George Marsh started from humble beginnings, worked diligently all his life and ended up a Commissioner of the Navy. In the 1700s the Royal Navy made great strides and by the early 1800s had established itself internationally as the undisputed ruler of the waves. For those intelligent individuals involved in making all this happen, it was a time when fame and fortune could come very rapidly. George Marsh was not one of the great military leaders who achieved a high public profile. He was an administrator, who steadily helped to make the wheels of the great navy machine turn faster and more efficiently.
We know a lot about George Marsh because in his later years he wrote a diary of his life, the content of which he notes as being intended for the benefit of his children and descendants. His diary is well written and in addition to a lot of family items he also documents some of his dealings at the Navy Office.
His diary starts with a series of short pieces about his ancestors and various relatives; his grandfathers, Francis Marsh and John Milbourne, his cousin Milbourne Warren, his nephew John Marsh and his niece Elizabeth Crisp. He then goes on to cover his own life.
George starts his story as a boy in 1735 when he was on his father's ship the Nowark, flagship of Sir George Walton. Sir George appears to have taken quite a shine to this young 12 year old and takes him on many of his visits in the Portsmouth area.
In 1737, aged about 15, George Marsh was made an apprentice to Mr Charles Middleton, a Petty Officer in Chatham Dockyard. George spent 6 years learning all about the construction and maintenance of large navy ships.
In 1745 George managed to make a good step up the ladder by securing a job as a clerk with Commissioner Whorwood at Deptford. This was very quickly followed by a job with Mr Clevland Clerk of the Acts of the Navy. George was employed in collecting and making a calculation of the expense of Queen Ann's War with Spain. He completed this in four months to everyone's satisfaction and as a result was then made an 'Extra Clerk' to Captain Richard Haddock, Comptroller of the Navy, in his office for bills and accounts.
Unfortunately, just as George was starting to meet all the right people, there was a general downturn. His job as a clerk came to an end but after some perseverance, he managed to get a job measuring and scaling timber being bought by the navy for use in shipbuilding. He did this for a few years until 1750 when he again managed to get a job as a Clerk, this time in the office for bills and accounts working for Savage Mostyn the Comptroller of the Navy.
Once again George was meeting all the right people and he was being recognised as someone who could get things done. Admiral Matthews had recommended him to Sir Arthur Scott, a Commissioner of the Navy, and he in turn had recommended him to John Perceval, Earl of Egmont. George managed to sort out a rather complicated business in getting payments made to naval widows who resided in the Earl of Egmont's constituency. The Earl of Egmont was very grateful, and their paths were to cross again some years later.
Around this time, in parallel with this public job, George had also gone into business supplying goods and services to the navy. This business had ups and downs with various partners, initially with Pentecost Barker and then later with Henry Creed and eventually with George's son William Marsh. He also had as a partner Edward Ommaney but this particular partner did not work out very satisfactorily. In general, the business progressed and eventually made George a very rich man.
In 1757 Capt James Gilchrist appointed George as Agent to arrange the selling of prizes (ships which Capt Gilchrist had taken from the enemy). More contracts for handing prize ships were to follow and eventually George Marsh's company was handling such a large amount of money that it became a bank in its own right.
In 1763 the Earl of Egmont was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and shortly after he appointed George Marsh as a Commissioner for Victualling and in 1772 George became a full Commissioner of the Navy.
For the next 28 years, right up until he death in 1800 at age 78, George Marsh was at the top of his profession meeting the King and the Prime Minister and being in daily contact with all of the top men in the Navy. For more details see his diary.
George also had what would appear to have been a reasonably happy family life. He married Ann Long in 1750 and the marriage lasted 34 years until her death in 1784. They had four children. Two died young. The eldest George lived a rather unwholesome life and died aged about 41. The other child William Marsh had a remarkably privileged life and appears to have certainly made the most of the family fortune that his father had built up for him.
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George died in 1800 and is buried in the family Church of St Mary Magdalene, Gillingham, Kent. In addition to a memorial tablet inside the church there is also a stained glass window located on the north side of the church.