3 December 2009

John Billingham Swann

John Billingham Swann (1828-1904) was a Passed Clerk in Vesuvius from the 29th of June, 1853, until appointed Assistant Paymaster in Diamond on the 9th of February, 1855, so would have messed with Richard Ramsay Armstrong and they would have known one another well.

Swann had two careers: after retiring from the Navy as a Paymaster on the 17th of June, 1870, he embarked on probably his true vocation as a clergyman. This was unusual, but by no means unheard of for ex-army and naval officers during the nineteenth century. I can name a couple with whom I am very familiar and there were undoubtedly others: the first an old cousin of mine, the Reverend Arthur Ralph Green Thomas, vicar of St. Paul Camden Square for many years, who started out as Lieutenant in the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot, with seniority 13 March 1827, and top-class exam results from Sandhurst. The other was a certain rather unsavoury gentleman by the name of Granville Hamilton Wood, a Commander RN, about whom Richard Ramsay Armstrong heard dire reports when he served on the Slave Coast around 1850. Wood left the Navy under something of a cloud and reappeared having taken Holy Orders and become a Jesuit priest, dying in Malta under slightly suspicious circumstances. (For the full story, see my piece "The Secret History of HM Brig Hound" in the appendices of RRA's Book of his Adventures.)



Swann was born on the 9th of May, 1828, one of at least two sons and at least two daughters, to an interesting character called Edward Swann and his wife Elizabeth, formerly Chambers. The parents had married by licence in Warwickshire on the 4th of November, 1823. The bridegroom was 46. He had been born in Leicester in 1777 and was the eldest surviving son of ten children of a wealthy currier of Belgrave Gate in Leicester, also called Edward. (Above: Belgrave Gate, Leicester, in the 1920s) Edward junior appears to have become an Assistant Surgeon in the Royal Navy sometime around the turn of the century, extrapolating from his brief obituary in the Medical Times & Gazette Vol 2, July 13, 1861:

"July 3rd 1861 death - Swann July 3, at Weedon, Northamptonshire, Edward Swann, late Staff Surgeon to the Military District prison, at Weedon, formerly Asstant Surgeon in the Royal Navy, and afterwards Ordnance Surgeon, aged 83. The deceased gentleman served in the Walcheren Expedition, and the siege of Flushing."


There doesn't seem to be much concrete evidence for his naval career. There is, however, a relevant record at the National Archives (ADM 45/29 Series 8, No. 95) which is an 1852 application to the Admiralty as follows:

"Elizabeth Swann formerly Elizabeth Chambers, Widow of Surgeon, who died: 18 March 1852. Notes on executor's application for money owed by the Royal Navy."


This means Elizabeth had a previous husband who had been a surgeon in the Navy. A quick search identifies one Robert Chambers, Surgeon RN, seniority 17 Nov 1807, who married Elizabeth Billington (Note) on the 10th of May, 1810, at Brownsover, Warwickshire, just outside Rugby. Another search of the National Archives online catalogue confirms all this with the following record in ADM 6/355:

"Elizabeth Chambers, widow of Robert Chambers, surgeon Royal Navy who died 03 Apr 1817. Includes: Extract from Parish Register, married 10 May 1810. Papers submitted to the Charity for the relief of Officers' Widows. Covering dates 1817."


So John Billingham Swann's father Edward married the widow Chambers in 1823, six years after the death of her first husband, a Royal Naval surgeon. Edward claimed he had been an assistant surgeon in the Navy too, but I can't find a service record for him, or any other naval record of any kind for an Edward Swann, although it is possible - probable even - he served under an alias. There were two 'Swann' surgeons in the Navy at approximately the right time, both of whose service records are extant: there was a George Swann, but he appears to be too young and not connected. However a John Henry Swann, seniority 26 Jan 1809, whose service appears to finish in 1814 but continues to appear in the Navy Lists well into the 1840s, is a much more plausible candidate. But on closer examination of his service record it turns out he was in the West Indies for the whole of 1809 and 1810 while the Walcheren Expedition and the siege of Flushing were in progress. (Edward Swann's brief obituary in the Medical Times & Gazette of 1861 - see above - claims he served at Walcheren and Flushing.) Incidently, it is not at all clear from the reference to Walcheren and Flushing whether Swann was still in the Navy at the time, or had already joined the Ordnance Medical Department.

Edward Swann's marriage to the Widow Chambers was actually his second too. He had married an Elizabeth Bishop at St. Margaret, Leicester, on the 9th of June, 1802. They had had at least eight children by 1818, and she probably died in 1819/20. The clue that revealed this first marriage comes from the Monthly Magazine & British Register of the 1st of May, 1821:

"In August last, at sea, off the coast of China, Mr, J. Swann, second son of Mr. S. Royal Ordnance Surgeon, at Weedon Depot."


This was John Edward Swann, born Leicester, 1805, and it will be noted that this death notice was published two years before Edward Swann married the Widow Chambers.

At some point - probably around 1812/13 because his youngest two recorded children by his first marriage were born at Weedon - Surgeon (if that is what he was) Edward Swann apparently left the Navy and started working for the Ordnance Medical Department at Weedon Depot. However, the first mention I can actually find for him in the Army Lists is in 1846. He is listed as "Surgeon: Dr. E. Swann, late of R.N." for the Military Prison at Weedon, Northamptonshire. His earlier career as surgeon for the depot, before the prison was created on the same site, is not recorded in any Army List as far as I am aware. It turns out that a part of Weedon was only converted into the prison in 1844/45 [see this PDF from English Heritage] and "was opened for the reception of prisoners on the 7th August, 1845 [Parliamentary return dated 26th May 1846], so Edward Swann was clearly the first prison medical officer and moved seemlessly from one job to the other.



Very little can be discovered about the children of his first marriage, and infuriatingly, Edward and Elizabeth Swann (Mk.2) and their children can't be found in the 1841 census for England & Wales. I have been informed by Alan J. Clarke who runs a very useful look-up service for the 1841 Northamptonshire census that the Weedon Bec - including the barracks - census returns for that year have not survived.

Nevertheless, John Billington Swann's naval career is well documented in his service record held by the National Archives. Click on the image for a larger version:



It will be seen that he retired from the Navy on the 17th of June, 1870. He had been married for ten years. Not to be outdone by his father, he had also married an Elizabeth - Elizabeth Smith Farmer. This from the Gentleman's Magazine of 1860:

"At the parish church, Cheadle, Cheshire, JB Swann esq RN son of Edward Swann esq of Weedon, Northamptonshire, to Elizabeth, dau. of John Farmer of Cheadle."


The National Archives has a record of the marriage too - it was recorded "for potential Royal Navy widow's pension." [ ADM 13/70 Marriage Certificates. Folio: 680 ] This could well have been done on the advice of his father whose second wife Elizabeth Chambers had apparently had trouble getting her widow's pension from The Admiralty (see above)!

In the 1861 census Paymaster Swann and his new bride were living in Melcombe Regis, Dorset. His father Edward, then 83 years old, a widower for the second time since 1852, was in lodgings in Weedon Bec. Just weeks after the census, he too was dead.

Meanwhile, Swann's elder brother Frederick Billington Swann had studied medicine at St George's Hospital, London, and went on to become a GP in the home village of Weedon, eventually taking on his father's old job as Medical Officer at the prison.

