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William Wilthew: A career with the Royal Marines

December 8, 2011

[Images taken myself and included in this post with the permission of the National Archives Images Library Image-Library]

In the October issue of Who do you think you are? magazine, a question I had submitted was featured in the ‘In depth help’ section.

My question was about my great, great, great, great grandfather, William Wilthew, and his short lived military career in the 1820’s.

I had previously identified him on the parish register entries for the birth of two of his children, John in 1824 and Sabina in 1825, in which he was listed as first a ‘soldier’ and then a ‘marine’. However, I couldn’t at first find any additional evidence to support this, and had to suppose it may have been a lie.

Then I found an attestation paper for him, dated the 24th November 1823, into the 77th company (Chatham Division) of the Royal Marines. In it, the William Wilthew identified is listed as being a ‘Clerk, aged 22 and from ‘The Parish of Whickham, near Newcastle in the County of Northumberland. The age, residence and the fact I already had evidence identifying him as a marine at this time makes it very likely this is my William Wilthew (I have only so far identified one other William Wilthew from the north east of England who was definitely alive at this time)

Royal Marines Attestation for William Wilthew

Royal Marines Attestation for William Wilthew

The attestation paper provides lots of other useful information, including physical characteristics and the fact that he was able to sign his own name.

However, whilst I could see some text added to the document at a later date saying “R 8th Aug 1827”, I wasn’t sure if this was where the information included in the catalogue record on the National Archives Calender (indicating that he was “Discharges 1827 as Run”) had come from, or if this meant something else.

Royal Marines Attestation for William Wilthew

Royal Marines Attestation for William Wilthew

Phil Tomaselli’s answer to my question, confirming that the handwritten addition did indicate he had done a runner in 1827, went through some of the sources available to answer this and explore William Wilthew’s military career further. In this post, I have followed some of these sources through and then followed Phil’s suggestions on where else to look to complete the picture.

The Royal Marines

The Royal Marines (who earned the title ‘Royal’ in 1802 following service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as the American War of Independence and the Seven Years War) are soldiers trained to serve at sea. They can trace their ancestry back to 1664, and have been permanently established since 1755.

In the 1820’s, when my own ancestor served, they were organised into four ‘Grand Divisions’ – Chatham, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Woolwich. Each division was comprised of several companies, each of around 100 marines, although the men in each company did not necessarily serve together – these were purely for administrative purposes only. Men would be posted in ships for a limited period of service, before returning to their company barracks.

My ancestor, William Wilthew, was enlisted with the 77th Company, at Chatham (which had responsibility for enlistment in the eastern county’s of England, from Kent to Northumberland).

William’s enlistment

William had married Ann Gilles only a year earlier, on the 23rd September 1822, and is listed as having been employed as (or having identified himself with the profession of) a clerk. He is likely to have been one of few marine private’s who was literate, but perhaps times were hard and enlisting in the marines offered better living standards, a guaranteed wage and ready food on the table.

Given that his (apparently) first child was likely born in March/April the following year, it is probable that he attested a few months after finding out that his wife was pregnant – perhaps putting pressure on him to ensure he could maintain his family.

Tracing William Wilthew’s military career: November 1823 – April 1826

From his attestation paper, his company and division are clearly identified. The information for each individual marine (description, parish of origin etc) would also appear in each Division’s ‘Description Book’ for the time, held at the National Archives in ADM 158 .

Unfortunately, there are no description book’s available for Chatham in the 1820′, and the service record’s in ADM 159 only start from 1842.

However, Phil directed me to the pay lists for the marine divisions. These are also held at the National Archives, in ADM 96. For the period I am interested in, the Chatham paylists are held between ADM 96/401 to ADM 96/421. Each ‘piece’ in the series covers the paylists for a given year and a given division, with each company belonging to that division listed separately. These then list each marine, the number of days he was paid and received subsistence rations for, and any other notes (such as if he was returning or embarking on service with a ship, or spell’s in the gaol, hospital or otherwise).

  • The companies aren’t always listed in numerical order, as I found in at least one of the Chatham paylists.
  • Marines posted to another division (possibly waiting for a posting to a ship) also appear in lists for a company with their division’s name. So, for example, the Plymouth division paylists will include a list of marines posted from the Chatham Division, under the heading ‘Chatham company’.
  • The pay lists I looked at were divided into quarterly volumes for each year.

Using Phil’s guidance, I was able to trace a rough outline of William’s military career over several years.

In ADM 96/401, the lists for the Chatham Division in 1823, the Oct-Dec quarter list confrmed William’s enlistment in November 1823.

Royal Marines Paylist ADM 96/401 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1823) ADM 96/401 William Wilthew

Following on to the next year, William can be found in each of the quarter lists for 1824, held in ADM 96/406. He is recorded in the third quarter as having spent 18th September to 30th September in the hospital. In the fourth quarter, he is recorded as returning from hospital (and his pay backdated to the 18th September), but then being ‘Furlo’ from the 6th October until the 31st December (Furlough – leave from the barracks. It is possible this was granted following the illness or injury which resulted in the period in hospital. Given that my great x3 Grandmother Sabina Wilthew was born in July/August the following year, it is likely she was conceived during this time.

Royal Marines Paylist (1824) ADM 96/401 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1824) ADM 96/406 William Wilthew

ADM 96/411, which covers the pay lists for the Chatham Division for 1825, confirms this leave, and indicates it was extended until the 9th January – however, it looks like this spell away from the barracks has lessened William’s enthusiasm for serving. Given that it was likely he was due to be posted to a ship following his training, where rations and living standards were much worse than barracks life, and also given the fact he now had two children at home – perhaps he had second thoughts about a better way he could earn the money to support them?

