History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Captain Basil C. Combe
Basil Charles Combe (1871 - 1926) served for many years on British cableships beginning in the early 1890s, eventually commanding CS's Dacia and later CS Restorer, where he was captain for almost twenty years. He retired from the cable service in 1923.
Between 1886 and 1895 Combe sent letters home and kept journals of his voyages. Combe's writing gives a riveting first-hand account of life on a cableship in the late 19th century, and is published here by kind permission of Roger Barclay, Captain Combe's grandson.
Roger, who also made the transcription of his grandfather's handwritten letters and journals, introduces Captain Combe as follows:
BASIL CHARLES COMBE
Born: June 27th 1871, in Gorleston, near Great
Basil was the second son of Col. E.H.H. Combe of Ipswich, England, being one of a family of five brothers and six sisters. He was educated at Fauconberg School, Beccles, and became a cadet, at age 14, on H.M.S Worcester, to train for his entry into the Merchant Service.
As an apprentice he joined the Earl Line's 308-foot 4-masted barque, Earl of Aberdeen, on September 4th 1886 in Penarth, England, and sailed with a cargo of coal for Colombo, Ceylon, a trip of 107 days. The ship returned to Liverpool with a cargo of rice, a trip of 120 days, arriving on August 27th 1887. Combe took three more voyages aboard the Earl of Aberdeen, leaving the ship on April 4th 1890.
On June 16th 1890 he joined the barque Orion on her maiden voyage as Second Mate and spent the next 18 months visiting New York, Melbourne, and San Francisco, returning to Dover on December 24th, 1891.
He joined the S.S. Silvertown, under the command of Capt. A.S. Thomson, as Third Officer on April 20th 1892.
His first journal (1886 - 1893), transcribed from letters home, ends on August 2nd 1893 when the Silvertown returned to the Royal Victoria Docks and paid off the crew.
The second journal (1894 - 1895), covers a voyage aboard the S.S. Omba as Second Mate from February 1894 to October of the same year, then attaining his Master's papers. He joined the S.S. Dacia as Chief Officer on January 9th 1895. This second journal ends on July 13th 1895 when the Dacia returned from work on the Cadiz - Teneriffe cable.
My limited research shows that my grandfather later commanded cable ships Dacia and Buccaneer prior to his taking command of Restorer in February, 1905. The period from the summer of 1895 aboard the Dacia to his retirement in 1923 is a bit of a mystery and I'd like to fill in some of the gaps. If you have any information on this part of Basil Combe's life, please contact me through the Atlantic Cable website.
Roger Barclay, March 2003
CS Restorer, photographed in Hawaii, 1922
Apprentice to Second Mate:
Note: Cableships Silvertown and Dacia were owned by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company. Click on this link for the history of the company.
See also the 1898 article Submarine Cable Laying by Archer Philip Crouch, C.E., for a description of work performed by the India Rubber Company's cableships during Combe's time of service.
On December 30, 1898, while Basil Combe was captain of CS Buccaneer, he wrote this postcard to his brother-in-law in London.
The last document concerning Captain Combe is a memo from M.H. Gray of The India Rubber, Gutta Percha, and Telegraph Works Company, Limited, dated 7th May 1901, congratulating Combe on his transfer to Dacia. This is the only documentation showing his command of both Buccaneer and Dacia.
The text and images on the
pages are copyright © 2005 Roger Barclay
here to contact Roger if you have
any information on Captain Combe
or the ships he sailed on
Last revised: 21 December, 2019