Thomas Selby – Cutty Sark, Indo-China Steam Navigation Company and Bullivants

Robin Selby has been in contact about his great-uncle Thomas Selby (1866-1937).

Robin says, Thomas had a full life and was at one time mate of the Cutty Sark, captain of another ship, went on to work for the The Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd (ICSNC) which had been established in 1873 as a subsidiary of Hong Kong based Jardine, Matheson & Co. and then for Bullivant & Company which manufactured Taikoo Sugar Refinery’s aerial ropeway cables. So a Hong Kong link if at times a little tenuous.

Thomas Selby photo when young from Robin Selby

A young Tom.

HF: Robin has sent a considerable amount of information about Thomas. I am delighted to post this in at least a couple of articles.  I have added extra details to those that Robin sent – in particular information found in the website, Descendants of Cutty Sark website run by Caroline Gurney, linked below, which has a general biography of the man. The photos of Thomas, shown here,  have been sent by Robin.

Thomas William Selby was born at 1 West Ferry Road in Poplar, London, next to the West India Docks on 4th April 1866.

His father, James Thomas Selby, was interesting in his own right and  was born in 1838.  His mother died in 1843, and his father remarried in 1847.  In 1851 James was living with his grandmother (a costermonger), and working as a labourer.

By the time Thomas was born his father was a foreman in Bullivant’s wire rope works at Millwall, London. He subsequently became Works Manager. This post was later held  held by Thomas’ brother, George May Selby.

In 1881 Tom went to sea as an apprentice on Jock Willis’ Coldinghame.

Thomas Selby photo mate on Cutty Sark

He joined the famous British clipper, Cutty Sark, in February 1886, aged 20, and sailed on her for two voyages as 2nd Mate, then three as 1st Mate from 1888. He was a very highly regarded officer. Despite his youth, he was extremely conscientious and kept Cutty Sark in excellent condition. When in port, he would row out in a boat every evening to inspect her. Although strict and hard working, he had no false dignity and was popular with the crew and apprentices.

(note the photo right incorrectly has Tom as “J”.)

On leaving the Cutty Sark in 1891, Thomas was given command of Titania, a clipper which had been a rival to the Cutty Sark in the tea trade but had been sold to the Hudson Bay Company in 1885. Thomas commanded her for 13 months on voyages to and from Vancouver. He then returned to the Coldinghame as Master for 15 months. Both commands were terminated by the ships being sold abroad.

Between 1895 and 1908 Thomas worked for the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company. We have currently no further information about his employment there.

On 11th April 1903 he married Minnie Taylor Walton in Sunderland in 1903. They had no children.

Bullivant Aerial Ropeways image 4 Advert date unknown

In 1912 Tom was appointed manager of a new Bullivant factory at Leighton Bizzard, Bedfordshire, UK. The factory made nets for ship and harbour protection. ‘Pressure of orders became so great that at one period the work overflowed into the town Hall and nets were actually made there. This factory closed at the end of WW1.

In 1923 he left the UK to set up and manage the Australian Wire Rope Works in Newcastle, NSW. [After a visit to Australia in 1891, Pelham Bullivant bought out an existing agency in Sydney, FM Mitchell & Co., and set up Bullivants Australia. Was the AWRW part of Bullivants?]

In January 1929 the Directors gave him a presentation suitcase as a memento.

He returned to the UK via Vancouver where his brother Chris had himself set up a wire rope works.

On 17th September 1931 Tom took Robin’s father to Canada returning on 9th October 1931.

Tom died of pneumonia on 20th February 1937 at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, UK.


  1. Bullivants’ history in Australia


  1. Descendants of Cutty Sark website Cutty Sark has travelled across the world, sailing under both the Red Ensign and the Portuguese flag, visiting every major port in the world through the course of her working life. In admiration of her beauty and in recognition of her fame, she was preserved for the nation by Captain Wilfred Dowman in 1922. Since then, the old clipper has been berthed in Falmouth and Greenhithe, finally arriving at her current resting place in Greenwich in 1954.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Bullivant & Co, Millwall London, supplier of Taikoo Sugar Refinery’s aerial ropeway cables
  2. The Aerial Ropeway (1891-1932) and Sanitarium (1893-1932) of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery

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