Berkeley Wodehouse had been a British Resident in the Ionian Islands since 1852. Firstly on Ithaca until 1855, then briefly on Cephalonia for a few months and then finding a more permanent home on Zante. When the British Protectorate ended in 1864 he continued as British Consul until 1870. He was the Honourable Berkerley Wodehouse (a son of John Wodehouse, the 2nd Baron Wodehouse), a former Major in the 8th Light Dragoons and an Honourary Colonel of the Norfolk Militia. He was married to Fanny Holmes from Kildare, daughter of Alex Holmes. Berkeley and Fanny had four children, a girl and three boys. The eldest, Laura, died at Corfu in 1855, aged 17.
The Wodehouses had a reputation for holding excellent parties and receptions at Government House and it is clear that they would have been the highlight of the social calendar for the limited number of British families of 'officer class' on the island. Visiting Royal Naval ships would have been particularly welcome: as a good excuse for a party, but also because the Wodehouses had strong family connections to the Navy and it would have been quite natural for them to make a special fuss of visiting ship's officers.
One of the British families at Zante was that of Charles Schomberg Thomas. Eventually there will be pages here dedicated to this family (and to Minotto; see below), but briefly he had been born at Malta in 1803 where his father, Joseph Thomas, had been a surgeon and apothecary with Ralph Green during the great plague of 1813. When the Ionian Islands became a British Protectorate after the Great War against the French, Dr. Joseph Thomas, now a widower, moved to Zante with his surviving children. The eldest was Charles Schomberg Thomas, who initially had a failed career with the Honourable East India Company, but returned to Zante in the late 1830s with a commission as Paymaster in the Army. It seems he became the 'permanent' Paymaster on the island, exchanging in and out of each successive regiment or corps as they arrived and left. Sometime around 1840 he married a local girl, Mary Anne Minotto, the daughter of an apparently self-styled Count, a member of the well-known Minotto family of Venice, and an English woman he met in London where it appears he went when Venice and its empire surrendered to the French in 1797.
Charles Schomberg Thomas and Mary Anne Minotto had eight children on Zante between 1841 and 1852. Six seem to have survived childhood, four of them girls. The two oldest children were girls; the second of these, and family mythology says the most beautiful (of course!) was Sophia Louisa Thomas. The story goes that the sisters were regular guests at the Wodehouse's and were courted by many a naval beau. It is said that one of Sophia's suitors was George Tryon RN, who was six years older than GWM and already a Commander. He was captain of Surprise in the Mediterranean for two years, 1864-66. Apparently Sophia had to choose between him and GWM, and she chose GWM.
[ Tryon was the Admiral who drowned in 1893 when, as C-in-C in the Mediterranean, his Flag Ship Victoria sank with great loss of life, having collided with Camperdown while manoeuvring preparatory to anchoring off Syria. The court martial conveniently laid the blame on the dead man Tryon for making a complicated and easily misunderstood order. However, the version of the order used by the court was not the original — crucial words had been left out. In my opinion William Laird Clowes made a good case that the court martial was really a whitewash to protect those who had survived — especially those on the bridge of the Camperdown. But I know that there are some today who still believe Tryon was some kind of incompetent and domineering buffoon who shouldn't have had command of a rowing boat, let alone a fleet, and was guilty of a terrible act of mass manslaughter. However, I believe the details of his career give a very different impression of the man. But all that is another story. See: Clowes, Sir William Laird, THE ROYAL NAVY, A HISTORY, Volume VII. Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1903. Republished by Chatham Publishing, 1997. Plus: Fitzgerald, Rear-Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose, LIFE OF VICE-ADMIRAL SIR GEORGE TRYON, K.C.B., William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh & London, 1898. The latter work is a little sycophantic in style, but is, at least, a useful account of Tryon's life, despite a number of errors. It contains no mention of Sophia Louisa Thomas. ]
Despite having (presumably - if the story is true) chosen GWM before Tryon's departure from the Mediterranean in 1866, nothing is known of when Sophia actually became engaged to be married to GWM, the marriage in fact not taking place until 1868. And here family mythology is a little confusing and ambiguous. Great Aunt Grace (a younger child of GWM and Sophia) wrote in the 1960s that the wedding was arranged for Zante, but had to take place in Malta because GWM could not get leave and was about to depart on a new commission, but also Sophia had to elope from Zante with only one of her sisters as companion because, in a further confusing statement, Sophia was disowned by her father, Charles Schomberg Thomas, for marrying GWM. This could be a reference to Sophia's choice of GWM ahead of Tryon: perhaps her father preferred the older man from a very wealthy family and this caused the friction. However, this passage is particularly ambiguously written and may refer to the marriage of Charles Schomberg Thomas himself to Mary Anne Minotto a generation before! From what little we know of Mary Anne's father this would seem the more likely interpretation, but we don't really know. It is possible that both girl's marriages were disapproved of and actively opposed by their fathers.
