Who Was George Tibbins?

Researched and compiled by Wilf Aldridge

What is the connection between George Tibbins and the former naval shipbuilding and Imperial Japanese Navy home port of Kure City, Japan? Why is it an intriguing story of the friendship between Japan and Great Britain in the early 1900’s? Recent research has uncovered much of the tragic detail of this almost forgotten page of history. George Tibbins was born at Addlestone Moor, Surrey, England, on 15ttl July 1888, the illegitimate son of 40 year old Jane Elizabeth Tibbins, a widow for some seven years. His father is not known. For all of his formative years            George Tibbins                       George lived at  the Hare Hill, Addlestone, market garden home of Shelemiah Snellgrove, where his mother was employed as a live-in house-keeper and domestic servant. With them at the time of George’s birth was his half-sister Jennie Rose, aged 8. In addition, George had a half-brother, 10 year old John Samuel, living in Birmingham with his aunt, Sarah Tibbins, sister of James Tibbins, the deceased husband of Jane Elizabeth.


Upon leaving school, George began work as a ‘Plumbers Assistant’. But shortly afterwards he falsified his birth date to 15th Apr11 1888 in order to sign up, on 15th October 1903, at the minimum age of 15½ years, as a Boy Sailor Second Class in the British Royal Navy. At that time, he was recorded as being 5’1"tall, with brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. His service number was 228493. George’s initial basic training took place, from 15th October 1903 to 31st  December 1903, on the floating training ship HMS Boscawen, a hulk laying at Portland. He was then drafted to HMS Boscawen 1 , (where he was promoted to Boy First Class on 18th May) until 10th June 1904. His final training was completed on HMS Boscawen 2 from where he was ordered, on 13rd May 1905, to report to the First Class Cruiser HMS St George. 


At 7350 tons, the St George was typical of the larger warships to which Boy Sailors' were sent as a practical introduction to life at sea. At the end of his time on this ship his character report was recorded as ‘Very Good’ before he was posted, On 11th September 1905, to HMS Victory. This was the Portsmouth Royal Naval Shore Establishment where discipline was reinforced for sailors returning from sea duty. Shortly afterwards, on 22nd September 1905, he was directed to the Portsmouth Shore Establishment HMS Excellent for ten weeks Gunnery training. Built by convicts in 1891 using landfill, and known as ‘Whale Island’ because of its shape, this shore base was notorious for its severity. All movement was ‘at the double' - even for the permanent staff!  


It was on 2nd January 1906 that George Tibbins joined his first ‘proper’ ship, the 14150 ton First Class Armoured Cruiser HMS King Alfred. Flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of the China Station. Now 5’4" tall, Tibbins, with tattoos of a Peacock on his left arm and a bracelet on his right arm, was promoted to Ordinary Seaman on his falsified eighteenth birthday of 15th April 1906. Then, on 10th February 1907, with his character again recorded as 'Very Good’ and now in the Far East, Tibbins was transferred to HMS Alacrity, a Surprise Class Despatch vessel with accommodation for high-ranking officials. It was from this ship that he was to meet his tragic, and possibly avoidable, death in far-off Japan.


#148  Parkway Vol.29 No.2  April - June 2014

(top left)

Tibbins' mother Jane Elizabeth Tibbins

(top right)

Tibbins' half-sister Jennie Rose Tibbins


Tibbins' half-brother John(Jack Samuel Tibbins

 In the Late Nineteenth century, Japan began to modernised and expand her Navy. Initially the government purchased British and European built warships, but later realised that it would be advantageous to construct domestically in newly created western style shipyards. One of the embryo  sites was in Kure City, recently created from several nearby small agriculture and fishing towns and villages in the Hjroshima Prefecture. Already an important Imperial Japanese Navy base, its deep water, protected harbour and an extensive new flat area constructed from landfill, the city was ideal for purpose. Thus it was from Kure’s ultra-modem shipyard that, on Monday 17th April 1907, the 21,800 ton Satsuma Class battleship IJNS Aki was to be launched by the Emperor's representative, Prince Higashi Fushimi, in the presence of representatives of the major Western Powers. 


Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur William Moore, Commander-in-Chief of the British China Station, with the intention of making an official visit to Japan, had transferred his Flag on 15th March 1907 from HMS King Alfred to HMS Alacrity. He then set sail from Tamsui in Formosa and the Chinese ports of Foochow and Ningpo and onwards to the Japanese Open Ports of Misumi and Obama, before arriving at Nagasaki on 5th April. Whilst there, the Vice-Admiral received a telegraph from the Imperial Japanese Navy Vice-Minister,Rear-Admiral Kato, inviting him to the launch of the Aki. Vice-Admiral Moore accepted the invitation and the Alacrity departed from Nagasaki for Kure on April, calling at Hakata, Karatsu, Moji and Miyajima en route.  


