What little is known in the family of Thomas Douglas Muir paints a rather sad and forlorn picture of a young man who lived a short life, an untrustworthy 'waster' even, always in the shadow of his much older brother George William Muir. This is probably very unfair and inaccurate. His niece, Great Aunt Grace, is our only unofficial source of information about the man, and she proves in this case to be highly unreliable, rather melodramatic and apparently libellous. What her fevered imagination was playing at, we know not. If what she wrote about TDM was actually true, then his faults were certainly very well covered up. However, it seems far more likely that she did the same with TDM as she did with other family members, to wit mixing a number of stories together and sliding seamlessly between generations making the truth very hard to unravel. Usually she was right about somebody, if not the person she named. But continuous investigation has failed to provide an alternative culprit (or victim), leaving either an intriguing black hole in our family history, or simply the fantasy of a very old lady.
It is quite ironic that, despite more documents having survived from TDM's schooling and naval career than his older brother, father and grandfather put together, there is an uneasy feeling that the man was a mystery. This must be due in part to Great Aunt Grace's extraordinary comments about him, but there is a postscript to the story — a final twist which may be nothing, but then again...
Great Aunt Grace's comments appear in several letters written in the 1950s and 60s to her nephews and niece. Great Aunt Grace was apt to repeat herself frequently, the versions of a story often being very slightly different from eachother. Here is a typical version of the 'TDM story' from a 1968 letter to her niece:
Uncle Douglas [Thomas Douglas Muir - TDM] was Aunt Lily's [Mary Jane Muir, aka Lily] twin — Like father he had to enter R.N. paymaster branch — He died in Portsmouth while father [George William Muir - GWM] was in Japan — was never spoken of — grave in naval cemetery. Family silence — R.N. custom when officer on trial — naval court — if things looked bad — a loaded pistol would be on table of cell where officer was kept — giving option of exit without dishonour...
Well, TDM did die at Portsmouth while GWM was in Japan, that much is true. He also joined the Civil Branch of the Navy like his older brother. (Although whether either he or his brother “had to” is another matter — as clever and well educated young men it was probably by choice, or on the advice of their elders and betters). But there was no Court Martial; no pistol; no suicide; no dishonour of any kind as far as can be discovered. The only blemish on his character was that he appears to have been a little 'casual' with his own finances, having to be helped out on more than one occasion by his older brother. No doubt not the first or last impecunious young naval officer to live a bit beyond his means! Great Aunt Grace suggested in another letter that because he was profligate with his own money, the non-existent Court Martial was to try him for embezzlement from the Navy. But that is clearly her putting two and two together and making about a hundred and four. There was no Court Martial; so no explanation necessary. TDM's real problem was his health, and his surviving papers clearly show it.
Is this Assistant Paymaster Thomas Douglas Muir? (From a photograph of the officers of HMS Zealous sometime between 1870 and 1872, probably at San Francisco.)
A zoom of the image above. When I first saw the whole photograph this face instantly jumped out at me as being a 'Muir'. It reminds me of a photo of myself taken in my twenties in New Zealand. However, other family members and friends are divided; some agree with me, but others can't see the likeness. However no one can suggest a convincing alternative from the photograph, and TDM should, by rights, be in the picture.
Click on the image above for a full scan in a new browser of TDM's final report from the Malta Protestant College, June 1864.
Click on the image above for the TDM's letter of reference from Charles Popham Miles, the Principal of the Malta Protestant College. (It is possible that the embossed notepaper was supplied by the boy's father, George Muir.)
Click above for page one of TDM's Passing Certificate for the Rank of Paymaster.
Click above for page two of TDM's Passing Certificate for the Rank of Paymaster.
Thomas Douglas Muir was a twin. His sister was Mary Jane ('Lily') Muir. They were born at Malta on the 27th of July, 1848, more than ten years after their older brother George William Muir. Nothing is known about mother Fanny's pregnancy history: it is possible there were failed pregnancies, still births and even babies who died very young in the intervening years. However, there are no other recorded baptisms at Malta. Family mythology has it (oft repeated by Great Aunt Grace) that Douglas got “all the brains” and Lily none.