Click the image for a four page article about the Ionian Islands at the end of British rule. It appeared in the United Service Magazine of August 1863.
A view of the Lord High Commissioner's palace from the sea at Corfu. Click the image for a whole view of the sea front in a new browser.
A modern view of the bay at Zakinthos. Sadly much of the town had to be rebuilt after the big earthquake in 1953, but it is not hard to imagine what this view might have looked like approximately 150 years ago - with perhaps HMS Racer anchored in the bay. Click on the image to see full view in a new browser.
Issue of Charles Schomberg Thomas and Mary Anne Minotto:
Giovanna Elizabeth Thomas b.1841
Sophia Louisa Thomas b.1842
Patrick Stuart Thomas b.1843 (died young)
Arthur John Thomas b.1845
Robert B. Thomas b.1846 (prob. died young)
Fanny M. Thomas b.1848
Richard Frederick Hill Thomas b.1850
Eliza Victoria Thomas b.1852
George Tryon as a young man. From a miniature by Easton, supposed to have been painted about 1857, although I suspect it may have actually been done after his promotion to Commander in October 1860.
George Tryon (b. 04 Jan 1832)
HMS Britannia & RNB during the Crimean War
Lieutenant 21 October 1854
Commander 25 October 1860
Captain 11 April 1866
Rear Admiral 01 April 1884
Vice Admiral 13 August 1889
Drowned 22 June 1893.
Probably the oldest picture of Sophia Louisa Thomas in the family's possession. It was taken by Rosati & Co. of Valetta, Malta, possibly at the time of the wedding, otherwise some time in the 1870s.
Whatever the truth, the fact is that the wedding did take place at Malta in the Anglican Collegiate Church of St. Paul, Valetta, on the 12th of September, 1868. In the summer of 1868 Lindesay Brine had taken Racer back to Woolwich to be paid off on the 17th of June. This was about six weeks after GWM's father George had finally died and been taken to Portsmouth for burial. GWM had no new commission until November, 1869, so part of Great Aunt Grace's account proves a little shaky: that GWM couldn't get leave at the time of the wedding. However, could his father's death have caused a postponement to the wedding and general upset to all the plans?
There are strange and incomplete stories about that summer in Malta. It shouldn't be forgotten that GWM's twin younger brother and sister were now 20 years old. Douglas was already in the Navy, but Lily was it seems alone in the house in Malta, unless she had gone to England when father went to die. There are tales of "all being lost" and "rascally Maltese servants" stealing all the nice furniture and exchanging badly done fakes for a house full of valuable paintings. George Muir's business on the Strada Reale just seems to completely disappear. Great Aunt Grace wrote that the newly married Sophia had to be armed and have pistol practice in the garden for self defence. All George Muir's reported wealth (recorded when he was certified a lunatic) evaporates into the ether: it is never officially mentioned again and seems never to have been in the hands of, or spent by any of his children. GWM certainly didn't have a great deal to pass on to his widow and children in 1883. At the same time as all these alleged goings-on in Malta, Great Aunt Grace reported that after the wedding in September, GWM, Sophia and Lily (!) went on honeymoon to the Holy Land and collected water from the River Jordan with which all the couple's children were subsequently baptised.
At first glance and from the way Great Aunt Grace wrote, it looked as if the whole Malta presence was wrapped up, sold or simply disappeared that summer of 1868. But then it was discovered that Sophia and her first son at least, had made a trip or trips to the island until the mid 1870s — there are two photographs in our possession taken by Rosati & Co. of Valetta of grandfather Robert Douglas Muir aged five or six. So we don't know what actually happened finally to the house or the business, or exactly when. All we know is that the building which had housed the business was destroyed by bombs during the great siege in the Second World War.
