Latest Edit April 2014 - four more voyages included!

Michael's amazing life and seafaring career during the Age of Sail

MICHAEL SPINKS (1791-1847), Mariner – Timeline of Events

Editor’s Note: The following is still an incomplete list of life events concerning my seafaring ancestor’s amazing life set in the “age of sail”- indeed it always will be 'incomplete' due to the difficult nature of finding records about seamen!  The author has made every effort to ensure the accuracy of all facts and dates, and is prepared to say that no ridiculous conclusions have been made. The pieces of the ‘jigsaw’ put together form a joined-up picture of significant events surrounding my said ancestor’s fascinating life. I only hope others will find him at least half as interesting as I do! TCTS

The most recent update covers several more of Michael's voyages under the East India Company flag, starting in 1821 (earliest record of him so far found in records held at the Asian/African Studies room of the British Library), and some general additions & corrections to the text.

Circa January 1791 - Michael is likely conceived early in 1791 when his father Michael Spinks Snr. is ashore in Portsmouth during a brief gap in his Royal Navy service, having been discharged HMS Barfleur on 22 December 1790 and joined HMS Brunswick, lying off Portsmouth, on 11th January 1791. (Michael Snr., a Bosun’s mate, was originally from Southwark in South London, though no original parish records now exist to confirm this.)

Circa October 1791 – Michael Spinks (Jnr.) is born in Portsmouth, Hampshire – the first child his parents had.

Wed. 9th November 1791 – Baby Michael is baptised at St. Thomas’s Church (now Cathedral) in Portsmouth to Michael Spinks & Susannah. No birth date is noted. (Michael Snr. had been paid off the HMS Brunswick on 27th August that year so was probably present at his son’s baptism; however, he had not actually married Susannah yet!)

Tues. 25th June 1793 – Michael’s first brother George is baptised – also in St. Thomas’s Church, Portsmouth.

Sat. 30th November 1793 – George dies in infancy (aged around six months) and is buried in Gosport (Holy Trinity Churchyard) under the surname SPHINX, having died presumably of an infantile-related illness.

Sun. 25th June 1797 – On the (fourth) anniversary of their late son George’s christening, Michael & Susannah had their next son, John, baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Gosport.

Tues. 13th March 1798 – Michael SPINKS and Susannah ROOMS finally get married (after banns) in St. Mary’s Parish Church, Alverstoke (near Gosport). Neither could write their own name, both putting a cross. Witnesses who signed on the wedding register were John Shepherd and John Gear (not relatives of the family).

Sun. 18th March 1798 – Baby John (abbreviated to Jno) is baptised for the second time (reason unknown) five days after his parents married, in the same church.

Fri. 14th September 1798 – Young John becomes the second son to die in infancy as he too is buried at Holy Trinity Churchyard, Gosport.

Wed. 11th December 1799 – A fourth son is born during 1799 to Michael & Susannah and is baptised with the name Henry this day in the same church in Gosport. He is the last (live-born) child the couple ever had.

Fri. 31st December 1802 – Michael Snr. (still rated Bosun’s Mate) takes his eldest son, Michael Jnr. (a Boy, 3rd Class), to sea with him on board HMS Loire (a powerful 40- or 46-gun ex-French frigate!), fitting out in Portsmouth Harbour under Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland. This is the last time Michael will have seen his mother and younger brother, since he would spend over 11½ years of continuous service in the Royal Navy! Both Michaels are recorded on the ship’s books as SPHYNX.

27th June 1803 - Michael Spinks Snr. is flogged with 24 lashes having being charged with theft on or around the 24th June for which he was also “disrated” (demoted) from Boatswain’s Mate to plain Ordinary Seaman.

Early April 1804 – Both Michael Spinkses fall seriously ill after catching typhus fever, probably from French sailors with whom they had fought a ship-to-ship duel and taken prisoners on board Loire the previous month.

6th April 1804 - Michael Jnr.  – along with several others – is discharged sick into HMS Trent (Hospital Ship) moored off Cork to be treated (whatever that may have involved!) for typhus fever.

