The Yachtsman: Norman Clark Neill (1884-1935)

Family Background

Like the preceding owner of Stephanotis Douglas Graham, Norman Clark Neill was born into wealth - only even more of it.

The pedigree chart below shows Norman Clark Neill with his name highlighted.

Neill Pedigree
Norman Clark Neill. Family pedigree chart [78]
Click image for enlarged view

Norman Clark Neill's Paternal Grandfather: John Neil (1814-1878)

John Neil was born at Irvine, Ayrshire in 1814 to John Neill and Agnes Dunlop. In 1840 he married Catherine Isabella Dempster and they had 8 children. On the 1841 census he was described as a Merchant and on the 1851 census as a Merchant and Ship Owner. By 1861 he was running a sugar refinery in Greenock and employing 52 men and 3 boys.

The chart below shows John Neil's children and their spouses where known.

John Neill Children
John Neill's children [12]
Click image for enlarged view

John Neil died in Ventnor, Isle of Wight in 1879. He left an estate valued at £71,011 (about £8.9 Million at 2019 values).

Children of John Neill

John Merchant Neill (1841-1914)

John was born in Greenock on 3 November 1841 and joined the family sugar refining business. He also qualified as a ship's Master - but the certificate includes the wording ' Of his own Yacht Alexandra' and ' Fore and Aft Only'. The limitations suggest he was not qualified as a Master for either square-riggers or steamers so his qualification may have been for pleasure sailing only. He married Alison Grieve on 9 November 1865 and they had five children. He died on 17 September 1914. The value of his estate is not shown on the probate calendar entry.

Barbara Neill (1846-1897)

Barbara was born in Greenock on 28 May 1846 and married James McCunn a ship owner on 14 December 1865. McCunn later became a traffic agent for the Greenock Harbour Trust. They had six children. Barbara died in Greenock in 1897.

George Dempster Neill: (1849-1927)

George also joined the family sugar refining business and is described as a Sugar Refiner Master on the 1881 census. He married Harriet Judith Page in Bloemfontaine, South Africa on 27 September 1877. She came to Scotland to live with him in Greenock; they had no children. They moved to London and George died on 3 November 1927 and was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery in Wandsworth.

Agnes Dunlop Neill: (1849-1934)

Agnes was also born in Greenock about 1849 and married a merchant James Millar at Largs on 18 June 1872. They had five children. James died 5 June 1894 at Southport leaving an estate valued at £23,903 (about £3.1 Million at 2019 values). Agnes died in Eastbourne on 20 May 1934 leaving an estate valued at £7,668 in Scotland and an unstated amount in England.

William James Neill: (1853-1903

See below

Catherine Dempster Neill: (1854-1924)

Catherine was born about 1854 and spent much of her life living with a sister on 'Independent Means'. Unfortunately the old Scottish census returns were destroyed so little detail can be obtained. She does not appear to have married and died at Kilmacolm Hydropathic Hotel on 18 May 1924 leaving an estate valued at £19,597 (about £1.2 Million at 2019 values).

Robert Neill: (1856-?)

Robert was born at Greenock on 24 October 1856. The census of 1881 notes his occupation as an Analytical Chemist. He could well have been working in the family business. In 1891 he is recorded as a Student of Chemistry and in 1901 as a Beer Brewer after which I can find no trace of him.

John Neill: (1857-?)

I have been unable to discover any information about John Neill apart from his appearance on the 1871 census where he is shown as Koll Neill due to a transcription error.

Norman Clark Neill's Father: William James Neill: (1853-1903

William was born in Greenock and by 1881 was in the family sugar refining business and appears as a sugar refiner in both the 1881 and 1891 censuses. He married Elizabeth Aitken Clark in 1878 and they had three children of whom Norman, the future owner of Stephanotis), was the middle one.

William's wife Elizabeth died in Greenock in 1900 at the age of 44. She left an estate valued at £92,285 (about £11.4 Million at 2019 values). William died in Greenock two years later in 1903 at the age of 50. He left an estate valued at £92,018 (about £11.3 Million at 2019 values).

The Neill's Sugar Refining Business

I have included a lot of information about sugar refining here for two reasons. Firstly it was the source of the wealth of the Neill family, and secondly because, before researching the history of this family, I knew nothing about the awful conditions under which sugar was refined in the Victorian era with the working conditions of people in sugar refineries not a great deal better than those of slaves on plantations producing the raw material.

The use of cane sugar probably started in Polynesia and spread to India. In 510 BC the Persians invaded India and found cane sugar being used as a sweetener. The process was kept secret and big profits made from the end-product. Arab peoples invading Persia in 642 AD discovered the secret and established sugar production in North Africa and Spain. It came to the attention of Western Europeans at the time of the Crusades in the 11th Century with the first written reference to sugar in England being in 1099.

By the 15th Century sugar was being refined in Venice and in 1493 Columbus took sugar cane plants to the Caribbean as an experiment. It was found highly suitable for the climate and a sugar cane production industry was quickly established with the use of slave labour. By 1750 there were 120 sugar refineries in Britain. Refining was a profitable business and the fortunes of many families were made from it; the government also derived huge revenues from sugar tax. The high price ensured sugar remained a luxury item until the tax was finally abolished by Gladstone in 1874 making sugar prices within the means of ordinary people. No doubt a huge cheer went up from dentists throughout the land.

