On Wednesday 16th November 1898 Captain William Cosens, brother of Captain Joseph Cosens who had founded Cosens & Co, was buried in Melcombe Regis cemetery having died three days earlier on 13th November at his home in Weymouth.
William was born on 15th March 1827 the youngest of three brothers all of whom went to sea, initially on schooners sailing in the Home Trade. All of them became captains.
Joseph Cosens was eleven years older than his younger brother William and seems to have been a born entrepreneur. He noticed that a Government Commission of Enquiry into Harbours of Refuge set up in 1844 had recommended the building of breakwaters to partially enclose the Roadstead at Portland. This work was to be done by convicts with their first task being to build a prison on Portland in which they would be locked up at night. By 1848 work was well in hand for this with a view to laying the foundation stone of the breakwaters the following year.
Joseph saw an opportunity here. Such work would be likely to need steam boats to carry people about so in 1848 he set up on his own account a service between Weymouth and Portland initially with the paddle steamer Highland Maid which he had taken on charter. This was a good way to start a business as it meant that he could do it without needing major capital investment to buy a ship of his own.
Things went well. Not only was there a market for a ferry between Weymouth and Portland but also there turned out to be one for people who wanted a sightseeing trip to watch the convicts at work on the breakwaters. There was harbour towage to be done as well as the potential for salvage work in the area particularly in the winter.
By 1852 Joseph Cosens was sufficiently confident to order a brand new paddle steamer to be called Prince with part of the capital for this provided by another Weymouth entrepreneur and neighbour Joseph Drew who owned the Southern Times and lived in Devonshire Buildings overlooking the harbour. It was around this time that Joseph’s brother William joined the firm as a paddle steamer master.
Over the next twenty years the business grew. After Joseph died in 1873 William became senior captain of Cosens’s ever expanding fleet and was the first master of Empress (1878), Victoria (1884) and Monarch (1888). He came ashore the following year but kept his involvement becoming Cosens’s agent at Swanage over the next decade until February 1898.
On 16th November 1898, the day of Captain William Cosens’s funeral, all the ships in Weymouth Harbour flew their ensigns at half-mast to honour a man who had been such a key figure in the Weymouth Harbour scene over so many years.
This article was first published on 16th November 2020.