A true story with a sting in the tale(!)

Following the realisation that I am the oldest male descendent of my 3 x Great Grandfather, Thomas Copeland, I have been researching his brothers, to see if there might be a Copeland descendency from any of them. I haven't yet achieved that, but in my research I was surprised to find a very detailed trail for Thomas's elder brother Henry and his career in the Royal Marines and Royal Navy.  It would seem likely that he had a life of adventure, travelling to foreign parts that would be unusual even today, and was quite possibly the first from our branch of the Copeland surname to travel abroad (i.e. to travel and return, rather than emigrate). 

He was born (*1) eighteen months before Thomas, in the parish of Cranwell, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, a fact about which he must have been most particular, perhaps proud, as he gave Cranwell as his place of birth on many documents and and censuses throughout his life (helpfully making him easier to follow over 150 years later).  
At the time of his birth Cranwell was a very small village in Lincolnshire, with a population of just 102 people in 1811. (*2)

Attestation paper

Henry was born and baptised in January 1812 (*1) and in 1828 signed Attestation papers to join the Royal Marines at Chatham, Kent.  The original document is at the National Archives (*3) and has been seen and photographed (above) and it is clear that Henry exaggerated his age by a couple of years.  Included with the document is a note of his actual service dates, and he began his service on 27th December 1828 when he would have been not quite seventeen years old.  We can only assume he saw a better future for himself as a Royal Marine rather than as a Groom, which is the occupation he gave on enlisting.  He gave his place of birth as Cranwell although this is not as clear in this picture as in the document itself.

It is interesting to have a description of him - 5ft 7¼ tall ( an excellent height I've always found!), with fresh complexion, hazel eyes and, surprisingly, red hair.  I have not previously heard of any member of the family having red hair.

Interesting too is the fact that Henry joined up in Cambridge, which is 78 miles south of his home town of Sleaford.  This was prior to the arrival of the railways so this raises the question of how and why he was so there.  Perhaps it confirms that he had a sense of adventure.

It is clear too that the Royal Marines were keen to demonstrate that men enlisted voluntarily and were "interviewed" on two successive days.  No doubt Henry was delighted to receive half a crown immediately, although he had to wait until January to receive the balance of his £3 bounty.

Record of service note

What did a Royal Marine do?  

Visit this page  to read about the role of a Marine in the early nineteenth century. 

The front of the Attestation paper shows that Henry was sent to Chatham. There must have been some initial training period, presumably in and around the Chatham dockyard and barracks, but when this was completed is not known.

Two years after enlisting, on 7th Nov 1830, Henry joined HMS Comet (*3) a steam vessel, in Woolwich / Deptford as a Private in the Royal Marines.  This ship was built in 1822 and was reputed to be the first steamship ordered by the Admiralty, as advised by Marc Isambard Brunel. (*4)  Henry appears to have left the Comet before 3rd March 1832, because from that date he was on board HMS Conway, and about to embark on a voyage to the West Indies. (*3)

This picture is of a steamship called Comet from this era

so could be the ship on which Henry served.

HMS Conway

HMS Conway

A watercolout painting of HMS Conway by Henry Warrington Baden-Powell QC, founder of the Sea Scouts and brother of the founder of the Boy Scouts who was a cadet on board from June 1861 to July 1863 when she had become a training ship. 

Read about her maiden voyage below 
(Use the arrow on the right to reveal this information)

HMS Conway, Jamaica and Lord Mulgrave

HMS Conway was a 6th rate sailing ship of 26 guns, built in Chatham and launched on 2nd February 1832. (*5)

The purpose of her maiden voyage was to take the new Governor of Jamica, Earl Mulgrave, to that island where there had been a rebellion by the slaves only a few months before.

The Baptist War, also known as the Christmas Rebellion, was an eleven-day rebellion that mobilized as many as sixty thousand of Jamaica’s three hundred thousand slaves in 1831–1832. It was considered the largest slave rebellion in the British Caribbean. The name Christmas Rebellion came from the fact that the uprising began shortly after December 25. It was also called the Baptist War because many of the rebels were Baptist in faith.

Jamaica, like most British Caribbean colonies, was overwhelmingly slave and black. The enslaved outnumbered the whites on the island, by far the largest British Caribbean colony, twelve to one. They revolted in 1831 partly because of an economic depression that affected some impoverished whites and made them allies of the rebels. Tensions were high as well because the abolition of slavery was being debated in the British Parliament, and Jamaican planters, disturbed at that prospect, made inflammatory speeches and wrote articles in the newspapers, attacking emancipation. Their attitudes and actions contributed to the agitation and discontent of the slave majority.

