Raymond Metcalfe Shepherd

Raymond Metcalfe Shepherd was born in Barford, Warwickshire, on 5th June 1890. He was the son of George Edward Shepherd and Alice Mary, nee Chater. Raymond was the sixth of seven children: Alice (who was born to his mother before her marriage), George, Lily, Frank Shepherd, Ernest, Raymond, and Aileen. In about 1889 the family moved to Barford, Warwickshire. In 1891, Frank’s father George was a butler, probably for Josiah Yeomans Robins, J.P., at West Hill, a mansion house in New Cubbington. George and his family lived nearby, at 7 Lulworth Cottages, Westhill Road, New Cubbington, Warwickshire.

George’s employer, Josiah Robins, died in May 1898. He left the bulk of his estate to nephew Charles Hubert Blount, but his widow, Mary Isabel, was given the use of West Hill for the remainder of her widowhood. Although she remained at West Hill until her death in 1916, it seems likely that Josiah Robins’ death precipitated George’s move to new employment. Some time between 1891 and 1901 George became the butler at Basset Down, near Wootton Bassett. He and his family took up residence in Basset Down Lodge.

In 1906 Raymond left home at the age of 15 and on 19th May 1905 he became an Indentured Apprentice in the Merchant Navy. He was bound to Devitt and Moore for one voyage, to expire in 1907.

The North Wilts Herald reported on his career and his experience of the earthquake in Messina:

Mr Raymond Shepherd, the 19 years old son of Mr George Shepherd, of Basset Down Lodge, Swindon, was amongst those who had an experience of the terrible earthquake at Messina, and thus added to the series of the remarkable incidents which have characterised his career on the sea. He is engaged on trading vessels, and his first journey was to Australia on the Port Jackson, which was in a collision in the Channel soon after the harbour tug had left it. His next trip was to Chili in a sailing vessel, the barque Heathfield, which was engaged 16 months on the journey. When at Colleta to start home it drifted onto the rocks at Collosa. Shepherd is now on O.S. on the steamer Drake, and his escape from the recent earthquake is really his third experience in which his life has been imperilled. We have been furnished with a copy of a letter to his mother which he wrote the day after the upheaval from the Sailors’ Rest, Syracuse. In this he recounts what he saw and heard, and the perils he underwent.

“I expect,” he says, “by now you have heard of the terrible earthquake at Messina, and are no doubt worrying about me, but thank God! we are all safe. But we had a very narrow escape, and we carried out some very dangerous work after it happened in rescuing the poor people. It occurred about 5.30am, and threw us out of our bunks. We went on deck, thinking another ship had run into us [indeed, an Italian vessel was thrust into the side of the Drake and bore much of the force of the tidal wave], and when we got there it was as black as pitch, with clouds of dust about, and people screaming and crying out. So we rushed back, put on our clothes, and went to clear our boats ready for lowering [it later emerged that they expected the Drake to sink]; but it was so dark we could not see. At that time the quay was crowded with people, and then came the tidal wave. It took our ship right up on the quay, but thank God! we slipped off again, or it would have been our end. It rose 14 feet up the houses, and when it had gone back again there was not a soul to be seen, so they must have all been drowned. Then came a trying time for us, as we had broken loose from our moorings, and we were running first against one steamer and then against another; but nothing very serious happened. When daylight came our men were sent ashore with shovels to dig the people out [19 people were dug out], and the other O.S. and myself were in the boat with orders to take anyone on board, no matter what nationality. We were on until four o’clock in the afternoon, never stopping for food. It was dangerous work, the men were simply wild, but we had our flag in the boat, so that if they touched us, they touched the flag.

The General Steam Navigation Company received a cablegram from Syracuse stating that their steamer Drake, which had been loading lemons, oranges and wine in Messina for three days when the earthquake struck, had been instrumental in rescuing 250 survivors. After taking refugees on board she sailed for Syracuse and arrived safely. By the end of the month the Drake was safely returned to London Bridge in England, and it was stated in the press that she had rescued 308 men, women and children. Greeted by the Lord Mayor Raymond’s grandson’s wife tells me that Raymond was awarded a Medal from the King of Italy for his efforts in rescuing people from the devastation.

On 16th September 1912 he was appointed to the Dredge Service in New South Wales.

In 1914 Raymond married Alice Myrtle Murdoch and had four daughters. It is likely that Raymond served in the Merchant Navy during WW1 but the Australian Merchant Navy records have not yet been digitised.

Raymond’s wife Alice died on 13th July 1923. In 1925 Raymond married Mabel Pettit. Raymond served in the Merchant Navy during the hostilities of WW2. He died on 1st November 1974.

Details of the earthquake in Messina were published in the Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) on Friday 22nd January 1909.

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