Kingston upon Hull is on the north shore of the Humber Estuary which flows out into the North Sea, draining a vast area of Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire. Once upon a time Viking longships had crept past here on their way to the River Ouse, York and the Yorkshire heartland, but in the 1870s it was a place of fishing fleets and import and export to and from other northern European ports. GWM was to be 'District Paymaster on Shore', on the books of Endymion, now a Ship of the First Reserve and Coast Guard on the Humber. GWM's younger brother Thomas Douglas Muir had served in her for nearly three years on the Mediterranean station between 1866 and 1869, but now she was all but retired. It is highly probable that GWM actively sought this appointment, or something similar: he had been seperated from his wife and son for most of the eight years since his marriage and now his wife was pregnant with their second child. A bit of domesticity was surely foremost in both their minds, and this job in Hull sounds as if it was a regular 'nine-to-five'. But one can't help thinking it was something of a poor career move for GWM. He was nearing forty years of age and he was way up the list of active Paymasters with a great deal of experience around the world, as a Secretary as well as Paymaster, and very probably in the Intelligence field (and not forgetting his war service). District Paymaster on Shore in Hull for the Reserve and the Coast Guard doesn't seem to quite meet expectations for someone who was apparently cut out for high office!
The family took a house in the west of the city at 55, Coltman Street, and it was here that their second child, Mary Louisa, was born on the 18th of June, 1877. (See below right for photo.) Sophia must have been getting used to gloomy, cold English Victorian terraced houses by now: she had been living in them for nearly ten years. But one can only think it was a bit strange for GWM, accustomed to his cramped, mostly hot, stuffy cabin aboard a ship in some exotic, faraway place. In fact the total amount of time he spent in England in his whole life was short. Anyway, whatever the potential problems of adjusting to family life in England, the strange domestic idyll in Yorkshire was not to last long.
Click above for an old view of part of the Hull docks and the old Dock Company building.
A modern view of part of the old docks and the Dock Company building, now the Maritime Museum.
A map of Hull in 1866. Click above for the full image.
HMS Endymion at the time GWM's brother was serving in her.
Click on the image above to see full picture in a new browser.
In November, 1878, GWM was appointed to Iron Duke as 'Paymaster, additional, for service as Naval Accountant and Victualling Storekeeper'. Iron Duke was the Flag Ship of Vice-Admiral George Ommanney Willes on the China station and GWM was to be based at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay, Japan, and the good news was that Sophia and Mary Louisa could go with him. Surely this was the kind of appointment he was waitng for, and could have expected. Japan was just beginning to open up a little and trade with the West, and it was through Yokohama that most of that trade was passing. In the late 1870s Japan was the place to be.
Neither nine year old son Robert Douglas, nor sister Lily went with them to Japan: Lily boarded in Penge and was supposed to be Robert's guardian — he was entered into the Royal Naval School at Deptford. It sounds from Great Aunt Grace's letters in the 1960s that this 'guardianship' was not a great success. Apparently Lily used to send money intended for Robert's upkeep to her brother Douglas who was always in trouble financially, with the result that the boy was dressed almost in rags. (See Thomas Douglas Muir page — click here ).
The list of those Iron Duke for the 1881 census can be seen at right. Vice-Admiral George Ommanney Willes had served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War in
While they were in Japan the family lived in a house at 117 Bluff, Yokohama, and it was here that Sophia had two more children. The first was Grace Georgina Thornton Muir — Great Aunt Grace in these pages, and actually she wrote that she and her younger brother were born in the Grand Hotel, Yokohama. Perhaps '117 Bluff' was the Grand Hotel? Anyway, Grace was born on the 30th of January, 1880, and baptised at Christ Church, Yokohama, on the 5th of April by the Chaplain, Edward C. Irvine. The second was Arthur Thomas Muir. He was born on the 15th of May, 1881. Photographs were taken by Suzuki in Yokohama, along with Mary Louisa — the only known photo of her. She was about four and a half by that time.
Mary Louisa was, as Great Aunt Grace wrote, "an early diabetic." Insulin did not become medically available until 1921: she could only expect a short life. Her mother Sophia and her older brother Robert were both to die of the same disease: her mother in 1896, and Robert in 1914. And GWM himself was ill. He had tuberculosis, the 'White Death'. His death certificate in 1883 states cause of death as "Phthisis Pulmonalis 4 years." However, this timing may have been misleading. He could well have known for a long time before 1879 that he had trouble. Rates of TB in the Royal Navy were high, although statistics for the time are admittedly unreliable. (See Christopher Lloyd and Jack L. S. Coulter, MEDICINE AND THE NAVY 1200-1900, VOLUME IV, 1815 TO 1900, Livingstone, Edinburgh and London, 1963). However, the rates were very high for those who had served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War, and higher still for those who served onshore with the Naval Brigade. (My own researches show that something like 30% of the officers who served onshore were to die later of TB). So GWM could have been developing the disease since then — perhaps like a lot of sufferers he managed to keep it secret for so long, but we don't really know.
Whatever the circumstances of these illnesses, and whether or not they caused the return to England, the family did come home during 1882. It seems that Sophia and the children set off first in the SS Mirzapore. If not first, they were certainly not accompanied by GWM, and he wasn't entered in the books of Asia at Portsmouth until the 25th of August, several months after Mirzapore had arrived in England. There is also evidence that Sophia and the babies went to stay in Cumberland with her elder sister Giovanna during that summer. (Giovanna Elizabeth Thomas had married a widowed solicitor called Andrew Berwick Were and they were living in Whitehaven with his three daughters by his first marriage).
