A Visit To A Living Maritime History Legend: Duncan Haws

Peter Newall reflects on the long career of the artist and writer Duncan Haws

My partner Julie and I recently spent a wonderful day at Gosport, overlooking Portsmouth Harbour, with the well-known shipping writer Duncan Haws and his charming wife Jean. At 93 Duncan is still very spritely. He has had a fascinating career which many of those who have bought one of his Merchant Fleet histories will probably be unaware of.

John R. Haws & Co. house flag and funnel
John R. Haws & Co. house flag and funnel

Born in Liverpool in 1921, his Liverpool-based family firm, John R. Haws & Co. had been in shipping since the 19th century. At the turn of the 20th century it owned two barque-rigged sailing ships, SEMANTHA (1888/2280gt.) and ALADDIN (1885/1,582gt.), and a 2,847gt. steamer built in 1899 also called SEMANTHA. In 1901 ALADDIN vanished in the Torres Straits with the loss of twenty-four crew. Despite this tragedy the company continued until 1916 when it sold its last ship. Duncan’s father was a ship’s engineer aboard Cunard Line’s FLAVIA (1901/7,347gt.) at the time she was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1918.

The Patient Talks
The Patient Talks

Seeing the numerous passenger liners and cargo ships in the great port of Liverpool started a life-long passion for ships in Duncan which continues to this day. His first cruise was in 1931 aboard White Star Line’s famous liner ADRIATIC, which was built in 1907. During the war he served in the RAF as a flight sergeant and was based in England and in India. He joined Thomas Cook as a booking clerk in 1946 and soon rose through the ranks to become the youngest-ever area manager. An enthusiastic ship model maker, it was during his time with Cooks that his distinctive ship profiles first started to appear in The Patient Talks, a monthly newsletter about ships written by the dapper publicity manager, Coard Squarey.

Peter and Duncan
Peter and Duncan

Until his retirement in the 1980s Duncan had an illustrious career in the British travel business. Not only was he the first Managing Director for Lunn Poly, he was also the Marketing Director for Forte International Hotels and the Director of Sales for British Caledonian Airways. Despite the pressure of work his interest in ships remained undiminished and in 1975 his Ships and the Sea was published. This chronological history of ships and the sea was followed in 1986 by the impressive two volume Maritime History of the World which he co-wrote with the famous maritime historian Alex Hurst.


In 1978 the first volume of his well-known Merchant Fleets series appeared. Initially published by Patrick Stephens, they were later published under Duncan’s own banner TCL Publications. Over the next twenty-two years forty volumes were published with worldwide sales in excess of 100,000 copies. They have always been good starting points for research. Not only do they have a useful chronology of the company history, they are easy to use with a clear index with neatly drawn profiles. Although many “serious” ship historians turn their noses up at these books, they are often the only published source material available and I have found them invaluable references over the years. A great effort from a charming man who knows about so much more than just ships.





Peter Newall

Peter Newall

A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer,
Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57
years, visited and travelled on many famous ships.  As well as numerous
articles he has written nine highly acclaimed books including the
definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line.  He also owns
the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant
shipping images.
Peter Newall

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