05. Lazarus Roberts (1790-1873)


Lazarus Roberts, my great-great-great grandfather,
was born at Antony, Cornwall on 19 August 1790 and baptised across the water at Stoke Damerel, Devon on 5 September 1790. 

He was the son of Abraham Roberts and his wife Ann. By the late 1790s Abraham and Ann had settled in Bermondsey, where Lazarus’s siblings, Abraham, Mary and Ann were born. On the death of his mother in 1801, and barely eleven years old, Lazarus probably returned to Devon with his brother and sisters (Ann certainly survived infancy, although it is not known for sure if Abraham and Mary did). Their father was heading for London’s debtors gaols and unable to care for them: he would be dead himself by 1804. Luckily their mother’s widowed aunt, Elizabeth Dunrich, had appointed her nephew Pascho Pollard as guardian to the youngsters.

The sea was never far away and the navy an obvious career option. Shortly before his fourteenth birthday, on 1 June 1804, Lazarus entered the Ville de Paris (110 guns, Captains Gosselin, Whitby and Aldham), bearing the flag of Admiral William Cornwallis, as a first‑class volunteer at Plymouth port. Britain was at war with France again and Lazarus’s naval career, for one so young, was an exciting one.

Within four months he had attained the rank of midshipman. It was not uncommon for ships to take midshipmen as young as eleven (Nelson was only twelve when he entered the Navy) and Lazarus would have been one of about eighteen or twenty-four other ‘youngsters’, mostly viewed by the older officers as little more than slaves of the first lieutenant. Life was particularly hard for young midshipmen during Nelson’s time: the midshipmen’s mess, beneath the waterline, was not a pleasant place. Salary would have been no more than £2 15s 6d a month; of this, £5 per annum would have gone towards education, received most likely from either the chaplain or the captain.

Cornwallis’s flagship was part of the Channel fleet, cruising off Ushant, France and Lazarus was present under Cornwallis in August 1805 in an attack on the French fleet near Brest harbour. One William Richardson, who was serving as a gunner on board the Caesar in the same squadron (seventeen sail of the line), writes in his journal that on 21 August, two days after Lazarus’s fifteenth birthday, ‘an engagement was expected to take place next morning, every ship prepared for battle, the ocean was soon covered with tubs, stools, and other lumber thrown overboard to be clear of the guns’. After the attack he reports that ‘although several shot struck the ship, we had only three men killed and six wounded ... this was the first time I ever saw human blood run out of the scuppers’. Richardson also reports that ‘a shell from the enemy struck the sheet anchor of the Ville de Paris and broke it to pieces without doing any injury; a piece of it fell on the gangway close to where the Admiral was standing. He took it up with the greatest indifference, and put it in his pocket.

On 19 May 1806, Midshipman Roberts transferred to the Montague, a third-rate ship of 74 guns, under Captain Robert Otway (1770–1846, later Admiral Sir Robert Otway). He sailed to the West Indies in the Montague as part of a squadron commanded by Sir Richard Strachan (1760–1828, also later an admiral), in pursuit of French ships that had escaped the Battle of Trafalgar. Lasting nine months, this was a largely fruitless voyage and, after experiencing severe weather off Martinique and near the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Montague returned to Europe. Over the next two years Lazarus travelled to the African coast and the Mediterranean. He states that he commanded one of the Montague’s boats at the evacuation of the castle at Scylla in the Straits of Messina (the last British-held post in Italy) and cooperated with the patriots on the coast of Calabria. He probably also took part in the defence of Fort Trinidad at Rosas, near Gerona, in November 1808 under the command of Lord Cochrane. He then returned to England with Captain Otway in the Malta (80) and just before Christmas 1808 entered the Revenge (74, Captain Kerr), which had fought alongside the Victory at Trafalgar.

The Revenge sailed for the Bay of Biscay, arriving in the Basque Roads near the French naval base of Rochefort on 24 February 1809. Here it joined the British fleet in preparation for an offensive on the French ships in Rochefort harbour. On the night of 11/12 April, Lord Cochrane mounted the attack; the action known as the Battle of the Basque Roads, or Aix Roads. The fleet broke the boom across the harbour and rushed fireships in among the French: a significant triumph for the British. More than twenty Revengers lost their lives in the Basque Roads, according to Jack Nastyface. William Richardson comments that on 12 May, in celebration of the victory at the Basque Roads, a play was enacted on board the Revenge entitled ‘All the World’s a Stage’.

The Revenge was particularly distinguished and Lazarus was awarded the Naval War Medal, or Naval General Service Medal. Actually issued in the 1840s, this would have come with a ribbon bar bearing the inscription ‘Basque Roads’. Although 529 were issued to all those who served in the Basque Roads, these days, such medals are rare museum pieces. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a few, including one issued to Able Bodied Seaman James Cole, who also served on the Revenge at the Basque Roads. Lazarus probably gave his medal to his eldest son, James Mackenzie, before his death, as it isn’t mentioned in his will. In the 1950s it was apparently in the possession of his great granddaughter, Bessie, who died in 1972. Over 170 years after it was issued though, the whereabouts of Lazarus’s award is unknown. 

