A Naval Mystery

Extract from the Naval Service Record of Frederick Duke Yonge (National Archives)

 A Naval Mystery

 One of the joys or is it perils of family history research it that a skeleton in the cupboard will be discovered. In this case it is not a big skeleton but it is certainly an intriguing one.

 Frederick (Fred) Duke Yonge, the third son of the reverend Duke Yonge, was born in 1816 and died  in 1889. He entered the Royal Navy in 1832 and after a fairly routine career in th peacetime Royal Navy of the mid 19th century, he was on 1st October 1852 he was posted as Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral Arthur Fanshawe. On the 5th December 1853 he was appointed to HMS  Boscowan, to serve in the West Indies Station. However the Crimean war intervened and the vessel was diverted to operations in the Baltic. Frederick did not join the vessel until after the Crimean War.

 The Boscawen arrived in Halifax on the 26th September 1854, with Frederick on board, and Rear Admiral Fanshawe and his party, went on board the following day.

 Attached to this article is an account of a storm the Boscawen was in on its way to Bermuds. The accompanying picture is also from that Journal. The account is taken from a book entitled “Hearts of Oak” but its author is not known. It hardly reads like the official ships journal. 

 The ships official log confirms the severity of the storm. For all of the 22nd October the vessel was in hurricane and near hurricane winds and suffered considerable damage including the loss of the main top gallant mast. However in due course it arrived at its destination, the fortress island of Bermuda. After a shor time inBermuda the Boscawen sailed for Port Royal Jamaica. By the time the ship set sail again for Havana, Frederick had done "a runner". What happened in Jamaica is where the mystery begins

 The ships log records that on Saturday the 16th December 1854 -  which would be a month or two after the vessel first arrived in the Caribbeana-

 “Lieut Yonge (flag Lieut) was found absent from the ship without leave.”

 Once in harbour after the hurricane there is nothing exceptional about the ships routine which would suggest why Frederick ran. It was a mixture of short cruises and routine maintenance and activities in port

 There appear to be no other references in the ships log. It must be remembered however that he was flag lieutenant to the rear admiral and not part of the vessels normal complement. Neither is there any further reference in the Admira's Journal.. However an English newspaer reference in February 185 that his "run" was precipitated by his arrest. What triggered his arrest is the big unknown unknown.

 The Journal of Admiral Fanshawe reads   “Letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty enclosing a letter from captain Glanville of H.M.S. Boscawen reporting the circumstances of Lieutenant Yonge having been absent 21 days without leave and of his having ordered him  to be marked “run” in the ships books.”

  “Ran” is the naval term for a deserter and that he was discharged. Being treated as discharged meant there was no question of trying to apprehend him. He had in the Navy’s eyes behaved dishonourably so the Navy wanted nothing more to do with him. Any outstanding pay was lost and any prize money due was forfeit.

 The concluding entry in his Service record reads  “1 Dec 1855 discharged removed from list, “Run” see  letter from Rear Admiral Fanshawe of 26th January 1855 reporting his disgraceful conduct  8 February 1855 dismissed.”

 Unfortunately an exhaustive search at National Archives has not revealed any further information apart from an Admiralty Digest confirming that he was not court martialled. In particular the Admiral's correspondence  and that of Captain Glanville seems to be missing.

 Captain Glanville’s full name was “William Fanshawe Glanville”. He was a nephew of the  Admiral. Perhaps the two of them were imposing on Frederick or covering up something. Glanville was his Captain the entire time he was on the Boscawen.

 So when looking for reason it could b:

 1) some kind of disagreement with his Admiral or Captain Glanville though he had served with both for some time on the Boscawen and had served under Fanshawe in the 1840's

2) A reaction to a terrible storm in which he had nearly lost his life but then he must have been in a number of storms in  along naval career and this a was  month or two afterwards

3) a disagreement over the Admirals harsh punishment regime but unlikely as  he must have seen many floggings over the years

4) Just  got tired of life in  peacetime navy when at the age of just over forty he was still a Lieutenant  after ten years at that rank but if that was the case it would have been simpler just to resign his commission back in England.

One or more of the above may have been background reasons but we do know from an English  newspaper report of the time that immediately before he did a runner he had been arrested. That must explain the immediate decision. That of course  leads to another mystery, why was he arrested? Checking of all available sources has given no clue..