Back to reality. GWM got his next commission in November, 1869, as Paymaster in Cossack to go to the East Indies with his old friend John Edward Parish, captain. By that time the new family (plus Lily) had moved to London (first it seems to Clapham, but by 1871 they were in a small house in Chapel Road, Ealing) and had been enlarged by the birth of their first child, Robert Douglas Muir, on the 6th of October, so GWM only got to know the new baby for a few weeks before disappearing on a long commission. London in winter must have been a huge shock for both the women. As far as we know neither of them had ever spent any time away from their home islands of Zante and Malta. Winter in 1869-70 London with short gloomy days, frosts, fog and snow, alone with a small baby because husband/brother was away on the far side of the world cannot have been their idea of fun and must have been a rude introduction to the metropolis. However, it is to be hoped that they were not too lonely as well. Nobody knows if they had any contact with GWM's Way or Harrison relatives (which were legion), but Sophia's uncle, Arthur Ralph Green Thomas, was vicar of St. Paul, Camden, and surely there was contact there — ARG Thomas had been married for the second time in 1850 and had two boys and a girl between 1838 and 1847 by his first marriage and another two boys and a girl by his second; the youngest of Sophia's cousins being only eleven in the autumn of 1869, but the eldest was four years her senior. Whatever the state of the relationship between Sophia and her father (who was probably dead by that time), surely this clerical uncle and his family became friends?
GWM and Cossack went to the East Indies station, but Captain Parish was superseded on the 12th of August, 1871, by Captain Robert Gordon Douglas. In the Navy List of December of that year Cossack, Captain Douglas and GWM were on the Australian station. They did not return to Sheerness for paying off until the 18th of July, 1873. GWM had been away from his new wife and son for more than three and a half years. But this was not unusual for the men of Queen Victoria's navy.
On the Australia station Cossack served alongside a laughably small number of Her Majesty's ships, including Basilisk, 5, Paddle Sloop, Captain John Moresby; Rosario, 3, Steam Sloop, Commander Henry J. Challis, and Clio, 18, Steam Corvette, Commodore Frederick H. Stirling. They were expected to be everywhere at once and to perform several roles in an enormous piece of sea. Firstly there was the protection of Sydney: at the time there was a fear, real or imagined, that there would be a Russian invasion. The Royal Navy was supposed to show the flag and dispel any fears. However, because of their other commitments severely stretching their resources (ever the same!) it seems they didn't spend much time at Sydney, eventually prompting the local authorities to get the Atlas Engineering Company of Pyrmont to design and build two 'outrigger' torpedo boats for their defence. (These boats, Acheron and Avernus, didn't enter service until 1878.) Secondly, there were continual problems in Fiji. (King Cakobau and his government were often under threat and in 1872 Cossack visited the islands and Captain Douglas threatened anyone crossing King Cakobau, effectively giving British support to his regime). Thirdly, Her Majesty's ships were kept very busy trying to deal with what was euphemistically called the 'labour trade'. It was, in all but name, part of the slave trade.
From the 1860s there had been a trade in South Sea Island labourers to the cane fields of Queensland called 'Blackbirding'. These poor people were derogatorily known as 'Kanakas' and were mostly tricked, cajoled, or simply stolen from their communities in the islands to provide a labour force for the new sugar cane plantations. There were a number of men and ships involved in this despicable trade and it was the Royal Navy's job to arrest them when and wherever possible. There isn't the space here to give a full account, but there are a number of websites that deal with this, one I favour being www.janeresture.com/kanakas/. (Click on the link for the site to open in a new browser).
GWM returned to England in July, 1873. He had just a few weeks at home to introduce himself to his wife and son again before he was off again. In August Captain John Edward Parish was appointed Commodore of the 2nd Class and Senior Naval Officer at Hong Kong, his ship to be the hulk which was the Receiving Ship there, the old wooden-walled Princess Charlotte. In her letters from Canada in the 1960s, Great Aunt Grace suggests that Parish “persuaded” GWM to go with him to Yokohama, which was actually a later commission for GWM — one that Parish wasn't part of. It seems likely that it was this commission to Hong Kong which actually prompted the comments. Great Aunt Grace was relying entirely on her (suspect) memory and what her mother Sophia had told her many years before, because she wasn't actually born until the Yokohama commission and was under four when her father died. The comments have a resigned but resentful air about them: they sound as if they come straight from the mouth of wife and mother Sophia who was just enjoying having her husband back at her side after three and a half years away, only to discover he was off again to the far side of the world after just a few weeks.
The spire of the Anglican Collegiate Church of St. Paul, Valetta.
