Why the navy is sometimes called “The Andrew” ?


Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Clarke, GCMG CB CIE was a British soldier, engineer, a Colonial Administrator and finally a Colonial Governor , recorded for posterity as such, and also as  a surveyor and politician in Australia.


Born: July 27, 1824, Southsea, Portsmouth in the Reign of King George IV the penultimate Georgian monarch.

Died: March 29, 1902, Bath when aged  77.

Education: Royal Military Academy, Woolwich

Although an unlikely story to those who first engage it, who might, nay, will, find it incongruous to their perception of our maritime history, it is nevertheless plausible based on recorded achievements and the associated norms and customs exercised in the times of the achievements.

This is the man after whom the proverbial naval name of Andrew was chosen, which according to some, became seventeenth century and onwards mythological naval folklore,  myth associated with the press-ganging of men usually said to be in the Portsea region of England’s south coast. I  believe that when used in regard to press-ganging it is very much a myth, albeit easy to catch the ear and the imagination of the willing listener in this case the navy’s lower deck sailor, but far from a myth when associated with this fine soldier, a man who understood the infrastructure of a naval environment without having the need to serve for even one day, or even to set foot upon a warship, though he did, and in great frequency.

Moreover, the myth, which shares the weakness of all myth’s, cannot and is not dated [was Andrew, the so-called press-ganger in his prime in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries?, say up to approximately 1815] belonged to unspecified antiquity, although I cede that myth’s circumvent mortality and are of infinity as opposed to finite. Since this so-called  Andrew [Miller] the press-ganger is not recorded in any time period by action, surname, rank, we have to assume that this rather romantic idea of a ‘super hero provost marshal’ [the ultimate “crusher”]  bashing people on the head, or having them bashed, at the behest of a ship’s commander* is a shaggy-dog story, concocted by idle minds, under the remit of swinging the lamp, and of course copious amounts  of alcohol.

*Master [a salt-horse] and Commander [a naval officer]  where the Master sailed and navigated the ship on passage and into action, the Commander fought the ship, responsible for all materiel and personnel matters.

That press-ganging was a necessary procedure to gather together a seaman-like crew especially when the drums-of-war sounded, but when war was gone, officer’s went on half pay [if lucky], selected ratings festered in hulks, those not selected  left to fend for themselves devoid of any form of assistance, pay, or subsistence, and the press-gangers, out of a job, went back to “overseeing” vices incumbent in naval ports. Only the standing warrant officers, the gunner, the boatswain the carpenter, and the pusser [purser] remained on as so-called ship-keepers, and they brought their wives and children on-board to live in relative comfort, with the warrant officers still drawing their daily rations including rum. This situation continued until the ship was made ready again for war, and the time between peace and war could be considerable, out to several if not scores of years.

