Early Seamen

It is somewhat surprising to us how many Thornbury men became seamen.  In the course of our research we have come across snippets of information about people from Thornbury and the surrounding areas who served in the Royal Navy during the 1800’s and the early 1900’s.  Most of the records were found in the catalogue of the Public Records Office or on the Ancestry website.  We have included the records of men who were said to have been born in Thornbury, but please note that this would include people born outside of the town.  Click on the links on the left to read about the people from Thornbury and the surrounding areas who served as soldiers in the Army during the 1800’s or in any capacity during other wars.

In some cases we have collected fascinating accounts of the men’s exploits.  We particularly recommend taking a look at the experiences of Rodney Maclaine Lloyd, Henry Craven St John and Winchcombe Hartley Willis if you want to read about real adventures.  You may have to click on the links below to read their full stories.

In alphabetical order:

William Henry Baker – born on 25th February 1861, the son of Sarah Baker.  At the time William was baptised in Thornbury on 31st March 1861, Sarah was living at the Union Workhouse (Ham and Stone).  The 1871 census shows William was still living at the Union Workhouse in Thornbury.  He signed up for 10 years service in Royal Navy on his 18th birthday.  He was described as 4ft 10 1/2 inches, brown hair, blue eyes, ruddy complexion with two tattoos, one a burning cross on the left forearm and the word ‘LOVE’ on the right forearm.  He started as ‘Boy 2nd Class on HMS Impregnable and then HMS Ganges, and was promoted to Boy 1st Class when serving on HMS Impregnable again, and then HMS Warden.  The Police Gazette lists William as having deserted on 7th April 1880 whilst serving on the HMS Lord Warden.  He was a 2nd class ordinary seaman at that time.  A £3 reward was offered for his capture.  He appears to have been discharged in 1880.  The record has the comment ‘Run Queensferry’ against the cause of discharge.  During his service there is only one note of a period of 7 days in the cells.  We have no further knowledge of William.

Joel Ball – born on 26th October 1862, the son of Daniel Ball, a labourer and his wife Eleanor (nee Howse).  They were living at Crossways when they baptised Joel on 7th December 1862.  He signed on with the Royal Navy for 10 years in October 1880.  At that time he was 5ft 3 inches with brown hair, brown hazel eyes and fresh dark complexion.  His trade appears to have been ‘Electrician’.  He continued serving until 1902, during which time he worked his way through the ranks from Boy 2nd Class to Petty Officer 1st class.  He served on various ships, too numerous to mention here, and his conduct was generally very good, although he was court martialled once in 1881.  After so many years at sea, Joel was to remain close to it.  The 1911 census shows him boarding in Portsmouth and working as a labourer in ‘E. E. Department – Govt Employ.’  In 1914 he re-enlisted and served throughout the War serving on HMS Dolphin, HMS Victory and HMS President IV.  He was discharged in March 1919.  He died in Portsmouth in 1926.

John Ball – born on 28th April 1864, the son of Daniel Ball, a labourer and his wife Eleanor (nee Howse) and he was the brother of Joel Ball listed above.  They were living at Knapp Road, Crossways when they baptised John on 5th March 1865.  John enlisted in April 1882 when he was described as being 5ft 0 1/4 inches, brown hair, brown eyes, fresh complexion and a tattoo on each wrist.

He served on various ships (18 ships are listed) before his discharge in April 1892.  His conduct was rated as very good, although there was one occasion in 1890 when he ‘did a runner’.  He appears to have been missing for 15 days and was sentenced to 6 months for desertion.

Frederick James Gale – he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1892 for a period of 12 years.  Frederick started as a ‘Boy 2nd Class’ and then worked himself up through ‘Boy 1st Class’ to become a Signalman and then Stoker.  He was discharged from the Navy on 31st December 1903 as he was suffering from ‘Cerebral Disease’.  During his time he served on several ships, including HMS Blake in which he sailed to Charlottestown in Canada and HMS Amphion in which he sailed in the Pacific Station.  Click here to read more

Luke Higgs – his naval service shows that Luke was born in Thornbury on 14th April 1884.  The FreeBMD website shows his birth was registered in March quarter 1883 and Scribes Alcove shows his baptism took place on 27th March 1883.  He was the son of Luke Higgs, labourer and his wife, Ellen, who were living at Kington.  He joined the Royal Navy on 12th April 1902, signing on for 12 years.  He was described as 5ft 2 3/4 inches with light brown hair , brown eyes, fresh complexion with a scar on forehead.  He started as a Boy 2nd Class and rose to Able Seaman, serving on Northampton, Cleopatra, Vivid Colossus, Resolution, Edgar, Andromeda and Talbot.  It was recorded that he had one period of 14 days in the cells.  He was invalided out of the service in September 1906 with a gastric ulcer.

Thomas Hobbs – born on 13th September 1856, the son of Daniel Hobbs, farmer and his wife, Mary who were living at Morton when Thomas was baptised on 8th October 1856.  When Thomas joined the Royal Navy on 24th October 1871 he was described as a milk boy, 4ft 11 3/4 inches, brown hair, light blue eyes with fresh complexion.  He started as a Boy 2nd Class on HMS Implacable and went on to serve on lots of different ships.  By 1884 when he was on HMS Duke of Wellington he had grown to 5ft 5 inches and had a scar on his upper lip.  He was then being re-engaged for a period of 12 more years.  Thomas’s sister, Mary, signed the papers in lieu of his parents.  He continued in the service until January 1900 by which time he had reached the rank of Petty Officer.  In general he was rated as of very good conduct, although he did seem to have a difficult time around 1881 when he had four periods in the cells and his conduct was being rated as indifferent and fair.  We are not sure what happened to Thomas.  His naval records suggest that he was given shore pension in 1896 and then it notes that he was found drowned on Hamble Beach near Netley (in Hampshire) at 7am on 27th January 1900.  There was an inquest into his death and the coroner found death caused by drowning.

Thomas Jones – he was baptised on 14 February 1841 (although his naval record says he was born on 18th April 1841), the son of William Jones, a labourer and his wife, Margaret who were living in Morton.  He enlisted in the Royal Navy on 17th November 1856, joining the crew of HMS Impr