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Capt. William H. Thomas

 

June 30, 1925

Died Suddenly
Well Known Master Mariner and Manager of Gloucester Cold Storage Succumbed to Heart Attack

The Gloucester fisheries, staggering under the blow from the tragedy to sch. Rex, sustained another serious loss yesterday afternoon when death claimed Capt. William H. Thomas, veteran master mariner and manager of the Gloucester Cold Storage & Warehouse Company, and one of the most picturesque and commanding figures in the fisheries for nearly a half century.

Capt. "Billy" as he was always familiarly but yet respectfully referred to, died in the harness at the age of 67 years.  He was taken with an ill turn at the Cold Storage wharf shortly after returning from dinner.  He was removed to the Thomas home in an automobile to his son, Alfred P. Thomas.  Medical assistance was summoned and for a time he seemed to improve.  Then without warning he began to fall and death came about an hour after he was taken home as a result of heart trouble.

He was born in Arichat, N. S., and reached his 67th birthday last December 8.  He married Mary A. White, who passed away some six years ago.

Capt. Thomas came to Gloucester as a young man almost a half century ago with energy and ability characteristic of the hardy group of men to come from the provinces during that period.  He was soon in command of a fine fishing schooner and destined to make his mark as one of the greatest skippers of all time.  His record of 32 years as master was most remarkable.

In his 35 years of fishing, Capt. Thomas has fished on every known place where the market fish are caught and during this regime as master he ahs directed the catching of halibut, mackerel, market fish and has made trips to Grand Bank with profit to himself and those connected with him in his ventures.  In fishing to the westward and on Georges he was probably without a peer.  His records for big trips and quick passages, particularly with first fish will probably never be equaled.

He was a man of wonderful judgement and great stamina.  He was a sail carrier and a driver, too, but possessed the  uncanny instinct of the Gloucester master mariner which enabled him to do big things with apparent ease and without much fuss.  He always had with him and around him a group of the finest fishermen, for fishermen knew and always referred to a site with "Billy" Thomas being something worth while.

His even disposition, mild temperament and willingness to impart his knowledge to others was remarkable and these characteristics enabled him to make many skippers.  He probably produced from that skilled man who went with him during the days of his prime as many skippers as any other man in Gloucester.

Wherever fishermen and those connected with the fishing business congregated, Capt. "Billy" Thomas was known.  This was especially true among the Boston fishing interests, where he was always a commanding figure.  His word was as good as his bond.  If "Billy" Thomas brought a trip of fish to port, he had some good fish.  The dealers never bothered to look at them.  "It's 'Billy" Thomas," they said, and they knew that that trip would be just as represented.

There are those who are not fishermen to whom the mention of the Dido, his first vessel as master, and the Mystic, will bring back memories of adventure, and incidents of considerable prominence in the history of Gloucester fisheries, and who in the mention of the Horace B. Parker will recall a story where pluck and daring overcame seemingly insuperable obstacles, resulting in the rescue of 17 men from a storm tossed, water-logged vessel in a furious southwest storm on the Georges.

It was in December 1893, a month of exceedingly bad storms that winter, that Capt. Thomas made this rescue.   He was running under reefed sails in the storm when he came across the Euridices, a British vessel.  She was laying on her beam ends, her crew, clinging to whatever they could get hold of, exhausted after a long fight with the storm.

The hardy fishermen of the Parker, in their staunch vessel, had weathered the storm and were waiting until the seas that still swept their deck would subside so that they could set for their course.  At the sight of the vessel in distress all thought of their own work was laid aside and the men were all anxious to give their services for the rescue of the crew of the disabled vessel.

After a severe struggle, in which they were themselves more than once in danger of being overturned by the high seas, the men of the Parker under Capt. Thomas brought 17 men of the Euridices to their own vessel.  Two hours later the British vessel sank.  Capt. Thomas took the ship-wrecked men to Nova Scotia, and the Canadian government, in recognition of his deed presented him with a gold watch on the case of which the rescue is described.

Capt. Thomas had also a gift from the French government to commemorate another rescue.  This took place on the Grand Bank when in a severe storm he rescued two men of the crew of a French fisherman, who had been obliged to abandon their own vessel.  The others of the crew were never heard from, although after learning that they were striving for their life in dories, Capt. Thomas sailed for hours in search of them.  The French government sent him a handsome pair of marine glasses for this rescue.

