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Naval Discipline

The naval heritage of Plymouth, ranging from the legends of Sir Francis Drake heading out to face the Spanish Armada, or the establishment of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Devonport in the late seventeenth century, is of great importance when investigating and gaining an understanding of the city today. By studying the theme of naval discipline, in a city of such naval heritage, and taking in to account the economic and social importance of this heritage, we can gain an understanding of how the navy affected Plymouth’s social society and how everyday offending played a part in Plymouth’s story. The way the navy maintained order, and the consequences of those methods, are a window into the lives of the people of the time; everyday life through the looking glass of everyday offending. Crime, whether we like it or not, is a footprint of human history. Looking not only at the crime itself, but investigating the causes, results, and reaction to it, from an institution as locally important as the navy, gives us a chapter of Plymouth’s past. To see how that chapter will influence future ones, and affect contemporary ones, is the essence of historical investigation.

Painting by Charles Stadden. RM Museum Charles Stadden - ORIGINAL
Painting by Charles Stadden. © RM Museum/Charles Stadden

A Naval ‘Fracas’: From Boat Race to Bounce
A case involving two naval officers, Major Henry Byron Woods and Lieutenant George Brabazon Urmston, both of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who were involved in a fight over a boat race that had taken place at the Devonport Regatta 11 September 1889. They had each entered their boats, however Urmston had withdrawn at the last minute. The title of the poster and article draws inspiration from the headline of the Devon and Exeter Gazette 22 October 1889, and the use of the alleged insult ‘bounce’, directed at Woods by Urmston, meaning someone who places a bet intending to deliberately influence the result. The court-martial took place at Stonehouse Barracks (pictured above), commencing 14 October and ending 21 October 1889. Both officers were found guilty.

Poster Download Altered

Economic & Social Research Council’s annual Festival of Social Science Poster, November 2015

Teobald, D., ‘A Naval ‘Fracas’: From Boat Race to Bounce’, (2016) Plymouth Law and Criminal Justice

For further reading:

The York Herald, 15 October 1889
The Times, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22 October 1889
Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 26 October 1889
The Pall Mall Gazette, 13 November 1889
The Hampshire Advertiser, 23 November 1889

An Official Mistake
Edinburgh Evening News, 8 October 1880

An Official Mistake
“A man belonging to the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers” was charged with having made a false statement at enlistment. At trial he submitted evidence proving that he had  previously stood trial for the offence, for which he had already “suffered three months’ imprisonment”, resulting in the trial collapsing. The defendant had already previously been “discharged from three regiments for fraudulent enlistment”.


Escape to the Pub
The Dundee Courier & Argus and Northern Warder, 17 June 1881

Escape to the Pub
Four artillerymen who while being “confined in separate cells in Plymouth Citadel, awaiting court-martial for insubordination” made a break for freedom in a “remarkable manner”. One of the imprisoned had managed to make a hole in the wall, and during his escape, freed the other three from their cells. One was captured during escape while the other three were largely more successful. They “broke open a back door with picks found in the lumber room” and gained access to the ramparts, where another was found and captured. The third was found “in a neighbouring public house”, while the fourth remained at large.

Also reported in:
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 17 June 1881
Edinburgh Evening News, 17 June 1881


A Slight Detour – reported in The Times, 10 January 1920
Temporary Surgeon-Lieutenant Howell C. Williams was dismissed his ship, HMS Vivid, for failing to join. On his way to Portsmouth he was distracted by some friends, who wished to hold a “farewell dinner, at which he got drunk”. The following day he continued to fail to join, as he became “frightened”.


Drunken Duty
Nottinghamshire Guardian, 25 May 1895

Drunken Duty
Captain Wolfe of the Plymouth Royal Marines was charged and found guilty of drunkenness on duty. His defence was that he had in fact been suffering from vertigo, while the prosecution called “Colonel Kirchboffer, Captain Roe, and Lieutenant Miller” to stand testament to his drunkenness on duty. Sentence was given after consideration by the Admiralty.



*Featured Image of Stonehouse Barracks, © Derek Harper
Newspaper Images, © British Library Board