Sugar refining at Greenock started in earnest in 1765 when Mark Kuhl built a large refinery near the harbour on what became known as Sugarhouse Lane. The location can be seen hatched in on the map extract below.

Extract from John Wood's plan of Greenock published 1825 showing the location of Kuhl's sugarhouse [44]
Click image for enlarged view

Refining was carried out at Greenock for about 250 years. [87] Colonial connections, initially with the slave colonies in the West Indies, ensured a supply of the raw material for processing. Imperial expansion led to the Greenock sugar trade pursuing business in almost all parts of the world. The refining trade made several dynastic business fortunes and these families came to have an important role in the business and politics of nineteenth century Greenock. Close examination of Andrew Macfarlane's town map of Greenock and its environs of 1842 shows sugarhouses in many locations in the area. Sugar refining was a complex dangerous process involving largely manual labour in dreadful working conditions with many stages of processing. There were frequent fires in sugarhouses - some being burnt down several times.

The image below shows the various locations of sugarhouses in Greenock.

Greenock Sugarhouses
Diagram showing locations of sugarhouses in Greenock [93]

Working Practices

Although I haven't found an account of working practices in Greenock, they will have been much the same as in London. Pioneer investigative journalist James Greenwood describes a visit to a London sugarhouse in an article At a Sugar Baking in his 1876 book The Wilds of London [95]. The link is to the full article; extracts quoted below give the general idea of conditions. Surprisingly Henry Mayhew didn't give an account of sugar manufacture.

Regarding the mild and innocent-looking sugar-lump, so pure, and bright, and sparkling, it is by no means easy to believe how its production can involve any prodigious amount of hard labour and man-sweating; so it is, however. Accidentally it came to my knowledge just recently that the manufacture of the saccharine luxury - a branch of trade of considerable importance, and providing with employment several thousand men at the east-end of London alone - was looked on, on account of its excessive hardship, with such dislike, that even that pattern of patient drudgery, the Irish labourer, could by no sort of persuasion be brought to undertake it. I was credibly informed that the bribe offered had taken even the seductive form of beer unlimited; but that still, marvellous to relate, the Emerald Islander remained obdurate, and the sugar-bakers were compelled, as has ever been the case, to resort for "hands" to the German labour market. .....

It was a sort of handy outer warehouse, that to which we were first introduced - a low-roofed, dismal place with grated windows, and here and there a foggy little gas-jet burning blear-eyed against the wall. The walls were black - not painted black. As far as one might judge they were bare brick, but "basted" unceasingly by the luscious steam that enveloped the place, they had become coated with a thick preserve of sugar and grime. The floor was black, and all corrugated and hard, like a public thoroughfare after a shower and then a frost. The roof was black, and pendent from the great supporting posts and balks of timber were sooty, glistening icicles and exudings like those of the gum-tree......

At the extremity of this gloomy cave, and glowing duskily at the mouth of a narrow passage, was dimly visible a gigantic globular structure in bright copper, and hovering about it a creature with bare arms and chest all grizzly-haired, with a long bright rod of iron in his grasp, which incessantly he waved about the mighty caldron;..... The copper structure above-mentioned proved to be nothing more necromantic than a gigantic pan, in which were, gently seething, ten tons of liquid sugar. The vessel was all covered in, and looked as compact as an orange, the shape of which fruit it resembles ; but in the side of it there was a small disc of glass, and looking through it one could get a glimpse of the bubbling straw-coloured mass within. The iron rod the guardian of the pan called a "key," if I rightly remember, and his sole occupation appeared to consist in dipping it in at a little hole in the vessel's side, and withdrawing it again, along with a little blob of melted sugar, which he took between his finger and thumb, and drew out and examined by the light of the gas.

No wonder that the poor wretches so employed drink much beer. With no more exertion than leisurely walking about demanded, before I had been in the factory a quarter of an hour, I was drenched with perspiration, and was not a moment free from a trickling down my face. To be sure, since indulgence in beer assists the sugar-baker in his work it is commendable in the master to provide it. But, as I am informed, it is in his power to carry his kindness a step further - he can abridge the sugar-baker's labouring hours. The poor fellow's wages are quite as low as those of the Irish hodman, but, unlike the last-mentioned, he knows nothing of a "nine hours" law. The sugar-baker works all hours. What he calls a fair day's work is twelve hours, but it is not rare for him to be kept at the slavery above described for sixteen, and even eighteen hours - from three o'clock in the morning till eight at night - without a penny of overtime or extra pay. He cannot help himself. If he leaves one factory he must enter another exactly similar.

The business Neill, Dempster and Neill was established as sugar refiners in 1853 by John Neil and D.F. Dempster. There was a large fire at their refinery at Dellingburn Street on 18 October 1865 which destroyed most of the factory complex. This was reported in many of the local newspapers and an account from the Paisley Herald and Renfrew Advertiser is reproduced below. The fire damage was estimated at £50,000 (about £6.3 Million in 2019 values).