The SS Mirzapore was a 3,763 gross ton ship; length 380.3ft, beam 42.5ft. She had one funnel, three masts, an iron hull, single screw and a speed of 12 knots. Accommodation for 168 1st, and 58 2nd class passengers, and she probably wasn't at all comfortable in a typhoon — see below. She had been built by Caird & Co, Greenock and launched for P&O on the 20th May, 1871. She spent most of her time on the London—Suez—Bombay—Ceylon—Calcutta—Singapore service. Sophia and the children must have embarked on the return leg of one of these voyages.
Great Aunt Grace described what she could remember being told about the journey home in the Mirzapore in a letter to her nephew, Alec Andrew Muir, dated the 5th of February, 1969:
Mother returned on troopship — through typhoon — 2 babies & dying child. Mary about 6. I think Japanese nurse must have defaulted at last moment. Mary knew what was ahead & accepted calmly — gave mother silver bracelet which Mother never took off till just before her death.
Mary Louisa died on the 11th of April, 1882, and was buried at sea. It was actually two months before her fifth birthday.
HMS Iron Duke, the Flag Ship, China station. GWM was on her books when he was at Yokohama. This photo was probably taken at Malta in 1878, just before the commission on China station. Click above to see full picture.
HMS Iron Duke, census return, 1881
Four postcard views of the old Grand Hotel at Yokohama. According to Great Aunt Grace both she and Arthur Thomas Muir were born there in 1880 and 1881.
Mary Louisa Muir photographed by Suzuki of Yokohama.
Click to see full photo with her little brother and sister.
GWM's sea-going chest of drawers. Apparently this would go with him in his cabin on each commission. The drawer handles sit flush into the drawer fronts and apparently there was a lined, knock-down packing case which the chest fitted inside for moving and loading on and off ships. (Captain Haddock is a more recent resident.)
GWM photographed by Usui, Yokahama, 1879.
Click for rollover obverse—reverse.
GWM photographed by Suzuki, Yokohama.
Click image for rollover obverse—reverse.
Sophia Louisa Muir photographed by Suzuki, Yokohama.
Click for rollover obverse—reverse.
The SS Mirzapore at Port Moody in 1889.
Click on small painting above for full size photo.
By the end of the summer of 1882, GWM, Sophia, Robert and the two babies were living in Alberta Villa, Granada Road, Southsea, just on the edge of Portsmouth. Also come to join them from her digs in Penge was GWM's younger sister Lily who had apparently made such a 'hash' of being Robert's guardian while the rest of the family was in Japan. Already underground (or was he?) across the water at Haslar was GWM and Lily's brother Thomas Douglas Muir, who had died at the Haslar Hospital eighteen months before. (See the page about him
here). The family had little more than a year together at Alberta Villa. Teenager Robert was sent to the Grammar School and Great Aunt Grace was getting just old enough to remember incidents for herself. She remembered meals, with her high chair next to her father at one end of the table, and Arthur next to their mother at the other. Also Robert and a school friend building a canoe in the basement from plans in the Boy's Own Paper and “with the help of a Merchant Officer.” It was tested in the man-made pond between the end of Granada Road and the sea. She also remembered going to church on Sundays, and the clothes she wore, at St. Simon's — up Granada Road away from the sea.
Sadly one of her first memories was the death of her father, GWM, on the morning of Friday the 16th of November, 1883. His fight with tuberculosis was lost:
The day of father's death. The house was very quiet — Arthur with me in dining room — we stand with chins on edge of table. Parbury, father's attendant is with us. I ask where is father? Parbury — “He is in Heaven.” The only time we saw Parbury.
Parbury has been impossible to identify with certainty, although he may have been one Edgar Parbury, born in London, who certainly did time in the Navy. So GWM died on Friday the 16th and was buried on Monday the 19th of November at the Haslar Naval Cemetery. A full report appeared in the Hampshire Telegraph the following Saturday (see right) and it is clear that the Navy gave him a good send off. His grave, unlike his younger brother's, can be easily found at Plot G, Row 1, Grave 15. The base edging stone carries a memorial to his daughter Mary Louisa who had died at sea eighteen months previously, with the biblical quote “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it.”
His will, which he had made while he was stationed at Hull, was proved on the 22nd of January, 1884, as follows:
The Will of George William Muir formerly of the Borough of Kingston-upon-Hull but late of Alberta Villa Granada Road Southsea in the County of Southampton a Paymaster in the Royal Navy who died 16 November 1883 at Alberta Villa was proved at the Principal Registry by John Edward Parish of 6 Bina Gardens South Kensington in the County of Middlesex Esquire a Retired Admiral from the Royal Navy and Loftus Christopher Hawker Robinson of 34 Beverley Road Kingston-upon-Hull Esquire a Captain in the Royal Navy the Executors.
GWM's personal estate realised £1,358 17s. 8d.
Alberta Villa, Granada Road, Southsea. GWM, Sophia, three children and Lily lived here on their return from Japan, and GWM died here. (Photographed in the 1990s)
The interesting design of the stern of HMS Asia. GWM was on her books for a year before he died when she was Guard Ship of the Reserve and Flag Ship of the Admiral Superintendent at Portsmouth. (By Edward W. Cooke (1811-1880). From Fifty Plates of Shipping and Craft, London 1829. Picture is also available online, Ref: 10423685 Science Museum Library www.scienceandsociety.co.uk )
Click image above for the report in the Hampshire Telegraph, 24 November 1883 page 8. Also photographs of GWM's grave in the Haslar Cemetery, Plot G, Row 1, Grave 15.
Dragon detail from a photograph frame GWM and Sophia brought back from Japan.