A Scottish family, with links to the north-east, have joined forces to discover more about their ancestor, Hugh Sproat, who made record sailings on Aberdeen-built clippers to Australia in the 19th century.
The Sproat clan have farmed in the Kirkcudbrightshire area of Scotland for at least 500 years, but family members from as far afield as Canada and Australia have only recently started investigating the history of their relative.
Captain Sproat, who lived from 1807 to 1863, was the skipper of famous Granite City vessels the Star of Peace and Phoenician.
John Sproat, who is still based in Scotland, Paul Sproat, who is now living in Canada and Susan Schudmak in Australia, told the Press and Journal they were starting to appreciate the significant impact which Cpt Sproat had made on the high seas during his life.
He said: “The Aberdeen connection is intriguing and it’s all the more remarkable, because I was a veterinary surgeon in Methlick from 1976 to 1989 and also a member of Aberdeen and Stonehaven Yacht Club during that time.
“But although I visited the Aberdeen Maritime Museum and the Art Gallery, I never knew about my family connection to Hugh Sproat until recently when Paul and Susan got in touch and we started working together to find out more.
“Susan has some family portraits and a picture of Star of Peace, Paul has unearthed a number of amazing letters which were written by Hugh, even as he was travelling halfway round the world, and we are now trying to collate all this information.
“We do know that Hugh was a very accomplished seafarer and was highly regarded by the authorities here and in Australia.
“At that time, in the 1840s and 1850s, journeys normally took four to five months and were fraught with dangers.
“But Hugh changed that while at the helm of the Star of Peace when he completed four successive journeys in between 77 and 79 days.
“The Australian officials knew this was a testimony to his skill and leadership and we’re proud of that. He was also the first captain in the White Star Line who was entrusted with delivering a massive amount of gold [with a weight of 80,000 pounds] and he brought that to Britain on the Phoenician.”
Paul Sproat has given the P&J copies of correspondence from his ancestor during these odysseys Down Under. They reveal that Cpt Sproat was a visionary character who treated his crew with respect and was in love with travel and adventure, in addition to being a shrewd businessman.
There is also an account by an Aberdeen corespondent for The Times, who wrote: “When the facts are fully considered, it should no longer be contended the American clippers have any claim to be faster than British ships such as the Star of Peace and the Phoenician which were built in this very city.”
Paul Sproat has studied the Aberdeen Register of Shipping and learned that both clippers were eventually broken up in the 1890s.
He said: “They were magnificent vessels and ships such as the Star of Peace and the Phoenician – and the Walter Hood, the Salamis and Thermopylae – were crucial both before and during the Victorian era.”
He is keen to discover more information about his family’s history. If you can help, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org