Tuesday 31 January 2017

Another mystery unravelled

Sometimes it takes a long time to uncover a mystery and it's always a thrill to finally discover the truth, especially when it's been something you've wondered about for many years.

During our research for Charles Gabriel Baker's fateful trip to Australia in 1867 with his wife Susan (nee Sawyer), ending in his death six months later, we discovered that on Susan's return to England, the couple's four sons were separated.

While Frank, the youngest, at only 3 years old, stayed with his mother, the others were sent to different orphanages and schools. (Read the tragic story in my article A Death Down Under, published in Family Tree Magazine in May 2016.)

Missing brothers

By 1881 the two youngest brothers, Frank and Harry Morris (aged 5 when his father died), had been reunited and were living with their mother. But I could find no record of Edward and Alfred on the census. What had happened to them?

The last piece of information I had was that Alfred (full name, Charles Alfred), had left school in 1873, aged 15, to join the navy. My blog post Lost at Sea? considered what his life might have been like on board at this time and I speculated as to whether he'd disappeared under the waves.

Then a couple of months ago, I was contacted by an Australian lady through this blog. I was delighted to learn that she was a descendant of Charles Alfred Baker. She'd been unaware that Charles Gabriel and Susan had come to Australia and was intrigued to hear their story. In return she was able to pass on what she'd researched about Charles Alfred and his brother, Edward.

Alfred in the navy

As I'd discovered all those years ago, Alfred joined the navy on the training ship St Vincent in October 1873. His service record, which I've accessed recently, lists each ship on which he served.

It also describes his appearance – 5 foot 5¾ inches high, brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion and with a scar on his right wrist.

(Prior to joining the navy, Alfred spent a period of time as a shoemaker – and not a very good one, judging by the comments we found in the records. Perhaps he sustained the injury to his wrist with one of his work tools!)

Remarks on his naval records about his character range from 'very good' and even 'exemplary'  – until, that is, the very last entry when he's serving on HMS Penguin.

Here the assessment is only 'Fair' and in the next column, labelled If Discharged. Wither and for what
HMS Penguin
(courtesy of wikimedia.org)
is written the word 'Run' and 'Rio de Janeiro.'


So it seems, that after four years service, Alfred decided he'd had enough of naval life and jumped ship in Brazil.

Given his past excellent record, I wonder what happened to change his mind and take such a drastic step. Desertion was an extremely serious offence and those found guilty were subject to court martial and potentially a death sentence.

Tellingly, his name appears on a list published in London's Police Gazette in March 1878, under the heading, DESERTERS FROM THE MILITARY

But Alfred clearly didn't intend to hang around waiting to be picked up by the authorities. If indeed he did abscond in Rio de Janeiro, he somehow made his way back to England and tracked down his brother Edward, as two years later, both of them are recorded as crew members of a ship called the Durham, travelling to Sydney in March 1880.

Crew & passenger list for the Durham

New life

A year after arriving in Australia, Alfred married Charlotte Neil in Adelaide, and went on to have 5 children.

As for his brother Edward – well... his story, one with a tragic end I'm sorry to say, will be the subject of my next post.