In the autumn of 1809, the Revenge was one of 245 vessels in the ill‑fated Walcheren expedition. Under Strachan’s command this was an attempt by the British to send 40,000 troops along the Scheldt estuary to seize Antwerp from the French. Lazarus states that he commanded an armed flat-bottomed boat (probably a gunboat) and landed at South Beveland on Walcheren island to assist in the capture of the garrison at Fort Bathz. The troops were decimated by malaria during the long and drawn-out operations here.

One observer at South Beveland recalled that ‘hardly a man there had stomach for the bread that was served out to him, or even to taste his grog, although each man had an allowance of half-a-pint of gin per day’. As illness rapidly spread an evacuation was attempted: ‘those who were a trifle better than others crawled to the boats; many supported each other; and many were carried helpless as infants. On shipboard the aspect of affairs did not mend; the men beginning to die so fast that they committed ten or twelve to the deep in one day.’ Lazarus claimed later that he was one of the few who escaped disease, spending four months afloat in an open boat. William Richardson, also present, notes that the Revenge took 500 prisoners on board in August 1809 and was still at Walcheren in December.

The following year Lazarus left the Revenge and in June 1810 was on board the Royal William, the huge receiving ship known as ‘Old Billy’, permanently anchored at Spithead. Here, according to his naval records, he ‘awaited passage to Constantinople’, although I can find no evidence that he actually sailed there. He was baptised a second time however, on 2 June 1810. This may have been done in preparation for the impending voyage. Or it could have been in advance of taking the exam for lieutenant, as on 6 June 1810 he passed for this rank. 

The following April he entered another seventy-four, the Zealous, recently returned from Lisbon. They were off Flushing (the Netherlands) in the autumn of 1811 and in 1812 cruising around the Baltic. Until the end of 1814 Lazarus continued to serve in the Baltic where, he notes vaguely, he was ‘engaged in numerous incidents with French gunboats’. This was presumably in the Zealous, under the command of Captain Boys.

Boys was apparently president of a court martial (number 265) on board Zealous which on 21 October 1812 tried Lieutenant William Elletson King and his officers for the loss of the gun-brig Sentinel. Lazarus may or may not have been aware of this during his time in the ship, but two years later there occurred a more interesting, if curious, trial which he surely did hear about. On 9 November 1814, a Lazarus Roberts, described as a supernumerary midshipman of HMS Severn was court martialled, probably on the North America and West Indies station. Found guilty of mutinous behaviour, he was permanently dismissed the service and imprisoned for a year

The name is unusual but this doesn’t sound like our Lazarus as  apart from being out of character, what we can tell of it – none of the details tally with his naval records, which state that by 1813 he was a master’s mate (a higher rank than that of midshipman) and that he was in the Baltic on board the Zealous from 1810 until 1815. Also, he did not leave the service and remained an officer, receiving his promotion to lieutenant on 7 February 1815, on board the FalconCould the disgraced midshipman perhaps be his cousin, contemporary and namesake, Lazarus Roberts junior, the son of his uncle Lazarus Steele Roberts? 

On 1 January 1818 our Lazarus, reputation and credentials intact, his age given as twenty-two (he was actually twenty-seven), was examined as a candidate for relief from Greenwich Hospital, either claiming or receiving £10 in full satisfaction for rupture [?]’. There is then a gap of a few years, during which time I don’t know where he lived or what work he did. There was mass unemployment among former naval servicemen after the end of the war and like many others Lieutenant Roberts probably found it difficult to find employment in his chosen career. 

His Royal Naval service is summarised as follows:

        Ship / Date entered – Date left

        Revenge / 6/6/10  9/6/10

        Royal William 10/6/10 – 21/12/10 awaiting passage to Constantinople

        Zealous / 15/4/11  28/2/13

        Zealous  / 1/3/13  16/1/15 as masters mate

        Boyne / 17/1/15 – 9/3/15               

       

In his own account of his naval career, Lazarus totals his RN service at ten years and eight months.

 

        1846 RN Survey

        Ship / Date entered  Date left /  Station / Rank

        Ville de Paris / 1/6/04 – 30/9/04 / Home / Vol. 1st Class

        Ville de Paris / 1/10/04 – 12/5/06 / Home / Midshipman

        Montague / 19/5/06 – 15/8/08 / West Indies / Midshipman

Coast of Africa

Mediterranean

        Malta / 16/8/08  2/12/08 Mediterranean / Midshipman

        Revenge / 3/12/08 – July 1810 / Home Midshipman

        Zealous / July 1810 – Jan 1815 Baltic / Masters Mate

        Boyne / Jan 1815 – Feb 1815 / Home

        Falcon / 7/2/15 / for rank, Lieutenant


The Coastguard – Dorset And Hampshire

By 1823 Lazarus was living at Melcombe Regis (now Weymouth), Dorset. The twin towns of Melcombe Regis and Weymouth, and neighbouring Portland, all with strong maritime connections, would have been an obvious place to find work. The waters along the Dorset coast were often treacherous, in particular the stretch by Chesil Beach, and Lazarus would have witnessed the ‘Great Gale’ of November 1824 which caused extensive flooding and damage to the coastal villages, especially Melcombe Regis, killing several people including two revenue men. ‘The whole of the roads and streets were covered with the rolling billows, driving impetuously masses of sand and stone, boats were observed floating in close approximation with vehicles of various descriptions, such a scene of devastation and ruin were never remembered to have been observed before … Melcombe was nearly swept from the face of the earth,’ was how one contemporary observer put it. 

