William George Orchard was born at Preston, near Weymouth, on 21st February 1849, the son of John Orchard and Mary, nee Hallett. Although his first christian name was William, throughout his career in the Royal Navy, he was always officially named as George Orchard.
St Andrew's parish church, Preston & Sutton Poyntz,
where William George Orchard was christened on 1st April 1849
The Royal Navy Continuous Service (CS) Engagement Certificate Number 36103a shows that George Orchard began his Naval career on board HMS St George on 21st February 1866, his 17th birthday. He was graded as a Boy, 1st Class, and the entry shows that he was 5ft 0.75in tall, with light brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. George's father, John, made his mark agreeing that the boy had his permission to join the Navy, and that he did so of his own free will, until he was 18 and then for a further ten years. George himself signed, testifying that he was not indentured as an apprentice.
The St George had originally been laid down in 1840 as a First Rate ship of the line, i.e. a vessel of 120 guns (similar in appearance to the Victory), and being 2,864 bm. (B.M., or builder's measurement, was a way of assessing the size of a ship, dating back to the time of Henry VIII. It was the number of 'tun' flasks of wine the ship was estimated to be able to hold). The ship was actually on the stocks for 13 years, and then in 1859 the Navy had bowed to the march of progress and a Ravenhill and Balkeld horizontal action, 500 Horsepower, steam engine had been fitted, driving a screw propeller to supplement the sails. To do this a hole would have been drilled through the stern-post, and the propeller tube inserted through this. Part of the decking would have been cut away for the engine to be dropped in. In most ships converted in this way the propeller could be lifted up when using sail, and the funnels raised and lowered. Some vessels had telescopic funnels. In addition, stowage boxes holding 310 tons of coal had been fitted. The ship was finally undocked on 27th August 1859. The St George had a complement of 324 officers and men, and her Captain was Edward B Rice. When George Orchard joined the ship, she was moored at Portland, and was attached to the Coast Guard Service.
The ship remained at Portland until July, and during this time no doubt the new recruit underwent much of his basic training. This would probably have consisted of many of the skills needed on board a sailing vessel, such as handling ropes and sails, and of course, keeping the ship in a spotless condition, something dear to the heart of all officers in the Victorian Navy. Many a ship's captain despaired at the use of steam because the boilers caused so much mess! Also during this period, the young sailors were made aware of naval discipline, and the hazards of life on board ship, as various entries in the Ship's Log show.
On Monday 21st May, 1866, a seaman called Benjamin Webb fell and was killed whilst working on top of the Mainmast. An inquest was held at Weymouth by the Deputy Coroner, and a verdict reached of accidental death. Seaman Webb was buried on Wednesday 23rd May. The Log records the punishing with 36 lashes of Thomas Jouns, on July 6th, although what offence he had committed is not recorded.
Other events occasionally warranted a note in the Ship's Log, such as on 28th June, when the ship's bottom was being cleaned, it was noted that "...some of the seaweed removed from the ship's bottom, under the bows, was found to be from 12 to 13 feet in length". If nothing else, this shows how little the ship moved.
The ship's Victualling Lists show that between joining the ship on 21st February and the end of the first quarter, 31st March, No.35 George Orchard was victualled for 39 days, gross amount of charges being £4 8s 6d, and in the next quarter, ending 30 June 1866, he was victualled for 92 days, gross charges being £7 6s 7d. Besides deductions from pay to cover the cost of food and uniform, one shilling was deducted from each officer and man every month to support the Chatham Chest, and sixpence a month to support the Greenwich Hospital, both of which were charitable organisations for the support of sailors who were wounded, and widows and orphans of those killed whilst serving in the Navy.
On Monday, 2nd July 1866, St George slipped her moorings at 11.10 a.m. and sailed out of Portland Harbour. The event was noted by the Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette in its edition of July 5th:
"HMS St George sailed on Monday on a month's cruise, to exercise coastguard men, all of whom are under 45 years of age. Formerly it was the practice to send these men to sea irrespective of age, and many, after finishing their cruise, took the earliest opportunity of claiming their pensions, and of course retiring from the navy. Matters are now altered, and the young and efficient alone are drilled and brought forward for active service."
At 3.50 a.m. on the following day the ship anchored in Plymouth Sound, where she stayed until the morning of the following Friday. From Plymouth she sailed to Falmouth, then Holyhead, and finally Dublin Bay. Leaving Dublin Bay on Thursday 12th July, three days were spent cruising in the Irish Sea, arriving at Holyhead on the following Sunday. The next week was also spent cruising in the Irish Sea, returning to Holyhead on Saturday 21st July. A week was spent at Holyhead, until the ship sailed at noon on Saturday 28th July, returning to Portland via Falmouth and Plymouth, arriving home on 31st July. The ship's Master took the trouble to include hand-drawn maps in the Log Book showing the course followed in what was referred to in the Navy as the 'Summer Cruise'.
The ship's return was also noted by the Dorset County Chronicle in its edition of 9th August:
"HMS St George, coastguard ship, has returned from her cruise southward. The vessel arrived on Wednesday evening, but in consequence of not having her steam up, was obliged to remain at anchor outside until the following morning. The men on board seem to have greatly benefitted by the change, and are spoken of in the highest terms by their officers, both for efficiency and good conduct."
For the rest of George Orchard's service on the ship, she did not leave Portland. A few weeks after her return, she was again catching the attention of the Chronicle's reporter, who obviously did not think much of the march of progress, as on 23rd August he wrote:
"The St George is quite an ornament to our Roads - in fact the contrast is very great between her and the dull heavy-looking ironclads. The volunteers and others who have been with her on the month's cruise appear to have greatly improved in drill &c, and most of them express the pleasure they have felt in joining such a noble ship."
Life on board St George returned to the routine of previous months, although the Log does record two more deaths on board. On Friday 3rd August, a Marine private, George Bell, was killed when he fell from the wharf to a coal vessel's deck. Once again, the body was sent ashore for a Coroner's inquest, and again the verdict was accidental death. Private Bell was buried on 5th August.
The second death occurred on Friday 26th October, when another marine private, Robert Elston, was engaged in loading a main deck gun. The charge exploded prematurely, and Elston died of his injuries a few hours later. The Chronicle reported the incident in its edition of 1st November:
"Accident on board HMS St George. On Friday forenoon, about 11 o'clock, A sad accident occurred to a marine named Elstone [sic]. While in the act of loading a 32-pounder the powder exploded and blew his left arm off above the elbow, and so seriously injured the right arm that amputation was deemed necessary. The captain of the gun had his thumb injured. Elstone has since expired, and at the inquest held before F.C.Steggall, Esq., the jury returned a verdict of 'Accidental death'."
On his 18th birthday, 3rd March 1867, William George Orchard formally volunteered for Continuous Service with the Royal Navy, signing on for a period of ten years.
The Victualling Lists continued to record the presence of George Orchard on board. Between 1st October and 31st December 1866, he was victualled for 92 days; from 1st January to 31st March 1867 he was charged £2 5s 3d for 90 days victualling; and for the quarter commencing 1st April of that year his gross charges were £3 12s 10d. During this quarter his service with St George ended and he left the ship on 1st May 1867, transferring immediately to his next ship.
St George herself continued in service with the Navy for some years, and was finally sold in 1883.
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