Thursday, 15 January 2015

Joseph Blaxter 1791 - 1847


Some of my readers may remember that in addition to modelling, another one of my interests is Genealogy.    I realise that Family History is often described as "confusing the dead and irritating the living", but I would like to indulge this interest again with a post concerning my Paternal 4th x Great Grandfather, Joseph Blaxter.

The Corps of Marines, later Royal Marines, can trace its beginnings to 1664, and in seniority, ranks between the 49th and 50th Regiments of Foot.    Regularly enlisted like the army, not by impressment, the Marines provided ships with a force of troops capable of fighting as infantry on land, of manning guns aboard ship, and of acting as marksmen and other close combat at sea.   A subsidiary duty was to discourage or suppress mutiny among the seamen; aboard ship the Marine’s quarters separated those of the officers from the seamen.

The value of the Marines was recognised by the granting of the title ‘Royal Marines’ on the 19th of  April 1802 by King George the III. 

The Marines were originally organised into fifty companies in three ‘Grand Divisions’ of which twenty were based at Portsmouth, eighteen at Plymouth and twelve at Chatham.   After the peace of 1763, the ‘home’ of the companies was re-organised, so No 1 went to Chatham, No 2 went to Portsmouth and No 3 to Plymouth. 

Marines were offered bounties to sign up, which were quite generous in time of war (£26) but less so in peace- time.

Joseph, on enlisting, would have been given a medical examination by a surgeon. The examination was a superficial one to ensure that he had no obvious physical disabilities and was in a fit state to cope with the rigours of service life, and the surgeon also noted his height and appearance. He would have then appeared in front of a local magistrate to be attested. He would have answered a series of questions which the Magistrate read from a standard form, swore the oath of allegiance, signed the attestation form, on which the questions and his responses were recorded, then received the bounty. 

Marines were then sent to one of a number of training bases around Britain where they were drilled and trained like soldiers.   Training on shore was almost entirely in the skills of an infantryman. The first thing many marines knew of a ship was on their first posting aboard.

Marine complements for ships were raised from the Division that corresponded to the Home Port of that ship.   
When a new Navy vessel was about to put to sea, the Captain of the ship would apply to the Marines and a number would be sent to serve.

Royal Marine Privates

The Marine on the left is from 1794 and the Marine on the right is from 1812
The facings were changed to blue in 1802 to reflect the “Royal” prefix granted that year by King George the III.

Joseph Blaxter joined the Royal Marines on the 23rd of November 1798 as a Drummer, aged 8.   He served as a drummer for 13 years, 4 months and 22 days.   He transferred to the rank of Private on the 14th of April 1812.

As Joseph was a Portsmouth Marine, he would likely to have been quartered at Fourhouse Barracks, Old Portsmouth.   Fourhouse Barracks were erected in 1760 on the site of four old alehouses.   It could house a thousand men, and was renamed Clarence Barracks in 1827.

In 1797 a Drummer's pay (which incidentally was the same as a Corporal) was one shilling a day on shore and 8 old pennies a day whilst at sea. The Drummer himself however only received a fraction of this as a percentage went graciously to the Drum Major for instruction and administration charges.

Royal Marines 1805
Royal Marine Drummer second from left.

The Drummers' uniform was as for the other ranks with wide regimental lace trim to the collar and the front and rear of the sleeves. A line of lace ran from the rear of each shoulder to the base of the coat and a further line down the centre of the back, trimming the inner edges of the tails.

Drummers wore a single shoulder belt and carried a short straight bladed sword with brass 'D' hilt and black leather scabbard. The Royal Marines upheld the tradition of recruiting 'Drummer-boys' and were one of the few units to allow these twelve to fifteen year old lads to accompany the unit whilst on active service at sea.

The uniform of the Royal Marines was a tall top hat or 'round hat', the brim edged in white, with a white hat band, two black tapes or 'loopings' going from the sides of the brim to the top of the hat, a black leather round cockade with a small RM button at its centre  and inserted in this the wool 'tuft' of white over red.

While white leather cross belts for cartridge box(black) and bayonet(black) were retained, the oval brass belt plate was replaced with a brass rectangle on which there was engraved the 'fouled anchor' (the sign of the Lord High Admiral), surrounded by 'laurel leaves' and 'RM' for Royal Marines, with 'PD' for  either Portsmouth or Plymouth Division. 
Black gaiters worn with knee britches were generally covered  up by white trousers or 'overalls', made from 'duck material', they were hard wearing, more water resistant and easier to clean than the wool britches.

When not on duty, the tunic was kept in the 'Marine clothing room', this was in an effort to keep them clean and dry, as the red dye had an unfortunate tendency to turn black if exposed to sea water for any length of time. For this reason it was common for Marines to receive a new coat every year.

