon book. And you can view the whole image, as it was there published, on site page 29. The very same image of the Captain has been located by Jonathan Blakeman in a loft in Birmingham, U.K., amongst the effects of Jonathan's grandmother Ada Ashmore (born at Plymouth on Feb. 25, 1902). Now the Ashmore family used to live at Plymouth, when Captain Inch was also born &, per the N.Y. Times, where he may have been living at the time of the Volturno disaster. In the early 1900s however, Ada Ashmore's family moved to Birmingham. Jonathan is trying to establish the links, if any, between Captain Inch & the Ashmore family. If you can help in that regard, do please be in touch. Jonathan's image can be seen here. Thanks, Jonathan, for your kindly providing this material!

We do now know a little about Captain Inch other than the facts from the Ellis Island manifest (line 1) - that he was 36 years of age and married at the time of the Volturno tragedy in 1913, lived in Tottenham, London and was born in Plymouth, England. Not a particularly tall man - 5 ft. 6 in. in height apparently. The text that follows (next white box) appeared in a volume by Karl Baarslag, originally published in 1935 as 'SOS TO THE RESCUE' and shortly later republished under the name 'FAMOUS SEA RESCUES'.

Since the above was written, an image of Captain Inch has emerged, with his faithful dog Jack, published in the November 1, 1913 edition of 'The Outlook' - and visible low on this page. And another image has been provided to the webmaster showing Henrietta Budavitch, a Volturno survivor with a most unusual story, with 'the captain who saved her' - which captain I believe to be Captain Inch. Those images are combined below. You be the judge! Are the faces not the same? See site page 68 for the extraordinary story of Henrietta Budavitch.

And, I know that a postcard image of the Captain was published, presumably in 1913 or soon thereafter by Atelier, Nieuwland, of 38, Rechthuislaan, Rotterdam, Holland. An unrelated image was by 'Atelier: C. Nieuwland, of 27 Sumatraweg, Rotterdam'. Some day in the future, perhaps we will have an image of that postcard on this page.

The above postcard image at last became available via e-Bay in Dec. 2010. It proved to be, in a postcard form, the same image (2nd row) that appears in the Spurgeon book. But you will need to break open your piggy bank to acquire it at its listing price.

I was so glad to find the information which follows- for source see low on page 13. The Captain Thompson is Captain F. J. Thompson, O.B.E, R.D., R.N.R.

From Captain Thompson of the Officers (Merchant Navy) Federation, London, the writer learned that the burning of the Volturno was not Captain Inch's first experience at fire-fighting. As Chief Officer of the SS. Campania under Captain Thompson he had been principally responsible for putting out what might have developed into another Volturno fire. Inch donned a smoke helmet and went into the after end of the vessel, abaft the emigrants' quarters, at 2 A.M. and succeeded in putting out the fire which had started from a short circuit. The sleeping emigrants never learned of the incipient fire so near to their quarters. Captain Thompson added that after returning to England, Inch was presented with the Freedom of the City of London, a fine honour for any British subject. At the outbreak of the European War Captain Inch commanded the Principello and he later became a Cunard captain commanding the Verentia and the Valacia. Captain Thompson concluded, "Captain Inch was a very fine seaman, courageous to a degree and imbued with a fine sense of duty. I think I may say I never had a more capable or competent Chief Officer." The writer understands that Captain Inch retired from the sea about 1929 and died shortly thereafter.

It would seem that Francis Inch had joined Captain Thompson on the Uranium, as third officer, at a time when, in Captain Thompson's words, Inch had 'comparatively little experience'. He must later have been promoted to second officer of Uranium because he was in that position when he was transferred from Uranium (then refitting) to rejoin Captain Thompson then in command of Campania. That would be in April 1910. Francis Inch became its chief officer. Captain Thompson, in an article published in 'Sea Breezes' in September 1960, gives a little more detail about the Campanello fire (I use that name rather than Campania because of Captain Thompson's exact words i.e. that the ship had been renamed the Campanello in time for its first trip under new ownership, which trip was from Rotterdam to Halifax) but would seem not to have stated the date on which it occurred. The fire was discovered at 3:00 a.m. It was caused by a fused electric wire, a wire contained, as was then customary, within a wooden casing. The store-room abaft the third-class women's quarters, which contained drums of oil, oakum, coils of rope and other inflammable materials, caught fire and was full of smoke which poured out of the ventilators and hatch. Chief Officer Inch directed the hose and extinguished the fire, single handedly it would seem, though the second officer surely was on hand to assist. I am not absolutely sure that Inch put out the fire single handedly, but that is what Captain Thompson's words would seem to suggest. And if that was so, it would seem to be quite in character, since, judging by his actions in the Volturno fire, Inch was clearly a man of action, did not stand on ceremony and led his men by personal example. Captain Thompson noted that at that time there was no wireless aboard the vessel, and had the fire got out of hand, they would have been unable to call for assistance.

