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The Onedin Line

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The Onedin Line - The Story

The year is 1860, the place, a port in Liverpool. Captain James Onedin, his brother Robert, and their sister Elizabeth live in a small shop owned by their father. James is a Captain working for a company that deals mainly with wine shipping. James is very ambitious and wants to own his own shipping company. Robert on the other hand is very much a cautious, land based man who is married to Sarah. Sarah we soon learn is five or so months pregnant.

Liverpool 1860 The Onedin Shop Robert, Sarah and Elizabeth sitting down to dinner

James Onedin has just returned from Lisbon with a shipment of wine and other cargo. He has been 27 days at sea and has spent the last three days trying to get into port but the weather has prevented this from happening. Once home he learns of his father's death and that Robert has been left the shop and stock. James is not bothered by this as he wants to be on the sea but has big ideas about his brother expanding the shop. Robert is hesitant and does not seem to like change of any kind.

As a result of the three delay in getting into port, some of the ship's cargo has spoiled and as a result James has lost his bonus. He is not a happy man and as he leaves the shipping company office after collecting his pay, he notices an advertisement for an auction. A sailing ship is to be auctioned soon. On reading the notice he tears it down and heads off to see his brother. He asks his brother for help in raising an offer of £500 for the ship. Robert refuses on the grounds that the ship is not sea worthy and that it is a bad idea.

Charlotte Rhodes for auction James Onedin realises an opportunity exists

James then spends the day going over the ship to be sold at auction "Charlotte Rhodes." He then goes to see Captain Webster at his home in order to make an offer for the ship. He knows that Captain Webster is an old drunk and that the family are in trouble financially. Anne Webster greets him and goes to fetch her father. Anne is a very shrewd woman and is intent on getting security for herself as she knows that when her father dies she will have no one and nothing. She will have to rely on the charity of others or end up in the poor house. She is determined that neither of these options will occur. James offers a small amount for the ship - all his savings in fact. Captain Webster is appalled at such a small offer. Anne leads James into another room to hear his full offer. James thinks he has all the cards but is absolutely stunned when Anne makes a counter offer. Anne wants to be married as it will give her security.

A Dowry ?? Marriage ?!!! Anne is prefectly serious

James Onedin will get the ship from the Websters as a dowry if he agrees to marry her. The ambitious James Onedin agrees. Needless to say, James's family are a little shocked especially when they find out that it is a marriage of convenience. Robert is initially hostile to this marriage on convenience but James wins him round by placing gold coins in front of him and getting him to sign a contract by which they are partners. Robert's greed and desire for money easily allows him to sign the contract.

The Onedin family is shocked at the news His brother is appalled Gold soon changes Robert's mind

James gets to work on the Charlotte Rhodes. She is fully fitted out and ready for sailing soon. James intends to try and steal the Lisbon wine contract that his former employer Callon currently has but which runs out very soon. Callon sees the ship being made ready and so sends a spy out to find out what is going on. He soon learns what James is up to and so makes ready one of his fastest clippers to sail to Lisbon.

Charlotte Rhodes being fitted out The Charlotte Rhodes - first ship of the Onedin Line

Whilst the ship is being fitted out we are introduced to a "Albert Frazer" who wishes James to help in the pursuit of Elizabeth. Elizabeth is currently seeing Daniel Fogarty who is away at sea. James makes it clear that he is wasting his time but Albert is not put off. Albert's family own a large company which builds ships and suggest to James that he may be able to help him sometime. There is a twinkle in James's eye as he sees the advantage in having a brother in law who builds ships.

James and Anne marry at a small church and then James puts to sea. Anne goes with him to help. She makes the Onedin Line Flag Colours and learns how to to begin navigating (she is not taught all the maths though and as we see later this gap becomes very important).

Anee having just made the ship's colours Anee and James together aboard Charlotte Rhodes bound for Portugal The Charlotte Rhodes

The crew of the Charlotte Rhodes soon spot a pursuing ship that is much faster and bigger. Callon is in the behind ship which easily overtakes Onedin's. Soon we are in Lisbon and Callon is in talks with Braganza, the wine producer, who is very surprised by the generosity of Callon. Callon is desperate for Braganza to sign the contract but he seems to be evading all attempts. We soon realise that although James lost the race to Lisbon by ship, he won the overall race since he sent a letter many weeks before, asking Braganza to wait until he had heard Onedin's offer before signing. James offer is far better than Callon and so gets the contract.

Elizabeth Onedin Bargaining in Portugal

More soon to come.