I don’t know precisely the reason for his move to Dorset, but he may have already known Thomas Lipson RN, who was married to Elizabeth Emma Fooks of Melcombe Regis. Lazarus became friendly with Elizabeths sister Mary, possibly through an acquaintance with Lipson, and on 6 March 1823, Lazarus, aged thirty-two, and the twenty-one-year-old Mary Fooks married at the parish mother-church of St Mary’s. Mary’s brother (it is assumed) was James Mackenzie Fooks, a noted surveyor of Melcombe Regis. In 1824 J.M. Fooks was appointed Surveyor to the Borough of Weymouth. The same year, on 2 March, Lazarus and Mary’s first child was baptised at the church of St Laurence, Upwey. He was my great-great grandfather and was named James Mackenzie Roberts after his uncle.

Lazarus may have settled in Dorset in order to join the Coastguard, as he was nominated to the service on 2 November 1825 from Upwey. In the century since the early 1700s smuggling had become rife along the Dorset and Hampshire coasts, where the numerous hidden coves and quiet beaches could be used to land contraband goods well out of sight of the combined forces of the Water Guard, Revenue cruisers and land-based Riding Officers. At Weymouth the frequent visits by George III and his entourage ensured a seasonal demand for luxury items such as silk and lace, as well as the traditional commodities of tobacco, tea and brandy. This lasted well into the reign of George IV and by the 1820s the ‘Free Traders’ – often themselves discharged servicemen – had developed sophisticated tactics that required a more organised combative approach. This came in 1822 when the three preventive services were amalgamated under the new name of the ‘Coast Guard’, which was comprised almost entirely of demobilised naval officers such as Lieutenant Roberts.

The stretch of coast under patrol by a Coastguard station was officially six miles, but in reality was often nearer sixteen. Officers such as Lazarus who married locally were posted not less than twenty miles from their home to avoid possible collusion with locals, and his first appointment was to the rank of Chief Officer at Bourne Bottom station, Poole port, Dorset (this is where Bournemouth pier now stands). Terraces of cottages were built to house Coastguard officers at strategic points, including Bourne Bottom, so it is likely this is where Lazarus and Mary lived and where their second son, William Pollard, was born. William was baptised at St James’s, Poole, on 10 February 1826 – Lazarus and Mary’s address is given just as ‘in the preventive service, Bournemouth’.

As at Weymouth, there was a long tradition of smuggling here and, surrounded by wild heathland, it was Bourne Bottom which saw most of the landings along this part of the coast. Lazarus’s time at Bourne Bottom coincided with the last years of the local squire, Captain Lewis Tregonwell, the man to whom the founding of modern Bournemouth is attributed but who, evidence suggests, may also have been an agent for smuggling enterprises.

A few months after William was born, Lazarus moved east to Hampshire and a posting at Barton Cliff station, Southampton port, arriving on 10 June 1826. A third son, Henry Came, was born at the nearby village of Milton in 1828.

This was another stretch of coast favoured by smugglers. Captain Frederick Marryat, author of many sea-yarns, assisted the local Revenue cruiser Rosario here in the winter of 1821 and subsequently appealed to the First Lord of the Admiralty for improvements in the government’s methods of dealing with smuggling. But at the end of the decade Barton and its neighbouring towns of Christchurch and Milford on Sea were still popular landing-places, although the stations along this coast, such as the one at Mudeford (Christchurch Harbour) staffed by ‘ten men armed with musket, cutlass and a brace of pistols for each, and constantly vigilant’, ultimately gave the smugglers little chance. The conditions under which a Coastguard officer had to do his job were hard, as summed up by a contemporary of Lazarus’s:

The work was terrible. In the winter months we had to be on our guards by dusk, which meant leaving home by four or half-past, and we never got back until eight the next morning. ... I’ve often been that done up that I could scarcely walk home and many is the time I’ve gone down to the water and washed my face to keep my eyes open. It was enough to kill a horse and only a strong man could stand it.

The men were forbidden to leave their posts on the shore even when wet through; in such conditions it is not surprising that there was a high level of sickness, which resulted in loss of pay.

There was much traffic between the coast here and the Isle of Wight, and on 20 December 1828 Lazarus was briefly posted to East Cowes station, Cowes port, on the island for a few weeks until 3 March the following year. After this he returned to Dorset and a posting at West Lulworth.

Lulworth is perhaps the most renowned of smuggling locations, and the Coastguard built a station here very early in its history. Lazarus was Chief Officer in charge of five officers, with a personal allowance of £10 per annum (plus an entitlement to a share of any seizure-rewards). Ships from Cherbourg were regularly using Dorset beaches, with the most daring landing at Weymouth itself. Thomas Hardy, an authority on Dorset smuggling, romantically describes the exploits of the Free Traders and ‘Preventive-guard’ in 1830s Lulworth in his short story ‘The Distracted Preacher’. Here the poor customs man, Will Latimer, is tied to a tree at Lulworth Cove by local smugglers, ‘rascals’ who cheerfully proclaim ‘We don’t do murder here!’.

