The Diaper Heritage Association
Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy - the Diapers of Itchen Ferry
Early Days Itchen Ferry Village The Captain's Table At Sea Genealogy
The museum contains a permanent display of the town’s maritime history and many of the artefacts have connections with the Diapers. Use this trail to take you around the museum, it will finish at the ‘Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy – The Diapers of Itchen Ferry’ exhibit.

Click here to download the Diaper Education Trail
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Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

At Sea


Yacht Club House, Southampton

The Southampton Yacht club was formed in 1839 and it held an annual regatta in July. By 1841 this was a two day festival with special nights at the theatre, a ball at the Victoria Rooms, fetes and firework display with a prize giving dinner at the Sun Inn on Town Quay. It soon became a notable club attracting Royal Patronage and thus becoming the Royal Southampton Yacht Club. In 1846 its headquarters were built at the bottom of Bugle Street where they commanded a view over the water, it had a balcony to enable the yachts to be watched in comfort. By 1858 the club had 140 members and 90 yachts and its commodore was the Earl of Cardigan, of Crimea fame. Today the building is used by the University.


During Southampton’s spa period yacht racing had become extremely popular and there were often races held off town quay, these were augmented by rowing competitions and in 1827 an advertisement was placed in the Southampton Herald about a new race.


Prizes for the wives, daughters and sisters of fishermen.First boat 2 sov, two next 1 sov each and the Four next each half a sovereign. Four rowers in each Boat, with a Female to steer. To start on a Signal Gas being fired, at Ten o’clock proceeding from a stationed Vessel moored off the Platform round the station Vessel moored off Mr Rubie’s Shipyard, [at Cross House Hard] and back round the starting vessel. Each boat to have a distinguishing Flag in her Bow.


Ann Diaper in her boat Anna Maria and Maria Diaper in her boat May Flower had great success. In 1828 the reporter was so carried away with the race he likened the ladies to ‘Cleopatra sailing down the Cydnus’ with their oars moving ‘to the sound of breathing music’ rowing with ‘natural dignity’ and returning ‘in precisely the order they started which is proof of the harmony and decorum of the proceeding’. In addition to their monetary rewards the ladies also won tickets to a Play.

1830 Regatta


Last match of all to end the day’s amusement was the Female Rowers in their varied ribbons two in a boat, who went round the course – if not ‘swift as an arrow from a Tartar’s bow’ much faster than expected and arrived thus: the Rose, scarlet ribbons; Maria, green; Ariel, white;


Paul Pry, blue; Eliza, yellow and Sting, pink. Hampshire Advertiser


Yacht Building

ShamrockThe river Itchen was an important centre for construction, repair and fitting out of yachts from as early at 1833. Builder such as Henry & Arthur Payne and Dan Hatcher specialised in the building of small yachts and work boats such as the Itchen Ferry boats. Dan Hatcher was one of the first local builders to experiment with composite construction of wooden planking on iron of steel framework. In 1865 he built the 40 ton cutter Niobe which won the Southampton 100 Guinea Challenge Plate in that year. She was owned by William Gordon and skippered by Thomas ‘Dutch’ Diaper. Between them they devised a triangular running sail to be set at the mast head with its clew boomed out. The sail was very successful and became generally known as the ‘Niobe’ for a few years until it became known as the ‘spinnaker’.


Thomas, Alfred, Walter, Betram, Arthur and John were the six sons of Captain Tommy ‘Dutch’ Diaper one of the most successful captains of the mid nineteenth century. All the boys went to sea, young Thomas starting his career at the age of six sailing with his father.



What changed the fortune of the Diaper families was that from about 1860 onwards yachting and yacht racing came into being. Based at Cowes the new sport bloomed and blossomed. It was a rich mans sport, Kings, Princes, Dukes, Earls and Lords and even mere Sirs had boats. And where did they get the crews for their yachts from? Who knew the tides, the deeps and shallows on the Solent and the Isle of Wight better than the Itchen Ferry fishermen? They pay was about four pounds a week all found, food and clothing. To a man they gave up fishing and took to yacht racing. They started as crew and worked their way upward to become skippers’


Memoirs of George Diaper

Alfred was well known as the skipper of the Westward and Thomas and Walter sailed for the German Kaiser on the Meteor. All the brothers sailed for Sir Thomas Lipton on his famous J Class Shamrocks. Records held at Ellis Island, New York record five of the brothers and the two sons of Alfred arriving in America with the rest of the Shamrock crew in 1920. Under the heading distinguishing marks it is recorded Alfred had the tattoo of a Rose & Ship on his chest, Thomas that of a lady on his right arm, Walter had a ship on his right arm, Betram a lady and a heart, Arthur a tattoo of no description. None of them were tall ranging from 5’ 5½’’ to 5’ 9½’’. Thomas was the lightest at 10 stone and Alfred the heaviest at 14 stone. We know much about life as an Itchen ferry sailor from Thomas Diaper’s autobiography, ‘Tom Diaper’s Log’ published in 1950 shortly after his death at the age of eighty three. Thomas sailed into his seventies his last vessel being Commander Bird’s yacht the Harkaway, which still survives and is currently undergoing restoration.


