‘The Old Man of the Sea’: The White Star Line’s Oldest Passenger?

In 1925 newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic carried the story of the ‘Old Man of the Sea’. about a Corkman travelling back from the United States to live with his sister in Newport, Wales. He was thought to be the oldest man ever to make the journey on the White Star Line- he also claimed to be a veteran of the American Civil War.

The SS Doric, the ship on which Patrick Ferris crossed the Atlantic (Image via InstaDerek)

The SS Doric, the ship on which Patrick Ferris crossed the Atlantic (Image via InstaDerek)

The Irish Times carried the story on 24th August 1925:

Patrick Ferris (99), an American Civil War veteran, returned to Liverpool on the White Star liner Doric on Saturday after an absence of 65 years. He intends spending the rest of his days with his sister, Mrs. Terry, 20 Agricourt street, Newport. Born in County Cork, and reared in Newport, the old man sailed from Liverpool for America in a White Star sailing ship in 1860. He served throughout the American Civil War as an artilleryman under General Grant, and was wounded four times. Mr. Ferris still receives a pension from the United States Government on account of his war services sixty years ago. (1)

Newspapers in the United States also picked up on the story. The Trenton Evening Times in New Jersey brought it to its readers on 21st September 1925 via the United Press:

LIVERPOOL. Sept 19. An American “Old Man of the Sea” is visiting in England today. He is Patrick Ferris, an American Civil War veteran, 99 years old, who says he “still feels like a boy.” Ferris served through the Civil War as an artilleryman under General Grant. He was wounded four times. He came to England to visit a sister in Newport, Monmouthshire. While enroute to England he came to be known among the passengers as “The Old Man of the Sea” as he was the oldest man on the ship’s records to have made the trans-Atlantic trip. (2)

On the passenger manifest of the Doric Patrick is listed as 88-years-of-age rather than 99. The former plasterer’s destination was recorded as being 22 Deane Street in Newport. I have been unable to track down his American Civil War records and it maybe that he served under a different name or under a variant of Ferris. (3)

(1) The Irish Times; (2) Trenton Evening Times; (3) Doric Passenger List;


The Irish Times 24th August 1925. Veteran’s Homecoming: Irish-American Who Fought in the Civil War.

Trenton Evening Times 21st September 1925. Man of Ninety-Nine Oldest to Cross Sea. 

UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960

InstaDerek Photostream

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Categories: Irish in the American Civil War

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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6 Comments on “‘The Old Man of the Sea’: The White Star Line’s Oldest Passenger?”

  1. Crissouli
    October 27, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    An interesting story, if he did change his age, he wouldn’t have been the first ‘oldie’ to do do… :-)

  2. October 27, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Damian, The Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), has the following in the December 23, 1926, edition: “Patrick Ferris, a 92-year old Civil War Veteran, of Iowa, recently made a holiday trip to England.”

    In the 1930 Census there is a Patrick Ferris, age 94, living in Union, Iowa, with his daughter Johanna Kelly. On the census Patrick is listed as a veteran of the Civil War. I also found him in the 1880 Census, and he was already living in Union, Iowa, with his wife, Rosa, and son John, age 10. In the 1880 census they are listed under the name Faris.

  3. October 27, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    And I just found this: there is a grave in Lovilia Cemetery, Monroe County, Iowa, for Private Patrick Ferris, Company A, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=17109424

  4. October 27, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    And one last thing: I looked on Fold3, and Found a Pension application card for Patrick Ferris who served in Company A, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery. The pension application says he enlisted January 26, 1864, and was discharged June 8, 1865. The card also says Ferris died May 27, 1932, at Lovilia, Iowa.

    • October 28, 2013 at 8:04 am #

      Hi Jeff,

      Fantastic work as ever! I spent a number of hours looking to see could I link him to one of the records and the 2nd NYHA was the most likely, but as that veteran had died in Iowa it didn’t seem to fit. That explains why I couldn’t find a record of his death in Newport. Isn’t it remarkable that he made the return journey again- a fascinating story all round. Thanks once again for passing on this info!

      Kind Regards,


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