 We do not know how or when  he got back to Britain but later in that year he was in New Zealand. Presumably he chose New Zealand as being the most remote part of the civilised empire, a place where he could start a new life with little risk of his past catching up with him. It is just possible but highly unlikely, that he came over through the Plymouth Company, who brought over many settlers from the West Country or under the aegis of the Church of England which was prominent in settling New Zealand. His father, grandfather and great grandfather and one of his brothers were all vicars. However there is no record of him coming over on any assisted passage and he probably made his own way over,  being a gentleman and on the run from the Navy, if that is not contradictory!

 He came to  New Zealand in 1855, with two  noted early settlers the Reverend Robert Burrows and G.P. Pierrce. There is a reference to his passage to New Zealand in the Southern Cross newspaper of December 1855, which refers to a Frederick YOUNG arriving on the vessel “The Bank of England”, of 726 tons, on the 27th December from London. This ties in with other information as to the time he arrived in New Zealand. Then as now the name was probably frequently spelt wrongly.

 Whether his family knew what happened is not known. Certainly in a letter from his brother at around this time there is no reference to a scandal. Also other correspondence of the family at this time is silent. Either they did not know or perhaps it was something one did not talk about.

 This letter is written to Frederick Duke but identity of writer is not clear although clearly one of his brothers. From the context the date is 1856

 My dearest Fred

 I should have liked to  you had turned farmer and gardener ……………………      I should be very glad to hear you had found  a good wife for yourself, one that would be a good helpmate for you and a companion. I do not know what chances you have of finding in New Zealand  are in England  but fortune or I should say rather say providence sometimes befriends us and the right person in our  way in the most improbable places…..

Also after he died his widow applied for a grant of land on the basis of his military service. She originally based the claim on his service in the colonial militia. She then switched to his service in the Royal Navy. She would hardly have done that if she had known he left in disgrace.


 In New Zealand there was no memory of this event among his family including a member who as a young child would have known his wdow.  Indeed one rumour was that he was an Admiral and various official and unofficial records of the time just refer to him having been in the Royal Navy.

 In any event he made good in New Zealand, became  a respected member of the community and fathered many children with numerous descendants to this day.

 Incidentally when he gave Notice of Intention to Marry  in 1859 he gave his age as thirty nine, whereas his actual age was forty four. One wonders if this is a clerical mistake or whether he misled his wife to be.!


 JOURNAL OF H.M.S.  BOSCAWEN " (72 GUNS), being part of the work entitled "Hearts of Oak" Internet Archive.

 On reaching Portsmouth the Boscawen was refitted with all expedition and sailed again for Halifax, Nova Scotia., which port she reached in September 1854 and having hoisted Vice-Admiral Arthur Fanshaw's flag at the fore, embarked himself and suite, as also his carriages, horses, cows, sheep and garden roots, for conveyance to the Admiralty house and grounds at the island of Bermuda, where all the stock would remain whilst the Admiral proceeded in the flag-ship to the West Indies for his annual inspection of that part of the station. On his return to Bermuda in two or three months' time, be would settle down at the beautiful  residence provided for him, and within signal distance of his flag-ship and squadron anchored off the dockyard at Ireland Island. About the Ist of June, when the summer had fairly set in at Halifax. The Farm," as it was jocosely called, would be again  taken on board, and sail made for the land of blue noses, a potato peculiar to Nova Scotia. Here the Admiral would occupy the fine mansion allowed him by the Government, contiguous to the dockyard, until the time came round again for his departure to the South, and this brings us to the months of October or November. Cold winds commence to blow .during the former period, and then a reaction in the temperature takes place when that curious phenomenon the " Indian Summer " sets in.

 Towards the end of October, then, in 1854, as has been previously stated, the Boscawen left Halifax for Bermuda. Many were the wavings of handkerchiefs from fair young forms as they rose to their windows, at early dawn, to signal their last greetings to those more or less implanted in their affections, and to gaze at the stateIy ship as, with crowded sail and favouring breeze, she passed out into the broad Atlantic.

