Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ten years sailing before the mast

Liverpool docks, 1875.

Young George Griffith had the world at his feet as he grew up in Liverpool, with sailing ships from every point of the globe coming through the massive dock system not very far from his home.  Despite a couple of generations of tradesmen in his family, George allowed the excitement of new places and new faces to lure him towards a life of adventure at sea.  In 1841, at the age of 17, George signed on as a ship's boy, and went to sea.

We know this from his Merchant Seaman's Ticket from 3 July 1845, courtesy of a researcher with the ID WayneSeymour.  The ticket also described George as a cook, born in Liverpool.  His hair was brown, eyes hazel, complexion fresh, and his height was 5' 7¾". He had a scar on his right leg, and cuts on his left forefinger.  

This previously unknown fact certainly explains why it was that he was not in Liverpool for the 1841 Census, nor the 1851 Census, nor did he appear in passenger lists to Melbourne, nor on passenger lists when he travelled from Melbourne to New Zealand to the goldrushes in Hokitika.   

It was an astounding career change from Ship's cook to Professor of Music, and yet idle hours on board ship would allow him to practice his instrument.  I think I would assume that by the time he left Liverpool at the age of 17 he had a solid grounding in musical education so that he was able to continue learning until he could earn a living by it.  We will look at this in a later post, though I am not sure there will be a lot of evidence to find.

It seems likely that he jumped ship in Melbourne as so many crewmen did in the 1850s, leaving their vessels to languish for months with no crew to sail them back to their home port.  I am hopeful I will find a warrant for him as a deserter which will narrow down the time frame in which he arrived.

It is a completely unexpected solution to some really puzzling absences from the record.


  1. Most interesting. How did you link this fact to your George? I can't see him on the Victorian deserter list through ancestry. Regards Anne

  2. Thanks for looking, Anne. You just want to know everything in the one post! Further elucidation yet to come. When I tried to write up the whole story, it became very long and unwieldy, so I am breaking it up into smaller pieces. Best wishes, Lenore.

  3. And I wanted to start with the most interesting findings, not the who begat whom, which will have to come, but all in good time. :-)

    1. I am hooked :) It is a good story. I do understand about breaking into bits. Look forward to the next exciting instalment.