Paymaster Swann and Elizabeth probably had four children during the course of the 1860s: Harrington, Sidney Bellingham, Lilian and Grace. By the 1871 census the family was based in Richmond, Surrey, presumably so Swann could study at King's College, London. [ Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1874 ] The same sources reveals that he was ordained deacon in 1873 by the Bishop of Lichfield and became Curate of St. John, Derby, in the diocese of Lichfield the same year. The family was now living at 9, Vernon Street, Derby. Both boys attended the old Derby School (crest, right) and Harrington went on to Rugby and Sidney to Marlborough.



In the middle of the 1870s Swann became the Rector of Harlaston in Staffordshire (St. Matthew's Church, above), where he remained for twenty years until about 1895. The rectory is pictured at right, looking very much as it would have done in Swann's day. He then returned to his roots - becoming Rector of the tiny village of Catthorpe near Rugby in the very heart of the Midlands and right in the modern 'armpit' of the M1 and M6 motorways. And, as the crow flies, about 12½ miles north of his birthplace of Weedon.

Both Swann's daughters got married in the 1890s. Neither were in the first flush of youth: Lilian, the elder, was the first to go. She married a David Pegrum in Deptford in 1896. She was 32. Grace, who was three years Lilian's junior, married at Catthorpe on the 13th of December, 1898. The bridegroom was Theodore Edward Naish, a thirty year old Captain in the Royal Engineers and son of a Bristol cotton manufacturer. The union was a disaster. Grace bore one child, Sidney, in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1900. In July 1909 Grace filed a petition for seperation on the grounds of cruelty, which she won. In 1912 they were divorced after Grace employed private detectives to provide evidence of Naish's adultery. Page 4 of The Times of Wednesday the 30th of October 1912 carries a report of the court case. Reading through it, one could easily form the impression that Naish was a proper cad and a bounder. However, that was the necessity to win in court, and it may well have been much more a case of 'six and two threes'. Naish remarried in 1917 to a Ruth Harrison - not the woman named in the adultery case. Unfortunately I can find no more recent reference to Grace or her son Sidney.


Of Swann's sons, Harrington opted for a career in the regular army after a spell in the Derby Militia. He married Miss Fanny Stevens of Long Island in 1893. There is just a hint of sniffiness in the New York Times' report - Fanny was well connected in New York society and the wedding breakfast was at the Waldorf - the groom was only described as coming "from a good English family and stands in high favor in the English Army." [Marriages NYT 22 March 1893] After his sister Grace's seperation he became one of the guardians of his nephew Sidney. However, like his sisters, Harrington then disappears into obscurity.

Sidney Bellingham Swann (the spelling of his grandmother's maiden name changed over the years), on the other hand (left), had such a well-documented and extraordinary life than I can do little more than list some achievements and show a facsimile of his obituary from The Times of Tuesday the 4th of August 1942. He was athlete, cyclist, rower (Cambridge Blue), pioneer motorist, canoeist, amateur flying enthusiast, wartime ambulance driver, clergyman and missionary to Japan. Cleary one of the great English eccentrics - some would say madmen - he died of a heart attack in 1942 following a fracture of the thigh caused by falling off his bicycle. For good measure I have added a facsimile of The Times obituary for his second wife, the amazing Lady Bagot, which was published on the 26th of February 1940. His Son, Sidney Ernest Swann followed in his wake and was also a Cambridge rowing Blue, then won gold and silver rowing medals in the 1912 and 1920 Summer Olympics respectively.



The Reverend John Billingham Swann, once a young naval clerk who had likely occupied the next hammock to Richard Ramsay Armstrong in the bowels of Vesuvius fifty years before, died at the rectory, Catthorpe, on Tuesday the 16th of August, 1904. His brief obituary appeared in The Times two days later.

24 November 2009

Hubert Campion

Hubert Campion (1825-1900) was First, or Senior Lieutenant in Vesuvius in the Black Sea under Richard Ashmore Powell. Richard Ramsay Armstrong would have known him well, despite not mentioning him by name in the Book of His Adventures. Sadly, I can find no photograph of the man.

Hubert Campion's obituary on page seven of The Times of Tuesday, 17 April, 1900, reads as follows:

"The death is announced as having occurred at Lee, Kent, on Good Friday, of REAR-ADMIRAL HUBERT CAMPION, C.B., aged 74 years. He entered the Navy in 1848, and rose through the usual grades, becoming commander in 1855, and captain in 1863. Seven years later he retired, and was made rear-admiral on the Retired List in 1878. During the Crimean War Rear-Admiral Campion was senior lieutenant of the Vesuvius, the only ship which took part in the battle of the Alma, covering the attack of the French by shelling the Russians. He was in command of the same vessel during the hurricane at Balaclava, when the Vesuvius narrowly escaped destruction by a transport crossing her bows carrying away the bow-sprit and otherwise damaging the vessel. The abilities he had displayed thus early in his career led to his being selected as harbour-master of Balaclava until he was relieved by Admiral Boxer. He took part in both Kertch expeditions and in all the operations in the Sea of Azoff, during the latter part of which he commanded the Ardent. At the fall of Sevastopol he was gazetted promotion for his gallant services, and received the Crimean and Turkish medals. He was also a Knight of the legion of Honour. The deceased officer took a deep interest in the Royal Navy Scripture Readers Society, of which he acted as secretary."


Typical of the briefer type of naval obituary in The Times, this is clearly short of personal and family information, and really only pads out what can be found in the Navy Lists. However, the writer must have had one informant who claimed to know the deceased: the factually incorrect anecdote about Campion "being selected as harbour-master of Balaclava until he was relieved by Admiral Boxer" does not appear in any of the Navy Lists, or anywhere else other than this obituary as far as I am aware. The truth is that Admiral Boxer (see the Appendices of RRA's book for more details) was not appointed harbour-master at Balaklava. He was appointed Port Admiral. Furthermore, Leopold George Heath was the harbour-master and Powell - Campion's boss - was in charge of pilotage, assisted by his officers and men of Vesuvius, including Campion and Armstrong of course. [Heath, Admiral Sir Leopold George, K.C.B., LETTERS FROM THE BLACK SEA DURING THE CRIMEAN WAR, 1854-1855, Richard Bentley and Son, London, 1897.]



Campion was born in Exeter, Devon, on the 18th of June, 1825, and was baptised on the 2nd of August at St. Paul, Exeter. He was the third child of seven - two girls and five boys. They were the children of Thomas Campion, a local wharfinger, prominent businessman and merchant who had been born circa 1780 and died in 1859. An uncle, Richard Crudge Campion, was an Exeter solicitor who died in 1863. In fact Hubert was something of an oddity in the family for joining the Navy - most of his male relatives joined the legal or medical professions. His elder brother John Thomas Campion became a GP and his younger brother Henry a dentist. (The youngest brother, George Frederick, apparently died in childhood.)

There is a rather peculiar 'blank' at the beginning of Campion's naval career. It will be seen that his obituary in The Times states that he joined the Navy in 1848. If true, he would have been about 23 years old. However, an examination of his service record in the National Archives (see below) explains the author's mistake: unusually Campion's career record starts on the 22nd of June, 1848, when he was promoted to Mate, ignoring his time as a Naval Cadet and Midshipman, for time there must have been. In fact, 23 was quite old to still be without a Lieutenant's commission, and horribly old to still be a Midshipman, the rank he must have held before the 22nd of June, 1848.

The Navy Lists have the same blind spot too: Flag rank officers are given a landscape-view chart with their entry-through-promotions-to-retirement dates shown in columns. Campion's first two columns (entry and Mid.) are blank. Not actually uncommon in itself - many old Admirals don't have these early career dates recorded - but it does become a bit of a mystery when they are not recorded anywhere.