Like his older brother, he was educated at the Malta Protestant College under Charles Popham Miles the Principal. It will be seen that he excelled at school, finishing top of the class in four subjects and second in the other three. When he left, Charles Popham Miles wrote a glowing testimonial. (See right column). His entry into the Navy was on the 8th of March, 1865. It was four months before his seventeenth birthday, which was considerably older than brother GWM had been when he first entered. TDM's first ship was Black Prince and he served in her as Assistant Clerk for exactly twelve months before becoming Clerk on the 8th of March, 1866. He continued in the same ship for a further eighty-six days before joining Endymion on the 2nd of June, just before the start of her very first commission. (TDM's brother GWM served in Endymion at Kingston-upon-Hull a few years later. See GWM pages.) TDM served in her for ten days under three years, on the Mediterranean station for the whole time and under Captain Charles Wake. From the 22nd of May until the 6th of August, 1869, he was in Fisgard at Woolwich, firstly as Clerk, but then as Acting Assistant Paymaster. Almost all this information about his early career comes from his 'Passing Certificate for the Rank of Paymaster' because he was still too junior to appear in the Navy Lists. (See right column).
TDM made his first appearance in the Navy Lists in the volume corrected to the 20th of September, 1869, as a qualified Assistant Paymaster with seniority of the 27th of July that year. He had no ship, but from the 19th of January, 1870, he was in Zealous, the Flag Ship in the Pacific. Her Captain was Francis Alexander Hume and the Rear-Admiral was Arthur Farquhar. It was during this commission that the photograph referred to at right was taken, probably at San Francisco. TDM should be in the photograph, barring unforeseen circumstances. If he is, then it is my hunch that he is the young man highlighted at right, for the unscientific reason given.
Following the commission in Zealous on the Pacific station, TDM had a brief spell in Duncan, 30, in the latter part of 1873 and early 1874. She was the Flag Ship of Vice-Admiral the Hon. G. F. Hastings at the Nore. He then had no ship for several weeks until appointed to Lord Warden, the Flag Ship of Vice-Admiral the Hon. Sir James Robert Drummond in the Mediterranean. On the 20th of June of the same year he was appointed to Pallas, 8, an armour-plated, central battery, steam corvette commanded by Captain Charles John Rowley. TDM's appointment paper, signed by Sir James Drummond can be viewed by clicking the link in the right column. It will be seen that TDM's appointment to Pallas was made because his predecessor was dismissed the service, presumably by court martial. The man in question was probably Thomas W. A. West. However, it has proved impossible to identify the offence which caused his dismissal.
But TDM only served in Pallas very briefly. Exactly one month after Sir James Drummond had signed TDM's appointment to that ship, a 'Report of a Survey on an Officer' was signed at Corfu. The officer was TDM and it was a medical survey, completed aboard Invincible, and also signed by the Captains and Surgeons of Invincible, Research and Pallas. The document appears to have been 'pre-signed' by Drummond on the same day that he had signed TDM's appointment to Pallas a month before. The survey established that TDM suffered from epilepsy.
HMS Endymion at the time TDM was serving in her.
Click on the image above to see full picture in a new browser.
Rear Admiral Arthur Farquhar
on the deck of HMS Zealous, 1870-1872.
Captain Francis Alexander Hume
on the deck of HMS Zealous, surrounded by his officers.
HMS Zealous at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Click on the image to view big picture in a new browser.
HMS Lord Warden at Malta, sometime between 1868 & 71.
This was two or three years before TDM served in her.
Click on the image above to view full picture in a new browser.
Click on the image to see TDM's appointment to HMS Pallas.
Throughout history epileptics have been stigmatised, and in unbending, unsympathetic Victorian times they were still something to be feared, and to have a sufferer in the family was particularly shaming. It was still thought of as akin to the worst kinds of madness, or it was “the Devil's work”, to all but a very few interested and enlightened medical men. The survey report officially stated:
That the said Mr. Thomas D. Muir is labouring under epilepsy, and is, in consequence, unfit for further Active Service on this Station, and we therefore recommend his return to England for the re-establishment of his health.
