Was this baby really born at sea?
My grandmother’s half brother David Richard Hibernia Pryce was born “at sea” according to the 1861 and 1871 censuses.
In 1861, he was at Gosport Barracks with his father Thomas Pryce ( serving in the 19th Regiment of Foot) and mother Violet Pryce (née Duff). According to my mother, David was given the name ‘Hibernia’ after the ship on which he was born.
I have discovered that the HMS Hibernia from 1816 to 1855 was the flagship of the British Mediterranean fleet, but in 1856 (until 1902) became a ‘receiving ship’ stationed in Valletta, Malta.
When David was born the ship was not ‘at sea’, so I wonder how my great grandmother came to be on the ship. She was wet nurse to the colonel’s baby in India around the time of the Indian Mutiny, but I can’t imagine that gave her special status. I’m confused by two potential registrations of his birth in Chatham: one in 1859 and the other in 1860. Could these be the same David? Erica Moores, via email
child being ‘ born at sea’ is not as rare as people think. Nor is it unusual for the ship’s name to be given to the child. The Royal Navy generally forbade wives being on ships, but there is evidence that they could be on board for various reasons. Among the ‘ legitimate’ reasons were that female convicts and emigrants to the colonies were transported on Royal Navy ships. Less legitimately, there are many accounts of sailors’ wives being found accompanying their husbands on voyages. Some surgeon’s journals give accounts of childbirth, and there is even an application for a Trafalgar Medal from a woman who took part in the battle, which was refused!
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a surgeon’s journal for the Hibernia, but I did check the logs for 1859 and 1860 and there is no mention of a child being born. The captain would not have wanted to draw attention to the fact he was allowing wives to live on board. It’s also worth pointing that although the
Hibernia was stationed in Valletta at the time, it would have still been regarded as ‘at sea’ as it wasn’t in a UK port. In fact, you would probably find more women living on board a receiving ship – sailors weren’t allowed to live on shore and turn up for work each day.
So in conclusion, there are no records to prove that David was born at sea aboard the Hibernia but there are no records to prove that he wasn’t. A ship’s surgeon would have been able to deliver the child, and we know from other records this did sometimes happen.
David’s birth was probably registered in Chatham because it was the first opportunity that they had to do so after returning home to the UK. Janet Dempsey
The figurehead of the HMS Hibernia