Vancouver Island Masonic History Project

As part of our Vancouver Island Masonic History Project, with its sections on Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments and Deceased Brethren, here is a page on Captain Clarence Nelson Cox, who is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

Clarence Nelson Cox (1863 – 1 June 1901) was a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge, No. 2, in Victoria. From information in his obituary, he was a native of Nova Scotia who came to Victoria about 1890. He died aged 38, apparently of an aneurysm in an artery.

He was a ship captain. During the last decade of his life he commanded a sealing schooner called the Mollie Adams, which was, at some point, renamed the E.B. Marvin [note: E.B. Marvin was a Victoria ship chandler and hardware dealer. It is quite possible he owned the schooner.].

Seal hunting was a major industry in Victoria during the late 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. Clarence Cox’s obituary indicates he was one of most successful captains in the Victoria sealing fleet. The obituary also gives some idea of the range of territory covered by Victoria based sealing ships during the seal hunting season.

At the time of his death, Captain Cox was planning to deliver a sternwheeler from Victoria to its new owner in Dawson, Yukon.

At present we know little of Captain Cox’s life apart from the information contained in local newspaper reports of the day. His obituary notes, however, that he was an extremely popular character in his day; his funeral was described as “one of the largest private funerals ever held in the city.”

Here is a brief biography of Captain Clarence Nelson Cox, taken from local newspaper reports of his death and funeral:

  “Passing Of Capt. C.N. Cox
Well Known and Popular Sealing Captain Dies Suddenly at His Home

Capt. Clarence N. Cox, one of the best known of the sealing captains and Yukon navigators, is dead. In the prime of his life – he was but 38 years of age – death called him suddenly, and unwarned by sickness or pain, he slipped quietly over the bar into the port of all mariners, to there meet his pilot, at 7:15 a.m. on Sunday. He had shown no sign of illness, and, other than that he had complained of slight troubles with his heart, he appeared in the best of health on Saturday night, having been out among his friends and in the best of spirits. He awakened from his sleep just before his death, and inquired regarding the time from his wife. It was 7:15, he was told, and then, without a sign of the impending end, other than heavy breathing, he turned over in his bed, and was dead. A blood vessel had broken at his heart.

The sad news came as a shock to a great many Victorians, for the Captain  was widely known and many indeed were his friends, and not alone will Victorians be shocked to hear of his death, for in the Far North, from White Horse to Dawson, from Dawson to St. Michael, and from Hakodate to Dutch Harbor, and along the Atlantic coast, as well as the British Columbia coast, are friends to be found of the late Capt. Cox. He was vastly popular, being good-hearted, generous to a fault, in fact, having all the requisites of a sailor and a man. His passing is therefore the greater blow to all who knew him.

It is eleven or twelve years ago since Capt. Clarence Nelson Cox left his home on the Nova Scotian coast to come to Victoria with many other mariners, to follow the seal herds from the southern feeding grounds to the vicinity of the islands of St. George and St. Paul, and the far-away rookeries over seas on the Commanderovsky and Kuril islands to the north of Japan. His father had been engaged in the ship-building business on the Atlantic coast, and the late master mariner, like his brothers, Capt. J.G. Cox, of E.B. Marvin & Co., Capt. Will Cox, master of the steamer Capilano, now en route to St. Michael, and Capt. Rupert Cox, now in command of one of the Yukon river fleet, had followed the sea. He took command of the sealing schooner Mollie Adams, now the E.B. Marvin, on his arrival here eleven years ago, before the United States government, to protect the corporation which leases the seal islands, placed restrictions on pelagic sealing, and every season the Mollie Adams came back from the seas with her hold filled with pelts that were good and proper fur, for Capt. Clarence Cox knew all the intricacies of the sealing industry, and if any sealer could get a catch he could. He had the record of taking the highest catch of any sealer in the Sea, his take when master of the Triumph, with which vessel his name will be more often associated, for it was her after deck that he trod the most, being 4,560 skins, which is the largest known catch of any schooner that has gone to the northern seas.

Every season he had his share of the pelts, in those waters, for he seemingly knew the path of the seal, and his hunters reaped their furry harvest year by year, and earned for their captain a record as a sealer.

He was never seized, although he hunted in the Behring sea during the days of the seizures, for which the United States government recently paid in coin. One time he was chased, when in the schooner E.B. Marvin, by the Bear, and when Capt. Cox’s schooner had shown her wake to the revenue cutter he went to warn other schooners of the proximity of the cutters. It was while he was thus engaged that he gave Capt. Hall and the crew of the schooner W.P. Hall a fright by a chase, the details of which have been told and retold on the waterfront. It was on August 5, that the E.B. Marvin, of which Capt. Cox was then in command, sighted the schooner W.P. Hall and bore straight down to her to warn those on board of the cutters. As the Marvin was bearing straight towards him through the mist, Capt. Brown thought she looked big, and fearing that she might be a cutter under sail, he set all sail and fled. Capt. Cox hoisted all his canvas and bore away after the W.P. Hall. The Marvin gained and signaled repeatedly to the flying W.P. Hall, calling upon her to heave to and talk, but the Hall gained right along, and finally Capt. Cox, taking in the humor of the situation, loaded his signal gun and fired a blank shot, which, when the powder flashed, caused the crew of the Hall to fear that a cutter was firing at them, and then seeing that the supposed cutter was gaining on them, they hove to. Then the Marvin came alongside – and the laugh was on Capt. Brown and the crew of the Hall.