His first command was Sch. Dido, going on this vessel from the old firm of George Steele.  Afterwards he went in the Mystic, relinquishing the command to Capt. John MacKinnon to take sch. Horace B. Parker in which the captain made his big record.  Later he commanded sch. Elmer E. Gray and then sch. Thomas S. Gorton was built for him in 1905, remaining as master until he retired from the sea to assume his position ashore as active head of the Cold Storage plant in 1916.

The captain's record of 32 years as master will be hard to surpass, if indeed it is equaled.  His stock for this time was a little short of $900,000, the total being $899,358.  The figures were Dido, two years, $42,240; sch. Mystic, four years, $89.392; sch. Horace B. Parker, 13 years, $312,141; sch. Elmer E. Gray, two years, $71,873; sch. Thomas S. Gorton, 11 years $883,713.

Capt. Thomas' characteristic has been dependability and reliability.  An incident is related of him which emphasizes this quality.  While in command of the Dido in the salt codfishery on the Grand Banks, he was enjoined by the owners before sailing not to bring home an medium codfish, as these were cheap and hard to dispose of.  Capt.   Thomas on arriving on the Banks found fish very plentiful, but mindful of his orders struck to the instruction.  Only the large fish were saved.   In order to get a full fare of large fish practically three fares were caught and culled for size.

While in sch. Horace B. Parker, Capt. Thomas landed the first fare of fresh fish a the ten newly organized Gloucester Fresh Fish Company and of which the late David I. Robinson was manager.  This was on December 6, 1897, and was an event of considerable importance in the city at the time.

On May 31, 1910, Capt. Thomas arrived from Cape North with a full fare in sch. Thomas S. Gorton, the second arrival of the season, being preceded a few days by sch. Richard, Capt. Miles Somers.  The Gorton's fare was the largest by any vessel engaged in that branch of the fisheries from this port.   The captain weighed off 354,225 pounds of which 153,502 pounds were fresh cod and 100,733 pounds salt cod.  The enormous fare was purchased by the Gorton-Pew Fisheries Company and a stock of $5,600 was realized.  The share was $142.

A second trip landed in July, 1910 established a new share record.  This trip was not so large as the previous one.  The vessel weighed off 310,000 pounds.  However, the stock was $5,642.44 and the share, $157.55.   The two trips gave Capt. Thomas a stock of $11,242 and a share of $300.  Such a record as this probably was never beaten in this branch of the fishing industry.  The Gorton sailed on the first trip on April 21, 1910, and was gone just three months to a day.

The fishermen's races had no more ardent supporter than "Billy" .  The man who gave unstintingly of his time and money in the interests of these events.  In all of the races since the inception of the International series in 1920, Capt. Thomas has been very active in the management of the affairs connected with the, and he followed the vessels to Halifax with the 9 unbounded enthusiasm of a real sportsman.

He was a member of the American Fishermen's Race Committee and also served on the committee which had in charge of the 300th anniversary fishermen's race for the Lipton and Prentiss trophies in August, 1923.

Capt. Thomas was one of the pioneers on the Manta Club which came to the front after the defeat of the Elsie at Halifax in 1921 and financed a proposition out of which came the ill-fated Puritan and afterwards sch. Columbia which represented the United States at the last international races in Halifax in 1923.

In the affairs of the Master Mariners Association, he was always prominent, being a past president and active worker for the association.  He was also a member of Gloucester Lodge, No. 892 B. P. O. E. Elks.

He retired from the sea in 1916 to become manager of the Gloucester Cold Storage & Warehouse Company and he was active in the management of the company's affairs as treasurer and manager from that time almost up to the hour of his death yesterday afternoon.

Capt. Thomas is survived by four sons, William H., Jr., Alfred P., Albert and Robert J. and five daughters, Mrs. Mary Lena, wife of Joseph F. Fogg, Mrs. Gertrude May, wife of Robert A. Merchant, Mrs. Julia E., wife of Ernest Jones, Misses Marguerite B. and Martha A., besides nine grandchildren.

The funeral will take place Thursday morning at 9 o'clock at St. Ann's church with a solemn requiem high mass.

 

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