Saturday, April 29, 2017

Meet the family – new and improved

This post, my first in a very long time, will only be of interest, I’m afraid, to people named Blackwell or Breen, if to anyone.  (Sorry Smith relatives.)

My ardour for family history research cooled for no particular reason after my last period of prolonged activity in 2015. The work to that point, though, had produced some fruitful and, as it turns out, lasting online relationships. I met three distant cousins in England who shared my interest in family history. We’ve kept in touch. Unlike me, they have continued to work away at compiling information about the history of the Blackwell clan.

Tom Jolliffe first made contact with me in response to this blog almost exactly two years ago. Tom’s mother, Cyrilla (1911-1992), was one of the Manchester Blackwells, daughter of Ernest (1876-1941) and grand-daughter of Marsden (1840-1906). Marsden’s older brother, Richard Henry (1838-1919) was the founder of the Australian branch of the family, our great grandfather. RHB emigrated to Oz in 1878.

Tom and his wife Gina maintain the TJ family tree at Ancestry. It's a private site, but if you're interested in looking at it, let me know and I'll try and get you an invitation. The tree covers the Marsden branch of the Blackwell family in detail.

Perhaps more interestingly, the Jolliffes have in their possession a photo album that came to them from Tom’s mother. She received it from a cousin, Mabel Holmes, daughter of Julia, youngest sibling of Marsden and RH. The album includes studio portraits of Blackwells dating back at least to the 1880s. You can find a virtual version here at Google Photos.

Richard Henry Blackwell

Tom originally sent me confirmed pictures of RHB and his friend William Drummond from this album, which I published here in 2015, and above. (Drummond was Richard Henry’s great friend who, according to family legend, once saved his life. RHB honoured his pal by giving his surname to son Matthew Drummond, our Blackwell grandfather. My brother Stephen also bears it.)

I hadn’t taken a proper look at the album until recently. It contains other interesting Blackwell portraits, including probable likenesses of Anne (Marsden) Blackwell (1806-1889), wife of Matthew (1804-1859), and of Kate (Sadler) Blackwell (1884-1919), our great grandmother. There are also portraits of RHB’s and Kate’s two sons, Matthew Drummond (our grandfather) and Richard Marsden (great uncle), as teenagers.

Unlike the pictures of RHB and Drummond, the Kate and Anne photos are not labeled. Tom has identified them based on fairly convincing-sounding evidence, however.

Anne (Marsden) Blackwell

The person he believes is Anne appears in three or four pictures in the album, more than any other. This makes sense given she was the family matriarch. And this woman certainly looks the part of a matriarch. She also looks about the right age. The photographer (see the graphic on the reverse below) was Marcus Guttenberg, active in Manchester between 1878 and 1891. (See the exhaustive entry on Guttenberg at this interesting site, set up to help family historians date photos.)

Anne died in 1889, so the picture would have been taken – if it is her – between 1878 when she was 72 and 1889 when she was 83. This woman is also never paired with a portrait of a spouse, as many others in the album are. Matthew had died in 1859, which is before the period when it was common for middle class folk to commission studio photo portraits.

Kate (Sadler) Blackwell

The picture that Tom believes is Kate Sadler Blackwell was taken in Melbourne, as you can see from the reverse side and from the embossed signature in the picture, and appears in the album paired with one of the confirmed pictures of RHB. If it is our grandmother, which seems very likely, she was a handsome woman.

Matthew Drummond Blackwell

If you take the time to go and look at the Holmes family album at Google Photos, you will see that the pictures I’ve included here look a little different there. All of the originals are faded and  discoloured with age. Many are marred by mold stains, scratches and abrasions to the emulsion and other blemishes. I’ve used Photoshop to restore them as best I can. Restoring old damaged photos is an art (or a craft anyway) and I’m definitely an amateur at it. But at least now you don't look at the pictures and see only their distracting flaws.

The one of grandfather Matthew Drummond as a teenager was the most challenging. The matting around the image was so badly stained with mold that I eventually gave up and reconstructed the mat in Photoshop. A bit of a cheat, but needs must. The one of great grandmother Kate was also badly stained with mold spots – it looked like she had smallpox – and I ultimately found it impossible to eliminate the mottling in the background, an artifact of the clean-up process.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Robert William Smith (1925-1944): An All-too-brief Biography

Robert William Smith is the uncle we never knew. He was my mother's youngest brother, killed in Italy near the end of the War. We don't know a great deal about him. My mother rarely spoke of him. Given that he died at 19, there is perhaps not a lot to know. But I do have a few new details to share.

