Reply To: German Sergeant serving in Royal Marines 1797-1814

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Keith H

    Some details on a contemporary

    A Spaniard from Barcelona had a name akin to Carlos Mahou. This was anglicised at Charles Maheux. He enlisted at Portsmouth Headquarters on 24 September 1796. He was an agricultural labourer from Catalonia, 25 years old. He was 5 feet 9 inches in height. He had brown hair, hazel coloured eyes and a fresh complexion. He was assigned to the 11th Company.
    Source: Archive reference ADM 158/151, Portsmouth Division’s Description Book for men surname M, covering 1771-1814.

    He was promoted to Corporal after only 3 months, and was promoted to Sergeant in 1798. This seems a meteoric rise to me, just like your family member Propsting. Was there an expansion of the Royal Navy, and the Royal Marines in particular at the end of the 1790s?

    Charles Mayeaux was among the Royal Marine complement aboard HMS Dragon. As part of a landing party, he died on 22 June 1814 after being pursued by American militia cavalry, trying to escape from captivity.

    There is an account of this in American newspapers, and the Canadian historian Donald E Graves has taken an interest in the story:

    My notes advise If you look at The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 6 by William James, it mentions this incident, albeit with a very different interpretation of events to what is portrayed in the American newspaper!

    What I find to be of greater significance with Mahou and Propsting is this: literacy levels on warships were higher than in society in general. In order to have been promoted to a non-commissioned officer, a basic level of literacy in reading and writing in English, which is not their mother tongue, was a pre-requisite.

    Regarding foreigners in the Royal Navy, I think this was pretty common. Without recourse to sources, I think that a person of any nationality could enlist in the Royal Marines. I believe it similar for the Royal Navy. The shortage of skilled sailors had resulted in the policy of press-ganging. One of the tugboats used in WW1 was named after Dominick Addison, a French sailor in the Royal Navy. The Ayshford roll has 68 Frenchmen and 212 Germans at Trafalgar.

    You would do well to read the following book to get a feel for life at sea with the Royal Navy in the age of sail:
    Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy
    Roy & Lesley Adkins

    I got the impression that some ships were cultural melting pots, with a very diverse complement, and a variety of circumstances as to how they ended up in the Royal Navy.

    The records of the out-Pensioners and in-Pensioners are likely to throw up a fair few non-Britons.