Military Histories

Shipwrecked - July 2013 Issue

Richard Howard lost his life when the troop carrier HMS BIRKENHEAD came to grief on rocks off the African coast. The loss, in February 1852, was the anchor point in my research as I had him in a given place at a particular time. It was then a matter of tracing Richard through a series of Admiralty muster and pay books as he moved from ship to ship; simple if the man remained in the navy without taking any breaks. Continuous service was not introduced until the 14th June 1853 so I did not have the luxury of his complete service record in the Admiralty (ADM) 139 - Continuous Service Engagement Books. It was also common for a man to skip from a naval warship to a merchant vessel or to take up employment ashore. When he did he would break the sequence, making it difficult to pick him up again. Richard did break the sequence more than once but it was possible to construct his naval service from 1852 right back to May 1831 when, at the age of eighteen, the boy sailor joined the warship HMS CALEDONIA

HMS CALEDONIA was a first-rate ship of the line with a complement of 340 men and boys. I located Richard in the ship's muster book (ADM 37/7981). Every man and boy, with the exception of the commissioned and warrant officers, had to be entered in the muster book (although you generally do find commissioned officers and warrant officers recorded). The muster book should provided details of each man's age at the time he entered the ship, his place of birth, the ship he had joined from (if applicable) and where he was discharged to. So if you are able to follow a sailor from ship to ship you create a record of his naval service.
           If the man died he would be 'Discharged Dead' abbreviated to 'DD', with a brief description of the tragic circumstances. The book should also contain a list of all those men recorded as 'Run' or disgraced. Any man absent from the Service, without leave, for a period of 21 days, was marked as 'Run,' abbreviated 'R'.
           Each man was allocated a ship's book number, SB. This number would be unique to him throughout that ship's commission. If he left, ran or died, that number would remain vacant until the ship was taken out of commission. This makes searching a series of muster books of the same ship that much easier - particularly if the ship's strength was in excess of 800 men!
           The following are examples taken from the muster book of HMS CALEDONIA:  
The CALEDONIA was Patrick McCann's first ship. he was 29 years old and was employed as the wardroom cook. He joined the ship in Plymouth but did not last long - he was discharged eight weeks later!
William Burrows joined the ship from HMS OCEAN. He proceeded on leave in July 1830 and never returned - he was recorded as 'Run.' He was not recorded in the next muster list but his ship's book number, SB166, was missing from the numerical sequence.
           Richard Howard was not found in the main muster list. So it is important to note that within a ship's complement there might be a number of smaller lists. Searching beyond the last page of the muster reveals lists for marines, boys and retinues. Richard was found in the 'Boys First Class' list. He is recorded as joining the ship on the 14th January, 1831, aged eighteen. He was born in Gosport, Hampshire and was transferred to the 'Admirals Domestic' list on the 7th July to serve Admiral Sir Manly Dixon, Admiral of the White. Richard's naval career had begun.  








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