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Albert lee Overbury

Albert Lee Overbury was born to John and Mary Ann Overbury (née Lee) in Battersea, the 12 September 1834. His parents were residents of 37 Doughty Street, London. (1)  He may however have spent a large part of his early years in Cheltenham where his father and grandfather owned properties. He would state his place of birth as Cheltenham on the 1881 census and on some of his Royal Navy records. 

In 1841, he was recorded as living at 2 Devonshire Place, Streatham but by the age of fourteen, Albert was already a naval cadet. In 1847 he was posted to HMS Bellerophon: “Naval Cadets – ...Albert L. Overbury and Francis S. Thompson, to Bellerophon”. (2)  Albert would remain on the Bellerophon for a relatively short period of time. Just after his sixteenth birthday, on the 7 November 1850, he would transfer to HMS Amphitrite having left Bellerophon on the sixth. He was described as “‘On leave from Impregnable’” on the ship’s muster roll so it is possible that he had originally been assigned for the Impregnable. He had achieved promotion sometime between 1847 and 1850 to midshipman. The rank of midshipman was generally held by aspiring individuals pursuing an officer career in the Royal Navy. He received tuition from the 22 January 1851 and clearly did aspire to higher ranks. He had “provisionally passed for Lieutenant, 12 April 1853” and was transferred to Military Barracks No. 9 on the 11 October 1853 to take further examinations. (3)  He “passed in seamanship” and so was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. (4)  
Subsequently he would return to HMS Amphitrite.

19 July 1854, he would achieve his next significant promotion, when he received a commission to become acting Mate on the Amphitrite. (5)  Nonetheless, that would also be his last promotion in the Royal Navy. His service with the Royal Navy ended just over a year later:  "31 October 1855, dismissed the service for violent conduct and being addicted to drinking; see letter from Rear Admiral Bruce of 14 September 1855". That letter no longer exists in the Admiralty correspondence but it seems likely that it would have described his prolonged addiction to drinking. His entries in HMS Amphitrite’s log become noticeably sparser and poorly written for a period of at least six months before that date. His last entry was written on the 14 July 1855 which suggests his duties were severely diminished between the July and October, though he did remain aboard the ship.

During his five years of service with HMS Amphitrite, Albert visited a diverse variety of places. It would tour the Pacific Ocean stopping at islands like Hawaii, Tahiti, the Pitcairn’s and Southern ports like Valparaiso in Chile. Throughout the period the only conflict was that against Russia. “11 May - 7 Sep 1854, when news of the war being declared against the Russians was received the British force on the China and Japan station consisted of the President, Pique, Amphitrite, Trincomalee, Virago and the French the Forte, Eurydice, Artemise, and Obligado. A number of operations appear to have been carried out, none of which were carried through to a satisfactory conclusion”. (6) 

Examples of typical log book entries written by Albert are hugely varied and represent his role and responsibilities on board the ship: (7) 
  • Navigational bearings
    • 7 December 1854: “NW L ½ W”
    • 9 January 1855: “Shortened sail and came to with Pique”
  • Sightings of other ships
    • 19 November 1854: “French Frigate Forte, off the entrance of Bay”
  • Training; often mundane and repetitive
    • 14 November 1854: “Mustered by divisions”
    • 7 December 1854: “5_15 Mustered at quarters”
  • Night watch
  • Engagements/interactions with other ships
    • 16 November 1854: “Supplied the Pique with cartridges”
  • General operation of a ship
    • “Employed preparing stores for survey and white-washing holds. Invalided Lieut. Haniforthe discharged.”
His departure from the Royal Navy was not, however, the end of his seafaring career. He would instead switch to the merchant navy. In 1857 he obtained his Master Ordinary certificate in Sunderland. (8) The certificate qualified him to be a ship’s master. He would remain on the merchant navy lists until 1864, (9) but his wife’s census entry in 1871, where she is described as ‘master mariner’s wife’ suggests that his career continued for a considerably longer period. Whilst in the merchant navy it seems he served on a variety of ships. He appears on a passenger list for the Sirocco ship (built in 1856) as 2nd mate, aged 29. The Sirocco had arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, from London on the 3rd of October 1864. The ship had been transporting c.300 emigrants to Australia. Further evidence for Albert having remained in the merchant navy until at least 1873 appears in the “Index to the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London". (10) There he is described as having submitted voyages in 1857, 1863-1864 and 1868-1873. (11) It can, with reasonable certainty, be concluded that Albert was no longer at sea by around 1874. In 1874 he was a resident of 24 Newnham Street, Chatham, and described as a grocer or tea dealer. (12) In the 1881 census he is a resident of 12 Magpie Hall Lane (which is adjacent to Newnham Street), Chatham and working in a grocer’s shop with his wife. It certainly was an unusual change of career. It might have been the result of having married Mary Ann Coppen in 1866. Mary Ann was born in East Farleigh, Kent, not too far from Chatham so maybe Albert desired to spend time with his young children; the oldest, John, was born in 1868. Chatham was also the site of important Royal Navy and merchant docks. Albert would presumably have been familiar with the area. The family remained at 12 Magpie Hall Lane until past 1891. The grocery shop also continued until past 1891. Interestingly, Albert described his occupation as grocer and writer in 1891 though what Albert wrote remains to be identified. Albert would die at the end of 1898 whilst still a resident of Chatham. His wife Mary Ann would then move in with their son, Algernon Overbury, with whom she would live until 1938.

Sources / Citations:

1. Register of Births and Baptisms at the Independent Dissenting Meeting House in the Parish of Clapham, Surrey from 1808 to 1837. 2. A. Pollock, ‘United Service Magazine, Volume 55’, (H. Colburn, 1847), p. 472. 3. ‘Amphitrite Ship’s Muster’, The National Archives, (ADM 38/7519, 1850-1856). 4. ‘The Navy List’, (The Admiralty, 1855). 5. Ibid. 6. W. Clowes, ‘The royal navy, a history from the earliest times to present’, (Marston, 1897), p. 429. 7. All examples obtained from log book of HMS Amphitrite. ‘Amphitrite Ship’s Log’, The National Archives, (ADM 53/5018.ADM 53/5019, 1855). 8. ‘Master Ordinary: Certificate no 1090, OC, 1856, Sunderland’ quoted from ‘The Mercantile Navy List and Annual Appendage to the Commercial Code of Signals for All Nations’, (Google Books, 1857). 9. ‘The Navy List’, (The Admiralty, 1858.1860.1861.1864). 10. ‘Index to the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London’, (Guildhall Library Ms 18567, varied). 11. "OVERBURY, Albert Lee b. Surrey 1834 C1090 Sunderland 1856, vol.11 1857, 1863-1864, 1868-1873; vol.23 no voyages listed" quoted from Ibid. 12. ‘Kelly’s Directory’, (Ancestry.co.uk, 1874).