Cutting from Paisley Herald and Renfrew Advertiser 21 Oct 1865 [94]

In 1868 the company built a new refinery at 78 Drumfrochar Road. The image below shows the Neill, Dempster and Neill sugarhouse in April 1893.

Neil Dempster and Neill Sugarhouse 1893. P3894.39 - Copyright McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock [87]

The image below shows men wheeling sugar bags at the Neill, Dempster & Neill sugar refinery, Greenock in 1894.

Neil Dempster and Neill Sugarhouse 1894. P3894.1 - Copyright McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock [87]

The image below entitled 'Neill's Tops' shows the interior of the office of Neill, Dempster & Neill Ltd. showing sugar ready for inspection in 1894.

Office at Neil Dempster and Neill Sugarhouse 1894. P3894.140 - Copyright McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock [87]

The image below was taken inside one of the sugar stores of Neill, Dempster & Neill sugar refinery, Greenock in 1894.

Inside a sugar store at Neil Dempster and Neill Sugarhouse 1894. P3894.105 - Copyright McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock [87]

Sugar refining continued at Greenock, with many consolidations and takeovers, until the last cargo of sugar was delivered to Tate & Lyle's Westburn refinery in June 1997.

Norman Clark Neill's Maternal Great Grandfather: John Clark (1781-1864)

To understand the later Clarks, it is necessary to consider how the family business started. However the history of the Clark family is complex so this account has to be very limited. If anyone wants to know more I have a collected a lot of genealogical information so feel free to contact me via the Menu.

In 1755 Patrick Clark and his brother James established a business in Paisley making heddles, reeds and shuttles for hand looms and manufacturing silk thread. When the business started, all weaving was done on hand looms; the first power loom was built by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 and they took some time to become established.

Towards the end of their lives, the brothers would have seen the worsening conditions for hand loom weavers and the new class of power loom factory workers. About 12 miles from Paisley the weavers of Calton had gone on strike over poor pay which culminated in the killing of three weavers at the hands of the government. 'Lowland clearances' between 1760 and 1830 forced many countrymen into the cities depressing wages and the population was swelled by Irish immigration fleeing their own desperate situation. Riots took place in 1816 and women and children of the hand loom weavers had to work alongside the menfolk to survive. It is hardly surprising that many of the weavers took the opportunity to emigrate and many settled in the Rideau Valley in Ontario - an area I visit often and where many Scottish place names can be found.

James Clark
Portrait of James Clark (1747-1829) [91]

The diagram below shows a hand loom with heddles, reeds and a shuttle. Heddles are the wire components with eyelets which hold warp yarns in place and enable their movement up and down. The reed is used to compact the fabric as weaving progesses and the shuttle carries the weft yarn from one side of the fabric to the other.

Hand Loom
Diagram showing the location of hand loom components manufactured by the Clark family [88]

The French blockade of 1806 under Napoleon hit the UK weaving business by interfering with the delivery of silk. Patrick Clark invented a way of making thread from twisted cotton as a substitute and opened the first manufacturing plant in Paisley on the north bank of the River Cart at a bend known as the Hammils in 1812. The new cotton thread became a great success and the company started supplying it on cotton bobbins instead of in hanks. There was a refundable deposit on the bobbin. Other members of the Clark family joined in the thread trade and Mile End Mill was set up in Glasgow in 1817.

When James Clark retired in 1819, his business was sold to his sons James (1783-1865) and Norman Clark Neill's great-grandfather John (1781-1864). The brothers built up the business as J. & J. Clark and they both in turn retired in 1852. The business then passed to John's son James, the maternal grandfather of the future owner of Stephanotis.

Norman Clark Neill's Maternal Grandfather: James Clark (1821-1881)

James was born in Paisley in 1823 and married Jane McArthur in 1850. They had 10 children of whom the 2nd, Elizabeth, would become the mother of Norman Clark Neill.

More and more Clarks seemed to get involved in the family business which was mushrooming. Brothers John and Stewart joined to help run the main business. During James Clark's time, various Clark businesses amalgamated under the name Clark and Co. and occupied the Anchor Mill premises which grew rapidly between 1860 and 1880 with departments for twisting, winding, polishing, dyeing, bobbin-turning, spooling and ticketing with the addition of engine and boiler houses.

By 1878 the complex included facilities to produce embroidery thread, a counting house, another dyeworks and a fire station. The expansion of this period is clearly shown in the figures relating to the value of the fixed capital of Clark & Co. In 1869 the capital stood at £56,000, by 1880 it was estimated at over £320,000.[90]

Although the Clarks did not make the famous Paisley Pattern shawls themselves (as far as I have discovered), their thread would have been used for them. The pattern, developed from oriental designs, has been popular on and off for a very long time. My grandmother was very fond of her Paisley shawl and I was fascinated by the pattern as a child. Looking at it now, it reminds me of fractal images.