But in reality these were violent times: vicious attacks on Coastguard officers were not uncommon and several stories have passed down of men beaten and left to die, tied down and even, on one occasion at least, hung over the precipitous Lulworth cliff at the end of a rope while the smugglers carried on their business. None of these published accounts mentions Lazarus by name, but his activities in the Coastguard during this period are summarised in his claim for the Greenwich out-pension of 1860:

After the peace in 1815, not from choice but from necessity after waiting years endeavouring to obtain employment in his own profession but without success, he joined the Coast Guard service where he used every effort in putting down smuggling and succeeded in capturing a greater number of goods than any officer then employed and he begs to observe that this was not done by one fortunate seizure, but was the result of constant exertion and perseverance running great risk both at sea and on shore, having been twice seriously injured in normal conflicts with smugglers. On the first occasion being forced over a cliff at Lulworth in Dorset and seriously injured and on the second being opposed by a group of smugglers armed with flails, himself and chief boatman (the only two present) were left senseless on the ground, the latter dying from the injuries he received and so seriously was this considered that the board of Customs offered a reward of £500 for the apprehension of the offenders, a larger sum than was ever offered on any other occasion.

This latter assault, or one very similar, was referred to by the Collector of Customs in his reports to head office on 17 July 1829 and confirms the figure of £500 (by 1831 the universal government reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of smugglers). But no names are given in the report and the only officer to be recorded as ‘discharged dead’ during Lazarus’s time at Lulworth was a boatman, John Gosnell, who died on 9 December 1829.

Other attacks on Lazarus’s fellow officers include that on Thomas Jago, a commissioned boatman at West Lulworth, who was reportedly tied down on Weymouth beach and left to drown (he was rescued and left the station a month before Lazarus arrived). The death of Lieutenant Thomas Knight, who joined West Lulworth three days before Lazarus moved on in June 1831, was widely reported. He died in June of the following year from injuries received in a struggle with smugglers at Lulworth not dissimilar to that in Lazarus’s account. Knight’s boatman, John Duke, another contemporary of Lazarus’s, also received a severe beating.

Whether Lazarus really did succeeded in capturing a greater number of goods ‘than any officer then employed’ is difficult to prove; nor are his alleged attacks confirmed. It is of course possible, writing thirty years later, that he saw fit to embellish his own Coastguard career a little to add weight to his application for the out-pension, in which he claims he captured 2682 tubs of spirits, 208 bales of tobacco, 9 bales of snuff, 37 chests of tea, 16 cases of plate glass, 18 vessels and boats and 51 men. He was also a strong swimmer and thrice saved the lives of sailors who had fallen overboard.

A fourth son, Charles Dunrich, was born at West Lulworth and baptised there on 3 September 1829. The middle names of Mary and Lazarus’s eldest children – Mackenzie, Pollard, Dunrich – are all family names. Another son, Felix Delaney, was baptised at West Lulworth in April 1831. It is perhaps illustrative of the relationship between Lazarus and his father, Abraham (who died when Lazarus was about fourteen and who may have had little contact with his son after Lazarus’s mother had died in 1801), that Lazarus named none of his nine sons Abraham or Lazarus.

Harwich and Brightlingsea

After two and a half years at Lulworth, Lazarus, Mary and their young sons James (aged seven), William (five), Henry (three), Charles (two) and the baby Felix left Dorset for the East Coast in the summer of 1831. In this year naval appointments became universal in the Coastguard service, at first for a compulsory three-year posting (this did not count for seniority and so was highly unpopular, although remained until 1841).

On 30 June 1831, Lazarus was posted to the Revenue cruiser Scout, based at Harwich in Essex. His command was to be for three years beginning on 8 July. The Revenue cruiser, or cutter, was a sloop-rigged single-master with a running bowsprit which appeared to ‘cut’ through the water, hence its name. Handy and fast, they were extensively used by the Revenue and smugglers alike. Once the Royal Navy had taken over the Revenue cruisers though, the smugglers found themselves in deep trouble. The ships (thirty-five patrolled the coast of England) were better sailed and surveillance both at sea and on land became far more efficient. 

Smuggling craft were brought into Harwich, sometimes in return for a reward, at a rate of one a week by the Scout and its sister vessel Desmond, as well as the Flying Fish, another smaller vessel attached to Harwich Coastguard Station that Lazarus may have commanded. There are several reports of the Scout’s accomplishments around this time. Between 1823 and 1825, as Hervey Benham notes in Once Upon a Tide, she took the 13-ton lugger William of Flushing; the lugger Maria of Folkestone, from Ostend, with six foreigners who were discharged and four English who were impressed; and the 57-ton lugger Le Chasseur of Boulogne. Lazarus had inherited a vessel of some note: whats more, six years previously it had the distinction of winning a race for Revenue cruisers to test their sailing abilities. 

Frederick Marryat describes the uniforms of the Revenue men in 1836: they were ‘all dressed in red flannel shirts, and blue trousers; some of them have not taken off their canvass or tarpauling petticoats, which are very useful to them, as they are in the boats night and day in all weathers.’ The boats themselves were painted red and black, with the ‘many gigs and galleys’ hoisted up around the sides painted white. ‘Revenue cruisers are not yachts,’ Marryat observes. ‘You will find no turtle or champagne; but, nevertheless, you will perhaps find a joint to carve at, a good glass of grog, and a hearty welcome.’

