He was obviously a talented sailor, and
by the time he was 30 had obtained his Master Mariner's ticket. (Certificate
of Competency, Foreign-Going Master : C20453, Aberdeen 1863) His son John
Charles Main described him to my father David Rogers as a tough man, 6'
tall and with "a span of 6'4" ". Later photographs bear out
this impression - a large, sternly bearded man, every inch the Victorian
John Charles Main tells of one particular voyage home from Hudson's Bay, when his father Alexander Main was captain of the Walrus in 1874. This story was recorded by David Rogers in 1951 :
"During a terrific blizzard in the Bay, the brig went aground on Mackenzie Island, tearing a hole in her bottom. Alexander ordered everybody out onto the ice, and started to discharge the cargo of furs in order to get at the leak. Shelters were constructed on the land out of these furs, but even so, everybody was soon suffering from frostbite. After a fortnight, he managed to patch the hole with cabin doors, made watertight with furs, and put into Fort B____ [possibly Port Burwell on the northern tip of the Labrador peninsula] where the hole was patched temporarily with sheets of lead. He managed to get around to St John's, Newfoundland, where after a bit of true Scottish haggling with the tug skipper, who could see there was something wrong with the ship, managed to get her into dry dock. "Captain," said the tug skipper when he saw the hole, "If I'd seen that hole before, I wouldn't have taken you in for $200, never mind $20!"
So proper repairs were made there, and as the ship couldn't wait for all the furs to dry properly, they were packed back into the hold with layers of brushwood in between. Halfway across the Atlantic, fire broke out in the hold due to spontaneous combustion of the brushwood, but led by Alexander, the fire was put out.
Then the ship was attacked by severe southerly gales, but Alexander, instead of heaving to and riding out the storm, drove up around Iceland, running before the gale, with the result that he arrived in London 14½ days out from St John's, beating the mail boat.
The other two Hudson's Bay ships carrying furs had both been lost without trace in the blizzard that grounded the "Walrus" so Alex's cargo, damaged though it was, fetched £200 000, a record price, making up for the other losses.
"For Courage, Skill and Seamanship" Lloyds presented him with a scroll and £200, and the owners gave him a gold watch and £200 "for services rendered.
Greater than all this was the fact that when Alexander arrived home, he was presented with a 3 month old son, John Charles Main, the only one of the family he ever christened."
While the above story is anecdotal, at least part of it is confirmed by the Lloyds Accident register of the year, and the Hudson's Bay Company records of the time. Similarly with his early sailing history - Lloyds Captain's Records have confirmed the vessels, so there is every reason to believe the rest of the history. The following details are all culled from official records and original sources.
While Alexander spent up to two years
away from home on some of his longer journeys, he still found time to
get married and have a family. On 11 January 1856, when he was nearly
23 and probably sailing as a junior officer, he married Christian Hardie
Baxter, daughter of an Aberdeen fisherman Alexander Baxter, and his wife
Jane Stephen. The Baxters had a long connection with the sea, coming from
a long line of fishermen in Aberdeen (Footdee) and the Kincardineshire
village of Nigg, just south of the river Dee. Being the daughter and granddaughter
of fishermen and sailors, she would have been used to the idea of her
man being absent for much of their marriage, and had the support of a
close community of similar family and friends - but it must have been
a worrying and lonely marriage at times. They had Alexander in 1861, Isabella
in 1864, William in 1865, Christian in 1867, and John Charles in 1874.
They were a devout Christian family,
as evidenced by letters written by them to Alexander while he was at sea
- the prospect of a disaster at sea meaning that he might not return was
obviously very real to them, and prayer was their recourse while they
waited. By the time Alexander was with the Hudson's Bay Company he was
probably fairly well paid, and they lived a very respectable life - the
children were well educated, and their letters convey this clearly, as
well as their obvious love for their father.
Alexander retired in 1884, and died at home
in Aberdeen on 20 October 1901, aged 68. Further records of the ships he
sailed in can be found on the Maritime Record - Alexander Main pages.