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T. Ratcliffe Barnett and his elder brother James Rennie Barnett
(Click here for The Voyage of the Kelpie)


The Voyage of the Kelpie is an account of a clockwise circuit of Central Scotland made in 1890 by sailing canoe, a wooden two seater built and crewed by the Barnett brothers. Canoe cruising was developed and popularised in the 1870s by the Rev. John (Rob Roy) MacGregor (1-5), a founder member of the Royal Canoe Club (6). Such a high profile cleric, soldier, philanthropist and prolific author would have been known to the Barnetts; to Ratcliffe because he was to take holy orders and to James as he was a naval architect.

The cruise is of interest to East Coasters as the Kelpie covered some of the Forth, going as far as Bo’ness and returning west via the Forth and Clyde canal. Sailing canoe cruising was remarkable stuff in its early days and still has numerous possibilities. Later, Ratcliffe served eight years as Minister of St Andrew’s church Bo’ness. James was trained by G.L. Watson and eventually took over the firm. He designed Americas Cup challengers, palatial steam yachts and lifeboats for the RNLI including the 52 ft Barnett Class.

Ratcliffe Barnett is best known for his books on the Highlands and Islands and the cruising man will delight in the coastal portraits from one who earned a PhD for literature (7-10). A Free Churchman, the beauty of Highland and Island scenery had special spiritual significance for him, inspiring his expansive phrasing. Island hopping had particular appeal, much of which he did under sail.

James Barnett published many RINA papers, was an author of “Cruising and Ocean Racing” and “Motor Cruising” in the Lonsdale Library, and two books on technical aspects of lifeboats. Many of his designs are still afloat. With Ewing McGruer he patented a self-mousing hook for lifting boats. His lifeboat designs give him a link with the East Coast.

The brothers were influential in their own fields but “The Cruise of the Kelpie” did not have the impact it would have done because it was not published until 1924. R. Angus Downie followed it in 1934 with “The Heart of Scotland by Waterway” (14) and Alastair M. Dunnett in 1950 with “Quest by Canoe, Glasgow to Skye” (15). Both these later authors paid tribute to John MacGregor but Alastair Dunnett didn’t mention Angus Downie, surprising as Dunnett was a publisher.

Given the scope for canoe cruising in Scotland and the time it has taken for the sport to become widely popular makes the ground breaking achievements of the pioneering Barnett brothers all the more remarkable.

(Click here for The Voyage of the Kelpie)

For further biographical details of T. Ratcliffe Barnett see bibliography (16,17).

1. A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, Sampson Low, 1866; Dixon Price Publishing paperback, 2000.
2. Rob Roy on the Baltic, Sampson Low, 1867.
3. Rob Roy on the Jordan, John Murray, London, 1869; Adamant Media, Boston, 2002
4. The Voyage Alone in the Yawl Rob Roy, Sampson Low, 1880; Grafton Books 1987
( 1-4, numerous editions, see Abebooks or addall websites. )
5. The Life of John Macgregor “Rob Roy”, Edwin Hodder, Hodder Brothers, 1894; The Shellbacks Library, D.N. Goodchild, Philadelphia, 2003.
6. see “The Full History of the Club”
7. The Land of Locheil and the Magic West, T. Ratcliffe Barnett, Grant & Murray, Edinburgh, 1927.
8. The Land of Lorne and the Isles of Rest, T. Ratcliffe Barnett, W&R Chambers, London, 1933.
9. The Road to Rannoch and the Summer Isles, T. Ratcliffe Barnett, John Grant Booksellers Ltd., Edinburgh, 1946.
10. Scottish Pilgrimage in the Land of Lost Content, T. Ratcliffe Barnett, John Grant Booksellers Ltd., Edinburgh, 1949.
11. Modern Motor Lifeboats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, J.R. Barnett, Blackie and Son, 1933.
12. Steam Yachts: some comparisons, INA 1906, pp10, 2 plates, a paper read to the 1906 session of the RINA.
13. Recent Developments in Lifeboats, 1922, extracts from RINA papers.
14. The Heart of Scotland by Waterway, canoe adventure by river and loch, R. Angus Downie, H.F. & G. Witherby, London, 1934.
15. Quest by Canoe, Glasgow to Skye, Alastair M. Dunnett, 1950, reprinted in 1967 as It’s Too Late in the Year and in 1995 as The Canoe Boys.
16. Barnett, Rev. T. Ratcliffe (1868-1946), Who was Who, 2007.
17. Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen and T. Ratcliffe Barnett in Scotland, Pamela Blevins,

Paul Shave
yacht Blue Spindrift
31 March 2008