Friday, November 23, 2012

Art, History and Genealogy

One of the first books I loaded onto my first Kindle was something called His Majesty's Dragon, a novel by Naomi Novik.  It captivate me.  Read it at least twice, then all other available (read available for free) titles in the sequence.    They are set in the period of the Napoleonic Wars and feature the British Air Corps.  Aircraft?  Dragons.  The central character is a dragon named Temeraire.  The history may or may not be accurate. 

I am not particularly a fan of British military history, British Naval history, or the Napoleonic period so I was reading fiction.  The names of characters and places meant little unless I pulled out the maps to follow the geography mentioned.

Then I read a piece written by a genealogical researcher in Australia about one of my 3rd great-grandfathers, Richard Holmes.   It is part of a 65-page report which touches briefly on my direct line.  Graeme  Hicks writes:


Richard Holmes, Esq.
It has not been possible to find when or where Theodosia’s great grandfather Richard Holmes was born or died but some aspects of his life are known.  He was a Royal Navy purser[1] commissioned in 1793.  A full list of the ships in which he served is difficult to discover but at the time he married, in 1796, he was purser of the Colossus (74)d and in 1799 he was on the Impregnable (98).  Further, in about May 1803 there is record of him, formerly of the Temeraire (98), being appointed to the San Josef (112), both flagships which served with the Channel fleet.  Richard was still serving on the San Josef in mid 1805.  As both the Colossus and Impregnable were lost at sea and a mutiny occurred on the Temeraire[6], Richard’s naval career was not without incident.

[1]           See the Navy List.  Although it was necessary to be commissioned as a purser, pursers to a large extent operated as merchants independent of the Navy.  With a ‘captive’ clientele it was often a lucrative business.
[6]           In late 1801 the Temeraire was removed from Channel duty to escort a convoy to the West Indies thereby inciting a mutiny by many of her crew – with rumours of the war about to end they thought they would be returning to England.  Richard was most likely serving on the Temeraire at this time.  Twelve men were hanged as a result of the mutiny and when Temeraire returned from the West Indies in late September 1802, due to the Peace of Amiens, she was laid up at Plymouth.  Temeraire later distinguished herself at Trafalgar, the only battle in which she fought; she was second in column behind the Victory.

Off I went to Google "Temeraire", only to discover that since Trafalger there has always been a ship in the Royal Navy carrying the name.  There is even a well-known painting, The Fighting Temeraire by Jonathan Turner, depicting the ship at Trafalgar.  I've been aboard the Victory, a major visitor site in the Royal Naval Shipyard Southampton.   That visit was recalled dramatically as I read about the Temeraire. 

Suddenly my 3rd great-grandfather's naval career has acquired facts that will stick in my memory.  He was a purser -- as was my favorite uncle.  He served aboard the Temerarire, and was probably her purser during the infamous mutiny.  He was NOT aboard her at Trafalgar; by that time (Oct 1805), he had been assigned to the San Josef.    I have learned about a British landscape painter whose name previously meant little to me.  As it happens, I have recently been researching a Turner family, linked to the painter only by a common surname.  But it's a mnemonic that will stick. 

Because I am a genealogist I am continually learning about history.  In this case, I learned something about a British artist as well. 

Give thanks for learning, in whatever way it presents itself.  
Don't forget to pray....
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