Alexander Stuart MacKay: Introduction

When Alexander MacKay was an apprentice (1898-1902), he found time to keep several journals. The third journal is an account of a voyage which began in London in June 1901. He went to New York and Melbourne in a barque Armadale, and returned to Britain, entering at Hull in July 1902. The Maritime History Archive [MHA] holds the Agreement for this voyage. Explore the Armadale Crew Agreement

McKay's diary makes vivid the experiences at sea of an emerging officer. It documents the working and living conditions on the Armadale at various points in the passage, when the ship was in the Brooklyn Docks, and in Melbourne Harbour. Sailing vessels had a low priority for loading and unloading at this period: dock authorities gained more revenue from facilitating the quick turn-around of steam vessels. The result was that longer periods might be spent in dock by those crew who remained with their sailing vessels than they had spent on the sea passage. Specialist photographers were amongst the traders who saw a commercial opportunity in having "sailors" in port. One New York photographer snapped the Armadale's crew. From our research in the Crew Agreement collection and in the journal (now held at the National Maritime Museum, London) the team has been able to confirm the identity of all who appeared in the photograph, taken in 1901.

You can follow MacKay's voyage in the track plotted from his journal. Clicking on the buttons will reveal some of what he had to say about his days on the sea and in port.

In a dramatized account drawn from the diary "MacKay" tells you about the apprentices and crew of the Armadale, those who appear in the photograph.

MacKay's apprenticeship term finished on 9th January 1902, and on the return voyage of the Armadale he began a career as a waged seafarer. Always, the plan was to work in steam, and before 1914 he had become an officer in steamship employment. War-time saw him as commander on North Atlantic convoys. Discharged from HMS Tiger in 1919, he took on his first civilian command. He was employed by one of the prestigious mail and passenger liner companies, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Lloyd's Captain's Register is the source of MacKay's subsequent career record.

The MacKay papers survive because they were preserved and ultimately made publicly accessible by his descendants. We are grateful to the family.

Additional Images