You are on page 1of 2

Life & Career of MICHAEL SPINKS (1791-1847), Mariner

Chapter 1: Birth & family background


Michael Spinks's story begins in the early 1790s in Portsmouth, where he was born into a lowly, working-class seafaring family. His mother, Susannah, it appears, was only 19 years of age when her first child was born, sometime (shortly) before the 9th of November 1791. Unfortunately, exact birth-dates were rarely noted in the baptism registers of St Thomas's Church (now Portsmouth Cathedral), but it was rare for parents in those superstitious times to delay baptising their baby by more than a few weeks after its birth. Therefore, we may guess that Michael was born in October; regrettably, in later life, he never gave an accurate birth-date possibly to make himself more employable or perhaps because he simply never knew or had forgotten but other corroboratory evidence proves beyond doubt that he is the correct person. Little more is known about Susannah. She was likely baptised - in the same parish as her son - Sush ROOM, to parents John & Mary, on 29th May 1772. It is probable that John ROOM(E) married Mary TERRY at Plymouth (St Andrew's Church) in 1762, before moving to Portsmouth, where they had their first child baptised in 1764. They sadly ended their days in poverty, and were both buried on the parish at St Mary's Church, Portsea Island, on exactly the same day; 3rd of November 1786. Their ages, occupation and cause of death are not recorded unfortunately. We may safely assume that to have been living in two major ports John Room(e) must have been employed by the Navy - either as a seaman or as a dockyard worker. (Indeed, his son John has been found serving in the Navy rated Able Seaman aboard the Hebe frigate during the late 1780s.) Somehow, their seven children, then aged between 22 down to 10, including five females, managed to survive it seems likely they received parish relief and, records show, four of the daughters went on to marry in the Portsmouth area during the 1790s. It is likely that the oldest male, William Henry, was already serving in the British forces during the American War of Independence and was evacuated from New York at the end of that war with his new wife - and most of the British Loyalist forces - to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and started a family there. It is difficult to prove beyond doubt that he was the same William We now turn our attention to Michael's father, Michael Spinks Snr. He has proved a very intriguing individual as no record of where he was born (baptised) could be traced in the usual way. From research into Admiralty records however, namely ships' pay-books and musters, it has been possible to establish some interesting details about (small parts of) his naval career. Significantly, we have discovered him serving in HMS Barfleur, which he (voluntarily) joined in Portsmouth Harbour on 27th January 1790. He was rated by Capt Robert Calder as an Able Seaman. Barfleur was then serving as the port-admiral's flagship (of Vice-Admiral Robert Roddam) and, after undergoing a thorough refit, she was ready in time to play an important part in the fleet's mobilisation for the Spanish Armament. With war threatening, she sailed from Spithead in mid-July, now carrying Admiral Hon Samuel Barrington's flag, and with Sir John Jervis as First Captain of the Fleet. She put into Torbay where the fleet was gathering. After remaining there around a month, she sailed (with almost 50 vessels in company) on a month-long cruise around the Channel, before being detached to The Downs anchorage (off Deal, Kent) in mid-September, where she found a squadron of line-of-battle ships and frigates under the command of Vice-Adm. John Elliot. On the Barfleur's return to Spithead at the end of that month, Captain Calder was appointed to another ship, though he doubtless passed on his opinions of the crew to the new captain, Robert C Reynolds, and named those he felt most deserving of promotion; for their character, ability, industry and determination to do their duty - it was on this day that Michael became a Boatswain's Mate! This suggests that he had proven himself to be a competent seaman, had gained the esteem of his officers, and had the strength to order those below him. His principal duty, on the authority given him by his superiors, was to keep order and administer punishment to those who broke the Articles of War, by flogging offenders with a cat-o'-nine-tails (a whip made with nine two-foot-long strands of rope). The Spanish disturbance being settled in early November, Michael remained in the Barfleur until just before Christmas (1790), when he was granted discharge along with

