The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Victory - But Not the Battle of Trafalgar

By Lynne Burlingham


First Rate Ship c1675

 This article was originally published in the December 2005 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society


Some months ago, browsing through the list of Solley/Solly Wills on the National Archives’ Documents Online website I came across the following entry:-


PROB 11/422, Will of Thomas SOLLEY, Mariner belonging to Their Majesty’s Ship Victory of Chatham, Kent [Proved 1694].


Given that 2005 is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson on board HMS Victory, and that Thomas Solley is a recurring family name, I got very excited about a possible Solley connection with the Victory and Trafalgar. I was quickly brought down to earth when my husband, who knows a lot more about these things than I do, pointed out that the date was far too early for it to be Nelson’s Victory and that the ship concerned was almost certainly an earlier one to bear that name. However, still intrigued despite my disappointment, I decided to do some further research.


Their Majesties Ship Victory was either the third or possibly fourth ship to bear that name – it seems to vary from source to source. She was originally named the Royal James, built in Portsmouth by Deane and launched in 1675. She was what is known as a First Rate ship of 1486 tons with 100 guns and 754 men. On 7 March 1691 by an Admiralty Order, the ship was renamed Victory. Their Majesties were William and Mary, during whose reign the ship was renamed. In August 1714 she was renamed Royal George, but in September 1715 this was changed back again to Victory. In February 1721, while being ‘trimmed’ in dock at Portsmouth, the hull caught fire and the ship was practically destroyed. By an Admiralty Order of March the wreck was taken to pieces and, by an order of the Navy Board, serviceable timbers were stored under tarpaulins in the dockyard for a future rebuild, which was not begun until 1733.


Thomas Solley’s Will is actually dated 4 March 1692/3 and was proved in 1694. On August 12 1693, Victory was paid off at Chatham for ‘large repair’, almost a rebuild, which took place at Chatham between 1693 and 1695.


As to Thomas himself, I still know very little about him. I obtained a copy of his Will, the writing of which turned out to be very difficult to decipher, but thanks to my husband’s help much of it has now been deciphered – apart from the Probate statement, where the combination of Latin and the writing defeated us. He seems to have been a man of some substance with references to pay, bounty and prize money etc due to him. He also refers to ‘my messuages, lands and tenements’. He appoints his wife Alicia Solley ‘my true and lawful Attorney ‘ and she is also his sole executrix. He bequeaths to her ‘all…sums of Money, lands, tenements, goods, chattels and estate whatsoever wherewith at the time of my decease I shall be possessed or invested or which shall then belong or of right pertain unto me…’. The Will was witnessed by a James Michell and Rich. Darby.


The Chatham Historical Dockyard Society was very helpful in providing some information. To quote part of the letter I received ‘We have a book in our library claiming to list all the commissioned sea officers 1660-1815, that is Lieutenants and above. The name SOLLEY does not appear. However there were many other men on ships calling themselves Mariners, apart from the common seamen. Particularly the Warrant officers the men who stayed with a ship whilst in Dockyard hands, like the Boatswain, the Gunner, Carpenter, Master and Mates. These officers will probably be listed as onboard Victory on Master Lists held at the National Archives, possibly also telling you when they joined and left, and where from’.


So it seems that Thomas was not an officer holding the rank Lieutenant or above, but possibly nor was he a common seaman. I considered paying a researcher to follow up this line of enquiry at the National Archives, but it seems that the research involved is neither as simple nor as straightforward as I had hoped. So, for the time being, this research remains on hold – but the temptation to follow it up is still there!


A few more details about Thomas and his wife Alicia came to light via the Family Search website. I have found a record for the marriage of a Thomas Solley to Alicia Coodd at the Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent on 27 December 1692, which would fit in but shows that, sadly, their marriage was a short one. There is also a record for the birth of Alicia Coodd in 1666 at Chatham, Kent and also for a Thomas Solley in 1668 at Sittingbourne, Kent.


Much remains unknown about Thomas Solley. For instance it would be interesting to know how he died - was it as the result of an accident in the Dockyard or through illness? Where was he buried? What was his actual position/rank in the Navy? From the Will there would seem to have been no child of the marriage and thus no direct line of descent. If anybody has come across this Thomas Solley on their family tree, I would be interested to know more.  


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