Captain John Kemp MBE A MASTER MARINER OF THE 20TH CENTURY
by Eric Kemp
A lifetime account of Captain John Kemp MBE: from his birth in 1905, in the
small Cornish fishing town of St. Ives, and his early experiences growing up
before and during the First World War, through to becoming a highly respected
Captain in the Merchant Navy with over fifty years of seamanship.
John was enchanted by the sea from an early age. After a brief spell as a
’s boy, his father, a barber, finally helped him to become an apprentice in the
’s Steamship Company on the SS Trevessa. This was hard, poorly-paid work, often in squalid conditions, but John was
determined to succeed and gain promotion.
Being a man of strong conviction, John eventually asked to be transferred from
Trevessa which he felt was unsafe, despite protestations from his company. His instinct was proved correct when the Trevessa foundered, with some of her crew losing their lives.
John passed as a Master Mariner in 1930, still working for the Hain’s Company. In 1936 he joined the Scottish trampship company Andrew Weirs; and at
the beginning of the war in 1939 the SS
Teviotbank, together with John as First Officer, was seconded into the Royal Navy to lay
Following the war John rejoined Andrew Weirs, earning an MBE for his part in the
mass evacuation of Colombo in 1958 and becoming one of their most successful
masters until his retirement in 1971.
This is an insight into the Merchant Navy and a real piece of maritime history,
with good accounts of the ships and a large number of black and white
The author was educated at schools in St. Ives and Truro School in Cornwall. From here he followed his father into the Merchant Navy, joining HMS Worcester for cadet training in 1954.
He became an apprentice with the Ellerman and Bucknall Steamship Company, later
becoming a second officer with the Palm Line.
Eric achieved chief officer status with the Trinity House Steamship Vessel
Service, and finally became a master on the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company
and Carisbrook Shipping.
With his wife Jill and their two children, he has remained based in St. Ives and
has been a Trinity House pilot for Mount
’s Bay and a St. Ives bay fisheries officer in MAFF. He has also been St. Ives
lifeboat secretary and a Liberal councillor. In the year 2000 he was Chairman
of the Newlyn Fish Festival and is a member of the well-known Mousehole Male
With his odd spare time he helps at St. Ives Museum where he can put his Merchant Navy knowledge to very good use.