ABOVE: representation of the marriage registration of George William Muir and Sophia Louisa Thomas. Mary Jane Muir was GWM's sister 'Lily'. William Winthrop was the Honorary US Consul at Malta, and had probably been well acquainted with the Muir family. Henry (Harry) Ovenden Wrench was a British Military Chaplain, previously serving in the Crimean War and of Zante, who knew Sophia well, and probably GWM too. [From: No.6 Marriage Register, Anglican Collegiate Church of St. Paul in the city of Valletta in the island of Malta, Marriages. (from 10.11.1863 to 21.10.1879) Guildhall Library Manuscript 30769 Vol. 1, Number 178.]
John Edward Parish (b. 03 June 1822)
Lieutenant 04 May 1846
Commander 08 August 1857
Captain 25 March 1863
Rtd. Captain 11 July 1876
Rtd. Rear Admiral 31 December 1878
Rtd. Vice Admiral 30 October 1884
Died 22 January 1894
GWM photographed by W.H. Crago,
Central Photographic Gallery, 84 King Street, Sydney
1871 or 1872. ('Obverse' — 'reverse' rollover)
The flag of New South Wales between 1870 and 1876.
Seizure of the slaver Daphne by H.M.S. Rosario.
Samuel Calvert. [Melbourne : s.n., 1869?]
nla.pic-an10267974 National Library of Australia
Click on the image above for the full picture in a new browser.
Robert Gordon Douglas (b. 07 June 1829)
Lieutenant 03 May 1853
Commander 03 July 1860
Captain 11 April 1866
Rear Admiral 08 January 1883
Vice Admiral 15 December 1888
Rtd. Vice Admiral 07 June 1894
Rtd. Admiral 09 December 1894
The flag of Fiji between 1871 and 1874.
Persuaded by Captain Parish, or otherwise, GWM did go to Princess Charlotte at Hong Kong as Naval & Victualling Storekeeper in the latter part of 1873. From sometime in 1874 until 1876 he was Secretary. Then he returned home, as did Captain Parish, after another three years away. It is believed that it was during this commission in Hong Kong that Sophia visited Malta on one or more occasions with the young Robert Douglas Muir, but who they stayed with there and for how long, and how many visits they actually made is unknown. As for the Hong Kong commission, there are almost no official details available and Great Aunt Grace added nothing in her letters. Even 'Naval & Military Intelligence' in the Times newspaper is peculiarly quiet about comings and goings to and from Princess Charlotte. And the Times' main news pages are almost empty of Hong Kong references too.
Hong Kong Island had been first occupied by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War — neither it nor the Second Opium War being either of the most glorious or moral passages in British imperial activity, to say the least. Hong Kong was formally ceded from China under the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the war. A Crown Colony was established the following year with the founding of Victoria City. After China's defeat in the the Second Opium War in 1860, the Kowloon Peninsula south of Boundary Street and Stonecutter's Island was given to Britain by the Convention of Peking. In the 1870s, when GWM and John Parish served there things were fairly quiet, except of course for the steady onward march of British Imperial Business with the growth of companies like Jardine Matheson & Co. Apparently it wasn't until the end of the century that Hong Kong was declared a free port, but all through the latter decades business there was paramount and it was fast becoming a major entrepôt of the Empire. Incidently, John Parish was remembered in at least one way in Hong Kong: when the Infectious Diseases Hospital was built on top of one of the hills it was named Mount Parish.
Almost at once on GWM's return to England Sophia conceived their second child. Their first, Robert Douglas, was now nearly seven years old and father and son had only been together for a handful of weeks of that time.
GWM's next appointment was very different for two reasons. Firstly, his pregnant wife and son went with him. Secondly, it was in England — on the bracing North Sea coast of Yorkshire: Kingston-upon-Hull. No more the exotic attractions of the Antipodes and South Sea islands, Brazil, the China Seas, or even the Mediterranean. This was to be, albeit briefly, a complete change of pace.
GWM photographed in Hong Kong
almost certainly in 1873 when Naval Storekeeper
in the Receiving Ship Princess Charlotte
Click on the image above to go to a full size
rollover 'obverse' — 'reverse'
The flag of Hong Kong introduced in 1876 during GWM's commission there in the Receiving Ship Princess Charlotte.
HMS Princess Charlotte in late 1861
at the start of her career as Receiving Ship, Hong Kong.
After the painting by Raymond Massey, 'The Challenge leaving Hong Kong, October 1861.' The whole picture may be viewed (or bought) at Grace Galleries Marine Prints.
Click for final page about G. W. Muir »