9th April 1804 – Michael Snr. joins his son as a patient on-board HMS Trent.

21st April 1804 – Michael Snr. is deemed well enough to re-join his ship (after spending 12 days in cure).

2nd May 1804 – Michael Snr. returns to the sick deck in HMS Trent, still suffering from a fever.

2nd June 1804 – Michael Snr. is well enough to leave the hospital deck once again.

4th June 1804 – Michael Jnr. finally recovers sufficiently (after spending two whole months fighting typhus fever) to leave the sick deck of Trent and wait aboard her (as a supernumerary) to re-join his ship Loire.

17th July 1804 – The Loire comes into Cork Harbour – having been cruising at sea for several weeks – and picks up her recovered crew (including both Michael Spinkses otherwise Sphynxes) from the Trent.

2nd May 1805 – Exactly one year after his previous illness, Michael Snr. falls seriously ill again, with dysentery this time, and is sent once more to the Trent Hospital Ship (still moored in the Cove of Cork).

20th May 1805 - Michael Snr. passes away (“Discharged Dead”) after 18 days aboard said Hospital Ship, and is buried, presumably on shore in Ireland. He was probably aged around 40. (Michael Jnr. avoided catching this, so stayed aboard Loire; he would not have learnt of his father’s death till Loire returned to Cork Harbour – with another recently-captured French Prize in tow – some weeks later, on Friday 14th of June.)

17th January 1806 – Michael Jnr. catches “Catarrhal Influenza”, perhaps again from captured French sailors, and is discharged with several dozen others to Plymouth Royal Navy Hospital. He recovers a month later; he and the other recovered men are sent via a small Sloop-of-War across to Cork to await their ship Loire there.

29th April 1806 – Michael Jnr. and numerous other recovered shipmates (having been held as Supernumeraries aboard the Trent for over a month) re-join their proper ship, the Loire at Cork.

20th June 1806 – Michael’s mother Susanna (who would have been 34-years-old) dies - cause unknown - in Hampshire County Hospital and is buried this day in Winchester (St Maurice’s Churchyard). She would probably not have known what had become of her husband & son; and they would have heard nothing of her.

5th Oct 1806 – HMS Loire pays off in Deptford Dockyard on the Thames and her crew are drafted on-board the new HMS Magnificent (Captain George Eyre) lying at Woolwich. Michael is still a lowly “Boy, 3rd Class” on entry to the ship – however, this would soon change for the better.


5th October 1811 - Michael is mentioned in the Magnificent's logbook for the first time when he is punished for quarrelling with four lashes from the cat-o'-nine-tails. (Oddly, this is the lowest no. of lashes given at any flogging during the ship's entire commission! He must have behaved very well up 'til then.)

11th June 1812 - Michael suffers his second (and last) taste of the "cat" when he receives six lashes for fighting (with whom he fought is unknown) - this time under Captain Lake's command.

9th August 1814 – The war having (temporarily) ended in April 1814 with Napoleon going into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, Michael and several other long-serving seamen are granted discharge from Magnificent lying at Spithead (prior to her sailing for the West Indies with a convoy). At the time of his leaving the Navy Michael was rated “Quarter-Master’s Mate” – a junior petty officer role.

11th May 1815 – Michael is in London to prove the will of an ‘old’ shipmate, Joseph Dunn of HMS Magnificent who died in Plymouth Naval Hospital in 1813 – writing his will there on 24th October that year – and  who left Michael everything he possessed, calling him his “beloved messmate”! The question is, by what means was Michael summoned to act as executor? How did the legal people know where he was? And how did he get to London – by road or ship? At any rate, Michael swore an oath before the judge, and admin was granted him.

1st June 1815 – Michael, having been granted admin of Dunn’s effects, receives part of his deceased friend’s wages (presumably at the Navy Pay Office in London, Magnificent having not yet returned to England).

24th July 1815 – Michael receives the remainder of Dunn’s pay covering July 1813 up to his death in October/November 1813 – very little. 

