Griffiths, Arthur

Arthur Griffiths (Griffith) was the son of William Griffiths and his wife Ellen. He was born at Ffestiniog, Merioneth about 1878.

In the 1871 census for Wales, available on Ancestry, William and Ellen were living at Llanfihangel y Traethau, with their eldest son William, age 1.  They had been married on 26th August 1868 at Capel Nazareth, Penrhyndeudraeth.

By 1881 they were living at 5 Dolydd Terrace, Ffestiniog. Head of the household was William Griffiths, age 40, described as a quarryman who had been born at Llanberis, Caernarvonshire. His wife Ellen was 37, Born at Penrhyn, Merioneth. Their children were Ellen Jane age 9, born at Penrhyn, and Henry age 5 and Arthur age 3, who had both been born at Ffestiniog.

In 1891, the family are back at Llanfihangel y Traethau. William is now 50, and a slate inspector. Ellen is 47, while there is no mention of Ellen Jane. Harry Owen, 15, is described as a sailor, while Arthur, 13, is at school.

By 1901 the parents are at Penrhyndeudraeth by themselves.  In 1911 the father William, is living at Capel Nazareth Penrhyndeudraeth as the chapel keeper. He is 71 years old, and described as “Penteulu” translated as Head of the household, and also as “gweddu” which means he is a widower. The only other person is named as Elizabeth Jones, age 39, whose occupation was “morwyn”, or housemaid or housekeeper.

From the website UK and Ireland Masters and Mates Certificates 1850 – 1927 we find out about Arthur’s career in the Merchant Navy, which started in 1899 when he joined his first ship at Caernarvon. This is followed by a long list of following engagements.

On 17th December 1906 he was issued with the Certificate of Competency as 2nd mate, number 003881. He passed the exam at Cardiff, and the port of issue was Portmadoc. His age was 29, his birthplace was Ffestiniog, and his address was Nazareth, Penrhyndeudraeth.

On 20th November 1908, again at Cardiff, he passed the examination for 1st mate certificate of competence. The port of issue was Portmadoc, and once again his address was Nazareth, Penrhyndeudraeth.

On 18th February 1911, at Newport, Monmouth, he gained the certificate of competency as master. It is in this record that we have a personal description of Arthur. His height was 5ft 8ins, and his complexion was described as fresh, he had fair hair and blue eyes. He had some distinctive marks, which were tattoos of an anchor and clasped hands on his right arm. We are given his date of birth which was 1st May 1877, at Ffestiniog. He now gave his address as that of his married sister in Prestatyn.

Ancestry records show that Arthur’s sister, Ellen Jane Griffiths, had married Llewellyn Roberts in the 4th quarter of 1910, and the 1911 census for Wales shows Ellen Jane Roberts, born Ffestiniog and married under one year, living with her husband Llewellyn at Railway Terrace, Prestatyn.

We know that Arthur had been serving in the Merchant Navy since 1899, and the CWGC website gives the detail that his final ship at the time of his death was the SS Coquet.

From the website “wrecksite ss Coquet” we get the following information submitted by Tony Allen, who used as his reference “British Merchant Ships sunk by U-boats 1914 – 18 War” by A. J. Tennent.

Coquet was a British cargo steamer of 4,396 tons built in 1904. On 4th January 1916, when on route from Torrevieja to Rangoon carrying a cargo of salt she was captured by a German submarine U-34 and sunk with bombs in the Mediterranean, 200 miles east from Malta. 17 crew members were lost, and 10 taken prisoner.

A full account of this episode can be read at by Michael W. Pocock (copyright), which makes amazing reading regarding some of the dangers and tragedies involving merchant seamen.

Arthur is also mentioned in “The Merchant Navy vol 3” by Sir Archibald Hurd, a near contemporary account, which relates the sinking of the Coquet and the subsequent events, and is available for free download.

In the Great War Forum (Ships and Navies), a question is submitted by Kevin about our sailor Arthur Griffiths, as to why his date of death, 6th January, was two days after the attack, asking whether he was one of the 10 prisoners, or one of the 17 originally killed. There were several replies including this one from Hywyn, 25th August 2012:

I have found a North Wales Chronicle report from 16th March 1917 which has a photo of Griffiths. It says that after the attack the vessel put out two boats. One in the charge of the captain Arnold Groom, reached the coast (Libya), where they were attacked and captured by Arabs. The other, in the charge of Chief Officer Griffiths, was badly damaged by gunfire, and not heard of since. Griffiths, a native of Penrhyndeudraeth, had for some years resided with his sister at Prestatyn.

There is a further entry from Brenda, 28th June 2014:

I have the crew list for SS Coquet, and A.Griffiths, age 38, born Ffestiniog, 1st mate, was in charge of the 2nd lifeboat which was lost at sea. The date is given as 6th January because the two boats managed to stay together for two days after their ship was destroyed on 4th January. Sextants and compasses had been taken away and both lifeboats damaged during the capture, making rescue extremely difficult. Captain Groom in lifeboat 1 decided that the two boats might be better making their own way and perhaps having a greater chance of rescue. We know that this was not to be. My grandfather was the bosun in the first lifeboat, and he was captured by Senussi tribesmen (Bedouin), and held for eight months. His nephew, Thomas O’ Neil, age 20, was in the same lifeboat as A. Griffiths, and he, too, was lost.

Arthur is also commemorated each year on January 6th on “On This Day First World War”, and again on “Penrhyndeudraeth, People and old photos, Hen luniau a hanes”. Here again we are informed that Chief Officer Griffiths’ damaged lifeboat has not been seen or heard of. His last message to the captain in the other boat was reported to be “All well, keep courage.”

There is an entry in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills):

Arthur Griffiths, of “The Nest”, Prestatyn, Chief Officer of ss Coquet, died 6th January 1916 at sea. Administration St Asaph, 15th May, to Ellen Jane Roberts, wife of Llewellyn Roberts. Effects £270 17s 2d.

Arthur Griffiths is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial.

S.S. Coquet

Capel Nazareth, Penrhyndeudraeth.

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