It was as the Alacrity approached Miyajima at 16.00 hours on Saturday 13th April, in a rough sea with squally rain, overcast sky and a temperature of 66F, that the order was given to rig the accommodation ladder. Very shortly      afterwards the cry “Man overboard!" rang out.                       The Alacrity


But it was not unt11 16.15 hours that the young officer of the Watch, 21-year-old Lieutenant Kenneth Sworder, ordered the launch of the sea-boats as the Alacrity continued on to Miyajama. Tragically, despite a thorough search, not helped by the atrocious weather conditions, George Tibbins was not sighted and eventually the sea-boats returned to the now moored up Alacrity. At 18,00 hours the entry ¨Departed this life through drowning, George Tibbins O.S.0.n.C.S.b 228492. Aged 18 years and 11 months" was entered into the Ship’s Log and confirmed and signed by Commander Eustace La Trobe Leatham, the 37 year old Captain of the Alacrity (But note the error in recording Tibbins service number). Later Vice Admiral Moore’s Journal for13th April recorded “Man overboard, body not recovered." A further Ships Log entry, for Sunday 14th April 1907, states “At 10.00 hours, carried out inquiry (headed by Vice Admiral Moore) on death of G. Tibbins O.S on board.” The finding was that “Had greater promptness and readiness been used the man's life might have been saved." Commander Leatham and Lieutenant Sworder were each censured. The Commander’s personal Naval Record was endorsed with the Enquiry finding plus “Cautioned to be more careful in future‘.


Shortly afterwards Inspector Hayashi, the Chief of the Itsukushima (Miyajima) Branch Police Station, visited Commander Leatham to discuss the search for George Tibbins body, post mortem after recovery, temporary local burial and re-imbursement of the costs involved. At 11.00 hours, Prayers were said on the Alacrity and at 13.10 hours anchor was weighed and, receiving fifteen and twenty-one gun salutes on the way, the ship proceeded to Kure where she made fast to a buoy at 15.10 hours in improved weather. Having moored up, Sir Arthur exchanged courtesy visits with Japanese Vice-Admiral Yamanouchi and the Captain of the Italian Cruiser ITS Vesuvio, also present for the launching of the Aki.


#149  Parkway Vol.29 No.3  July - September  2014 

The weather remained fair on Monday 15yh April when the Cruiser IJNS

Akashi, with Prince Higashi Fushimi on board, moored up at Kure at 09.10 hours. The arrival was greeted by all the ships present, dressed overall, firing 21-gun salutes and with all hands massed and cheering. A further salute was made at 10.10 hours when the Prince landed to be escorted to the ceremonial platform from where, at 10.40 hours the ,41(j was successfully launched in the presence of Admirals Saito and Togo. Yet another 21-gun salute was fired at 11.00 hours, after which a buffet luncheon was served to over 1000 guests, with three cheers of “Long Live the Emperor!” at 11.30 hours when Prince Fushimi departed on the Akashi. Later, a Charity Stall in aid of the Kure Mutual Workers Aid Hospital was held by the ladies. Finally, in the evening a performance of plays, in the Suikosha Naval 

   Tombstone of George Tibbins       Officers Mess by the Heads of the Tokyo Kanze and           at Naval Cemetery in Kure          Kongo Noh Schools, brought the hugely successful                                                              day to a close.


The next day the Alacrity weighed anchor with visits  to Itozaki, Kobe, Yokkaichi and Taketoyo on the way to Yokohama, where she arrived on 27th April for the termination of Vice-Admiral Moore's tour. Despite a massive search, George Tibbins remains were not found until early in the morning of 9th May 1907. Discovered on the beach at ltsukaichi Beach, Saeki, Hiroshima, it had drifted ashore on the tides. The local Mayor arranged for a temporary burial until the Number 3 steamboat from the Kure Naval Port Office arrived to convey the body to Kure, where it was met by Japanese Naval Officers and Ratings from each vessel moored in the Port. That same afternoon, in the presence of many high-ranking officials and others, Ordinary Seaman George Tibbins funeral was held, with dedications of huge wreaths and other offerings, at the Kure Imperial Japanese Navy Cemetery in the suburb of Nagasako. The Geibi Shinbun newspaper dated 12th May reported that it was “A grand and impressive occasion!" 


    The Alacrity briefly revisited Kure on 23rd May of that year to witness the steam trials of IJNS Iwami at 10.30 hours, after which she tied up to a buoy at 11.40 hours. The following morning, at 06.00 hours, a working party left the ship carrying a tombstone, subscribed to by George Tibbins shipmates, which they erected on his grave. The Alacrity then departed from Kure at 10.45 hours after the working party’s return on board.  