Most 'elderly' Midshipmen were considered duffers by their contemporaries and pitied or despised depending on their charm, or lack of it. Perhaps young Hubert had shown himself to be 'academically challenged' and there was no way he was up to following a legal or medical career like his family would have wished, so he was bundled off to the Navy. He wouldn't have been the first, or last, to find himself defending the Empire at sea by that route. (In fact Armstrong rather suggests in the opening passages of the book that he was propelled into the Navy for much the same reasons.)



However, an examination of Campion's career doesn't really show him to be a duffer. In fact he was very nearly in the 'stellar' category, and it seems fairly clear that he, a man of independent means due to his family's wealth, chose to let his career peter out allowing him to become a real family man ashore. Once he had passed the exam for Lieutenant and got that late (for whatever reason) promotion to Mate, he moved forward fairly quickly for the time. You very definitely did not get chosen to serve in the Royal Yacht Victoria & Albert if you were a duffer. Furthermore, he was chosen as one of the four officers of the Royal Yacht to get the traditional annual promotion for 1849, the others being Edward Vansittart to Commander and Mates Charles Trelawny Jago and Beville Granville Wyndham Nicolas also getting their commissions for Lieutenant. (Nicolas was one of the rare unfortunates the spelling and construction of whose name was an intangible mystery to the compilers of the Navy Lists and journalists alike. Not surprising really...and I am not 100% certain I have it right here!)

Few naval officers in the Black Sea got a chance to distinguish themselves, and it was especially frustrating for those who didn't serve in the Naval Brigade. However, service at Kertch and particularly in the Sea of Azoff did provide opportunities for those involved to get noticed, as Armstrong himself records. Campion clearly did everything that that was asked of him; got his name in the papers several times, and was gazetted Commander in recognition of his efforts. Incidently, as well as becoming a Knight of the Legion of Honour for his Crimean service, he also got the 5th Class of the Turkish Order of the Medjidie (right).



His naval career:

DatesShipRank
22 June 48Promoted to Mate
22 June 48 - 29 Nov 48NimrodMate
30 Nov 48 - 6 Feb 49Presidentditto
2 May 49 - 11 June 49Castorditto
5 June 49 - 31 Oct 49Victoria & Albertditto
23 Oct 1849Discharge promotion to Lieut.
11 Oct 50 - 5 Dec 51GeyserLieutenant
3 Apr 52 - 10 May 52Hecateditto
11 May 52 - 17 JuneGeyserditto
22 June 53 - 14 Sept 55Vesuviusditto
15 Sept 55 - 15 Feb 56Ardentditto
7 Dec 1855Promoted to Commander
15 May 56 - 25 Aug 57FalconCommander
3 March 58 - 21 Aug 60Elkditto
22 Aug 60 - 23 Aug 60Wellesleyditto
21 Apr 62 - 23 Sept 63Boscowenditto
19 Sept 1863Posted Captain


On the 2nd of October, 1860, at Walthamstow, Essex, Campion married Elizabeth Gilmore (born circa 1830, Ilford, Essex), the eldest daughter of John Gilmore, a Royal Naval lieutenant on half-pay who was also a ship owner. (Gilmore had been born circa 1794 and joined the Navy as an AB in 1806, a typical way for 'young gentlemen' to be introduced onto the books of warships. He had been involved in the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars and had seen much active service on the North American station in the war of 1812. He had received his Lieutenant's commission in 1815 after a period as Acting Lieutenant in the Gulf of Mexico. Since that date he had been on half-pay and appears to have been a ship owner and registrant of several patents to do with ship ventilation and the like.) [Main source: O’Byrne, William R., A NAVAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY, John Murray, London, 1849. Reprinted by Vintage Naval Library, Dallington, 1997.]

Hubert and Elizabeth had at least five children between 1862 and 1871, four sons and a daughter. The latter, Rose, who was the second child, was born in Hampshire in 1863 and appears to have never married, running the household for her widowed father until his death, and then living with her brother Ivon, who by 1901 was a solicitor in London.

The eldest child was Hubert Craigie Campion, born in 1862 at Ramsgate, Kent. He was educated at Tonbridge School between 1874 and 1881. He was a Smythe Exhibition Scholar of Keble College, Oxford, where he achieved a 1st class Mods. degree. He died at Oxford on the 2nd of February, 1883, two days after contracting scarlet fever. He was 21.

Arthur Goring Campion was born at Ramsgate in 1864. The Tonbridge School records him as "being with an estate agent", but in the 1891 census he is listed as a professional actor, and in the 1901 census for Scotland he was apparently in lodgings in Morningside, Edinburgh, and still listed as an actor. However, I can't find any more details of his career.

Harold Gilmore Campion was born at Ramsgate the following year. Also educated at Tonbridge School, he followed one of the family traditions and became a solicitor. He married Ellen Wilton Everet at Wandsworth, London, in 1893. They had a son, Hubert Wilton Campion, born in 1896, who was a Midshipman in the RNVR in the First World War. He served in the RN Division and then in the RN Air Service; became a Sub-Lieutenant and did a stint in the newly formed RAF before reverting to the RNVR when demobbed from the RAF in September 1919 and promoted to Lieutenant. He resigned from the RNVR in February 1922. He is recorded as an articled clerk to a solicitor in civilian life. [National Archives, Catalogue Reference:adm/337/117]

Ivon Hamilton Campion was born at Ramsgate on the 27th of June, 1870. Like his brothers before him, he was educated at Tombridge School and went to Selwyn College, Cambridge, entering October 1889. B.A. 1892. [Venn, J. A., comp., Alumni Cantabrigienses. London, CUP 1922-1954.] He became a solicitor and apparently an author of at least one published novel - A Dawnless Fate - though I can find nothing more about it than this Google Books listing.

Campion retired as a Captain on the 1st of April, 1870, and was eventually made a Companion of the Bath, dated the 2nd of June, 1877. (Left)

Hubert Campion's wife Elizabeth died on the 20th of January, 1888, at the family residence, 8, Marlborough Road, Lee, in SE London. [Deaths, The Times, Saturday January 21 1888, page 1.] Hubert lived on for another twelve years of so, looked after by his daughter Rose.

The Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury produced a report in 1875 on "Church Work amongst Sailors in 64 Home Ports". It was published in London by W. Wells Gardner, 2 Paternoster Buildings, and was transcribed by Wayne Kempton, Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in 2008 and available online at anglicanhistory.org :

"On the west side of Portsmouth Harbour lies Gosport, chiefly frequented by colliers and other coasters, and also during the summer months by yachts; hence it has no non-resident seamen to provide for. The Missions to Seamen Society has a lay reader stationed at Ryde, who occasionally visits this place, and another stationed here, but who principally works in Haslar Hospital and the ships of the Royal Navy. Two other Societies seek to work for the spiritual benefit of the seamen of the Royal Navy. The first is the Royal Naval Scripture Readers Society. This was founded in 1860, for the purpose of giving spiritual aid to the seamen and marines of the Royal Navy, through the instrumentality of scripture readers. These endeavour to touch the hearts of the men by supplementing the labours of the chaplains, and acting under their superintendence in those ships of war which have no chaplains, and in the several naval hospitals and barracks, and, except the Missions to Seamen Society's agents, are the sole pastoral agency in that large section of H.M.'s fleet which is without chaplains. The readers, 14 in number, are stationed at six of the principal naval seaports, and have done much good service. Captain Hubert Campion, R.N., is the secretary of this excellent Society, which ought to be much better supported than it is."