From http://www.blackpast.org/gah/baptist-war-1831-1832

The following are the press reports of the movements of HMS Conway for the few months when Henry was aboard, as listed by P.Benyon (see link below)

1830 Chatham - building

Apr-May 1832 being fitted out at Chatham to take Earl Mulgrave, future governor of Jamaica, and family, out to Jamaica.

13 May 1832 arrived Portsmouth from the Eastward.

27 May 1832 arrived Plymouth to await the arrival of the Earl of Mulgrave and suite, Governor designate for Jamaica.

10 Jun 1832 left Plymouth for Jamaica, with Earl Mulgrave and family.

25 Jun 1832 arrived Madeira, from Plymouth.

3 Aug 1832 at Halifax it is reported that the Conway and Gannet were at Jamaica.

From:  http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/18-1900/C/01114.html 

Having left HMS Conway, Henry joined HMS Magnificent. (*3)  She was a 74-gun third rate launched in 1806, and from 1830 was used as a Receiving Ship in Jamaica.

We have to assume that this was a temporary attachment and that Henry had been sent to Jamaica to join another ship there, and so it transpired.  On Christmas Eve 1832 Henry joined HMS Pickle, which had arrived in Jamaica from Honduras on 20th October.  This schooner was the third Royal Navy ship to carry the name Pickle and had been launched in 1827.  She was involved in the suppression of the slave trade, as the  detail of her voyage makes clear:

(Use the arrow on the right to reveal this information)

HMS Pickle in the West Indies

20 Oct 1832 arrived Jamaica, from Honduras.

13 May 1833 Has departed Jamaica, Port Royal for Port-au-Prince.

1 Jan 1834 On the North America and West Indies Station.

Mar 1834 it is reported in the Nautical Magazine Apr 1835 that the Pickle boarded the Carlotta, but having no papers on board and no slaves, was allowed to proceed. That night the quartermaster caught a shark and on its stomach being opened were found a roll papers which must have been thrown overboard by the Carlotta, which proved that she had discharged a cargo of 293 slaves only 4 hours prior to the Pickle boarding her.

21 Mar 1835 reported at Portsmouth to have arrived Jamaica from Barbadoes 28 Jan.

19 Jul 1835 reported to be Port Royal.

Prior to 7 Aug 1835 is reported to have departed from Jamaica on a cruise.

27 Oct 1835 departed from Kingston, Jamaica, for Chagres. (Panama) (*6)

Henry was discharged from HMS Pickle on 28th December 1835.  Presumably his service was exemplary, because on 18th February 1836, back in England, he was promoted to Corporal.  According to his service record he did not serve on board another ship for a further five years and seven months.

It is possible that that at some point in this period  Henry served in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk where there was, at that time, a Royal Navy presence, for in March 1839 he married Maria Louisa Rushbrooke Johnson who was some five years younger than him, the daughter of a bricklayer from that town, and where Maria Louisa was baptised.  

The Census of 6 Jun 1841, shows Henry living in the Royal Marine barracks in Chatham, aged 28, and with his wife - who in most records appears as Louisa Copeland - and their first child, also Louisa who was born in 1839.  By then he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and in that same year was aboard HMS Ardent, serving as Sergeant.

A chart of Royal Marine Pay and Allowances for 1843 shows that a Sergeant would receive £2 0s 1d per month, and that that rank was then the highest that could be achieved below a commissioned officer. 

HMS Ardent was a new paddle propelled sloop with a displacement of 878 tons that came into service that year and was launched at Chatham on 12th February 1841.  

HMS Ardent

I have seen the original logbook for this ship at the National Archives and read some of the detail of this voyage, but it is a substantial volume largely made up of the day to day details of shipboard life on this four year long voyage.  Shown below are two small entries, one detailing the victuals loaded onto the ship whilst in port in South America, the other showing the type of activity undertaken later in the voyage when off Africa.

