Military Histories

Searching for your 19th Century Royal Marine

A Search for a 19th Century Royal Marine


I traced my subject to a GRO marriage certificate dated 1859. The certificate recorded his occupation as a Royal Marine Gunner serving on board the warship HMS ALGIERS, based in Portsmouth. The service records for Royal Marines are held in the records of the Admiralty, (ADM) 159 and cover the period 1842-1936. The records are available to search and download via the National Archives 'Discovery' website. I searched the database but found nothing. Why?

ADM 159 is the best place to start but you should be aware that the records were originally created in 1884 but include records created retrospectively for anyone who had joined before 1884 (back to 1842) and who was still serving that year. This simple online search had told me that my subject had left the Royal Marines by the year 1884.

          HMS ALGIERS was a Portsmouth based ship so I would expect my subject to have belonged to the Portsmouth Grand Division, Royal Marines. The Royal Marines were divided into three Grand Divisions, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham (and between 1805 and 1869, Woolwich). The records are arranged by division so it is important to identify the correct one. Just to play safe I searched the ship's muster book of HMS ALGIERS ADM 38/5551. I located my Royal Marine and confirmed that he was attached to the Portsmouth Division. His entry in the ship's muster book recorded that he had joined the ship from the Portsmouth Headquarters and that he was eventually discharged back to the same HQ.
          Before turning to the Royal Marine records I searched another naval record called the Establishment Book. Establishment books, held in ADM 115, provide additional information to a ship's muster book. From the Establishment Book of HMS ALGIERS, ADM 115/37, I discovered his enlistment date; this would enable me to select the appropriate Royal Marine Description Book which in turn would provide his discharge date.
          The Royal Marine Description Books are held in ADM 158 and cover the period 1755-1940. The books provide a brief description of the man; his physical appearance, place of birth and his discharge date. His discharge date would now lead me to the Royal Marine Discharge Papers. Discharge papers are held in ADM 157 and range from 1837 to 1904. The records provide a brief summary of a man's career; the ships he served on, any medals awarded, his conduct, physical description and his disciplinary record. In my case I discovered he was present at Balaclava and was the recipient of three medals (with clasps)  
          So following my initial disappointment at not locating his service records in the online ADM 159 record series I followed the scenic research route and traced my subject in naval muster and establishment books before concentrating on Royal Marine description books and discharge papers. It may have necessitated a trip to the National Archives but in the end I discovered a full service history of my Royal Marine and have plenty of leads to take my research even further.     

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