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  • Captain John Brown was one of my distant relations. His wife, Janet Balfour, was my great grandmother's sister.

    Captain and Mrs. Brown were two of the relatives on my mother's side of the family that I heard vivid family tales of. And theirs was the most mysterious and intriguing story.

    The Story...

    On or about August 26–27, 1883, Captain Brown and wife were aboard their ship and in the vicinity of Java. The date is significant. That is when Krakatoa erupted... massively. The ship was forced to make a quick escape -- an escape hampered by the cargo of pianos in the hold. Captain and crew tossed everything possible overboard including the pianos. Unfortunately, Janet Brown was forced to part with her own personal piano. The much lightened ship was saved. Family lore has it that his was "the last ship sailing out of danger".

    Last year, I happened accidentally on a distant cousin's family history website and was able, finally, to put faces to the story and make at least a little sense of the mystery... though not all.

    Apparently, Captain Brown, whose father (also named John Brown) owned a sealing and whaling company, based in Peterhead, probably sailed whaling boat. Quite likely, the pianos were cargo on the out-bound trip. Captain Brown was born in 1843, so would have been in his 40s at the time, as would Janet have been. She was born in 1844.

    Captain Brown, in retirement, owned a parrot, probably acquired in some exotic port.

    One day, the parrot escaped and the Captain had to go out in the rain looking for him. He was found perched in a tree. To punish the parrot, as he carried him home, the Captain held him out in the rain.

    In perfect imitation of Mrs. Brown, the parrot was said to have stated "Oh John! It's cold out here!"
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