by Richard Holt
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Wednesday 3rd February 1909: ‘Found Dead’ in St. George and the East Workhouse ...
The body of Thomas Buyrns, aged 79, was found dead in the St. George and the East Workhouse on Raine Street, Wapping. An inquest followed on 5th February conducted by Wynne Edwin Baxter, Coroner for the County of London. Baxter was the Coroner who conducted the inquests for the Jack the Ripper victims as well as the inquest into the death of Joseph Merrick (1862-1890), who was known as ‘The Elephant Man’. The inquest determined that the death was of natural causes with the cause being given as syncope, cardiac degeneration and bronchitis. .
This story was the catalyst for my love and appreciation of the Admiralty records. Thomas Buyrns (1830-1909) was my third great grandfather, and it was locating his death that set me on a path of discovery. Thomas was formerly a stevedore; a person employed at the docks to load and unload ships. While this occupation was linked to ships, Thomas’ connection to the Admiralty was still shrouded in mystery. Thomas’ death certificate recorded his name as ‘Thomas Matthew Dunmore Buyrns’. While I had come across the name Thomas Matthew Buyrns in many records, this was the first time the name ‘Dunmore’ had appeared.
The name ‘Thomas Matthew Dunmore Buyrns’ was the breakthrough I needed to take this family line further back in time and discover the immensely fascinating history of this family. Thomas Buyrns had married twice, although the information in both parish register entries was confusing and contradictory. The first marriage to Sarah Cocks on 7th May 1854 claimed that Thomas’ father was Thomas Buyrn a Butcher; while the second marriage to Caroline Way on 31st October 1869 claimed his father was Matthew Buyrn a Marine. I was not able to locate anybody with these names that matched the claimed occupations. This was a veritable ‘brick wall’.
One of the tools in any genealogist’s tool box should be the ‘archive catalogue’. I would not be able to do my job without regularly referring to the catalogues from hundred of archives. Helpfully, many archive catalogues are pulled together on The National Archives’ catalogue ‘Discovery’. It was searching here that I came across the entry for ‘Thomas Matthew Buyrn Dunmore’ amongst the application papers to Greenwich Hospital School (ADM 74/217/90)
It was pursuing these application papers and the surviving Bishop’s Transcripts for East Stonehouse, Devon that led me to the conclusion that Thomas’ father was named Matthew Buyrn, but had in fact joined the Royal Marines in 1812 under the name John Dunmore. The application papers, along with those for two of Thomas’ siblings, provided information in relation to John Dunmore’s service history. This was the breakthrough needed to advance my research. I wrote about name change under the blog post ‘Matthew Buyrn or John Dunmore?’. (You call also read about some of Matthew Buyrns’ life after he was discharged from the Royal Marines in ‘Life After the Royal Marines - Theft, Fraud and Imprisonment’.)
Navigating the Records - Royal Marines
There are a wealth of Admiralty records held at The National Archives. If you’re lucky enough to come across a record detailing the service history of a Royal Marine or someone in the Royal Navy, this will give you a head start. It can often be quite daunting knowing where to start looking for information. For example, within ADM 1, there are 31,116 files and volumes alone. I will outline a few of the key places to look for information about an ancestor’s service history using my ancestor ‘John Dunmore’ as a model. While John Dunmore was in the Royal Marines, some of these records apply to researching individuals who were in the Royal Navy. I will try to outline when this is the case.
The first place to look for a Royal Marine would be the Attestation Forms in ADM 157 which covers the years 1790-1925. Please note that not all Attestation Forms survive, as is the case with John Dunmore. There is a search function which allows you to search by keyword and you can enter the name of the marine here. If the Attestation Form does not survive, I would suggest consulting the Description Books in ADM 158 which summarise information given in the Attestation Forms and are therefore a useful substitute. If using the Description Books, you will need to know the Division to which your ancestor belonged. This can therefore make things more challenging if this is not known. If you happen know their Company number, you can use the fold-out appendix in Thomas Garth’s ‘Records of the Royal Marines’ to find out the Division. Helpfully, the entry for John Dunmore’s attestation in the Description Books showed his age, occupation and that he was born in Edmonton, Middlesex.
For many people, knowing the name of one of the ships that their ancestor served on is the only point of entry for reconstructing a service history. If you have the name of a ship, the muster rolls can be searched to locate the individual. Once located, the muster rolls can be searched backwards and forwards to find the dates of admission to, and discharge from the ship. These records are found in ADM 36, ADM 37 and ADM 38.
The musters will usually name where the individual was admitted from and discharged to, thus allowing these leads to be followed up in other records or the muster rolls of other ships. The muster table at the front of each muster will also give the places where the ship was located at various times. It is useful to look under the various categories of individuals in the muster, as sometimes an entry may be found under the list of supernumeraries. The muster books also record promotions, so these can be used to find out how your ancestor rose amongst the ranks. The musters sometimes record an individual’s place of birth along with their age.
Additional records that provide more information on the day-to-day life onboard the ship include the various ships’ log books.
The other place to look for information is in the Effective and Subsistence Lists held in series ADM 96. These are lists of individuals who are not currently serving on board a ship and they show the subsistence pay received during this time. The earlier records are on large printed sheets of paper, but the latter records are in book form. They record ‘from whence’ a person came, often naming a ship. When an individual was removed from the list, the ship they were admitted to will be recorded. If they were not admitted to a ship, the reason for removal should be noted. These records are also arranged by Division and Company. The following example is from the ‘1st Company’ to which John Dunmore belonged. It is my belief that these records are often an underused source of information. They are not catalogued very well and can be difficult to use, however they do provide a steppingstone, allowing the researcher to trace an individual’s service history more accurately.
The Allotment Registers are another key source of information, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have an ancestor who allots part of their pay to a family member. These are found in ADM 27 and contain details on individuals who were in the Royal Marines as well as in the Royal Navy. An entry in the Allotment Registers will record details such as the number of children that the individual had, the name of the relative they are allotting their pay to, along with their relative’s place of residence. When an individual’s ancestry is unknown these records can be particularly useful.
John Dunmore was on board the HMS Bramble in 1825 when “the Articles of War, and the Abstract of the Acts of Parliament were read to the Ships Company” (ADM 37/7064).
The sources discussed above are only a very small number of records that can shed light on your ancestors. While some relate only to Royal Marines, others contain details of those in the Royal Navy as well. There are also many other records in other collections, such as the War Office collections, where information relating to John Dunmore’s pension is found. For a thorough guide to naval records, please see Randolph Cock and N. A. M. Roger’s guide ‘A Guide to the Naval Records in The National Archives of the UK’ which can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF file. 
 Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, Thomas Matthew Dunmore Buyrn, General Register Office, March Quarter, St George in the East Registration District, Volume: 1c, Page: 1909.
 Discovery, The National Archives, available at: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/, accessed: 22nd June 2022.
 Garth, Thomas, Record of the Royal Marines, PRO Publications, 1994. [Note: The fold-out appendix is between pages 54 and 55.]
 How to look for records of… Royal Navy ships’ log books, The National Archives, available at:
https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/royal-navy-ships-voyages-log-books/, accessed: 22nd June 2022.
 Cock, Randolph & Rodger, N. A. M, A Guide to the Naval Records in The National Archives of the UK, The Institute of Historical Research and The National Archives, 2006.
Other Useful Guides and Information
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