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Another from my collection


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The photo below is about as non descript an image of a Victorian British militray subject as one might find. It is one of my very early acquisitions and today I would probably not even give it second glance if I saw it for sale. I bought it on eBay quite a few years ago and the seller posted a scan of the front of the photo and offered very little in the way of description. I bought it and much to my surprise someone had penciled on the reverse a very long time ago: "pte. Capper, R.M.L.I, drowned at Alexandria 1882". With this I reaserched Capper's service record as well as the log of the H.M.S. Inconstant and came up with a nice little trove of information which follows below.

PrivateCapperRMLI.jpg

George Capper was born in Gloucester on 8 August, 1860 and enlisted for 12 years in the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 8 July, 1879, Capper was described as being 5ft 6-3/4 inches tall with a sallow complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He served at the Recruit Depot at Walmer from 8 July, 1879 until 24 March, 1880 when he was transferred to the Portsmouth Division. In August of 1880 he joined the ships company of the HMS Inconstant. At is time his character was described as being exemplary. During his tenure aboard the Inconstant Capper's exemplary character seems to have lapsed and his name appeared 6 times in the Company Defaulters Book. His offences included not moving smartly enough at all hands on deck, sleeping at his post when on sentry, neglect of duty while on sentry, having a bottle of grog concealed on him which he intended to give to a prisoner over whom he was about to placed as sentry, dropping his valise brace into the furnace room and leaving his work. For these offences he served 43 days punishment with 14 of those in the cells.

The Inconstant set sail on 17 October, 1880 on a voyage of two years and one that Capper would not return from. The Inconstant sailed in convoy with the Cleopatra, Bacchante, Carysfort and Tourmaline, for Vigo in Spain, then onto Madeira, to St Vincent and down to Montevideo. The convoy arrived at Montevideo on 22nd December 1880 and sailed to Stanley in the Falkland Islands and then to the Cape of Good Hope arriving Thursday 17th February 1881. She stayed in the Cape for two months replenishing coal stocks and exchanging official visits with the British Governor.

The Inconstant and the convoy set sail on 10th April 1881 for Australia. Her first stop in Australia was at Melbourne, where on 23rd May 1881 the ship was 'dressed' and a Royal salute was fired to celebrate the birthday of HM Queen Victoria, this was repeated on Monday 20th June to celebrate her ascension. From Melbourne they went to Sydney. From Sydney the Inconstant sailed to Brisbane, then on to Fiji, Yokohama, Kobe, Simorio, Wusury, Chausan Islands, Hong Kong and back to the Cape of Good Hope.

After a month at the Cape she sailed for St Helena then to St Vincent, onto Gibraltar, to Malta, Limosal in Cyprus and then to Alexandria, Egypt arriving 20th July 1882.

While in Alexandria Capper was part of the British force under Admiral Seymour that was sent to quell the anti-European riots that followed Arabi Pasha's rebellion against the Egyptian Khedive. Although not stated in Capper's service records it would seem that the unfortunate private would have been entitled to the Egypt Medal with the clasp "Alexandria" as well as the Khedive's Star. It could be that Capper having died before the creation and issuance of the said medals he was simply forgotten when the medal rolls where compiled.

The Ship's log of the HMS Inconstant states that Capper jumped overboard early in the morning of 22 September, 1882 while in a state of delirium and was drowned. Divers recovered his body around 9:00 AM and at 9:15 the ship's company was mustered by divisions for prayers in Capper's memory. He was buried at Alexandria. The cause of his delirium is unknown but it may have been due to malaria.

HMSInconstant-462x286.jpg

Capper's ship the HMS Inconstant in a photograph taken sometime around 1870. The Inconstant was built by John Penn & Sons and launched on 12 November 1868 as an iron-hulled unarmored frigate of 16 guns that displaced 5780 tons.

Commanded from her commissioning by Captain Elphonstone D'Oyly D'Auvergne Alpin until 13 September 1870. She was later under the command of Captain Lord Walter Talbot Kerr and served as Vice Admiral Frederick Beauchamp Padget Seymour's flagship in the Mediterranean.

The Inconstant survived until 1956 when her remains were scrapped.

I have been anable to find out anything regarding Capper's life prior to his enlistment.

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The first thing that strikes me as interesting about the photo is the cross belt, & it looks like the helmet plate would be identifiable when magnified.

It's so infuriating that so many squaddies & their famailies did'nt note details on the backs of photos, it's great to be able to put a name to a face.

Family legend is that a great uncle was in the RMLI & was killed pre WWI when he dived off ship into shallow water at Singapore.

I've found him in the 1901 census at Maidstone Barracks, so the implication is that he was a member of the West Kents at that time.

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