I now have his army service records. I've also researched the battle in which he was killed, the allied offensive to break the German "Gothic Line" in northern Italy in August 1944. 

The service records are frustratingly uninformative on the question of exactly how Robert died. They only say, "killed in action." But I have some clues from other sources about the circumstances. And the service records do shed light on a couple of other interesting questions.

Pte. Robert William Smith, date and location unknown

The story in the family was that Robert had lied about his age and enlisted when he was only 17. The sad truth is, he wasn't even 17, not quite. In the Department of National Defence Estates Branch form his mother filled out after he died, which was included with the other army records I received, she gave his birth date as July 21, 1925. (He told the army he was born on May 22, 1922.) Army documents show he enlisted on June 26, 1941. 

Why would a baby-faced not-quite-17-year-old risk claiming he was 19, almost 20, when he only had to be 18 to enlist? Hard to figure.

In any case, he was just 16. There is some confusion about what he was doing before he enlisted. Some of the army documents give his occupation as "student." But an "Occupational History Form," apparently filled in by Robert, says he had completed one year of high school, left school at 15 and was working as a packer at Imperial Cone Co., a local company that made ice cream cones and straws. 

I suspect the confusion and inconsistency about dates and occupations in the documents I was sent stems from the original lie about his age

We have a class picture in which Robert appears, dated 1938, showing he was in a Grade 8 Advancement Class that year, probably at Lord Roberts school, near where the family was living on Princess Ave. in London. If he was smart enough to be in the Advancement Class - presumably similar to the program still in operation in the London Board of Education when my wife and siblings were going through the elementary system 30 years later - it's a safe bet that he graduated without difficulty that year. And if the picture was taken in September, at the beginning of the school year, as I think is probably the case, then he would have graduated from elementary school in June 1939. 

Robert Smith (front row centre), 1938

That means he would have completed Grade 9 the next year, at the end of June 1940. So where was he between June 1940 and June 1941 when he enlisted? Working? Would an Advancement Class kid drop out after just one year of high school to work in a factory? 

It's possible he had to work, or felt he had to work, to help the family make ends meet. The family was certainly under considerable stress. His father had been in jail a few years before, and was not living at home at this time. Brother Jack was away, living up north with Ollie and baby Bobby. Tom had also left home. Both brothers were probably contemplating enlisting, if they hadn't already. Sister Kay was living with the family, with baby Leo, Ralph having already gone off to fight. Kay and Betty, also at home at this point, were supporting the family - six of them with Leo and Barbara - on wages from their clerical jobs. The Smiths may well have been struggling financially. 

But I'm guessing that in fact Robert lied about being out of school and working. I'm guessing he'd actually been at high school until the day before he enlisted. The form Edith filled out after he died bears this out. Under "Nature of employment before enlistment," she has written, "School." Telling the army he'd left school at 15 and was working was a more plausible story, given he was claiming to be almost 20. Or maybe it was a more plausible story the army concocted later, after it discovered he had been underage. We'll likely never know.

Another thing that puzzled me about the little we knew of Robert's military career was how he ended up in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, the regiment he was attached to when he was killed. How could an under-age teen living in London, Ontario have enlisted with the Seaforths, a Vancouver-based regiment? The answer is, he didn't. According to his army records, he joined the Elgin Regiment in London, which makes much more sense. It was only after he arrived in Italy two years later that he transferred to the Seaforths.

The Elgins were originally an infantry regiment, formed in St. Thomas, but converted to an armoured unit in 1942, becoming the 25th Armoured Regiment. They were reorganized again in 1943 and became the 1st Canadian Tank Delivery Regiment, tasked with delivering tanks to other armoured units in the field, and finally became the 25th Armoured Delivery Regiment. Very confusing.

Robert did his army training in Sydney and Camp Debert, Nova Scotia and Sussex, NB. We don't know exactly what he trained to do, although there is a note that he qualified as a "driver I/C III. (W)." I have no idea what that designation means. He also qualified on "Water Duties" - possibly procedures for keeping troops in the field supplied with fresh water? 

