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Monday, June 20, 2011

John S. Margerison

A recent enquiry led me a bit of a merry chase. Who was John S. Margerison? A simple enough question and one that I didn't have much of an answer to. He was a prolific writer for boys and had written quite a few books on the Royal Navy, so there seemed to be a naval/seagoing connection. But we had no dates for him.

My Story Paper Index listed quite a few stories dating from 1916 to 1922 and his books were published in that same period. I also found a listing for John S. Margerison in the phone book, his address given as St. Clere's Hall, Danbury, Essex, where he was listed in 1923-24. All of which hinted that something had happened to Margerison to bring his career to an end in the early 1920s.

During my digging for Margerisons connected with Essex I turned up another possible clue in the birth of a child called John S. Margerison, whose birth was registered in West Ham in 1918. Records for that period had begun listing the mother's maiden name, which, in this case, was Boyland. And from these little acorns grew the following story...

Quite when John Strong Margerison adoptated that name is unknown, although it would appear to have been in his teens. He was, in fact, born Joseph Margerison at Little Padfield, Glosop Dale, in Derbyshire, on 28 April 1887, the son of John Margerison, a shoemaker who had married Catherine Lister in 1883. The couple had seven children, three boys followed by four girls, Joseph being their second but oldest surviving son.

In neither the 1891 nor 1901 census is John Margerison with his family; in the former he is lodging in Rishton and in the latter Royton, both in Lancashire. In 1891, Catherine is lodging in Crompton, Lancashire, and her occupation is given as cotton operative and Joseph is living with his uncle and aunt, John William and Anne Harrison, in Glossop, Derbyshire. In 1901, Joseph is still living with his uncle and aunt but now in Mottram, Cheshire, and with his youngest sister, Eva. His parents had by now separated and Catherine was living in South Manchester as Catherine Tierney, described on the census return as the wife of shoemaker John Tierney, although they did not marry until 1921. Three of Joseph's four sisters were sent to the Oldham Union Workhouse.

In Our Wonderful Navy, Margerison wrote, "The call of the sea is something that vaguely stirs in the veins of every boy worthy of the name as soon as he attains the age of fourteen or thereabouts." This was certainly true of Joseph who, aged 14, ran away to sea to join the Royal Navy.

In June 1912, Able Seaman Margerison was one of the crew of the HMS Prince of Wales who were awarded medals for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea. went to the aid of the steamship SS Delhi, which was stranded off Cape Spartel, Morocco, on 13 December 1911. The ship had been carrying the Duke of Fife with the Princess Royal and their daughters, who were on their way to Egypt; in thick rain, heavy seas and strong currents, the ship had drifted closer to the shore than its crew realised and became stranded about three and a half miles south of Cape Spartel. During the rescue, three crewmen of the French cruiser Friant had died and the Gibraltar lifeboat destroyed, but all the passengers and crew of the Delhi were saved.

Margerison had married, in 1907, Beatrice Alice Boyland at Portsea Island (he is erroneously listed as John Strong Margeson); Beatrice had been born at Portsea in 1886, the daughter of Henry Charles Boyland and his wife Angelina. They had three children, Cecil Reuben (1908-1980), Margery Madeline Patricia (1916-1989) and John S. (1918-1918).

I've no idea whether Joseph Margerison served during the Great War; he would have been in his late twenties when war broke out, but from 1916 on would appear to be writing far too prolifically for someone in service. Perhaps his talent for writing about and promoting the Royal Navy was considered of greater use than to have him serve aboard ship. His books and stories were well received at the time and his work appeared in The London, Chambers's Journal, War Illustrated, The Royal Magazine and Short Stories. He wrote two series of articles about joining the Navy ('Come to Sea, My Lads!' and 'Under the Red Ensign') for The Boys' Friend in 1916 and, after the war, was a regular contributor to Chums, The Boys' Realm and other boys' papers.

Margerison also worked as an advertising manager, travelling to Bombay, India, in the 1920 and was editor of the Netherlands Indies Review, the official organ of the British Chamber of Commerce for the Netherlands East Indies (or Dutch East Indies, nowaday Indonesia). Margerison noted in the pages of The Asiatic Review in 1921 that he "has known the Netherlands East Indies for a considerable period" and "has watched the steady development of the islands from an industrial point of view." The Netherlands Indies Review was later edited by Philip C. Coote and later became The Java Gazette.

Joseph Margerison died in a motorcycle accident in 1925, aged only 37.

UPDATE 1 February 2015
I received an interesting note from John Elsbury, Margerison's grandson (he's the son of Margery Madeline Patricia Margerison), who tells me:
According to my mother, her brother Cecil brought a motorbike home one day and John S insisted on taking it for a test drive from which he didn't return.
     The story goes that he had just completed an application for a life insurance policy, which was sitting on the hall table with the first premium cheque, stamped and ready to go into the mail.  According to my mother, the family then rapidly descended the ladder from upper-middle to working class. His widow, Beatrice, went into service and was, when I was a child in the 1950s, working as a live-in carer for a family with a child with special needs.
    I believe my sister has his WW1 Service Record. I think he may have been invalided out of the RN. I have his fob watch which appears to have been pawned a few times. I have a vague recollection that I was told, as a child, that he had been promoted up to able seaman a couple of times, then been busted back to whatever the lowest rank was. Interestingly, although the family legend was that he had run away to sea – as you report – my own attempt to do the equivalent and join the RAF at age 18 was firmly squashed by my parents. So much for tradition...
Margerison was invalided out of the service on 21 June 1913, a matter of months before his father died. After the war, he lived in Dagenham and at Green Gables, Tilty, Essex. He worked as an advertising manager, travelling to India in May 1920. He was living at Greenorbor, Duton Hill, Dunmow, Essex, when he died on 21 March 1925.


The Navy's Way. London, Duckworth & Co., 1916.
Action! Stories from the modern navy. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917.
Turret and Torpedo. Tales of the navy trade. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1917.
Periscope and Propeller. More tales of the navy trade. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1917.
The Sea Services. A complete guide to the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917.
The Sure Shield. London, Duckworth & Co., 1917.
Destroyer Doings. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1918.
The Hungry Hundred: Royal Naval Reserve. London, C. A. Pearson & Co., 1918.
Hunters of the U-Boat. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1918.
The Navy's Larder and the Marketing List of the Ship's Housewife. Toronto, Warwick Bros. & Rutter, 1918.
Petrol Patrols. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1918.
Midshipman Rex Carew, V.C.. London, Nelson, 1919.
Our Wonderful Navy. The story of the sure shield in peace and war, illus. Charles de Lacy. London, Cassell & Co., 1919.
Torpedo versus Gun. The story of a naval bet. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1919.
Frank Carroll's Mystery. London, Lloyd's School Yarns (#22), 1922.

(* The illustrations above are from Our Wonderful Navy and are by Charles De Lacy.)

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