As in Dorset and Hampshire, smuggling (mostly of spirits and tobacco) was a frequent occurrence along the Essex coast in the 1830s and this, together with vessels caught on the dangerous estuary sands, kept the Revenue cruisers and salvagers busy. The era of the armed and violent smuggler was drawing to a close but there were still many prepared to risk the statutory six months imprisonment or drafting to the Navy (although often these were foreigners exempt from such penalties). This was the height of smuggling’s ‘scientific age’. The trend was for smugglers to leave some of their contraband sunk at sea for future recovery, which involved the Revenue cruisers in long hours ‘creeping’ with grapnels to discover it. 

The Roberts family settled in this part of Essex for eleven years. At Harwich, Lazarus may have lived in one of the bow-front houses on St Helen’s Green, home to the captains of the Harwich Revenue cruisers and Post Office packets in the early nineteenth century. Some photographs of the Harwich Lazarus would have known can be seen here

Sadly, in 1832 the infant Felix, Lazarus and Marys youngest son, died at Harwich. He was barely a year old. Mary was already pregnant with their next child though, and another son was born at Harwich in November of that year. His baptism took six months to arrange, perhaps while his parents considered whether to name him Felix, in memory of his deceased brother. But the pain was too recent and too deep: eventually he was named Arthur.

Two years later yet another son was born. Perhaps the death of Felix had weighed heavy on their mind as Lazarus and Mary decided this one should also be baptised Felix Delaney, at Harwich in August 1834. However their worst fears were realised when he too died at birth or shortly afterwards.

With the deaths of two baby sons, both named Felix, and in a family full of boys, amazingly Lazarus and Mary then had three daughters in quick succession: Mary Mackenzie (in 1836), Ellen Fanny (1838) and Catherine Anne (1839). All three girls were baptised at Brightlingsea, EssexLazarus had rejoined the Coastguard, at St Osyth, Stone Point station, near the town. Initially he was in a detachment of three men on the watch vessel EmeraldHe would have carried out his duties as a Coastguard officer in the waters around the Essex coast and perhaps into the Thames estuary. If he was based on shore he would probably have been stationed at the Martello Tower at Stone Point (see here page 38). 

By 1841 the family were living at Brightlingsea and Lazarus was a lieutenant on half pay. No specific address is given, just Brightlingsea Street. There were no purpose-built Coastguard cottages here. The mainstay of its economy in the 1830 and 40s was oyster dredging. 

The eldest sons, JamesWilliam and Henry (aged seventeen, fifteen and thirteen respectively), were not with the family when the census was carried out in June of 1841, as they were in London. Nevertheless, Lazarus moving to Brightlingsea meant that his son James met and eventually married Phoebe Mason, of nearby Moverons Farm. They were my great-great grandparents.

Meanwhile the family continued to expand. In October 1841 another son,was born at Brightlingsea. Assuming Felix to be a jinxed name, he was named Alfred George. Then, in early 1843, their twelfth and last child, Edward Parrey, was born and baptised at Brightlingsea. Lazarus was fifty-three years old and Mary forty-one.

In 1844 William Fooks, Mary’s father, died at Weymouth, so perhaps the family travelled from Essex to Dorset for the funeral. William left a will (written in 1840, proved in 1849) in which he mentions ‘my daughter Mary Roberts the wife of Lieutenant Lazarus Roberts of the Royal Navy’. She inherited little from her father though, it would seem.

Yarmouth, Norfok

In 1845, Lazarus was discharged to another Revenue cruiser, the Royal Charlotte, operating out of Yarmouth, Norfok, with a crew of twenty-nine. His appointment was announced in The Times on 3 February 1845: ‘Lieutenant L. Roberts from St Osyth, Stone Point, to the Royal Charlotte cutter, vice Miller, removed to Adelaide.’ Lazarus’s patrol was not confined to the Norfolk coast however: one incident this cruiser was engaged in (probably under his command) occurred as far south as Felixstowe in Suffolk where, on 21 November 1845, it assisted the schooner Sally and Susannah, presumably caught on the sands.

The following year Lazarus was living at Gaol Street, Yarmouth, where, it is noted in the Royal Charlotte’s muster book, he was on shore with a fever for a week in November 1846. A number of the crew were also ill at this time with bronchitis. He was on shore again the following 14–27 January, ‘cause unknown’. In fact he attended his eldest son’s wedding in Essex during this month.

The same year the Admiralty attempted to repair the deficiencies of its personnel records by sending circular letters to officers requesting them to supply details of their services. Looking back almost forty years, Lazarus provided a summary of his early life at sea:

Ten years and eight months services as Midshipman and Masters Mate, served on the Home Station, West Indies, Coast of Africa, Mediterranean, and Baltic. Commanded in 1808 one of the Montague’s boats at evacuation of the Castle of Scylla on the Coast of Calabria, the last post we held in Italy and saw much Boat service along that Coast. Commanded an armed Flat bottomed boat at the Walcheren expedition and assisted in all the operations of South Beveland and Fort Bathz, was in the Revenge in the attack of the French Squadron in Aix Roads in 1809 when that Ship was particularly distinguished, and was engaged in numerous affairs with Gun Boats in the Baltic in 1812, 1813 and 1814.

