George Rebbeck R.N.
What The Family Says
George Rebbecks career began, not in 1866 when he signed up for his first term in the Navy but several years earlier, when he about 10 years old, he ran away to sea. He reached Portsmouth but was intercepted and sent back home. He ran away again, this time to be a drummer boy in the Crimea, and again was prevented from signing up and returned to the bosom of his family. Not to be beaten he ran away for a third time to join the Navy as a cabin boy.
This time too, and most fortunately, he was stopped at Portsmouth by a Naval officer who personally took him back to his long-suffering mother. On arriving at the family home the officer said to Sarah Rebbeck "Madam, will you promise your son that when he is older you will apprentice him in the service."The officer, who is unnamed, saved Georges life. It is assumed that his clothing and bearing and probably his mode of speech made all the officers he approached send him home for cabin boys (and drummer boys) had a life expectancy of nil. They had no protection or protectors and were open to all forms of abuse. The majority died before their first voyage was over, from neglect, starvation and even murder. As an apprentice George would be protected from all such abuse and would be taught his craft. His mother made that promise and kept it, apprenticing him at the proper time.
He married Helen Eliza after returning from sea to find her waiting on the quay with a 3-year-old son, William George Moody Rebbeck. Different sections of the family have alternative versions of the story. One says that Helen Elizas brothers were also waiting.
The ships company must have thought a lot of their young colleague for they scoured Portsmouth and found a grandfather clock as a wedding present for the couple. The case was eaten by woodworm and the ship's carpenter made a new one. The clock itself was made by John Pepys and either the seller had no idea of its value or the crew collected a lot of money to purchase it.
William George did not resemble George Rebbeck in any way and his other children were of the opinion that he was not their fathers son. If George knew that William George was not his son he did not argue the point for - and this is not disputed - he loved Helen Eliza dearly. That he knew she was pregnant before he ent to sea is doubtful.
After serving his apprenticeship he had a long and eventful career. His final posting in January 1892 when he joined HMS Victory, once Nelsons flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, as Chief Petty Officer. He retired from the Navy in June 1892, joined the Reserves and in retirement did all the things he had always wanted to do. He grew vegetables; kept chickens - which did not lay because he was being too kind and overfed them; raised pigs, and at one time had a talking blackbird, called Jacob, as a pet. It is rumoured that the bird talked so well that it informed him it was going to die after eating a spider sounds like a good naval yarn.
George and Helen Eliza moved to Rose Cottage, Ringwood from 31 Stirling Street, Portsmouth where they had lived for many years. Sydney and his wife Emily then moved into that house and raised their own family there. Sydney's daughter, Edie (Edith) was its last Rebbeck tenant. She lived in the house until her death in 1998 making 3 generations of one family living as tenants in one house for a period spanning more than 100 years.
After Helen Elizas death at the age of 57 his daughter, Alice, kept house for him, and after her marriage to Edgar Brenton they stayed on at Rose Cottage where her children were born and raised. Alice had spent her childhood as the darling of her family; the only daughter to survive infancy and many years younger than her brothers, save Edgar, and taking up the reins of housekeeping meant she had a lot to learn. Her nephew, George son of Sydney, was not much younger and used to visit Rose Cottage. On one occasion Alice presented him with apple pie, the first she had made , and George the younger remarked that it was very nice but his mother used to put cloves in her apple pie. On his next visit he had apple pie with cloves. He always had fond memories of Alices Clove Pie!The entire family left Rose cottage for Burley when Edgar Brentons job took him to that area. They lived there for a few years before finally moving back to Ringwood -where Nora and her daughter Marions family still live.
As for George Senior, time spent in the tropics left its mark for he had contracted malaria. Periodically he would have relapses when he would ask for blankets to be piled on his bed while he alternately shivered and sweated. He also had glaucoma for which there was no treatment in those days. A local Romany gave him a green handkerchief and strict instructions on how to bathe his eyes and this he always did , swearing that it helped. We know he wore spectacles for reading although there are no pictures of him wearing them. The spectacles, however, speak for themselves.
George was particular about his appearance and his shirts had to be "just so". There was only one lady in Ringwood who could launder and starch his shirts to his satisfaction and Alice confided that she was more than happy to let someone else have the horrible job of spreading starch paste on the shirt fronts and then ironing them into a stiff glazed finish. He was a stickler for personal hygiene and told his granddaughters that it was possible to "bathe in a teacup". As children they thought he meant literally climb in a teacup!A respected member of the community, he was known around Ringwood as "Captain Rebbeck" (although he never attained that particular rank), and Alice, was still known as "Miss Rebbeck " or "Captain Rebbecks Daughter" to many people in and around Ringwood even when she had grandchildren of her own. When Edgar Brenton announced his intention to marry Alice Rebbeck, his parents told him that he would have to "improve his standing and get on in the navy if he wanted to marry Captain Rebbecks daughter". He did both and when he married her he already held the rank of Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.
George had a fondness for spicy food and enjoyed curries which Alice would make for him (and her curries were exceeding good) A jar of chilli peppers, the very hot, pickled variety, were always on the dining table. He had developed the habit of eating one before or with his main meal over the years, perhaps in the hope that they would keep the malaria at bay or maybe just because he liked them. His granddaughter, Nora, once asked if she could have one but was told that they were too hot but she insisted ! Known as Gram to his Brenton granddaughters, and a family man at heart, he enjoyed having them around him. He used to sit down with four little girls and tell them stories.
Kathleen Brenton Franklin has said that there would
always be a twinkle in his eyes and he would usually start with "This
is a true fact, do you know what a fact is? It is a lie and a half."
(The other version is "This is a naval truth, now you know what that
is - a lie and a half.") His stories are remembered by his other
grandchildren from Portsmouth, who used to visit him in Ringwood and also
sit to listen to his tales. Most of his stories have been lost but a few
have remained. The "twinkle" in his eyes is something that everyone
who knew him mentions. Were they blue or grey? His granddaughter Elsie
said they were blue, Kathleen agrees and Margaret Rebbeck Brown mentions
in her notes that they were "bright blue" and blue eyes certainly
run in the family. Alice had blue eyes, her daughter Kathleen also has
blue eyes and so have two of her grandchildren.
Next Page:- Tall Tales - stories both true and apocryphal of/from George Rebbeck
Page last amended April 2006