The Berwick Spowarts

The name of Spowart is regarded as Scottish, and although there are other suggestions of a European origin, these appear to be purely speculative.  There were Spowarts recorded in Scotland in the 17th century; and the Spowart name appears to be most common in the Fife area of Scotland. A beautiful stained-glass window which was donated by a Thomas Spowart can be viewed in Dunfermline Abbey.

 

Spowart Ferry BRO 1887-2-4

An early 20th century photograph of the ferry landing at Spittal. Courtesy of Berwick Record Office (BRO 1887-2-4).

The Spowart family of Berwick-upon-Tweed are probably best remembered locally in historical terms as seafarers who travelled the world, and for the local ferry service which operated between the Spittal jetty and the Berwick quayside, run by brothers Robert and Philip Spowart.  They also operated a successful bus company in the 1920s. Philip Spowart was elected mayor of Berwick-upon-Tweed no less than three times in 1935, 1936 and 1937. 

 

Robert and Philip Spowart were the sons of George and Ann Spowart.  In 1871 the family was living in Eastern Lane, Berwick-upon-Tweed, after previously living in Foul Ford.  In total George and Ann had five children: they were Jane, Sarah, Ann, Robert, Agnes Philip and Philip.

 

Robert Spowart  (1859 – 1928)

The following report on the death of Robert Spowart appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 8th November 1928. 

Susan BRO 1887-33-2

An early photograph of the “Susan” at the Spittal ferry landing. Courtesy of Berwick Record Office (BRO 1887-33-2).

From this you can see in brief detail the involvement of the Spowart family in an early version of an integrated transport system in Berwick-upon-Tweed, run by brothers Robert and Philip Spowart.

 

“The death took place yesterday of Robert Spowart, of Berwick-upon-Tweed, who was well known to visitors to the town.  About 30 years ago with his brother, Philip Spowart, he took over the Berwick to Spittal ferry services.  The ferry boat was then the “Susan”, a steam paddle boat, which was very popular with visitors in its day.  They got the “Border Chief” in 1907, the “Border Maid” in 1909, and the “Border Pride” in 1912, three motor boats which took the place of the “Susan” and the old rowing boats. 

 

In 1923 the Spowart brothers started their Berwick to Spittal motor bus service.  The buses known as the Red Buses operate in conjunction with the boats and form an important part of the transport system of Berwick and the surrounding district.”

 

Philip Spowart  (1871 – 1945)

The following obituary of Philip Spowart, who died on 19th February 1945, appeared in the Berwick Advertiser (22nd February 1945): 

 

Philip Spowart (Berwick Advertiser 22 Feb 1945)

Alderman Philip Spowart. (Berwick Advertiser 1945)

“Following an operation about 10 days previously, the death took place in a nursing home in Edinburgh, on Monday, of Alderman Philip Spowart, The Palace, Berwick, at the age of 74.

 

“A native of Berwick, he was educated at Berwick British School.  He was the son of the late Mr George Spowart, whose family had been connected with the sea for many years.  After working in Berwick for a short time, the late Alderman Spowart went to Elswick Works on Tyneside, but he returned to Berwick and was for some years a boatman to Berwick Amateur Rowing Club. Then in 1903, along with his brother, he took over the older boathouse, lower down the Tweed and stocked it with pleasure boats.  

 

“In 1907 he started the first motor ferry service across the Tweed between Berwick and Spittal, beginning with the “Border Chief” and later adding the “Border Maid” and the “Border Pride.”  In 1923 this river ferry service was supplemented by a bus service to Spittal, which also spread to other routes in the district.

 

“Mr Robert Spowart died in 1928, but the late Alderman Spowart continued to manage the businesses until in 1933 he sold the bus service to the United Automobile Services Ltd., and the boat service to Mr J Todd. 

 

Dickson Block, Berwick PA 1912

Dickson Block, Berwick, Pennsylvania 1912, a scene that would have been familiar to Alderman Spowart some 20 years later. By Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“He was first elected to Berwick Town Council in 1925, and in 1935 was elected Mayor of Berwick, having three consecutive years in office.  In 1936 with Councillor J Fleming who was the Sheriff, Alderman Spowart went to Berwick, Pennsylvania for the sesqui-centenary celebrations of the founding of that town, and so began the friendship which has continued ever since between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Berwick’s daughter town.  He became Alderman in 1940.

 

“For many years he was a representative of Berwick Town Council on Berwick Harbour Commissioners and on the North No. 1 Poor Law Guardians Committee, and had been their representative on the County Public Assistance Committee. He was an interested member of Berwick Guild of Commerce, and also represented Berwick Town Council on the Burial Board.

 

“Alderman Spowart’s sporting activities were chiefly connected with bowling.  He was a member and Honorary President of Ravensdowne Club for many years and presented a cup for annual competition.  On the opening of Tweedmouth green he was elected Vice President, and a “Spowart” Cup is also competed for there.  He was Honorary President of Berwick and District Bowling League, and he presented a championship flag.  He was Vice President of Berwick Rangers F.C. for many years.