 For two or three days the weather continued pleasant; but it was noticed, after this, that the wind freshened considerably, though still remaining aft. Then the barometer began to fall rapidly, and the sky assumed an inky appearance as we neared the " storm-vexed islands." The Admiral, hoping to :find shelter there before the fury of the coming blow should reach us, and in spite of all warnings, ordered sail to be kept upon the vessel. and refused to howse the lofty spars; reefs indeed had to be taken in, but not in proportion to the requirements of the situation. A safe anchorage he thought, would be reached the following morning, and would be well. Vain anticipation! by 12 o'clock at night the gale had increased to a hurricane, top-sails were lowered on the caps, but the reefed foresail was kept set in  the endeavour to forge the ship ahead of the surging waves; but these, borne on the wings of the furious blast, outsped her, and, striking stern and rudder, caused the vessel to yaw wildly, and soon all proper control over her by the helm was gone. Four men clung to the wheel, and on three occasions two of them were thrown over it, and severely injured from the above cause. At last the danger of “breaching-to " became so imminent that it was resolved to lay her with head to the westward. Great circular storms off the United States coast are known to always travel from the South-west to north-east. Thus a vessel with her bows towards the North American continent would emerge quicker from them than if her head was pointed in an opposite direction. All hands were called on deck to clew up the sails, but as the wind 'drew on the starboard beam it obtained a complete mastery over their efforts; and eventually blew the canvas into ribbons, even stripping the already furled sails clean of the yards, and knotting them together in a most marvellous manner .

 The liner now layover on her port-side, perfectly helpless, and dipping the puzzles of the quarter-deck guns, now and again, in the heavy Seas that passed under her. To windward all seemed a mass of flying foam, which broke in volumes on the ship, whilst the roar and shrieking of the hurricane drowned all other noises, though we could plainly see the quarter-boats being smashed to pieces by its sheer force. Even the stout lower masts bent to the shock, and the strain on the weather rigging was so tremendous that the eyes of it over the masthead were found to have settled down seven inches, leaving the lee shrouds to bang about quite slack.

 For a man to attempt to mount the rigging could only be thought an act of madness, as he would have inevitably been blown clean away; and even to peer over the weather side of the vessel was an impossibility. All left for man or officer to do was to seek personal safety by holding on grimly by rope or belaying-pin, and thus prevent being dashed to leeward in the heavy lurches.

 Soon a slight noise -through the fearful hubbub-proclaimed the main-topgallant mast snapped off at the cap, and the yard, with remnants of sail attached, accompanied it in its descent. One of the main-topmast stays was next carried away, and the spar began to quiver ominously. Though the night was pitchy dark overhead, yet the ship appeared to be illuminated all around by the reflection of the foaming waters. The helm had been lashed " a lee," and this kept the sea about abeam, but the waves now and then made the vessel tremble all over when they struck her. After one of these blows had shaken her more than usual, the boatswain appeared aft to report that the ship must have started a butt end, as he could hear the water rushing into her and washing backwards and forwards about the hold.

 After much trouble the carpenter was found, and told to sound the well, but this did not give the amount of water in the ship, as it must have rolled over on the .side, and become inaccessible to the sounding rod; he therefore, at much risk, descended to where the tanks of fresh water were stowed, and soon discovered that they caused the alarm, for their lids-not having been properly screwed down had given way to internal pressure, and permitted the water to escape. This, then, was what the boatswain had heard, and from which he had derived his terrible conclusions.

 The hours of the night passed slowly away, all hands remaining on deck in momentary expectation of some great catastrophe, either that the masts would go by the board, or the ship herself be engulfed in the raging element; and so little were these ideas unwarranted, that it afterwards became known the latter fate actually befel the United States sloop-of-war Albany. She had left Brooklyn Yard for Bermuda the day previous to our experience of the cyclone, and must have sailed into its vortex, for she was never heard of again, and probably went down, with every soul on board, not far from where the Boscawen lay at the mercy of the storm. This had gained its height about daybreak, and from that time moderated, so that by 10 A.M. men were enabled to go aloft and send down wreck of spars, sails, &c., and swift the rigging in to steady the masts.

 © Ian Yonge

 Email iyonge@legalisp.net

 Jan 2005 revised August 2018 and April 2019




Latest comments

27.10 | 10:41

Hi Ian....Has taken me a while but finally found your website. Brilliant. Will be in touch. Julian Hastings

20.06 | 13:06


Thanks. Praise always appreciated! I presume you are a descendant of Peter Herbert. You can email me on iyonge@legalisp.net for fuller reply


19.06 | 23:35

I am the Great-Great Grandson of Walter Francis Duke Young. This is such a great website and so interesting to read about the Yonge family history!!

27.05 | 17:13

Thank you for this account of Charlotte M Yonge. I wouldn't say she was a recluse, however, judging by her letters. https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/yonge/