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The Legacy of Ellen Edwards: A Pioneering Maritime Teacher, Caernarfon


In the maritime history of Caernarfon, a small town in Gwynedd, Wales, one name stands out amongst the waves - Ellen Edwards. Born Ellen Francis in Amlwch in 1810, she defied societal norms and became a trailblazing teacher of navigation during the 19th century. Her contribution to the maritime industry and her unwavering dedication to educating sailors have left an indelible mark on the seafaring communities of North Wales and beyond. - Visit Caernarfon
Ellen Edwards - Pioneer of her time

Unlocking the Untold Story of Ellen Edwards, the Extraordinary Mariner


In the maritime history of Caernarfon, a small town in Gwynedd, Wales, one name stands out amongst the waves - Ellen Edwards. Born Ellen Francis in Amlwch in 1810, she defied societal norms and became a trailblazing teacher of navigation during the 19th century. Her contribution to the maritime industry and her unwavering dedication to educating sailors have left an indelible mark on the seafaring communities of North Wales and beyond.


 

The Early Years: Ellen's Maritime Lineage

Ellen Edwards was born into a family deeply rooted in seafaring. Her father, Captain William Francis, was a master mariner who sailed the world's oceans during a tumultuous period of British-French conflict. Concerned about the safety of his family, Captain Francis retired from the sea and established a navigation school in Amlwch. It was here that Ellen and her siblings received their education, mastering mathematics and the art of navigation under their father's guidance.


Setting Sail for Caernarfon: A New Chapter Begins

In pursuit of her own maritime ambitions, Ellen Francis made the decision to establish her own navigation school in Caernarfon. In the 1830s, she arrived in the town and set up her first school on Chapel Street. The demand for navigation education among aspiring seafarers was high, and Ellen quickly gained a reputation as an exceptional teacher. Her students thrived under her tutelage, passing their examinations with flying colors and embarking on successful careers as master mariners.


Battling Sectarian Rivalry: Ellen's Triumph Over Adversity

Ellen's success as a teacher of navigation did not come without challenges. In 1847, a report commissioned to assess the state of education in Wales attempted to undermine her achievements. The report, influenced by sectarian rivalries and personal animosity, belittled Ellen's contribution, referring to her as an "old woman" teaching navigation. However, Ellen's supporters, including former students who had achieved great success in their maritime careers, rallied behind her, recognizing her immense skill and dedication.


Navigating the Seas of Success: Ellen's Impact on Maritime Education

Ellen's navigation school in Caernarfon flourished, attracting young men from across North Wales who aspired to a life at sea. Reports from the Carnarvon & Denbigh Herald during the 1850s highlighted the impressive number of students passing their examinations under Ellen's guidance. Her daughter, Ellen Francis Edwards, joined her in teaching at the school and eventually took over its management. Together, they continued to shape the future of maritime education in the region.

On International Women's Day, Cyngor Gwynedd, the local council, announced plans to commemorate Ellen Edwards' life and legacy through a new mural in Caernarfon. This mural, created by Welsh artist Teresa Jenellen, will be displayed on the wall of Cyngor Gwynedd's Doc Fictoria car park. The mural will serve as a visual tribute to Ellen's pioneering spirit and her invaluable contribution to the maritime industry. Visit Caernarfon
Mural Painted of Ellen Edwards, by Teresa Jenellen

Honoring Ellen's Legacy: A Mural to Commend Her Dedication

On International Women's Day, Cyngor Gwynedd, the local council, announced plans to commemorate Ellen Edwards' life and legacy through a new mural in Caernarfon. This mural, created by Welsh artist Teresa Jenellen, will be displayed on the wall of Cyngor Gwynedd's Doc Fictoria car park. The mural will serve as a visual tribute to Ellen's pioneering spirit and her invaluable contribution to the maritime industry.


Ellen Edwards' Lasting Impact: The Mariners She Inspired

Ellen Edwards' impact on the maritime industry extended far beyond the walls of her navigation school. Many of her students went on to achieve remarkable careers as master mariners, commanding ships that traversed the world's oceans. Captain Thomas Williams, marine superintendent of the Black Line, and Captain Robert Thomas, who set record-breaking runs to and from San Francisco, are just a few examples of the success stories born from Ellen's teachings. Her influence on the lives and careers of these mariners is a testament to her exceptional skill as an educator.


Ellen Edwards, Maritime Teacher, Caernarfon

Ellen Edwards' impact on the maritime industry extended far beyond the walls of her navigation school. Many of her students went on to achieve remarkable careers as master mariners, commanding ships that traversed the world's oceans. Captain Thomas Williams, marine superintendent of the Black Line, and Captain Robert Thomas, who set record-breaking runs to and from San Francisco, are just a few examples of the success stories born from Ellen's teachings. Her influence on the lives and careers of these mariners is a testament to her exceptional skill as an educator.
Ellen Edwards teaching navigation classes, drawn by Michael James

A Life Remembered: Ellen Edwards' Final Years

In her later years, Ellen Edwards retired from teaching and handed over the reins of the navigation school to her daughter. Despite her significant contributions to maritime education, Ellen did not receive the pension she deserved for her fifty years of service. However, she did receive a one-time payment from the Royal Bounty Fund in recognition of her long and meritorious career. Ellen Edwards passed away on November 24, 1889, at the age of 79. Her funeral was attended by a large number of ship captains, mariners, and naval reserve personnel, honoring a woman who had left an indelible mark on the maritime community.


Conclusion

Ellen Edwards' story is one of resilience, determination, and extraordinary achievement. From her humble beginnings in Amlwch to her pioneering role as a teacher of navigation in Caernarfon, she broke barriers and inspired generations of mariners. Through the mural Ellen's legacy can be celebrated, ensuring that her remarkable contributions to maritime education are never forgotten. Her story serves as a powerful reminder that with passion, dedication, and a commitment to excellence, anyone can make a lasting impact on the world.


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Visit Caernarfon Ltd

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