Ted Wearin

Edward Melville Wearin born September 25, 1876 in Australia. He lived from 1916-1935 at "Granville" on Romney Road, Greenpoint. Married Olive Gwladys Palgrave Potter (born Powys).

Ted Wearin is reported to have won a number of South African swimming championships, including both the 100 and 500 yards in 1902. In 1904 he won again won all of the races - 100, 220 and 500 yards, but did not return to defend his titles in 1905. In 1911 he re-appears, playing water polo for Transvaal. He came from Maryborough in Australia to fight in the Boer War, settled in the Cape (later in the Transvaal) and was a member of the Green and Sea Point Swimming Club. His story as a sailor is related by Lawrence Green in his book At Daybreak for the Isles.

In August 1950 an Australian newspaper reported on Captain Wearin.

Captain Wearin's last vessel - the Harrier

Extract from At Daybreak for the Isles by Lawrence Green.

Finally the Cape Government decided to sell the Sea Bird and send a steamer sealing. There was an idea at that time that only a sailing vessel could landmen on a sealing-rock; the old hands swore that the seals would smell a steamer and make for the water. However, the Sea Bird was sold, and Skipper Edward Melville Wearin, owner of the S.S. Magnet, was offered the sealing contract. A mighty man is Wearin, even in his old age. He and Mister Milo went sealing together for many years – a strong partnership. They worked Hollam's Bird successfully, and there they made the record catch of 2,400 seals in one day. There was a small fortune in it, and yet you should hear Skipper Wearin' s views of that islet."Of all the accursed places..." Wearin is a man worth knowing, are incarnation of the fine seamen of last century.

This huge Australian has massive shoulders and arms; he was a champion swimmer in his youth. As a boy he wanted to go to sea, but his father made him serve his time in an engineering works. He arrived at the Cape as a soldier during the South African War and stayed on in the Cape Town railway workshops after the war. The pay was good and he was able to have a twenty-two-foot yacht built for the weekends. Wearin still hankered after the sea, and the little Advance helped to satisfy his longing. Then came a depression, and in 1905 Wearin was sacked. He took out a sealing-licence for Cape waters and turned his yacht into a sealer. After a few profitable seasons along the Cape coast Wearin heard of the rich sealing-grounds near Luderitz. So he sailed north, five hundred miles in his twenty-two-foot cutter, and thought nothing of it. He set nets for seals off Long Island, parallel nets in the seaweed, close to the reef. Lights attracted the seals at night, and those that jumped the first net were taken in the second. German poachers were raiding the British rocks, using dynamite, but they sheared off when they saw Wearin and the Advance.

Once in a long while Wearin was able to land on Eighty-Four Rock, a treacherous place, but good for anything up to five hundred seals if the weather lasted. "I sent the large skins to Russia – they used them for sleigh-covers," recalled Wearin. "Pup skins went to New York, and in a few years I was able to sell the Advance and buy a steamer. Poor old Advance! She dragged her anchor off Staple Rock and was lost with all hands. "Ay, it's a dangerous game, sealing. You're often close to the surf, and many a cutter has been caught between the rocks and the beach, caught broadside and turned over. Staple Rock has an iron bolt on the summit - you lash yourself to the bolt when the sea sweeps over. I was always lucky about accidents, though. I got two bites on the left arm and two on the left leg ... nothing more. They get excited and snap as they rush past you." Wearin's tiny hooker, the fifty-ton Magnet, had been plying for years between Table Bay Docks and Robben Island. He ran her as an excursion steamer and did some fishing. Then the superintendent of the guano islands called him in and asked him whether he would go sealing for the government. "So I took the job on," said Wearin."The government found the coal and stores, I provided the Magnet at £20 a month, and I was paid by results. Four shillings a skin I got for myself, and I signed on a sealing crew of twelve white men. Everyone said I was daft."

On the October day in 1911 when Wearin steamed out for the islands, a group of old sealers gathered on the wharf at Table Bay Docks and jeered. "We'll eat all the skins you bring back," shouted the old sealers. "I hope you have a damned good feed," called back Wearin, and on that note the tiny Magnet slipped off to sea. That was the first time Wearin saw Hollam's Bird. He picked up Mister Milo and six coloured boatmen at Ichaboe and anchored off Hollam's Bird. "Of all the accursed places..." Wearin pointed to it on the large scale-chart. "I worked it for twenty-five years - me and Milo," he told me."Since I retired in 1936 never a man has worked that island. The gear you need! Marks and anchors, buoy ropes, six-inch warps, barrels and chain. The bottom there is like polished granite, with nowhere for an anchor to hold." Somehow the Magnet's anchors would grip at last, and then Wearin and Mila would climb the rocks and see how the seals were lying. One day they made a rough count - there were sixty thousand seals on the island. It usually supplied them with one-third of the season's catch. That first season Wearin cleared £1,000 in two months. He returned to Table Bay with five thousand pelts, a larger haul than any the Sea Bird had ever made.

Wearin had six thousand skins on board the Magnet in August 1914,when war was declared. He knew nothing of it; but the Halifax Island headman, who was friendly with a German lighthouse-keeper, had received a warning. The headman passed it on to Wearin just in time. Wearin got his anchor up and steamed south at full speed; and as he departed a saw a German tug rounding Pedestal Point in pursuit of the Magnet. He got away with his six thousand skins. When the South African forces invaded South-West Africa, the little Magnet was commandeered to reconnoitre the German held coast. Wearin showed the troops the best landing-places and put intelligence officers on shore near Luderitz. One night he had to swim back to the Magnet - three-quarters of a mile, with a German patrol firing at him, trying to ignore bullets, the risk of sharks and the icy water. Only a man who held fifty gold and silver cups and medals for swimming could have done it.

Wearin lost the Magnet in a Hout Bay gale in 1916. Six years later he visited Britain and bought the ninety-ton Ranza, a Glasgow herring-carrier. He brought her to Table Bay with a crew of seven in six weeks, and went on with his sealing. South Africa's "one-man shipping line", as people called him, was established again. The Ranza served him well for five years; then he sold her and travelled to Britain again in search of another ship. This time he bought the coaster Harrier, his last ship and his largest -200 tons, and 120 feet in length. He and Milo made rich hauls at Hollam's Bird, and loaded her long fore-deck with skins. "But I had to clear out for my damn life when the weather made," said Wearin. "You can't steam into the wind with a heavy deck-load like I often had - it meant running to save the skins." Wearin told me about a sealer who lost his nerve on Hollam's Bird when he saw the whole herd rushing towards him. This man lay flat in a rocky crevice, protecting his head. Scores of seals passed right over him, making for a cliff from which they dived fifty feet into the sea. The man got up unhurt. One of the tricks of the trade is to wear old; tattered clothes - garments that fall apart if a seal grips a coat-sleeve or trouser leg.