Friday, September 20, 2013

Mariners: Caithness at Greenwich

A Squall, Southampton Water
The Caithness brothers, James and George, lost their father young. James snr had been discharged from the navy in 1814 after serving during the Napoleonic Wars and by the time his children were born was living in Marchwood, Hampshire earning an income as a waterman and ferryman. His death in 1826 left his widow Ann in an unenviable situation without the family breadwinner and with five children to rear.

However, Ann was a resourceful woman and with the help of influential friends managed to get her two eldest sons James and George into the Lower School at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, with a view to their being educated towards a seafaring career.

The magnificent group of buildings beside the Thames at Greenwich must be one of the most recognisable sights in the world; the National Maritime Museum has been situated there since 1934. Greenwich’s maritime history, though, goes back much earlier. King William III and Queen Mary II founded the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich in 1694. Its Royal Charter included provision for the 'Maintenance and Education of the Children of [Royal Naval] Seamen happening to be slain or disabled'. The aim was to create a hospital, to provide support for seamen's widows, education for their children and to improve navigation. 

The Hospital – now the Old Royal Naval College – was built from 1696 to 1751.

Greenwich Royal Hospital
The School began when the Hospital took in ten ‘orphans of the sea’ to be educated in navigation for the merchant service. At first housed in Thomas Weston’s Academy in Greenwich, the Hospital built its own school on King William Walk which was replaced by a larger building in 1782.

In 1798 an orphanage school, The British Endeavour, was founded in Paddington for children whose fathers died in the French Revolutionary War. 

This establishment was granted the Queen’s House, Greenwich, in 1806 and renamed the Royal Naval Asylum, which was later extended to house 800 children (boys and girls). 

By 1821 the Asylum and Hospital School amalgamated as the Royal Hospital Schools.

Greenwich Hospital and Royal Naval Asylum 1820, South Aspect; 
engraved by Henry Wallis from painting by Charles Bentley

Ann Caithness made application for her boys James and George to attend the Lower School in 1827 and surviving records offer a glimpse into their world at the time. 

James and George Caithness would have qualified for admittance
to the Lower School as 'boys whose Fathers have fallen in His Majesty's Service,
whose Mothers are living.'

To be continued …

Tom Sheldon for copies of the Lower School documents

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