(See pages 19-20 of http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/upload/pdf/Chaplain_RN_09.pdf for more about The Royal Naval Scripture Readers Society.)

1 September 2009

Richard Ashmore Powell


Richard Ashmore Powell, RRA's first commander in HMS Vesuvius and clearly one of his seniors whom he most admired, was a Channel Islander like his young protegé. He was born in Guernsey on the 12th of July, 1816 (according to the Elizabeth College Register), apparently the second son of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Walter Powell and Julia, née Lehon, of Guernsey.

The image at right comes from my own collection and shows RAP in the uniform of a Commodore, so was probably taken in British Columbia at the beginning of the Topaze commission.

RAP's father, Thomas Walter Powell (born Derynock, Breckonshire, 21 Oct 1791) had seen extensive service in the Peninsular War with the Duke of Wellington, taking part in every major action and losing an eye at Ciudad Rodrigo. Later he served with distinction in Canada, France and the West Indies. Again severely wounded, this time at Fort Erie by a bayonet and a musket ball. In 1829 he went out to serve in the East Indies, where he remained for ten years until his death from cholera at Karachi in 1839. According to John Hall (Hall, John A., A HISTORY OF THE PENINSULAR WAR, VOL VIII, THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF BRITISH OFFICERS KILLED AND WOUNDED, 1808-1814, Greenhill Books, 1998) he had married Julia Lehon in 1813 and they had five children by 1833. However, I can only find four: Richard Ashmore, plus his older brother Thomas Sidney and younger sisters Julia Catherine and Amelia.

RAP was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, and the Royal Naval College, embarking from the latter 24 December, 1831. He passed his examination 8 February, 1836 and was promoted to Lieutenant 18 May, 1842, while serving in Hydra, Captain Alexander Murray, on the North America and West Indies station. When he was first in Hydra he received the Naval General Service Medal with Syria 1840 Clasp (left) for service in that campaign. On 16 March, 1843, he started his course at the Excellent Gunnery Ship at Portsmouth and on 29 June 1844 he was appointed to the Penelope, Captain William Jones, on the coast of Africa. He then suffered a year on half-pay before getting an appointment as First Lieutenant 10 April, 1847, in Styx, Captain Henry Chads, back on the coast of Africa. He returned home in 1848, just about the time RRA was starting his career in Howe in the Mediterranean.

On 12 February, 1849, he was appointed as the Lieutenant commanding Janus at Gibraltar. On 4 November, 1851, he was promoted to Commander for services against Riff pirates - an incident in which he was shot through both thighs. In February 1853 he had no ship. From 17 August of that year he was the Commander of Vesuvius until 8 March, 1855, when he was posted Captain and became an Additional Captain in Harpy, the Flagship of Rear Admiral Frederick William Grey in the Mediterranean. (By this time RRA was ashore with the Naval Brigade in the Crimea.)

Most of Richard Ashmore Powell's service in the Black Sea is naturally covered by RRA in his account, but one or two clarifications and additions are useful.

The first is a piece in Naval & Military Intelligence in The Times of 31 July, 1854:

"The following are the promotions and appointments made by Vice Admiral Dundas, consequent upon the death of Captain Hyde Parker:- Commander Stewart, of the Modeste, to be Captain of the Firebrand, vice Parker, deceased; Lieutenant Augustus Butler, second of the Britannia flagship, to be Commander of the Modeste, vice Stewart; Mate Basil S de R. Hall, of the Diamond, to be Lieutenant of the Britannia, vice Butler. Letters from the fleet complain loudly of the first of these selections. The writers very justly consider that Commander Powell, who so nobly distinguished himself in taking the stockade before which Captain Parker sacrificed his life, far more deserved the honour of promotion than Commander Stewart, whose ship (a small 18-gun sloop) has not been employed in the Black Sea fleet, but confined to movements in the peaceful waters near his father's flagship at Malta."


It will be noted that the writer of The Times piece managed to include all the relevant information to help readers correctly conclude that this was another example of Royal Naval 'interest' and cronyism - something Vice Admiral James Whitley Deans Dundas had been accused of so often it had tarnished his reputation, but actually he probably wasn't much more at fault than most of his peers.

At the Allied landings at Kalamata Bay in the Crimea, RAP was one of two beachmasters for the British under the overall control of Captain Dacres. (The other beachmaster was Leopold George Heath). RRA describes Vesuvius' work after the battle of the Alma very well, and also the early days of defending Balaklava when RAP had command of a battery manned by marines on the heights above the town and RRA was his ADC.

However there was a curious piece of reporting on page 10 of The Times on Saturday, 18 November 1854:

"Two majors of the 49th are dead - Major Dalton and Major Powell - the latter officer whose brother commands the Vesuvius, was shot through the head by a Russian rifleman."


The Times got it wrong. The unfortunate Major Powell of the 49th was actually Charles Thomas Powell, the son of John Folliot Powell (1771-1839) and Frances (née Armett), of Tempsford Hall, Bedford.

However, The Times is excused this slip because Richard Ashmore Powell's real brother, Thomas Sidney Powell, did serve through the Crimean campaign with the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment until promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (unattached) 2 February 1855. He was killed in 1857 when in command of the 53rd (The Shropshire) Regiment near Futtehpore during an action with the Dinapore mutineers. Below is a facsimile representation of his obituary from The Times of 15 December, 1857:

RAP got his Companion of the Bath as part of the 5 July, 1855 list, and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour and received the 4th Class of the Order of the Medjidie to go with his Crimean Medal with 'Sebastopol' Clasp and Turkish Medal entitlements.

After the Crimean War, in 1856, RAP was finally made a Knight Commander of the Order of Charles III of Spain (right) for his services against the Riff pirates five years before in Janus.

On 2 December, 1856, RAP commissioned Cornwallis at Plymouth and remained her Captain until 20 April, 1857, serving with the Coast Guard in the Humber. A little over a week later, on 1 May, 1857, he took up his next appointment as Captain of Boscowen, the Flagship of Rear Admiral Frederick William Grey on the Cape of Good Hope station. From 5 December, 1861, until 1 October, 1862, he was Captain of Defence, attached to the Channel Squadron.

From that last date RAP became the commander of Britannia, the cadet training ship, still at Portland at that time. In fact it was RAP who was responsible for the move to Dartmouth. It was during this pleasant intermission in Devon, on 11 October, 1862, that he married Mary Eveline, daughter of G. H. Skelton Esq., of Langton House, Cheltenham, at St Luke's, Cheltenham. He remained at Dartmouth until 1865 when he was relieved by an old Crimean War colleague, George Randolph. It seems RAP is remembered as one of the better of the early commanders of Britannia (see Pack, S.W.C., Captain, C.B.E., BRITANNIA AT DARTMOUTH, Alvin Redman, London, 1966.)


Hoa Hakananai'a

On 25 May, 1866, he became Captain of the steam frigate Topaze, destined for the Pacific station where on arrival he was to be confirmed as Commodore of the 2nd Class and the senior RN officer on the American coast of that ocean (see his service record, ADM/196/37). It was during this commission that he was responsible for a little bit of typical Victorian 'archaeological pilfering' when he and the crew of Topaze removed a couple of moai from Easter Island, one of them being Hoa Hakananai'a, now in the British Museum (left). The full story is on the British Museum website.

On 1 September, 1869, Topaze paid off at Plymouth at the end of her Pacific commission. RAP officially became a Retired Captain 6 July, 1871; a Retired Rear Admiral 6 April, 1873 and a Retired Vice Admiral 21 March, 1878. He became a Nautical Assessor under the terms of the "Merchant Shipping Act, 1876".

