previous
next



  ― xv ―

INTRODUCTION

We have not been able to discover the year of Ralph Clark's birth but it cannot have been far removed from the year in which the marines were reborn, in 1755. According to Janet Hine, Clark was in service with the Dutch before 1777—it is possible that he would have been about 20 years of age at that time.note

The marines were first raised by an Order in Council of 28 October 1664. A regiment of 1200 soldiers known as the Admiral's Regiment was “to be distributed into His Majesty's Fleets prepared for sea service”. Thereafter soldiers “for sea service” were drawn from other regiments until 1690. In that year the formation of two Marine Regiments enabled the recruitment of soldiers exclusively for sea service. A Marine Pay Office was established on 16 May 1702, but the continuity of the marine force itself depended on the exigencies of war. The marines were disbanded between 1713 and 1739 and again between 1745 and 1755.

On 3 April 1755 an Order in Council raised 5000 marines in 50 companies each assigned to one of the “Grand Divisions” quartered at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth under the control of the Board of Admiralty. The marines were honoured with the prefix ‘Royal’ by George III in an order of 29 April 1802.

Ralph Clark was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Marines (not Royal) on 25 August 1779note as a member of the 27th Company. He was appointed to the 6th Company on 1 August 1783 with which Company he sailed for Australia.

Part of our difficulty in tracking down information relating to Clark arises from the fact that, with a few exceptions, no records of marine appointments before 1793 have survived. From what little record there is, however, we can piece together some of Clark's service life. It appears that he volunteered for service with the First Fleet in the hope that it would bring promotion and financial reward. This hope was fulfilled when the death of Captain Shea left a gap in the ranks


  ― xvi ―
which Major Ross filled from among his subordinate officers. In the reshuffle Ralph Clark was promoted to First Lieutenant.

However, the prospect of promotion lost its glitter as soon as the fleet sailed; almost daily references to homesickness in the early part of Clark's journal attest to this. “All the gains on earth”, Clark bemoaned on the eve of his third wedding anniversary, “should never have made me leave…my dear beloved Alicia and sweet boy”. (p.19). Yet he was hardly back home after five years away when he volunteered for duty in the West Indies — this time taking his “sweet boy” Ralph junior with him.

Judging by his journal and letters Clark appears to have been an unhappy man, not given to the kind of riotous living one often associates with servicemen. When his comrades sat up late at night enjoying themselves, Ralph Clark either complained of the noise they made or joined them — but drank only lemonade. On one occasion, while despising the drinking habits of Lieutenant Faddy, he boasted that he'd only ever been tipsy once. And that was when he married his dear Betsey Alicia!

During the long voyage thoughts of Betsey Alicia and young Ralph occupied many of Clark's waking hours. And his sleeping hours were likewise given to dreams of family and home. On his wedding anniversary Clark wrote: “Oh how I long for the months to fly away to restore [me] to my Alicia my friend my dear wife and Beautiful little engaging son”. On another occasion Clark “dreamt last night of having been with my dear Alicia…sitting at the fire with her night cap on and Seemd very Low”. Ralph Clark's heart and mind were filled with love, affection and kindness for his wife and son. On Sundays he took the picture out of its protective bag and kissed it “a thousand times”. It is hard to imagine anyone more homesick than Lt. Clark during those long days at sea.

While he was tender-hearted toward his own family, Clark displayed an arrogant intolerance of the women convicts aboard the Friendship. Early in the voyage, some sailors got into the women's quarters — but Clark blamed the women! Even if they were the “damned whores” he says they were, it is hard to imagine the women breaking through the bulkhead without assistance from the outside. In any event, Clark was glad to be rid of them when the women aboard his ship were replaced by sheep at Cape Town. He wrote: “I think we will find [the sheep] much more agreable ship mates than [the women] were”. (p.65).

It is a great pity that so much of Clark's journal is missing; from the missing part we might have learned something of the man's optimistic


  ― xvii ―
side. As Part II of this volume opens, Clark is once again up-river seeking out the Aborigines. From the narrative it appears that Clark had struck up a useful acquaintance with the natives since landing at Sydney Cove some 12 months before. The Aborigines seemed to trust him more than anyone else. Clark showed he was worthy of their trust by refusing to capture two of them because he feared their children would starve. Here Clark shows the same tenderness to mother and child as he does to his own wife and son. But, alas, our chance of learning more of Clark the optimist is probably lost forever. We are left again with Clark the pessimist — perhaps the original “whinging pom”!

Betsey Alicia seems to have been overlooked for much of Part II which, for the most part, coincides with Clark's stint on Norfolk Island. It was during this time that the weakness of the flesh, which Clark so deplored in other men, triumphed over Clark's love for his wife and son. Though he makes no mention of her (which is not surprising) Ralph Clark found a paramour among the convict women of whom he previously thought so little. Her name was Mary Branham; she was barely 20 years old. In July 1791 she bore him a daughter. The daughter was christened Alicia.

The date of Alicia's christening (16 December 1791) falls in the middle of a gap of nearly seven weeks in Clark's journal. Clark explains his failure to keep his diary on a daily basis because he was alternately sick and busy. It seems clear however that Clark did not leave the child on Norfolk Island when he sailed for Sydney on 19 November 1791— the mother and child sailed with him.

We are grateful to Jennifer Heward for filling in some of the gaps in Ralph Clark's biography relating to the time of his return to England in 1792 up to his death in 1794.

After Clark's return to England he appears to have been appointed to the 100th Company based at Chatham. Although the appointment was made in early October 1792, Clark did not join the Company until 20 January 1793 on which date he is reported as being “fit for duty”. We cannot of course assume that he was “unfit” for the previous three months; weekly returns of marines were always written in such form. Clark may have been granted leave to the beginning of 1793. (See Appendix 1, page 321.)

Ms Heward found Ralph Clark's name on the list as fit for duty from January 1792 until he embarked aboard the Tartar on 1 May 1793, presumably for the West Indies. According to the records he was still listed as being in the Company on 28 December 1794. This latter information poses something of a problem because we had expected


  ― xviii ―
to find Clark's death recorded several months earlier than this. The pay register seems to indicate that Clark's pay for 1794 terminated on 31 March 1794 but we know from his letters that he was alive in early June 1794. The Admiralty List for 1794 reads “Died” and Clark's name is struck off the list.

The mystery deepens when one compares Clark's last letter home (see p.313) with the Marine List in Appendix 1. The list shows Clark as victualled by the Tartar—but Clark writes from the Sceptre. Such mysteries are the stuff of research and a diligent fossicker might one day dig up the missing material and tie the loose ends together.

Janet Hine has already done a considerable amount of work in piecing the Ralph Clark story together. Her notes, which are invaluable to those undertaking further research of the subject, are in the Mitchell Library (ML. MSS 3556).

The Ralph Clark story has a sad ending. Betsey Alicia died after giving birth to a dead child. Clark died probably not knowing what happened to his “beloved Betsey”; we think he was killed in action (fighting the French in Haiti) before the news could have reached him. And young Ralph, fighting on the same ship as his father, died of yellow fever. The catalogue produced by Sotheby's to advertise the sale of Clark's journal states that young Ralph died “on the same day” as his father. Presumably this claim was made by the Trevan family.

Thus the small family for which Clark suffered so much came to an end. The promotion he sought so desperately eluded him. He died, not having advanced in rank since his promotion to First Lieutenant in New South Wales.

Yet it is possible that the Clark line continues to this day. What became of Mary Branham and her little girl Alicia? Was Alicia their only child? These are questions to which a biographer of Ralph Clark will no doubt find answers.

   Paul G. Fidlon

    R.J. Ryan

previous
next