However, we can be sure that none of the three Surgeons and three Captains who signed the report, or Vice-Admiral Drummond, or any of TDM's messmates would have really believed that he would ever “re-establish his health”. And perhaps this is the “dishonour” that Great Aunt Grace had dredged from the mists of her childhood memories: she wrote that Uncle Douglas was “never mentioned”. Could it be that the stigma, the shame, the dishonour, the disgace felt by the rest of the family at having an epileptic as one of their number forced them to close ranks and never mention him again? “Sshh, My Dear, your uncle was very strange. He was 'ill'...we don't talk about him to anyone …” However, despite this probable family 'difficulty' with him, he does seem to have spent some time with his sister Lily, sister-in-law Sophia and nephew Robert Douglas Muir at the family home, Price Cottage, The Green, Ealing. At the very least he used the address as a postbox (see Hallett note).
Nevertheless, TDM does seem to have got another appointment, at least of sorts, but it seems that no one knew quite what to do with him. At the time of his second 'Survey' in November 1875 he is recorded as a Supernumerary Assistant Paymaster in Royal Adelaide, at Devonport, Plymouth. This second report effectively put an end to his career, scotching any hopes he may have entertained of returning to full fitness and active service. The survey was by order of Admiral the Hon. Sir Henry Keppel and was performed at the Plymouth Naval Hospital by two Captains and a Commander, plus three Surgeons. These three medical men were Fleet Surgeon Robert Wichcord Beaumont and Staff Surgeons William Edney and James William Fisher. They put their names to the unequivocal statement that TDM was, “unfit for further Active Service”. He did hang on for bit, appearing in the books of Indus, the Flag Ship of the Admiral Superintendent at Devonport, but by 1878, and probably sooner, he was on the Retired List.
Judging by the accounts that have survived, it was during the early 1870s that TDM had the most financial problems, running up large bills with his tailors in Portsmouth and borrowing heavily from his agents, Messrs. Hallett & Co., of 7 St. Martin's Place, Trafalgar Square. There is a letter from the tailors confirming receipt of a payment from brother George William Muir, so it seems that Great Aunt Grace was right when she wrote that her father had to help Uncle Douglas financially. At right is a scan of the first page of one of the surviving statements of account from TDM's tailors, Matthews & Company of Portsea. It is dated Christmas 1873 and the bottom line (at the end of three pages) is that TDM still owed £47 1s. 6d., despite having paid them £100 in cash in July. To put this in perspective it should be pointed out that in 1872 an Assistant Paymaster with under three years service got £95 5s. 0d. per annum.
The circumstances of TDM's 'final' illness, death and burial should be clear — there is extant paperwork. However, nothing is really clear and, as mentioned at the top of the page, there is one great mystery.
TDM died on the 8th of March, 1881, at the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar, just across the water from Portsmouth. He had been officially admitted to the hospital less than a month before, on the 15th of February, presumably on the day John Watt Reid's letter of the 14th was received at Gosport by Dr. John Robert Kealy (he must have been TDM's doctor; see right). It is possible that he had actually been admitted unofficially some time before, but, by definition, there is no way of knowing that. The Haslar patient record and the death certificate agree that TDM died of “Chronic Diarrhoea.” Surgeon Michael Fitzgerald, R.N., who certified the cause of death for the Registrar was helpfully more expansive with “Chronic Diarrhoea 3 years”. What was this? Well, we have a couple of doctors in the family alive today, and they suggest this might have been what is now known as Crohn's Disease. This disease was unidentified in 1881 because the eponymous American gastroenterologist wasn't born in New York until 1884 and he didn't describe it until 1932. The disease had, rather confusingly to those of us not accustomed to the ways of the medical world, been independently described in 1904 by a Polish surgeon called Antoni Lesniowski, but still that was long after TDM's death. This does not mean it was Crohn's Disease; there is a long list of alternatives, and frankly it wouldn't really have mattered to TDM what it was — it was apparently incurable and it killed him. There is no suggestion that his epilepsy had any bearing on his death. Naval personnel throughout the nineteenth century were prey to a host of obscure tropical diseases along with the scandalously big killers of yellow fever, cholera and, closer to home in more ways than one, tuberculosis. The Haslar patient record stated that:
His sister, Miss Muir, who resides at 140 Brockley Road, Brockley, London, has been communicated with, being the nearest known relative of the deceased.