In all probability sailors of the period 17th-19th centuries [to 1863] would  have  never heard the word or expression “Andrew” unless that of a sailors name, Christian or Surname, and that is the date, when Queen Victoria had been on the throne  for twenty six years and less than two years since Prince Albert’s death. For those of you thinking of Andrew a la St Andrew and the Scottish Saltire, the ructions caused at the 1707 Union with Scotland [the full bonding union as it is sometimes called] where the Union Flag, but still not called the Union Jack even at sea in the Royal Navy, was contested by the Scot’s because the St George’s Cross was laid over the top of the Saltire which they considered it to be defaced, and fought mightily to have it reversed or to have two Flags, one with St George’s Cross on the top of the Saltire and the other the Saltire on top of the St George’s Cross. The English wouldn’t hear of it and rubbed salt in the wounds by insisting that the new Ensign of the Royal Navy [never, at any time the British Navy by decree] would be largely St Georges Cross with a small Union Flag in the upper hoist quadrant [the canton}. This, the Royal Navy’s ensign was doubly defaced in the eyes of the hitherto Scottish Navy and the Union Flag defaced once. The Scot’s held that grievance more or less for 228 years, when in 1935 they made one more last petition to HM King George V. It was listened to, but put down in a most forceful yet polite way, the Government under Stanley Baldwin, entrusted the Secretary of State for Scotland Walter Elliot to inform the Petitioners, of the Governments answer. From that time on, the Scots have kept the question north of the border. However, whilst I was writing the definitive story of the Royal Navy Warrant Officer, I was emailed by a prominent Scot who questioned the famous painting by Wyllie the Elder of HMS Victory entering No1 Tidal Basin Portsmouth Dockyard in 1921, to de-store and de-ballast before being made ready to enter her No2 Dry Dock in 1922.  He pointed out to me that Victory was flying a white ensign aft on the Ensign Staff [which I assume he accepted at long last] but also a Red Ensign on the Foremast, a St Georges Cross on the mainmast  and a Saltire and asked me why. I managed to talk through the reason for the Red Ensign, the St George’s Cross, in those days being the Flag of C-in-C Portsmouth Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe 1921-1923 and not as now the Second Sea lords Flag, but that I couldn’t see a Saltire. He was annoyed, and showed it, when I mentioned Flag M on a halyard on the foremast and told him its meaning, that the vessel was stopped and making no headway through the water. He retorted, well it looks like a Saltire and so does the Russian Ensign I reminded him!

So, no so-called press-ganger called Andrew Miller and after the 1707 full union, no Saltire. Scots, like the English the Irish {prior to 1920} and the Welsh were all in the Royal Navy – full stop.

Where does that leave us and where is my story going? To the factual non myth story of why “Andrew.”

Back to the soldier of my story.

First of all a lead in.

The death of Lieutenant General [equivalent to a Vice Admiral] Sir Andrew Clarke occurred on Saturday 29th March 1902 at his home in London after a long and debilitating illness, which did not stop him from carrying out his duties of Agent-General for the Colony Victoria, Australia, to the last. He died as he wished to die, in harness, a strenuous worker to the very end, and few of his contemporaries could show such a record of public service as his, spread over a period of 60 years. As he was proud of recalling, he was the last survivor of the framers of the First Constitution of Victoria in 1865, and he lived to see the foundation of the Australian Commonwealth and to entertain the hope that he might be chosen as its first Imperial Commissioner in the Capital of the Empire.

Born 27th July 1924,  at Southsea,  Hampshire, Andrew Clarke was the son of Colonel Andrew Clarke Royal Engineers, of Belmont, County Donegal, the First Governor of Western Australia.  He had thus an inherited interest in the great island continent with which so much of his career was connected, and with which he was still associated at the hour of his death. Educated at Kings School Canterbury, and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich he obtained his commission as second  lieutenant in the Royal Engineer in 1844 , and served for a short time in Ireland during the famine. He then received an appointment on his father’s staff at Perth, Western Australia, but Sir William Denison, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania, induced him on his way out to Western Australia, to stay with him first as A.D.C., and afterwards as military secretary. His career thus began in Tasmania, and it is curious to note that on several occasions he acted as Agent-General of that Colony.  In 1847 he proceeded to New Zealand to take party in the Maoir War, and for some years he served on the staff of Sir George Grey. An appointment as Surveyor-General attracted him out to Victoria, much to the dissatisfaction of Sir George Grey who wished to retain his services. In his new post he found greater scope for his abilities, and in addition to his professional duties he took a prominent part in framing the Constitution of Victoria, a work of which was especially proud  because it was adopted by the home government without a single alteration. As we have stated he was the last survivor of the men who drew up that Constitution.  When it came into force he was put up and returned as a member for Melbourne in the Legislative Assembly, and he held the office as Minister of Public Lands in the first responsible administration in Victoria.  After two years in office this Ministry resigned in 1857 and Captain Clarke, declining an invitation to reform the Ministry, returned to Britain with 12 years Colonial experience, which in those days was extremely rare, and, so far as Australia went, possessed by him  and his lifelong friend Mr Childers alone.   In 1863 he was sent on a special mission to the West coast of Africa in connection with some of our earlier trouble in Ashanti but beyond a narrow escape from the only attack of fever he ever experienced in tropical climates, there was nothing important connect with this mission which concluded the first part of his colonial career. It was no secret however that on two occasions he was asked by Government to draw up schemes for the operations in Ashanti. He was a much sought after Colonialist!

