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Seafaring Men

John Orr went to sea at 14 and eventually became a captain with the East India Company. Sailing back from Calcutta at the end of the eighteenth century, he was lost at sea. His young son James Orr was raised by his mother and sisters.

My father was descended from a race of seafaring men. The Orr family came from that part of Scotland through which flows the river of that name, but Father's ancestors were living as early as 1688 near "Derry," as he always called it (not "Londonderry," which he said was the name given it by the English) in the northern part of Ireland. Father's great grandfather James Orr, for whom he was named, and the first of the family to settle in Ireland, was a Captain in the British Navy. His son Hugh Orr followed his father's footsteps.

Orr manuscriptWhen his only son John Orr was born, the father planned that he too should serve in the British Navy. With this end in view, when John Orr was a boy of fourteen years, his father took him on a long cruise. The boy was charmed with the life on board ship, and wanted to enter the Navy as soon as possible. But Captain Orr said no, that his son must go back to school. In three or four years he would be ready to enter the service, and then Captain Hugh Orr would be glad to have his son join the Navy. The boy obeyed.

But in the next two or three years, events in Ireland took a turn for the worse. Captain Hugh Orr returned from another long cruise and learned from the teachers that his boy had done well at school and was well prepared to take his examinations for the Navy. To his father's great surprise and regret, young John Orr told his father that, though he loved the sea as much as ever, he had given up all thought of entering the Navy. The thinking young men had written and talked to some effect. Though of a Scotch and Protestant family, John Orr told his father that he still wanted to go to sea, that he loved a ship better than he would love a castle, and the sea better than the land, but if he joined the British Navy, he might be called upon "to fight against Ireland."

Captain Hugh Orr was much grieved at what he considered a foolish notion of his son's, but perhaps he felt that his son knew what would come. At all events, John Orr was continued at school, and it was not long after this that Captain Hugh Orr died. Left to his own action and feeling that he must follow the sea, John Orr became, at first, Mate and then Captain of a small vessel trading between Belfast and Liverpool. But this did not content him, and he also made visits to London. He shipped with a Liverpool Captain who was going to Calcutta. He returned in safety, made another voyage to India, and after some years became Mate then Captain in the British East India Service.

Meanwhile, Captain John Orr had married and had three daughters. His wife complained bitterly of his long periods of absence from home, but could not convince him that he should give up the life at sea. They had three children, all girls: Eliza (Mrs. Collins), Alice (Mrs. Hill) and Mary. Finally a son James Orr was born. Captain Orr was delighted that the new baby was a son. He was just about to take another trip to the Far East, but promised his wife that it was to be his last voyage. Capt. Orr said that, as he had agreed to make the voyage to Calcutta, he could not well break the engagement, but that after that trip, he would "stay at home with his son."

Just after reaching Calcutta he sent (by a ship leaving for England) a letter to his wife, saying that the trip had been an unusually quick and pleasant one. The merchandise brought out and in which he had a share had been sold to great advantage, he was busy getting a return cargo, and hoped soon to start on his homeward voyage. He wrote that he was anxious now to be at home and to stay there, "with his son!"

But he did not come home, and no other letter ever came to the wife in Ireland. Inquiries sent by the family to Calcutta and to the Liverpool owners showed that a return cargo had been secured, and that on a certain date the ship had left India, but the ship was never heard from afterwards. Just after the ship had left Calcutta, there had been very severe storms in the Indian Ocean, and the belief was that all on board must have perished.

Aunt Hill used to say that she believed that her father was "lost in a storm in the Irish Sea as his ship was nearing Liverpool." Aunt Hill's idea might have evolved from the date of her mother's letter from India; it would be a long time before they could possibly expect him to reach England, and when they thought he was near Liverpool, he most probably had been lost months before. Our father was then a young baby. He grew to boyhood cared for by mother and sisters, but never knowing a father's love. Next

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By Mary Eleonore Orr

ME Orr

Seafaring Men
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Manuscript written by Mary Eleonore Orr in about 1922.