Although he was born in Portsmouth in 1838, George William Muir (hereafter GWM) lived in Malta from the age of three or four. His father George had been steward to the admiral of the Mediterranean fleet but had left the Royal Navy to set himself up as a bookseller and publisher in Valetta. (See George Muir Jnr. pages). It appears that the family became quite wealthy over the years, with the business on the Strada Reale and a large, almost palatial house in Sliema just across the harbour to the north. There is no record of his mother Fanny having any more pregnancies until the birth of twins in 1848. They were Thomas Douglas Muir and Mary Jane Muir.
GWM was educated at the Malta Protestant College. Although I only have records of prizes won and the like for his brother Thomas Douglas, it would appear that GWM must have excelled at languages. It is indicated in family letters about his later life that he spoke five tongues other than his own - including Russian and Arabic. A career in the Royal Navy loomed. In letters written in the 1960s my Great Aunt, Grace Georgina Thornton Muir (GWM's daughter), suggested that GWM was considered too young to be sent home to England to join the Navy as a Cadet in the Military Branch, so joined the Civil Branch directly from Malta. However I don't think this is backed up by the evidence.
In 1893 a Captain Cecil Sloane-Stanley's widow published his “Reminiscences of a Midshipman's Life from 1850-1856.” (Eden, Remington &Co, London & Sydney, 1893). Sloane-Stanley joined as a Naval Cadet in the Spring of 1850. His first appointment was as a Supernumerary in HMS Victory at Portsmouth. When he joined ship at the beginning of April 1850, the first three of the other Young Gentlemen he mentions by name were:
“There were only two other Cadets besides Black in the ship at this time, although their number was increased by new arrivals shortly after. One of these, by name Muir, was the same lad who had spoken in such a kind manner to me during my examination; and the other, whose name was Square, had only joined a fortnight back.”
And again a few days later:
“ …and others having lately left to join other ships. Of these last Muir was one. I had noticed his absence, and, on enquiry, was told that he had been appointed to a sea-going ship, and had left early that morning.”
There is a caveat in that Sloane-Stanley used a combination of real names, nicknames and pseudonyms throughout his book. Currently I can't positively identify 'Black' and 'Square', but feel certain from various contexts that they are those persons' real names. GWM definitely appears much later in the book in the Crimea as 'Muir'. I can see no possible reason for Sloane-Stanley to use a pseudonym early in the book which then appears later as a real name - unless he was determined to be as confusing as possible! The entry requirement in the 1850s for Naval Cadets stated that they should be between 12 and 14 years of age. GWM was 12 in January 1850. Wasting no time, he could have been sent to Portsmouth in time for his birthday, or shortly thereafter. That means he could have been on the books of Victory for several weeks before Sloane-Stanley joined, receiving his first sea-going appointment those few days later. Sloane-Stanley himself was only in Victory for a few weeks and this kind of timing seems very typical. The argument that GWM was too young to be sent so far away from home doesn't quite hold water either. Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight were full of his mother's Way relatives and many of his father's Harrison and Brine half-relatives lived in the area as well.
What is a matter of record, GWM was entered in the books of HMS Albion from the 20th of July 1853 as an Assistant Clerk and made his appearance in her in the Mediterranean on the 11th of October. He had previously been in HMS Wasp and presumably had spent some of the missing three months as leave at home in Malta. He found at least two old acquaintances in Albion: the first was Cecil Sloane-Stanley who had been serving in her continuously since his appointment to her from Victory in June 1850, and the second, hardly coincidently one must think, was old family friend Captain Stephen Lushington. Lushington had taken over command of Albion in the first half of July from William James Hope Johnstone who was returning to England on his promotion to Rear-Admiral of the Blue.
The first known picture of George William Muir. From the uniform and medals this was almost certainly done in 1859 when GWM was 21. He had been appointed Assistant Paymaster on his birthday, 22 January of that year. He wears the white trousers authorized for summer wear at Home and on Foreign stations. At that time he was Clerk to the Secretary to Vice-Admiral Houston Stewart in HMS Indus, Flag Ship North America & West Indies.
HMS Victory 101 guns
First Rate, Victory Class
Built Chatham Dockyard
Ordered 1758, Launched 1765
Hulked 1824 as Portsmouth Flag & Receiving Ship
HMS Victory, afloat in Portsmouth Harbour,
much as she would have looked when
Naval Cadets GWM and Sloane-Stanley
spent a few weeks in her in early 1850
HMS Albion 90 guns
Second Rate, two deck, Albion Class
Built Plymouth Dockyard
Ordered 1839, Launched 1842
Converted to Screw 1861, Broken Up 1884
Click here for a PDF file in a new browser of the muster of officers of HMS Albion in 1853
Captain Stephen Lushington (1803-1877)
Commander of the Royal Naval Brigade
(From a drawing in the Crimea by W. Simpson R.I.)
Lieutenant 13 Jul 1824
Captain 28 Oct 1829
Rear-Admiral 04 Jul 1855
Admiral 02 Dec 1865
KCB 1855, GCB 1865
When the war broke out in 1854, Albion was naturally part of the Fleet which proceeded to the Black Sea and transported the Army to the Crimea. Here is not the place for anything like a full account of the Russian (Crimean) War, for this is essentially a family history. However, put simply, the war was fought on several fronts, most notably in the Black and Baltic Sea regions. France and Britain's aim in the Black Sea was to help their ally Turkey quash Russia's expansionist moves which it was feared would eventually change the balance of power in the wider region. Turkey's empire was weak in the face of the Russian threat and they needed help. The invasion of the Crimea by the Allies (France, Britain, Turkey, with Sardinia later) was intended to take Sevastopol which was Russia's main naval base in the region. With Sevastopol denied to the Russians their plans would be thwarted. That was the theory.
The British and French Armies were landed by their Fleets at Kalamita Bay on the 14th September and soon started to march south to Sevastopol. The way was blocked by the Russian Army holding the heights on the south side of the River Alma. The Battle of Alma was fought on the 20th of September, watched by the combined Fleets anchored off the mouth of the river. In a famous victory the British and French routed the Russians who retreated rapidly to Sevastopol, a few miles to the south. GWM went ashore for the first time after the battle to help embark Russian wounded. However, his small party was attacked by Russian stragglers and they had to defend themselves vigorously for several minutes.
Romantic view of Constantinople harbour
(from a contemporary print)
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Allied shipping entering the Bosphorus
from a contemporary print)
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The Emperor of Russia's personal standard
A Royal Naval Brigade, with many of the ships' guns, was landed at the beginning of October. The Allied Armies had skirted around Sevastopol to the east and were now setting about besieging the port from the south. The British adopted the odd little harbour of Balaklava on the south coast as their entry and re-supply port. The first landing of naval personnel consisted of 764 officers and ratings. Captain Stephen Lushington of the Albion was appointed commander and Captain William Peel (a younger son of Sir Robert Peel) of the Diamond was his 2IC. GWM went ashore as ADC to Lushington. It was nearly four months before his seventeenth birthday.
The Allied Fleet's view of the battle of the Alma
(from a contemporary print).
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Click for 2nd page about G. W. Muir »