Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bertie ELLY - The Saurian Slayer

Albert ELLY (or Bertie as he was known within the family) was born in Bath on 20 February 1875, the son of Isaac ELLY and his wife Elizabeth. As a teenager Bertie became an errand boy which bought in a few pennies for the family coffers, then at the age of 18 he enlisted with the Royal Marines in Cardiff - Private 6669. He stated his occupation to be “Collier” and getting away to sea had to be better than working in the mines. He was described as being 5ft. 6ins in height with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.

For a little over a year Bertie was land based at Walmer, Gosport and Plymouth learning all there was to know about being a Royal Marine. It was in January 1895 that he embarked on HMS Hibernia and in May transferred to HMS Hebe for service in the Mediterranean. It was here that something went dreadfully wrong - whether he was wounded or struck by illness is not known but for some reason he was hospitalised in Gibraltar & Malta and remained on the invalid list for most of the year. In August he returned to Plymouth and six months later began an eighteen month posting on HMS Impregnable, the school ship at Devonport.

At the end of 1899 he was one of 40 Royal Marines to volunteer for service with the Hong Kong Police. The volunteers embarked in London on the Glen Line Steamer “Glenfarg” and arrived in Hong Kong at the end of March. The afternoon following their arrival saw the Governor inspecting the whole of the Police Force in the compound at Central Police Station. The new recruits could be seen lined up at the rear of the European contingent - it was reported that they had signed on for a period of 5 years on pay of $75 per month.

At this time the Superintendent of the Gaol was also the Captain Superintendent of Police so perhaps it is not surprising to find Police Constables transferring from one department to the other. Bertie was one of 6 Royal Marines/Constables to transfer to the Gaol as Warders on 7 September 1901.

Central Police Station and Victoria Gaol formed part of the same complex - imposing edifices situated on Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street. Space was always an issue and the year 1900 saw yet another wing being added to the gaol. The annual report mentions that so many prisoners were confined during 1901 that it was frequently necessary to put 3 prisoners together in small cells which were intended for just one person. The overcrowding meant that it was a particularly unhealthy place during the hot, humid summer months. During 1902 there were 91 staff employed at the gaol and of these 86 had to be admitted to hospital at some point during the year - two had to be invalided because of rheumatism whilst a third left with TB. The following year saw an outbreak of plague within the gaol - 6 Indian officers and 1 European contracted the disease. Indian Assistant Warder Isher Singh died on 21 May - fortunately the others survived.

Bertie’s name disappears from the staff lists about this time so maybe he was the officer who was invalided with TB. His name reappears in 1905 when he can be found working for the Godown and Tally Department of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery in Quarry Bay. By 1908 he had married and it was then that he left for Singapore to work for the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board which in 1913 was retitled the Singapore Harbour Board.

Crocodiles in the location of the docks were a problem but with his military background Bertie was a fair shot and was often reported as having bagged himself another speciman.

By 1916 Bertie had moved to Malaya and was working for the F.M.S. Railways as wharfinger at Port Swettenham. 

 Much of his time was spent collecting funds for the European War Effort to benefit the British Red Cross and St. Johns Ambulance. However, life was not without excitement for at dusk one evening he managed to bag himself another crocodile. This one was reported as being 12 ft in length with a girth of 5ft. 7 ins - a veritable monster.

During 1918 Bertie was elected a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute in London.

In 1931 Bertie and Alice Maud made their final voyage home to England. From then on Bertie can be found as a member of the Bath Anglers’ Association. He was always listed with those who managed to catch the biggest fish but I wonder whether any of them ever believed his story about bagging a 12ft. crocodile!

In 1949 the Bath & District Royal Marines Association made a visit to Plymouth and Bertie, as a 74 year old veteran, joined the party. This particular adventurer lived to the ripe old age of 83. He passed away on 31 December 1958 leaving the grand sum of £1622 15s to his widow, Alice Maud.