Thursday, September 26, 2013

Caithness: James and George at Greenwich

In April 1827 Ann Caithness submitted several vital documents to the Clerk of the Check, Royal Hospital, Greenwich, concerning the admittance of her sons James and George to the Lower School

She had to provide details of her deceased husband’s service at sea, the record of their marriage, her circumstances as James senior’s widow, and proof of birth and baptism of her two eldest boys, then aged 12 and 9 years.

We’ve seen that Ann enlisted the aid of her local Justice of the Peace, William Sturges Bourne. Others in the community also played their part. The following letter is witnessed by the Curate of Eling, William Wilder.

I Ann Caithness do hereby agree that James Caithness if admitted into the school of the Royal Naval Asylum (i.e. the Royal Hospital) shall remain there as long as the Directors thereof, shall think proper; and that he shall be at the disposal of the said Directors to serve in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, or the Merchant Service, as they may please to order.

A similar letter was signed in respect of George Caithness. Ann made her mark.

James and George, on being granted admittance to the School by the Board of Directors, were required to present themselves at the Clerk of the Check’s Office on a certain date. Their mother was advised that:

It will be perfectly useless to send the child if he has any impediment of speech, any infirmity of body or mind, or affected with any temporary disease whatever.

James and George were presumably in good health, since they both duly entered the Lower School. This was a turning point in their lives. 

The Prospect of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich 

The London Docks

Perhaps the excitement of going to London outweighed any qualms about the future and their sadness at saying farewell to their mother and siblings at home. They probably didn’t consider that their father had begun his career at sea at about the same age: the difference was that he hadn’t been going to school, but to war.

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

In the building which now houses the National Maritime Museum, boys from seafaring backgrounds had the privilege of learning arithmetic and navigation. 

The Royal Hospital School Gallery can be visited at Queen's House, The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Tom Sheldon 

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