Contents for this section        HOME


Alfred Vingoe 1869 -1954

A Full and Varied Life

celtic knot

Alfred VINGOE was born 19th of  December  1869 at Newlyn, West Cornwall, a son of  Thomas Ellis VINGOE  [1816-1879] & his 2nd wife Mary Ann Payne nee Wills 1828-1905.He was the youngest member of a very large family with  two half brothers & two half sisters from his father's first marriage; a half brother and sister from his mother's first marriage as well as his three full sisters and 2 full brothers. This eldest of this family of eleven children was 29 years older than Alfred and consequently the first family were married with children of their own at the time of his birth. Many of their children  were closer to Alfred in age. My grandfather, son of Thomas Ellis Vingoe II,  was a nephew of Alfred but only 4 years his junior. Alfred's mother, Mary Ann was the widow of  Samuel PAYNE and had been a WILLS before her first marriage.

Alfred's  father, Thomas Ellis VINGOE had first married Margaret Pollard GILBERT, but she died after giving birth to their fifth child, Margaret Gilbert VINGOE on 12 Sept 1851. Mother and child died within days of each other, leaving Thomas Ellis a widower with a young family to look after. For full information on the family go to the tree.

The family lived at Prospect Place, Trewarveneth St, Newlyn Town & although the house was small, a total of 5 adults and 6 children occupied the premises on the night of the 1871 census. These were as follows:                                                                                                                                     Thomas E VINGOE: his 2nd wife Mary Ann & 6 children: Margaret + Sarah Ann + John + Francis  James + Martha Louise & Alfred. Also present were 2 children of Mary Ann's 1st marriage: Sam Payne: 21  fisherman & Mary Payne: 19 dressmaker: and her father James Wills 75 shipwright father-law, to Tomas Ellis VINGOE.  Thomas's children by  his first wife had by now left their family home, three having married: the fourth, Elizabeth Gilbert VINGOE was living with her married sister,  Grace HARVEY.

As Alfred grew up he would have been taken to the Wesleyan Day School  by his sister Martha Louise [known as 'Cissie'] who was three years older than him. The headmaster was a Mr Champion and a slipway leading down from the school was named after him.  The school was going through a hard time in the 1870's and Ben Batten a Newlyn historian wrote an excellent piece on the school which you can read by going here. Disease was an ever present  threat to life in the  Newlyn of the 1800's. On the 23rd of January 1877. Alfred lost an elder sister Sarah Ann age 18 to Polio. This was possibly the first of many sad and tragic moments in  Alfred's life.  Two years later, on the 23 Sep 1879 , Alfred's father, Thomas Ellis Vingoe, was drowned whilst fishing off the coast of Whitby. The obituary can be read HERE . The deep sadness of such a loss  would have been cruelly felt by his wife and young family. Mary Ann was now a widow for the second time, and  with several young children still to support. Alfred's elder brothers, John and Francis James, were with the fleet in Whitby, Francis James being on the boat with his father at the time of the accident. Having occurred far away in  Whitby the death was hardly mentioned in the Cornish press. The "Cornishman" newspaper carried a small piece, whilst the "West Briton" did not carry any report. This was probably because two Cornish boats had been run down by steamers off Whitby in the same week, with the loss of both crews. These boats were the "Malakoff" of St Ives and the "Providence" of Newlyn.  Both boats were carrying Newlyn crews of three men each, and that made the headlines.

Thomas's remains were not found until a week or so later and there was a coroners inquest. In those days there was little hope of bringing the body back to Newlyn for burial, so  the drowned body of Thomas Ellis VINGOE was laid to rest  in the cemetery at Whitby, the grave marked by a headstone. This was later damaged in a storm but has been recently replaced. 

Two years after his father's death the 1881 census shows Alfred living with his mother, brothers John and Francis and his sister, Martha Louise, at number 11 Chapel Street, Newlyn. This street is still there with it cobbled surface just as it was then. The family home at Prospect Place was now  occupied  by his older half- brother, Thomas Ellis VINGOE and his family. Alfred was by now eleven years old and may  have transferred to the new Board School on Paul Hill, opened in 1880 & free of charge, a big help to a widowed mother bringing up a young family. We next hear of him in 1885 when he was a trainee on the " Mount Edgecumbe" off Saltash. This  was the former wooden hilled  warship "Winchester" built in 1822. She had been  renamed in  1876 and converted into a naval training school and Alfred was on board her as Royal Navy Cadet. 

