Culley, Charles

Birth Name Culley, Charles
Gender male
Age at Death between 39 years, 7 months, 13 days and 39 years, 10 months, 12 days


Event Date Place Description Notes Sources
Birth calculated between January 1862 and March 1862 Cricklade, Wiltshire, England  
Christening 11 May 1862 Cricklade, Wiltshire, England  
Death 13 November 1901 Granton, Leith Drowned


Relation to main person Name Relation within this family (if not by birth)
Father Culley, John
Mother Freebury, Hannah
    Brother     Culley, William H
         Culley, Charles
    Brother     Culley, John
    Sister     Culley, Alice A


    Family of Culley, Charles and Pool, Harriet
Married Wife Pool, Harriet
Event Date Place Description Notes Sources
Marriage 18 March 1884 Farrington Gurney, Somerset  
  1. Culley, Harrie Enid Alice
  2. Culley, Frederick Charles
  3. Culley, Christine Millicent
  4. Culley, Lilian Frances
  5. Culley, Una Muriel
  6. Culley, Gladys Mahala



Charles Culley was the son of an agricultural labourer. He was born in the first quarter of 1862 in Cricklade, Wiltshire, a small town on the banks of the upper reaches of the River Thames. We can assume that by the time he was 4 years old he had moved with his family some 60 miles to the small village of Farrington Gurney in N.E. Somerset. This assumption is based on the fact that his two younger siblings John and Alice were born in Farrington Gurney around 1866 and 1869 respectively. Later, the census of 1871 shows the whole family there.

The Shetland News in 1901 said that Charles worked in the coal pits as a boy and this may well have been the case.

Charles' younger brother John, at the age of 15, was shown as "carter haulier coal works" in the 1881 census. Charles would have been 19 that year but seems to appear as a 16 year old "boy 2 cl" on HMS Impregnable - did he have to pretend he was younger to get accepted into the Navy?

According to Wikipedia HMS Impregnable was a 98-gun second rate three-decker ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 1 August 1810 at Chatham. Purportedly as originally built she was a near copy of the famed first rate HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar... In 1891, she was once again re-named, this time HMS Caledonia, and became a Scottish boys training / school ship moored at Queensferry in the Firth of Forth. She was sold for breaking up in 1906.

In 1884 Charles married Harriet Pool, a young lady from Farrington Gurney - the Somerset village he grew up in.

The 1891 census shows him as a married 27 year old Chief Quarter Master on HMS Frances, a Coast Guard Cruiser / Cutter. Harriet at this time was living at No 11, Gladstone Road, Alverstoke with the first 5 of her children including two 3 month old twins (Muff and Gladys had yet to be born) and "Living by means allowed by husband" - not far from Gosport and the naval base at Plymouth. Harriet also had a servant living in.

The 1901 census in Scotland shows Charles as a 51 year old - he was 40! It shows him as Chief Officer of the Active with 60 crew. Charles' wife Harriet had moved to 10 Park Road, Leith (the port near Edinburgh.) Sadly, one of the twins had died in infancy but in 1901 all the other six children were living at home. The oldest, Harrie, was 16 years old and the youngest, Gladys, was just 4.

Charles drowned in November 1901 as the following notes attest.

Charles' death certificate shows his mother's maiden surname as Farr, not Freeman as other research suggests.


A quote from the"Shetland News" 16th November 1901:

"..... Than Captain Culley, no more popular and esteemed an officer has ever been known here. He was most zealous in the performance of his duties as was shown by the numerous seizures he made. He was the principal witness on several occasions in the Lerwick Sheriff Court when prosecutions for illegal trawling were instituted, and on these occasions all who were present were struck by the keen intelligence he displayed, and his frank and seamanlike demeanor. Personally, he was a most genial person and well-liked by all who came in contact with him."


Lieutenant Charles Culley was a native of Somerset and was 40 years of age at the time of his death. As a boy he worked in the coal pits but joined the Navy at the age of 16, training on H.M.S. Impregnable at Devonport. Subsequently he saw much service and was with the Niger Expedition of 1883 and the Burma Campaign of 1885. In the course of the latter he and another seaman gained a Mention in Dispatches for rescuing a wounded officer under fire. On his return to Britain he joined H.M. Revenue Cutter Spy as a leading seaman and his promotion thereafter was rapid. His first command was H.M.R.C. Fly, a rather small vessel, stationed in Bantry Bay. When he got H.M. Coast Guard Cruiser Active, it was a very much bigger ship, the posting represented promotion. He was given command of the Active in 1899 with headquarters in the Forth, and it was then that he moved his family to the house in Trinity. He left two sons and four daughters, the eldest a girl of 17.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Loss of H.M.R.C. "Active"
on Granton East Breakwater,
13th. November 1901.

For many years previous to her loss the Active had been every summer on the Shetland station on Revenue and Fishery Protection duties. So much was she a part of the local scene here that she was almost (as a local press reporter put it) "looked upon like a local craft." A fairly big vessel of her type, she measured 135 tons, and though always spoken of as a cutter, she was in fact yawl-rigged. Lieutenant Culley had been in command for something over two years.