Many years later, in 1950, during the Korean War, the British Royal Navy Frigate HMS Alacrity, successor to George Tibbjns earlier ship, visited Kure. Told of the grave, the Captain sent a volunteer working party to clean and renovate the tomb stone and protective cage. In October 1957 the cemetery was completely renovated following concern by the Kure Naval Cemetery Preservation Association.


Much more information has been unearthed than space will allow about the

tragically brief life of Ordinary Seaman George Tibbins RN. However, all the

details are in the possession of the History Section of Kure City Council and

copies have been forwarded to George Tibbjns near relatives, descendants of

his half-brother John Samuel, now living in Canada.


In recent years George Tibbins grave has been maintained, with fresh flowers regularly laid, by the local authorities. And, as part of their local history lessons, the senior children of the nearby Nagasako Primary School conduct visitors around the cemetery, with a brief explanation of the many monuments and graves, including that of George Tibbins. Thus, has his tragic death at such a young age become a symbol of the friendship which existed between the island nations of Great Britain and Japan from the late 19th century until the 1930’s and later resumed following the Second World War.


#150  Parkway Vol.29 No.4  October- December 2014


旧海軍造船所であり帝国日本海軍の母港だった呉市とジョージ・ティビンズとの関係は何か? そこには1900年代初めの日本とイギリスの友好関係という興味深い話があるのだが、それはなぜか?最近の調査で、このほとんど忘れられた歴史の1ページを刻む悲劇の詳細が明らかになった。 ジョージ・ティビンズは、1888年7月15日、英国サリー州アドルストンでジェーン・エリザベス・ティビンズ(40歳、夫を亡くして7年)の非嫡子として生まれた。父親は分かっていない。シェルミア・スネルグローブ向け作物の栽培地、アドルストンのヘアヒルに住み、そこで成長した。母親は住み込み女中として働いていた。ジョージが生まれたとき、異父姉ジェニーローズ(8歳)がいた。また異父兄ジョン・サミュエル(10歳)もいて、バーミンガムのおばサラ・ティビンズ(ジェーン・エリザベスの亡き夫ジェームズ・ティビンズの姉)と一緒に住んでいた。 


学校を出ると、ジョージは「配管工助手」として仕事を始めた。しかしその後すぐに、生年月日を1888年4月15日に改ざんし、1903年10月15日時点の所要最低年齢15½年に達するとして英国海軍2級少年水兵に申し込んだ。当時、身長が155センチで、茶色の髪、茶色の目、色黒と記録され、認識番号は228493だった。ジョージの最初の基礎訓練は1903年10月15日から1903年12月31日まで、浮動訓練船HMS Boscawen号(ポートランドに係留の廃船)で行われた。その後、1904年6月10日までHMS Boscawen 1号に徴用された(5月18日には1級少年水兵に昇進している)。最終訓練はHMS Boscawen 2号で終了し、そこから 1905年5月13日、1級クルーザーHMS St George号に出頭するよう命じられる。 


7350トンのSt George号は、少年水兵の海上生活実践導入訓練の場として送られる事の多い、大きな軍艦だった。この船での訓練が終了した時の人物評価は「大変良い」である。その後、1905年9月11日、HMS Victory号に配置される。これは乗員が海上任務から復帰する際、陸上生活支援を受ける海軍施設である。さらに、1905年9月22日、ポーツマス海軍施設のHMS Excellent号に送られ、10週間の砲撃訓練を受ける。この沿岸基地は、1891年に埋め立て地を利用して刑務所の囚人が建設した施設で、その形状のために「鯨島」としても知られ、その厳しさは悪名高かった。 あらゆる移動はー常勤職員でさえもー駆け足で行われていたのだ!


1906年1月2日、ジョージ・ティビンズは、初めて「正式な」船、HMS King Alfred号(中国駐屯地司令官の旗艦である14150トン第一級装甲巡洋艦)に乗船した。今や、身長163センチ、左腕に孔雀の入れ墨、右腕にブレスレットをはめていたティビンズは、18歳の偽の誕生日1906年4月15日、二等水兵に昇格した。1907年2月10日、 人物評価は「大変良い」と再び記録され、極東にいたティビンズはHMS Alacrity号(高官用宿泊施設を備えたサプライズ級派遣船)に転属された。この船で、そして、遠い日本で、悲劇の死を迎えることになる。


