Howdenshire History

Captain John William Burnitt of Goole

Goole History > Goole People & Families > Capt. John William Burnitt


From the Goole Times, Friday, 13th December 1935:




"Modern housewives have a lot to learn and I'm the chap to teach them a few things," said eighty-two-year-old Captain John William Burnitt, of 28 George Street, Goole, in an interview with a reporter on Tuesday. It is no rash statement from the veteran, who lives alone, and has done all his own housework ever since his wife died 47 years ago.

Sitting beside a spotless hearth and smiling proudly upon a stove and fireplace that shone brightly. Capt. Burnitt gave me (writes a reporter) a few tips on how to run a house. "The job has its responsibilities," he admitted, "but it's easy to me. I don't want anyone to bother me; I can cook or make anything, and I can show a woman how to wash-up in no time."

The male housekeeper then turned his attention to me. "You know," he said, "before you think of getting up, I've done all my work. I get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and have done for years. I clean up, do my bit of washing and then have my breakfast. By eleven I feel peckish and so I cook my dinner - meat stew is my favourite dish. Tea is at five and not long afterwards I am in bed. I live up to the maxim; 'Early to bed, early to rise.' That beats the housewife of today, I think."

Capt. Burnitt, however, was quick to dispel any impression that he was and had been essentially a 'home bird.' As evidence he told me of his 58 years at sea. "Not 58 years of just sailing up and down," he added, "but 58 years packed with adventures - a grand life."

Capt. Burnitt was born at Goole and in his own words "glad of it, I like the old place and wouldn't leave it." He started work when eight years old on keels running up and down the canal for the late Mr James Walker, of Goole. Sometimes he got 2s 6d a week as wages. Two years later he got 'a good job' as cabin boy at 3s 6d a week on the schooner Jane and Margaret, owned by his grandfather, the late Mr William Richardson, of Goole.

But his first voyage almost proved to be his last. The schooner was shipwrecked, running aground and breaking up near Cromer, on the Norfolk coast. He and all the crew managed to get ashore. "A nasty spot it is near Cromer," mused the Captain reminiscently. "About three years later I was shipwrecked at the same place, this time in the Jane Anne. No lives were lost, fortunately."

A comparatively easy time followed, to use Captain Burnitt's description, and when steam came along he secured his master's certificate on 17th March 1886. For eleven years he was with the old West Riding Co., and then he had twelve years in the Bennett line steamers. He had then taken his pilot's licence.

With the advent of the War he was at sea almost every day, sometimes captain and sometimes mate. He sailed in the Brenda, Nina, Gwynwood and Northwood, all of Messrs France, Fenwick's fleet. 19th November 1918 is a date lodged firmly in the Captain's memory, for that was when he finished his sea career. He has never been to sea or even out of the town since that day.

Capt Burnitt knows that the Bible is the world's best-seller, and is proud of the fact that he has read it a dozen times. He also believes in herbs as a cure for all ailments.

The old seafarer possesses an amazingly retentive memory and recalls incidents in his boyhood 75 years ago. When he was nine he lived in Doyle Street, where he was born, and remembers when women went to the gas-house and received a "bed-tick" full of cinders for 4d. A "bed-tick" was a good measure in those days and it always took four women to carry home the cinders. He remembers the Mr Guest who was then in charge of the gas-house.

The Captain's memory takes him back over 75 years to the following incidents. "Once we had black fishes, in shoals, coming down the Dutch River. The men used to get all us lads together and we would help them to catch these fish. We used to get oil from the fishes."

A standing joke of Capt. Burnitt's is the story of how four years ago he bought a new suit and he has never worn it or tried it on since. He does not even know whether it fits him. The story is true as I saw the suit which he shows to all visitors. He always asks which will last longer, the suit or himself?

Capt. Burnitt's memory, however, is not infallible; it fails him in one respect. He can never count how many grand-children he has; he thinks there are about forty. He has a son and a daughter living and about four great-grandchildren.

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