HMS Ardent log extract

HMS Ardent victualling

The photo above is not as crisp as I would have liked, so this is a transcription as best as I can read it:

Employed as in the Forenoon.  Completed dry Provisions to 5 months and 3 months of wet.
Red'd 7672 lbs of bread:  348 Gals of Rum in 9 barrels
364 lbs of Beef in 14 Barrels. 1352 lbs of Pork in 26 Barrels
1512 lbs of Flour in ??  Experimental Beef - 1 Barrel
Experimental Pork - 1 Barrel 1680 lbs of Sugar in 10 1/2 ??
644 lbs of Chocolate 141 lbs of Tea. 12 - 20 lbs of Soap
288 lbs of Lemon Juice in 8 cases & 72 bottles
Duck 5?2 yds   Flannel 920 yds   Blankets 100   Shoes 100 pairs

(Experimental pork and experimental beef do not sound especially appetising.  As the Navy had been buying canned food for some years at this point it is difficult to imagine what this might have been - JCC)

HMS Ardent Logbook 1841 first page

Detailed information about the movements of HMS Ardent have been extracted from contemporaneous newspapers etc. by the authors of the impressive website http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/Naval.html, allowing us to see exactly where Henry was for the period in which he served aboard her.  The voyage included stops in South and North America and the details are here :
(Use the arrow on the right to reveal this information)

HMS Ardent 1841 to 1845

The following is quoted verbatim from the excellent online resource http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/Naval.html

29 Jul 1841 Chatham, has been commissioned.

31 Jul 1841 Commander John Russell (b) appointed.

28 Aug 1841 Mate J. C. W. N. Taylor, appointed.

18 Sep 1841 arrived Spithead, from Woolwich

24 Sep 1841 Portsmouth, arrived from the River and will proceed shortly with despatches for the Brazils and Cape station.

25 Sep 1841 Lieutenants James Johnstone and W. Butler ; Master James Doidge ; Purser W. Stanway ; Surgeon H. Baker ; Assistant Surgeon Dr. W. Wood ; Mates H. Trollope and --- Davis, appointed.

1 Oct 1841 Portsmouth, departed for the Brazils, touching at Madeira en route.

15 Nov 1841 had arrived Rio from Plymouth.

30 Nov 1841 spoke with the Rose off Rio, on the lookout for a slaver ; spoke also with the packet Linnet off and for Rio.

20 Jan 1842 at Rio de Janeiro.

5 Mar 1842 the President arrived Rio de Janeiro from Valparaiso and the Ardent remained at Rio on the departure of the President for England.

18 Mar 1842 at Bahia.

9 Apr 1842 arrived Rio from Bahia.

10 Apr 1842 at Rio de Janeiro when the packet Star departed for England.

19 May 1842 at Rio was reported to be cruising on the coast of Brazil.

21 Sep 1842 at Rio it was reported she was stationed between Marenham and Para, on the north east coast of South America.

6 Feb 1845, following the ill-treatment of black British subjects by the Chiefs and slave dealers in the various lands surrounding Sierra Leone and not having received any positive response the boats of the Penelope, Ardent and Eclair, proceeded to the Tucker's slave factory, which was found to be empty, and was burnt to the ground, along with its contents. Further action against Tucker's residence was postponed, the tides not being helpful for the current operation.

25 Mar 1845 detained in lat. 10° 2' N. long 14° 00' E., off the Rio Pongas, the Spanish slave brigantine Dos Hermanos, Feliciano Roviera, Master, which was condemned on 9 Apr 1845 by the Mixed British and Spanish Court at Sierra Leone and on 9 Apr 1845 sentenced to be condemned.

Sep 1845 reported to have returned from the Coast of West Africa to England.


Leaving aside the stresses and hard work of such a lengthy voyage this must have been a very exciting and interesting period of his career, taking Henry to some exotic and unusual places, although he had of course already served in the West Indies and South America.

Whilst Henry was away at sea however, his wife Louisa had given birth to a son in Chatham, also named Henry, who was baptised on 21st January 1842, but sadly the child died within his first three months of life.  Henry senior would never have seen this son. Henry and Louisa did not have another child until the third quarter of 1846, a fact that ties in with the movements of HMS Ardent and suggests that Henry left the ship on her return to England in 1845. 

Chatham Dockyard and the Medway, about 1820

Having left HMS Ardent on 23 Oct 1845 Henry appears to have been shore based for some years,  and whilst at home this was a time when he and Louisa had a number of children;

In the 3rd quarter of  1846 the birth of their third child, Henry Charles, was registered.  He too would later serve in the Royal Navy
The fourth child, Eleanor, was born on 21st April 1849 and their fifth, Joseph on 18th June 1850.