1815-1816 – I have not been able to find Michael on any East India Company ships which sailed out to the Far East and returned to England in time for his first marriage. Was he serving in some other kind of ship? or did he remain ashore living off his earnings during the two-and-a-half years from leaving the Navy to his getting married in London? Somehow I doubt it. Yet we will probably never know the identity of his first post-RN ship.

21st March 1817 – applies for Marriage Licence, which is granted after he pays £200 to the Rt Revd Father! He is described as a Mariner, and had allegedly resided in Shadwell for four weeks past. Where did all that money come from? Must have been his life’s earnings! And why was he in such a hurry to get married – was his ship ready to sail soon after? Unless Michael joined an EIC ship almost straight away, he could not possibly have gone to sea on an Indiaman proper that year, since the sailing ‘season’ was virtually over! Maybe he served in a convict ship to Australia instead, or a Guineaman, or some other ship?

Saturday 22nd March 1817 – Next day, he marries his sweetheart, Anne Atkins (spinster) at St Paul’s Church, Shadwell in East London. (Both witnesses who signed the register, George Sawyer and John Bryan, appear to have been parish officials as they saw other weddings too.)

3rd July 1818 – It appears Michael’s first wife Ann(e) died in High Street, Gravesend at the young age of 23 (could have been in childbirth), and was buried this day in St George’s churchyard there. We guess that Michael was away at sea when she died – only some fifteen months after they married.

About November 1818 – Michael falls in love with one Ann Allford in London, and they conceive their first child together… Or did they? (Ann had in fact already been married in August 1815 at St Mary’s, Newington, as a minor aged under 20 years with the permission of her parent, Ann A. Snr., to one Charles Francis Claughton. However, she reverted back to her maiden name as they had apparently split up, and had had no children. The reason I can be sure it's one and the same Ann Allford is because Ann's signature in both marriage records is near enough identical!)

Tues. 10th August 1819 – Michael marries his heavily pregnant girlfriend Ann Allford – after banns had been published for three Sundays – in the Parish Church of St. George-in-the-East (which is between Wapping and Stepney, East London). They alleged to be bachelor and spinster. Both signed their names. Witnesses to the wedding were one J Perratt (probably male; he saw other weddings so was probably a church official rather than a friend) and Mary Wade.

22nd August 1819 – Michael’s first child (for whom a record exists), a girl named Ann after her mother, is born. At least, we assume that Michael was the biological father and hadn’t married a girl pregnant by another man.

15th Sept 1819 – Baby Ann is baptised at St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe (on the south side of the Thames). Her parents’ residence is noted as Cherry Garden Street, Bermondsey (neighbouring Rotherhithe).

Late 1819 / early 1820 – It seems likely that Michael set sail on board one of the East India Company’s ships (possibly for the first time), returning to England probably in 1821.

24th January 1821 – The 17-month-old Ann is for some reason, re-baptised in the Parish Church of St George-in-the-East, this time with the name Anne Susan Spinks. Her parents were by then residing on Vinegar Lane. (Later, when she married in 1839 she simply calls herself Ann!)

17th April 1821 - The earliest record found to date of Michael Spinks on the books of an East India Company ship is his joining the newly-launched HYTHE (Capt John Peter WILSON) at Gravesend for a voyage direct to China. His rank is already a Boatswain aged 29! This raises one huge question - how did Michael first become a boatswain? Who in the East India Company knew him (as a sailor) to determine that he was competent enough to undertake such an important and responsible role aboard an 'Honorable' East Indiaman, when perhaps he'd never even served on that type of ship before, or even had the experience of a voyage to the Indian Ocean under his belt? This is one of the major mysteries of his career, since I have not been able to locate him on other EIC ships before this, and he certainly can't have been on one for some two years prior to joining the HYTHE due to his marriage in London in Aug 1819, and none of the ships commissioned between that date and this actually got back to England in time ... The HYTHE left the Downs on 21st April, calling at Madeira in early May, reaching Whampoa some four months later on 2nd Sept. On the return journey the ship called at St Helena in February 1822, but somewhat unfortunately, the legendary ex-Emporer of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, had already died on that island the previous May!