He is listed in the first quarter pay lists as having been paid from the 1st January (but on leave until the 9th)… but then having ‘Run from Barracks’ on the 22nd January 1825.

Royal Marines Paylist (1825) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1825) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

Having deserted his duty (William fails to show up again until the final quarter pay lists of 1825, on 25th October) he risked punishment by death at court martial… but it seems he instead was captured and imprisoned… the pay list indicates he returned “From Run and Gaol.” I am unsure why he is listed twice, covering different periods of pay.

Royal Marines Paylist (1825 Oct) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1825 Oct) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

Phil noted in the article in Who do you think you are? magazine that for 1826, he was missing for the first few weeks before re-emerging on 22nd February “from Custody of Civil Power.”

However, I spotted that his in listing in the image above, he is only paid up to what seems to be the 31st October. On the right hand page, in the column for “to what ship or how disposed of” he is listed as having been:

Royal Marines Paylist (1825 October) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1825 October) ADM 96/411 William Wilthew

What does “Comm cc at 2rs 28 Oct 1825 mean? [Still investigating this].

As mentioned, William reappears on the 22nd February in ADM 96/416, “from Custody of Civil Power” – meaning he must have been caught and charged with committing an offence and then spent some time in gaol. From the 22nd February he appears on the paylists until the 11th April where he is noted as being “Discharged E L Plymouth” – meaning he was posted from Chatham to the Plymouth barracks ready to be posted to a ship. Phil helpfully pointed out how I could then find him to try and identify which ship he was posted to (eg in the ‘Chatham Company’ paylist of the ‘Plymouth Division’ pay books).

Tracing William Wilthew’s military career: April 1826 – August 1826

And there he is in ADM 96/417, listed as being posted to HMS Aurora (some unconfirmed info at ) on the 19th May.

Royal Marines Paylist (1826) ADM 96/417 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1826) ADM 96/417 William Wilthew

Once aboard a ship, a marine will no longer appear on the marine division’s pay lists in ADM 96 until he returns from sea. He instead would be included in the ship’s muster upon which he was posted.

The Admiralty Ships Musters (Series II) can be found at the National Archives in ADM 37 covering the period (with some breaks) 1757-1842. The muster books should record the presence of every person on board a ship. I was unable to check ADM 37/7312 myself (which covers the musters for HMS Aurora from January to July 1826) so that will be for next time, but I did check ADM 37/7316 which covers the period from August 1826 and could find no record of William Wilthew. Phil Tomaselli had indicated that he was listed as a 3rd class marine discharged to join ships on the West India and North American Stations on the 15th August.. but sadly with no ship noted and a seeming dead end…

Tracing William Wilthew’s military career: August 1827 to August 1826

Knowing that William Wilthew had done a runner in August 1827, this provided an end point for his military career, with a year’s gap unaccounted for. Knowing that he was with the Chatham Division, checking their pay lists for 1827 (ADM 96/421) starting with the third quarter I found confirmation that he had been declared as having ‘Run’…

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/421 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/421 William Wilthew

… and that this had been from the Barracks in Chatham..

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/421 Deserted from barracks

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/421 Deserted from barracks

Looking at the second quarter, I could also see that he has returned from Portsmouth. The Chatham Company (Portsmouth) pay list notes that he arrived there on the 2nd of June 1827, disembarking from HMS Tweed.

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/423 William Wilthew

Royal Marines Paylist (1827) ADM 96/423 William Wilthew

Phil helpfully suggested I could then us this information to trace his path backwards from this date to August 1826 through the ships muster lists. And that I did. Using the information that he had disembarked from HMS Tweed, I checked ADM 37/7771 and found him listed in the musters listed as having arrived on the ship on the 18th May 1827… having arrived from HMS Tweed.

HMS Tweed Muster List (1827) ADM 37/7771 William Wilthew

HMS Tweed Muster List (1827) ADM 37/7771 William Wilthew

However, following the muster rolls back for the Tweed, ADM 37/7254 and 7255 covered the period prior to May 1827, and these indicated that he had joined the Tweed on the 4th September 1826 from HMS Magnificent

HMS Tweed Muster List (1826) ADM 37/7254 William Wilthew

HMS Tweed Muster List (1826) ADM 37/7254 William Wilthew

… late HMS Aurora.

[Checking the HMS Magnificent muster rolls, he does not appear at all in those listed for 1826/7 in ADM 35/4436.]

So, through the Division pay lists for the Royal Marines, and ship muster lists for the Royal Navy I was able to trace an outline of William Wilthew’s career with the marines, from enlisting in November 1823, through at least one desertion and a period of detention at his majesty’s pleasure, followed by his passage serving on three ships. I was able to see some of the other men he served with, and where they came from – including three marines who served several weeks with him on two different ships in the West Indies before returning to the same barracks in Chatham.

Next visit I’ll be looking to explore the captain’s logs for these ships to get some idea of where they were stationed and what William was involved in. I had a quick check with the Captain’s Journal for HMS Magnificent in ADM 51/3312, and before I ran out of time, and know that he was stationed around Port Royal, Jamaica:

Saturday 2nd September: Arrived HMS Tweed. People Variously deployed.

Sunday 20th August: AM light airs & fine. 5am, sails & HM ships Dartmouth & Aurora, schooner visible & Dutch Man of War…

Further Reading

I should note I found the following really useful:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicola Johnson permalink
    November 5, 2013 5:57 pm

    Very informative thank you as about to do similar research in same period.

    • November 6, 2014 9:49 pm

      Thanks, I hope it was useful or inspirational. My apologies for not replying sooner. I took an extended break due to having my first child, moving home and changing job.

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