19世紀後半、日本は近代化を進め、海軍の拡張を始めた。当初、政府は英国と欧州の軍艦を購入していたが、後に、新しく作られた国内の西洋式造船所で建設する方が有利と考えるようになった。初期の造船所の1つに、近隣の農業・漁業の町村を合併して作られた広島県の呉市があった。市はすでに重要な帝国海軍の基地となっており、水深が深く、地形に恵まれた港、埋立により作られた広範囲にわたる平らな土地があり、造船所には理想的だった。 1907年4月17日、21,800トンの薩摩型戦艦安芸の進水式に、西欧強国代表列席の下、天皇の名代として東伏見宮親王が臨席した。 


1907年3月15日、英国中国駐屯地長官支局長アーサー・ウィリアム・ムーア中将は、日本への公式訪問にあたり、HMS King Alfred号からHMS Alacrity号に旗艦を移した。その後、台湾の淡水を出港し、中国の福州、寧波、そして日本の開港地、三角、小浜と進み、長崎には4月5日に到着した。その間に、中将は、帝国海軍の加藤少将より、安芸の進水式に招待する電報を受取った。ムーア中将は招待を受け、4月、Alacrityは長崎を発ち呉に向かう。途中、博多、唐津、門司、宮島に寄港する予定だった。


4月13日(土)16時、突風を伴う雨、陰鬱な空、19℃の荒れた海の中、Alacrityが宮島に近づいた時、船室の梯子を整備するよう命令が出された。まもなく 「人が落ちたぞ!」という叫び声が響いた。


しかし、Alacrity号は宮島にむかって進み続け、16時15分になって初めて、若い見張り番、21歳のケネス・スウォーダー大尉が、海洋艇を出すよう命じた。容赦ない天気に翻弄される中、徹底的な捜査にもかかわらず、ジョージ・ティビンズが見つからないまま、海洋艇はすでに停泊していたAlacrity号に戻った。 18時、「溺死により逝去。ジョージ・ティビンズ、二等水兵、認識番号228492、年齢18歳11ヶ月 」と航海日誌に記録され、Alacrity号のウスタス・ラ・トローブ・レーサム司令官(37歳)が確認し署名した。(ティビンズの認識番号に誤りがあることに注意)4月13日のムーア中将の日誌には、「落水者あり、遺体収容ならず」と記録してある。さらに1907年4月14日の日曜日の航海日誌には、「10時にG.ティビンズ二等水兵の死亡に関する審理(ムーア中将が率いる)が行われた」とある。審理結果では「早急な対応があれば、命は救われたかもしれない」とされ、レーサム司令官とスウォーダー大尉はけん責された。司令官個人の海軍記録は、審査の結果に加え「今後さらなる注意が必要との警告を受けた」とあった。 


その後すぐに、厳島(宮島)警察支部署長の林査察官がレーサム司令官を訪ね、ジョージ・ティビンズの遺体捜査、発見後の検死、地元での一時的埋葬、費用の弁済について話し合った。 11時、Alacrity号上で祈りが捧げられ、13時10分、錨が揚げられ、途中15発、21発の追悼砲を受けながら、船は呉に向かった。呉では天気も回復し、15時10分しっかりブイに繋がれた。係留後、アーサー卿は、山之内中将、イタリア巡洋艦ITS Vesuvio号船長(安芸の進水式にも出席)を表敬訪問しあった。





翌日、Alacrity号は糸崎、神戸、四日市、武豊に寄港、錨を下ろしながら、4月27日横浜に到着、ムーア中将の任務は終了した。大規模な捜査にもかかわらず、ジョージ・ティビンズの遺体が発見されたのは1907年5月9日早朝になってからのことである。潮流にのって佐伯の五日市沿岸にあがっているのが発見された。遺体は地元市長が一時的に埋葬し、呉海軍港湾局の第3気船が到着して呉に運んだ。呉港では停泊している各船の将校と下士官たちが迎えた。同日午後、長迫近くの呉帝国海軍墓地で、高官等が多数列席して、大きな花輪や供え物が捧げられ、二等水兵ジョージ・ティビンズの葬儀が行われた。 5月12日付けの芸備新聞には、「壮大で印象的な式」と報じられた。




時が経過して1950年、朝鮮戦争中、ジョージ・ティビンズが乗っていた後継戦艦である英国海軍フリゲートHMS Alacrityが呉を訪れた。墓の話を聞いて、船長は有志の作業員を募って墓を清掃、改修して保護柵をつけた。 1957年10月、呉海軍墓地保護協会の配慮により、墓地は完全に改修された。







近年、ジョージ・ティビンスの墓は、常時新鮮な花が供えられている。地元の歴史授業の一環として近隣の長迫小学校の高学年児童が訪問者を墓地に案内し、ジョージ・ティビンズを含む多くの碑や墓の簡単な説明をしている。 こうして、若い水兵の悲運な死は島国英国と日本の友好関係の象徴となった。それは19世紀後半から1930年代にかけて始まり、第二次世界大戦後再開することになったのである。