Paisley Pattern
Example of a Paisley Pattern for a shawl [30]

The image below is an engraving showing the Clarks Anchor Thread Works as they were about 1880.

Anchor Mill
Anchor Thread Works about 1880 [30]

The image below shows Clark's Anchor mill top right, Paisley Abbey bottom left and just in front of it with a clock tower the Town Hall.

Anchor Mill
Anchor Mill and surroundings from 1936 [89]

George Aitken Clark

James Clark's brother George Aitken Clark (1823-1873) had been sent across the Atlantic and entered the firm of Kerr & Co. at Hamilton Ontario. He returned to Paisley and went into partnership making shawls but left this venture and established the firm of Kerr and Clark with his brother-in-law Robert Kerr making threads.

He went to the USA in 1856 and in 1864 set up a branch factory at Newark New Jersey. In 1866 the firm amalgamated with the original Clark firm under the name Clark & Co. with an anchor as trademark.

When George Aitken Clark died in 1873 his will included provision for scholarships at Glasgow University and £20,000 to build a town hall in Paisley. The company subscribed a further £40,000 and the building, dubbed the 'George A. Clark Town Hall' was opened in 1882. It can be seen on the aerial photo above close to the Anchor Mill works.

Clark Mill New Jersey
The Clark Cotton and Thread Company Mill at 900 Passaic Ave. in East Newark [92]

Norman Clark Neill's Mother: Elizabeth Aitken Clark (1856-1900)

Not a great deal is known about Elizabeth. She was born in Paisley on 15 Jun 1856, married William James Neill on 18 Dec 1878 and together they had three children James Clark Neil (1881-1918), Norman Clark Neil (1884-1935) and Kenneth McKenzie Clark Neil (1890-1946). She predeceased her husband by three years and clearly had her own money as when she died she left an estate valued at £92,285 (about £11.4 Million at 2019 values).

Life of Norman Clark Neill (1884-1935)

And so to Norman Clark Neill the 3rd owner of Stephanotis. As we have seen, he was born to a marriage between members of two of the wealthiest, and it must be said industrious, families in Scotland. The Neill family had made their money from sugar and the Clark family from cotton thread. So how does someone with that background spend their life?

Norman was born in Greenock in 1884. In 1891 the census shows him as a seven-year old living in the household of his grandmother Jane Clark at Paisley Abbey and described as a Scholar. This seems a bit odd as his mother and father were living in Greenock and so was his older brother James.

His parents had decided to point the three brothers in different directions; James was steered into engineering, Norman into the Law and Kenneth into agriculture. Of the three, two of the brothers seem to have put their education to good use; there is little or no evidence that Norman did.

James Clark Neil (1880-1918)

The eldest brother James attended Fettes College - a private co-educational independent boarding and day school in Edinburgh from 1895-1897. Incidentally Ian Fleming wrote in You Only Live Twice that James Bond had attended Fettes College. In 1912 James qualified as a Mechanical Engineer after serving as an apprentice for 3 years at Anchor Mill and for another 3 years at Ferguslie Mill. He then became Director's Assistant and from 1909 was a Director of J. and P. Coats Ltd. and had been responsible for building a new mill in St. Petersburg as well as upgrades to the mills in Paisley. It seems that, of the three brothers, James was going to be the one carrying on the family tradition, but his life was cut short when he died in Oct 1918 at the age of 38 leaving an estate valued at £109,381 (about £6.2 Million at 2019 values).

Kenneth McKenzie Clark Neill (1890-1946)

The youngest brother Kenneth is recorded in the 1911 census as a 'Student of Agriculture' at Aspatria in Cumberland. so presumably attended Aspatria Agricultural College which was considered very forward-thinking at the time and favoured a mixture of theory and practical work in accordance with the school motto Scientia et labore. The college closed around the beginning of WW1 and didn't reopen.

Records about Kenneth available online are rather confusing so there could well be errors in this account. He served in the Royal Navy ASC (Army Service Corps) during WW1 as a Temporary Lieutenant and at some point an Acting Captain. The role of the ASC was what we would nowadays refer to as 'Logistics'. He had married Ada Louise Sweetser in Oregon in 1911 and in 1930 the United States census has him living with Ada and three children at Jerome Prairie, Josephine County in Oregon with the occupation of 'Stone and gems cutter'. In 1940 he appears on the census at Applerogue, Josephine Oregon as a 'Farmer Retired', and in 1942 appears on a WW2 draft card as a 'Walnut Grower'. Some of the agricultural theory learned at Aspatria must have stuck. He died in 1946 at the age of 55 leaving the modest amount (for a member of the Clark family!) of £6,600 (about £278.5k at 2019 values).

Norman attended Fettes College like his brother James and appears on the 1901 census as a scholar there. According to an obituary published in the magazine of St. Johns College Cambridge, he had been awarded a BA degree but no more details were provided.

Fettes College
Fettes College Edinburgh [53]

Law Student

The 1911 census shows Norman living at 36 St James Street, London and his occupation recorded as 'Law Student' [97]. The 1911 address is on the corner of St James Street and Jermyn Street and very near to Piccadilly, the Ritz Hotel and Fortnum & Mason. Clearly he was not living on a student grant!

