Thursday, September 26, 2013

Caithness: James and George at Greenwich

In April 1827 Ann Caithness submitted several vital documents to the Clerk of the Check, Royal Hospital, Greenwich, concerning the admittance of her sons James and George to the Lower School

She had to provide details of her deceased husband’s service at sea, the record of their marriage, her circumstances as James senior’s widow, and proof of birth and baptism of her two eldest boys, then aged 12 and 9 years.

We’ve seen that Ann enlisted the aid of her local Justice of the Peace, William Sturges Bourne. Others in the community also played their part. The following letter is witnessed by the Curate of Eling, William Wilder.

I Ann Caithness do hereby agree that James Caithness if admitted into the school of the Royal Naval Asylum (i.e. the Royal Hospital) shall remain there as long as the Directors thereof, shall think proper; and that he shall be at the disposal of the said Directors to serve in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, or the Merchant Service, as they may please to order.

A similar letter was signed in respect of George Caithness. Ann made her mark.

James and George, on being granted admittance to the School by the Board of Directors, were required to present themselves at the Clerk of the Check’s Office on a certain date. Their mother was advised that:

It will be perfectly useless to send the child if he has any impediment of speech, any infirmity of body or mind, or affected with any temporary disease whatever.

James and George were presumably in good health, since they both duly entered the Lower School. This was a turning point in their lives. 

The Prospect of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich 

The London Docks

Perhaps the excitement of going to London outweighed any qualms about the future and their sadness at saying farewell to their mother and siblings at home. They probably didn’t consider that their father had begun his career at sea at about the same age: the difference was that he hadn’t been going to school, but to war.

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

In the building which now houses the National Maritime Museum, boys from seafaring backgrounds had the privilege of learning arithmetic and navigation. 

The Royal Hospital School Gallery can be visited at Queen's House, The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Tom Sheldon 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Caithness and Bell: A Mystery Solved

A View of Greenwich from Deptford

The names Sturges and Bourne occur several times in the Caithness and Bell family lines. William and Mary Ann Bell had a son named Sturges Bourne; one of James Ramsey Caithness’s sons was Douglas Sturgess (with an extra ‘s’); Charles Caithness named his youngest son Christmas Sturges. There are other examples.

North Front of Chapel and Hall,
Greenwich Hospital
The origin of this distinctive nomenclature had been a mystery
until recent research established that the widowed Ann Caithness (b Scorey) turned to a prominent public figure, William Sturges Bourne, for assistance in obtaining admission for her sons, James and George, to the Lower School, Royal Hospital, Greenwich in 1827.

William Sturges Bourne (1769-1845) was the son of Rev John Sturges of Winchester and Judith Bourne of Worcester. After private schooling and attending Christ Church, Oxford, he pursued a career in law and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in November 1793. He became an MP in 1798. On the death of his uncle Francis Bourne in 1803 he assumed the name Bourne as a condition of his inheritance. 

In 1818 he gave his name to the Sturges Bourne Act, which rearranged the voting rights in vestries to favour property owners who would thereby gain more control over local Poor Law arrangements. He filled a number of ministerial and administrative posts, being a Lord of the Treasury as well as a Commissioner for Indian affairs and for a few months in 1827, under his friend George Canning’s government, Home Secretary before resigning the office and becoming Commissioner of Woods and Forests. He remained in Parliament until 1831.

Testwood House
William Sturges Bourne died 1 February 1845 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. His residence, Testwood House, was a large part-Georgian part-Elizabethan building on the River Test not far from where Ann Caithness lived at Totton. 

The Salmon Leap, River Test

Though the house was demolished in the 1930s, the Lodge and Keeper's Cottage next to the river at the Salmon Leap are still in existence.

Ann Caithness had cause to be grateful for William Sturges Bourne’s influence in the matter of her sons’ education. His efforts on their behalf at a critical juncture shortly after their father’s death enabled James and George to place their feet on the first rung of the ladder and eventually to become merchant mariners. Their patron would be remembered by a fitting tribute - the inclusion of his name through succeeding generations of the family.

