Over the years many members of the Prance family have owned or had part shares in ships, in most cases their livelihoods depended on them. In many cases we know very little about them but in some we know a great
deal about the ships themselves, those who sailed on them and the adventures in which they were involved. The information in this section has been gathered by Christopher Prance with assistance from the North
Devon Maritime museum in Appledore which has access to records for the area and has researched the local maritime history. The following are those we know about so far.
- JOSEPH...............Thomas Prance (1768-1837)
- FRIENDSHIP......A John Prance was part owner in 1805
- BRITISH ISLE....Sarah Prance of Plymouth held shares in this vessel in 1816
- WESLEYANA......A John Prance owned shares in this vessel in 1842
- MARY JANE.......Jointly owned by John Prance (1789-1871) and son William (1821-1907)
- GEM.....................Jointly owned by Joseph Prance (1834-1912) and Thomas Braund
- PEARL..................Frederick William Prance (1859-1939)
- DEERA.................Frederick William Prance (1859-1939)
Note - All dimensions in the information below are in feet and inches but are given in decimal measurement i.e. One foot is still 12 inches but each foot is divided into 10 divisions.
For example a length of 65 feet 6 inches is recorded as 65.5 feet.
The JOSEPH was a Brig built in Pilton in 1788. It was a carvel built vessel but other details are scarce.
The JOSEPH was a cargo ship that plied between Europe and North America. It carried just two guns and a crew of 15. On 21st May 1793 she sailed from Norfolk Virginia under the command of Captain Thomas Prance (1768-1837) laden with wheat
bound for Barcelona. The following day she was attacked by the French privateer SANS CULOTTE boasting 10 guns and a crew of 40. Eventually, after 3 days of fighting, the JOSEPH was boarded and taken.
A full account of this action and the role played by Captain Thomas Prance is told elsewhere.
- Tonnage: 159
- Rig: Brig Bowsprit: Standing
This is an example of a 19th century Brig the USS NIAGARA
At 297 tons and carrying 20 guns the USS Niagara was about twice the size of the JOSEPH. The original vessel was built in 1813 and in the same year served in the Battle of
Lake Eirie against the British. The current USS Niagara is a reconstruction using a few timbers salvaged from the original.
The MARY JANE was built in Appledore in 1849 by George Williams the younger. It was a carvel built vessel with a square stern.
Originaly registered in Bideford in 1849 it was mastered by John Braund and then James Boatfield Williams.
On 25th April 1854 George sold the MARY JANE in equal share to John Prance (1789-1871), mariner of Peppercombe and his son William Prance (1821-1907), mariner of Bideford.
The vessel was then re-registered in Bideford in May 1854. In March 1866 John and William sold the MARY JANE to James Ley, C.hairman of the Bideford Deep Sea Fishing Company.
Little else if known other than she was eventually broken up in Africa.
- Length: 34.8 Breadth: 11.5
- Depth: 6.1 Rig: Smack Bowsprit: Running
- Tonnage: 18
The GEM was built in Coombe Martin in 1843. It was a carvel built vessel with a square stern.
The Bideford Register shows that on 18th April 1859 it was jointly owned by Joseph Prance (1834-1912),
mariner of Peppercombe and his cousin Thomas Braund (1836-?), mariner of Parkham.
In 1860 Thomas sold half of his share to his cousin Athaliah Prance (Joseph's sister) and the other half to James Glover, fishdealer of Parkham.
In March 1867 James then sold his share to Joseph. Athaliah died in March 1872 and her share then passed to Joseph leaving him as the sole owner.
By 1881 Joseph had opened his own fish shop in Bideford and eventually he sold the GEM to Philip Beer Jones, mariner of Bideford in May 1890.
So far as the GEM was concerned fate then intervened as shortly after, on 18th December 1890 she was lost following a collision. The loss was reported in The Bideford Gazette of Tuesday 23rd December as follows:
- Length: 42.2 Breadth: 13.4
- Depth: 5.7 Rig: Smack
- Tonnage: 16.67
Collision in the Bay
The Bideford trawler GEM was run into and sunk off Bideford Bar by the F.A.M.E of Barnstaple on Thursday night.The GEM owned by Philip jones of Bideford left port on Thursday morning to go trawling in the bay.