He was granted furlough from January 5 to 18, 1942. He would undoubtedly have come home to London, having missed the family Christmas that year, probably for the first time. Then in late July he went AWL (absent without leave) for three days at the end of another shorter furlough. Did he dash home to London one last time, knowing he would be sent overseas soon? 

We have a picture of him, sitting on the front steps of a house, probably 2 Horn St., London, the family home at the time, with his mother and sisters Kay and Barbara. It's a sunny warm day. Robert is in battle dress and shirtsleeves, looking absurdly young. Was it taken on that last visit? It might explain the slightly pursed-lip looks on his mothers' and sister Kay's faces: they would have disapproved of him being AWL.

Front row, Barbara and Robert; standing behind, Kay and Edith

He was shipped to England in late August 1942. I'm not sure if any of his siblings would have been there by this time; my mother definitely was not, but Tom and Jack may have been. I don't remember my mother ever talking about meeting up with Robert in London. He seems to have moved from unit to unit a fair bit while in England. At one point, he took some training at Canadian Army HQ. In May, he had seven days paid leave. Was he able to hook up with one or both of his brothers on that occasion? 

Then on October 26, 1943, over a year after arriving, he was shipped to the front. He landed in Italy on November 6, two months after the allied invasion of the Italian mainland. It's not clear the route he would have taken or where he landed. Most of the initial invasion forces came from North Africa or Sicily, which the allies had already taken, and landed near Salerno on the west coast. It was likely near there that the force Robert was in landed. At this point, he was still in the tank delivery regiment.

Was Robert at the battle of Ortona between December 20 and 28, 1943? The fight for that small city on the Adriatic coast is famous in Canadian military history. It was one of the bloodiest of the war, known afterwards as "Little Stalingrad," after the desperate stand by the Soviets against invading German forces in late 1942 and 1943. At Ortona, Canada lost 1,372 dead, an appalling toll for a single week of fighting, a third of its losses in the entire Mediterranean theatre. Canadian soldiers helped take the town street by street, house by house. Some of the street-fighting techniques the Seaforths in particular developed during that battle are apparently still in use today.

Here's a first-hand account of the scene by CBC war correspondent Matthew Halton: "It wasn't hell. It was the courtyard of hell. It was a maelstrom of noise and hot, splitting steel...the rattling of machine guns never stops ... wounded men refuse to leave, and the men don't want to be relieved after seven days and seven nights... the battlefield is still an appalling thing to see, in its mud, ruin, dead, and its blight and desolation." 

Seaforth Highlanders of Canada fighting at Ortona

It is certainly possible Robert was there or nearby, but at this point he was still in a service unit, delivering tanks, and likely wouldn't have been involved in direct combat. This is more or less confirmed by a Christmas Airgraph1 Robert sent home to his mother that December of 1943 - about the time the Seaforths, his future regiment, were fighting street to street in Ortona. The postcard survived among documents and memorabilia my mother saved.

Robert wrote, "Dear Mom - I'm not actually in the [censored], just a little [censored] of it. Details of course will follow. All the best for Xmas to the whole bunch, or what's left. Love to all. Robert." The message presumably originally read, "I'm not actually in the fighting, just a little [east/west/north/south] of it." The army would have redacted anything that might give away their positions in the event the mail was intercepted. The part about best to all "or what's left" is presumably a reference to the fact that by this time, as Robert would likely have known, all of his siblings, except pre-teen Barbara and new-mom Kay, were overseas with Canadian forces.

Over the spring and early summer of 1944, the allies moved steadily up the boot of Italy, encountering German resistance along the way. The Italian army was no longer a factor. It had been in effect disbanded after Mussolini's regime was toppled and the dictator arrested in July 1943. The German strategy at this point was to defend against the allied advance as far from their homeland as possible. The geographic obstacles presented by the Italian peninsula were ideally suited to this and they dug in in several places.

The last major line of defenses was the so-called Gothic Line across northern Italy. It stretched from Pesaro on the Adriatic, snaking north and west through the Appenine mountains, to a point on the Mediterranean just north of Pisa. The allies came to the Gothic Line in August 1944.