To read ‘Tom Diaper’s Log’ or find out more about Southampton’s maritime history visit the Local History Special Collection at the Southampton Reference Library in the Civic Centre.


Tom Diaper Log

Richard Norris Diaper

There are so many Diapers who made their careers as sailors but Richard Diaper is unusual in having his portrait painted to commemorate the use of his skills in saving a cargo. This Diaper was the captain of Frank Bibby’s yacht, the Jason, and his portrait was painted in 1912 after he had saved the cargo of the Norwegian steamship Avona. The underwriters were so grateful to him that they presented him with a pair of binoculars. Born in 1860 at Itchen Ferry he died in 1942 having been first mate and later captain of Jason I & II and serving as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during World War I. His eldest son Norris also went to sea being a steward with the White Star Line.

Richard Norris Diaper

Capt John Unwin Diaper

(from an article in Bitterne Local History Society magazine by Ann Galbraith)


Born in 1833, as the second son of Henry Diaper and Mary Unwin who had married at Jesus Chapel in 1831, by 1881 John Unwin Diaper was living with his family in Pound Street in Bitterne. He had bought a pair of cottages, called Ivy cottages, in 1876. For forty years he skippered the royal yacht Victoria and Albert, first for Queen Victoria and later for Edward VII. His wife Elizabeth ran a Coffee room also called the Cocoa Rooms from Ivy cottages. It was here in the cottages that it is said Edward VII came to pay an informal visit to see the man who had taught him to sail as a young boy.

Itchen Ferry Regatta

The annual Itchen Ferry Regatta was organised by the Fisherman’s Friendly Society. It always took place around October when the main racing season was over. It gave the Itchen Ferry locals a chance to race against each other in their own boats. George Diaper recalled “regatta day would be the event of the year”. There were fairground rides, sideshows and a “penny scramble” for the children. In addition to the sailing there were rowing races, some specially for female competitors; a tradition begun in 1827 when Ann and Maria Diaper both won prize money and tickets to a play.


The Field reported that most years the society had sufficient funds to hire a band who greeted the winner of each first prize with “see the conquering hero comes”, while the “cheers were as loud and prolonged as any heard at Cowes”


Silver plated cup awarded to John Diaper (1869-1955) for sailing fishing boats 16 feet and under, sailing his own boat the GRACE DARLING at Itchen and Woolston Regatta 1903. Kindly loaned by the granddaughter of Jack (John) Diaper.


There were also private sailing matches as reported by the Echo in October 1879.


A private sailing match arising out of the late Itchen Regatta has been arranged for Saturday next between the Mullet, 14 feet, of Weston, Mr James Couzens, owner, and the Pride of Itchen, 13 feet, Captain Thomas Diaper, owner, each being bona fide fishing boats. The Mullet is a new carvel built boat constructed this season by Messrs. Alfred Payne and Sons and The Pride of Itchen is a clinker-built boat built personally by Mr. W. S. Luke, some nine years since, and she has taken the first prize in her class at the Itchen Regatta each year until she succumbed last week to the Mullet. It was this which prompted Captain Diaper to challenge the private match.

Thomas “Dutch” Diaper

Thomas “Dutch” Diaper (1839-1902) was one of the most successful captains of the mid nineteenth century. Together with William Gordon, of Gordon Brothers, Southampton sail makers, he is credited with the development of the first spinnaker sail which made it’s debut on the NIOBE under “Dutch” Diaper’s command in June 1865


“Dutch” Diaper was captain of the Marquis of Ailsa’s 40 ton cutter SLEUTH HOUND for two years when she won the Queen’s cup at Cowes in 1882 and 1883. In addition to a share of the prize money, “Dutch” Diaper received this commemorative medal and a framed photograph of the trophy presented to the Royal Yacht Squadron by the king of the Netherlands. Medal kindly loaned by the Rawlins family.

