A Tragedy in the Mediterranean

Allotments off Plott Lane in Stretton on Dunsmore, 2007
Image courtesy of Anne Langley

James Clarke Caswall was 17 when he entered service as a midshipman on HMS Orlando in August 1863. The Orlando was a huge, steam-powered, wooden warship, with three masts and a full set of sails1. Here’s an extract from the ship’s Log for Friday 3rd June 1864 when the boat was sailing from Greece to Malta:

Mr Caswall (Mid) was found missing and upon enquiry supposed to have fallen overboard during the last hour of the 1st watch, 2nd June. 9.30. Mustered by Divisions. Read Prayers. 2

How did it happen?

This brief account gives no explanation for the tragedy. Was there a storm that pitched him overboard? Were the lads on watch larking about? Was he miserable far away from his family in England, or being bullied by others on board? We will never know whether he fell, jumped or was pushed. The legal repercussions were considerable and generated a file of paperwork that fortunately for us has been preserved. He had not made a will, and no body was found, so proving his death and sorting out the family inheritance was prolonged and difficult.

James’ family

James’ birth certificate shows that he was baptized on December 18th 1845 in Binfield, Berkshire, by Robert Clarke Caswall (presumably a close relative). He was the son of Alfred, a barrister who sadly died in his 40s, and Mary Elizabeth.3 I found this collection of records whilst researching some allotments in Stretton on Dunsmore called ‘Mr. Caswells’. 4 This land comprised three acres divided into 24 small plots, let at 52s per acre a year. It would be nice to think that James’ name was immortalized in these allotments but the land in question was being let in the early 1850s, ten years before his death, so would not have belonged to him personally. The site disappeared from the allotment rent book after 1854 and was never mentioned again but it belonged to his family, which is why the records ended up at the Warwickshire County Record Office.

Fighting cocks

Other Caswell family property in the village included a cottage that had been an inn called ‘The Fighting Cocks’ and then ‘The Oak’.  The name change (sometime between 1813 and 1819) was probably prompted by cockfighting falling out of favour in the early 19th century: it was banned in England in 1835 but continued surreptitiously. This property appears to have been located on School Lane near the centre of the village (rather than on the site of the current ‘Oak and Black Dog’ pub).5

1 Sadly she proved too large for this type of construction and had to be scrapped in 1871. A picture of HMS Orlando can be accessed via this entry.

2 Copy of entries in HMS Orlando’s Log and MusterBook, Caswell papers. Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 765/32.

3 Ibid.

4 Allotment rent book. Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 70/2.

5 Diagram in Caswell papers. Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 765/22.

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