 

“Alderman Spowart was a poet of some repute, and many of his poems are treasured by old Berwickers.

 

“He celebrated his silver wedding in 1932, having been married at Waterloo Road Presbyterian Church, Blyth, in 1907, when Mr H. R. Peters, solicitor, Berwick, was groomsman.  Mrs Spowart belongs to Blyth, and before her marriage was Miss Annie Nicholson Wood.”

 

Spowarts Buses

Seven of the Spowart fleet of buses line up at the Berwick Quayside. Photograph courtesy of Mr Fred Kennington

 

Robert Spowart  (1833 – 1902), traveller to Fiji

Robert Spowart was the son of Robert and Sarah Spowart; he was born in 1833.  Robert lived with his parents and brothers George, Philip, William, John and sister Isabella in Eastern Lane, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

 

His father Robert, a Master Mariner, tragically drowned at Aberdeen on 11th October 1854, aged 50 years.  His younger brother John was also killed at sea on board the Barque Iota, on 17th January 1871, aged 28 years.

 

A group of Fijians at Levuka, 1874

A group of Fijians on the beach in 1874, a scene Robert Spowart would have been familiar with. By National Maritime Museum from Greenwich, United Kingdom , via Wikimedia Commons.

Robert trained as a carpenter and his occupation also took him to sea.  Around the year 1862 he arrived in Fiji from the Australian Colonies, and he settled there and raised a family. 

 

He had two sons, Arthur Kinnard Rae Spowart and William; however there is no sign that a marriage existed.  The possibility is that Robert’s children had been mothered by a native Fijian woman, as his son Arthur was described as “half-caste” on his marriage certificate.

 

The marriages of Robert’s two sons Arthur and William and their family details can be viewed by clicking here.

 

Robert Spowart died in Fiji in 1902.  The following report on his death appeared in the Western Pacific Herald on 29th July 1902.

 

“Another of our old settlers has joined the great majority.  Mr Robert Spowart, a colonist of over forty years, departed this life at Na Viti Levu Bay, on 17ist. Mr Spowart born at Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the borders of England and Scotland, in 1830**, and came to Fiji from the Australian Colonies about the year 1862. He was in business in Levuka as a contractor for many years and late years resided in the Ra district.”

 

** Robert Spowart was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England, in 1833. An error on his death certificate describes Berwick-upon-Tweed as being in Scotland instead of England.  To view his death certificate click here.

 

Robert Spowart  (b.1891)  and Adi Ana Suguta 

Robert Spowart’s grandson, third son of Arthur Kinnard Rae Spowart, was also called Robert, born in 1891. He married Anna Jesse, also known as Adi Ana Suguta, who was paramount chief of Tokatoka, Tailevu; they had three children. Anna died in 1960.

 

The following obituary report appeared in The Fiji Times on 27th October 1960:

“Mrs Robert Spowart – The death occurred at the CWM Hospital, Suva, yesterday of Mrs Ana Spowart, wife of Mr Robert Spowart, of Waimanu Road. Mrs Spowart was Adi Ana Suguta, paramount chief of Tokatoka, Tailevu.  She came from the village of Nabitu and was a member of the family of Toradreketi, the paramount title in Tokatoka.  Her funeral will leave St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Gordon Street, at 10.15am today for the New Cemetery.  Mrs Spowart is survived by her husband, a son, two daughters and a number of grandchildren.”

 

 

The Spowart family name lives on all around the world, with many in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand tracing their roots back to the Robert Spowart who left Berwick-upon-Tweed, England, in the early 1860s.

 

Robert Spowart d1928 grave

Robert Spowart, who died in 1928,  was buried at Berwick Civic Cemetery in the family grave. To view a transcription of the gravestone click here.

Philip Spowart grave

Philip Spowart, who died in 1945, ran the ferry and bus service along with his brother Robert. He is buried in a separate grave with his wife Anne and sister Jane. To view the transcription of the gravestone click here.

Robert Spowart d1902 grave

Robert Spowart, who died in 1902 and was buried in Fiji, is mentioned on a family gravestone at Berwick Civic Cemetery. To view the transcription of the gravestone click here.

 

Click here to view source documents for the Berwick Spowarts’ family tree.

 

 

Acknowledgements:

 

National Archives of Fiji.

 

Berwick Record Office:  photographs of the “Susan” at the Spittal ferry landing (BRO 1887-33-2) and “One of the three ferries operated by the Spowart family” (BRO 1887-38-5).

 

Photograph of Spowarts’ buses at Berwick Quayside, from the book “Travellers’ Tales from the Borders”: courtesy of its author Mr Fred Kennington.

 

Photographs of the three Spowart family graves at Berwick Civic Cemetery: Richard Ormston.

 

Berwick Advertiser, February 22 1945, p.6, col.4: Spowart obituary.