It is probably not significant that Haslar appears not to have known about TDM's elder brother GWM: they probably really meant “nearest known relative of the deceased who is in England”. GWM was still in Japan at the time. A correspondence was entered into with Lily regarding the small number of personal effects TDM left behind. The Haslar authorities assured her that these effects would not have to be sold and that they could forward them to her. They also stated that she should receive any outstanding 'retired pay' at the time of TDM's death. It isn't recorded how much this amounted to, but it is doubtful that it was a great deal. He had made a will in May, 1873. His Navy Agents were the executors and after the usual preliminaries he left everything to his nephew Robert Douglas Muir.
Great Aunt Grace thought that TDM was buried in the Haslar Cemetery (see above). So does the official cemetery record. This document states that he is in Plot G, Line 4, Grave 3 (diagonally across the Plot from where his brother would eventually be buried). The problem, and mystery, is that he isn't there. The headstone at Line 4, Grave 3 is for somebody else. On checking back to the list it is found that this other gentleman is also recorded for the same grave, and it must be assumed it is his remains which are there. Several years ago the Haslar authorities made an exhaustive investigation on my behalf as to what could possibly have happened. It was clearly something of an embarrassment for them. However, no explanation was ever arrived at. A thorough search of the cemetery was conducted and TDM was not found elsewhere. When GWM died a couple of years later did the family move TDM to that site as well? Unlikely; there is no mention on GWM's headstone. Did the family move him to another cemetery altogether? Possibly; but why, and why no record? Is TDM really in the same space, alongside the newcomer, but unmarked above ground? Maybe. It does seem the only possible explanation, however unlikely. It is clear from the letter to Lily from the hospital authorities that no one from the family (i.e. Lily, as the only available family member) went to a funeral, and these same authorities were very anxious that Lily should treat the fact that they were going to send her TDM's effects (and indeed treat the whole correspondence) “in the strictest confidence”. Why …?
Well there is another possible explanation, however far-fetched it might sound at first: could TDM's body have actually “gone to medical science” — perhaps without anyone's permission? It would certainly help to explain why it isn't in the ground where the paperwork says it should be. It might also explain the Haslar authorities hush–hush attitude to dealing with Lily. Would surgeons at the time have jumped at the chance of cutting up an epileptic?
HMS Pallas. TDM served in her for one month in 1874.
The first surviving 'Report of Survey on an Officer'
HMS Invincible, Corfu, July 1874
The second surviving 'Report of Survey on an Officer'
Plymouth Hospital, November 1875.
First page of a statement of account from TDM's tailors, Christmas 1873.
A note from TDM's Navy Agents, Messrs. Hallett & Co.,
acknowledging receipt of £197 from his brother GWM.
Letter from Sir John Watt Reid at the Admiralty
stating that TDM could be admitted to Haslar Hospital.
John Watt Reid was Honorary Physician to the Queen. He was an Inspector General of Hospitals & Fleets and the current Director-General of the Medical Department of the Navy. He had become a Surgeon in 1845 and had served in the Crimean War, the Second Opium War and the Ashantee War.
Dr. John Robert Kealy was a General Practioner at Gosport. He had been born at Ipswich, Suffolk, in about 1831. He was an MD from St. Andrew's University in Scotland and an MRCS (Scot.), as well as an LSA (London). He was married with several children and lived at Ashley House, Gosport.
A twentieth century aerial photo of the Haslar Hospital.
The outside of TDM's folded will.
His Navy Agents were the executors.
TDM's twin sister, Mary Jane (Lily) Muir.
Photo probably early 1890s.
A view of Plot G, Haslar Cemetery.
Records show that TDM was buried in Plot G, Line 4, Grave 3.
Unfortunately they show the same for somebody else...
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