Friday, 28 April 2017

George on the Run!

Holy smoke, the mystery of great-granddaddy George's name change and scarpering off to Canada has been solved!  I had pretty much resigned myself to never knowing George's deep dark secret, when suddenly a light shone in the distance...

Way over in Canada, my 2nd cousin Jack noticed a blip on his George radar which hadn't shown up on mine (I'm talking about Ancestry tree hints, if you're confused).  It said that someone named George Cockram had deserted from the Royal Marines in 1875, but there were no details to suggest whether this was 'our' George or someone else.  Jack sent it on to me, wondering whether we should get all excited about it or not.

RM uniform 1874.
But this is NOT how
George was dressed when
he deserted.
There had been hints in the family before about George being a Royal Marine, and I speculated earlier in this blog that he might have been a deserter, but I could never find any evidence of anything, such as his attestation papers or his service record.  These records are online at the British National Archives, but there's nothing there about George.  But that doesn't mean he WASN'T in the Marines, it only means I couldn't prove he WAS.

So I thought this new lead was too good not to follow up, even though it meant spending money to join Fold3, a site that holds historical military records, mainly about Americans, which is why I had never thought they'd have anything on George.  So I paid up, and found the record.

It's a page from the  Police Gazette of June 1875.  It lists a whole lot of people who were dishonourably discharged or deserted from all branches of the military, and in the Royal Marines section - there's our George!

from UK Police Gazette, 21 June 1875, page 5. You'll be able to read this when you click on it. 

I'm as good as 100% sure this is our George, for the following reasons:

  • His name - I've searched for any other George Cockrams (or Cochranes, Cockrems, Cockerhams, Cockerills, Cockatoos etc etc) this could be, and I've found exactly none. According to birth, marriage, death and census records, the only other George Cockram who was born at around the right time and place died in childhood.  And the only other one who shows up in the Marines in the second half of the 19th century didn't join until 1881.  
  • The place - Plymouth.  I know he was in Plymouth two months earlier, getting married, and listed an address there on his marriage record.  So it makes sense that he was serving at the Plymouth naval base, as opposed to any of the other ones.
  • His birthplace - Fremington - no doubts at all about that.
  • His age - this is stated as 23, but in fact, he would have turned 24 just a week before.  So that would be an easy mistake to make.
  • His occupation - labourer, which is what he said he was on his marriage record.
  • His description - I know from other evidence that his height was somewhere around 5'6" and his eyes were blue.  I'm not so certain about the 'sandy' hair.  It's grey in almost every photo I have of him, which of course are all in black and white.  In the only one where it isn't grey, when he was in his 40s, it looks darker than 'sandy', but I don't care - 'sandy' is too subjective anyway.  Let's just say it was brown.
  • The date - I love this - he deserted on the 8th of June, and only TWO DAYS later he was getting on a ship in Liverpool using the name Thomas Smith.  He absconded from the Marines wearing undress uniform (white or blue trousers, short white jacket, cloth cap), so he must have gone home and changed into civvies, grabbed a suitcase and got on a train to Liverpool.  The timing strongly suggests that this was not a spur of the moment decision; he must have been planning it for some time.

So, what are the chances that this is NOT our George?  Pretty slim, I think.  Jack and I, and others in the family, are very excited about unlocking this mystery, and I'm never going to let Jack forget that he was the person who found the key.  And none of us blames George for deserting.  We would too.

But of course, I'm never wholly satisfied until I've turned over every damned rock. And because I can't find George's military records under any online rocks, I've asked a military history researcher in the UK to look for some paper records for me, and he's now on the case.

I'm also looking for information about what train or trains George would have taken - did he have to go via London and change trains to Liverpool? How often did the trains run? How long would the journey have taken?  And so on.

So this story isn't finished.  I'll come back and fill in whatever details arise.  I only hope I don't find anything that says it couldn't possibly have been him!  I really don't want this bubble to burst.