The Inner Temple Admissions Database has a record showing Norman Clark Neill's admission on 24 October 1906. His name is also included on a document listing 'Inner Templars who volunteered and served in the Great War'.

Inner Templars
Inner Templars who served in the Great War [43]

A barrister friend was unable to find any information about his involvement in the legal profession so he may not have completed his studies, or just moved on to other things after qualifying. By coincidence, a friend in the Shipping business tells me that some while back he had offices in St James Street and had an account with Barclays Bank that was then located at Norman's former address; there is now a shop selling spirits on the site. Whether Norman actually practised law is therefore unknown.

36 St James Street
36 St James Street entrance [43]

The Prince Henry Tour of 1911

In 1911, Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen (1862-1929) organised an automobile tour through Europe and Britain in honour of King George V's coronation. The tour left Homburg in Germany on 4 July 1911 and ended in London on 19 July 1911. Given the state of roads of the time, and the relatively unreliable nature of motor transport, this must have been pretty gruelling and covered over 1,516 miles. In all 37 German and 28 British cars took part. Each entrant had to drive his own car and carry a passenger representing the opposing country.

Participants included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle driving his green 16 horse-power Dietrich-Lorraine (Entrant No. 52) and Norman Clark Neill driving his Rolls-Royce (Entrant No. 16). [59]

The image below shows the route of the tour.

Route map [76]

A full list of entrants was published by The Hereford Times 1 Jul 1911. The local interest was that the tour would pass through the city during the UK segment.

Cutting from The Hereford Times [61]

There was also enthusiasm expressed in The Pall Mall Gazette on 1 Jul 1911.

Cutting from The Pall Mall Gazette [62]

On 4 July the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the cars taking part had been inspected and official numbers and observers allotted ready for a 7 a.m. start on the following day.

Cutting from the Coventry Evening Telegraph [36]

On 6 July 1911 The Sketch published a photo of the silver trophy to be awarded to the winning team.

Race Cup
Cutting from The Sketch [64]

On 10 July 1911 the Daily Telegraph & Courier reported the arrival of the cars and drivers at Southampton on the Nordeutscher Lloyd passenger ship Grosser Kurfurst. Ironically, given that the tour was intended to promote goodwill between Germany and the UK, this vessel would be interned by the USA in New York at the beginning of WW1, remamed Aeolus and used as a troopship taking troops across to Europe when American joined the war and ultimately renamed City of Los Angeles serving the Los Angeles to Hawaii route until scrapped in 1937.

Cutting from The Daily Telegraph & Courier [65]
Grosser Kurfurst
Passenger Liner Grosser Kurfurst [24]

A little late, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News had a photo of one of the cars being unloaded at Southampton.

Grosser Kurfurst
Cutting from Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 15 November 1911 [67]

Also on 10 July 1911 the Birmingham Daily Mail reported that the participants were expected to reach Leamington that day.

Cutting from The Birmingham Daily Mail [64]

Despite huge national press coverage of the event, mostly syndicated copies of the same material, and mostly tedious, there were very few photos published but a German source had one showing Prince Henry allegedly tuning his car - though what he could have been tuning given where he is kneeling I have no idea. The entire event seems to have been very well managed with no reported incidents, crashes or other calamities.

Prince Henry and his car [76]

On 20 July 1911 The Sporting Life reported on the closure of the event and noted that The German Empress's prize had been awarded to Mr. N.C. Neill.

Cutting from Sporting Life [68]

On 22 July 1911 the Dundee Courier showed Princess Henry of Prussia congratulating the winner of the Queen's prize for the best appointed car. The winner being Norman - the stout-looking fellow standing next to the car.

Cutting from Dundee Courier [69]

We know from the entry list that Norman was driving a Rolls-Royce. As far as I can make out from the previous image this must have been a Silver Ghost like the one below. A similar car was on sale in January 2020 for £1.5M.

1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost [70]

All participants that completed the tour received medals from The Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain and the Imperial Automobile Club of Germany.

Medals Medals
Medals Medals
RAC and IAC Medals [76]

According to Peter Pugh of Rolls Royce: [60]

The most valuable marketing achievement of 1911 was N.C. 'Fatty' Neill's winning of the Prince Henry Tour. The tour lasted for several weeks and was sponsored by HRH Prince Henry of Prussis, who had conceived the idea of a 'goodwill' tour of British and German clubs (the press in Germany and Britain had been engaged in a propaganda war for several years). Royalty was heavily involved. Prince Henry himself competed, and additional awards were presented by King George V and Queen Mary, as well as the Kaiser and the German Empress.

So we learn from Pugh, who was presumably a friend, that Norman Clark Neill had the nickname 'fatty' - which is hardly surprising looking at the photos we have of him.