4th May 1822 - Michael is discharged from the HYTHE on arrival back in London. His outstanding wages of £27 11s 10d (the usual deductions having been made to sailor's charities, attorneys, etc.) are paid him on the 9th May - unfortunately, a note indicates that he had to pay the ship's owners back £11 10s of his pay - reasons as yet unknown.

13th May 1822 - Did Michael and Ann have a son named Samuel Spinks born on this day? If they did, they never had him baptised. It now seems impossible that he could have been their son if this birthdate is accurate, since Michael had been away at sea since April 1821 - which would prohibit him conceiving any children in this period. Samuel shows up later as a 17-year-old on the crew list for the Boyne (Indiaman) in 1839, which he joined in Bombay about 2 weeks before Michael Spinks. Yet there is no proof of their relatedness. (This was the only time I believe they served together. Samuel Spinks continued serving as a merchant seaman until at least 1846, having been issued a “ticket” in November 1845 – which records his alleged birthdate - after which he disappears completely!)

February 1823 - Michael re-joins the HYTHE (under same Captain), again as Boatswain, for a voyage to Bengal, Penang, Singapore & Whampoa, calling at St Helena on the way home.

23rd May 1823 – Michael and Ann’s second daughter, Cordelia, is born. She is baptised just over a month later on 25th June. Michael would have missed both of these events.

Early June 1824 - Michael is discharged from the HYTHE (again) on her return to London.

January 1825 - Michael goes to sea again, this time as Boatswain of the HCS REPULSE (Capt John Paterson) for a long voyage calling at St Helena, Benkulen (SW Sumatra - where the Company had a pepper factory), then to China via Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

2nd June 1825 – Michael and Ann’s third (and last) daughter Letitia is born. She is baptised several months later on 11th November 1825. Michael would not have been present at either birth or baptism, being away at sea.

Early April 1826 - the REPULSE arrives back in London and Michael is discharged. We currently have a gap of twenty-two months between this voyage ending and his next known service on an East India Company ship. There are still several ships to be checked.

14th February 1827 – The first son of Michael and Ann (at least for whom proof exists), named unsurprisingly Michael, is born. He is baptised on 1st June that year in the same church as his sisters – St George-in-the-East – the family still residing on Vinegar Lane in that parish.

16th Feb 1828 – Michael officially joined the Honourable East India Company’s Ship Abercrombie Robinson under Captain John Innes – as Boatswain! (It would appear from the Journal that he was actually on-board by the 26th of January however.) She sailed from the Downs (Kent) on the 21st of February for Bombay, where she arrived on 5th June, spending over two months there. Just prior to her departure for China on 10th August, the deadly cholera morbus struck down the ship’s company, two boys were the first victims, being buried on shore that day. Michael the Boatswain was eventually struck down with the disease and entered on the “Sick List” on 30th August, but he survived after suffering severely for a few days. It killed 24 out of 38 people attacked before their arrival in China. By the end of the voyage fifty-seven of the total crew of 174 (including some of the 25 ‘replacements’) had perished! Strangely none of the officers – except the Gunner – died.

June 1828 – Michael’s youngest daughter Letitia (spelt “Latichia”) aged 3 years succumbs from some illness or accident (we do not know), and is buried on 29th June 1828 at All Saints’ Church, Poplar. Michael is away at sea.

1828 (late in year - probably!) – Michael’s son John Michael is born. His birth date is not given in his baptismal entry or indeed anywhere, so we cannot say with any certainty when it actually was! We assume that John had already been conceived prior to his father’s sailing (in mid-February, 1828) on above-named ship, since there is not enough time after his return for the baby to be born before his baptism date early in January, 1830.

20th April 1829 – The Abercrombie Robinson discharges her surviving crew (including Michael Spinks) on reaching Blackwall. Michael received his pay for his service as Boatswain on May 1st, amounting to £45/18s/8d – of which some £13/7s/9d (“impress money”) had already been paid prior to him sailing or to his attorney whilst he was away. There was also a small amount levied for ‘purserage’ (8s.) and Poplar Hospital (11s/6d).

