Francis James Anstey, a member of the Castle Cary Ansteys, was born in 1864 in Appledore to parents Francis Henry Anstey and Mary Ford, baptised on 8 January 1865 in Appledore. He grew up living at Market Street, Northam, Bideford.
Francis married Annie Eliza Isaac (b 1870) in 1890 in Appledore and they settled in Cardiff, where they had children Robert William Anstey (b 1893); Mary Anstey (b 1896); Francis James Anstey (b 1898, died an infant); Annie Frances Anstey (b 1903); Olive Virtue C. Anstey (b 1908); and another child who died an infant. In the 1901 Census Annie Eliza and her then two living children were living at 32, Hanover Street, Canton, Cardiff. However she died in 1908 so by the 1911 Census the children were living with their uncle William Henry Anstey (a shipwright) at 35 Pentrebane St Grangetown Cardiff.
Throughout this period Francis was a Sea Captain based in Cardiff. He seemed to alternate between captaining the ‘Branksome Chine‘ steamer and its sister vessel the ‘Alum Chine‘ – both managed by Messrs H. G. Harper and Co of Cardiff.
Disaster struck in 1913 however when the ‘Alum Chine‘ steamer, of which Francis was Captain at the time, blew up in Baltimore Harbour. The ‘Fife Free Press, & Kirkcaldy Guardian‘ reported on 15 March 1913 “Terrible Dynamite Explosion: Scene of Panic and Death – Flying Boxes of Dynamite. Baltimore Friday a terrible dynamite explosion occurred here in the harbour today as the result of which over 100 persons are reported killed, injured or missing. The small British steamer Alum Chine was loading dynamite for use on the Panama Canal works from a lighter lying alongside…Suddenly a puff of smoke came from the hold of the ship. One of the crew who noticed it at once realised its significance and ran screaming to the deck followed by many more panic stricken men as had time to escape…the smoke was now pouring out of the ships hatches and the launch had not gone more than 200 feet when there was a deafening roar. Columns of flames shot out of the Alum Chine in every direction…pieces of iron and steel [from the Alum Chine] were found at Annearundel on the Baltimore County shore, three or four miles away….the shock was felt as far away as Reading, Pennsylvania, nearly a hundred miles distance.. Messrs Harper and Co, Cardiff, the owners of the Alum Chine, had received a message from Captain Anstey, commander of the vessel, stating that she is a total loss and that of the crew seven were missing…”
Matters were to become ever more perilous for Francis once World War One commenced, given the propensity for Germans to mine waters and attempt to sink any and all Allied vessels that they could find.
And indeed this is precisely what occurred. The ‘Western Mail‘ on 25 February 1915 reported that Francis was captaining the ‘Branksome Chine‘, at the time carrying coal for the Government, when it was torpedoed off Beachy Head. The report states “Eighteen of the crew of the steamer Branksome Chine of Cardiff, a Government collier, were landed at Newhaven last evening, their vessel having been either mined or torpedoed about twenty miles south east of Beachy Head about two o’clock in the afternoon. The captain and mate are aboard a boat standing by the vessel, which is badly damaged and awash…The Captain of the Branksome Chine is Mr F. J. Anstey, the firms senior skipper, who was in charge of the Alum Chine when the vessel blew up in Baltimore Harbour in 1913. Captain Anstey is an experienced, cool headed and daring seaman, and when he saw Mr Matthews quite recently he seemed quite cheerful at the prospect of meeting a German submarine. ‘Its just like the Captain to stand by his ship until the last’ Mr Mathews remarked…“
Francis died in 1925. The ‘Western Mail‘ on 7 September 1925 reported “Capt Anstey Cardiff: Captain Francis James Anstey of Cardiff died at Aalesund, Norway. He was taking his steamer the Phyllis Reed from Russia to Hull when he became ill and was put ashore at Aalesund where he succumbed. Capt Anstey was 61 years old and was well known at Cardiff Docks and resided at 6 Victoria Park Road East. He leaves a son and three daughters. His body will be brought back to Cardiff“.
Francis was buried at Cathay’s Cemetery in Cardiff, with gravestone inscription “In loving and affectionate memory of Annie Eliza the beloved wife of Francis James Anstey who died April 13th 1908 aged 38 yrs. Also of their two dearly loved children who died in infancy ‘When the mists have rolled away’. Also of Francis James Anstey husband of the above who died September 2nd 1925 aged 61 yrs“.
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