RAP and Mary Eveline had at least three daughters and one son, the latter being Major General Sidney Henry Powell (1866-1945). He served in the Royal Engineers 1884-1923, and was Colonel Commandant of Indian Signal Corps 1934-36.

Richard Ashmore Powell died at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight on Christmas Eve, 1892.

26 August 2009

HMS Vesuvius


Image PW5680, © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Oswald Walter Brierly's painting of Vesuvius and Gun Boats Wrangler and Grinder at the destroying of stores, Sea of Azoff, 1 Sept 1855. Published here with the kind permission of the National Maritime Museum.

HMS Vesuvius was a Symonds wooden steam paddle sloop launched 11 July 1839 and sold for scrap in 1865. She was the ship Richard Ramsay Armstrong joined 18 September 1853 and served in, in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Sea of Azoff, until joining Stromboli at the end of November, 1855. Her 'builder's measure' was 970 tons, with a displacement of 1283 tons. She carried eight guns at the time of RRA's service (4 32pounders and 4 long 68s) and was rated at 280 horse-power.

Vesuvius' career was as follows (extracted from the Navy Lists):

Her first commander was William Simpson Blount in 1840.

31 August 1840 until August 1841, on the Mediterranean station, commanded first by Thomas Henderson and then by Granville Gower Loch.

23 August 1841 until 1844 commanded by Erasmus Ommanney, Mediterranean station.

22 March 1845 commanded by George William Douglas O'Callaghan, on the North America and West Indies station.

19 February 1847, Herbert G. Austen, North America and West Indies.

1848 until 1852 at Woolwich, Devonport and Plymouth.

1852 until 22 March 1852 Commanded by Commander Frederick Lamport Barnard

17 August 1853 until February 1855 commanded by Richard Ashmore Powell in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

17 February 1855 until October 1855 commanded by Sherard Osborn in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

29 October 1855 until autumn 1856 commanded by Edward George Hore in the Mediterranean.

20 April 1857 until spring 1860 commanded by Charles Wise on the West coast of Africa.

16 July 1862 until 1864 commanded by Captain Richard Vesey Hamilton in the West Indies.

Here is a scan of Allen's Navy List, corrected to January 1855, showing Vesuvius' officers at that time. RRA was still too junior to feature:



However, here is a link to a transcription of the Crimean War Medal Roll for Vesuvius. Taken from ADM 171/28. Note that RRA is very conveniently the first entry!

Next, I will look at some of RRA's fellow officers in Vesuvius, starting with Richard Ashmore Powell.

3 June 2009

Frederick Giraud Armstrong (1834 - 1900)



Richard Ramsay Armstrong's other brother who served in the Crimean War was Frederick Giraud (Gerard, or Geraud) Armstrong (1834 – 1900). Much more is know about him than older brother Robert Philip.

Frederick was born on the 1st of January, and baptized on the 1st of February, 1834 at St. Peter's, Jersey, making him not quite a year younger than RRA. Being so close in age meant that Fred and RRA were thick as thieves during childhood.

He became an Ensign (by purchase) in the 14th Foot (Buckinhamshire) on the 18th of August, 1854, arriving in the Crimea on the 10th of February, 1855, and served through until the fall of Sevastopol. A week later he was promoted Lieutenant. As one would expect, he got the Crimean Medal with 'Sebastopol' Clasp and the Turkish Medal. There was a considerable amount of contact between the three brothers in the siege lines before Sevastopol, RRA being able to help the two army brothers with 'extra' rations from time to time.



Above is the list of Lieutenants of the 14th Foot in Hart's Army List corrected to the 29th of December, 1856. And below is a crop from the next page showing Fred's war service. Both crops courtesy of Google Books.



However, he served also in the New Zealand war of 1863-65, which entirely altered his life. He arrived in New Zealand on the Henry Fernie, a hired sailing ship, with elements of the 2nd Battalion 14th Regiment, including another subaltern, 2 sergeants, 198 rank & file, 12 women, and 13 children. They had departed Portsmouth on the 15th April, 1861, and arrived at Auckland on the 25th of July 1861. Fred was present at the action at Koheroa, on the 17th of July, 1863, and was Mentioned in Despatches. On the 4th of December, 1863 he was promoted Captain. He received the New Zealand War Medal for his service (right).

Below is a crop of the list of Captains of the 14th Regiment from Hart's Army List for 1864:



Captain Frederick Armstrong married Susan Ann Lally at St. Thomas' Church, Tamaki, Auckland (between Remuera and Kohimarama) on the 3rd of February, 1864. Susan was the daughter of the Rev. Meyrick Lally and Ellen Whitley. Fred and Susan apparently had eight children, the first being born on the 29th of October, 1866, just after Fred had retired from the army by the sale of his commission on the 16th of October - the same date the 14th Regiment left New Zealand, leaving him behind.

Only four of the children can be found with certainty in the NZ birth records online. The other four appear not to have had their parents' names recorded. The four who were clearly recorded are Leonard in 1874; Edith Maud in 1875; Charles Herbert in 1878 and Mabel in 1880 (although other sources suggest she was born in 1879).

It is not clear what Fred did for a living after he retired from the army. he is mentioned a number of times in the New Zealand newspapers, but mostly from the period before he retired. however, one thing is clear: he was declared a bankrubt on the 20th of October, 1870. There can be a number of reasons for bankruptcy, some beyond the control of the victim, but perhaps it was a family trait to be incompetent with money? It is clear that RRA wasn't the best either... This announcement appeared in the Daily Southern Cross (below).



Frederick Gerard Armstrong died at Devonport, on the North Shore, Auckland, New Zealand on the 12th of February, 1890. He was buried at the O'Neil's Point cemetery, Bayswater, Auckland.

The New Zealand branch of the Armstrong family is descended from him.

3 May 2009

Robert Philip Armstrong (1825-1863)


We now come to Richard Ramsay Armstrong's service in the Crimea. RRA had two brothers in the Army who served alongside him at the siege of Sevastopol, and it is the elder of the two who is covered first.

Robert Philip Armstrong was the eldest surviving boy in the Armstrong family. He was born in Jersey on 10 February and baptized on 13 March, 1825. He was presented by Philippe de Quetteville Esq. and Dlle. Esther Nicolle.

He joined the Army on 25 February, 1848, by purchase as an Ensign in the 67th Foot - the South Hampshire Regiment. By the time of the invasion of the Crimean he was a Lieutenant (seniority 06.06.1854). Below is a scan of the December 1854 Hart's Army List for 67th showing RPA located at the regimental depot. At some point in early 1855 he transferred to the 77th Foot - the East Middlesex Regiment - and went to the Crimea.


He served throughout the campaign with the 77th, being 'wounded, slightly' on 17 August, 1855. [Frank & Andrea Cook, Casualty Roll for the Crimea, Hayward & Son, London, 1976.] He received the Crimea Medal with 'Sebastopol' Clasp and the Turkish Medal.

After the war RPA returned to Jersey. However, the rest of his life is poorly recorded. At some point, not at this moment clear, he transferred to the 23rd Regiment - The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was promoted Captain on 26 March, 1858. From the pages of The Times it appears he either did, or was about to go to India with his regiment, and may have got as far as Malta, where the 23rd were part of the garrison in March 1859. He was still there in July 1860.

However, at some point in 1861 he got married to Clara Ann Malet, a younger sister of Eliza Susanna Malet, RRA’s wife.

Robert Philip Armstrong died in 1863, in the first year of their marriage.

