And this morning, I got a reply from Kevin:
He may indeed have handed himself in whilst he was in Canada - if I remember rightly there was an order issued with regard to the Jubilee of Queen Victoria which allowed a pardon for deserters - so I suspect he took advantage of this.
The Queen's Jubilee was in 1887, so this is perfect timing. I immediately started searching for more info about the pardon, and pretty soon I found a copy of Queen Victoria's 'Proclamation for extending pardons to soldiers who may have deserted from our land forces'. Note, it says 'soldiers', and it makes no mention of sailors or marines. So I was a bit worried. It does refer to Royal Artillery and Infantry though - and the Royal Marines were all one or the other - George was in the RM Light Infantry. So maybe, without explicitly saying so, this pardon included marines.
|Excerpt from the Queen's Proclamation.|
The whole page can be found here.
I looked for more information. First I found an item about the pardon in a California newspaper from 1887, which said it didn't apply to deserters from the Royal Navy, but it didn't mention the Marines, which I hoped meant the Marines were implicitly included. Then I found a 2010 online auction of a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, which was awarded to a Private in the RM Light Infantry in 1884. A brief history of his career is included, stating that he deserted shortly after receiving the medal, and in August 1887, he 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon'.
|Excerpt from the auction listing.|
The whole article can be found here.
So at least I have one example of the pardon applying to a marine. And I've written to Kevin again (he's going to get sick of me pretty soon) just to ask if he can confirm that the Marines were included. But I'm feeling very confident that George 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon' too, which means that he lived with his guilt for 12 years. It must have been a tremendous relief for him to have that guilt lifted from his shoulders.