In June, for reasons not explained in his service records, Robert was "remustered" from the Canadian Armoured Corps, where he'd spent his entire time in the army, to the Canadian Infantry Corps. He was then attached to a unit of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. It would not be surprising if the Seaforths were depleted by Ortona and the march up the boot and needed reinforcements in preparation for the battle ahead. Was Robert just a spare body who was available - and expendable? Or did he volunteer?

It was in any case a fateful move. Now he was a foot soldier; he would be on the front lines of the fighting.

That June, the allies had invaded France on D-Day. The tide was turning, the war beginning to wind down. In Italy, the massive concentration of forces ahead of the attack on the Gothic Line that August was done in secret. Elaborate subterfuges were used to fool the Germans into thinking the attack would come elsewhere than planned, that the Canadians were somewhere else than they were. The first push would be against a point in the line southwest of Pesaro near the Adriatic coast. It began on August 25; the Seaforths went into action on August 26. Here's a description of the preparations from R.H. Roy's regimental history, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada: 1848 to 1965:

"...the day before the attack was filled with quiet activity. Vehicles remained stationary whenever possible to reduce the amount of road traffic [to hide the fact an attack was imminent.] Arms and ammunition were checked, petrol tins topped, Bren gun magazines filled, iron rations distributed, aerial photographs studied, and a dozen last minute details attended to."

The Seaforths were to push through from the Metauro River north to the Foglia River, where the Gothic Line defences began in earnest. They would pierce the line and seize the town of Cattolica on the other side. Ahead of that, two other Canadian regiments, the Loyal Edmontons and Princess Patricias, would move forward on the left and right to secure their flanks. The attack began before first light with tanks and infantry moving forward under an allied artillery barrage. Three companies of the Seaforths set out at 4 am. Accompanied by tanks, A and C companies captured their objectives and took prisoners. There was little resistance and virtually no casualties.
German army photo of Canadian Sherman tanks approaching Gothic Line, August 26, 1944

Here is R.H. Roy's account of the point at which the attack that day went wrong for our unlucky uncle - or at least so I surmise: "During the afternoon Lt-Col. Thomson [the Seaforth field commander] ordered "B" Company, commanded by Major F.D. Colquhoun, to patrol about half a mile further northeast to the convent Beato Sante located on a steep knoll dominating the road leading into Mombaroccio [one of the Canadian objectives]. 'B' Company, mounted on tanks, closed up to the hill to make an attack on the small village near the convent. En route demolitions on the road held up the tanks. Advancing on foot the Seaforths, while manoeuvering for the attack, were suddenly subjected to heavy shelling and mortaring. Major Colquhoun and four others were killed while twelve others were wounded, among them Lt. J.L. Thirlwell."

Beato Sante convent today

"Major Colquhoun and four others." One of the "others" must have been Pte. Robert William Smith because these were the only fatal casualties among the Seaforths on August 26, and all the official records agree that Uncle Robert was killed on that day.


This impersonal, not entirely grammatical, wire is a far cry from the American movie cliché of the army sending an honour guard to the soldier's home to inform his family. Did Edith eventually receive a personal letter from an officer in the Seaforths? If she did, it hasn't survived. Major Colquhoun, Robert's company commander, was dead. Lt. Thirlwell, who took over for Colquhoun, and won a Military Cross for his efforts that day, might have written to Edith. But what could he say? He would hardly have known Robert, if he did at all. Our uncle had only been in the company for a month and a half.

One can only imagine the impact on the family, its youngest son cut down before he'd had a chance to live - and the next youngest, Tom, fighting in western Europe, a constant worry for his parents and siblings.

What motivated boys like Robert to lie about their age and join up before they were even men? Did they think it was a big adventure, a game? If his father had been at home, would he have dissuaded him? And what was the army thinking, taking boys so obviously underage? He should never have been where he was. If the army had done its job and screened enlistees properly, he might still be alive today. He'd only be 90. Jack lived well past that age.