The 'Sea Breezes' 1960 article further states that Captain Thompson left Campanello in the spring of 1911 for the role of marine superintendent of the company (Canadian Northern) based in Montreal, Quebec. And that at that time Francis Inch assumed command of Campanello, then in New York.

Birth Registry listing of March/June 1877 with the birth of Captain Inch recorded.

But we have more! Frances James Daniel Inch was born in Plymouth, England, on May 30, 1877, to John Inch, a dentist, and Elizabeth Inch (formerly Elizabeth Thomas) who had themselves married in Sep. 1869.
A puzzle perhaps is that he was listed as Frances (with an e) rather than Francis. The columnar data at left means district (of birth i.e. Plymouth), followed by volume and page numbers.

His birth registry data is next. Adjusted to make it clear what each column means.

Reference was made above to Captain Inch having commanded the Principello.' I learn that that vessel was built in 1907 as the 'Principe di Piemonte' for the Italian 'Lloyd Sabaudo' Line. 6,560 gross tons, 430 ft. long and 52.7 ft. beam, a speed of 14 knots. Her maiden voyage was from Genoa to Naples, Palermo and New York on June 19, 1907. Built by James Laing & Co. of Sunderland, I read. She could accommodate 1,670 passengers - 120 in 1st class, 50 in 2nd class and 1,500 in 3rd class (or is it 2,020 passengers with 120 in 1st class and 1,900 in 3rd class - I have read both sets of figures). And had two funnels and two masts. On December 12, 1913 she came under the control of Uranium Steamship Company, was renamed the Principello and used initially on the Rotterdam, Halifax and New York service as had been the Volturno. Could it be that Captain Inch's first command after the Volturno disaster was the Principello? That looks to be quite possible.

When WWI broke out, Principello (at left) was then either a Uranium vessel, or maybe a Royal Line vessel depending on the date of sale.
In 1914 she was purchased by Canadian Northern Steamship Company's Royal Line (but it could very well be that Royal Line bought her on Dec. 12, 1913 & leased her to Uranium, but I don't know that).

I think those last words are probably incorrect. I think that Cunard bought the whole steamship line i.e. Canadian Northern Steamship Company. And Principello was just one of the ships they acquired in that purchase - rather than being individually purchased as the above words seem to indicate.

There will be more images of Principello at the very bottom of this page. Here.

In 1915 she was transferred to the Avonmouth, Halifax and New York service. And in 1916 she was sold again, this time to Cunard, was again renamed, becoming the Folia, and carried cargo only on the Liverpool to New York run. All of that data is recorded here to set the stage for the drama which follows.

On March 11, 1917, the Folia, commanded by Captain Inch, was en route from New York to Bristol, and travelling off the coast of County Cork, Ireland. What next happened is set out by Sir Edgar T. (Theophilus) Britten, R.D., R.N.R. (April 27, 1874 - Oct 28, 1936) in his 1936 (but maybe first published in 1930?) autobiographical volume 'A Million Ocean Miles'. You should know that Sir Edgar had a most interesting life indeed. He was commodore of the Cunard White Star line, but started his sea-life as a deck-boy on a sailing ship, the Jessie Osborne. He later served aboard Lusitania, Mauretania and Aquitania. He commanded Berengaria, Samaria, Laconia and Franconia - and the Queen Mary on her Blue Riband maiden voyage. His words:

