Two seamen 1. William Stentiford
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The National Archives also supply Seamen's Records. These are quite detailed and cover things like length of service, ships served on, war records and  even personal appearance.

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Select FAMILY HISTORY from the list of Browse categories on the left. A new Browse list will be offered to you. Select  "Registers of Seamen's Services". Fill in STENTIFORD as the "last name" in the box that then appears and select SEARCH. The list of Stentiford sailors is not very long and you can then purchase the records of the person you are interested in.

Two of the sons of James Stentiford and Lucy Andrews became sailors and you might think that odd because Morchard Bishop is a fair distance from the sea. It is perhaps a measure of how much the world had changed by the end of the 19th century that they saw no future for themselves in a village that could only offer them a lifetime of working on someone else's land.

The Seamen's Records of Fred and William Henry Stentiford are, at the same time, full of interesting details and some puzzles. They did not enter the Royal Navy  together; William went first, in 1899 and Fred, who was the older of the pair, followed in 1900, both having had previous occupations as agricultural labourers.

We'll follow William's career first. Usefully, the record gives us his date of birth - 14 May 1881 - the parish register showing only the date of his baptism. On 8 Jul 1899 at the age of 18, he signed on for 12 years to train and work as a stoker - the most thankless job that could be imagined on a Victorian coal-fired ship. The stokehold of these older vessels has been frequently described as  being like Dante's inferno - especially when sailing in tropical regions.

William went first to HMS Vivid II - the Royal Navy's shore base at Devonport - for his basic induction and training and remained there until 28 Jan 1900 when he was sent to serve on HMS Magnificent, a flagship battleship of the Majestic Class.


HMS Magnificent at Devonport in 1898

HMS Magnificent at Devonport in 1898

From an old postcard


The list of ships on which William served until his contract expired on 29  Jul 1911 reads like a copy of the Navy List. Over the years, he moved up the ranks to become a Stoker 1st Class and, in between periodic returns to HMS Vivid  at Devonport and HMS Cambridge, another Plymouth shore base,   he became intimately acquainted with the stokeholds of HMS Hogue*, HMS Gossamer, HMS Montagne and HMS Espiegle, remaining at each of his postings for term ranging from 6 months to 2 years.

Clearly, William enjoyed his life in the Navy and on the day following the expiry of his original contract, he reported to the Royal Fleet reserve at Devonport, having signed on for another 10 years, his character report having classed his conduct consistently as "VG" from the very outset of his career. Now the return trips to Devonport became less frequent as he travelled the world with some of the Navy's most up-to-date and  best-known battleships - HMS Mars, HMS Victorious, HMS Doris, and, in the August of 1914, just before the outbreak of the First world War, he was posted to HMS Majestic.

On 27 May 1915, this magnificent battleship was  torpedoed by the German submarine U-21 off Cape Helles, Dardanelles. There was a huge explosion. The ship began to list to port and in nine minutes had capsized in 16 metres of water, killing 49 men. William made his way up through the decks and was one of those who managed to get off the ship in those precious nine minutes that elapsed before it sank. He came home to Devonport and presumably was granted leave before returning to service.


HMS Magnificent at Devonport in 1898

The sinking of HMS Majestic 27 May 1915

Origin not known


When William returned to sea, it was for a brief tour  in a submarine supply ship, HMS Maidstone. Barely 6 weeks later, he was transferred to another submarine depôt, HMS Lucia and it was to be his longest posting, lasting from 17 Oct 1916 to 30 Apr 1919. It was while on this ship that William won a medal - tantalisingly, the record simply records the fact of the award not what it was for.


On 25 Jun 1919, William's 22 year association with the Royal Navy came to an end, and, at the age of almost 40, he returned to civilian life - and yes, he came back to Devon to join his extended family circle in Morchard Bishop where he died in the December Quarter of 1960 aged 79. He and his wife Elizabeth had two children - Margaret Mary Stentiford - who was baptised in Morchard Bishop on 24 Jun 1916 and a son - Albert William James (known always as William James) on 22 Oct 1922.


*HMS Hogue was torpedoed as she tried to assist HMS Cressy pick up survivors from HMS Aboukir on 22 September 1914. She sank within 3 minutes with huge loss of life.


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Last modiied: 30/05/2007