 Old Royal Naval College gate

William Sturges Bourne's signature on a letter re
the Caithness boys' admission to the Lower School, Royal Hospital,

Tom Sheldon

Monday, September 23, 2013

Natal Witness Deaths 1897

Name, Gender, Age, Date of Event, Date of Advert, Details
Albrechtsem, Alfred August m no age given, no date given, 5-Feb-1897,
The funeral of the late AA Albrechtsem will leave his residence, 313 Berg Street,
PMBurg today at 5.30 pm
Allan, Thomas m 70, 2-Jan-1897, 4-Jan-1897,
at Blanche Villa, Ladysmith after a long and painful illness
Ballenden, William McLeod m  46, 7-Feb-1897, 8-Mar-1897,
at Salisbury, Mashonaland, British South Africa, second son of the late John Ballenden
Esq. of the Hudson Bay Co. (Canadian, Ceylon and Scotch Papers please copy)
Barker, Lancelot Eustace m 18, 24-Jan-1897, 1-Feb-1897
at the Parsonage, Ladysmith youngest son of Archdeacon and Mrs Barker
Bradley, Rachel  f  79, 3-Jan-1897, 4-Jan-1897,
at the residence of her son, 45 Henrietta Street, PMBurg, relict of the late John William
Harries, formerly of Wolverhampton, Engalnd (English papers please copy)
Brereton, Emily Elizabeth  f  37, 10-Feb-1897, 12-Feb-1897,
at the Sanitorium, Berea Durban,  buried in the Cemetery, PMBurg
Buck, R S  f  67yrs 7mnths, 5-Jan-1897, 11-Jan-1897,
Widow of the late CS Buck of Natal, one of Natal's oldest colonists
Burges, Gertrude Travers  f  no age given, 23-Jan-1897, 25-Feb-1897,
at her residence, Keynsham, Somersetshire, England, second daughter of the late
Danield Burges, Clifton, Bristol, England
Burges, Isabel Travers  f  8 years, 2-Mar-1897, 29-Mar-1897,
at Ilfracombe, Devonshire, England, daughter of FT and MH Burges, Howick, Natal
Cartwright, John Webster m 86yrs 11mnths, 4-Jan-1897, 11-Jan-1897,
at the residence of his son
Comins, Joseph m 16, 13-Feb-1897, 23-Feb-1897,
Born 21 November, 1880
Craigie, John Esq. M.D. m no age given, 2-Feb-1897, 6-Feb-1897,
at his residence, "Fair View Tower" PMBurg, the son of David Craigie Esq.
Captain R.N. C.B. and formerly of Knoll House near Honiton, England
Daly, James Martin m 24, 25-Mar-1896, 25-Mar-1897,
In affectionate rememberance of JM Daly who was murdered on the Bubi Matabelelad
25 March 1896
Denhill, Walter m 33yr 5mn 22dys, 15-Feb-1897, 23-Feb-1897,
at Smuts Oog Store, District Ermelo, A.A.R. of diptheria, sixth son of William Denhill,
Sevenfontein, PMBurg, County Natal
Dowsett, James Seby m 2yrs 5mnths, 28-Dec-1896, 1-Jan-1897,
at 508 Prince Alfred Street, only son of A and E Dowsett
Ellerker, Eliza  f  52, 12-Jan-1897, 16-Jan-1897,
at the residence 197 Loop Street, PMBurg, wife of T Ellerker (senior)
Elliott, Bethia Doris  f  18 months, 11-Mar-1897, 25-Mar-1897,
at Nondweni Gold fields, Zululand the infant daughter of FG and Bethia Mary Elliott