In that year many seizures were made, and schooners were ordered back to Victoria, but Capt. Clarence Cox kept aloof from them, and returned to Victoria with his hold well filled, and the same in after seasons. He was a fortunate sealer. Equally fortunate was he as a navigator of the Yukon, and while other sternwheelers were sitting on the sand bars, straining to free themselves, he was steering the Sybil to water where she cleared the sand, and steamed safely along to Dawson. It was when he was master of the Sybil, the steamer built by Mr. Reid in the upper harbor, which he took North through the heavy seas of the Northern coast and the stormy Behring sea, to the upper Yukon via St. Michael, that he took His Excellency Governor-General Lord Minto and Lady Minto and staff to Dawson from White Horse, the pin with the monogram of the Governor-General which adorned the Captain’s coat, being the gift of Lord Minto as a remembrance of that occasion.

Up to the day before his death he was planning to take another sternwheeler to Dawson through the open seas to St. Michael, past the seal islands, where are housed the seal herds he had so often hunted, and up the great river to Dawson and White Horse. The steamer Casca, one of the steamers built for the Stikine service, and which for some time has been lying idle on skids at the Star ways in the upper harbor, had been sold to Adair Bros. of Dawson, and Capt. Cox was to have taken her to her owners. This trip in itself was a daring one, for the frail river boats are not built to withstand weather such as that of the northern seas. Although the mariner skirts the shore, the logs of those who have made this trip in the river steamers show that it is one of daring, and therefore such a trip was one that the dead mariner would choose, for he was daring almost to recklessness, and, in fact, was a true son of the sea. The Casca was to have been ready two weeks from now, and then the Captain was to have followed his brother, Capt. Will Cox, who, in the Coquitlam, is to tow the steamers Mona from Wrangel and Glenora from Dutch harbor to St. Michael.

Capt. Cox was born on the Nova Scotia coast in 1862 [note: Captain Cox’s headstone says 1863. We have used the date on his headstone as his year of birth.], and from the time he reached man’s estate followed the sea in deep water vessels until he came here and went into the sealing trade.

He leaves a widow, his wife having been the daughter of Thos. Shaw, of the Marine Iron Works of Dawson, and formerly of Victoria. Mrs. Shaw, her mother, is now on the way to join Mr. Shaw at Dawson, and the sad news of the demise of her son-in-law, which will undoubtedly be as great a shock to her as it was to his friends, will probably reach her on the way in, for she left here but a week ago. Three brothers, as mentioned above, also survive him.

The funeral will take place from his late residence, 100 Chatham street, to-morrow afternoon at 2 p.m. and at 2:30 p.m. from Christ Church cathedral. His funeral will be largely attended, for the deceased Captain was very popular. He was a member of Victoria lodge, No. 1, A.O.U.W., and Vancouver Quadra lodge, A.F. & A.M., whose members will attend the funeral in a body. The flags on all the schooners of the sealing fleet in the upper harbor are flying at half-mast out of respect to his memory, and will continue lowered until after the funeral.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 4 June 1901, page 6)

“One of the largest private funerals ever seen in the city was that of the late Capt. Clarence N. Cox, which took place yesterday afternoon. The residence on Chatham street was filled to over-flowing long before the hour announced for the cortege to leave for Christ church Cathedral, which also was filled with sorrowing friends. The Rev. Canon Beanlands, assisted by the Rev. E.S. Miller, conducted most appropriate services. The most abundant and artistic display of flowers seen in the city for some time was that presented by the deceased’s marine, Masonic and Pythian friends. The members of the Masonic Order marched in a body to the cemetery, where they observed the ceremony of the order, led by Worshipful Master E.B. Paul. The Pythian order also attended and delivered their beautiful funeral orations, led by E.P. Nathan. The pall-bearers were: Capt. McKeil, Capt. Campbell, W. Turpell, S. Sea, jr., P.E. Toneri and S.C. Court.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 6 June 1901, page 8)

Captain Clarence Nelson Cox is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

Captain Clarence Nelson Cox headstone, Ross Bay cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Captain Clarence Nelson Cox headstone, Ross Bay cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Captain Clarence Nelson Cox grave, Ross Bay cemetery, Victoria, B.C.
Captain Clarence Nelson Cox grave, Ross Bay cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

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