many others by order of Vice-Admiral Roddam. Michael next joined, still in the role of Bosun's Mate, HMS Brunswick under Captain Sir Roger Curtis, then provisioning, moored off Common Hard in Portsmouth Harbour on 11th January 1791 the year his first son was born. (It appears likely, unless women were allowed to come aboard ships visiting port for any length of time, Michael Jnr had been conceived between his father leaving the Barfleur and joining the Brunswick.) The Russian Armament took place in March 1791, but was once again settled by negotiation within a few months. Brunswick remained at anchor at Spithead (where a fleet of 36 men-o-war had collected in two lines abreast, under the overall command of Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood) for some six months while the dispute was settled before returning into Portsmouth Harbour on 20th August where she paid off her crew a week later in fact the Navy was almost completely demobilised that autumn. Michael was free to go ashore with his earnings and return to Susannah and their new-born son Michael He did not re-join the Brunswick, even though she was re-commissioned by Captain Curtis as a guard-ship at Portsmouth immediately afterwards. From these musters/pay-books we have uncovered one crucial piece of information, Michael's probable birth-place: Southwark! The evidence needed to corroborate this fact (such as a parish record) may unfortunately be lost, since the registers for St Saviour's Southwark are in such a poor state as to render them largely unreadable! Unfortunately again, evidence can be contradictory: on the Barfleur's books, Michael SPHYNX is aged 22 and born in Boro' of Southwark. On the Brunswick's books one year later, Michael SPINKS is aged 28 and born in London. However on the Loire's books the captured exFrench 40-gun frigate which he joined with his eldest son on 31st Dec 1802 his surname is once again spelt SPHYNX, he is aged 39 and allegedly born in Portsmouth! This makes it difficult to know what to believe; and, without uncovering further evidence, it is impossible to say who his parents were and what they did for a living (way back in the 1760s)... Much further extensive searching is needed - due to the sheer size of the Navy - to track which ship(s) Michael served in during the early stages of the French Revolutionary War (1793-1802). It may be that he had been away at sea, on voyages to far-flung places, either in the RN or Merchant Navy, for many months or even years without seeing his homeland, and for this reason, was unable to settle into a relationship until his ship arrived in a British port and he got discharged He appears to have fallen passionately in love during a short stay in Portsmouth, and made Susannah pregnant without doing what was customary and requesting her hand in marriage before he returned to sea. He does seem to have made some sort of informal arrangement with Susannah to return to her whenever his ship arrived home and he could get discharge, so they clearly saw a future together. Maybe he could not get sufficient shore leave to arrange their wedding! In fact, two more children were born (baptised) to them in the years preceding their marriage: George at Portsmouth on June 25th 1793, and John exactly four years later, across the harbour at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport. Both boys died young George, aged around six months, was buried under the surname SPHINX in November 1793 at Gosport, and John was buried there in September 1798, at just over a year old. Michael SPINKS and Susannah ROOM's marriage finally took place after banns had been read and they made their solemn vows on March 13th 1798 at Alverstoke parish church (close-by to Gosport). Neither bride nor groom was able to sign their own name - through illiteracy so simply made X marks on the register. Unfortunately, it tells us nothing else about them, other than that they resided in this parish. Baby John took another plunge into the Holy Water at the same church only five days after his parents' marriage! Why they chose to baptise him again is a mystery - superstition probably. Sadly, it failed to prevent his early death. Their last child, according to the parish registers, was a fourth son, baptised Henry, at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport on December 11th 1799. It is not known through lack of further records - what became of him Finally, it ought to be mentioned that Susannah's whereabouts after the birth of Henry are not entirely certain, but it appears from parish records that she died (of unknown cause) at the Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester in June 1806, aged just 34. Her body was interred at St Maurice's Church, Winchester. There is no corroboratory evidence to fully prove that this record relates our Susannah, though no other Susannah Spinkses can been found in Hampshire registers post-1800