Looking for George

By John Taylor

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Looking for George' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Looking for George' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Looking for George' page

Looking for George

by John Taylor

While researching my family history, as you do when the years catch up with you and retirement gives you the time, I found that my great, great, great grandfather was George Taylor of Purton. George's gravestone in St Mary's churchyard, Berkeley, gives his age when he died, on 7 th March 1869, as 75 so he was probably born in 1794. I found him in the 1851 census in Purton, described as a farmer. By 1861 he is described as “Farmer and Boat Owner”. He is always shown as having been born in Purton, though this is not certain.

Things got really exciting when I found his will, dated 9 th March 1865. It took a good deal of work to transcribe it. Solicitors' clerks wrote beautifully in 1865, but I did not find the writing easy to read! His business ventures had evidently been successful. He left 12 residential properties in Purton, some of which I have been able to identify. He also left insurance policies and annuities for the benefit of his wife, Sarah, and other members of his family. Of even greater interest, he left a sloop with the name “George” to his son, James. A sloop, called a smack in the Lower Severn, was a single-masted sailing cargo vessel (trow). It would have looked something like this:

A casual enquiry to my friend Janet Presley while we were both ringing church bells for a wedding at St Mary's, Berkeley, produced some information and an introduction to the Friends of Purton and Paul Barnet. With a little help from the Friends, I researched the “George”. There were several candidates, some known to Paul, and some pictures and information in the book “Severn Traders” by Colin Green. There was nothing to link any of them positively with my George Taylor - no smoking gun! Paul gave me the best piece of advice which was to look in the Gloucestershire Archives.

I had used the Archives before. In fact, they gave me the lead to George's will, so I knew something of the routine and set aside a day to look for the “George”. The staff at the Archives were helpful but when you first confront the indexes of shipping records, the task can seem confusing and daunting. I persisted, however, and narrowed my search to the registration records of ships registered at Gloucester in the period when George Taylor would have been most likely to have commissioned the building of a vessel, between about 1820 and 1850. I also found the half-yearly Account of Voyages and Crew of Home Trade Ship documents which I hoped would reveal information about what role the ship played in George's business and where it had travelled.

The Registration documents are organised by year, so I ordered the three volumes for appropriate dates. This used my entire ordering entitlement so I continued to search elsewhere while I waited. And still I waited. On enquiring, a very apologetic member of staff confessed that he had ordered the wrong thing. Everything takes at least an hour at the Archives so you have to adjust your concept of time so that the basic unit is, perhaps, a century rather than a minute or an hour – all very appropriate for an archive, perhaps!

Eventually, three enormous bound volumes arrived and the search commenced. While waiting, I discovered that in the list of Accounts of Voyages and Crew, which are kept by year and listed by vessel, there were seven vessels, all called George, which seemed possible candidates so I set about listing them and the years for which documents were available. I discovered that the only year that most of them had in common was 1869, so I ordered the documents for that year. It also happened to be the year of George Taylor's death so I was hoping for a bit of magic!

Meanwhile, back to Registration Documents. I waded through them in order, finding four vessels, all trows of around 65 feet in length, but no mention of George Taylor of Purton. Well into the third bound volume and beginning to lose the will to live, it leapt out at me and re-energised me immediately:

I later made a transcript of the document as follows:


(Note added) Official Number 62741

Appropriated at Bristol 21/7/1869

Name George

Burthen 18 2777/3500 Tons

Isaac Hurcum Master,

When and where built or condemned as Prize, referring to Builder's Certificate, Judge's Certificate or last Registry ….

Built at the Bourne in the County of Gloucester in the Year 1847 as appears by Certificates of John George the Builder dated 4 th June 1847

Name and Employment of Surveying Officer Robert Luce, Tide Surveyor

1 Deck 1 Mast, that her length from the inner part of the Main Stem to the fore part of the Stern aloft is 37 Feet ~ Tenths, her Breadth in Midships is 12 Feet 9 Tenths, her Depth in hold at Midships is 5 Feet 6 Tenths, that she is Smack Rigged with a Running Bowsprit, Square Sterned Carvel Built, no Galleries,

no Figure Head.

Admeasured under the Act 5 & 6 William IV. Cap.56.

Subscribing Owners.


George Taylor of Purton in the County of Gloucester, Farmer …...


Transferred to Transaction Register No. 2 Page 9

(Illegible signature?)

Vessel broken up about 3 years ago.

See Transaction Register No. 2 page 9.


I had struck gold! This “George” was clearly identifiable as having belonged to my great, great, great grandfather, who owned her outright. I also found and photographed the Account of Voyages and Crew for the first half of 1869:

and later made a transcript of that:

PORT OF Bristol


Name of Ship George

Official Number 62741

Port of Registry Gloucester

Port No. and Date of Register 1 2 / 1847

Registered Tonnage 18 Tons


Name Robert Weeks James Taylor

Address Oldbury on Severn, Gloucestershire


Name Robert Weeks

No. of Certificate None

Address Oldbury on Severn, Gloucestershire

Date of Commencement of Half-Year 1 January 1869

Date of Termination of Half-Year 30 June 1869


Laid up in Purton Port of Gloster from 24 th January to the 8 th April 1869

April 14 th Chepstow to Bristol

May 1 st Bristol to Chepstow

“ 18th Bristol to Chepstow

“ 4th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 24th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 10th Bristol to Chepstow

“ 18th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 21st Bristol to Chepstow

June 1 st Chepstow to Bristol

July 4 th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 6th Bristol to Chepstow

“ 8th Bristol to Chepstow

“ 12th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 17th Chepstow to Bristol

“ 16th Bristol to Chepstow



Robert Weeks


Oldbury Glos

Ellen Eliza at Purton April 8 th 1869


Henry May




O. Seaman

Joseph Bennett




O. Seaman

This shows the owner as James Taylor. This is to be expected. James was George's son. He left the sloop to James in his will. The owner's entry has been altered from Robert Weeks, probably to correct a clerical error. The clerk did not correct James' address, though, which was actually Worldsend Farm, Clapton, Berkeley. The “George” was laid up at Purton until 8 th April, presumably while George's affairs were being sorted out after his death and James was organising work and a crew for her. Thereafter she operated between Bristol and Chepstow ….. and here the questions start. Can anyone help?

Why are there no Accounts of Voyages and Crew before 1869? She was registered at Gloucester, as far as I can tell, from 1847 until July 1869 when James moved the registration to Bristol.

Why are the post-1868 records (Port of Bristol ) at Gloucester? There appears to be no record at all of the “George” (Official Number 62741) at Bristol Archives.

What was she carrying on her very regular runs between Bristol and Chepstow (I have not yet researched voyages and crew later than June 1869)?

Where, exactly, was The Bourne boatyard. I believe it was at the Eastern end of Brimscombe Port. Does anyone know of a plan, drawing, painting or photograph?

Are there any records surviving from The Bourne Boatyard which might have more information about the sloop (or smack) rigged trow built by John George in 1847?

I know this is of more interest to me than anyone else because it's really bringing my 3 X great grandfather to life for me. But it's a good story!


Trow illustration: Colin Green - “Severn Traders”

Janet Presley and Paul Barnet – Friends of Purton

Gloucestershire Archives



This page was added by John Taylor on 16/03/2012.

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