For several years I was privileged (I realize now) to have been the roving reporter for the Colonist’s magazine section, The Islander. It was my job, at the bequest of editors John Shaw and Alec Merriman, to interview people for human interest stories which just didn’t fit in the daily paper but were worthy of publication, hence the Sunday supplement.
I was very young and, invariably, they were very elderly, but I found them to be charming for the most part and always fascinating with their stories of their careers at sea, in the military, as prospectors, as world travellers…
Among those I interviewed was a Capt. George J. LeMarquand, a gentlemanly centenarian who’d sailed before the mast as a teenager and who’d gone on to manage whaling stations in B.C., Washington and Alaska into the 1930s. When I interviewed him in 1971, he’d been retired for 58 years!
"I went to sea with my father, my father being a sailing captain, at the age of 15," he began. "I sailed with him for six months and then he shifted me onto a larger ship and I remained there for some time until I [broke] my left hand…and never went back on that ship. I went back [to sea] with a Jersey captain, a Capt. Richards. It was a Jersey ship and when we go to London it was sold. I got another ship and we sailed foreign to Portugal and down to Brazil and discharged our cargo. We came back in ballast to…Halifax, where we took on another cargo for Brazil, dry codfish in barrels.
"I remained on that ship for about eight months and then I shifted to another, larger, ship of the company where I remained until I was 18. We went to Cadiz, Spain with a load of salt and while we were there, my father came into port. The next day he [asked] my captain to give me permission to visit him that night. He said he was going to take me ‘out of that ship’. I said, ‘I’ve got six more months to serve.’ He said, ‘I can take you, and that’s what I’m going to do.’ He took me all right and I served with him up to 21 when I had my time in and passed an examination for first mate. I was intending to go for my master’s papers so I sailed in another ship for two years then I went to navigation school.
"When I told [my father] I was going for my captain’s papers, he said I was too young. I was 24. He wanted me to go to sea for another year. Well, I’d got my time in so I said I was going to try. Well, I got through it but didn’t have a ship [of my own] and sailed with another captain for six months… When we got back to St. John’s, Nfld., he had to go to the hospital and I was made captain of the ship, the Maine. I stayed with her until the company sold her. By then steam was coming in and I gave up sailing ships. I had to go as first mate for quite a while before I got captain of one of the company’s boats which sailed foreign, Mediterranean, and all those places around. I remained on her for nearly a year when they sold her. As I was junior captain of the company, they had no ship to give me so I went to New York and sailed in some ships there for about 14 months.
"Finally, I came back home, to St. John’s, Nfld., where I was offered a position as manager of a whaling station. Well, I didn’t know a thing about whaling, and they said, ‘It won’t take you long to catch on, we’ll show you.’ I stayed on that job for five years until the whales were finished then I went back to sea again for about three years.
"When I came in, the owner says to me, ‘We’ve had telegram from Victoria, Canada; [they] wants you to go out there and go in the whaling industry. I says, ‘I’m satisfied where I am.’ My owners said it would be a better position for me with a higher wage and more time at home. I told the wife about it; we agreed to come to Victoria. That was in February 1910.
"I went on one of the whaling stations in the Aleutian Islands for four years then they shifted me over [to Washington] where I spent another two years as manager of a whaling station. And they made me general manager of the company here in Victoria. I was manager here for two years of both companies [on both sides of the border which operated] under different names. I remained in that job until 1933 when I could see that the whales were failing and I gave up the job. I was 63. That was the end of my whaling career. I didn’t go to sea any more [although] I was offered some jobs…"
With these broad strokes, Capt. LeMarquand covered his maritime career of almost half a century. Obviously, there was much more to tell, of hazardous voyages and memorable characters he’d served with over those years. We shall chat with him again.