Monday, 15 May 2017

The Queen's Pardon

A couple of days ago I asked Kevin, the UK Forces War Records researcher, whether George Cockram could have turned himself in by post from Canada.  While I waited for his reply, I went looking for any trace of George Cockram or Thomas Smith travelling from Canada to England in 1886 or 87, just in case I've been making too many assumptions in thinking he didn't go there at around that time.  Based on my search, I'm pretty sure I was right - I can't find anyone who even vaguely resembles him on any passenger lists for that period.

And this morning, I got a reply from Kevin:

He may indeed have handed himself in whilst he was in Canada - if I remember rightly there was an order issued with regard to the Jubilee of Queen Victoria which allowed a pardon for deserters - so I suspect he took advantage of this. 

The Queen's Jubilee was in 1887, so this is perfect timing.  I immediately started searching for more info about the pardon, and pretty soon I found a copy of Queen Victoria's 'Proclamation for extending pardons to soldiers who may have deserted from our land forces'.  Note, it says 'soldiers', and it makes no mention of sailors or marines.  So I was a bit worried.  It does refer to Royal Artillery and Infantry though - and the Royal Marines were all one or the other - George was in the RM Light Infantry.  So maybe, without explicitly saying so, this pardon included marines.

Excerpt from the Queen's Proclamation.
The whole page can be found here.

I looked for more information.  First I found an item about the pardon in a California newspaper from 1887, which said it didn't apply to deserters from the Royal Navy, but it didn't mention the Marines, which I hoped meant the Marines were implicitly included.  Then I found a 2010 online auction of a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, which was awarded to a Private in the RM Light Infantry in 1884.  A brief history of his career is included, stating that he deserted shortly after receiving the medal, and in August 1887, he 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon'.

Excerpt from the auction listing.
The whole article can be found here.

So at least I have one example of the pardon applying to a marine.  And I've written to Kevin again (he's going to get sick of me pretty soon) just to ask if he can confirm that the Marines were included.  But I'm feeling very confident that George 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon' too, which means that he lived with his guilt for 12 years.  It must have been a tremendous relief for him to have that guilt lifted from his shoulders.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

George's Guilt Trip, pun intended

Some people in the family were not at all pleased to learn about George Cockram's desertion from the Royal Marines.  It is a little disappointing to be descended from a deserter, and I guess we all feel just a bit betrayed - we thought George was a fine upstanding kind of guy!  But when you (I should say 'I') go rummaging around in ancestral closets, skeletons will be found.  Just because we don't like something our great grandfather did, well, too bad for us - he's still our great grandfather, the man who did all the GOOD things we already know about.

If you're one of the above people, stay tuned, because I have a bit of information that might make you feel better... and another bit that might make you feel worse.

But first, I'm sorry to say that I still don't know WHY George deserted, and probably never will.  So I've tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine some possible scenarios.  Here's one of them:

After two or three years in the Royal Marines, George was thinking he'd made a mistake in joining up.  A Marine Private's life was really pretty boring, with a lot of drill, weapons training, trivial work, polishing boots and buttons, kit inspections, being bawled at all day by NCOs who thought they were better than you, and not a whole lot of actual time at sea.  And when he was at sea, it was a dull life, guarding the ship's officers, keeping the sailors in line and always having to carry a big gun around.  There was no fighting going on, just sailing around reminding the British colonies who was boss. It all seemed quite pointless, really.

Then one day when he was on leave in Plymouth, he met a lovely Cornish lass called Louisa Murphy, and he was smitten.  Pretty soon they were making plans - they'd get married and go to Canada, get some cheap land there and spend their lives farming and raising lots of children.  So in 1875 they got married, and Louisa got pregnant (but I'm pretty sure those things happened in the other order), and could hardly wait to start their new lives in Canada.  It was all so tempting, George began to realize that he couldn't possibly wait until the end of his service - another 8 years!  Especially now that he was going to become a father - he wanted to raise his children in a big new country with lots of opportunities, not dreary old England, where the class system would always keep them down.

You could say that George was a hero for doing what was best for his wife and family, rather than for Queen Victoria and the British Empire.  And he did all of his descendants a favour too.

So, with great trepidation and guilt in his heart, he and Louisa made plans for his sudden disappearance.  Louisa didn't want to disappear with him just then, and have her first baby in a strange country, perhaps in the middle of nowhere, without her mother.  So George would go to Canada alone, to check things out and find a home for them, and Louisa and the new baby would go later. 

George bought a ticket for the SS Dominion, sailing from Liverpool on the 10th of June, and checked the Bradshaw's* to figure out what trains would get him to Liverpool. It would be about a 14 hour train trip, at best.  Then, on the 8th of June when he was ashore in Plymouth, he met Louisa at the train station.  He didn't dare go home, where he might be apprehended.  Louisa had brought a quick change of clothes for him and a suitcase for his journey.  They kissed goodbye, and off he went on a daring adventure, afraid of being caught and feeling very guilty, but looking forward to his new life as Thomas Smith.

Plymouth's original train station at Milbay Street, about 1903

Well, it could have been something like that.

By the way, at that time, desertion wasn't a terribly serious offense, mainly because England wasn't at war.  If George had been caught, his punishment would have been anything up to 3 months in prison, possibly with hard labour and/or solitary confinement.  And if he was turned in by a private citizen within a month of his disappearance, that person would have been awarded a bounty of 3 pounds.  The bounty grew less as time went on, and after a year, the RM didn't care if he was found or not.

