Looking into the safe in the Masters’ Room
Other notable masters were introduced to us through the video. Captain Robert Innes who was treasurer for some 39 years. The Masters would meet annually and beneficiaries would receive monthly sums in cash. In the Masters’ Room you can still see the safe, within a cupboard, where the money was kept.
We learned about Peter Wood (above) the whaling ship owner whose ships were named “Faith”, “Hope” and … you guessed it … “Charity” who had a distinctive stick carved from the tusk of a narwhal which is to be seen in both his portrait and in its own right upstairs.
In the seventeenth century the masters were involved in providing pilots for visiting ships, usually these were Newhaven fishermen as, of course, they knew the waters well. James VI asked them for help as he was terrified of storms, even to the point of frequently burning people accused of being witches in order to try and prevent storms. They also looked after the lights and navigation aids on the Forth, including the Isle of May which proved unreliable partly because it ran on coal and partly because the keepers had a tendency to get drunk and so in the early 1800s a rotating light was installed.
The competition with trains which threatened to take away trade from the ships led to some interesting tactics, including the spreading of the tale that seasickness relieved one of “bad vapours”! Other turbulence over the centuries of this fine building’s life included occupation by some of Oliver Cromwell’s troops.
There has only ever been one woman member, Corina M. Grant, daughter of Mungo Campbell Gibson. The fine stained glass window above the stairway is her gift in “memory of all the officers and men of all ranks of the merchant service of the Port of Leith who lost their lives in the Great War”
The memorial window gifted by Corina Grant.
The video ends on a poignant note, pointing out that the dual requirement of holding a master’s certificate and being under 40 years of age has changed, with the last clause no longer applying. Today there are only 8 masters left to continue the 630 year old tradition.
Copyright Ruth Patterson 2010