Royal Marine 1815 
Dress Uniform

The pay of a Marine Private was £1 8s per month as per the army. However, on board ship this was reduced to 19s 3d per month as victualling and accommodation were provided free.

According to a recruiting poster of 1813:
“The Daily Allowance of a Marine when embarked is:
One pound of beef or pork, one pound of bread, flour, raisins, butter, cheese, oatmeal, molasses, tea, sugar, etc.; and a pint of the best wine or half a pint of the best rum or brandy together with a pint of lemonade. 
They have likewise, in warm countries, a plentiful allowance of the choicest fruit.”

On Joseph’s Discharge Papers there is a notation “Canada 2/9 days”.   This would appear to indicate that he served in the War of 1812 as two Battalions of Marines were sent to Canada on the 18th of June 1813.   Unfortunately, no further information on this period of service has been forthcoming.

Due to reductions in the Marine Corps, he was discharged from the Service on the 25th of November 1815.   He had served a total of 16 years, ten months and three days.   The reductions began in June 1814 with the discharge of foreigners, the infirm, those aged over 40 or under five foot, three and a half inches in height.   Joseph was five foot, three inches! 

On the 11th of February 1816, Joseph re-enlisted at Portsmouth, joining the Ship’s Company of HMS ALBION.


Painting in the Author's possesion of HMS Albion, 74, Coming to Anchor in the Downs ( after Thomas Whitcombe)

HMS ALBION was a 74 Gun, third-rate ship of the line, laid down in 1802, at Perry’s Yard, Blackwall on Thames, London.    She was 1729 tons and had a complement of 590 men.   She was the third ship in the Royal Navy to bear the name.

On the 16th of July 1816, HMS ALBION, under the command of Captain John Coode, along with other ships of the fleet, was preparing at Portsmouth for the forthcoming expedition to Algiers.   This was the bombardment of Algiers by a combined English and Dutch fleet, designed to halt the slave trade in Christians by the Dey of Algiers and his pirates.   

The Bombardment of Algiers 27th of August, 1816

The Quarterdeck of the "HMS Queen Charlotte",  Lord Exmouth's Flagship during the Bombardment.

Joseph Blaxter would have taken part in this battle as he was aboard at this time.     HMS ALBION suffered 3 killed and 15 wounded during the battle. HMS ALBION returned to England in the spring of 1819 after being stationed at Malta.

Extract from London Gazette 2nd May 1818.

The London Gazette for the 2nd of May 1818, lists the money awarded to the Officers and Company of His Majesty’s Ship ALBION (and others present) for their participation this action.

The allocation of shares is not clear but it is thought that Boys and Volunteers were the lowest (8th Class) and that Able Seamen, Privates etc were 5th class.

Naval General Service Medal with Clasp for Algiers 1848.

On the 7th of June 1848, Her Majesty, Queen Victoria awarded surviving Officers, seamen and marines the above award for their services in that campaign.   As Joseph passed away in 1847 he did not receive this medal.

Joseph paid off from HMS ALBION on the 21st of May 1819.   Joseph’s next ship was HMS SEVERN.

HMS ENDYMION (fourth rate), sister ship to HMS SEVERN

After paying off from HMS ALBION, Joseph joined HMS SEVERN on the 15th of July 1819.   HMS SEVERN was a 50 gun, fourth rate, laid down in 1813 at Blackwall Yard, London.   Of the Endymion class, she had a complement of 350-450 men.   Like HMS ALBION she had also taken part in the bombardment of Algiers.    In 1817 she took up a mooring at Deal on the east coast of Kent as Headquarters and base of the anti- smuggling Coastal Blockade Service.   Smuggling was rife on this section of the coast between England and France and the smugglers were organised into large gangs.   Gun battles between the Coastal Blockade Service and the smuggling gangs were not uncommon. 

Smugglers being surprised by the Royal Navy’s Coastal Blockade Service

The London Gazette for the 20th of November 1821, lists the prize money awarded to the Officers and Company of His Majesty’s Ship SEVERN for seizures on certain dates.
Interestingly “bandanoes’ were handkerchiefs from whence we get bandannas.
As can be seen the seizure of spirits was more profitable than bandanoes!

Extract from London Gazette 20th November 1821

By the 27th of November 1821, HMS SEVERN was in commission and based on Chatham and Sheerness.

Joseph Blaxter discharged from the Royal Marines on the 20th of July 1822.   He did not receive any wounds whilst serving with the Royal Marines. 

As I said before, Joseph was my 4th x Great Grandfather.   A man I obviously never met, but owe my existence to.   I am extremely proud that he was a Royal Marine, as I am of all my ancestors who served their countries.


  1. That is a very cool post Col. RMC!

    1. Thanks Mate!. Looking forward to it. Semper Fi! oh sorry Per Mare Per Terram!