At this point he returned to work connected with his engineering profession as Director of Works for the Navy, a high and noble position held in Admiralty circles, a post he held for ten years, and would have been much longer had he not got the wander-lust and burning ambition to develop the infrastructure of Colonies, particularly those in the far off antipodes.

In the period 1863-1864 an Admiralty Inventory had revealed that all was not well with many of its ports, docks dry, wet and floating, harbour dredging, buoying, lighting, undersea cables, and that lack of attention and money were to blame at a time of really little action for the navy. The Crimean War had been over for ten years but this had been followed by the 2nd Chinese-Anglo War [1856-1860]. After that, except for the bombardment of Alexandria [1882] to keep the Suez Canal in British hands the navy did virtually nothing for 30 years except its pax-Britannic duties of peace keeping, and the attempted rescue of General Gordon at Khartoum Sudan [1885] but to no avail, he having being brutally murdered by the "fussie wussies" often mentioned by Corporal Jones in the TV series 'Dad's Army'!

This began the period of non-stop defect repairing, shoring-up, new building, new navigational channels buoying and navigation lighting, which Clarke masterminded, and almost single-handedly planned from survey to construction.  He was a power house the likes the navy had never seen. He got along with everyone involved or remotely responsible for a feature, where lack of money and malaise had almost knocked the pride out of them in the many years measured from the Regency Navy, the Late Georgian Period and the first part of the Victorian period.

At this point it is important to understand that the navy were going flat out building and operating steam devices, anything  from large vessels to small boats. There was a tremendous amount of expertise in the officer corps and men like the captain of HMS Warrior [1860] an officer from the famous Scottish Cochrane naval family, was himself a deep technologists and any dockyard officer had to be on his toes when visiting his ship: he was not alone. The wooden-walls navy had quite naturally taken a back seat, but quite unnaturally so too had many of the dockyard facilities. This is where Andrew Clarke comes into his own.

Naval officers have always got on with their equivalents in the Royal Dockyards, but that statement really means ship-talk in every conceivable way from design, build, repairs, maintenance, conversion, and from arrival to leaving a yard, the very best service is asked for and given to perfection.  However, that is not necessarily  true of dockyard facility management where understandably, naval officer know that dockyard officers knew their job and so left them to get on with it. The only time there is a need for dialogue is when a dockyard facility fails which affects the living conditions of the crews of visiting ships, or the crucial movement of the ship out of the yard.

For that simple and uncomplicated reason, certain naval officers get very close to the dockyard, when usually many other officers do not and do not have a need to. The engineering branches, shipwrights, artificers of all skills, are obvious examples, and ops officers, logistics, medical, etc are less obvious to the point of never needing  a working liaison. Air-warfare officers had virtually no contact at all.  

This means that a dockyard officer performing ‘magic’ on dockyard infrastructure is more likely to be well known to the artisan/engineering types than to ship’s warfare branches, and in such a bond [an in-depth understanding of what the magic is all about] is firmed-up. Christian names become known and used and socialising becomes the norm.

So when our man Andrew performs, and sustains that performance world-wide and for a ten year stint without a break, he becomes well known, well respected, much admired and yes, famous. It could even be that what he does invigorates the navy, thereby bringing on board that section of the navy who have been ambivalent to his wonders for lack of understanding  as much as anything else.

