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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Life on CS John W. Mackay, 1947

Introduction: Site visitor Darlene Partridge recently purchased in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a small accounts book containing records of income and expenses on board CS John W Mackay dating to the last quarter of 1947 and into the beginning of 1948.

Stewart Ash has examined the contents of the book and notes that it was almost certainly an officer’s personal record of expenses while serving on the ship. Stewart’s comments on the details of each page accompany Darlene’s scans of the book.

Click on each image for a larger view of each page.

—Bill Burns

CS John W Mackay

Page 1 shows that the unknown officer signed on to CS John W Mackay in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 4th September 1947.

Page 2 is weekly purchases of duty-free from the ship’s shop, run by the purser for the use of officers and men, totalling $18.14 for September:
7th Sept, half a pound of P.M. pipe tobacco, a bottle of rum, 200 Players cigarettes.
13th Sept, bottle of Scotch, 200 Gold Flake
20th Sept, bottle of gin, box of matches, 200 cigarettes (not sure if these are Senior Service or Capstan), half a pound of pipe tobacco.
27th Sept, 400 Camel cigarettes and a bottle of rum.

Page  3 is his personal laundry bill of $7.25, probably for washing his whites uniform.

Page 4 is cigarettes and matches for October, $6.92.

Page 5 is currency received from the purser for going ashore in Santa Domingo, Curacao, and Colon (Canal Zone).

Page 6 is more cigarettes and rum in November, for a total of $8.81.

Page 7 is the charge of $2.70 for a Christmas greetings radio telegram sent from the ship on December 24th,  probably to a family member or a loved one.

Page 8 more cigarettes, rum and tobacco in December, totalling $13.89, with a cash advance in pencil at the bottom.

Page 9 is probably the most interesting, as it is his summary of wages, advances and expenses up to year-end 1947.
He was paid $240 per month for the three months and 28 days from signing on until the end of the year, for a total of $944. His expenses and cash drawings came to $866.42, leaving a balance due to him of $77.58.

Page 10 is his expenses in January 1948: laundry, radio message charges, cash advance to go ashore in Havana, more cigarettes (Lucky Strike), matches, and one box of cigars (Cuban), for a total of $39.40.

The entries show an interesting side of life on board ship. The shop would open once a week, and the stock was purchased by the purser from what was available from the shore agent, hence the different cigarettes that this individual was buying. In later years it is understood that most officers who sailed on the Mackay begrudged the prices charged and believed that the pursers used to make illicit profit from these shops. Almost all ships’ pursers were Masons, as were the agents that they used in each port. This gave the ship access to the best produce, so in that way the officers and crew benefited when it came to the quality of food, but they believed they were ripped off by the purser when it came to cigarettes and booze!

From the quantities purchased it’s clear that this individual was a fairly heavy smoker and drinker, mostly of rum.  Although some sharing/treating went on, alcohol and cigarettes were mainly purchased for personal consumption!

Images on this page courtesy of
and copyright © 2019 Darlene Partridge

Last revised: 2 October, 2019

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