'It was a quarter-past seven in the morning that the Third Officer observed the periscope of a submarine some 500 feet from the ship and nearly abeam. Immediately afterwards he saw the feathery wake of a torpedo approaching, and a second later the Folia was hit amidships, the explosion smashing two of her lifeboats. Seven of the crew, including the Second Engineer, were also killed by the explosion, and the Folia herself began rapidly to settle. Four boats were at once lowered, and the rest of the officers and crew were safely embarked. While the lifeboats were still in the neighbourhood the submarine came to the surface, motored rapidly round the ship and fired four shots into her. She next backed away and fired a second torpedo into the sinking vessel. The U-boat then cleared off, but Captain Inch got his boats together, and instructed the officers in charge to steer on a Nor'west compass bearing. Three of them made fast by painters so as not to get adrift from each other, and in this manner the frail boats stood on their course. About 11 am the Captain, under the fog that had crept up, sighted breakers ahead. Creeping along the line of breakers they at last sighted smooth water at the base of towering cliffs. Pulling for these they saw the outline of a house high above, with people standing in front of it. Shouting in unison the crew succeeded in attracting attention and learned that the place was Ardmore, Youghal, Co. Cork, and from there they proceeded to Dungarvan, where they arrived in time to hear the church bells that evening.'

The Folia lies 4 miles east-south-east of Rams Head, County Waterford, Ireland in about 120 ft of water. She was armed with a 12 pounder 12 cwt stern gun, I read. Sunk by German U-boat U 53. 7 lives lost in the sinking. A dive site today, I understand. U 53 was, per this site, under the command of Commander Hans Rose, rated the fourth U-boat Ace of WW1. 'Sometimes when he torpedoed a ship Hans Rose would wait until all the lifeboats were filled, he would then throw a tow line, give the victims food, keeping all the survivors together until a rescuing Destroyer appeared on the horizon when he would let go and submerge. “Hans Rose is one of the few German U-Boat Commanders with whom allied Naval Officers would be willing to shake hands with today.” '

Summary data re Folia can be seen here.

A site visitor kindly advises that Francis Inch was the Captain of Verentia, when it arrived in New York on Aug. 30, 1919 from the port of London via Rotterdam. An image of War Lemur, which became Verentia in 1919 is here. And War Lemur/Verentia/etc. (many names) is here.

For most of that information I credit a number of sources. Ted Finch yet again, via Cimorelli, with his 1997 posting of data ex Bonsor. The fine site of the Dungarvan Museum. And the reference library in Toronto, Canada for Sir Edgar T. Britten's 1989 volume which is a reprint of what was published in 1936. And the links above indicated. I thank you all.

It would seem that the Captain did not enjoy a long life. He died on Apr. 22, 1932 at the relatively young age of 54, almost 55, in fact. And while I have not one word more detail than I now provide, it would seem that his final years may sadly have seen him in very poor health indeed. Read on.

Let me then say that a U.K. website (which is I believe the website of Runnymede Potters of Wraysbury) states that he is buried in the churchyard of St. Andrew's, Wraysbury, Berkshire, England. (I may, in fact, have the wrong link there, since the page to which I have linked states that the church is in the County of Middlesex). I learn that Wraysbury, which until 1974 was in fact in Buckinghamshire, is a village west of London on the side of the River Thames opposite Runnymede and therefore quite close to both Staines and Windsor. (And before I leave the subject of the village, through straying somewhat from the purposes of this site, I was intrigued by the local extensive use of images of swans - a familiar sight on the Thames, however, I know very well. By all means click here for a composite image on that subject.) Anyway, the St. Andrew's Church is very very old and dates from as early as 1150. Captain Inch's gravestone in the churchyard of that church apparently reads as follows:


And with pleasure I can now show you an image of Captain Inch's gravestone, and some images of its setting i.e. St. Andrew's Church. Now there surely are some very fine people in the village of Wraysbury. I posted a message on the village bulletin board, now long gone, I think, hoping that I could make contact with an enthusiastic member of a local camera club, who might just help me with this site by providing some images. A virtual instant response. Including one response from Graham Sincair. Graham tells me that Arthur Walters at the Village Archives has a file about the whole Inch matter & that he had been contacted. Data from Arthur Walters is now on site below (thanks!).

But right NOW I can provide images of the gravestone & the church thanks to another village resident - Chris Hughes - who lives literally across the road from St. Andrew's. Quite independently he found an image that he had taken of the Captain Inch gravestone some 20 years ago (at left below), was curious about Captain Inch & found this website via Google, & then contacted me to offer me the use of his image. And he has now kindly also provided the further (and recent - 2005) images I provide below, including images of the church. Chris, thank you so very much!

I think Captain Inch would be surprised to see, from the gravestone, that he had captained a galleon rather than an ocean liner! 'Artistic licence', I presume! Captain Inch's involvement & his burial in the village of Wraysbury will, in due course, I hope, be covered more extensively. But maybe not! The trail is cold!

