Joseph Craven was born in Liverpool on 6th January 1870. There is little information available about his early life, but by the time of the 1891 census, he was boarding with a blacksmith and his family in Bootle, Lancashire. By this point he was working as a fireman – probably a stoker-type role, rather than for the fire service.
The following year, Joseph found an opportunity to broaden his horizons and, on 21st October 1892, he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His papers show that, at the time of joining up, he was 5ft 4ins (1.62m) in height, had dark brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. No distinguishing marks were noted.
Joseph’s previous employment seemed to have stood him in good stead. After initial assessments at HMS Pembroke – the shore-based establishment at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – he was quickly moved on to HMS Wildfire, based in Sheerness. His first sea posting was aboard the battlecruiser HMS Howe, and, within a couple of months, he had been promoted to Stoker 1st Class.
By the time Joseph’s initial twelve-year contract came to an end, he had served on board nine ships and travelled the world. When the time came, he voluntarily renewed his contract and continued his life at sea.
When back in port, he developed a private life. He met a young widow called Sarah Baker in Portsmouth, and the couple married in 1908. The census three years later found Joseph as the head of the household, living in a seven-room house with Sarah, her 13-year-old daughter, 80-year-old widowed mother and two boarders.
Stoker Craven’s naval service was, by this point, continuing apace. By the time hostilities were declared in August 1914, he had served on twelve further ships, and been promoted again, this time to the role of Leading Stoker. In between his voyages, he was based primarily at HMS Victory, Portsmouth Dockyard’s shore-base.
By the end of the following year, Joseph was almost entirely shore-based, moving from HMS Victory in Portsmouth to HMS Pembroke in Chatham and HMS Attentive in Dover. On 26th November 1916, he was serving in Chatham. A local newspaper picks up on what happened to him next:
Joseph Craven… belonging to Portsmouth, met his death under shocking circumstances at Chatham Dockyard on Sunday. When walking by the side of his ship, which was in dry dock, he tripped over some hose and fell headlong into the dock, turning two or three somersaults in his descent, and falling upon his head at the bottom, 80ft [24.3m] below. He was killed instantly.Kent Messenger and Gravesend Telegraph: 2nd December 1916
An inquest on the 46-year-old’s death was held, and a result of accidental death was returned.
Joseph Craven was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, walking distance from the dockyard in which he lost his life.