He states he served ‘sixteen years as a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard and Four Years commanding Revenue Cruisers, during which period he has been twice wounded in personal conflict with smugglers’.

Lazarus remained in the Royal Charlotte for two years, until 5 July 1847, whereupon he was again discharged to the Coastguard, at North Yarmouth station, Yarmouth port. Six months later, on 10 January 1848, he was promoted to the rank of Commander Retired, on half pay, and moved to 23 Regent Road, close to the Yarmouth Admiralty, where he was still in 1850, according to Hunt & Cos Directory of East Norfolk. Lieutenant Roberts was now Captain Roberts.

In the census taken in April 1851 Lazarus and his family were at 3 Harrison’s Buildings, a row of lodging houses on the north side of Yarmouth’s St George’s Road. With them lived a twenty-seven-year-old servant, a maid of all work no doubt, named Mary Ann Lucia. She left the following year to marry John Carver James Woolsey, a beachman’ who lived at Blands BuildingsA beachman was part lifeboat man, part salvager. When Charles Dickens (181270) visited Yarmouth on 810 January 1849 and apparently saw an upturned boat used as a beachman’s hut, it provided him with the inspiration for Peggottys house in David Copperfield – a ship-looking thing’ on the beach

It is possible he saw this building. By 1879, when the original structure was demolished, it had been moved inland to Camden Road, but forty years earlier it could be found out on the lonely sands. 

... [U]pon removing the tiles from some quaint old buildings the boat roof was discovered as perfect as when described by the author. A tenant of the house nearly forty years ago describes it as then standing out on the open Denes’ with an uninterrupted view of the German Ocean, and far removed from other dwellings, to be approached only by crossing the soft sand, but that it was always visited by strangers, no doubt attracted by its picturesque appearance. It is now in the midst of the populous part of the town, and is about to be demolished for the erection of more modern houses. The window in which a light was placed for Little Emily’s return is still seen upon the removal of the plaster, and many regrets are here heard that some measures have not been taken to preserve the old building in remembrance of the celebrated author.—Our engraving is from a sketch by Mr. H. F.  Neave, of Great Yarmouth. (The Graphic, 1 November 1879)

Perhaps Lazarus knew the boat-house marooned out on the Denes? He must have taken walks there, especially as its location was probably not far from the Nelson monumentin those days also accessible only by crossing the sands. He may well have known that the famous author had been in Yarmouth  ‘[s]ome of our readers may be aware, that at the latter end of last year [sic], our town was honoured a visit from the popular novelist, Charles Dickens (Norfolk News, May 1849)  but there is no reason to suppose their paths crossed. It’s worth noting the following somewhat gothic passage in David Copperfield though:

One Sunday night my mother reads to Peggotty and me in there, how Lazarus was raised up from the dead. And I am so frightened that they are afterwards obliged to take me out of bed, and show me the quiet churchyard out of the bedroom window, with the dead all lying in their graves at rest, below the solemn moon. 

This would have been St Nicholas churchyard, where Dickens had Ham Peggotty buried and where Lazarus’s wife Mary would also be laid to rest, below the solemn moonin 1855.

(NB: Dickens was quite struck by the town of Yarmouth and it has been suggested he may have visited again during the period Lazarus lived there. The cited evidence for this is The Norfolk Gridiron’, published in his journal Household Words. Providing a nice description of the Yarmouth Rows, which would have been familiar to Lazarus, the article also includes an account of the capsizing of a boat in rough seas near Yarmouth jetty on 4 September 1852. The beachmen impressed the writer with their swift actions to rescue the crew. Dickens may well have seen the Rows on his 1849 visit but if, as has been suggested, he was the author of this uncredited piece, he cannot have witnessed the jetty incident first-hand. According to his correspondence he was on a train from Liverpool to London on 4 September 1852 and was still in the Capital the following day.)

Whether Lazarus read David Copperfield or Household Words is unknown. Neither are among the books and journals mentioned in his will and Dickens was perhaps a little modern for his tastes. He settled into retirement at Harrison’s Buildings with his modest library and took up the position of Honorary Secretary of the annual Yarmouth Regatta, or at least he was in July 1852, when announcements of the two-day event were published. The proceedings included a firework display and a ball at the Town Hall. There are newspaper reports of him attending various other balls and dinners, such as one on 16 May 1854 for the East Norfolk Militiaraised that year in response to the Crimean War. Also in attendance on this occasion was Captain Smyth, RN, probably the father of Edward Smyth who, in 1865, married Lazarus’s daughter Mary

Britain’s three thousand serving Coastguards were also drafted into service in the Crimea. Had Lazarus’s age allowed, he would certainly have been among them. While the Coastguards were away at war their places were temporarily filled by retired officers. In early November 1854 Lazarus was present at a patriotic fund meeting, also held at the Town Hall. This was presumably a fundraiser for the war effort. Another function Lazarus attended that month was the mayor’s inauguration, on 30 November, which involved much entertainment. The mayor that year was Charles J. Palmer, a local solicitor: perhaps he was a friend. Four years earlier the mayor had been Philip Pullyn, one of Lazarus’s neighbours at Harrison’s Buildings. 

