Hendersons of Worth, The Naval Sons

This is the last in the series of articles about the Hendersons of Worth. They were originally published in the Worth Parish News in September and subsequent months in 2006.

The first four sons of John and Laura were born at Ivy (Ilex) Cottage, in quick succession, between June 1845 and June 1850. Their primary education was at Sandwich School but their father was determined they should go into the Royal Navy and they had little choice in the matter. They were prepared at North Grove House, Southsea before going up for examination and entering the navy in their early teens. The navy liked them young in those days because, it was said, an instinctive sense of sail only became ingrained if boys grew up with the deck beneath their feet. The four sons were midshipmen by the time they were seventeen.

Their naval careers read more like a Hollywood script than real life. At the height of Britain’s imperial power the navy policed the world with gunboat diplomacy and the four of them played their part. Between them, the family was involved in the Ashanti Expedition, the bombardment of Alexandria, the punitive expedition against the Sultan of Vitu, the Sierra Leone Rebellion and the difficult task of remaining neutral during the Cuban War.

William, the eldest, set sail from Plymouth on H.M.S. Liverpool the day before his 24th birthday as part of the Flying Squadron which went right round the world. By August they had reached Bahia, South America, where he met up with his first brother Reginald, serving on the Phoebe, and they sailed on to Australia via Montevideo and Cape Town. His second brother John, was stationed in Australia on the Challenger, under Commodore Rowley Lambert. They obviously decided that this reunion merited a photograph; the picture shows the three of them in Sydney in the second half of December 1869.

John (called Jack) is the Sub Lieutenant on the right with only one band on his sleeve and Reggie is in the middle. During their ten days together they must have exchanged news of the family and of Worth before the two elder brothers sailed on to New Zealand and Japan. The other picture, also taken in Australia, is of the fourth son, Frank, when he was stationed there in 1876.

In 1872, while serving on the Vulture, Frank intercepted a slave dhow off Ras al Had (today’s Oman). The dhow, “Jasmine”, was transporting 180 slaves and Frank gained promotion to full Lieutenant for his contribution to what was the largest capture for many years. He took the sword off the Arab captain and kept it all his life as a memento. When his tour of duty ended he decided to return home overland. He joined a caravan riding through (today’s) Iran to the shore of the Caspian Sea. There he boarded a ship sailing north to the Volga delta where he transferred to another vessel going all the way up the Volga to Moscow and thence home, overland.

Both Reginald and Frank were awarded the bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society for jumping overboard, in 1870 and 1883 respectively, to rescue seamen who had fallen from the rigging. But it was not all derring-do. William or Busy William, as he was affectionately known, devoted much of his later life trying to improve the teaching of naval tactics and strategy to officers. He was made an Admiral in 1908 and knighted in the 1924 Birthday Honours list. Jack was in command of the Coastguard for Milford District and after he retired he moved to Tenby, Wales where he was the Chairman of the Lifeboat Committee.

Frank retired as a Vice-Admiral in 1910 but was recalled in 1917, at the request of his nephew (Jack’s son), to supervise convoys crossing the Atlantic. He was awarded the D.S.O. in 1918 for his efforts but died shortly afterwards. Reginald retired in 1908 with the rank of Admiral having been given a K.C.B. the year before. He became known as the “Father of the Australian Navy” for the report he wrote in 1911 on how the new, united Australia should structure its navy and has a district in Perth named after him. He returned to Felder House, Worth and became a J.P. for Kent as had his father and grandfather. He died in 1932 and is buried in the churchyard and with him died the last connection between the Hendersons and Worth.

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