Sunday, January 14, 2018

Joseph Ashmore – A Tragic Ending at Sea

My ancestor Joseph Ashmore was born in Dover, Kent in 1761. He was a mariner and spent many years at sea. In 1805 he was 54, and had joined the Sea Fencibles. Originally formed in 1798, they were disbanded in 1802 then reformed in 1803 during the Napoleonic Wars the Sea Fencibles were recruited from volunteers in coastal areas. They were  paid 1s per day when required for service, but the main incentive was immunity from service in both the militia and from the press gang. Unsurprisingly, there was no problem getting volunteers.  Although they do not appear to have played a major role during the wars, they did take part in some minor skirmishes with the French, although their lack of larger ships limited their potential. Whenever there was an invasion scare, two lines of blockade were formed – one off the French coast, provided by the navy, and one off the British coast, mostly provided by the sea fencibles, using smaller gunboats. Sea Fencible volunteers were trained in the use of arms and were also required to man watch and signal towers as well as cannons along the coasts and ports. A member of the Sea Fencibles would spend one day a week training.

The Sea Fencibles fleet consisted of small vessels such as colliers and coasting vessels such as hoys adapted to serve as gunboats. A hoy was a small sloop-rigged coasting ship or a heavy barge used for freight, usually with a burthen of about 60 tons. English hoys plied a trade between London and the north Kent coast that enabled middle class Londoners to escape the city for the more rural air of Margate, for example. Others sailed between London and Southampton. These were known as Margate or Southampton hoys and one could hail them from the shore to pick up goods and passengers. Concern about a possible French invasion led the Royal Navy on 28 September 1804 to arm 16 hoys at Margate for the defense of the coast. The Navy manned each hoy with a captain and nine men from the Sea Fencibles.

In early 1806, Joseph Ashmore was working on a hoy named the Friends Good Will. He was possibly carrying out duties as a sea fencible when, on the evening of Sunday April 6, the Friends Good Will was anchored in The Downs, a stretch of sea off the coast of Deal in Kent. Joseph and another sailor were endeavouring to get up what is called a fender, a kind of safeguard usually placed at the side of a vessel to prevent damage from another lying alongside, when Joseph unfortunately fell overboard, and was drowned. According to a newspaper report: “Immediately the deceased fell into the water, a rope was handed him from the deck, which he did  not  perceive, being probably senseless, from a violent contusion on the forehead, which he received from the side of the vessel in his fall. A few minutes only elapsed, before one of the crew caught hold of him just as he was sinking, got him into a boat alive, and had recourse to the usual method of placing him upon a cask for the purpose of recovering him, but all endeavours proved unavailing, as he very soon expired.”  Joseph was buried in Dover a few days later leaving his wife a widow and their four children without a father.