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William Owen was a Petty Officer in the Merchant Navy from the age of 17. Through his career within the Merchant Navy working his way up to Captain, helping with the War efforts within WWII. After leaving the Merchant Navy as Captain he went on to become a private Captain based in the Middle East, Shipping a great number of items across the Globe.
While travelling from port to port he made a great number of people, who got to know his fascination with the Natural World. Divers and Fisherman would hold on to various shells, corals and sea life that they discovered or dredge up to pass on to William. After many years of this Williams collection became vast, consisting of shells ranging from 2mm in width to 104cm in width, minerals, fossils, corals, sponges, specimens, taxidermy and more.
His collection was on view in Southampton as a museum, where schools classes, scouts and more would come to view and learn about these items.
Captain William Owen - Southampton, UK
"Rosalind? Sorry, there is no street here with this name" said the driver of the taxi we took in Southampton, England.
When we started selling shells to collectors in the 1980s, a customer sent us $4,000 in cash in an envelope it was enough to cover our personal expenses for several months! It did not even occur to us that anyone could send such an amount by mail. Today that would be unthinkable, most banknotes from all countries contain metallic stripes or something that can be seen on x-ray. Interestingly, all the notes were very old, some from the 1930s!
We were sent by an English merchant marine captain, William Owen he was already over eighty years old and although he did not know us, he trusted our honesty completely. He continued to buy from our lists, and on our first trip to England we decided to visit him in Southampton.
The trip to England itself was an adventure, especially with our vast knowledge of the English language (like "the book is on the table"). We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel in London with a Scotsman who spoke Greek (I do not think we understood anything he said) and when we arrived full of large suitcases we climbed into a tiny elevator that had no door on the inside! In other words, the wall of the floors kept passing almost leaning against us. The room must have been four feet wide, we could barely move.
From London we took a train to Southampton another new experience, I had never ridden a train on long distances (and had no idea it would be possible to get seasick from the constant rattling). Southampton is a city in the south of England, and where the Titanic came from and one of the British holiday destinations in the summer.
We took a taxi at the station and showed the address, Rosalind, 47 Orpen Road, Sholing, Southampton SO19 0EL as we did not know which part of the address would be important, we gave everything, including the zip code... then he said he did not know what it would be. "Rosalind" but managed to get there using the rest of the address. When we arrived, we saw what "Rosalind" meant: the name of the house! It was so old that when they built it they did not use numbers, the houses were known by a proper name! Very Agathachristianish!
The Captain greeted us with a big smile, he was very nice and a large man he later showed us a photo of himself on the ship and he was like a weight lifter! His wife Netta came next, she was also in her late eighties and almost no teeth in her mouth, which made it even more difficult to understand what she was saying the most we did was smile back "in English". He took us for a little tour on his museum on his backyard he said many local schools took students there all the time. It had all sorts of things besides seashells, rocks, fossils, stuffed animals and shipwreck artifacts.
As we were going to spend the night there, we went upstairs to unpack and take a shower. Upon entering the bathroom, I though "where is the shower?" there was not any, just a bathtub but no water coming from the taps.... in a couple minutes the captain arrived with a bucket full of hot water, heated by the fireplace in the living room. In other words, it was a very short bath for me!
After the "shower" we went downstairs and were introduced to true English cuisine: unseasoned roast beef with potatoes. But it was a lot of fun and we talked for hours. He told us that a few months ago they had rented a room to "a very old lady" (like 5 years older than him) but it was becoming a bit stressing since he had to carry her to the second floor on his arms (?!?!)
He told us about several passages from his life, including that the money he sent us had been collected during his travels with the merchant marine since the 1930s which explained the dates of the notes he sent us. Before we went upstairs to bed, he assured us that the bed linen in our rooms had been boiled, to prevent there being "bed bugs", which obviously did not exist in his house.
We continued to be in touch with them until the Captain passed away in 1996, and we learned that his wife would die shortly thereafter as they had no children, their property and assets were left to a nephew who transferred the museum to Oxfordshire.
Interestingly, to write this text I went looking for some information about him online, and found out that his nephew sold the entire collection on an auction site in May 2021! I thought it had all been forgotten in some basement, but luckily his collection had a more interesting fate and ended up in the hands of many collectors instead!
(all photos are from the auction site https://www.specialauctionservices.com/)