In the meantime Henry's career progressed as on 12th January 1848 he was appointed Colour Sergeant, as senior a non-commissioned officer as was possible to be.   However it would seem likely that he considered the life of a Royal Marine to be that of a younger man for on 15th January 1851 he left he Marines, having completed 22 years service as his original attestation paper shows.  This length of service entitled him to a pension, but not for some years.  The very next day he enlisted in the Royal Navy and joined HMS Cumberland as Ship's Corporal, perhaps a slightly downward step but it would appear that he knew what he was doing.

HMS Cumberland was a 3rd rate, 70 gun sailing ship of 2214 tons and Henry must have been fully aware that he was off on another long voyage as he signed an allotment form in early 1851, enabling his wage to be paid to Louisa whilst away at sea, and by April of that year H.M.S. Cumberland was in the West Indies, and later that year in North America.  In 1853 she was the Flag Ship of the North America and West Indies Station.

The following year Cumberland was in the Baltic at Baro Sound in the Gulf of Finland, a battle ground of the Crimean War, where the British Fleet, together with the French Fleet, fought the Russians as a secondary operation of the main war - more detail is here.  This may well have been Henry's only action, although whether he himself fought we cannot know.   However, apart from the risks of war the fleet also suffered an outbreak of cholera which must have been, at best, alarming.  Henry eventually returned safely and because of his service in this theatre of war was awarded the Baltic Medal.

This appears to have been Henry's last voyage.

In the Census of Apr 1861 Henry (now age 49) was aboard HMS Wellesley, which was "moored in the River Medway at Chatham" - see census book cover picture.  He was shown as Master at Arms aboard this ship, which was now a training vessel, as evidenced by the large number of 16 year old boys further down in the census return.

At the same Census Louisa was still living in Chatham and described herself as Head of the family.  Her daughter Ellen, now aged 12, was living with her as were her two sons Joseph aged 9 and Thomas aged 3.  She had also taken a lodger, William, who has a middle name of Gray yet was shown to have the same surname as the rest of the family, i.e. Copeland, and he was certainly not a relative.  Perhaps this was an enumerator error and one should not read too much into this but it is true to say that, thus far, I have found no further documents that list Louisa and Henry as living together.

The British Royal Navy & Royal Marines service and pension records at the National Archives include Henry's Naval Pension and Greenwich Hospital Pension of £40.00s.00d and £7.12s.0d respectively and show them commencing 1st January 1869 by which date he must have retired from the Navy.  His rating was Master at Arms, his Greenwich Hospital Number 552, and Naval pension Number 8302.  His total annual pension of £47.12s.0d was more than any other pension on the page, suggesting that a) his service had been lengthy or b) his rating was higher than anyone else's or c) a combination of the two.  This would equate to around £23,000 a year in 2016 values.

Although no longer in the Navy, on 2nd April 1871, the time of the next Census, Henry had stayed in the Chatham area, appearing in Burnt Oak Place, Gillingham, Kent living in the household of a William Ball, a Contractor, and Henry was now a Pensioner and Watchman, and although not living with Louisa, at least on the night of the census,  he described himself as married.  Perhaps we can assume that his role as a Master at Arms qualified him for what we would now call "Security" work, hence his role as watchman.

Louisa, meanwhile, was living in Chatham at 13 Fort Pitt Street, with son Thomas, now aged 13 and a scholar, and she described herself as a "Pensioner's Wife", so perhaps Henry was still connected to his family, and simply not at home that night.

Ten years later, in 1881, Louisa was still living in Chatham, still the head of the household, but no-one else was present in her home on census night.  She described herself as a Needlewoman.  
Surprisingly though, at that same census, taken on 3rd April, Henry had returned to Lincolnshire.  Now aged 69 and living in 6 London Road, Quarrington, Sleaford, he gave his occupation as "Pensioner Royal Navy" and he is described as "unmarried".

Mysterious Death

He died in Quarrington a little over 3 years later on 30th April 1884, aged 72, still living at the same address, and was buried in Quarrington on 2nd May.  Probate of his Will took only a few days, being granted on 20th May 1884.  It might be deduced from his Will, made on 4th January that same year, (which could suggest he knew that his death was imminent),  that he was no longer in communication with his wife and children because he bequeathed to his...