In September, 1901, the Active returned from Shetland to the Firth of Forth, where her summer crew were paid off and she was manned from H.M.S. Anson, the guard ship, mainly with young Naval ratings for training on short cruises in the Firth. One account says that only Lieutenant Culley remained of her summer complement,

On the night of Monday, 11th. November, 1901, she anchored in Leith Roads, about 1 mile off Newhaven. The mate, John Donovan, and the quartermaster, William Wakeman, went ashore on overnight leave. By 8 a.m, on Tuesday morning, when they should have returned on board, the weather was too rough to allow them to do so, the wind E.N.E. and growing to a gale. It continued to increase all day, until by dark it was at storm force.

The cutter was riding with two anchors down and sometime during the day they gave her a third one. At dark that night all still seemed to be well although the vessel was riding heavily, the wind was now a hurricane and a tremendous sea was running up the Firth. Survivors stated later that the ship began to drag about 2 a.m, and they started firing rockets as signal of distress. These apparently were not seen, not that it would have made much difference if they had been for by that time there was nothing any human could do to help.
They did not have an easy passing, the Active and her men. They could see nothing. The night was black as pitch and full of spindrift, the wind a howling madness. And they could do no more than had already been done: topmast struck, three anchors down, cables out to the clinch. They could only wait and hope - and there wasn't much grounds for hoping. For the ship kept dragging, always dragging - a man had only to put his foot on a chain to feel the anchors come home a little more every time she snubbed. The waiting is aye the worst of it and many of these lads were very young. There was no panic, the survivors said, and if there was fear it was controlled, but it is quite clear that the last two hours were pretty grim.

For all the long delay, the end came at last like a thunderclap. About 4 a.m. they were in broken water and briefly the undertow fended the ship off. Then a great sea lifted her and she landed full against the breakwater with a shock that was nearly incredible. She disintegrated practically in an instant and most of her crew never had a chance. Cork life-jackets had been served out to all hands, and with the buoyancy these provided about four or five men were washed right over the wall. Two of this lot, Bill Travis and George Dady, eventually drifted right across to the middle pier where a Swedish steamer, the Bele, was lying. They were rescued alongside her.

Only one other man survived and he owed his life to his own astonishing endurance. He was a seaman named George Pearce, The sea landed him on top of the breakwater, which was composed of huge blocks of stone, strengthened at intervals with iron bands. Hanging on to one of those ties till the wave passed, he scrambled to his feet and ran for the shore along the long wall; and when the next breaker came he flung himself down and clung for dear life to another tie. So, stage by stage, between seas, he traversed the long breakwater right to the shore. He made it, fearfullv beaten and bruised, and with every rag of clothing torn off him except his "Navy flannel" singlet.

For many years afterwards a very obvious dent in the smooth line of the breakwater marked the spot where the Active struck and where the great blocks of stone had been shifted by the impact.

Lieutenant Culley's family were living at 13, Park Road, Trinity, within sight of the anchorage, so that Mrs. Culley was fully aware of the cutter's perilous situation. All night she stayed up, too agitated to go to bed. When in the morning there came a knock at the door and she opened it to find Donovan, the Active's mate, accompanied by a Superintendent of Police, she did not need to be told the news they brought.

Lieutenant Culley's body was found some two months after the wreck quite near the breakwater and identified by a watch, engraved with his name, still in one of his pockets.




It was in the sunny month of June 1902 that H.R.H. Princess Henry of Battenberg visited me, bringing brightness and happiness ; but in November of the same year an event occurred which was a real sorrow ; this was the loss of H.M. Revenue
Cutter Active. The November gales of that year took a fearful toll of human life all around our coasts. The cutter Active was lost on Granton break- water, dragging her anchors. The ship's company were mostly young men, and oh ! the agonising letters that I received from their mothers.

The Captain of the Active was Lieutenant Charles Culley, R.N., and he went down with his ship. I think of Lieutenant Culley, and I remember him many years ago as a sailor boy on board the Impregnable at Devonport. He used to make the Sailors' Rest his home, and there he signed the temperance pledge that he kept all his life ; and there he learned to love and trust that Saviour who was near to him in the hour of death, and who received him to glory.

" He was a good husband, a good father, and a real Christian," wrote his broken-hearted widow, " and we have to thank you for it." We thank God to whom alone the glory is due, but we rejoice to have had a hand in the fashioning of such a character as that of Charles Culley. He rose as high as it was possible for a bluejacket in the navy to rise, wearing the stripes of a Lieutenant and commanding his own ship. His influence over his men was always for good, and their testimony is that a wrong word never came from his lips. He truly lived for Christ ; he was called away suddenly, but he died at the post of duty.


  1. Culley, John
    1. Freebury, Hannah
      1. Culley, William H
      2. Culley, Charles
        1. Pool, Harriet
          1. Culley, Harrie Enid Alice
          2. Culley, Frederick Charles
          3. Culley, Christine Millicent
          4. Culley, Lilian Frances
          5. Culley, Una Muriel
          6. Culley, Gladys Mahala
      3. Culley, John
      4. Culley, Alice A