I imagine Lazarus enjoyed life at Yarmouth, as he immersed himself in a social circle of retired naval officers and civic dignitaries. It was not to last though. On 23 August 1855, Lazarus’s wife Mary died, at Harrisons Buildings. Her funeral took place at St Nicholas church, on 28 August. 

Ironically, it was reported in the local paper the day before Mary’s death that attempts to recover Racehorse, a lugger that had sunk during the marine regatta that year, were abandoned. Almost ten years later Edward, Lazarus and Mary’s youngest son, died in the wreck of another vessel named Racehorse, in the China seas. Lazarus grieved for Mary and would grieve again for Edward. But for now, life went on at Yarmouth in high summer, as reported in the Bury and Norwich Post, issued the day after the funeral:

This town is now full of visitors, the number being estimated at 10,000. All the inns and lodging-houses are quite full, and of late the cheap excursion trains every Monday and Thursday have brought large numbers of Norwich friends. Every day our beach is covered with people, and every afternoon and evening when the weather is fine the Wellington Pier [opened two years earlier] is quite crowded.

It could have been written almost any summer since.

Plymouth And The ‘Naval Club’

Since the age of fourteen Lazarus’s career in the Royal Navy had taken him across Europe, and to the West Indies, and his Coastguard postings kept him on the move around the coast of southern England, from Dorset and Hampshire to the North Sea. However, following Marys death, and just a month after turning sixty-five, Lazarus left the East Coast and its bustling seaside towns and returned to Plymouth with his youngest children Mary, Ellen, Catherine, Alfred and probably Edward. I suspect his son Henry may have already been living there, or had plans to, and encouraged Lazarus to make the move

The first thing he did was to take up the position of Secretary of the Royal Western Yacht Club. He was elected to the post, as reported in the South Devon Gazette of 29 September 1855. 

How he moved his possessions and family across the country is unknown but Lazarus noted in the Royal Western Yacht Club minutes that among the privileges granted to yacht owners was one which permitted members to transport their own furniture from place to place in the United Kingdom without taking out a coasting licence. Two years later, in 1857, an advert was placed in Bells Life in London and Sporting Chronicle [Town Edition]:

FOR SALE, a handsome, fast-sailing CUTTER / YACHT, 50 tons o. m., new last season, copper fastened, iron floors, and cast iron ballast. Apply to Capt Roberts, Secretary, Royal Western Yacht Club, Plymouth.

Was this new last season yacht Lazaruss own vessel, used for the journey from Yarmouth to Plymouth, or was the Club advertising it on behalf of another member? 

The Royal Western Yacht Club was established in 1829 and the club house, situated on the Hoe, overlooked the sea and is in the far left of this photograph. It contained reading, writing, card, smoking and coffee rooms; also ‘a very good library and two billiard rooms’. The building was destroyed a century later, as was much of central Plymouth, during the German bombing raids in 1940. 

The entrance fee on election to the Club was five guineas and the annual subscription three-and-a-half guineas. One less than scrupulous proposal, noted for April 1860, was that the sum of £10 per annum should by paid by the Club to the Great Western Docks Company to prevent any building which would interfere with the view! 

Lazaruss handwriting, it is noted in the Club’s chronicles, was virtually illegible (although, to be fair, he was by no means a young man) and his record keeping somewhat slack. Nevertheless, several interesting events are recorded by Lazarus in the minutes, such as the first use of ice in the Club. One hundredweight of North American‑imported Wenham Lake Ice being obtained from London in August 1860, in honour, perhaps, of his seventieth birthday, or the Club’s annual regatta which always took place in August. The Club’s chronicles point out that how long this took in transit, in those days of slow travel, or how much of it arrived, is not stated in the minutes.

Much activity appeared to take place (perhaps unsurprisingly) in the card room where, Lazarus notes, due to the increasing use of snuff, members were required to provide their own from 1861. The persistent defaulting by members in respect of gambling debts is minuted, resulting in occasional fights, one of which ‘caused the destruction of two chairs in the Card Room’. Despite the alleged inefficiencies at record keeping, Captain Roberts was secretary of the Club for eight years until his resignation in 1863.

In April 1861 Lazarus was at 1 Cobourg Place, in Plymouth. This was probably part of Cobourg Street as it was later renumbered 71 Cobourg Street. It is now no more but is just visible on this prewar map of Plymouth (from www.cyber-heritage.co.uk/history/sector.htm) and appears to be quite a large property. According to the rate books from the 1860s, the property was owned by Jacob Nathan, a wealthy and prominent Jewish benefactor in mid-nineteenth-century Plymouth. That Lazarus rented from Nathan suggests this was done on a charitable basis and an indication that he was a man of few means (as he indeed makes clear in his will).

Lazarus lived at Cobourg Place with his three daughters, his son Alfred, by now a clerk in the Royal Navy, and a servant named Louisa Taylor. It must have been here in January 1865 that Lazarus received the sad news that his youngest son, Edward, had perished two months earlier in the wreck of the  Racehorse, in China. 