 Perhaps his father's death by drowning  initiated his desire to learn to swim, unlike many seamen of the time who considered it pointless to try and survive drowning. They considered it far better to die quickly than to fight against the elements with little hope of rescue. Alfred's strength and ability in life- saving was to lead  to two dramatic rescues.  Whilst serving on the "Mount Edgecumbe" in 1885 he rescued someone from drowning in the Tamar River and was awarded  a medal by the Royal Humane Society.  2263 . This heroic act was followed in 1887 by another when he was serving as a Boy Sailor, 1st Class aboard  "HMS Skylark" .The Skylark was a sailing ship and whilst at sea a member of the crew fell overboard. Alfred saw him fall and dived straight into the sea from the lower yard arm, where he was working. He  manage to hold the man afloat until a boat was lowered to rescue them both. Once again his rescue was recognised by the Royal Humane Society and  he was awarded a bar to attach to the medal ribbon of his first award. 23660*

In 1892 Alfred came home on leave to marry Annie Rowe of Madron Parish. The wedding took place on the 20th of August at the Wesley Rock Methodist Chapel, Heamoor. This, as the name suggests, was built over a rock on which the Charles Wesley had preached  in the 1700's.  Alfred and Annie set up home in Penzance and a daughter Ann Marion was born on Boxing Day 1894. Alfred was at sea at the time and missed the birth. In January 1895 Alfred was serving on board "HMS St George" in West Africa when the Royal Niger Company, under George Taubman Goldie, unilaterally changed the rules of the then flourishing palm oil trade. This  had sprung up in the early 19th century to replace the illegitimate trans-Atlantic slave trade. Goldie wanted the best of both worlds. He stopped the Ijaw middlemen from shipping oil directly to firms in Britain, whilst at the same time insisting on an unhindered access for himself  into the hinterlands.

On February 26, 1895 the kingdom was ruthlessly sacked and more than 2000 people including many  women and children were killed. This operation became known as  the "Brass River Campaign"  and like the others who took part in it Alfred was awarded the East & West Africa Medal with the Brass River Clasp.

In September 1896 another tragedy struck Alfred, when his wife Annie died in an outbreak of Typhoid in Penzance. Alfred, whose baby daughter was just 22 months old left the navy and returned home to Penzance, where he joined Trinity House as a Mount's Bay Pilot. The pilot boats were kept outside the harbour at Battery Quay. This is the site of the open air swimming pool today. The pilots would go out from there to meet vessels arriving at the ports of Penzance or Newlyn and bring them safely into port. They would also take vessels leaving port a safe distance out to sea before transferring to the little pilot boat to return to the Battery: see photo below. 


                                                                                            Batten's Wharf & Barbican: now demolished,  Mount in the background

                           In October 1897 Alfred married again at  Penzance Registry Office. His bride was Mary Ellen James, daughter of  George & Mary James of Newlyn Road, Paul.

                                                                                                The couple were to have a total of eight children between 1898 and 1911.  


 Penzance Lifeboat with possibly Alfred at the helm

Alfred had also become a member of the crew of the Penzance lifeboat "Elizabeth and Blanch" and was coxswain between 1907-1909 when it was based in Penzance. Some records show that Thomas Ellis VINGOE, my grandfather, was also a member of the Penzance crew. When it was moved to Newlyn sometime in 1910  Thomas Ellis VINGOEb1873, took over from his uncle Alfred VINGOE b1869    as Coxswain. Thomas's brother, Robert VINGOE  [1875] was his Bowman & a cousin, Arthur VINGOE [b1886] was  assistant coxswain.  Thomas's brother-in-law Robert SAMPSON was also a crew member.  I remember my Dad saying mostly "cousins" and "family" made up the crew of that  lifeboat "one way and another", by which he meant those that married into the family as well. Between the years 1908 and 1914 Alfred and Thomas saved 72 lives between them  including 20 men from the "Clan McPherson of Glasgow. According to his obituary, Alfred was best remembered for a rescue undertaken from his ilot boat and not from the lifeboat. On the 18th of June 1909 Alfred was returning to Penzance in his pilot boat when he noticed that a large sailing ship was low in the water and flying distress flags. He and his two crew members sailed over to the craft which was the "Leon Burau" to find that the ship had been holed on a rock off the Scilly Isles and was fast taking in water. Climbing aboard Alfred told the captain to put on full sail, and when this was done, Alfred piloted the ship into Penzance where he beached her just outside the harbour. The next day was a Sunday and people were amazed to see this fully rigged sailing ship ashore, just outside the harbour entrance. Alfred arranged for most of the cargo to be discharged into small ships and then at high tide the ship was towed into the harbour to be repaired. A full account of the rescue is given in the "Cornishman" newspaper.

In November 1913 Alfred sailed aboard the "Seguranca" for New York en route to take up an appointment as pilot and harbour master at the Island of Curacao. The emigration records at New York's Ellis Island show him as an alien & that he had been to USA before, namely Portland and San Diego. This was probably whilst serving in the Royal Navy.

