Tribute to Mr Peter Newall

Port Pourri, a newspaper column by Lawhill’s maritime educator and maritime journalist, Brian Ingpen, appears in the Cape Times  every Wednesday.

We republish, with Mr Ingpen’s kind permission, the column he wrote on Peter Newall, a much loved donor and friend of STS Lawhill Maritime Centre, who passed away in March 2018.

PETER NEWALL

“Back in 1990, I was preparing my book on Union-Castle mailships when the phone rang. “Hello,” said the caller, “my name is Peter Newall, and I understand that you are about to publish a book on Union-Castle.” He asked to visit, and a few days later, he arrived, beginning a friendship that I valued immensely.

Last week, this interesting man – author and benefactor – passed away at his Dorsetshire home.

During that initial meeting, I learned that, as I had done, he also had roamed Cape Town’s dockland freely in his younger days, entrenching his interest in maritime matters. Armed with his autograph book, he boarded dozens of ships, requesting the Master’s signature and imploring him to put the ship’s official stamp in the book, a record, not only of Peter’s dockland exploits, but of ships that called in a bygone era.

He later emigrated, finally acquiring a beautiful old house in Blandford Forum. He converted the cellar to accommodate some of his vast collection of maritime books, photographs, post cards and other memorabilia, a collection that is one of the largest.

He introduced me to another legendary British maritime historian, prolific author and artist, Laurence Dunn who lived near the Thames at Gravesend, a busy part of the river. Dunn’s work British Passenger Liners was one of the small shipping books whose purchase price I had eked from my meagre pocket money, and on which I had cut my shipping teeth in my kortbroek days. Hence, as Dunn had been a childhood hero to me and whose other works I had discovered later, my meeting with him was a special event.

Peter Newall’s extensive shipping knowledge and his thorough research underpinned his authorship of numerous articles and books including two small volumes on Cape Town harbour. His growing reputation as a knowledgeable shipping author was further enhanced when he published a definitive book on Union-Castle ships, detailing every facet of each ship’s career, an absolute treasure trove for serious researchers and browsers alike.

In rapid succession, several other magnificent works appeared, including a company history of Orient Line, followed by a fascinating study of the famous four-funnelled Cunard steamer Mauretania, a work in which Peter’s dual interest in shipping and antiques was very evident. With his characteristically painstaking, terrier-like efforts, he traced many surviving artefacts of that liner, discovering doors, wood panelling, stained glass, and umpteen other pieces in buildings all over Britain and elsewhere.

Then came yet another bench-marking maritime book, Cunard Line – A Fleet History, a 304-page tome packed with information and hundreds of interesting photographs.

In January this year and, sadly, already ill, he published his final contribution to the annals of maritime history, Ocean Liners, an Illustrated History. A reviewer described the book as a “blockbuster” that, besides its interesting narrative, included many little-known facts about particular ships and hundreds of unusual photographs.

I enjoyed time with him during his visits to Cape Town where he took a special interest in the preservation of buildings and industrial architecture around the Waterfront, focusing especially on the Clock Tower and the Collier Jetty’s grain loading hoppers. In his quest for the preservation of such historic structures, he often stood on toes, but was quick to congratulate those whose efforts helped that cause.

He was a kind and generous man, qualities that he extended to the students at Lawhill Maritime Centre where dozens of deserving young people benefit from – and are greatly encouraged by – prizes and bursaries that he and his lovely wife, Julie, have provided.

The passing of this special man – a towering figure among maritime authors – is the end of an era, but his writings and unrivalled book and photographic collections – in the care of the Falmouth Maritime Museum and the Guildhall repository respectively – will be a reminder of the fascinating maritime world about which Peter Newall wrote so eloquently.”

brian@capeports.co.za 

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