Military Histories

Shipwrecked - Introduction

His mother died when he was just a baby and his father went back to sea, serving as a steward in the Royal Navy. The boy was just ten years old when he joined his father onboard a naval troopship bound for Africa. In the dead of night the ship came to grief on rocks off the African coast and was lost within thirty minutes. Amidst all the panic and confusion the boy was guided by his father to the ship's only lifeboat and was saved. He never saw his father again who was lost at sea and recorded 'Discharged Dead' in the ship's muster book.  

A fascinating story that was constructed using the Admiralty series (ADM) records at the National Archives. The incident took place prior to 1853 when sailor's service records were first introduced. The key is to identify the name of a naval ship your subject was serving on at a particular time; census returns, parish registers, a will for example, and then to trace the man by using the ship's manpower and pay muster books held in ADM 32, 33 and 35.  It is then possible to move backwards and forwards along the man's career as he moved from ship to ship.

Some muster books are classified as description books and offer a physical description of the man, including place of birth, single or married and a list of his previous ships with dates and rank held.

The boy, orphaned following the sinking, was given passage back to England onboard a naval warship and was taken into care by his uncle. He was subsequently accepted as a pupil of the Greenwich School and after his school years was accepted into the Royal Navy.    

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