Ellis, W F  71, 3-March-1897, 5-Mar-1897,of Ashburton House
Ferguson, Elizabeth Robins  f  no age given, 14-Jan-1897, 21-Jan-1897,
At Ridge Road, Cato Manor, Durban, wife of JF Ferguson of Durban
Firmstone, William Francis m no age given, 16-Feb-1897, 20-Feb-1897,
At Ngoka, near Newcastle, Natal (Justice of the Peace)
Fynney, Doris May  f 1mnth 13days, 13-Mar-1897, 16-Mar-1897,
at Elsdale, Umsindusi the infant daughter of Oswald and Gertrude Fynney
Geddes, James m 32yrs 4mnths, no date given, 1-Jan-1897,
at 473 Church Street PMBurg
Goodeve, Henry Holley m 27, 23-Jan-1897, 26-Jan-1897,
at Grey's Hospital, PMBurg, only son of Col. HH Goodeve R.A. Ivy Tower,
Tenby, South Wales, UK
Grantham, m 3yrs 2dys, 19-Jan-1897, 21-Jan-1897,
at PMBurg by accident the beloved younger son of WL and FS Grantham
Hunter, Peter, (J.P.) m 63yrs 22dys, 21-Dec-1896, 5-Jan-1897,
at the Rest, Seven Mile Bush
Illing, Dirk Cornelius m infant, 10-Jan-1897, 13-Jan-1897,
at Dundee Coalfields, infant son of August Illing
Jardine, Mrs  f  86yrs 10mnth, 11-Mar-1897, 18-Mar-1897,
at Willow Bank, widow of the late Mr John Jardine
Johnson, Herbert Rountree (Bertie) m 25yrs 6 mnths, 13-Mar-1897, 18-Mar-1897,
at PMBurg second son of FW and M Johnson
Kenny, Catherine  f  50yrs 11mnths, 23-Feb-1897, 27-Feb-1897,
at her residence, Lyndhurst, Slang Spruit, widow of the late John Michael Kenny
(Irish papers please copy)
Lamb, Elizabeth  f  66, 12-Feb-1897, 24-Feb-1897,
at Townlands, near PMBurg beloved wife of G Lamb
Language, George m 41, 30-Jan-1897, 4-Feb-1897,
at Boom Street, PMBurg
Proudfoot, Mary  f  no age given, 23-Feb-1897, 8-Mar-1897,
at Troyville, Johannesburg the wife of Thomas Proudfoot and daughter of the late George Ross of Riversdale, Howick, Natal
Sibthorp, William Henry m 85, 7-Nov-1896, 13-Jan-1897,
at Honchurch
Sinfell, Mary Jane  f  30, no date given, 13-Jan-1897,
at the residence of her uncle Mr George H Chick, 7 Railway Street, PMBurg,
eldest daughter of the late Charles and Mary Grace Sinfell of Cornubia, Victoria County
Taylor, CE   f  64, 3-Dec-1896, 13-Jan-1897,
at Greytown, relict of the late Rev Thomas Taylor
Taylor, WR no age given, 21-Jan-1897, 26-Jan-1897,
at PMBurg, late of Fort Salisbury
Tranmer, Leander William m, 2mnth 2dys, 14-Feb-1897, 17-Feb-1897,
at 97 Commercial Road PMBurg, son of JW and JA Tranmer
Van Rooyan, Maria Jacoba  f  79, 17-Dec-1896, 1-Jan-1897,
at Greytown, the widow of the late PH Van Rooyan of Vaalkrans, Umvoti
Von Der Heyde, Leopold m 59, 28-Feb-1897, 6-Mar-1897,
at "Croydon", Harding
Wilkinson, Margaret  f  no age given, 14-Feb-1897, 15-Feb-1897,
The beloved wife of GH Wilkinson of Town Bush Valley
Wright, Elizabeth  f  82, 9-Feb-1897, 13-Feb-1897,
at the residence of her son-in-law Joseph Pascoe, Berea Durban
relict of the late Leonard Wright, PMBurg



