William George Tompkins was born on February 13, 1868 at Shipton Gorge, Dorset, England the second son of Farm Labourer and ex-seaman, John Tompkins and his wife Eliza Matthews. At some time between 1877 and 1881 the family moved to Rookery Street, Burton Bradstock, Dorset where his father had obtained employment as a miller’s drayman.
On January 9, 1884 William joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman, signing on for 10 years, although this period would not officialy start until his 18th birthday on February 13, 1886. At this time he is described as 5 feet 2½ inches tall with a fresh complexion, light hair and hazel eyes.
He was initially posted to HMS Boscawan, a Royal Navy Training Ship for boy seamen, anyone going there was destined to become either a Gunner or Signaller in the Navy. In March 1884 he was awarded £5 for good conduct. On December 10, 1884 he was promoted to Boy 1st Class and another good conduct bonus of £2.10s.0d was awarded at Christmas.
On July 23, 1885 he was assigned to the dispatch vessel H.M.S. Helicon, probably as a replacement, as her crew had formed part of the Naval Brigade with the Nile Column in the Sudan campaign earlier that year. His next ship was the HMS Temeraire where he was posted on December 11, 1885. She was an ironclad battleship, and unique in that she carried her main armament partly in the traditional broadside battery, and partly in barbettes on the upper deck.
Still only seventeen, William George Tompkins was discharged from the Royal Navy on January 5, 1886 due to his death from Remmitent Fever and Syncope.