Robert is buried at Montecchio British Empire Cemetery, eight miles southwest of Pesaro, Italy. His remains lie in Plot 3, Row D, Grave 5 - for anyone interested in seeking out the place. (To my knowledge, no one in the family ever has.) Here's a picture of the cemetery. More details are available online here

1. What is, or was, an Airgraph? It was a method developed by a UK subsidiary of Kodak for moving the mountains of mail between British (and other allied) troops and their homelands to reduce the cost and space required to ship paper mail, especially after the Mediterranean became a dangerous sea route and the British had to ship supplies to its armies in the Mediterranean by going around Cape Horn. The soldier wrote on an Airgraph form, which was fed into an Airgraph reader - essentially an early scanner - and photographed. The long, movie-size reels of Airgraph film were shipped in cans, saving enormously on weight and space required. At the other end, the film was printed, and the individual letters mailed from the UK.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More about our naval surgeon

A great guest post today from Jeremy Lillies, third cousin (or thereabouts) to baby-boom Blackwells and Breens. Jeremy has mined some of the same material from the National Archives (of Britain) that I tapped to trace the career of our triple-g grandfather George Lillies (1788-1844), the Royal Navy surgeon. (George’s great granddaughter Vera Isobel Marian Lillies was our Blackwell grandmother; she married Matthew Drummond Blackwell in 1916.)

Jeremy has found additional National Archives material that I didn’t find, and spent more time and effort deciphering and interpreting what he found. He also had in the family or acquired information from other sources. He here presents a summary of his findings to date.

Page from log of navy surgeons showing George Lillies joining HMS Bellette, 1807

I found the photo illustrations of the naval uniform, the uniform of a Navy surgeon of 1805,  at The Dear Surprise, a fabulous fan site devoted to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/ Maturin series of Napoleonic-era naval history novels. The books trace the history of friends and shipmates Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin. One of the books was made into the 2003 Russell Crowe movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

The site also has some interesting articles about the life and work of naval surgeons of the era, including this one. For a more authoritative essay on the subject, you could look at this article from the website of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

GEORGE LILLIES 1778 – 1844

Having made new discoveries over the past year, this is an attempt to put my great great grandfather’s life in perspective. I am grateful to Gerry Blackwell my distant cousin via the Lillies Australian branch and the Blackwell family, who is a writer in London, Ontario, Canada. His research and blogs have greatly helped me to understand the complicated life of our joint forebears – George is Gerry’s great great great grandfather!

While there is no concrete evidence of George’s birthplace, it is fairly certain that he came from County Sligo, probably the south west part of the county in the civil parish of Aghanagh or just over the boundary into Boyle, Co Roscommon. This is borne out by Lillies family lore – we were always told that the family came from Sligo. There were certainly at least two Lillies farming in this area in 1749, as borne out by the Aghanagh local census of that date. Almost 100 years later, a family of the same unique name emigrated from County Sligo to Canada, although apart from the name there is nothing at present to connect to the earlier Lillies. Much later in life, in completing the 1841 Census in Poole, Dorset, George gave his date of birth as 1778 and his country of birth as “Ireland”.

The first written evidence of George’s existence is in his Record of Service in the Royal Navy. On 8 May 1799 he was appointed acting Surgeon’s Mate in HMS Cynthia a ship sloop of sixteen 6-pounder guns and fourteen ½-pounder swivel guns, launched in 1796. On 28 August 1799, when George would have been aboard, she was part of the British fleet that captured two Dutch hulks and four ships. Prize money of 6s 8d was paid to all seamen. Two days later, in what is known as the Vlieter Incident, a large part of the Batavian Navy surrendered to the British and the Cynthia was among the ships sharing in the prize money.

Next year, on 4 June 1800 Cynthia was part of a force that attacked and destroyed French forts on the Quiberon peninsula in Brittany. Cynthia lost two men killed and one wounded, so George would have been busy. During these operations the British squadron, of which Cynthia was part, earned prize money from the capture or salvage of a number of ships and the recapture of HMS Lancaster on 28 June. Moving on to the north coast of Spain, on 25 August as part of a large squadron, Cynthia took part in an assault on the forts outside the port of Ferrol. Four days later two of her boats were part of a “cutting out party” that succeeded in capturing the French privateer Guêpe and towing her out of Vigo Bay. British casualties were four killed and 23 wounded. In 1847, three years after George’s death, the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal (GSM) with clasp “29 Aug. Boat Service 1800” to all surviving claimants from the action.  

Thus, in his first year in the Navy and not yet a fully-fledged surgeon George would have seen plenty of action and been involved in treating the wounded.