To revert to the web page referred to above, in the accompanying article the following words are stated: 'Although Captain Inch lived as a cripple in Ouseley Road Wraysbury, as a retired Captain of the Cunard Shipping Company he ended his days in the Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich, and one of the nurses who cared for him, was the daughter of the Captain of the oil tanker who answered the S 0 S. He was buried at Greenwich but later exhumed and re-interred in St. Andrew’s churchyard some six months after he died on 22nd April 1932. It is still not known who arranged, and why the unusual removal of the remains from Greenwich and the second burial in Wraysbury.'

Is it possible that any site visitor can tell us what happened to the Captain in his later years? The Captain that was, in our knowledge of him, a capable, competent and most experienced Captain and surely a fine leader of men. I am so sorry to read those quoted words. We do know that C. E. Harwood was the Captain of the oil tanker that is referred to, i.e. the Narragansett, so we know that the maiden name of the nurse who cared for him in Greenwich would have been Harwood.

But we now have more data, the result of the combined efforts of Chris Hughes and Arthur Walters. We thank them both! Including (next) an image of the modest bungalow in which Captain Inch lived on Ouseley Road in the village of Wraysbury in the early 1930s and maybe even earlier, a bungalow which is believed to still stand today (Jun. 2005). The bungalow was name 'Kia-Ora', which I learn from my Chambers Dictionary is a Maori, New Zealand, term meaning 'good-health' - which good health would seem to have eluded the Captain, alas. But that meaning may be quite wrong or imperfect at any rate. I have now read that 'Kia-Ora' (pronounced 'kee aura') is a Maori greeting, meaning 'hello' and 'goodbye'. Or maybe also 'welcome'.

So at left is a 1950s image of the modest bungalow, 'Kia-Ora', on Ouseley Road, in Wraysbury village, where Captain Inch lived. The 1933 Register of Electors states that Georgette Henriette Inch lived there then, presumably his wife. She is not recorded as living there in the 1939 register.

For good reason. Ms. Anne Bidwell moved into that bungalow in 1936 and noticed ferrule marks on the floorboards.

The source of the reference to his being a cripple, it would seem.

In the words of Chris Hughes. 'The mystery of the exhumation from Greenwich and subsequent re-burial in Wraysbury remains. Arthur Walters has made enquiries at the Home Office, and they could come up with nothing!' The Wraysbury website (low on this page) indicates that re was re-buried at Wraysbury some 6 months after his death. Let us hope that some day we will learn more about that matter.

This is probably a good place to say that I have just learned that Chris Hughes has his own website and it even has an image of him at the bottom of this page. Chris tells us (his words, not mine!) that 'he lives in quiet decrepitude bordering on desperation, and squalor, in a village on the Thames', which village is of course the village of Wraysbury. He moved there in 1973 and thinks he's probably going to like it!

During WW2, the BBC apparently aired a radio program entitled 'Scrapbook for 1913' and it covered Volturno quite extensively, it would seem. Ms. Bidwell (who later moved to Somerset) found newspaper cuttings under some wardrobe lining paper on Ouseley Road, and gave those to the BBC who then at least, had a file on the matter. It is from Ms. Bidwell's words that I learn the data contained in Note 5 below.

I am advised that 'Inch' is a Cornish name. That is interesting. And what did Captain Inch look like? We really only have one good photographic image - at top left on this page. And it greets you on page 01. The very same image is elsewhere on site - page 02 also, I know. There are more images on this page now & there are a few rather poor newspaper images of him throughout the site as well.

The only other modest facts known to the webmaster about Captain Inch that merit mention are:

