Chief Armourer Rufus Samuel Mardon Austin served for more than twenty years in the Royal Navy before the war. He was born in Teignmouth, Devon on 17th May 1868, the son of Samuel and Sarah Austin (née Sharland). His father was born in about 1830 in Teignmouth; his mother in 1835, in Cadbury. The couple had married on March 30th 1865 at St Sidwell’s Church, Exeter.
Two year old Rufus was recorded by the 1871 census living with his parents, elder brother William and younger sister Amelia at their home in Bickford’s Lane, West Teignmouth. His father was a Carpenter. In 1881 the household had moved to 17 Dawlish St, East Teignmouth and Rufus’ father was still employed as a Carpenter. His family had grown and he now had two younger sisters, Louisa and Flora, and a baby brother Percy. His sister Amelia had died, aged 3, in 1874.
He joined the Royal Navy on the 30th June 1890, initially signing up for 12 years service. His career with the navy was to last far longer. As with so many of the men who died on the Laurentic we have no photograph of him but rely on his service record in order to visualise the man. He was five feet seven inches tall, had brown hair, grey eyes, and a fair complexion. When he joined the navy his occupation was Ship Smith. His first service was as part of the Armaments Crew on the HMS Cambridge, a Gunnery Training Ship.
Rufus married Mary Elizabeth Abbott in 1891 in Stoke Damerel, Devonport, less than a year after joining the navy. In April 1891 he was living with his new wife at 33 Waterloo Street, Stoke Damerel.
He was promoted to Acting Chief Armourer in March 1899 and Chief Armourer in May 1900 while stationed at HMS Pembroke II (a shore base in Kent). From 23 June 1900 till 16 Jan 1902 he was stationed on the HMS Magnificant, one of the nine Majestic class pre-dreadnought battleships of the Royal Navy, part of the Channel Fleet, the Royal Navy Formation of warships that defended the waters of the English Channel.
In the spring of 1911 Rufus and Mary Elizabeth were living at 41 Craigmore Avenue, Stoke, Devonport. At this time he was serving on the HMS Defiance, a Royal Navy’s Torpedo Training School, based at Devonport, so it’s possible he was training new recruits.
The last ship he served on before retiring in July 1914 was the HMS Illustrious, part of the Home Fleet that operated in the United Kingdom’s territorial waters. He was called up again on the 2nd of August 1914, joining the crew of the Laurentic on the 24th of November.
Western Times 09th February 1917
Throughout his many years of service his conduct is recorded as “very good”. He was posthumously awarded the Star, Victory medal and British War Medal.
Rufus Samuel Mardon Austin’s body was recovered and is buried in St Mura’s graveyard, Fahan. He is also commemorated on his parent’s gravestone in Teignmouth Cemetery, Devon.
Graves Registration Report Form
British Newspaper Archive
Census Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1911. The National Archives of the UK
National Archives – Royal Naval Service Records
General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes