Cabin Boy: Robert Horlock
the Denbigh Project was publicly announced, the investigators were contacted by a
gentleman whose great-grandfather, Robert Horlock, had served as cabin boy aboard the
blockade runner during its last months of service. Young master Horlock went on to
become one of the leading citizens of Navasota, Texas, where his former home (left) is now
preserved as a museum.
Horlock (right, around 1910) was born in 1849 to John and Lucetta Horlock. The elder
Horlock is variously described as a chandler (a supplier of ship's equipment) or a baker;
perhaps he supplied provisions to merchant vessels calling at Mobile. John Horlock
later relocated to Galveston, where he operated a chandlery. Sometime after Denbigh
began running between Galveston and Havana in August 1864, Robert Horlock, who was about
15 years old at the time, signed on the blockade runner as a cabin boy.
||How Horlock came
to serve aboard Denbigh is not yet known with certainty, although it is most
probable that it was through the efforts of the blockade runner's first master, Abner M.
Godfrey of Mobile. It was common practice for merchant captains to take aboard their
vessels sons, nephews or the sons of friends to serve as "cabin boys" at sea;
the young men did not act as servants, as the term suggests, but were in fact more like
naval midshipmen, learning their trade through hands-on experience. Godfrey, who is
listed in antebellum Mobile directories as a stevedore, undoubtedly had known John
Horlock, and was willing to take his son Robert aboard.
On of the more unusual aspects of research on
Horlock's life was the discovery of a ceremonial sword (left; click on image for detailed
close-ups) belonging to the old Denbigh crew member, currently owned by another
of his descendants. The sword is past of the regalia of the Knights of Pythias, a secular fraternal society with
lodges in many Texas cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sword,
produced by the Ames Sword Co. of Chicago, carries among its decorations the letters FCB,
corresponding to the Pythians' founding principles of Friendship, Charity and Benevolence.
The Order of the Knights of Pythias was founded in Washington, D.C. on February 19,
1864; on that same day, Denbigh was anchored at Havana, Cuba, taking on cargo for
her second run into Mobile.
Robert Horlock died in 1926.
Special thanks to
Mr. John Erskine of Aurora, Colorado and Ms.
of Port Arthur, Texas, for their assistance in researching their ancestor, Robert