William was born in 1843 in Alverstoke, Hampshire the son of a carpenter. He lost his mother when he was seven years old but had an elder sister named Emma.
As a teenager William joined the Royal Navy and was posted to HMS Urgent just as the ship was about to embark on a voyage to the Far East. She arrived in Hong Kong on 7 June 1860 and stayed for two weeks before heading north to the Gulf of Pechelee where the Great Wall of China meets the sea. This was the time of the Opium Wars and HMS Urgent was one of the ships deployed in getting troops to the northern ports. In September the ship was back in Hong Kong where she stayed for six weeks before going to Shanghai. William was certainly seeing something of the Orient and took the opportunity of buying some presents for his sister. The ship arrived back in Hong Kong on 16 January 1861 and was berthed at Aberdeen on the south side of the island.
On Sunday 10th. February the seamen were allowed leave to go into the city of Victoria – a walk of several miles over the hills. Whilst coming back to the ship William was attacked by a band of armed Chinese robbers and struck on the head with a sword. Poor William received medical care but died two weeks later on Sunday 24th. February at 9 o’clock in the morning. He was just 17 years of age.
William Abrahams was buried in the cemetery in Happy Valley on Monday 25th. February with all his messmates in attendance. Although no headstone survives to William’s memory it is likely that he was buried in Section 12 as this is the section where other seamen were buried in February 1861. A photo of the section appears at the top of this blog. According to the burial register William was buried in grave number 2326.
A few days after the funeral David Yeomans the Assistant Paymaster wrote a letter to William’s father informing him of the sad news. After the factual information he continued
“He was a smart, civil and good tempered lad and had he not met with such an untimely end would have been a good seaman, and gone on well in the Service, but as it has pleased God to take him to himself so young, so ought you be contented for we must now hope that he is in the land of joy.
His messmates wish me to tell you how sorry they are for him, but no one onboard is more sorry than myself. He was a great favourite of mine on account of his civility and smartness which now induces me to tell you the sad news.
His clothes have been sold, they brought £4 and his pay is £6 more - altogether then ten pounds which will be paid to you by writing to the Admiralty. According to the copy I send you he bought some things for his sisters which will be sent home by the first opportunity. He has wished his sisters to get part of his money so I hope you will do as he wished as it would have pleased him so much.”
This letter, plus another written by one of William’s friends, still survive within the family. It is with grateful thanks to one of William’s great nephews that I was able to put this story together for you today.