6th January 1830 – Baby John Michael’s baptism takes place at Gravesend (St George’s Church) – his parents were said to be residing on West Street there. Michael at this time is serving as Boatswain aboard the HCS DUNIRA (under his former captain, John Peter Wilson), about to sail on a voyage to Bengal & China. It is unknown whether he was present for the baptism, as the ship left Portsmouth on the 8th of January, so I suspect not. The ship called at Saugor (in Bengal), Malacca and Singapore before heading up the South China Seas to Whampoa (as usual) and back to England via St Helena.

22nd March 1831 - The DUNIRA returns to the River Thames at Long Reach, and Michael is paid off soon after.

30th May 1831 - Michael is listed in the 1831 Poplar Parish return (i.e. census) taken on that date, as head of a household residing at Grundy Street, consisting of eight persons (4 males & 4 females - all thought to be a single family). Who were the extra male and female who are not accounted for with Michael, his wife Ann, daughters Ann & Cordelia, sons Michael & John? Letitia was already dead & Henry had not yet been born.

3rd June 1831 – After a brief stay of just over two months with his family, Michael officially signs on as Boatswain aboard the HCS Thomas Grenville (under Captain Charles Shea) for a voyage to Bengal/Madras. The ship sailed from Plymouth on 22nd June.

13th March 1832 – Michael and Ann’s last (live-born) child, Henry is born. (They had six children for certain, five of whom reached adulthood, and possibly a seventh if the unbaptised Samuel, born c. 1822, is counted.) As usual, Michael would have missed the baby's birth.

28th June 1832 – Michael receives his wages (£3/5s/- a month) for serving as Boatswain of the Thomas Grenville (the ship having returned to London earlier that month). In total he received £41/14s/2d, of which £9/15s had already been paid him/his attorney prior to sailing). Additionally, a small amount was levied to the Dreadnought seamen’s charity (5s.) and Poplar Hospital fund (10s. 5d), and 2s. 6d to a ‘Fee Fund’. 

14th April 1833 – Henry gets baptised at All Saints’ Church, Poplar (aged thirteen months & one day). Maybe Michael was actually present at the service.

30th April 1833 – Michael’s service officially resumes aboard the Thomas Grenville (this time under Captain James Burnett), lying at Gravesend, his 2 months “Impress” (£6/10s) having been paid him this day. The ship sails from the Downs on 5th May direct to China, on what would be his final voyage in the Honourable East India Company’s service.

31st May 1834 – Michael is discharged from his second voyage aboard the Thomas Grenville and the East India Company’s Maritime Service for good, after the Company loses its charter on exclusive trade to the Far East and government forces it to desist from trading completely! Since Michael had been a Boatswain** in the EIC, and would have continued serving in that capacity had the Company done the same, he together with other officers/senior petty officers who had served ten years - non-continuous of course! - or more in the Company) was given “compensation” in the form of an annual pension of £25.

** Unfortunately for me, no 'service statement' appears to exist for Michael Spinks - so, in order to track his career progress on the EIC's ships I will have to do it the hard way, that is to guesstimate the dates he would likely have been at sea (based on his on-shore activites) and check all the ships' journals which fit within those date ranges until he eventually shows up! Fortunately, through logical deduction we have been able to speed up this process and have located SEVEN complete voyages which Michael made in his EIC career - all as Boatswain! The running total of his service period is around eight years - so I assume he made two more voyages in the EIC to be eligible for his pension. The remaining 'missing pieces' may however be the trickiest to locate - and research could take quite a while to complete since the British Library only allows users to view ten books (or ships) per day! Sadly, it may never be possible to get to the bottom of when/where/how he first became a Boatswain... Watch this space!

2nd June 1834 - Michael receives his wages (still at £3/5s per month) for his second spell as Boatswain of the Thomas Grenville (that ship having reached London safely on). His overall total pay excluding deductions was £42/7s/2d (of which £13 had already been paid in advance or to his attorney while he was away). Additionally, a small amount was levied to the Poplar Hospital fund (10s/7d), the Dreadnought Seamen’s charity (5s.), and lastly 2s/6d to a ‘Fee Fund’. 

