Visiting Naples – The ‘Competitor’ of Ipswich

We often get contacted by people from all over the world enquiring about Ipswich’s maritime history and whether we can help with their research, into all the wide ranging and fascinating topics and subjects in the town’s rich past. From researching family trees to helping understand more about ships or maritime businesses.

The story of the Competitor, a two and later three mast schooner is one that we knew a little bit about but has only been further enhanced by a recent enquiry and some deep research. Research is a collaborative venture, and we are always pleased to have people get in contact with us, providing us with more information to help with our research. Especially concerning the story of this fascinating vessel and its paintings, which many would not give a second glance at.

Des our Vice-Chair is an avid collector of Pierhead Paintings and local expert in them. The start of our story about the Competitor starts with an auction. Des owns a painting of Competitor as a two masted vessel. Unfortunately, he was unable to purchase the painting of a three masted Competitor at an auction a few years ago.

Des delved into the story of Competitor, the painting, and its artist, as it seemed that both paintings could have been the same vessel. He consulted with several other researchers including Thomas from South Shields. Thomas’ research has helped put the following enquiry we received in our inbox into context. We’ll explain from his research later in the article, but the enquiry reads:

“I have had a rummer glass for many years, “Competitor” of Ipswich Bay of Naples, 1810. Since Britain were at war with France in 1810, I wondered what an Ipswich vessel could be doing there. There was a small battle off Naples in 1810 and I wondered if the Competitor could have been one of a few naval ships involved. Were Royal Navy ships based at Ipswich at this time do you know?”

We were not aware of Competitor as a naval vessel. There was a vessel of that name built in 1840 at Halifax shipyard. Which is now part of the West Bank Terminal of the Port of Ipswich, off Wherstead Road. This is the two masted Competitor that Des has a painting of.

Potentially the 1810 date engraved on the glass should have read 1870. Have a look at the date on the painting of the three masted Competitor in Naples that Des found at another auction. Do you think it is a 7 or a 1? Read on to discover what Thomas’ research discovered. Could these Competitor’s be the same one?

Competitor as a three masted vessel – From an Auction Website a few years ago

Thomas while combing through 19th Century British Newspapers, Lloyds Register and more databases, sighted around two to three hundred mentions of various Competitors between 1840 and 1881. He found Ipswich’s Competitor had sailed out many UK ports from Cornwall to the North of Scotland. Competitor was sighted in the majority of the ports of the North Sea, Baltic and Mediterranean. Even as far as Greece and the Black Sea ports. There were mentions of Competitor, bound to or from Italian ports on both its east and west coasts, throughout the mid 1800s.

Then the following information appears in The Hull Packet and East Riding Times, dated Friday, December 5, 1873, page 8. The report notes that “On Friday night the steamer European, Capt. Ansdell, arrived at Hull from Harlingen, Holland, and reported having picked up at sea a three-masted schooner, the disabled ship was the Competitor, of Ipswich, bound from Rotterdam to Hull, with a cargo of spiegel iron. The vessel was about 20 miles to the east of the Frisian Islands, off the coast of Holland. The schooner was in a sinking state, with five feet of water in the hold and the crew worn out by pumping. The sinking vessel was taken in tow by European and grounded on a sandbank near Harlingen, on the Dutch coast”.

So in 1873, Competitor seems to have three masts. By returning to Lloyds Registers with a magnifying glass, in minute print and extremely abbreviated. Thomas discovered there was a notation that the vessel appears to have had a major re-fit in 1869. Where the length of the vessel was increased from 73 feet to 96.8 feet and tonnage changed from 112 tons to 140 tons. To extend the length of a vessel means this was one serious and major refit! This must have been when a third mast was introduced, although it isn’t noted in later Lloyds Registers.

During Thomas’ research he hit the jackpot to confirm his previous research and bring the two paintings together as the same vessel. When he located in the Ipswich Journal, dated Saturday September 11th 1869, ‘Launched on Saturday last (September 4th 1869) about noon, the Competitor was most successfully launched from the Patent Slip in the building yard of Mr. E Robertson. The Competitor was built about 29 years since by the late celebrated Ship-builder, Mr. W. Read and Mr. Robertson who succeeded  to Mr. Read’s business, has now lengthened the vessel 22 ft. and has converted her into a three-mast schooner. When taken to pieces for lengthening, her timbers were found to be in a fine state of preservation. The vessel was gaily dressed with flags, which attracted a good many people to the spot, and hearty cheers were given as the vessel glided down into her native element.

Following this Thomas tracked Competitor’s travels through several newspapers:

  • The first notice of Competitor after 1869 is – “At Lisbon from Shields. Pall Mall Gazette, Jan. 11 1870”.
  • Competitor, Fuller, cleared Cardiff, with coal, August 27, 1870, for Naples. Western Mail, August 29th 1870. (first visit to Naples with 3 masts).
  • Competitor, left Girgenti, Sicily, for Arbroath, previous to November 26th 1870. Glasgow Herald Dec. 6th. 1870.
  • Competitor, Fuller, from Girgenti, put into Falmouth with foremast carried away, loss of sails, bulwarks, etc. and part of cargo jettisoned. Bound for Montrose with sulphur. Daily News, Feb.1st. 1871. page 7.
  • Finally on October 22 1881, a telegram from Bridlington Quay states that it’s blowing a gale there, with a heavy sea and amongst a quantity of small wreckage, of no value, washing ashore, there is a vessel’s head board with Competitor carved on it in yellow letters on a dark green background.
  • On October 27, a damaged ship’s boat, marked Competitor, Maldon, has come ashore seven miles south of Bridlington. Daily News, October 24, 1881 and Leeds Mercury, October 31 1881.

With this research by Thomas and the rummer glass, Competitor’s story as a regular visitor to the Mediterranean in the 19th century is complete.

If you have any more stories like Competitor’s then please let us know. Or if you have any other research about Maritime Ipswich, you think would be great to share.

We are always looking to grow and develop research into Ipswich’s rich maritime history and heritage. So please get involved and help as a research volunteer. Or if you require our support with your projects then get in touch and we can see what we can do to help.

Reader Interactions


  1. D. Hammersley says

    Thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Competitor.
    Well done all those in the most interesting research into it’s history.


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