28 March 2009

New information about 'Pike' 29 Mar 09

New information has come to light about Bayley Pike and John Brewer Pike. Those who have read RRA will remember that he told the story of a young man called Pike, with whom he had been at school in Jersey, who was 'dismissed the Service' in Sierra Leone and put ashore from the notorious HMS Hound.

RRA remembered that Pike instantly got the job of Mate on an 'Indiaman' which was at Sierra Leone on her way home. Her captain had died, and Pike took her home in something like record time to be thoroughly congratulated and awarded plate by the owners. RRA then says that Pike continued with a very successful career in the Merchant Service.

In the 1841 census for Jersey there is indeed a Pike, born in 1833, the same year as RRA. So far so good. His name was Bayley Pike. And a Bayley Pike turns up in the service records of naval officers in the National Archives - and yes he was dismissed the Service at Sierra Leone in early 1851 from being Master's Assistant in HMS Hound. So clearly, that much of the story is true.

Next I looked for Pikes in the 1851 census, conveniently taken sometime after Pike would have got home in the 'Indiaman'. Lo and behold, there is a Pike, the right age, in Plymouth, at his father's house (a storekeeper at the Devonport dockyard), and describing himself as "Mate of the Talavera".

(All this is covered in much greater detail in the Appendix of RRA)

But (Oh dear) This Pike is called John Brewer Pike, and is recorded as being born in Plymouth, not Jersey like Bayley Pike in the census ten years before.

And the Talavera? Well, coincidence upon coincidence, she was an 'Indiaman', owned by Duncan Dunbar of Blackwall, and yes, she was on her way home from India at exactly the right time in early 1851!

There is no more trace of 'our' Bayley Pike in the England & Wales or Channel Islands censuses after that solitary appearance in 1841. John Brewer Pike, however, went on to have a successful career in the Merchant Marine as a Master Mariner, and appears in several more E&W censuses.

That's the story in a nutshell. When I wrote the appendix to RRA I became convinced, though there was no positive proof, that Bayley Pike had skippered the Talavera home, and for whatever reason, had 'become' John Brewer Pike, son of Anthony Pike of Plymouth. I had not been able to find the Plymouth Pikes in the 1841 census - but now I have.

There is, of course, the same Anthony Pike, naval storekeeper, and among his children is a boy, the right age, simply registered as 'John Pike'. So surely this must be the John Brewer Pike of ten years later? Mustn't it...? That effectively kicks my theory into touch.

And further mystery is provided by the discovery of a perfectly plausible Bayley Pike as a sheep station manager in the South Island of New Zealand in the late 1850s and early 1860s, and then as a 'sheep inspector' in Queensland in the late 1860s.

But wait a minute - the late 1850s and early 60s was exactly when RRA was first in the South Island of New Zealand! Did he bump into his old school friend from Jersey, the friend he hadn't seen for nearly ten years? Did he and the friend yarn about old times on the Slave Coast? Did Bayley Pike tell him about being dismissed the Service? And the other young officer dismissed from HMS Hound at exactly the same time? (There was one according to RRA's story - but so far untraced and unnamed.) Did RRA do his usual trick of muddling stories? Was the other young man John Brewer Pike? A cousin perhaps of Bayley Pike? Sounds fantastic, but fits the facts better than the suggestion that Bayley Pike changed his name to John Brewer... now that we know that the Bayley Pike from Jersey is almost certainly the very same as the sheep run manager in Canterbury.

One problem: there is no John Brewer Pike in RN Service Records. The quest goes on!

19 March 2009

Books about the Royal Navy and the Slave Trade

My favourite three books about the slave trade are as follows. The first is about the whole history of the Atlantic trade; the other two are specifically about the Royal Navy's part in the suppression. The links go to the books in the database at Google Books.

The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870
By Hugh Thomas
Edition: reprint
Published by Simon & Schuster, 1997
ISBN 0684835657, 9780684835655

The Royal Navy and the slavers: the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade
By William Ernest Frank Ward, Ian T. Morison
Illustrated by Ian T. Morison
Edition: illustrated
Published by Allen & Unwin, 1969

The Navy and the Slave Trade: The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century
By Christopher Lloyd
Edition: illustrated
Published by Routledge, 1968
ISBN 0714618942, 9780714618944

4 March 2009

John Beecroft, British Consul

On page 107, RRA mentions the British Consul for the Bights of Biafra and Benin, one John Beecroft.

Beecroft was a man of some mystery. He was born at Sleights near Whitby on the east coast of Yorkshire in 1790, and his baptismal record is dated 2 May that year. He was the son of John Beecroft of Sleights and his wife Jane, née Carpenter.

There is very little information about his early life, though he seems to have gone to sea as a teenager in a coastal vessel and was captured by the French in either 1804 or 1805 and imprisoned by them until 1814. This ten year episode in his life is widely quoted, but no sources are ever given and it has so far proved impossible to verify. Sometime after his return from captivity he "later travelled to Greenland as part of William Perry's expedition." That from Wikipedia, among others. Presumably they mean Rear-Admiral Sir William Edward Parry, 1790-1855. Parry commanded three expeditions in search of the North-West Passage; 1819-20, 1821-23 and 1824-25. Beecroft could have been on one or all of these, however, apparently not in a senior enough position to rate an entry in the Navy Lists, nor in Parry's own memoirs. However, one source suggests that he was in command of one of the transport vessels on one of the expeditions.

Beecroft’s career on the Coast of Africa began in 1829 when it seems he went to Fernando Po in some sort of business capacity and British Superintendent of Works, when the island was temporarily a British anti-slavery base. He remained there after Britain abandoned the place in 1834 and when Spain took control again in 1843 he was appointed official Spanish governor of the island. He also acted as an unofficial British consul in the mid-1840s, helping the Royal Navy's anti-slavery squadron make treaties and settle disputes. He gained a high reputation and was much respected by chiefs up and down the coast. During the 1830s and 1840s he made a number of exploratory expeditions on the coast and up the rivers:

1835 - River Niger 300 miles in steamer Quorra.
1836 - Cross River 120 miles from Old Calabar.
1840 - Benin River.
1841 - Cross River.
1842 - Cross River.

In 1841 he had assisted with the withdrawal of the Niger expedition in his steamer the Ethiope.

In 1849 came the official British appointment as Consul for the Bights of Biafra and Benin. (Gazette, November 1849: "John Beecroft Esq. to be HM Consul in the territories on the coast of Africa between Cape St. Paul and Cape St.John..." )

The following passage is taken from "Nigeria Under British Rule" By William Nevill Montgomerie Geary:

On the 30th of June 1849 John Beecroft of Fernando Po was appointed British Consul for the Bights of Biafra and Benin without prejudice to his retaining the Spanish Governorship of Fernando Po. So Mr. Beecroft was both Governor and Consul. He was much trusted by the British Foreign Office and rightly. He was an honourable, kindly gentleman, who would fitly represent the interest of England, brave and full of common sense. It is a pleasure to read his terse, shrewd, business-like, right-minded despatches. He knew the Native mind, and he knew the merchant. In his consular duties, he had to travel from Fernando to the Oil Rivers and Lagos and elsewhere in men-of-war, and one can imagine the pleasant dinners on deck in tropical moonlight when the Consul and the Captain were wise and witty. It was Beecroft who was the political officer at the Lagos bombardment, who dealt with the savage king of Dahomey. Mr. Beecroft also made voyages up the Niger on the Ethiope, but alas ! he left no journal and wrote no book. He died at Fernando Po on the 10th of June 1854.