Early August 1834 – After just two months on shore Michael - clearly not content to live off his pension - joins a privately-run East Indiaman (presumably as Boatswain - no crew list exists), the Duke of Northumberland (Captain W.L. Pope). Michael states this was his last ship on the Walmer Castle’s crew-list in May 1836, though we are uncertain if he was on-board the Duke for its outward-bound voyage to India, though he almost certainly must have come back on her. Interestingly, one James Watt was the Chief Mate on both these ships.

February 1835 – the Duke of Northumberland leaves Calcutta to return directly to London.

C. 15th May 1835 – Michael’s (second) wife Ann (nee Allford) dies at the age of 37 at 51 Wells Street in Poplar -according to a “burial order book” - and is buried two days later in All Saints’ Churchyard, Poplar. The cause of her death is not recorded, though it’s unlikely to have been childbirth-related since it more than nine months had passed since Michael was last at home, and no more children show up in parish records or later censuses. On the other hand, it’s possible that the baby was overdue and was stillborn following a complicated birth which also led to its mother’s demise sometime later. We’ll never know.

C. 10th July 1835 – the Duke of Northumberland arrives at the docks in East London (near the Spinks family home in Poplar) and Michael finds out the terribly sad news that his beloved wife Ann has passed away.

12th July 1835 – Michael decides to reaffirm his Christian faith by having himself baptised at All Saints’ Church, Poplar; we cannot say why he did so but he probably felt he needed to thank the Almighty and cleanse himself of his sins. The register records his parents’ names as Michael & Susan, of Gosport; and his birth-date erroneously as 13th March 1795.

22nd July 1835 – Michael receives his first annual pension payment from the East India Company. (Presume he had to go to their HQ in Leadenhall Street to get it).

Thurs. 24th September 1835 – Michael remarries as a widower in the parish church (after banns) of St Mary’s Rotherhithe (where his first daughter Ann had been baptised in 1819) to one Harriet Dyer. She was much younger than Michael, had been born in Rotherhithe in 1808, and had been married before on New Years’ Day 1832 to Edward Lepard, yet reverted to her maiden name when she re-married! The wedding was witnessed by Harriet’s sister Clarissa Hale, brother-in-law William Hale, and one Joseph Wellins. (The union did not last however, and they separated at some point in the next 8 years, Michael remarrying with Harriet still alive!)

7th December 1835 – Michael petitions the Admiralty (or Greenwich Hospital) for some kind of relief or pension, or even for his children’s admission into the Greenwich Hospital School. His Royal Navy “certificate of service” is written up (the first record I ever found about Michael’s seafaring career!), showing his surname as “Sphynx”. (Clearly Michael cannot have been physically disabled enough to be admitted as an in-pensioner to the “Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital”, since this was reserved for those maimed in action.)

7th May 1836 – Michael joins a newly-built “Blackwall Frigate”, the Walmer Castle (Captain William Bourchier) at East India Docks as Boatswain, for a voyage to Bombay and back - his first time at sea in some ten months.

30th March 1837 – Michael is discharged on above ship’s arrival in London.

6th June 1837 – Michael re-joins Walmer Castle (under the same captain and first mate as before) for another voyage to Bombay and from there on to Whampoa (China).

12th August 1838 – Michael is discharged on the ship’s safe return to London.

Circa Nov-Dec 1838 – Michael joins another ship in London (presumably as the Boatswain – the crew list cannot be found!) which takes him to Bombay, where he is apparently discharged & joins another ship.

5th June 1839 - Michael joins the Boyne in Bombay harbour. One Samuel Spinks appears on the crew-list, aged 17 and also a Seaman; he had joined this ship on 24th May (12 days before Michael), having formerly served on Golconda. Did they originally sail together from London? Was Samuel Michael’s unbaptised son?

19th October 1839 – Michael and Samuel (and the rest of the crew) are discharged after the ship’s arrival at St Katherine Docks, London.