 ...beloved Niece Fanny Charlotte Taylor Wife of William Taylor Journeyman Shoemaker Boston All my Effects whatsoever and wherever and of what nature and quality soever consisting of all my household furniture and the whole of my wardrobe also my gold Geneva watch and gold chain and finger ring and all my money that is in the Post Office Savings Bank and all other monies that are in my possession after funeral expenses and other debts are paid 

This modest estate was valued at £57 12s 5d, the equivalent of perhaps £30,000 at 2016 values.   The Will made clear that he did not own or lease his home, so simply rented it.  We might take this at face value, assume that Henry had severed any connection with his wife and children and had decided to leave his wordly goods to a favourite niece.  Or is there something more to this?

Despite extensive searching I cannot see how Henry was related to Fanny Taylor, his supposed niece, in any way.  I cannot even find a Fanny Taylor living in Boston, but in 1881 there was a Charlotte Taylor, married to a William, who was a Shoemaker and they lived at 11 South Terrace, Louth in the district of Boston .  Her maiden name was Burkitt, and she was born in 1839 in Raithby cum Maltby, some 35 miles from Sleaford, the daughter of George and Elizabeth Burkitt.  Elizabeth's maiden name was Parsons, and although Henry had a sister Elizabeth she had married a Benjamin Robson, so Elizabeth Burkitt's daughter could not have been Henry's niece.   

Henry's two Executors were neighbours and colleagues rather than legal people.  John Olle was a 29 year old Railway Clerk, born in Australia, which must have been relatively uncommon.  It would appear that he and his family had not long lived in Sleaford - his 25 year old wife was born in Northamptonshire and so too was their older son, aged one.  However their younger child, a daughter, had only been born seven months before the date of the 1881 census and was born in Sleaford, suggesting that the family moved there in 1880.

At that census his other executor David John Halliday, then aged 20 and born in Pinchbeck in Lincolnshire, was staying with (presumably) his brother in Louth Lincolnshire and David too was a Railway Clerk.  His address in 1881 was 11 Ashleys Road Louth.  He must therefore have moved with his job to Sleaford between 1881 and 1884 and become known to Henry Copeland together with his colleague John Olle who was a near neighbour of Henry.  A newspaper article reveals that Henry had himself been working for the railway company so most likely met these two young men through his employment.

Given that Louth is 35 miles from Sleaford it is hard to imagine how Henry would have known Charlotte .  However Ashley Road and South Terrace, Louth both still exist and are no more than 400 yards apart   Is it possible that Henry was duped into making a fraudulent Will?   Could the witnesses, or at least one of them, have been friends of the beneficiary?  Did Henry know what he was signing?

These questions arise only because of the following three articles from local newspapers in the days after Henry's death:

The Inquest

Had Henry been making plans for his own demise for some time?  This article would seem to suggest so.  But if "no reason can be assigned for the shocking act" then presumably no suspicions had been aroused.  And what a lot of trouble to go to, acquiring all that paraphernalia and "taking every precaution to carry out the determined act..."  It almost sounds as if someone else might have set up the room to make it very clear that this was definitely a case of suicide.  So was it suicide, given the recency of the Will, and the spurious relationship with the beneficiary? 

Shocking Suicide

It would be wonderful to have sight of the letter that Henry wrote "in which he exculpated anyone from taking part in his death" but sadly all records of inquests from that time in Sleaford are lost.  It would be an unusual letter I suspect.

Henry's death was reported to the Registrar by the Coroner, as was the custom in deaths in unusual circumstances so does not say who was first on the scene and reported his death to the authorities.

Weak-minded Mother

At least here we see a little more of the content of Henry's letter.  We can perhaps take it that "weak-minded" was the nineteenth century description of dementia, but it sounds as if Henry's actions were so thorough and researched that there can have been little chance of him suffering from this disease at the time he died.  But whoever wrote the letter said enough to convince the jury that that was the case.

Henry Copeland Death Certificate

As a postscript Thomas Copeland, Henry's younger brother and my 3 x Great Grandfather, who also lived in Sleaford died there on 8th June 1884, less than a fortnight after probate was granted for Henry's Will.  The cause of Thomas's death is given on his death certificate as "Valvular disease of heart (Mitral about 17 years) Dropsy about 10 years".  He must have been ill for some days as his son Henry was able to come to Sleaford from Beckenham, Kent in time to be present at the death.   Might the stress of his brother's demise have had any bearing on Thomas's own?  It would seem unlikely that it did not.