Boats - Before War Service

Norman may have been introduced to yachting by his uncle John Merchant Neill (1841-1914). From 1881 to 1900 the latter had been the owner of a 25 GRT wooden screw steam powered (12 hp) yacht named Alexandra completed in 1872 by Wivenhoe originally for John H Johnson of London. He seems to have held a Master's Certificate for 'fore and aft rig' vessels issued in 1881 but restricted to his own yacht. It looks strange but apparently certificates of this type were certainly issued; an 'Ordinary Master' certificate covered square-rigged sailing vessels and steam vessels with square gigs. 'Fore and Aft' certificates covered vessels with sails set along the line of the keel rather than at right angles to it as on square rigged vessels. What seems odd is why the certificate should apply to one vessel only. It seems akin to being granted a driving licence but only for your own car. However Thomas Gray who seems to have signed the certificate was certainly the Head of the Maritime Department of the Board of Trade from 1869-1889 so may well be the person who would have signed such a document.

Master Certificate
John Merchant Neill's Masters Certificate [12]

Norman chose a bad time to purchase Stephanotis. Her registration changed to his name in 1914 giving his address as 36 St. James Street, London.

Extract from Mercantile Navy List (1914) [48]

On 25 May 1914, The Scotsman carried a report of the Royal Northern Cruising Races that had taken place from Rothesay to Blackfarland. Stephanotis was reported as present - presumably with Norman on board.

Cutting from The Scotsman 25 May 1914 [25]

In fact his ownership of Stephanotis was relatively short as by 1919 she had been sold to the Portuguese Duque de Tarifa. Norman would have had very limited opportunities to have sailed her during the war years.

War Service

Before finding his war record I have to admit that I had dismissed Norman as just another of the 'idle rich' who would have been suitable to be nominated as a member of Bertie Wooster's 'Drones Club'. But when push came to shove he 'did his bit' for the country as can be seen.

On 3 Aug 1915, the London Gazette reported that Norman had been granted a temporary commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant and included in the RNVR list as Transport Officer 2 Grade. He had been reported as a Sub-Lieutenant RNVR in the edition of 1 Dec 1914.

London Gazette
Cutting from The London Gazette 3 Aug 1915 [55]

Background to the RNVR is given in a M.O.D publication: [58]

The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Naval reserves have supported the British Navy in one form or another for hundreds of years. In 1859 the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was formed under the Naval Reserve Act, as a Reserve of British Merchant Navy seamen and British fishermen, who could be called up in times of crisis to serve in the Royal Navy. RNR officers were distinguished from those of the regular Navy by distinctive lace consisting of stripes of interwoven chain.

In 1903 the first civilian voluntary reserve service was formed - the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). This was made up of five divisions, stationed in Bristol, London, Tyne, Mersey and Clyde, where civilian volunteers were trained in shore-based drill halls and warships no longer required by the Royal Navy. The RNVR uniform was distinguished from that of the regular Navy by its wavy gold lace and buttons stamped with RNV, leading them to become known colloquially as the Wavy Navy for many years to come. The perceived distinctions between these services was aptly summarised by Lt Cdr Thomas Shaw, who served in the Royal Naval Reserve throughout the Second World War and beyond:

There were three classes of naval officer then. The regular Royal Navy (RN) whose officers wore straight gold stripes with a plain curl on their cuffs; Royal Naval Reserve officers, all Merchant Navy officers (RNR) who wore two thin gold stripes intertwined with the corresponding curl above; and Royal Volunteer Reserve officers (RNVR) who wore a thin gold wavy stripe. The latter were mostly from civil occupations who had been granted Commissions. The RN was still class-conscious then and looked with disdain on the RNR, but tolerated the RNVR, as most, if not all, of the latter were then considered to be 'gentlemen' at least. There was a popular saying then: RN – gentlemen and seamen; RNR – seamen but not gentlemen; RNVR – gentlemen trying to be seamen. I am afraid this feeling prevailed then and the RNR was not without fault as well, looking on the RNVR as bloody amateurs. The war proved otherwise and as time went on respect began to develop for each other’s qualities and acceptance of each other as equal. On re-joining the RNR some years after the war I found none of those prejudices and got on well together, which is as it should be.

As such, for the first half of the 20th century there were two naval reserves: the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Both services voluntarily undertook military training, and were committed to being called up in times of emergency for service in the Royal Navy. The major distinction was that the RNR was composed of professional Merchant Navy seaman, whilst the RNVR comprised civilians from many different professions.

The image below is from document ADM-337-119-701 from the National Archives [108] and shows the only available official record of Norman's service during WW1. It is very difficult to read but I have tried to pick out the more legible parts.

WW1 Records
Navy Records for Norman Clark Neill [108]

On 29 July 1915 Norman is recorded as a Temporary Lieutenant assigned to yacht Vanessa and on shore at Holyhead to assist Captain A. R. Raby (?). This is interesting because, like Stephanotis, steam yacht Vanessa had been built at Leith but by Ramage & Ferguson in 1899 as Golden Eagle, and renamed Vanessa when sold to Mr Arthur Bowley of Harlow. being of 356 GRT she was just over two times the tonnage of Stephanotis. She was loaned to the government for war work from 15 Oct 1914 and fitted out at Portsmouth with iron plating. The whole of her crew volunteered to sail with her. As an auxiliary patrol yacht, she was fitted with two 6 pounder guns. In Feb 1917 she was renamed Vanessa II so that her name could be given to a new destroyer. She was returned to her owner in March 1919 and served again in the Second World War as Carina.

