Able-Bodied Seaman “Bunker” was trained for life at sea as a child, on the Marine Society's training ship the Beatty. The Marine Society was set up to train sailors for the Royal Navy, but like most sailors he drifted between merchant and military service depending on the ship and captain.
His longest period of military service as an adult was on HMS Hydra in the West African Squadron. This cruise resulted in the capture of 6 slave ships and freedom for over 1400 slaves. These ships captured included the Felucca, and the Africano for which he earned prize money totalling £6 13s 6.5d.
After receiving the last instalment of his prize money, he decided that it was time to get a long-term berth.
He chose the PS Superb, a paddle steamer like Hydra that had just been sold to the Jersey Steam Navigation Company, as a line between Jersey and France looked like it would be the kind of safe regular run that might allow him to finally set down some roots. He was wrong.
On 17 September 1850 the Superb sank on the Minquiers reef. 20 people, a third of the people on board, lost their lives during a panicked scramble for the lifeboats. Bunker was saved only by remaining on board the sinking ship, which ended suspended high on the reef once the tide retreated. He had already developed a drinking habit after seeing what the slavers did to their captives while on the Hydra, but following this tragedy it spiralled out of control so he is now more often seen in the gutter than the rigging.