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cracknore Hard: Then and Now

Cracknore Hard 1831: James Caithness snr
was ferryman here ca 1815-1820s

Similar view 20 September 2013:
the building with central chimney and white verandah uprights
 was once the Ship Inn

Photograph by Tom Sheldon

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Souvenir Saturday: St Mary's Churchyard, Totton, Hampshire

St Mary’s, Totton: note the stones facing the same way, towards the east. Somewhere in front of them would be the headstone of the incumbent facing his flock, just as he would have stood before the congregation during church services; he is ready to lead them at the sound of the Last Trump. 

This ties in with Christian belief: Then the man brought me to the gate, even the gate that looketh toward the east and I saw the Glory of God  [Ezek 43:1]

However, the symbolism could be traced much further back than Christianity.

More on the origins of grave orientation at

Photograph by Peter Hay

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mariners: Caithness at Greenwich

A Squall, Southampton Water
The Caithness brothers, James and George, lost their father young. James snr had been discharged from the navy in 1814 after serving during the Napoleonic Wars and by the time his children were born was living in Marchwood, Hampshire earning an income as a waterman and ferryman. His death in 1826 left his widow Ann in an unenviable situation without the family breadwinner and with five children to rear.

However, Ann was a resourceful woman and with the help of influential friends managed to get her two eldest sons James and George into the Lower School at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, with a view to their being educated towards a seafaring career.

The magnificent group of buildings beside the Thames at Greenwich must be one of the most recognisable sights in the world; the National Maritime Museum has been situated there since 1934. Greenwich’s maritime history, though, goes back much earlier. King William III and Queen Mary II founded the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich in 1694. Its Royal Charter included provision for the 'Maintenance and Education of the Children of [Royal Naval] Seamen happening to be slain or disabled'. The aim was to create a hospital, to provide support for seamen's widows, education for their children and to improve navigation. 

The Hospital – now the Old Royal Naval College – was built from 1696 to 1751.

Greenwich Royal Hospital
The School began when the Hospital took in ten ‘orphans of the sea’ to be educated in navigation for the merchant service. At first housed in Thomas Weston’s Academy in Greenwich, the Hospital built its own school on King William Walk which was replaced by a larger building in 1782.

In 1798 an orphanage school, The British Endeavour, was founded in Paddington for children whose fathers died in the French Revolutionary War. 

This establishment was granted the Queen’s House, Greenwich, in 1806 and renamed the Royal Naval Asylum, which was later extended to house 800 children (boys and girls). 

By 1821 the Asylum and Hospital School amalgamated as the Royal Hospital Schools.

Greenwich Hospital and Royal Naval Asylum 1820, South Aspect; 
engraved by Henry Wallis from painting by Charles Bentley

Ann Caithness made application for her boys James and George to attend the Lower School in 1827 and surviving records offer a glimpse into their world at the time. 

James and George Caithness would have qualified for admittance
to the Lower School as 'boys whose Fathers have fallen in His Majesty's Service,
whose Mothers are living.'

To be continued …

Tom Sheldon for copies of the Lower School documents

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mariners: First Rung of the Ladder 3

Considering Bell’s Narrative of Conch, admittedly written much later in life, his level of general education is evidently good. Some historians have questioned whether he could have related the story to someone else to write down, but I don’t subscribe to that view. 

Bell's signature on a Port Office document, Natal 1861
As a merchant master having dealings with crew and cargo, he had responsibilities: he would have had some commercial grasp of proceedings. 

When Bell became Port Captain at Natal he had to write and sign passenger lists and other port documents; he made written reports on harbour matters, shipwrecks and survey expeditions along the coast. His handwriting on original documents dating to the 1850s and 60s is well-formed and there are many examples of his vigorous signature.

He was certainly literate and more than merely that. This isn’t quite what one might expect of the son of a labourer. Could he have attended school while he was working his indenture at Maryport? There’s no way of knowing whether Ritson was sufficiently motivated to nurture young mariners and craftsmen but he may well have been forward-looking and encouraged them to pursue their studies during apprenticeship. William had an enterprising nature and no doubt took opportunities for self-education.

There’s the possibility that he went to a nautical school. Such establishments provided training in aspects of seamanship and could be state-aided, or private charitable institutions often endowed by wealthy philanthropists. Whitehaven, not a million miles from Maryport, offers an example in this regard.

Whitehaven ca 1854

Matthew Piper, a Quaker, lived frugally and was thus able when he died at the age of 91 to leave a generous bequest for the founding of a school ‘for the education of sixty poor boys resident in the town of Whitehaven, or the neighbourhood, in reading, writing, arithmetic, gauging, navigation and book-keeping.’ The school, in the High Street, was built in 1818 and opened in 1822. Before being admitted every boy had to be able to read the New Testament and be above eight years of age, none being allowed to remain more than five years.

‘Although this school is intended to convey such nautical instruction as shall qualify its pupils to act as mates and masters of vessels, they are not placed under any obligation to go to sea, as the name of the institution may be supposed to imply.’