8th December 1839 – Michael’s eldest daughter Ann marries (after banns) one John Williams (a boilermaker) at St Anne’s Church, Limehouse (East London); Michael is present and signs the marriage certificate as a witness.

20th December 1839 – Michael ships as Boatswain aboard the Inglis (a large 1300-ton former EIC ship under Captain Thomas Fisher Stead) lying at Gravesend, for a voyage to Bombay and back.

Late October 1840 – The Inglis returns safe to London with her cargo and Michael is discharged.

20th March 1841 – After around five months ashore, Michael ships in London as Boatswain of a Convict Ship, the Waverley before sailing to Dublin to collect her human cargo of 176 male Irish convicts! This would turn out to be a most eventful, exciting and unexpected journey! Indeed, at the ship’s arrival at Hobart in Tasmania, and after disembarking the convicts on 20th September, Michael and around half the crew made their get away from their cruel Master, James Morgan! He brought them to trial at the local law court, sentencing them to thirty days at the treadwheel(!), but they were finally acquitted after the Surgeon Superintendent, one Dr Dunn, spoke on their behalf as to the mistreatment they had suffered on the voyage at the hands of the captain, speaking of Michael’s worthy character in particular.

Below is an extract from the COLONIAL TIMES, published on Tuesday 5th October 1841.


Hobart Town Police Report – Wednesday, September 29 [1841].

Michael Spinks [my 4xGreat-Grandfather], Robert Robertson, James McDonald, Thomas Kelly, Henry Stotman, Alex. Martin, Patrick Coleman, George Wyatt and John Adams, seamen to the convict ship Waverley, charged by James Morgan (master) with absenting themselves without leave. The same men were charged by complainant last week, and liberated at the instigation of Doctor Dunn, and were then advised to apply to a professional man for redress, but the foolish fellows not being able to brook the laws' [sic] delay, and frightened at a ruse played off by complainant [i.e. Captain Morgan] of pretending to get the ship under-weigh, they took the first means of getting on shore, which was no doubt the very thing desired by the captain.

It is much to be regretted the poor fellows had no one to defend them in this instance, as there is no doubt from the treatment they have sustained during the voyage the articles have been broken; one individual a poor weather-beaten tar, who has fought and bled for his country, is much to be pitied [this must refer to Michael S.]; he, from his nautical knowledge, acted as an officer during the voyage, taking his regular watch, and, as is stated by our informant, was the means of saving the ship from imminent peril on one particular occasion, which must be well remembered by the captain, and it speaks but little for his gratitude to say nothing of humanity in thus treating the person in question. This poor old tar with his shipmates were [sic] ordered to the tread-wheel for thirty [or 28] days, a most severe punishment for such a trifling offence. Query -- Is there no means of throwing the true light on this picture by a proper investigation of the facts, and liberating the poor fellows from their place of durance[?]

6th June 1841 – Meanwhile, back in England, the 1841 census is taken, and Michael’s children are in London. His two youngest sons, John and Henry, ages recorded as 12 and 10, were apparently living at the CRABB family’s abode on Hunts Row, Poplar (the head was a Carman). The other son, 14-year-old Michael is living at an address with his married sister Ann Williams (minus her husband) at the LANGDOWN family’s address on Gill Street in Limehouse, whose head was a Shipwright. The only one of Michael’s (known) children who fails to show is Cordelia – where was she? Also, no sign of Samuel Spinks, so I imagine he was also at sea. And, last of all, where was Michael’s then “wife”, Harriet (nee Dyer) – still alive of course, as she remarries in Poplar 10 years later, but is nowhere to be found on the census(!)

2nd November 1841 – Michael finds a berth as a Seaman aboard another ship lying in Hobart, the David Clark (which was an old East Indiaman, but had been used to transport convicts on this occasion), which shortly afterwards sailed for Bombay.

1st May 1842 – Michael is discharged from the David Clark at Bombay.