Tommy Lipton and the Diapers

Between 1899 and 1930 Tommy Lipton built five yachts to challenge for the America’s Cup. Each named SHAMROCK, they were all subsequently beaten, but his efforts to return the cup to Britain made him one of the best known yachtsmen of the Edwardian era. The five sons of Tommy “Dutch” Diaper all sailed for him. Alfred Diaper was skipper of the SHAMROCK (23 metre) in 1920 when she sailed across the Atlantic to act as a trial boat for the SHAMROCK IV, Lipton’s challenger for the America’s Cup that same year. The records from Ellis Island, New York mark their arrival on June 7 th 1920 and record that of a total crew of twenty two, seven were Diapers.


The SHAMROCK (23 metre), painted emerald green was designed and built by William Fife and son, Fairlie for Sir Thomas Lipton in 1908. She was a ninety four ton cutter with over nine thousand square feet of sail. Broken up in 1932 after Lipton’s death.




Image courtesy of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

Sir Thomas Lipton and the crew of Shamrock (23 metre) 1920.

They included seven Diapers, Alfred (master), Tom (second mate), Walter Norman, Walter, Arthur, Bertram and Frederick.


The German Connection

Like his cousin Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), the German Emperor, Kaiser Willhelm II was a keen yachtsman. Thinly disguised as encouraging the German nation as a “sport and sea loving people”, the Kaiser was determined to challenge the British superiority of the seas and British-German naval rivalry spilled over into yachting. The Kaiser commissioned a series of yachts all called METEOR.


The most successful was METEOR II, built in 1896 at Henderson’s yard, Glasgow, she was designed by G.L. Watson specifically to beat the Prince of Wales racing yacht BRITANNIA. Managed by a British crew, she raced at Cowes aswell as in German regattas. METEOR II won every race she entered in German waters giving her a total of 24 prizes in 1896. Tom Diaper’s cousin Ben Parker was her captain and Tom was a member of the forty two strong British crew. METEOR was laid up at White’s yard in the winter of 1896-97 and Tom, along with twelve other crew members were retained to carry out some of the re-rigging work.


Tom Diaper, together with his brother John and Dan Youren (married to Alice Diaper) spent some time working in Germany on German yachts, achieving notable success with the POLLY (1899) and the KLEIN POLLY, both built in Hamburg for Mr Buxenstein of Berlin.


Tom Diaper Klein Polly

Tom Diaper at the tiller of the Klein Polly
Captain Ben Parker

John Joseph Diaper and the Titanic

John Joseph Diaper was one of the one hundred and seventy seven firemen working to feed the Titanic’s twenty nine huge boilers with coal.


He was born in Itchen Ferry in 1885, the son of Richard and Mary Diaper. He served seven years in the army before joining the White Star Line at the age of twenty four in 1909. He regularly crossed the Atlantic working as a coal trimmer or a fireman on board the OCEANIC and the TEUTONIC. He transferred from the TITANIC’S sister ship OLYMPIC, signing up on April 6 th 1912 at a wage of £6 per month. There had been a coal strike, many ships were not sailing and John’s last voyage had been in January 1912. He was now married to Alice and he must have been pleased to secure a position on TITANIC’s maiden voyage. Click here to view image of the New York Times front page from Tuesday, April 16th, 1912.


John Diaper survived the sinking of the TITANIC although it is not known in which lifeboat he was rescued. His surviving son George, recounted that because he was not on duty in the boiler rooms he was helping the officers load the lifeboats before being ordered into the last boat to row the passengers to safety. His boat was picked up by the CARPATHIA and he disembarked at New York on April 18th 1912.



John Joseph Diaper with his wife Alice (nee Strange) and their daughter Elsie c.1915.



Telegram sent from John Diaper in New York to his wife Alice on April 20th 1912 to inform her he was safe.
The family were at that time living in lodgings at 102 Derby Road, Southampton.


John Diaper made only two more trips to sea before giving it up for good. He served in the army during the First World War and although wounded in action he recovered and was demobilised in May 1919 holding the Mons Star and the General Service and Victory medals. He remained in Southampton until 1940s before moving to Somerset where he died in 1955 aged 70.

Alfred Diaper 1871-1949

Born in Itchen Ferry, Alfred Diaper was the third son of Tommy “Dutch” Diaper and Eliza Lonnen. He began his seagoing career aged sixteen. He joined the Merchant service working on the Cape mail run and the military transports to South Africa during the Boer War, before joining his father on board the yachts VALKIRIE and NAVAHOE.


