By Richard Gwynallen

William Raeburn
1761 – 1795
Relationship to Fawn: 1st cousin, 7x removed

William was the son of Margaret Allen and Henry Raeburn, who we introduced in the essay, Margaret Allen & Henry Raeburn – Another Banffshire Family in the post-Culloden era.  His christening is given in parish records as 22 September 1761 in Banff, Banffshire, Scotland.

Recently, in one of the blessings of the internet, I heard from Lefayre (Heslehurst) Palmer in Australia who is a descendant of William, and thus a distant cousin of mine.  She offered some information on William’s naval career that was fascinating.   Lefayre has several long standing contacts who have provided some of the information in the past.  All attempts have been made to find the original researchers and authors.  If located, acknowledgment of those folks will also be made.

I have summarized that information below.  As documentation is available I will add it to the story. I’m very grateful to Lefayre for adding a very interesting piece to the knowledge of our family history.

William’s Story

William first mustered onto the Culloden on 6 May 1785, which led him to Plymouth, Devon, England, where he married Ann Rowter from Liskeard, Cornwall.

I wonder if enough time had passed since the battle of Culloden that serving on a ship by that name didn’t mean anything.  Or did it, given that at least some of his mother’s family had been involved in the Jacobite rebellion?  Or did he grow up sheltered from those stories?

William Reburn and Ann Rowter had four children. The first child, William, was born in 1787 in Menheniot, Cornwall, but died young.  George was born in 1788 in Stoke Dameral, Devon.Thomas, was born in 1790 in Liskeard.  A second son named William was born in 1792 at Liskeard.

Liskeard(Lyskerrys in Cornish) is about 20 miles west of Plymouth and 14 miles west of

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Tin Mines in Gonnamena near Liskeard.

the River Tamar.  Liskeard is an ancient market and stannery (tin mining) town. It received its charter as a market town in 1240.  Liskeard is today one of the few Cornish towns that still has a livestock market, which is held every Tuesday.

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Modern-day Liskeard cattle market

Many structures still extant in Liskeard were there in William’s day.

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Stuart House, built between 1480 and 1520. King Charles I stayed at Stuart House in 1644.

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St. Martin’s Church, Liskeard, Cornwall – mostly 15th century

Bodmin Moor lies to the northwest of the town. 

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Bodmin Moor near Liskeard, Cornwall

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Bodmin Moor Tregarrick Tor

Plymouth lies between the River Plym to the east and the River Tamar to the west.

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River Tamar

Both rivers flow into the natural harbor of Plymouth Sound. The River Tamar forms the county boundary between Devon and Cornwall.

In the nearby parish of Stoke Damerel the first dockyard, HMNB Devonport, opened in 1690 on the eastern bank of the River Tamar. Further docks were built in 1727, 1762 and 1793.  Devonport is today one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy.

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Devonport Naval Base

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Devonport today

William’s first ship, the HMS Culloden, was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 16 June 1783 at Rotherhithe.

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HMS Culloden

He then mustered on to the Victory, followed by the Drake.

HMS Victory was a 104-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy,  launched in 1765.  In May 1778, the 42-pounder guns were replaced by 32-pounders, but the 42-pounders were reinstated in April 1779. In 1782, all the 6-pounders were replaced by 12-pounders. Later, she also carried two carronade guns, firing 68-lb (31 kg) round shot.  This was the status of the ship when William served upon it.

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HMS Victory

HMS Drake was a 14-gun brig-sloop of the Royal Navy launched in 1779. She was bought from a commercial builder during the early years of the  American War of Independence, and went on to support operations in the English Channel and the Caribbean. At one stage she assisted an attack on a French-held island, an expedition commanded by a young Horatio Nelson.

To make matters a little confusing, there appear to have been two William Raeburns aboard the HMS Drake, both with wives named Ann, and both Boatswains.  Both had wills, and the wills allow us to separate the two men.

Lefayre noted that it turned out that our William had been drafted between ships (between the Victory and the Drake) while at sea and it was compulsory for Royal Navy seamen to make a will on entering a ship.

The will we believe to belong to our William was signed 20 April 1795, and was proved on 22 May 1798. It was witnessed by Capt. Samuel Brooking. It was customary for wills of men on board ship to not be proven until much later. The date it was signed and witnessed was considered legal even thought it was not recorded in a court.

Both men left their worldly goods to their wife Ann, but the William in this will names his wife as Ann Reburn of Liskeard, whom he names executrix.

The Drake sailed for the Caribbean almost immediately after William’s boarding of the ship in April 1975, where he died of a fever.  Lefayre noted that service men feared being sent to the West Indies due to the high death rate from Yellow Fever and Malaria.

The Admiralty Records note William Raeburn’s death on 24 August 1795.  The death is recorded in the HMS Drake muster of July/August 1795 (ADM 36/1499) as well as the Ship’s Pay book (ADM 36/473).  The Captain’s Log of the HMS Drake records William’s death as above with the following entry: ” . . . departed this life William Reburn Boatswain of a fever at 5. . . . Buried at sea with the usual ceremony.”

A Boatswain is a Petty Officer, the seniormost rank of the deck department. The boatswain supervises the other members of the ship’s deck department, and typically is not a watchstander, except on vessels with small crews.

The boatswain is the foreman of the unlicensed (crew members without a mate’s license) deck crew. The boatswain, or bosun, is distinguished from other seamen by the supervisory roles: planning, scheduling, and assigning work.

As deck crew foreman, the boatswain plans the day’s work, assigns tasks to the deck crew, and checks on the completion of the work. Outside the supervisory role, the boatswain regularly inspects the vessel and performs a variety of routine, skilled, and semi-skilled duties to maintain all areas of the ship not maintained by the engineering department. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boatswain)

The ship’s three standing warrant officers, the Carpenter, Gunner and Boatswain (Bo’sun), who, along with the Master, were permanently assigned to a vessel for the purposes of maintenance, repair, and upkeep. Standing officers were considered the most highly skilled seaman on board, and messed and berthed with the crew. As such, they held a status separate from the other officers and were not granted the privileges of a commissioned or warrant officer if they were captured.

The Warrant Chart below shows the hierarchy aboard ship.

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In William’s time, the Boatswain’s typical uniform would have been a blue frock coat with Navy buttons.

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The Victory still exists today as a museum. For more information, go to: HMS VictoryThe ship offers a look at how William might have been living on board ship.  Below are two pictures of how seamen of William’s rank of Boatswain and below would have slept and eaten.

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HMS Victory berthing and messing

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HMS Victory berthing

Additional Notes

The line descending from William and Ann continued in Plymouth, Devon, England until some descendants emigrated to Australia in 1886, leading ultimately to Lefayre.

An interesting note is that William’s brother, George, also entered a naval career.  George Reburn married Mary Beer at Stoke Damerel parish in Devon, England in 1798.  The certificate showed him as being of HMS Bedford.

Both William and George entered the Royal Navy and both ended up living in Plymouth, Devon, England, and marrying west country women.

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