As part of our 100 years of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group anniversary series, we’re looking back at the people that contributed to the company and made a huge impact on the community on the islands. In this series we meet Captain Joseph Reseigh.
Captain Reseigh was the fourth generation of a family deeply rooted in west Cornwall; his father was the Harbour Master in Mousehole, and Joseph was born in 1884 at 7 Fore Street, the house that the family had lived in for many years. He gained a great deal of experience in the Royal Navy and aboard the first Steamship vessel ‘Peninnis’, before being appointed Mate on the Scillonian in 1925 under Captain McAlister. It was all but promised that he would be made Captain when the latter retired, so long as he could get his Master’s Certificate. This he achieved in 1931 and was suitably appointed Captain of Scillonian the same year. By this time, he had married Ena Hicks, a local girl, and had moved to the Islands to live and bring up his family.
Certificates of Discharge for Captain Reseigh for when he first joined the Company as Mate on the Peninnis on 24/09/25, until he was discharged and joined Scillonian on 02/02/26, papers kindly shared by Joe’s son- Peter Reseigh.
Image credit to Gibson Photography
Grandson, Jeremy Reseigh Watts wrote the book ‘The Duchess of Auriga’ about Joseph’s wife Ena; including some wonderful anecdotes about Captain Reseigh and his time with the company. We love these extracts…
“Both Captain McAlister and Captain Reseigh knew only too well the importance of a regular service between the islands and the mainland and made the trip in conditions that would be unthinkable now. This was no more in evidence than during the Second World War, when throughout the whole of the hostilities, Captain Reseigh missed only one trip and this was due to bad weather. For this exemplary service he was awarded an MBE, Civilian Division, in 1941.
For the people of Scilly, in 1939, it must have seemed a doom-laden portent, seeing their beloved Scillonian suddenly painted an ominous, brooding black on Admiralty instructions.
It was during World War Two that Captain Reseigh performed the laudable feat of achieving almost an exact 100% sailing record for those war years between 1939 and 1945, just with one sailing cancelled on the 17th December 1942 due to exceptionally bad weather. A service record that contributed to both him and Chief Engineer Alfred Nicholls being awarded the MBE by King George VI.
Captain Reseigh receiving his M.B.E. in 1942, image kindly shared by Joe’s son- Peter Reseigh.
Another factor in this award was attributable to the stationing by the War Office, of a garrison of British troops on Scilly throughout World War Two…the Scillonian was pressed into service in ferrying some 40,000 troops back and forth between Scilly and the mainland over the course of the war and quite obviously, this made her a legitimate military target. Scillonian was fitted with a Lewis gun (later supplemented by a second) and provided with a Hurricane fighter plane escort.
WW2 troops aboard Scillonian
With the advent of peacetime in the year of 1945, life in Scilly slowly returned to normal. The Scillonian was repainted in her traditional white and she and her captain sailed on through the years, and gradually grew older together. Along the way there was still the odd adventure or two…
Scillonian I back to her traditional white colour
Skipper, Joseph’s Jack Russell and a faithful sea-going companion, mistimed his return to the ship and arrived on St. Mary’s Quay to find the Scillonian pulling away from the quay. Without hesitation, the intrepid seadog launched himself off the quay into the water and proceeded to swim furiously after the departing vessel. Realising that the dog would swim after the ship until he drowned, Captain Reseigh gave orders to heave to until the struggling bedraggled mutt (but crew member nevertheless!) could be hoisted aboard.”
Captain Joseph Reseigh died, still in service, in 1953, at the age of 68 after working for the Steamship Company for 27 years, 22 of them as Master. During his 27 years with us, he made 6712 voyages, of which 1552 were made during the war years. Captain Reseigh is remembered as a great employee of the Company.
Photograph taken on the deck of the Scillonian where he would usually be seen talking to the passengers, taken in the late 1940’s.