Thursday, August 15, 2013

Passing the Lillies Torch

George Lillies, triple-g grandpa to the baby-boom Blackwells, retired from the Royal Navy, as we saw last time, in 1835. He was 57. Although he had a reasonably generous pension, it probably wasn’t enough to support a young family, which George by then had.

He’d married Fanny (nee Collyns) on 14 July 1819 at Kenton, Devon, near Exeter, where they were both born. This was at the beginning of a period in which George was on light military duty, posted to yachts, and probably sticking fairly close to home.

The newly weds didn’t waste much time. Daughter Fanny came along less than a year later. She was christened on 16 June 1820 at Ottery Saint Mary, Devon, a town about 20 miles from Kenton. Were the Lillies living there then? Hard to know. Three years later, on 17 Aug 1823, George’s first and only (surviving) son, and our direct ancestor, George William Lillies, was born in Kenton. This appears to be the extent of George and Fanny’s family.

So what did George do in retirement to support his family? We don’t know for sure, but it’s a good bet he practised medicine. Such as it then was.

George was always a surgeon only, not a physician. He would have been licensed to saw bones, bandage wounds, etc. – treat anything to do with the outside of the body. He may also have been licensed as an apothecary; many surgeons were. Surgeons were considered skilled tradesmen and apprenticed as such. Physicians had to go to university, for about four years in this period. Physicians could only examine and diagnose illness, they couldn’t operate.

I did find two references to a George Lillies, surgeon, in Poole, Dorset, which is about 100 miles east of Kenton on the coast. A listing appears in the 1837 directory for Poole, under Surgeons. The same listing appears again in 1844 for Poole. His office was on West St. Given how few Lillies there are in general (with that spelling), it seems unlikely there were two surgeon George Lillies in the west country at the same time. But it’s not impossible.

Print from painting by GMW Turner of Poole, Dorset and Corfe Castle

George’s obituary appeared in Volume XXI of The Gentleman’s Magazine (January through June 1844), in a round-up of recent deaths of note. He passed away on 19 March 1844. The obituary reads, “George Lillies, Esq. of Kenton, a retired Surgeon of the Navy.” (The Gentleman’s Magazine, the first periodical to use the term magazine, was launched in 1731 and ran for almost 200 years.) These details of George’s death are borne out by the official record, to the extent it's available. It shows his death falling between January and March of 1844.

The next we hear of the Devonshire Lillies comes less than a year later, when George William, not yet 21, joined the navy as a surgeon, on 8 January 1845. In later years, GW appears with “MD Edinburgh” after his name. The University of Edinburgh Medical School is one of the oldest in the English-speaking world, established in 1731. Would young George already have earned his degree by then, or had he just apprenticed with his Dad or another surgeon? It seems to me more likely to be the latter, given his age. In which case he must have gone to university after leaving the navy.

There are two navy enrolment records for George W in the National Archives online database. One shows his rank as “assistant surgeon,” the other as “surgeon.” He may have been retroactively promoted when the navy realized he was already skilled at his trade despite his years.

I don’t know much yet about his naval career. But he does appear in a list of officers who served with William Loney, also a surgeon. (An amateur naval historian, apparently a Loney descendant, has compiled comprehensive information about Loney’s career using National Archives data.) George William appears as a shipmate of Loney’s on the HMS Pantaloon, a 10-gun brig, where he (GW) was posted from 13 May 1846 to 28 April 1847.

HMS Pantaloon, about 1831

The Pantaloon was involved during this period in policing the east coast of Africa, catching slave traders. Slavery and slaving were illegal in Britain (and in its colonies) by then, but the industry was still going strong, supplying American and other markets. A summary of Pantaloon’s activity compiled by Paul Benyon (ubiquitous amateur online naval historian) shows no actions of note during George W’s tenure, though.

The Loney information says GW came to the Pantaloon from HMS Styx, and went on to HMS Tortoise. Styx, a first-class sloop with 6 guns, was also involved in blockading slavers off Sierra Leon. Here, courtesy of Benyon again, is a summary of some of the activity during part of the period our man was likely aboard:

22 Oct 1845 having observed at day light, off Badagry, a strange brig, the Styx, with the Albatross in company, pursued and detained at 9 o'clock the Brazilian slave brig Regenerador, of 241 tons, Antonio da Cunha Bitencourt, Master, following which we took the crew and 11 passengers to Lagos and on return sent the prize, under the charge of Lieutenant Wood and a prize crew, for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court, at Sierra Leone, where she was condemned on 5 Dec 1845.

27 Oct 1845 detained the Brazilian slave brig Isabel, with 352 negroes on board, in lat. 5° 21 N. long. 4° 20' E., in the Bight of Benin, Antonio Joaquim Tiburcio, Master, following which, she was subsequently sent, under the charge of Lieutenant Burroughs and a prize crew, for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court, at Sierra Leone, where she was condemned on 5 Dec 1845. Regarding the Isabel, she was understood to have been Greek built, and was only on the coast for 3 hours, during which time she embarked the negroes.

27 Oct 1845 chased another vessel, thought to have been the Brazilian slave brig February Third, but it being late in the day, and the breeze getting up, she was eventually lost in the dark of the night.

1 Dec 1845 detained in lat. 6° 21' N. long. 2° 43' E., the Brazilian slave vessel Espeija, Joaquim Antonio Pereira, master, which was sent for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court at Sierra Leone, and on 24 Jan 1846 sentenced to be condemned.

The Tortoise had been built for the East India trade in 1805. Later, as a naval ship, it made one trip to the antipodes, in the early 1840s, to deliver convicts and collect wood for spars in New Zealand. But this was all before GW joined. HMS Tortoise does appear in the record in 1847 when it burned after its cargo of coal caught fire. It was anchored at the time at Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic, where it apparently was based. According to one uncoroborated source, it was burned badly enough to be of no further use. (But another says it wasn’t scuttled, at Ascension, until 1859.) If young George joined Tortoise in 1847, he was likely aboard when it burned.

British stamp showing HMS Tortoise at anchor off Ascension Island

And that’s as far as I can go with George William’s naval career. At this point he’s still only 24 and some years from marriage and family, so he may well have served quite a bit longer.

More about George William next time.

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