Steam Yacht Vanessa - Original source Nottage Maritime Institute 00473 [109]

What might have started off as a relatively cushy posting later changed as, from the official record above, it is clear that Norman was stationed at Dunkirk from 25 Sep 1917 to 25 Feb 1918 as a 3rd Grade Transport Officer. The port of Dunkirk was one of those used extensively during WW1 by British forces for supplies and troop movements. There were 2 million men serving on the Western Front and they required vast quantities of supplies - food, ammunition, clothing, medical supplies etc. and all of this was transported across the Channel by sea. Soldiers were taken to the front; casualties and refugees returned to Britain by the same routes. It has been estimated that each Division of 12,000 men needed about 1,000 tons of supplies daily and much more when a major offensive was being planned. Dunkirk became a 'sorting centre' for evacuation of the wounded and sick with the local hospitals being taken over for this purpose. Norman Clark Neill was involved in the organisation and logistics of this transport.

Dunkirk had been subjected to air raids since 1914 and these continued to the end of the war. In 1915 the town was subjected to severe long-range bombardment and much of the population decamped to Paris for safety. There were further long-range bombardments in September 1916, and in May 1917 the Germans completed construction of a new Battery hidden out of view in a wood at Koekelare, 50 kilometres away. In addition to shelling Dunkirk, the battery fired onto Ypres and was used during the Battle of Passchendaele. The armour-protected gun was a Krupp 38cm (15") SK L/45 "Max" and at the time was the largest gun in the world and known to the Germans as 'Lange Max'. The gun design was originally for use on battleships. On a regular basis, heavy shells weighing approximately 750 kg were fired at Dunkirk with the bombardment killing nearly 600 people and wounding another 1,100, both civilian and military, while 400 buildings were destroyed and 2,400 damaged. The city's population, which had been 39,000 in 1914, reduced to fewer than 15,000 in July 1916 and 7,000 in the autumn of 1917.

The images below show the Big Max gun and her ammunition.

Big Max Big Max Big Max
The Big Max gun in 1917 [110]

Norman was Mentioned in Dispatches for 'distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty during his period at Dunkirk. He was granted temporary promotion to Leiutenant Commander in 1919 whilst assigned to 'President' - presumably one of the various HMS President land-based sites - 'for services under D.M.D.'. This may refer to the Canadian Department of Militia and Defence though why Norman should be assigned to it I have no idea. Maybe it is something quite different?

International Yachting

The next reference I can find for Norman is from 1923 when he took part in the British American Cup International Yachting Contest at Rye. He is shown on the right of the photo below on Ryde Pier 1 Aug 1923 with another yachtsman Mr. Dickenson.

Mr. Dickenson and Norman Clark Neill 1923 Ryde Pier [30]

In November 1930 Norman was reported as representing the British yacht-racing authorities in discussions with their US counterparts regarding new rules forbidding certain improvements to yacht equipment.

Yacht Rules
Cutting from Haldimand County Archives Nov 1930 [56]

The photo below shows Norman wearing a cap and was taken at the KSSS anniversary regatta in 1930. He is with his 6 metre yacht 6-K1 REG which participated in both the sailing on the Entonnarpokalen and in European Week. He is in the company of the crew of the Swedish 6 metre yacht S31 BISSBI.

Norman Clark Neill
Neill in 1930 [57]

And below he is shown at a banquet during the same trip and is the rotund gentleman behind the flowers centre left.

Norman Clark Neill
Norman Clark Neill in 1930 [57]

On 22 Jan 1926, Norman arrived at San Pedro, California (now part of Los Angeles) having left London aboard Royal Mail SP Co refrigerated cargo ship Lochgoil. It seems a few passengers were carried as the passenger list only included 5 people. This vessel, which was renamed Empire Rowan in 1940, would be sunk by aircraft bombing in 1943 whilst en route from Glasgow to Phillippeville with a cargo of coal & stores. Details of the merchant seamen that that lost their lives can be found on the Benjidog Tower Hill website HERE.

On 11 February 1929, Norman arrived at Southampton from Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia) on the Rotterdam Lloyd Line passenger/cargo vessel Sibajak. His profession is shown as 'None'.

In October 1931 and at the age of 47, Norman married Mairi Milne (1886-1962) in the district of St Martin in London. They do not appear to have had any children but his wife was 45 by then.

In January 1932, Norman departed Avonmouth for Port of Spain Trinidad on the Elders & Fyffe vessel Carare. On the passenger list his occupation is again recorded as 'None'. Just 8 years later this ship would sink after striking a mine whilst en route from Avonmouth to Santa Maria in ballast. Details of the merchant seamen that that lost their lives can be found on the Benjidog Tower Hill website HERE. By a quirk of fate, one of the fatalities of Carare was surgeon William Roach - a subsequent owner of Stephanotis as you will find on a later page.