The following account of the work of the good Beecroft, one of those sturdy honest men who do England’s business as it should be done, was written forty years later by Sir Claude Macdonald, the British Commissioner and Consul-General for the Oil Rivers. His despatch of 10 January 1893 says:

"John Beecroft was H.M.’s first consul for Bights of Benin and Biafra. In this capacity he did very good work and was instrumental in making many of the treaties for the suppression of the export slave trade. The naval expedition of 1841 up the Niger under Captain Bird Allen would have suftered even more terribly than it did had it not been for the prompt action taken by Governor Beecroft in going to their rescue. Governor Beecroft was the first to discover and survey the Cross river as far as the rapids. To this day Governor Beecroft’s name is a byword for uprightness and honour in Fernando Po and in the territories known as the Oil Rivers Protectorate. On his death, which took place in 1854, the negroes of Fernando Po, chiefly descendants of liberated slaves erected a monument to his memory, upon which they recorded their gratitude “for his many years fatherly attention to their comforts and interests and upon his unwearying exertions to promote the happiness and welfare of the African race”.


(Geary, William Nevill Montgomerie, NIGERIA UNDER BRITISH RULE, Methuen, 1927.)

John Beecroft died in 1854 while preparing for another expedition up the River Niger: "On June 10 [1854] at Clarence, after 25 years residence in Africa, John Beecroft esq., HBM's consul and Gov. of Fernando Po. (Deaths, The Times, Monday 14 August 1854, page 1.)

The painting of the Ethiope is on display in the International Slavery Museum, on the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum building.

20 February 2009

Back to the West Coast of Africa


On page 109 is the following passage:

While still on the Gold Coast, we called in at a village known on the Chart as Ambrezette, an anchorage a few miles from St. Paul de Loanda. We observed a peculiar round column on an embankment near the beach, evidently composed of marble or granite of about 150 feet in height, the base several feet in circumference and running up to a fine point. On examination we could not find joints or anything to give us an idea of how it was constructed, nor could we find anyone to give us its history. I have many times thought over this peculiar construction, and have come to the conclusion, it must have been cemented foot by foot with a conglomerate of crushed marble and some strong cement.


Well, "Ambrezette" appears to have normally been spelt Ambrizete, and is now N'zeto on the coast of Angola (see sat. pic). However, no mention of a "granite or marble column" can be found anywhere in other contemporary or recent accounts. There is nothing marked on any map that I can find - nor anything visible on Google Earth, though the patch for the N'zeto vicinity is quite high resolution. Was RRA mistaken? Was the 150 foot high column somewhere else on the coast? It's a mystery!

However, a clue to RRA's possible confusion maybe in the opening phrase of the passage, "While still on the Gold Coast..." Ambrizete/N'zeto was not, and still isn't on the Gold Coast: it is much further south, south of the Bight of Benin. Maybe the strange column was really on the Gold Coast, somewhere near Elmina, perhaps? I will keep looking...

7 February 2009

The Wrong Kennedy...!



I have made a silly mistake with the identification of one of RRA's colleagues in the Naval Brigade ashore in the Crimean War.

On page 408, in the Appendix 2 piece about the death of Lieutenant Kidd at the Redan on 18 June 1855, I confused two men called Kennedy who were young officers in the Naval Brigade and were both part of the ladder parties that tried to storm the Redan. This doesn't affect the overall piece, but it is a sloppy mistake - especially as (modesty aside) I probably know more about the 150 officers who served ashore with the Naval Brigade than anyone else! So, for the sake of honour, I must set the record straight:

In fact there were three unrelated officers called Kennedy who served ashore with the Naval Brigade during the Crimean War. The most senior was John James Kennedy (1821-1885). He was a Commander by the time of the Redan assault and was effectively 'brigade major', not being part of the ladder parties. His life was a very intriguing one and I cover it in some detail in the investigation of 'Mrs. and Miss Dunn' starting on page 429.

The second was William Robert Kennedy (1838-1916), later a full Admiral; well known and much respected (photo, above). It was he that I carelessly assumed was the 'Kennedy, Mate' that appears in the list of officers attached to the ladder parties. I even went so far as to point out that the official list was wrong in calling him a Mate because I knew he was still a Midshipman at the time. If nothing else, this should have alerted me to my mistake. W.R. Kennedy was part of the ladder parties, but in one of those which never made the assault, watching the action from the forward trench. This explains the lack of detail concerning his own activity in his autobiography.

The real 'Kennedy, Mate' of the No.3 Ladder Party led by Lieutenants Cave and Kidd was of course Andrew James Kennedy (1834-1895). His life was very low profile compared to either of the other two. He is quite difficult to research: his Times obituary is very brief and lacking in detail and he does not appear to be included in anyone's detailed family research. However, the following is known about him and comes from my file for him:

Andrew James Kennedy, Admiral RN, b. 21 Jan, bapt. 16 Feb 1834 Princes Street Independent, Devonport, married 1QTR 1871 Stoke Damerel, Cordelia Mary Gill (daughter of Thomas H. Gill, solicitor, and his wife Elizabeth, of Devonport), and died 17 Feb 1895 at the Hotel International, Nice, France. Only known child: Ethel Annie Kennedy, b. c.1875 Devonport. 6 August 1855 Lieutenant; 11 April 1866 Commander; 13 October 1876 Captain.

His brief obituary in the Times of Thursday 21 Feb 1895, reads as follows:

Admiral Andrew James Kennedy, who died at Nice on the 17th inst., entered the Navy in 1847, and served in the Black Sea and Crimea 1854-5, receiving the 5th Class of the Medjidieh and a knighthood of the Legion of Honour. He was captain of the Briton during the naval and military operations in Eastern Sudan in 1884, and was placed on the retired list in 1889. He was promoted to be rear-admiral (retired) in 1891.



However, this does miss the fact that he was awarded the Sardinian Medaglia Al Valore Militare (photo, left) for his service in the Crimea. The citation reads:

Served with the Naval Brigade nearly nine months, and at every bombardment except the first. Was one of the scaling-ladder party at the attack on the Redan, on the 18th of June, and was mentioned in the despatches of the late Lord Raglan, for his conduct on that occasion with especial praise. Also especially recommended by Sir Stephen Lushington, for good service during the siege of Sebastopol.


[Dougla-Morris, Kenneth J., NAVAL MEDALS 1793-1856, Privately Printed, London, 1987.]

1 February 2009

RRA's Second Commission


The lines of 'Star Class' brig/packets. Both Cygnet and the infamous and unhappy Hound were brigs of this class.

RRA's second commission (now as a fully-fledged Midshipman), was on the west Coast of Africa, 1850 to 1853, travelling out in Firefly as a supernumerary, and then serving in Cygnet, Commander Richard Dunning White, 1819-1899.

A brief summary of White's career is given here:


Date Rank
15 April 1826 Entered Navy
5 November 1840 Lieutenant
28 August 1847 Commander
10 May 1856 Captain
19 January 1874 Retired Rear Admiral
1 February 1879 Retired Vice Admiral

Date from Date to Service
December 1843 March 1847
Lieutenant in Sealark, commanded by Thomas Lewis Gooch, west coast of Africa

1 March 1847 September 1847
Commander in Skylark (until paying off at Chatham), west coast of Africa

1 July 1850 May 1853
Commander in Cygnet (until paying off at Portsmouth), coast of Africa

6 January 1855 10 May 1856
Commander in Desperate, the Baltic during the Russian War

15 September 1859 1863
Captain in Madagascar, storeship, Rio de Janeiro

26 May 1865 23 February 1867
Captain in Cossack (until paying off at Sheerness), Mediterranean

186? January 1869
Captain in Mersey, flagship, Queenstown.