However, many did become mariners on completion of their time at Piper’s Marine SchoolAs well as the school Piper also left a £1000 bequest, from which the £50 interest created a fund used to provide soup twice per week (from the soup kitchen in Mill Street) to many families in dire need of such nourishment; this continued for over 150 years.

Pipers Court, Whitehaven, on the site of Matthew Piper's Marine School

There were probably similar nautical schools in other Cumbrian ports such as Workington and Maryport. William Bell may have been the beneficiary of a Charitable Trust like Piper's.

With the large-scale opening up of the seas for imperial trade, merchant mariners required a higher level of education in navigation, nautical astronomy and associated subjects. A coastal mariner could scrape by with slightly less formal training. It wasn’t until 1845 that a system of examination for Competency and Service was introduced for all mariners.

By then Ritson, Bell’s mentor, was dead: ‘…1844, John Ritson Esq., late ship builder, after several years’ affliction of paralysis, which he bore with great resignation, aged 67 years.’*

Ship approaching Whitehaven harbour 1847
 by Robert Salmon

Note: Merchant seamen service records from 1835 to 1857 are available to view online at

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mariners: The First Rung of the Ladder 2

The Solway with its sand banks and shallow waters was always a difficult stretch of water to navigate. A flag was hoisted when it was safe for sailing vessels to enter port, and in later years steam tugs aided vessels in and out of the harbour and along navigable channels. This is an appropriate analogy for the career of the mariner apprentice, navigating the shoals and hazards as he started out on his voyage and requiring an experienced pilot to guide him through the channel ahead and reach safe anchorage.

A view of Ritson's shipyard, showing a ship under construction on a slipway. The town of Maryport progressed as an industrial centre throughout the 19th century. The port developed and shipyards such as Wood's, Peat's and Ritson's yard were established. Ritson's was famous for launching ships broadside into the River Ellen as it wasn't wide enough for ships to be launched in the usual way.  

It is certain that Bell was apprenticed to John Ritson, who was the founder of the Maryport shipbuilding firm of that name, though Ritson had been manager of the John Peat yard before launching his own business. He might have apprenticed Bell whilst still managing Peat’s. Ritson had been a ship’s carpenter and reputedly could handle every tool from the adze to the caulking tool with great skill. It’s quite feasible that Bell served his apprenticeship as a ship’s carpenter, a shipwright, and went to sea as a fully-fledged ‘chippie’. The average ship’s carpenter made his first voyage at 20 years plus (though it's scarcely credible that Bell waited until 1827).

Most Cumbrian shipbuilding firms were also shipowners – either minority shareholders or Managing Owners. Sometimes vessels were built by the yards speculatively in times of no orders, but shipowners they invariably were and also frequently merchants trading on their own behalf: useful hedges against the ups and downs of shipbuilding to order. 

Perhaps Bell was a Ritson employee on a Ritson built and owned vessel trading to the Cape, liked what he saw, engaged with owners who traded more regularly with the Cape, e.g. the owners of the Thorne, and eventually made the break, remaining in the Colony after that ship was wrecked on Robben Island in 1831.*  

How and why young William made the move from his childhood environs to Maryport is a matter for conjecture. There may have been relatives, either there or in Bowness, who had risen to comparative affluence and were in a position to assist him. Another alternative is that his parents were in difficult circumstances, perhaps on Poor Relief, and that William was placed with John Ritson as a Parish Apprentice.

In the early 1820s the area from Bowness to Carlisle was in a depressed state, many of the working people living under harsh conditions. The weather was particularly bad, the waters of the Firth (or Frith in local parlance) rising to a greater height than had been known for years, with widespread flooding. A native of Carlisle wrote:

Unsound barley meal … sold for as much as four shillings a stone; while wheat flour and butchers meat were wholly beyond the reach of the ordinary workman. It was no uncommon thing for our house to be without bread for weeks together; and I cannot remember to have ever seen in my very early years a joint of meat of any kind on my father’s table, oatmeal porridge and potatoes, with an occasional taste of bacon, being our principal food.**

With such deprivation commonplace, it’s likely that Bell’s parents would encourage him to aim higher than labouring as many men did on the planned Carlisle Canal (opened in March 1823). In time, the Canal would bring improved communications, the building of new ships, increased trade and a measure of prosperity but all this was as yet in the unpredictable future. An apprenticeship for William with a reputable shipyard was a much safer bet.

