A Much Respected Man

From the backstreets of Barkingside to a Gloucestershire village via the seven seas and a river.

George Mobsby, born July 31st 1847 in Barkingside Essex, was the son of James Mobsby, an agricultural labourer, and Lucy Burtenshaw, the daughter of James Burtenshaw, a labourer. His father died two years after his birth.
He may have been educated at the Union School at Anerley, Surrey and then, after a period of labouring (see 1861 census), was apprenticed to the Mercantile Marine in 1863.

He had an interesting time at sea, being wrecked in the brig Valeria in the Sea of Marmora in 1864, wrecked again in the ship Meridian in the Atlantic in 1865, was in the ship Libya during the Abyssinian Expedition in 1867 and then was wrecked in the S.S. Sylvia off Gibraltar in 1867. In 1869 he joined the Yangtse River Service and became an Admiralty Pilot under Admiral Willes (see "Who's Who in China" and "Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed & Official Classes for 1909").

He served on the Yangtse through the Boxer Rebellion and on into the 20th century including piloting H.M.S.Glory to Hankow in 1903, for which he received the congratulations of Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge and the Admiralty and was appointed Companion of St Michael & St George for valuable services to His Majesty's Navy as Senior Pilot on the Yangtse River (The London Gazette).

The Admiralty published his survey of the Yangtse from Woosung to Hankow, a work for which he was commended by Hydrographer. He also published various papers on the Yangtse and its shipping.

He was well regarded on the Yangtse as the following extracts show.

From Some Recollections by Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge G.C.B.
The river changes surprisingly, according to the time of year. In some places during the high river months there are sixty feet of water in a channel across which men can wade in the low river season. Shifting of channels is frequent. For much of its course, charts of the river would be useless to the navigator, who has to depend on the knowledge and experience of the river pilots. Most of these pilots were Englishmen ; and the efficient manner in which they performed their work was remarkable. Amongst them Mr Mobsby, C.M.G., held a prominent place, and was known to and respected by many officers of H.M. ships, both as a skilful pilot and as a highly patriotic British subject.

From The Naval Review Vol XXXVII. No.3 August 1949

Ichang is 1,000 miles up river from Shanghai and 400 above Hankow. The journey by steamer from the river's mouth to either place was all plain sailing except that, in those days, there were no lights on the river and a famous pilot named Mobsby was reputed to be the only man who was competent to navigate after dark. This expert was credited with knowing several thousand magnetic courses by heart for every reach of the river in the 600 miles between Shanghai and Hankow. Less gifted river-farers usually anchored at dusk, as far as steamer traffic was concerned.

In his diaries Sir Ernest Satow, British Envoy in Peking (1900 - 06) mentions Mobsby several times in his account of journeys to and fro between Nanking & Hankow in November 1902.

On November 18th 1882 he married Emily Burtenshaw in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Shanghai, China. They had three children, Florence Emily (1884 - 1917), Ada Georgina (1885 - 1957) and George Albert (1893 - 1971) all born in China.

George left the Yangtse a comparatively wealthy man and retired to England, firstly to Eastbourne then, possibly after the death of his elder daughter Florence in 1917, to Frampton Cotterell in Gloucestershire where he died in 1925, followed by his wife Emily in 1937. They are buried in the churchyard of St. Peter in that village.