In 1914 we find an' Alfredo' Vingoe arriving in New York from Venezuela. This turns out to be Alfred who gave his ethnicity as Cornish and his place of residence as Newport, Curacao, West Indies. I have since confirmed that he had been Harbour Master in Curacao. He gave his home address as being at 10 Morrab Place, Penzance. This house had been built and lived in by a Henry Vingoe,  [1780-`1858 a builder] and afterwards his son William Henry Vingoe [1807-1888 a naturalist]  and then in turn  his granddaughter Emily QUANCE [neeVingoe a musician] who emigrated to South Africa sometime after 1891. They were not directly related to Alfred having descended from another branch of the family way back in 1703. How, why or when  Alfred Vingoe came to live in this property previously occupied by Richard and Emily Quance I have  been  unable to discover. I had always understood  Alfred was left a house in Clifton Terrace, Newlyn,  by his father's brother, Richard Mann Vingoe but he appears to have never lived in it. 

Alfred was a member of the Royal Navy Reserve and  was returning  to Britain to take up a position in the Royal Navy in the first World War. His obituary published in the "Cornishman" newspaper on the 18th July 1954 tells us that he was appointed  King's Harbour Master at Penzance and then served as skipper on one of Britain's top secret "Q" boats. These were Britain's answer to the German's  U-boat. The fighting vessels were a great trick of disguise and cunning - they were actually ordinary ships built as decoys. In the ports of the south west ships of every shape and size -trawlers, steamers, schooners and cargo ships - were all transformed secretly into men-of -war. These special service decoy vessels were only given 'Q' numbers. Alfred's ship was Q9                                            

Alfred's grandson, Sydney Vingoe, says he was told this was a "Brigantine square rigged on the foremast and  fore and aft on the mizzen" Whether this was the same vessel as H.M. Trawler "Yokohama" we are not sure. There is an account on record at the Public Records Office  (ADM 156/123)  of an incident which resulted in Alfred being summoned before a "Court of Enquiry  into the possible sinking of one of  his Majesty's  submarines by HM Trawler YOKOHAMA. Chief Skipper A. Vingoe R.N.R. Admiralty 23 June 1917." 

This "Yokohama" was some 291 tons and had been built in 1909. The Royal Navy hired her from 1915 to 1919 and she was fitted with a twelve inch gun. On April the 8th 1919 Alfred is listed in the Royal London Gazette as being "Mentioned in Dispatches", yet another award for bravery and he was able to wear the bronze oak leaf with his other medals. 

Alfred was now aged fifty and you may think he would have been ready to put his feet up and take life a little easier. This was not the case, however, and in January 1921 he with Mary Ellen and seven of the children boarded the White Star Liner "Adriatic" in Southampton and set sail for the United States of America.  The ship's manifest tells us that he was sailing to join an American mine-sweeper and that the tickets of the whole family had been paid for by the British Government. He gave his occupation as a master mariner and  other members of the family were listed as follows:






Mary Ellen




Ruby Winifred




Cecil George




Roma Violet




Mary Louise








Francis Warwick




Bertha Margaret




All the family had there final destination down as the home of  W R James at East William Street, Pittsburgh, Kansas. William Robert James was the husband of Alfred's daughter by his first wife, Ann Marion Vingoe b.1894. She had gone to stay with her mother's sister in Wales (source 1911 census) and obviously met William Robert James, a coalminer, while she was living there. They were married in Newport Monmouthshire in the Dec 1/4 of 1913. Marion & William, with their daughter Marie had emigrated from Wales to Pittsburgh, Kansas in June of  1920. Pittsburgh was  "a small, rough, coal mining town" and I don't think that Alfred and his family stayed there very long before moving with his family to Coronado, California. His grandson Sydney tells me that they "travelled with all the children part of the way by car with a barrel of water tied on the bonnet....must have caused a few remarks during prohibition"

In Coronado they were once again living by the sea and Alfred became a member of the Yacht Club but he also sailed in merchant ships. On a ships manifest if 1927 I  found  him working as the "Master at Arms" on the liner "Kroonland", bound for San Francisco via Havana and Los Angeles. His son Cecil was also a crew member and sailing as a mess boy. Both are listed as being American citizens.   

In 1935 Alfred and and Mary Ellen returned to Newlyn where they lived in retirement in his mother's old house at 11, Chapel Street. He died on the 13th of July 1954, some twenty years after returning from the States. He is buried in the Municipal Cemetery at Sheffield Road  in the village of Paul. A little over a year later Mary Ellen also died, aged 82 years, having also lived a full and interesting life alongside her husband. Below is a photo of his grave with details.


Alfred in later life & Mary Ellen, his second wife


In loving memory of 

Captain Alfred Vingoe

Harbour Master, Lifeboat Coxswain,

Master Mariner & Pilot

1869 - 1954

And His Beloved Wife

Mary Ellen Vingoe

1873 - 1955


George James: 

 Father  of Mary Ellen  James and Father-in-Law of  Alfred Vingoe



GP. Web Design