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This page contains research notes reflecting the current information on the individuals of interest. The information presented may change from time to time as the information is verified or rejected.

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HENRY-4 SHEPPARD (George Henry-3, Edward Louis-2, Sidney William-1, James Wm.0) b. (May 1818 at Bridgewater??), Somerset, England, son of James Shepheard-5 d. 5 August 1853 at age 35 m. Elizabeth daughter of Thomas Vigus and Mary Samuels 20 May 1843 at St Andrews, Plymouth, Devon, England.

Henry Sheppard: The Beginining

Most of our knowledge of Henry has been derived from his naval records and those of his son George Henry. The Description Book from HMS Ajax (ADM 38 7474) lists Henry's birthplace as Bridgwater Somerset. On his marriage certificate his father's name is given as James Shepheard. A search of the registers from Bridgwater and surrounding parishes has not reavealed any record of Henry or James. We do; however; have a presumptive match in Henry son of James and Sarah (Hurdle?) baptised 27 July 1810 in the nearby parish of Stogursey.

Henry Bapt 1810

ADM 29/43 Officers' and Ratings' Service Records

A Henry Shepherd was a member to the Carpenter's Crew of the Satellite from: 30 Oct 1832 to: 7 April 1833 (the letters "SCL" follow this entry)

The St. Pierre of Bridgewater

A Henry Sheppard born in Bridgewater is listed on the crew list of the St. Pierre of Bridgewater; James Pooleman Owner.


BT/98-183 Register of General Shipping and Seamen: Muster Rolls and Crew Lists
1st January –30th June 1836
Name Age Place of Birth Quality Ship in which he last served Date of joining ship Place Where Time of Death or leaving ship Place Where How disposed of
Henry Sheppard
25 Bridgewater Mate Neptune 1 July 1835 Bridgewater 30 Dec 1835 Bridgewater Paid off

Could either of these be our Henry? Perhaps we will never know.

In the eighteenth century opium was highly sought after by the Chinese and in 1773 the East India Company assumed the monopoly of opium growing in Bengal. Company ships were not allowed to carry opium so it was smuggled into China by traders and agency houses. Cash received from Chinese drug-runners at Lintin was paid into the Company’s factory at Canton and by 1825 most of the money needed to buy tea in China was raised by the opium trade. The Opium War of 1840 with the Chinese, fought over the trade in opium, resulted in the English seizing Hong Kong. The Company’s monopoly on the China trade was abolished in 1833 with an agent remaining in Canton until 1840.

The official paper trail of Henry begins 20 July 184 whem he joined the crew of the HMS Druid. The HMS Druid and other vessels of the fleet under the command of Commodore Bremer arrived in the area in June 1840. On 20 May 1841 the Druid remains in Hong Kong while fleet moves above the Bogue forts at the mouth of the Pearl river

  • 20 July 1841: Henry joins crew of the Druid

On 20 August 1841 the Druid leaves HK as part of the fleet in a major offensive against Ningbo and Tiajin.

How did Henry get from England to the China Sea?

With the guidance from the subscribers of the Rootsweb Mariners Mailing List, Piers Smith-Cresswell and Paul Benyon in particular we have examined the following senarios.

It is highly unlikely that Henry would have made a special one-way trip to Hong Kong at his own expense to join up. Presumably if he had joined the RN in England his previous ship (outward bound to China) would appear in his entry in the Description Book of the Ajax.

Jumping forward to 1843. The Druid arrived home to Plymouth April 10th. The crew was paid off April 22. Henry married Elizabeth Vigers, daughter of Thomas Vigers of Plymouth May 20 1843. It would seem likely then, that Henry was quite familiar with Plymouth.

In the Description book from the Ajax Henry is rated AB. In other words, he was already an experienced seaman when he joined the Druid. That experience could only have been gained

  • In naval service not listed on the AJAX description book, ie prior to joining the Druid.
  • In the Merchant service.
    • If he was in the Merchant service, how did he come to be in Hong Kong? The general rule when someone joins a ship is that they sign on for a round voyage, UK to UK (or other northern European port) of a maximum duration, so in other words there was a break in the normal run of events. Some possibilities are:

    • He was aboard a ship which for some reason paid off at or around Hong Kong by being wrecked, or badly damaged, (or maybe captured?). That being the case he would probably have counted as a "Distressed British Seaman" which would have entitled him to be shipped home aboard another vessel; he decided to join the Navy instead.

      He was aboard a ship and either deserted from it, or got his discharge by mutual consent. The Merchant Seaman's Act (James Lees A MANUAL FOR SHIPMASTERS (4th Ed 1851) at p316 Google.))stipulated that a merchant seaman could not be prevented from joining the Navy, and any seaman who quit his ship part way through a voyage in order to join the Navy was not deemed to be a deserter and was entitled to his arrears of pay, clothes, and other effects. A certificate of his entry was to be endorsed by the Captain of the Naval vessel on the Merchant ship's Crew Agreement. This may have been the only means of legitimately leaving a ship on which he was unhappy if the Captain was not prepared to discharge him.

The most likely possibilty is that Henry obtained his discharge from a merchant vessel by mutual consent as he doesn't appear to have been transferred from a naval vessel which might have arrived on station from the UK, or left the station for the UK - under ideal circumstances these vessels often brought supernumeraries for the fleet - but an examination of the press of the day suggests that, given the problems in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Navy had great difficulty recruiting enough seamen to bring RN ships up to their full complements for service on both stations and that they often made their numbers up en route or once they arrived on station - a fairly large number of merchant vessels would have been hired or leased by the War Office / Admiralty to transport troops / stores / victuals / ordnance etc., to the Far East and Henry may well have been a part of a crew of one of these vessels

From 1835, the central government began to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy, resulting in the creation of thousands of records that identify individual seamen. A Henry Shepherd of Bridgwater appears in BT 114/18 giving creedence to the theory that Henry may have arrived in the China Sea as a crew member of one of the vessels supplying the China fleet.