He worked his way up from Able Bodied Seaman (AB) to Mate and Skipper. He was one of the most successful and respected Solent skippers of the early Twentieth century. Especially talented in the 15 metre class, Alfred, often sailing with his brother John and his own son Alfred Thomas scored a great many victories with Sir Charles Allom’s advanced racing cutter ISTRIA. Out of one hundred and five starts he won ninety one prizes in two and a half seasons. He was famous as skipper of the J class racing schooner WESTWARD where in nine years before he retired he won the owner T. B. F. Davis more King’s cups than any other professional skipper. The surviving testimonials from his employers are notable for their respect and genuine affection for a talented yachtsman.


Below are Christmas Cards sent to Alfred Diaper from Sir Thomas Lipton during his time as captain of the Westward and Alfred Diaper's service record.


Captain Tom Diaper 1867-1949

Thomas Diaper was an Itchen boy, the eldest son of Tommy “Dutch” Diaper. He began sailing with his father at the age of six on board Major Ewing’s cutter NORMAN. They raced the Solent classes together each school summer holiday until Tom was twelve. NORMAN was Tommy “Dutch” Diaper’s most successful command, winning over one hundred prizes in that period. Even as a young boy Tom must have benefited from his father’s sailing skills. Upon leaving school Tommy “Dutch” secured him a position on board the QUEEN OF PALMYRA and he made his first trip to the Mediterranean at a rate of eight shillings a week. Tom gained further experience crewing on some of the big yachts like the Earl of Dunraven’s VALKYRIE. He worked his way up from deck hand, via the job of mastheadsman, to mate. Working at the masthead, up to one hundred and eighty feet above the deck was dangerous work and recognised by extra pay; but it was the established route for sailing career progression.


With his appointment as mate of the yacht HELEN, based in Rugen in 1894, Tom began a relationship with German yachting that did not end until the outbreak of the First World War. He crewed for the German Emperor on board his yacht METEOR. During the war he worked on troopships and locally for Thornycrofts.


Tom resumed his yachting career in 1920 on board Thomas Lipton’s SHAMROCK (23metre) skippered by his brother, they sailed her across the Atlantic to New York for the America’s cup races. Tom retired due to ill health in 1937 after appointing a new skipper for his final charge, Commander James Bird’s HARKAWAY.

The America's Cup Arthur Diaper 1888-1945

Sir Thomas Lipton was not the only millionaire yacht owner to attempt to win the America’s cup, Sir Thomas Sopwith also made an attempt with his yacht Endeavour.


Below is the written memoir of Arthur Diaper:



"Our bid for “Americas Cup"

In 1934 Superbly trained fastest boat Sir Thomas Sopwith’s yacht ENDEAVOUR won first 2 races against the American Boat RAINBOW.


We would have won but a dispute between owner and professional crew who decided they could not affort to pay for their homes, basic wage of £2 75p, buy own food(sic) additional income for races in America was £1 1st race, 75p 2nd, 50p 3rd.


They proposed terms offered SHAMROCK’S crew in previous challenge, a decent bonus if they won. The proposal was rejected, So the crew walked off, they were replaced by a scratch crew of amateur yachtmen.


Dibles Wharf & the Hannah Ransom

The Hannah Ransom was built in 1870 by John Ransom at Crosshouse Yard, Southampton, a wooden schooner of 104 tons, 89.2ft bu 19.2ft by 9.9ft. She was yellow-metalled and part iron bolted, and was destined to voyage from Southampton to the Mediterranean. In 1887 the boat came into the ownership of John Dible of Belvidere Shipyard in Southampton.


John Ransom 1799-1886, served his apprenticeship with a local shipbuilder before setting up his own yard, first at Crosshouse then at Belvidere. He was a prominent builder of wooden ships and a shipowner, as wells as building buoys and beacons for the Southampton Harbour Board. In his will he left his yard to James Dible and his two sons, along with his vessels: Fortunate, Charles Napier,Hannah Ransom, Crosshouse, Primrose and Fonthill. In 1892 the Hannah Ransom was sold to George Alford of Bridport and for the last year of her career her owner was Samuel Oakley of Gracechurch Street.


Built for deepwater trade by the close of her career, the Hannah Ransom had descended to home trade before being lost at Aldeburgh on Nov 29, 1919. Dibles Wharf still survives on the Belvidere site in Southampton.


For the full article see 'The quest for the Hannah Ranson' by Michael R Bouquet, published in Yachting World in Dec 1960. Information supplied by Michael J Dible.