In 1866, one of the oldest inmates of Guildford Union Workhouse was allowed to sit with a glass and tell a yarn to his cronies by the workhouse fire. At 86, John Ranger was hale and hearty and had some colourful tales to tell.
At the age of 24 he had volunteered to be a sailor, joining HMS Victory, under the command of Captain Hardy. Soon, as you probably realise, he found himself at the Battle of Trafalgar where he witnessed Lord Nelson fall dying onto the deck.
He later had further adventures, when on June 1st 1813, while serving on the Shannon under Captain Broke, they engaged with the American ship the Chesapeake. He described how quickly they took the enemy ship, “We went into action at 4.30 and at five minutes to 5, I was on the deck of the Chesapeake and she was ours.”
|The Chesapeake and the Shannon off Boston|
John Ranger’s fame increased after an article was published in the West Surrey Times. In 1822 he had left the navy very suddenly. Disliking his task as part of a blockade against the slaving ships off the west coast of Africa, he jumped overboard and deserted. This meant that he was ineligible for a place at Greenwich Hospital and thus he had ended up in the workhouse.
The article prompted Captain Egerton of HMS Victory to write to the newspaper offering to organise a trip for the old sailor to dine on the Victory on the anniversary of Trafalgar. A fund was organised so that people could contribute, “a few Shillings to give an old fellow a treat, rigging him out in naval costume,” but did he go? Captain Egerton required proof that Mr Ranger had indeed been a member of the crew that day and yet in the Muster Roll available now he is not named.