Now here's the thing that might make you feel worse - it could have been possible for George to BUY his discharge from the Marines, rather than deserting. But it would have cost him 18 pounds, nearly a year's pay, and there was no guarantee that his wish would be granted - it would be up to his commanding officer, after 30 days of thinking it over, to decide to let him go or not.  And this brings up another point - maybe George DID apply to buy his way out, and was refused, which made desertion a last resort.  Does that make you feel any better?

And here's the other thing that might help - and it's another mystery.  George's record in the Royal Marines Service Register says that he was granted a 'protection certificate', which more or less absolved him and guaranteed that he would never be required to finish his service in the Marines.  But the certificate was issued in 1887, 12 years after he left!

Excerpt from George's entry in the Service Register, reading:
"8 June 1875 Deserted from Head Quarters
Granted Protection Certificate 28.10.87"

My friendly researcher at UK Forces War Records says this means that he must have turned himself in shortly before that time.  But as far as I can tell, once he left England, he only returned twice - in 1876 and in 1911.  So perhaps he turned himself in by post in 1887, if that was possible - I'm checking that.  But regardless of how and when he turned himself in, it goes to show that he carried a load of guilt with him for some time, and eventually couldn't stand the weight of it anymore and had to do the right thing.

He was, after all, a good and honourable man.

* Bradshaw's Guide - a series of British railway timetables and travel guide books published from 1839 to 1961

General information about pay and conditions in the Royal Marines comes from 'The Queen's Regulations and the Admiralty Instructions for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service, 1862'

Sunday, 7 May 2017

George Joins the Marines

Well now I know that my great grandfather George Cockram deserted from the Marines, although I don't know why, nor why he joined up in the first place.  But since my last blog post, I've learned a little more about this period of his life, thanks to Kevin Asplin, a researcher at Forces War Records in England, who dug up what little there is of George's military record.

According to the Royal Marines Service Register, George was recruited on the 27th of February 1871 at Barnstaple, Devon, not far from his home town of Fremington, into the Plymouth Division of the RM.  His entry in the register says he was 18 years and 9 months old, when in fact he was 19 and 9 months, and this mistake probably explains why he was said to be 23 when he deserted, instead of 24. 

The first part of George's entry in the RM Service Register, showing his name
as Cockram or Cockrem.

At this time, Britain was not at war, so recruitment into the armed forces wouldn't have been overly energetic.  But the Royal Navy did need to maintain its superiority over all others, and patrol the vast British Empire, which required the services of marines as well as sailors.  So the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines had recruiting officers all over the country looking for young men eager to volunteer.  No doubt there were enticing recruitment posters promising adventures at sea, good food and high wages, but I haven't found any for this period - earlier and later, yes, but not during Victoria's reign.  So did George volunteer on the spur of the moment, when he just happened to be in Barnstaple and happened to come upon a recruiting sergeant?  Or did he consider it for awhile, and go to Barnstaple specifically to join up? Can't answer that one. 

Judging by family memories of George's love of the sea, it's not surprising that he was attracted to the RM - but why didn't he join the Navy instead?  Perhaps because sailors had a pretty rough life, whereas a marine got a splendid uniform and didn't have to do much in the way of manual labour. Marines were primarily ship based infantry, and seafaring skills were not required.

Two days after signing up and having a medical examination, George was in Exeter, where he was sworn in to the Royal Marine Light Infantry for a period of 12 years.  From there, he was sent to B Company in Walmer (Deal), Kent, for training at the RM Depot there.  The training was mostly land based, using similar weapons and tactics to that of  infantrymen, to prepare the recruits for guard and sentry duties, maintenance of discipline, enforcement of rules aboard ship, and for fighting both aboard ship and ashore.

So at last, I know where George was on census night in 1871. It's no wonder I couldn't find him before - he's listed as George Cockrane, age 28 (he wasn't yet 20), at the South Barracks in Walmer. Despite the discrepancies, I don't doubt that this is him, having seen the evidence that he was sent there just a month before the census was taken. (But I still don't know where his siblings Mary Ann and Alfred were that night....)

George is on line 16 of this 1871 census page, one of hundreds of marine recruits at South Barracks.

South Barracks, Walmer, Kent

In November 1871, Private George Cockram was sent to Plymouth to join the 63rd Company of Royal Marines at Stonehouse Barracks, known as the spiritual home of the RM.  At some point, he was transferred to the 35th Company, and was with them on the 1st of March 1873, when he received a Good Conduct Badge, known as a Mark. (This is indicated in the Register entry above, in pencil under his name: 1 Mark 1 March 1873)  The badge was an inverted chevron worn on the left forearm, and was awarded after the first two years of service with a performance level of at least 'very good'.  Further badges could be earned after another 3 years, then 5 years, and a marine with 3 badges and at least 10 years of service got a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.  But George didn't stick around for that. 

Royal Marines on the parade ground of Stonehouse Barracks, mid to late 1800s

The Good Conduct Badge brought with it an increase in pay.  As a private, George's pay would have been around 22 pounds a year, and the GCB would have earned him an extra 1 penny a day, or about 1 pound, 6 shillings a year.  Compared to other occupations, even farm labouring, the pay was low - but George didn't have to pay for his food, lodging, clothes, or anything else really, so he could easily have saved most of his income.

So there he was, earning a living, probably spending some time at sea and obviously not getting into trouble - there would be a record of him losing his GCB if that were the case.  So what went wrong?  I can't answer that one either, but I'll speculate about it in my next post, and I'd be pleased to hear your speculations too.

General information about pay and conditions in the Royal Marines comes from 'The Queen's Regulations and the Admiralty Instructions for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service, 1862'