Medal Society of Ireland

Cornelius Cronin 

Stoker, Royal Navy

By George Callaghan

What little is known of his life comes from his Service History in the Navy, available in the Public Record Office in London. this shows that he was born in Co.Kerry in June 1826 (the exact town or parish is not given and the Irish recotd of births for that period has been destroyed),

Before 1853, when a man decided to join the Navy he signed on in a particular ship for a single tour of duty (a commission), probably lasting for a couple of years. When it finished he was paid off and out of a job until he found another ship which he liked and which was in the process of commissioning, (he could phoose his own ship). In 1853 the Adniiralty decided that there was a more efficient way of running the Navy to ensure sufficient trained sailors would be available at short notice if required, and introduced Continuous Service (CS). In this system the man could volunteer to serve continuously for a fixed number of years, initially seven. If he did not wish to commit himself in this way he was still able to join as before. The advantage of the new system was a guaranteed job and a better pay scale. A possible disadvantage was that he could no longer choose his ship, he went where he was sent (and some captains still believed that an occasional flogging encouraged a crew to work harder).

Cronin joined in or before 1847. His History shows that he claimed to have served in HMS Centaur, a wooden paddle-driven frigate, launched in October 1845. However, he could not provide dates for joining or leaving her, so he received no credit for anytime there. He was able to prove service in HMS Victory from 24 March 1847 unti1 28 September of that year, when he is shown as having been Discharged to Sick Quarters. He returned to Victory on 1 December 1841. Victory, launched in 1765 and at one time Nelson's Flagship at Trafalgar, had been withdrawn from active service some , years earlier to become Flagsship and Depot Ship at Portsmouth -where she is still a centre of attraction to visitors,

Cronin would appear to have been on Victory's books for administrative purposes only, and actually served in various ships attached to her as tenders and used in the routine work in the Portsmouth area . Indeed, his History shows he remained in one tender, HMS Sprightly, a wooden-hulled paddle-driven steamer, from at least 3 December 1850 unti1 28 July 1864.

When The Continuous Service system was introduced in 1853 Cronin took advantage of it and on 18 July volunteered to serve for the seven years. He received the CS Number 2096. His application reveals that he was then 5 feet 4 inches in height with sallow complexion, dark hair' and hazel eyes. Life in the Navy would appear to have been agreeable to him as he stayed on when his time was completed, probably to aim at a pension, although that would still have been very far in the future. However, by 1864 he must have been becoming tired of the stokehold of HMS Sprightly and the south coast of England and so have welcomed his posting on 29 July 1864 to HMS Himalaya.

Himalaya was a considerably larger vessel. She had been built originally for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) and launched May 1853. At that time she was the world's largest ship with a length of 372 feet overall and width of 46 feet. She had been planned as a paddle steamer but that design was becoming outdated and was altered to screw propulsion while she was still on the stocks, and she was fitted instead with a single two-bladed propellor of 18 feet diameter. She was also fitted with sails on three masts for use when the wind was favourable. She could carry 200 first class passengers and required a crew of 213. She proved to be a larger vessel than the passenger traffic demanded and coal was becoming more expensive with the advent of war in the Crimea in 1854, so P&O were happy to sell her to the British Government at her cost price of £130,000 in July 1854 for use as a troopship. In this capacity accommodation aboard would certainly have been found for considerably more souls than P&O would ever have envisaged. She continued as a troopship until 1894 or 1895, when she became HM Coal Hulk C.60. The Royal Navy sold her to a private owner in 1920, probably, for similar use. Finally, in 1940, HMS Himalaya was sunk during a German air attack on Portland. Harbour.

Cronin served in her from 29 July 1864 until 1November 1865. This was a period during which, no major uprising in any of the British Colonies required the rapid large-scale transport of troops, so the ship would have been employed mainly in the regular ferrying of regiments from home to Malta or Egypt or India for a tour of duty, and back again. Cronin, at least when the ship was in port, would have had a chance to sample some of the attractions overseas. He would, however, have found temperatures below decks in the engine room considerably hotter than they were in HMS Sprightly in the English Channel.

His next posting was to HMS Asia, launched in 1824 as a 2nd rate battleship carrying 84 guns, but now obsolete as fighting ship and relegated to Guard Ship duties in 1858. .From 1 April 1862 she had been the Flagship of the Admiral Superintendent at Portsmouth, so on 2 November 1965 Cronin was back again where he started.

He had a final spell in deep waters again when he was posted to HMS Tamar on 25 February 1866. She was another troopship, a fairly modern one launched in 1863, by which time iron hulls and screw propulsion had become usual, She was slightly smaller than Himalaya with a length 320 feet overall and breadth 45 feet but since she had been designed as a troopship there was probably much less space in her taken up with first class facilities. He remained in her until 29 July 1868. Her trooping movements are not known to me but she did not qualify for any Battle Honours while Cronin was serving in her, She eventually became a Base Ship in Hong Kong, where she was scuttled by the British in 1941 to avoid her being taken over by the Japanese.

Tamar was Cronin's last ship in the Royal Navy. At the time of his retirement he held three Good Conduct Badges (the maximum number). Altogether he served for a total of 21 years and 71 days, being rated as a stoker throughout. He did not qualify for any campaign meda1s but he did qualify for the Navy's Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, with Gratuity and Pension, which in his day required 21 years of satisfactory service. He received his Medal on 3 August 1868. His History does not indicate to where - it was sent, nor does itgjve any indication as to his life in retirement.

His medal is of the type now known to collectors as the "wide suspender" type. This had a suspender of overall width 42 mm and was used only between 1847 and 1875. Medals issued from then onwards had a narrower suspender of 37 mm. There was a similar difference in the width of the ribbons. During Queen Victoria's reign around. 4,200 of the earlier type were issued compared with some 22,600 of the later type no complete lists of recipients exist).



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