Elders & Fyffe Passenger/Refrigerated Cargo ships Carare [24]

Last Years and Death

Norman Clark Neill died at Tamboers kloof Nursing Home, Cape Town on 16 Mar 1935. His normal residence was recorded on the death certificate as Hardwicke, Isle of Wight. He was described as 51 years old, married and born in Scotland.

On 18 March 1935, within two days of his death, the Portsmouth Evening News reported on the death but got the location wrong. The article also mentioned that he had been a pioneer racing motorist, had a fine collection of furniture, pictures and china, and had been visited by the Queen in 1935 - presumably Queen Mary the wife of King George V.

Norman Clark Neill
Cutting from The Portsmouth Evening News 18 Mar 1935 [29]

On 22 Apr 1935, the Portsmouth Evening News reported that Mr Neill's ashes had been scattered in the Solent from his motor cruiser Cygnet.

Norman Clark Neill
Cutting from The Portsmouth Evening News 22 Apr 1935 [29]

On 8 Aug 1935, the Portsmouth Evening News reported that Neill's estate was valued at £46,517 10s - (about £3.3 Million at 2019 values).

Norman Clark Neill
Cutting from The Portsmouth Evening News 8 Aug 1935 [29]

Neill's death was reported in the magazine of the RNLI in September 1935 [42]- text below:

Mr. Norman Clark Neill, who died in March, at the age of fifty-two, was appointed a member of the committee of management in November 1933, and served on the boat committee and construction committee. He brought to the work of the Institution a long and intimate knowledge of yachting and all matters connected with the coast. He had served afloat in the Great War in the Auxiliary Patrol; was Commodore of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and a member of the Council of the Yacht Racing Association. He had served as a member of the Permanent Committee of the International Yacht Racing Union and was a delegate at the International Yacht Racing Conference in 1929 and 1930.

The obituary below was published in the the magazine of St John's College Cambridge at Easter 1935. [96]

Died at Capetown, on the return from a cruise to Singapore, on March 16th, 1935, aged 51. He was the son of William James Neill, sugar refiner, of Greenock and was born there August 8th, 1883 . He was educated at Fettes College. A keen yachtsman, he served during the war as a sublieutenant in the R.N .R., rising to be Lieutenant-Commander R.N.V.R., attached to the Naval Transport Service, and being mentioned In despatches. He was well known in yachting circles on the Clyde and the Solent, being Commodore of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and a member of the Council of the Yacht Racing Association. In 1924 he had built the schooner Adventuress, of 83 tons.

Mairi Neill donated a painting entitled Three Men and a Boy by Antoine Le Nain (c.1588–1648), Mathieu Le Nain (1607–1677) and Louis Le Nain (c.1593–1648) to The National Gallery in memory of her husband, and possibly in lieu of death duties, where it can be seen in Room 29.

Three Men and a Boy
Three men and a boy [54]

Norman and Mairi Milne had only been married for 4 years when he died. She remarried in 1945 - her second husband was a brewery director of Truman, Hanbury Buxton & Co. who died in 1949 leaving an estate valued at £308,954 - about £13.4 Million at 2019 values. Mairi died in Blackpool in 1962; it is unknown how much of the Buxton estate came in her direction. Even without inheriting from Buxton she would not have been left short as she had inherited from Norman. There are records of several 1st class sea voyages through to 1960 with her address given as the Landsdowne Club, Berkeley Square, London. Why she should have ended her days in Blackpool is a mystery.


Norman Clark Neill was the child of parents from two wealthy industrialist families. One family had made a fortune through sugar and the other through cotton. It is not clear whether he ever did anything with his early start in the law but probably not. He served his country well during WW1, the only time in his life he came close to doing what most people would regard as a 'proper' job, and went on to fill a role in the forefront of competitive sailing.

He led a life of luxury, married late and died relatively young without children. He was the owner of Stephanotis from 1914 to about 1919 but, given his war service, probably made little use of her. He soon moved on to faster vessels and I suspect he found a beautiful but ageing steam yacht cumbersome and slow. In 1919 ownership of Stephanotis passed to the Portuguese Duque de Tarifa.

Post Script

In January 2020, brokers Sandeman Yacht Company were advertising the sale of Adventuress one of Norman's later yachts. The advertising material [41] includes the following text:

Norman Clark-Neill, an experienced yachtsman and avid racer commissioned six yachts from William Fife III over the course of his long and accomplished sailing career. In the spring of 1924, the largest and most exquisitely beautiful of these; design #718 was christened ADVENTURESS and glided down the ways and into her element. She would be maintained and operated in nearly continuous service for the next nine decades. She would make scores of Atlantic crossings and host dignitaries and celebrities, presidents and stars of the silver screen in luxury and comfort.

During the Second World War she would be commandeered by the Kriegsmarine and pressed into naval patrol service. She would be scuttled at the entrance to the harbour at Villefranche sur Mer. After the war she would be raised and refurbished, renamed, re-rigged as a ketch and returned to yachting service for another half century before finding her way to Maine and the craftsmen and women at Rockport Marine. In Maine she would be thoroughly restored.
Adventuress after refit [41]