Small Craft

Late 19th & Early 20th Century British Yachting

The Sailors: Amateur British & Irish Yachtsmen Before World War One

Erskine Childers, 1870–1922

From Searc's Web Guide:

"Robert Erskine Childers was born in London. He grew up in County Wicklow and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a Clerk in the House of Commons before becoming a British Army Officer. Childers was wounded during the Boer War in South Africa in 1900. In 1903 he published The Riddle of the Sands, a prophetic war novel.

Childers became increasingly interested in Irish politics and in 1912 he published The Form and Purpose of Home Rule. In 1914 he smuggled guns for the Irish Volunteers from Germany to Howth, Dublin in his yacht, Asgard. At the outbreak of the First World War Childers joined the British Navy as an Intelligence Officer and received the DSO in 1916. After World War I Childers resumed his republican activities and in 1919 he was made Director of Publicity for the First Irish Parliament. In 1920 Childers published Military Rule in Ireland and in 1921 he was a member of the Irish Treaty Delegation but he opposed the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In 1922 Childers was arrested for having a pistol, said to have been given him by Michael Collins, was court-martialed and executed by a Free State firing squad at Beggar's Bush Barracks on November 24th, 1922. This extract is from Childers' pamphlet Is Ireland a Danger to England? (1921)."

And from the National Maritime Museum's page about Erskine Childers:

"Childers was a superb seaman, sailing small engineless craft on the East Coast, the Solent and the Baltic in the days when state-of-the-art navigation equipment consisted of a chart, a prismatic compass and a lead line.

Sailing was his great passion and he took every opportunity to get afloat. During the week he was a pillar of the establishment in his job at the House of Commons; at weekends and during holidays he would escape to his boat kept on the River Thames, persuading his friends to join him. In 1895, he was sailing Marguerite (which he and his friends nicknamed 'Mad Agnes.) an 18 ft dayboat with a 30 in draught and his log books, written in lyrical English, present a graphic picture of a very different world, although the tricks the sea and weather can play are instantly recognisable.

The journals and logbooks that cover Childers. sailing up to World War I are in the archives of the Royal Cruising Club and held at the National Maritime Museum. They make fascinating reading for any sailor or any fan of his novel, but for a really exciting story you can.t beat the journal of the gun-running cruise on Childers' 44 ft ketch, Asgard. On 12 July 1914, they made their night time rendezvous with a German tug in the English Channel and transferred 900 rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition."

An account from the London Gazette of an action Childers participated in in which he was mentioned in despatches.

Known Boats

  • Shulah
  • Mad Agnes
  • Vixen
  • Sunbeam
  • Asgard Ketch. L/B/D: 44 x 13 x 7.5 (13.4m x 4m x 2.3m). Tons: 18 grt. Hull: wood. Comp.: 6. Built: Colin Archer, Larvik; 1905.