“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”1
Gravesend, where I was born, is about 25 miles east of London on the River Thames. The river there is about a mile across, and at that time ships from all over the world came by on their way to the London docks. As a ship would come up the river, three tugs would hurry across to its side and accompany it while it moved on. From the first of these, you could watch the pilot climb aboard; then, from the second, the health officer; and finally the customs officer. There were occasionally large vessels coming from the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, or India that could not travel further, and so they were moored in the middle of the river. Thus, Gravesend was very much concerned with the sea, and people such as pilots, lightermen, and customs and health officials abounded (Figure 1.1).
My grandfather, also named George, was a grocer and an “oil and color” merchant—that is, one who sold paint. My father, Harry, was the youngest boy. My father's oldest brother, whom we called “Uncle Bertie,” attended private school and took degrees in theology and semitic languages at Oxford. He became a rector, wrote a number of esoteric and scholarly books, and was rarely heard from again.
In 1892, Pelham, the second son, was lured under false ...