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.