On 27 November 1800 George left Cynthia and transferred to HMS Stately, a 64-gun third rate ship of the line, launched in 1784, still as an acting Surgeon’s Mate. He must have transferred at sea, as Stately had sailed from Portsmouth on 25 April, bound for the Mediterranean as part of a large squadron carrying troops and with sealed orders. On 2 March 1801, Stately  was involved in the landing of troops at Aboukir Bay, near Alexandria, in Egypt. On 13/14 September her crew were involved in land operations at Porto Ferrajo on the island of Elba. Stately’s officers and crew qualified for the clasp “Egypt” to the Naval GSM issued in 1847 to all surviving claimants – again after George’s death!
Landing British troops at Aboukir Bay, Egypt, 1801 (Edgar Sanderson)

At some point in 1804 George was discharged from Stately and on 13 February 1805 appointed Surgeon in HMS Explosion, a “Bomb” with an armament of “12”, purchased in 1797 and apparently anchored at that time in the Downs off Portsmouth. It was a type of wooden sailing vessel. Its primary mortars mounted forward near the bow and elevated to a high angle, and projecting their fire in a ballistic arc. Explosive shells or carcasses were employed rather than solid shot. Bomb vessels were specialized ships designed for bombarding (hence the name) fixed positions on land. Nothing of note seems to have happened until on 26 April 1806 George transferred to HMS Bellette, an 18 gun brig-sloop, launched on 21 March and now commissioning for the first time.

Uniform of Royal Navy surgeon, circa 1805

Bellette was first deployed in the Channel, based in the Downs and on the night of 8/9 October 1806 was part of a force that bombarded a French fleet in Boulogne, using Congreve rockets for the first time. In early 1807 she was involved in carrying supplies to the besieged Prussian force in Kolberg (now Kolobrzeg, Poland). In June she attempted to land a Prussian envoy by boat on the Suffolk coast, which capsized drowning the envoy, three of the crew of five and the envoy’s despatches were lost.

Photo of tip of early 19th-century Congreve rocket

Contemporary illustrations of ships firing Congreve rockets

Bellette was in the fleet that bombarded the Danish/Norwegian fleet in harbour at Copenhagen (2nd Battle of Copenhagen 16 August – 5 September 1807) resulting in the surrender of the enemy ships. There is little mention of the role of the smaller ships, such as Bellette, but at the end of August she became becalmed off the Danish coast and was attacked by 16 Danish gunboats. She sank three of them before other British ships towed her clear. For her captain’s bravery Bellette was chosen to carry back the admiral’s despatches to the Admiralty. During these actions Bellette was involved in the capture of several ships as well as the fleet in the harbour and shared in their prize money. In February 1808 she brought the British Ambassador back to Britain.

On 3 May 1810 Bellette sailed for the Leeward Islands and on 2 July, after a 12 hour chase, captured the privateer Jalouse near Barbados. Also about this time she captured the privateer Franchise and took her into Barbados. On 17 July George joined HMS Captain, a 74 gun third rate ship of the line, which was in the same waters.  Between 30 January and 24 February 1809 Captain took part in the capture of Martinique. Then between 12–17 April she was part of a squadron that chased a French squadron of the Saintes, West Indies and captured the 74 gun d’Haupoult which was taken into British service and renamed Abercromby.

Modern model of HMS Captain
George left Captain on 18 December 1809 and joined HMS Antelope, a 14 gun brig, on 1 January 1810 probably in Portsmouth. On about 1 February Antelope left Portsmouth for Cadiz, reportedly carrying the Hon. H Wellesley, the Envoy to Spain 1810-1811 and Ambassador to Spain thereafter until 1822.

Diorama showing Napoleonic-era naval surgeon at work (Science Museum, London)

For the next two years Antelope was employed mainly on convoy duties and visited Gibraltar, Bermuda and Newfoundland, before George left the ship on 21 March 1813. 
On 8 July 1813 George joined HMS Severn, a heavy frigate mounting twenty eight 24-pounder guns, twenty 32-pounder carronades and two 9-pounder guns.  She had been launched on 14 June and was not completed until 11 September, so for the second time, George was appointed to a newly commissioned ship. She sailed from Portsmouth on 28 November with a convoy bound for Bermuda and Halifax, Nova Scotia and on 18 January 1814 successfully acted as decoy to draw away two French frigates from the convoy. She arrived in Chesapeake Bay on 4 July and was involved in a number of actions of the War of 1812 in this area, including the Battle of Maryland where troops were landed who burned the White House and other government buildings in Washington, sailing up the Patuxent River and the Patapsco in support of boat landings. Severn made at least 14 captures of American ships and shared in prize money for the successes of the British fleet. She departed Charleston on 18 March 1815 at the end of the war, arriving at Plymouth on 26 August.

