It was in the year 1843 that Humphrey Owen, Rhyddgaer, built a new 69 tonne schooner for 6 Caernarfon residents. The names of the owners were: John Owen, Ty Coch (his son), William Thomas, Owen Edwards, Nehemiah Bracegirdle, John Jones and David Davies. Humphrey Owen's name had not previously been associated with ship building, but the name of this schooner was to become very well known in Caernarfon and she was the only ship to be launched in the town in that year. It is not known who chose the name nor for what reason, but to us, today, it is strange, to say the least,
A stanza worthy of the occasion, and one which expresses the thoughts of all sailors and their loved ones. In a word, a prayer and a wish that the elements be kind towards the ship and her crew and keep them free of the perils of the sea. The 'Napoleon' was a Coaster, but that did not mean that she could avoid the lash of the wind and an angry sea, as was proved on many occasions.
Her first Master was William Thomas (1815 - 1874), a native of Llanbedrog in Llŷn, and according to Lloyds Register of 1852, he was, by then, also the main owner of the 'Napoleon,' and between 1855 and 1860 he became owner and Master of the schooner 'Don Quixote' which was lost in April 1860. It is believed that it was during this period that he handed over control of the 'Napoleon' to his brother Captain Griffith Thomas (1822 - 1905), and following the loss of the 'Don Quixote' William Thomas bought a 120 tonne schooner, which was built in Bridport Harbour, Dorset, and named her 'Eleanor Thomas,' which was his wife's name.
He remained as Master of the 'Eleanor Thomas' from 1860 to 1872, when he handed over his responsibilities to his eldest son William Robert Thomas, then aged 27. His reason for retiring early appears to have been due to ill-health, for he died on June 19th 1874, aged 59, and although his wife and seven of his children had been buried at Llanbeblig Cemetery, he was buried in his native parish of Llanbedrog.
He was survived by his daughter Margaret Ann, aged 32, his sons William Robert, aged 29, and David Charles, aged 15. In his Will, dated February 8th 1873, his wish was that his effects be distributed between the three, i.e. 3 properties in Caernarfon, one in the parish of Llanbedrog, the two schooners 'Eleanor Thomas' and 'Napoleon,' together with all monies due to him. Even though he had nominated his brother Griffith to act as executor, he had not included him as a beneficiary, but in a Codicil dated May 5th 1874 he bequeathed a quarter share in the 'Napoleon' to him, and a quarter share to each of his three children, on condition that Griffith Thomas become responsible for a quarter share of the pending cost of repairs to the 'Napoleon.'
It is not known what arrangement Griffith came to with his brother's children, but it was his name that was appended on all documents as being owner of the 'Napoleon' from 1874 to 1891, when the name of his youngest son, Robert Henry Thomas (1869 - 1961) appeared. R. H. Thomas, Castle House, was a successful Caernarfon grocer who had bought the business from a well respected townsman, J.R. Pritchard, in 1892.
In retrospect, it can hardly be said that the 'Napoleon' nor her crew had a trouble free career, as was the wish of the poet 'Caledfryn' in his stanza of 1843. One example of this is what happened on a voyage from London to Portsmouth in 1872. The 'Napoleon' was off Margate and in a strong wind at 3 p.m. on November 15th two men went to fine the boom, when the jib boom carried away and the two men were thrown overboard. It would have been impossible to save them due to the rough sea rendering the ship out of control. The Crew List records their names as follows:
|Name||Age||Where born||Joined ship||Rank||Cause of Death|
|William Williams||35||Pwllheli||Oct. 12. Caernarfon||A.B.||Drowned Nov. 15.|
|Hugh Roberts||36||Beaumaris*||Oct.12. Caernarfon||A.B.||Drowned Nov. 15.|
Having arrived at Portsmouth and with the 'Napoleon's' crew being short staffed, Captain Thomas took on two local men on November 21st and the Crew List for that voyage shows that the schooner did not return to Caernarfon until January 1st 1873. The sailor's lot is both dangerous and uncertain, and the danger is not always confined to when the