Isle of Man Post Office

THE  KARRAN  FLEET  of Castletown,  Isle of Man.

Date of Issue - 14th February 1984

Shipping of all kinds forms an important part of the history of an island nation. In recent years the Isle of Man Post Office Authority has recognised this fact by recording the varied types of fishing-boats of earlier times and by celebrating the vital links with our larger island neighbours provided by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. This new issue offers another aspect of our maritime history, By it we place on record the achievements of a Manx family whose shipping fleet traded throughout the seas of the world in the great days of sail.

The Karran Fleet consisted of eleven vessels which traded worldwide from the mid 1800s unti1 the 1920s. The man behind the enterprise was John Karran of Scarlett, Castletown. Isle of Man. who encouraged three of his sons in seafaring careers by an ingenious method of financing their first ships. He loaned one son the money to buy a vessel. When repaid. The money was passed to the second brother and then later to the third. These three, Captains Thomas, Robert and George were expert seamen and traders and the business expanded into a thriving company which operated in areas as far apart as the China Coast and South America. Old records show that their intrepid captains took the earlier vessels into ports on the China Coast, which were closed to European trade. As it was the practice in those waters for pirates to board a vessel in their bare feet, boxes of broken glass were carried to lay about the decks and provide an unwelcoming reception


The families of the Karran brothers sailed with them and several children were born on the high seas. Tessa Karran, daughter of Captain George, was born when the Manx King was passing through the dangerous waters off Cape Horn. Her reminiscences of life at sea and those of her brother Tom are now in the Manx Museum together with an actual flag of the Company. She stated . . . "Few children could have had a happier or more thrilling life…All the ships were registered in Castletown, Isle of Man, and flew the house flag of the Company, a white background with blue border and the Three Legs emblem - in red, and the Ensign with the Three Legs of Man on the field.

The 10p value: Manx King 1782 tons, built at Stockton in 1884. Robert Karran was Captain of the Manx King for about six years and died aboard her. The captaincy passed to his brother George and two of his children were later born on board. The ship figurehead represented King Orry, legendary King of Man.

The13p value: Hope 250 tons, built in Prussia around 1858. This ship was quite a marine curiosity as she had a centreboard. Capable of being drawn up to permit the vessel to settle on the bottom of shallow harbours. In 1883 the barque was within sight of the great volcanic eruption of Krakatoa between Java and Sumatra where loss of life ran into hundreds of thousands.

The 20-p value: Rio Grande 200 tons. This early small ship of the fleet was built at Topsham, Devon in UK 1868 It was the first command of Captain Karran and survived a terrible typhoon in the China Seas.

The 28p value: Lady Elizabeth This vessel of 1155 tons was built in 1879 for the Karrans in Sunderland UK. Her first captain was George Karran. In later years she passed out of Karran ownership and in 1913 after rounding the Horn on passage from Vancouver to Delagoa Bay she struck Uranie Rock at the entrance to Berkeley Sound, Falkland Islands. She was converted to a floating warehouse in Stanley Harbour and finally beached in her present position in Whalebone Cove. It is hoped that she may be preserved for posterity through the intervention of various national foundations.

The 31p value: Sumatra 774 tons. Built at Whitehaven UK in 1858. This wooden ship was bought by the Karrans around 1876 and was commanded by Captain Thomas Karran. She marked the expansion of the Company from the earlier smaller vessels.

I would like to add some of my own research here after finding out there were more ships in the Karran Fleet than listed here re: stamps issue. The following ships were also Karran of Castletown, Isle of Man. But no pictures at this present stage . I am informed the Manx Museum has some very nice framed pictures of the Karran Fleet. Here are the remaining names and tonnage of the fleet.

"Enigma" built in Calcutta 1845 of 84 tons "Viola" built in Whitehaven 1869 of 150 tons Jane Williamson” of 200 tons.

"Manx Queen" built in Barrow 1878 of 317 tons, "MacDiarmid" built in Dumbarton 1883 of 1,622 tons"

and last "Imberhorne" built in Dumbarton of 2.042 tons..

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Acknowledgements to the Isle of Man Philatelic Bureau for their permission. January 2000