The schooner “Jane Banks” leaving Fowey, Cornwall – Extra Info

The schooner "Jane Banks" leaving Fowey, Cornwall The Frau Minna Peterson, later Jane Banks, later Viir was built as a general purpose vessel.


British builders and owners had always experimented with new rigs and hulls Generally in the early 19 century, the favoured rig for small general traders was the brig, a two masted vessel (a ship is three masted) square sail rigged on both masts with staysails between fore and main mast.
This rig was well suited to open sea voyages and fairly handy.
It did though need a crew of up to 16 men.
Also, regulations required that the master hold a square rigged certificate.
Qualified men were in great demand however, most local men held no formal qualification or in later years just a “fore and aft” qualifications.

A compromise was the “Jack barquentine”, more manoeuvrable and with a smaller crew of 10.
These were two and later more often three masted schooners (the latter often crewed by 6 in the summer season) with square sails on the foremast and rigged fore and aft on the main and mizzen masts with an additional staysail between main and fore.
This rig allowed the schooner men command.
This rig and the trades to the med, Azores and Newfoundland and Labrador which had developed since as early as pre 1492 resulted, in the 1890s, in the evolution of the “Western Ocean Yachts” – fine lined, fast three masted topsail schooners, strongly built with exceptional sea going characteristics.


The years 1877 and 1878 saw a spurt of building activity in Llyn and Eifionydd. 18 vessels were built at Portmadoc and Borth y Gest.

This was a transition period as the builders and owners experimented with various rigs adapted for particular trades.


The Frau Minna Peterson was one of these general purpose vessels.
She was built by Simon Jones at Portmadoc.
Her dimensions were:- 176 GRT, 102′ LOA, 24.3′ Beam and 12.6′ Max Draft.
Reg at Caernarvon.
She was owned outright (64/64ths) by Hugh Parry of Borth y Gest.
For twenty three years the vessel sailed the Atlantic Ocean, Baltic and Mediterranean with visits to Portmadoc to load slate for Germany.
Her launch, in 1878, was watched with great interest.
She was the first vessel launched sideways but unfortunately stuck during the operation.
This was considered a bad omen which proved unfounded as she was to sail for many years.

The FRAU MINNA PETERSON was named after a German slate merchant’s wife which was a common practice.
She entered a trade with origins going back to the days before Christopher Columbus when men of the Atlantic coast of Europe were already fishing off the Newfoundland and Maine coasts for cod.
Frau Minna Peterson proved an ideal vessel for the Western Ocean passage, beating against the prevailing winds and handy amongst the creeks and inlets of the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts.

In 1901 Frau Minna Peterson was sold to Fowey in Cornwall and renamed the Jane Banks.
From this port (which the author lived close by hence the painting,) and nearby Par, china clay was her main cargo, often returning with coal or industrial products from the Mersey.
She was in this trade for many years.
There are some excellent photos of the vessel underway, taken during this period in Basil Greenhill’s book Schooners and also several of her at anchor and alongside, in the National Maritime Museum collection.

She was sold to Estonia in 1938 and her story thereafter was uncertain however, information from Torsten Hagnéus, of Sweden, who sent the following extract from “Estland zur See 1918-1940” (Estonia at sea 1918-1940) :-


3-mast schooner 176 grt – 156 nrt Dims: 31.08 x 7.34 x 3.80 m Built 1878 at Portmadoc by S Jones 1878 Frau Minna Peterson H Parry, Caernarvon, GB
1901 Frau Minna Peterson R May, Caernarvon, GB
1914 August, taken as prize at Emden, DE. Use during the war not known.
1919 given back to GB Jane Banks The Shipping Controller, London, GB
1921 Jane Banks (E Stephens, Fowey, managing owner)
1928 Jane Banks T J Stephens, Fowey, GB
1938 Renamed Viir Anton Vilu, Tallinn, EE
1940 taken by Soviet troops at the occupation of Estonia VIIR Estonian State Shipping Co, Tallinn, SU
1941 October 9; fallen into German hands in Tallinn.
Use during WW2 not known.
1944 October; sailed with Estonian refugees to Sweden*
1949 deleted from Lloyd’s Register

*(All Estonian vessels which came to Sweden with refugees were given back to the Soviet Union.
The former owners were however compensated economically by the Swedish Government.)



Immortal Sails by Henry Hughes

Porthmadog Ships by Aled Eames

The Merchant Schooners Vol I and The Merchant Schooners Vol II by Basil Greenhill

Schooners by Basil Greenhill

Maritime Wales

Sea Breezes

Torsten Hagnéus


Update written 14 September 2006

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