It is [and was always the case] that the fraternity of officers is rarely if ever shared with the lower deck, and whereas Christian names between officers [dockyard and naval] are the norm, the rule is that they are discouraged  between wardroom and messdecks. If there is a relaxation on this unwritten rule, it is that an officer, whilst socialising with members of the lower deck outside a naval venue or place of duty, may call a man by his nickname or his known Christian name, but the reverse is not to be encouraged, that being that when names are appropriate or necessary, the call-upwards is to be “sir.” So it was that the engineering officers called Andrew Clarke, Andrew [or a derivation of that name – Andy, for example] as they worked with him on several projects, other wardroom officers followed suit, and as Andrew Clarkes fame spread, more and more non-engineering officers wanted to know Andrew Clark. Sailors observed these salutations, and when in their own environments, began to refer to Andrew Clarke, as though they knew him personally, and like all adulation, it is spread from first hand knowledge or by hearsay.

Cutting to the quick, this is what he did:-

In that period, the naval arsenals at Portsmouth, Chatham, Plymouth were so altered, improved and strengthened as to form practically new works:

Similar fortified bases were  constructed at Malta, Cork and Bermuda where his floating dock was one of the engineering wonders of the day:

His further suggestions with regards to Colombo, Singapore , Hong Kong and other Imperial defences were not put into effect until he held  the post of Inspector-General of Fortifications nine years on, a commitment he fulfilled:

In 1873 he resumed his acquaintances with one of the most important of our Colonies, as Governor of the Straits Settlements [Singapore], where he did admirable work. He carefully studies the policy of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, and he set himself the task of completing it by bringing the Malay States under the protection of Great Britain.  In an address to the Royal Institution in May 1893 he gave a graphic description of the terrible condition of those States in 1874 when he took on the question.

In all these geographical places and at all venues the navy readily saw the vast differences in facilities and the functioning of these which increased the efficiency of the navy many-fold. Built-in to many of his port features was the concept of bunkering coal allowing British shipping to acquire good coal [usually that shipped from Wales] because coal in many other countries had a large amount of earth [soil], particularly coal mined in Australia and some parts of New Zealand which made it difficult to burn, or required the re-tubing of the boilers with larger tubes. This of course coincided with the British world leading [and beating] industrial revolution, and British ships, naval and mercantile marine,  dominated the planet bringing technology and manufactured goods to the undeveloped word and bringing home necessary raw materials.

At each innovation, the praise for Andrew Clarke and his team grew, but more importantly, the word got around that all things dockyard [with little involvement with ship building ] were of Andrew’s doing, and directly, in a term of endearment, associated all things “new” naval-wise as Andrew’s, the name rapidly becoming  synonymous with the Royal Navy. Running concurrent with Clarke’s roll-out was, by virtue of his dockyard buildings, transportation including rolling stock and track, steam rather than mule driven of course, came the rise of the Purser, hitherto and for eons passed,  one of the ships/navy’s senior warrant officers, but now a commissioned and extremely responsible appointment.  Within but a few years the Royal Navy had adopted yet another word which was synonymous with the Royal Navy which was a corruption of Purser, namely “Pusser”.  At that point, well before  Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee [1887] the terms the “Andrew” and the “Pussers” were everyday speech and destined for naval folklore. Andrew Clarke’s contribution did not last nor did his name and the fame of it mores the pity, although internationally now long away from the navy it did, but not as an engineer, but as a Colonial Administrator. He was one of the great Victorians and much lauded.  The “Pusser” did survive in a round about way, for his wares received the ubiquitous and proverbial war department WD [ broad arrow]. At the time of the introduction, the War Department [note the broad arrow in the picture to the right] was formed by the War Office [Army] the Air Ministry and the Admiralty.

The Andrew has no connection to or with a so-called press-ganger, or a Scottish Saint, but to an English born English trained engineer who became an army engineer, but hardly used by the British Army, went on to become the officer in charge of Naval Dockyards, fortifications, and Naval Works. He used his British training at Woolwich London to spend the greater part of his life as a Colonial Administer mainly in Australia. Had he continued as the Head of Naval Works, his name today might be associated with those of Peppys and Nelson as singularly unique in their fields, within British naval history.

Yours aye.