Uniform of Royal Navy surgeon, circa 1805, detail

George left the ship on 18 September 1813 and no more is seen of him in his Naval record until his appointment to HM Yacht William & Mary on 22 November 1820. During this time he would have been on half pay and it may be significant that his landfall seems to have been in Plymouth. He could well have remained in the West Country, practising surgery while awaiting orders for a new ship. He would have become acquainted with other surgeons and very probably William Collyns, head of a family of well-known Devon and Somerset surgeons. Certainly, George married Fanny Collyns, William’s daughter in the Collyns home village of Kenton on 14 July 1819 by licence, giving his address as Heavitree, now a part of Exeter. The family and surgeon connection persisted as, to jump ahead in time, in 1841 his Census return shows Arthur Collyns Sydenham among his household as “Surgeon’s Apprentice”. Arthur was the son of Maria Mary Sydenham, née Collyns, George’s sister in law! Arthur appears in the first Medical Register in 1859 as practising with the P&O Steamship Company. He married George’s eldest daughter Elizabeth in October 1850.

Kenton church, probable site of George Lillies' marriage to Fanny Collyns in 1819

On 22 November 1820 George was appointed surgeon to HMY William & Mary. She was the equivalent of today’s Government jet aircraft and allocated to the Lt Governor of Ireland for him to shuttle to and fro across the Irish Sea. Initially, George was based in Kingstown (now Dunlaoghaire) evidently on call for any quick visit to the mainland.
It seems that Fanny did not immediately join George in Ireland, as their first two children, Fanny (16 January 1820) and George William (21 July 1823) were born in Ottery St Mary and Kenton, Devon respectively. Elizabeth Mary was born in Kingstown on 30 April 1825 and christened in Monkstown Church.

George continued in yacht service on either William & Mary or Royal Charlotte up to at least the end of June 1827. On 18 February 1828 he was appointed Surgeon in Ordinary in Portsmouth. During this time he lived in Portsea, nearby and two more daughters were born: Dorothy Lucy (13 March 1830) and Charlotte Eleanor (29 October 1834).

In December 1827 George applied to be placed on the Retired List. This appears to be because of failing health, but after a medical examination he was found to be “Fit for Service”. Continuing in service, in January 1831 he requested details of his “service in the ordinary” before being appointed surgeon. This was assessed as three years and was added to his accrued service as surgeon. In January 1835 George again applied to be placed on the Retired List as being unable to serve due to ill health. This time, the report was that he was unfit for further service due to “affection of the liver and severe dyspepsia & that his health was entirely broken”. On 12 January 1835 George was placed on the Retired List at the rate at the rate of 10/- a day – the equivalent of about £15,000 today.

After this, George seems to have moved West to Poole in Dorset where he appears in the 1839 Robson’s Directory as a surgeon in West Street. His 1841 Census return shows him living as a surgeon at [24?] West Street, with his wife Fanny and daughters Fanny, Dorothy and Charlotte. Also, as mentioned earlier, Arthur Collyns Sydenham, surgeon apprentice and two servants. In the column for place of birth, under “Whether born in Scotland, Ireland or Foreign Parts” he has stated “I”.

Little more is known except that George died at Kenton on 19 March 1844 and was buried in Kenton Parish Churchyard on 28 March.

It is satisfying to know that George was in so many Naval actions across the world – he accrued 23 ½ years of seatime and was involved in both the Napoleonic War, the War of 1812 in America, as well as the actions in the Baltic and the Caribbean. In fact he may not have been at Trafalgar, but he certainly saw a lot of action!
Note: this is a reconstruction of a post from a couple of weeks ago that was inadvertently deleted; some of the introductory text may be different from the original and the illustrations may be in different positions.