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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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2. Leading Seaman


There must have been times when William Jefford thought his life would never get going. All those years waiting to be 18, then another 10 while the Royal Navy's rigid customs and rules meant he seemed always to be in Devonport or doing more and more training. He behaved himself and never got less than"Very good" in appraisals of his seamanship so what was it all for? Like so many young men he had joined the navy to see the sea, not the inside of an ancient hulk or the walls of a Devonshire dockyard.

However, he accepted a fresh 10-year contract in November 1885 and  on the 14th of May 1888, things changed for him. He was rated as a Leading Seaman and posted to a series of ships which, for the first time, took him to foreign ports.


These included HMS Lizard which belonged to what was called the Australian Station. The Squadron consisted of HMS Orlando (an armoured cruiser), HMS Calliope, the Diamond, the Opal, the Rapid, and the Royalist , all corvettes.  HMS Lizard, HMS Raven, and the Swinger, were all screw composite gunboats; and  HMS Egeria and Dart were both on survey service.


Reports in local newspapers in New Zealand tell us more about the LIzard:

" HMS Lizard, like the flagship, visited Akaroa for the first time time on the present occasion. She is a composite screw gunboat, and was built by Messrs Harland and Wolff of Belfast, in the end of the year 1886. Her displacement is 670 tons and her engines are triple expansion, 1000 horse-power. She can steam 14 knots per hour and her mean speed in ordinary cruising is 10 knots. She carries a heavy armament for a vessesl of her size, comprising six x 4 inch breech -  loading Armstong guns and four Bordenfeldts of different sizes.


The Lizard was commissioned for the Pacific Station in 1887 and reached Sydney on the 14th of May last year and  after visiting Melbourne at the opening of the Centennial Exhibition, she accompanied HMS Calliope (with Admiral Fairfax on board) to the Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands and then proceeded by way of Vavau and Pango Pango to Tongatabu, since which time she has has been stationed at Apia, Samoa. She left that port on December 5th and calling at Fiji, stayed at Suva from the 9th to the 12th. Resuming her passage to Auckland she had fine weather all the way till off the coast, where strong SSW winds were encountered on the 16th ultimo. Her dimensions are: Length, 165 feet; Beam, 25 feet and Draught 13 feet. She is a sister ship to HMS Wasp, which was lost with all hands on the coast of China in 1887. She carries a crew of 71 men and is commanded by Lieutenant Francis Pelly (late of HMS Undine).


Now all this is very interesting  because it tells us exactly where William Jefford went; and we can confirm under whose command he sailed, for down the right hand side of William's record sheet is a column in which captains signed to confirm the details of a sailor's contract and how it was carried out and there, just where they should be are a series of sign - offs  by   Lieutenant Francis R. Pelly. William sailed under him from December 1887 to  July 1891. Then he was paid off for 6 months, returning to Devonport in January of the following year for a posting to HMS Cambridge..

HMS Lizard at anchor off Australia
HMS Lizard at anchor off Australia


And while William was busy on the other side of the world, what of the family he had left behind in Paignton all those years ago when he had joined the Navy? His father, Robert had died  in 1876 aged 58 leaving Clara, William's widowed mother to raise the family by her own efforts. His sister Alice (born two years bedfore him) had two illegitimate children - Ernest who was born in 1884 and William Robert who was born in 1881. All 3 of them went to live with Clara and she desparately tried to house and feed them all by her efforts as a laundress.




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