6th May 1842 – Michael joins the old Larkins Indiaman in Bombay as Boatswain. (Isaac Spinks, a black Steward, is serving aboard her at the same time, having joined the ship before her departure from London in April 1841)

13th February 1843 – Larkins pays off her crew in Blackwall. Michael’s monthly wage as Boatswain was £3/10s. Interestingly, this is the last recorded voyage Michael Spinks ever made – according at least to the Central Register of Seamen, nor does his name appear in the Register of Seamen’s ID Tickets, which every foreign-going mariner had to carry on his person by law from October 1844. Did he somehow go by another name? If he did, we’ll never know, sadly. Nor will we have a full physical description of this ‘weather-beaten old tar’.

14th June 1843 – Michael’s daughter Cordelia marries for the first time, after banns, at St Paul’s Shadwell, to a mariner named John Egram, who subsequently vanishes without trace! They both resided at “14 Farmers Folly” in Shadwell. It is impossible to say if Michael was at the wedding – though he was almost certainly in London at that time. Interestingly, an entry for Egram is found in the Seamen’s Register (Series II, pt. 2); his ship, the John Hullett, had paid off in London just four weeks prior to the wedding! Quick-fire marriage or what? I presume they knew each other beforehand.

13th July 1843 - Michael appears before the Magistrate (Mr Ballantyne) for East London charged by several inn-keepers of swindling! However, he is very fortunate to be acquitted on grounds of irregular accounting methods used by the alleged “dupes”! (See article published in London Evening Standard newspaper.)

Wed. 23rd Oct 1844 – Michael gets married for the fourth (and final!) time to Harriot Robins (widow of another seaman, and daughter of one James Clark, labourer) after banns, at the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Deptford, where both were then allegedly resident. He alleged to be a widower, described himself as a mariner (and his father, Michael Spinks, as the same, even though he’d been dead nearly forty years!). Harriot was unable to sign her own name, putting a X. (The witnesses were likely parish officials, as they saw other marriages too.)

November 1845 – Michael Spinks, aged 50, shows up on a passenger list for the Brothers schooner of St. John, N.B. to Boston Mass. What on Earth was he doing over there? I can only guess he was looking for employment, and/or that he still had an unquenchable thirst for the sea and travel to interesting ports. Clearly, whatever it was, he was not lured into staying permanently in the States, and returned to England before his death.

Sat. 2nd Oct 1847 – Michael petitions the Admiralty (again), probably in order to receive the Naval General Service Medal which had been authorised that year for all those present at noteworthy actions back to the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793. Another R.N. Certificate of Service is drawn up for him which is headed “Michael Spinks – as Michael Sphynx”! Sadly, Michael never actually received his medal, which was issued from January 1849, after Michael’s death – only widows could obtain it on behalf of deceased men.

Mon. 1st Nov 1847 – Michael Spinks passes away (aged 56) at 21 Betts Street in the Parish of St George-in-the-East, having succumbed to another bout of the dreaded Typhus fever – 43 years after his first – after ten days. The death certificate was recorded by one Ann Fowler (present at the death), who lived on the same street and may not have known much about Michael, stating his occupation as “laborer” [sic] and age as 50 years. It is definitely our man, though, because the East India Company pension record also gives his death date as 1/11/1847. Where was Michael’s wife when he died; had they split up too? Did his children know of his whereabouts and visit him on his deathbed? Did he receive a proper Christian burial? I cannot find any record of one.


Steve 23.02.2014 20:25

Brilliant account; brilliantly researched.
They that go down to the sea in ships,
That do business in great waters;
He quiets the night and ebbs the tide... :

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Latest comments

11.04 | 15:38

Volunteeres from HCS Macqueen are here. My ancestor George Fox was a seaman on that Macqueen trip. I wonder if George was on any other voyages.

04.09 | 11:06

It is good to know about the services of MICHAEL SPINKS. I will let my brother know about these after my

17.08 | 10:43

Blackwall London is a district and good place to explore. I have been there before my and had good experience

23.02 | 20:25

Brilliant account; brilliantly researched.
They that go down to the sea in ships,
That do business in great waters;
He quiets the night and ebbs the tide... :