By the following year Lazarus was living at 4 St James Place in Plymouth, a house costing (in 1868) £22 11s per annum in rent (this was the address his son-in-law Edward Smyth gave in his claim for master’s certificate that year). In 1869 he was finally granted his Greenwich out-pension, after a wait of nine years. A notice in The Times (of 6 February 1869) read: ‘The Commander’s naval pension of £65 a year, vacant by the death of Capt H.L. Parry, has been awarded to retired Capt Lazarus Roberts.’ 

Lazarus was still at St James Place when the 1871 census was taken, with his family and a servant, and one of his thirty or so grandchildren, four-year-old Maude Smyth.

A studio photograph of Lazarus was taken around this time. He is seated, dressed in a frock coat, with his arm resting on a table by two books. He was indeed a man who enjoyed reading. His will was drawn up on 30 September 1860 in Plymouth and consists mostly of bequeathments of books. ‘I have little of any value to leave yet I hope my children will accept the trifles I have to give as marks of my love and affection being the last gift of one whose prayers have ever been offered up for their welfare and happiness,’ he writes.

Of the thirty-five titles listed, most were editions published in the 1820s and 30s, perhaps bought for reading on long, lonely Coastguard watches. They provide a fascinating insight into his character and interests.

James was left his History of England; Maritime and Inland History; Lives of the English Navigators and a History of British India. Henry received Gibbons’s History of Rome, works by Congreve, Pope and Otway, and his chessmen.

Charles Dunrich, it would seem, fell out with his father and had not been heard of for many years by 1860. ‘I fear he has left this world before me,’ wrote Lazarus in his will, ‘but should he ever return again to his family I beg that he may understand that I fear I behaved harshly towards him and I beg his forgiveness. My sorrow on this account has been great and my heart has yearned towards him.’ Clearly whatever it was that caused the falling-out was of great regret to Lazarus at the end of his life.

Charles had escaped the family by joining the merchant navy. He passed the examination for second mate in 1852 and was last heard of in 1864, when he was included in the Mercantile Navy List for that year. Where he ended up I have no idea, but should he have reappeared, he would have inherited his father’s atlas, placed in Arthur’s care.

The other children also received books. Alfred, then aged twenty-eight, was left an edition of Mutiny on the Bounty and a life of Napoleon. Mary, who had married an Edward Smyth, was left her father’s works of Shakespeare, Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, and Cottage Comforts. Son-in-law Edward received Lazarus’s spyglass and debenture for the Naval School. Unmarried in 1860, the two youngest daughters, Ellen and Catherine, were comparatively well provided for by the will. In addition to more books (including his ‘large’ and ‘small’ bibles), Lazarus left them his savings and pension, furniture, plate and linen, and a silver salver given him by the ‘Naval Club’. In early 1872 Catherine married a naval lieutenant, Robert Stephens, and so, in a codicil to the will, Ellen became the sole beneficiary.

A Lieutenant Roberts RN was included in the list of subscribers to A Panorama of Falmouth, a useful contemporary survey of the Cornish town published by the Cornish Magazine in 1827. Was this Lazarus? If so, this is especially interesting, given the fractured relationship he must had with his father’s family, and suggests a continuous interest or family connection with the town from a young age  in 1827 he probably still had living relations at Falmouth, on his paternal grandparents’ side. It appears there was no copy of this book in his personal library at the end of his life, though. 

My great-great-great grandfather died at the grand age of eighty-two, on 4 July 1873, at St James Place. The cause of death was senile decay and the informant was an elderly nurse, Mary Oke, of nearby Clarence Street.

An obituary appeared in the United Service Journal:

Retired Captain Lazarus Roberts died on the 4th July at Plymouth, in his 82nd year. He entered the Navy, June 1, 1804, as lst-class volunteer, on board the Ville de Paris, bearing the flag in the Channel of Hon. William Cornwallis; under whom he appears to to have been present, August 22, 1805, in an attack made on the French fleet close in with Brest harbour. Being removed, in May, 1806, as Midshipman (a rating attained in October, 1804), to the Montagu, he sailed in that ship with Sir R. Strachan in pursuit of a French squadron to the West Indies. On subsequently proceeding to the Mediterranean he assisted at the evacuation of Scylla. He also took part in the defence of Gerona, and aided in taking possession of the fortress of Rosas. On his return. to England in the Malta, he joined, in December, 1808, the Revenge, part of the force employed in the following year in the expedition to the Walcheren. In June, 1810, he was received on board the Royal William, lying at Spithead; from May, 1811, to January, 1815, he served (the last 19 months as Master's Mate) on board the Zealous, m the Baltic; and on February 7 in the latter year, being then at Cork in the Boyne, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. On June 30, 1834 (having had command since June 27, 1831, of the Scout, Revenue cruiser), he obtained charge of a station in the Coastguard, in which service he continued for the remainder of his service, until promoted to the rank of Commander. January 1, 1849. Captain Roberts attained post rank, August 1, 1860, and was for many years secretary to the Royal Western Yacht Club and Naval Club of Plymouth, by whom he was presented with a piece of plate. The deceased officer was an excellent swimmer, and thrice saved sailors’ lives who had fallen overboard. One of his sons, a second master in the Navy, was drowned in the wreck of H.M S. Racehorse, 1864.

Lazarus requested that his funeral be conducted in the most simple and inexpensive manner possible. He was buried two days later at Ford Park Cemetery in a freehold grave (Section D, No. 27, Row 4).