1) that after the Volturno disaster, Captain Inch left New York on Oct. 21, 1913 aboard the Mauretania - for England & the Board of Trade Inquiry.
2) that the copy of the Spurgeon book, that would seem to have been owned by Captain Inch himself from the inscription written in it, (see bottom of page 02 of this site) was, I am advised, found in East Anglia. However that small detail may very well not be significant.
3) Captain Inch had a brother named Tom Inch & Tom was, at the time of the Volturno disaster, a Lieutenant with the Calgary, Alberta, Canada, fire brigade. And he would appear to have had another brother named Sidney since the New York Times reported that Sidney was in New York to greet his brother after his ordeal, as the Kroonland arrived there on Oct. 16, 1913.
4) At the time of the Volturno disaster, per the New York Times on page 09 of this site, Captain Inch was living in Plymouth, England, & had a wife & three little children there. However the address data may not be correct (hopefully only the address data is wrong). Per the Ellis Island manifest, (line 1), he was living in Tottenham, London, in 1913, which fact was also noted in the London Times which advised that he specifically lived on Greenfield Road there.
5) In Nov. 2011, in a guestbook message you can read here, Eillean Hugo advised (thanks so much!) that her husband's grand aunt, Letha Hugo, was married to Capt. Inch & had 3 children with him. I presume that those are the very same three children that were just referred to, i.e. his family in 1913. Eillean added that she was not aware of what later happened to Letha Hugo. Twenty years later, in 1933, as you can read above, Captain Inch was married to Georgette Henriette Inch & was living at Wraysbury. Is it possible that you know about Letha Hugo's marriage to Captain Inch? And/or what later happened to her?
We now have most of the answer to my question. Eillean & her husband's cousin have tracked down Letha Hugo's death certificate, & have learned that she died, at home, with Capt. Inch in attendance, on Dec. 14, 1922, in North Hackney, London. The cause of death was 'progressive ascending paralysis' & the death was registered by Capt. Inch that same day. Eillean adds that 'the death was listed as Letta Hugo but when we sent for the original certificate (Vol 01b Page 395) it was quite definitely Letha.'
And the 3 children? Advice from a totally different source. Author Gordon Turner, of Toronto, Canada, has had a lifelong interest in matters maritime. He recalls (in Jan. 2012) that many years ago (20 perhaps?) he read a letter in either Ships Monthly or Sea Breezes from a man whose surname was Inch - a son or grandson as Gordon remembers - asking for details about Capt. Inch's seagoing career. 'I replied, supplying him with some details of the Volturno incident. In my letter I added that I was surprised that he (the letter writer) appeared to be unacquainted with the burning of Volturno & of the captain's role. Mr. Inch sent me a reply, thanking me for providing him with the information & added that after Captain Inch became a widower he was left with children (I cannot recall how many or their ages) that had no mother while he, the captain, still had to earn a living at sea. As a result Captain Inch placed the children in an orphanage. I expect that this was not uncommon in those distant days.' Gordon adds that the above is from his memory & that while he believes it to be correct, he cannot provide an absolute guarantee.
6) Captain Inch was granted the Freedom of the City of New York for his efforts re the Volturno disaster. And was granted also, the Freedom of the City of London. Hopefully I will be able to track newspaper clippings from the New York Times to supplement what has already been located in the London Times about the City of London, of course.

P.S. Probably to aid the webmaster's memory only. A fine copy of Chum's 1914 Annual was sold in Jun. 2006 via e-Bay, for GBP 19.55 or approximately U.S. $35.40. With shipping to Canada the cost would have become U.S. $98.78 - more of course in Cdn. dollars. Another fine copy was sold in Nov. 2008 for GBP 31.00 or approximately U.S. $46.63. Much higher again with shipping to Canada. The webmaster could not justify either purchase, but hopes that someday Captain Inch's words that appear in that volume - a series of 10 articles entitled 'Captain Inch spins a yarn' - may come to hand.

If any visitor can clarify (or correct) or provide more information about any of these matters, I would truly welcome their help.

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Chris Hughes advises me that the "Swan rousant proper ducally gorged with chain reflexed over the back or", seen in the badge on a specific WWW page I had quoted to him (green image below) is prominent in the arms of Buckinghamshire, South Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury and Chesham. It used to be in the arms of the old Eton Rural District Council, too. And here is a composite image of some village of Wraysbury swans, largely thanks to Chris Hughes and his camera. The left image refers to the 'Magna Carta' signed by King John in 1215 just across the river from the village of Wraysbury, or more accurately perhaps on an island then located in the middle of the river Thames - but that IS a whole subject way beyond the purpose of these Volturno pages.

The swans of Wraysbury signage


It would seem that images of Principello are quite scarce, judging by the lack of frequency of such images on e-Bay. I have a fine postcard image myself which I hope to soon scan for these pages.

A modest postcard image of the vessel, an e-Bay item in Oct. 2008 that sold for GBP 39.95 (approx. U.S. $68.45).

'Principello', a postcard mailed Jun. 25, 1914.

Other images of or related to Principello A, B, C.