The wind however increased during the day and by the evening when the trawl was lifted it was blowing a gale. The GEM then had to wait for the tide in order to cross the bar. Attached to the Braunton lighthouse
is a tide signal to assist vessels as to when to cross the bar. By day a half-tide ball is raised and by night a light is used; it was while waiting for the tide signal that she was run into by the F.A.M.E. and
nearly cut in two. The three crewmen managed to jump aboard the F.A.M.E before their own vessel sank. The F.A.M.E. which was bound to Fremington with a cargo of coal landed the men onto the bank of the River Taw,
from where they walked back to Bideford.
The PEARL was built as a herring fishing boat in 1883 in a yard close to Bideford Bridge.
For many years the vessel was owned by Captain Fred Prance.
Subsequently until around 1926 the PEARL was under cutter rig for pleasure cruising and trawling, mostly at Ilfracombe then at Clovelly. She then spent 7 years barging gravel in the River Taw under a sloop rig.
The last record of her is through an appeal in the North Devon Weekly Gazette to save her as the last remaining example of a Clovelly herring boat. By this time she was laying abandoned at Fremington Pill and there
is no record of her ultimate fate.
The local fishermen also worked smaller herring boats out of Clovelly. These were introduced in the 1850s and known as Picaroons. They were designed to beat the larger boats out to the shoals of Herring as they could
get out earlier on the tide and also return sooner to market, hence realising a higher price for their fish. The name Picaroon originated from the Spanish word for rascal.
Herring boats at Clovelly
Picaroons drawn up on the beach at Clovelly
Modern Picaroon at Clovelly
It is believed that the DEERA was built in or near St. Ives in Cornwall. She was built as a sailing trawler and her hull was constructed of Pitch Pine but no details of her construction have yet come to light.
She was owned from new by Captain Fred Prance (1859-1939) who fished the waters around Bideford Bay for many years. The earliest photographic record is of her sailing up the River Torridge in about 1900. It is known that John Follett (Folley?) served
as Mate on the DEERA in the 1900s and appears in several photographs off the time. there is also a record of her hosting guests during the Bideford Regatta of 1907. In 1909 The DEERA was involved in the rescue of the crew from a french vessel that sank near
Bideford Bar in a gale. The resue attractedmuch local publicity at the time and Captain Prance and his crew recieved awards from the RNLI. A full account is given on Captain Prance's family page.
- Length: 45 Breadth: 13
- Depth: 6 Rig: ?
- Tonnage: ?
When Captain Fred Prance retired, probably late 1920s, it is unknown what happened to the DEERA until the 1960s. At this time it was owned by Jack Pile of Bideford and was laid up on a slip East-the-Water. On visitng Bideford in 1967 the hull was
undergoing restoration and the rigging, masts etc were in store. It seems that the restoration of the hull was eventually more or less completed as the next record is of the painted hull laid up on the sand at Instow in 1971. Then, in March 1973 an advertisement
appeared offering her for sale.
DEERA on the River Torridge c.1900
The outcome is not known for certain but it seems unlikely she was sold as all subsequent records show a slow deterioration in her condition. Her final resting place was at Lelant on the River Hayle
near St. Ives where by the 1990s the hull had begun to break up.
|DEERA at Instow 1971
However even this was not quite the end of her storey. In 2020 a researcher at the North Devon Maritime Museum in Appledore was trying to identify a tiller that was part of their collection. Through this website, the researcher
contacted the family which led to an exchange of photographs of Captain Fred Prance at the tiller of the DEERA. Although it was not possible to see all of the detailed carving in the photographs, that which
was visible seemed to bear a reasonable likeness to the one in the museum. The tiller was donated to the museum by Vernon Boyle, a well respected local artist and historian who was known to be friendly with Jack Pile
who owned the DEERA in the 1960s. While it is unlikely that the provenance will ever be proven beyond doubt, it seems quite possible that the tiller of the DEERA survivies in the Maritime Museum.
|DEERA at Lelant 1991
|Captain Fred Prance at the tiller of the DEERA
(The photo of the tiller is reproduced by kind permission of the North Devon Maritime Museum at Appledore)