Maryport by William Daniell

Titanic links: Maryport has a strong affiliation with the White Star Line and its most famous ship the Titanic. Thomas Henry Ismay, founder of the White Star Line, was born 7 January 1836 at Ropery House, Ellenborough Place, a short distance from the southern end of Elizabeth Dock. Married at the age of 22, Ismay had then amassed capital of £2,000 and within a decade was worth nearly £½million. When he died in 1899 his estate was worth £1¼million.

*The Wreck of the Thorne

**The Carlisle Navigation Canal: David Ramshaw (P3 Publications) p27

Note: Under the Merchant Seamen, etc, Act 1823 (4 Geo IV c 25) Masters of British merchant ships of 80 tons and over were required to carry a given number of indentured apprentices. These had to be duly enrolled with the local Customs Officer. These provisions were extended by the Merchant Seamen Act 1835 (5 & 6 Wm IV c 19) which provided for the registration of these indentures. In London they were registered with the General Register and Record Office of Seamen and in other ports with the Customs officers who were required to submit quarterly lists to the Registrar General. In 1844 it was provided for copies of the indentures to be sent to the Registrar General, and although compulsory apprenticeship was abolished in 1849 the system of registration was maintained. Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 (57 & 58 Vict c 60) a parallel arrangement was introduced for apprentices on fishing boats.
Reference: BT 150       
Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Index of Apprentices
This series comprises an index, compiled by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen and its predecessor, of apprentices indentured in the merchant navy.
The index relates to the copy indentures in BT 151 and BT 152
Held by:
The National Archives, Kew

Derek Ellwood

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mariners: The First Rung of the Ladder

Map showing Bowness-on-Solway, Glasson, Easton and Drumburgh:
places along the shores of the Solway Firth associated with William Bell and family
Merchant mariners of the 19th c often had the sea in their blood, i.e. they came of seafaring communities and families. This was not an invariable rule, of course. William Bell’s father wasn’t a mariner but a labourer, still working as such in the Bowness-on-Solway area of Cumberland in 1841.

The mouth of the Annan and Solway Firth, Skiddaw in the Distance:
engraving by Wm Miller after C Stanfield
Bell family information, an unreliable source, would have it that William ‘ran away to sea at an early age’. There was no need for him to do so. The sea was ever-present throughout his childhood; the salty tang pervaded the low-lying shores of the Solway Firth and church registers recorded documentary evidence of maritime occupations for the majority of the neighbourhood’s breadwinners – many of whom had the surname Bell.

Solway Firth, Cumberland
Bell’s parents may not have had the wherewithal required to start William off on the first rung of the maritime ladder but it’s likely that some family member or contact was either in shipbuilding or shipowning or both in some degree (there was an extremely successful shipbuilder named William Bell operating in Bowness at the time though his relationship to young William hasn’t been established) and would be able to put in a good word for the boy when it came time for him to be apprenticed – in William’s case probably around 1820.

For this is how most mariners began their career: being indentured like any other apprentice to a trade, contracted to work for a period of seven years usually starting at the age of 12 to 15 and emerging qualified to earn a living as a seaman. During that time the apprentice would live, eat and sleep anything and everything to do with ships, including building them and sailing them, in theory and in practice – ‘learning the ropes’ has come down to us as an expression from this world and for the seafaring apprentice it covered much more than its literal meaning.

Becoming a mariner was a hands-on process: one learned by experience and had hard knocks along the way. Training was much the same for future masters as it was for the average AB (Able Seaman). The sea was a great leveller as a man, regardless of his origins, could ascend through the ranks based on his own practical ability and intelligence. 

In the early 19th c, then, apprenticeship was an accepted form of maritime education; later, the numbers dropped. We’ve seen that this route was taken by William Falconer and he provides an example of a boy apprenticed to his father who was a master mariner.* Such an arrangement frequently would have been informal, with no indenture papers kept. Despite intensive searches, no apprenticeship record has emerged for William Bell, who was indentured to Ritson of Ritson’s shipbuilding company, Maryport. This fact is known purely by accident – a brief but welcome reference in a Cumberland newspaper.**

Maryport Pier as Bell might have known it:
perhaps he stood watching from the sea wall much like the boys in this picture

A well-known maritime researcher working regularly at The National Archives, UK, states that though the impression is given that there are 10% of indenture records surviving, the actual proportion is much smaller. 

