Lieutenant Commander George Basil Harrison


Thank you to Jane Anthony for the following research.

George Basil Harrison was born in December 1882 at Sheerness in Kent the third and youngest son of Matthew and Lucy.

Matthew Harrison was a career officer in the navy; while in the navy he had been on one of the first expeditions to Easter Island when the huge wooden heads were found. A lot of his collections and sketched from this expedition were donated to the British Museum. His mother was a member of the Heath family who had connections in Coldharbour. This connection was made stronger when Matthew married Lucy Wedgwood, whose family bought Leith Hill Place in 1847. Lucy’s sister Margaret had married Arthur Vaughan Williams, after the early death of her husband in 1875, she moved back to her family home with her children, one of whom was Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Harrison children were first cousins to the Vaughan Williams. Lucy’s maternal uncle was Charles Darwin.

There were 5 children in the family 3 boys and two girls. The oldest son in the family tragically died aged 6 of scarlet fever, the second son, Thomas and George both joined the navy. In 1891 the family were living at Itchingfield in Sussex. In 1901 and 1911 George does not feature in the census however it is possible that he was serving on the ship and was therefore not listed. In 1911 the Harrison parents left the UK for British Columbia, Matthew Harrison had previously visited it and had sworn to build a house at Kootenay Lake near Nelson British Columbia.

George was killed on 30 December 1915 while serving on HMS Natal. Mystery still surrounds exactly what happened on that day. During the afternoon of the 30th December 1915, HMS Natal, under the command of Captain Eric Back, blew up at anchor with a great loss of life.

421 crew and civilian visitors, died in the explosion, including women and children. Children had been invited on board to watch a filmshow. Amongst the visitors were also nursing sisters.  George Harrison amongst them, 400 of the crew survived.

HMS Natal was a ‘Warrior Class’ cruiser of 13550 tons.  She was launched in 1905 and had an interesting history before the First World War.  In 1914 she joined the Second Cruiser Squadron, which by 1915 was based in the Cromarty Firth, in the north of Scotland.

Museum supporter Tina Callcut’s great uncle, Archie Small, was a stoker on H.M.S. Natal. He went down with the ship. She tells us that until a few years ago, the upturned hull of the Natal was marked with buoys and every ship that passed lowered their flags as a mark of respect. It was finally raised and scrapped as she was a hazard to shipping. 

George Harrison was unmarried he left and estate of £12,600. His older brother Thomas had been killed the previous year whilst serving on HMS Aboukir. Their father Matthew, before he died he built a beautiful church called the Harrison Memorial Church, in Kootenay, to his three dead sons and to Lucy who died just before its completion. It is still there and in use.

Born Sheerness, Kent
Son of Matthew and Lucy (nee Wedgwood) Harrison of Leith Hill Place, Dorking
Husband of Lieutenant Commander Thomas Edmund Harrison
Cousin of Ralph Vaughan Williams
Regiment H.M.S. Natal, Royal Navy
Date of Death 30th December 1915
Place of Death At Sea
Cause of Death Killed in Action
Age 33
Memorial Chatham Naval Memorial
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