The last time I wrote about my great-grandfather, Joshua ‘Jesse’ Lock Morey/Murray I mentioned that I’d found out he had joined the Royal Marines and was going to have to find his service record. That was back in May 2020. Shocking. However, at the end of July, my wonderful friend Carole added my request to her search list for a visit to the National Archives at Kew. And I remembered yesterday that I hadn’t done the follow-up post!
So here it is, and it seems that his scallywag ways weren’t restricted just to leaving his wife and kids for another woman (the latter being my great-grandmother).
The first thing to note was that he was attested on 23rd December, at 11am, in Trowbridge, the day after his medical examination. I am certain that this is the right person, given that he states he was born in Belchalwell, Dorset, and is an engine driver. Although for some reason he has subtracted 5 years from his age as he was actually 23 at this point. Did he not know his age, or did he do it on purpose? One year later in the 1881 census, he gives his age as 19, but in 1891 his age is correctly given as 35.
It will also become important later to note that he agrees to serve the Royal Marine Forces for a term of twelve years. It is also apparent that it wasn’t Jesse who was filling this form out, nor is his signature on the paperwork: instead, he simply makes his mark, indicating that he could not write. It is also likely that he couldn’t read either. This was a bit of a surprise as we tend to think of Marines nowadays as part of the elite fighting forces. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Marines had a lower status than their contemporaries in the Royal Navy. This didn’t change until the early 20th century.
We see that he is 5’6.5″ tall, of fair complexion, with hazel eyes and brown hair. He also has a scar on his left leg (a comment in the medial section states left knee).
His Record of Service sheet is very short. It states that he was a private with Company 26 for 4 years, 234 days. A far cry from the 12 years he signed up for. Of that time, he spent 1 year, 197 days ashore and 2 years, 326 days afloat. It also lists the 3 ships he served on: Humber, Flora and Wye.
It also states that his conduct ashore was “Exemplary”, and afloat as “Extremely good”. Which is a bit of a surprise, given that I came across another mention of him in the British Newspaper Archives as being brought up to the City Bench:
Clearly, absconding was something in his makeup. But to do so a mere 5 months after signing up is a new level of cheek – or perhaps hints that he signed up out of desperation for a job and needed the money (a little over 11 shillings) more than a stable and secure wage. I don’t get the sense that he signed up for the adventure.
As his service record is so brief, I decided to look for information on the ships he served on. Interestingly, they are all storeships and not combat vessels.
HMS Humber – Originally launched in 1876 as a civilian ship called the Harar, it was purchased in 1878 and was an iron screw ship. It was eventually sold in 1907. In September 1881 the ship arrived back in Portsmouth after picking up stores from “the Cape” (ie South Africa) and had been damaged in rough weather crossing the Bay of Biscay, losing her flying jib and having some of her other sails “torn almost into ribands.” Was Jesse onboard for this, or did he join the ship on its next voyage?
HMS Flora – Built in 1844, this wooden hulled sailship was the 9th to hold this name, and was a fifth-rate gunship (fifth-rate referring to the fact she was the second smallest class of warships in a hierarchical system of six ratings based on size and firepower). She had taken part in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and then acted as a receiving ship on the Cape of Good Hope until 1889, that is a ship used in harbour to house newly recruited sailors before they are assigned to a ship’s crew. She was sold in 1891.
HMS Wye – Constructed in 1873, she was another iron screw steamer. As a ship she seemed to have a string of bad luck … In July 1880 she ran aground on the Nore Sands at the Estuary of the Thames and Medway. A tug failed to free her, but she refloated at high tide. The 23rd April 1883 saw the ship run ashore in the Gulf of Suez. The ship stranded in soft sand and managed to get off under her own steam. However, the commander, a lieutenant, and the boatswain were court-martialled a month later, with the verdict being not guilty on all parts, although the captain should be more careful in the future. Which makes it slightly awkward that on 7th August 1883, as she left Devonport harbour for Malta, she collided with a local schooner, Harriet. The latter had to be towed back to shore for repair, but the Wye continued without damage.
This must have been the last – or certainly one of the last – voyages Jesse undertook as he leaves the Marines on 12th August 1884. Interestingly, the Wye is noted as returning to Spithead (ie the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth) on 3 September after a trip to the West coast of Africa and a stop in Plymouth. This is just 22 days after Jesse left the ship. Could the Wye have left Portsmouth, reached Africa, and returned all in 22 days? Well, it depends on where on the West coast of Africa it was heading to. Many ships stopped in Madeira and then made their way to Sierra Leone before continuing any voyages further along the coast (ie to Accra in Ghana). The trip to Freetown is estimated to have taken 11 days for a steam cargo ship, so it isn’t impossible to think that the Wye could have left Portsmouth on 12th August and returned on 3rd September, given the right weather conditions. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an announcement of the Wye leaving Portsmouth around that time, and I can’t find her logbooks that cover this period.
I do hope that Jesse made the best of his time with the Marines, and although I don’t know strictly what voyages he was on or where he went, I am sure that for a young man he must have seen some interesting places and wasn’t just stuck in Portsmouth harbour for the duration of his service.
I’m glad I chose to supplement his service records by utilising newspaper archives to find out more about the ships he served on (even if I have no exact dates of precisely when he was on board each of them).
Cover image: The Royal Marines from 1664 to 1896, watercolour by Richard Simkin