In any case, if your mariner’s career pre-dates 1835, records are scarce because the government wasn’t particularly concerned with individual merchant seafarers. There are sources of various kinds, mostly kept for reasons other than the mariners’ activities per se, e.g. customs books, port books, High Court of Admiralty records etc, but these are diffuse, not easy to research and often not that useful for family historians. Occasionally a rewarding nugget comes to light.

**  spotted by Marion Abbott

Derek Ellwood

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Caithness at Eling, Marchwood and Totton

Caithness family history is closely associated with the environs of Eling, including Marchwood and Totton, in Hampshire.

James Caithness (ca 1786-1826) lived at Marchwood with his wife Ann b Scorey; their five children were baptized at St Mary’s Church, Eling, between 1815 and 1826. During some of those years, James snr was waterman and ferryman at Cracknore Hard. His widow Ann Caithness lived at Totton until her death in 1889.

Ordnance Survey Map 1851 showing Cracknore Hard

Eling (the parish is recorded in the Domesday survey) has a long tradition of shipbuilding and seafaring. New Forest timber – oak and beech in vast quantities – supplied local shipbuilders from the Middle Ages onwards. Oak was used for hulls of ships, beech for masts. During James Cathness’s time, the era of the Napoleonic Wars, ships were being built here for the Royal Navy.

Action at Sea between HMS Hydra and the Furet 27 Feb 1806 

                                   Views of Magazine Lane and Marchwood village

Cracknore Hard Lane today
But there was more to Marchwood than quiet, narrow country lanes. The area was a vital strategic site: in 1812 a depot was constructed for 20,000 barrels of gunpowder. One wonders how the residents of Marchwood felt about living in close proximity to a powder keg; later generations certainly complained.

The threat of French invasion in 1779 and the advent of Napoleon on the European stage brought about reform in the way gunpowder was stored and issued in Britain. Up to that time, powder was kept in old fortifications or more recently constructed vaults in various parts of the country. In 1811 the decision was taken to increase the number of depots and to build more permanent storage. Marchwood was the largest of four new magazines.

Gunpowder at that period was stored in barrels each containing 90 lbs of powder. It was originally intended to store 20, 000 barrels at Marchwood all in one large magazine. Later, three separate magazines were constructed as far apart as possible to minimize the danger of explosion. Each held 6, 800 barrels. A canal was used to move the barrels by barge from magazine to magazine. There were also other buildings which served as receiving and examining rooms, all within a perimeter wall, and put up between 1814 and 1816.

Earth banked blast walls and high walled enclosures protected each building. An office and guard house and a barrack block were built on Magazine Lane, Marchwood. There was a rolling stage, a raised planked barrow way, built out to a landing stage in deep water. A sea wall was added fronting Southampton Water and returning along the Creek.

Old Main Gate: Marchwood Magazine

Remains of Marchwood Magazine: part of the vaulted
floor. Water flowed underneath to keep the atmosphere damp *

The depot closed briefly in 1850 but was reopened during the outbreak of the Crimean war and in 1856-57 four new and larger magazines were added. The Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Marchwood, continued in use for the storage of munitions into the 20th century. Stocks of munitions were reduced after World War II and the site was finally decommissioned and closed in 1961.**

Magazine A is the only one of the original magazines at Marchwood to survive; the others were destroyed in 1940. Today the buildings and walls are rare survivals of Georgian military works; though some require restoration they are of historic importance, a tangible reminder of the era when Britain ruled the waves.
It’s not impossible that among the tasks James Caithness might have undertaken when he was a waterman at Marchwood was transporting gunpowder. Whether he was involved in such risky business or kept to ferrying passengers, by the look of the contemporary advertisement below, at least he could have popped in to the Ship Inn for a ‘heavy wet’ at the end of a busy day.

*  browse the series of photos at

Tom Sheldon