His obituary appeared on page 9 of The Times on Monday 31 July 1899:

Vice-Admiral R.D. White, C.B., died on Saturday, at his residence, Heavitree, Exeter, in his 80th year. He was the youngest son of the late Admiral Thomas White, of Buckfast Abbey. In 1826 he entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer of the first class. After filling various minor appointments, he served in Syria, and was present at the capture of St. Jean d'Acre. From 1844 to 1847 and from 1850 to 1853 he was employed on the West Coast of Afica in suppressing the slave trade, and captured many slavers. As the senior officer of the Sierra Leone Division, Admiral White was also employed in settling a somewhat difficult diplomatic question that arose with the French, owing to a French vessel having been captured in error by a British ship. During the Russian war he commanded the Desperate in the Baltic, and captured the first prize of the season. Admiral White was present at the attack on the forts and batteries at the entrance to the river Dwina, near Riga, and at several operations on land in the gulf in command of sailors and marines. He afterwards commanded for four years the Madagascar at Rio de Janeiro, the Cossack in the Mediterranean from 1865 to 1867, and the Mersey at Queenstown from the latter year to 1869. At the conclusion of the Russian war he was officially gazetted and promoted in consequence of "special and distinguished individual services" performed during the war. Admiral White held the medals for Syria, Turkey, and the Baltic, and he was made a C.B. in 1881. He was a justice of the peace for Devon.

The Old Howe


The Old Howe in 1859

23 January 2009

RRA now at Amazon!

Richard Ramsay Armstrong's Book of his Adventures now available from Amazon.com

RRA at Amazon.com

and at Amazon.co.uk

RRA at Amazon.co.uk

Hooray!

20 January 2009

Captain Sir James Stirling



RRA's first captain was Sir James Stirling in HMS Howe. Here are some notes about him from the Clan Sterling website at clanstirling.org. There is also a full biography of Sir James online at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Admiral Sir James Stirling was born 28 January 1791 in Drumpellier, Lanarkshire, Scotland, died 23 April 1865 in Stoke, Near Guildford, Surrey, and buried 23 April 1865, Guildford, Surrey. He married Ellen Mangles 3 September 1823 in Stoke, Near Guildford, Surrey. She was born 4 September 1807 in Stoke, Near Guildford, Surrey, and died 8 June 1874 in Portland Place, London.

He was the founder of the city of Perth and first Governor of Western Australia.

Notes for Admiral Sir James Stirling from The Stirlings of Cadder by Thomas Willing Stirling, published 1933.

He was the fifth son of eight of the fifteen children of Andrew Stirling, Esq. of Drumpellier near Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, Scotland. His mother, Anne was his father's second cousin, being the daughter of Admiral Sir Walter Stirling and the sister of Sir Walter Stirling, 1st Baronet of Faskine and Admiral Sir Charles Stirling.

The Stirling family was well-known and celebrated in the naval annals of the 18th century. With such a family background, it was natural for James to enter the Royal Navy. He entered the Royal Navy 12 August 1803 as first class volunteer in the Camel storeship, Captain John Ayscough, fitting for the West Indies. He served as midshipman on the Hercules, 74 [guns], Prince George, 98, then in the Glory, 98, in which ship he fought in Sir Robert Calder's action (22nd July 1805) under the flag of Vice Admiral Charles Stirling, whom he subsequently followed into the Sampson and Diadem, 64s. He was present at the taking of Monte Video in 1807. He obtained his first commission 12 August 1809, and was appointed successively to the Hibernia 120, and Armide 38. In November 1811 he became flag lieutenant to Admiral Stirling in the Arethusa 38 on the Jamaica Station. 27th February 1812 he was placed in acting command of the Moselle 18, and on 19 June was confirmed as a commander of the Brazen sloop 28. At the beginning of the war with America he cruised for four months off the Mississippi, where he succeeded in destroying a considerable amount of enemy property. On one occasion the Brazen was dismasted in a hurricane, but he maintained his station by cutting and fitting masts and spars from the neighbouring forests of Pensacola.

In 1813 he was sent to Hudson Bay for the purpose of offering protection to the settlements and shipping in that quarter, and in the winter of the same year he was ordered on special service to the coast of Holland with H.S.H. the reigning Duke of Brunswick. After cruising on the coast of Ireland he again sailed for the Gulf of Mexico. On the conclusion of hostilities he was nominated Acting Captain of the Cydnus 38, owing to the death of her captain; but returning soon to the Brazen, and being re-appointed to her on the peace settlement, he continued to serve in that vessel lin the West Indies until paid off in August 1818.

"I cannot," writes the Commander-in-Chief in a letter addressed to the Admiralty on the eve of the departure of the Brazen, "permit Captain Stirling to quit this station without expressing to their Lordships my entire satisfaction with his conduct while under my command. The zeal and alacrity he always displayed in the execution of whatever service he was employed upon are above praise, but it is to his acquaintance with foreign languages, his thorough knowledge of the station, particularly the Spanish Main, and his gentlemanlike and conciliatory manners, that I am so much indebted for assisting me in the preservation of a friendly intercourse with the foreign colonies in this command. I conceive it will be as gratifying to their Lordships to hear as it is for me to make so honourable a report of this intelligent and excellent officer whom I detach from my command with considerable regret, but I feel at the same time a very sincere pleasure in thus recommending him to their Lordships' notice."

Captain Stirling's promotion to Post rank took place 7th December in the same year (1818). His next appointment was Jan. 1826 to the Success 28; and in this ship he was sent to forma settlement at Raffle's Bay, in Torres Strait - a service which he accomplished in so able a manned as to cause his being highly complimented by the Naval Commander-in-Chief and the Gocernor of New South :Wales. In October 1828, nine months after he had left the Success, he was selected to take command of an expedition intended to form a colony in Western Australia, where he remained until induced, in 1839 to tender his resignation, [to return to the Navy], having during that period, surrounded as he was with the difficulties inseperable from the establishment of a new settlement, evinced a degree of zeal and ability that procured him, 3rd April 1833, the honour of Knighthood, and ultlimately the acknowledgement of Her Majesty.
To quote from an animated address presented to him by the colonists on leaving:

They could testify with confidence and gratitude that the general tenor of His Excellency's administration had been highly and deservedly popular; that they had invariably found in him a friend of warm and ready sympathy with individual distress, an entire and liberal promotion of every good and useful institution, an able and zealous patron of every enterprise suggested for the general welfare, and in all the domestic and social relations of private life, an example worthy of his high station.


On the prospect of war with France, Sir James Stirling was appointed, 10th October 1840, to the Indus 78. He continued in that ship, in the Mediterranean, until paid off in June 1844. Before the Indus returned to England he received from Sir Edward Owen, the Commander-in-Chief, a letter expressive of the sense he entertained of the efficiency of that ship in all that constitutes a perfect man-of-war, and of the admiration which the order and discipline on board had excited in all the foreign ports he had visited. In April 1847 he was appointed to the command of the Howe, 120 on the Mediterranean station.

11 January 2009

RRA's first friend in the Navy

When RRA first went to sea in the Howe he was very lonely to start with, but soon made friends with a boy called White, and they became inseperable. Here is how he describes it:

On my father leaving me after two days stay, the sense of utter loneliness and homesickness became overpowering, but boy-like I soon found some relief from loneliness by chumming with a kindred spirit – one Billy White – or ‘Whiteheaded Bob’ as we afterwards designated him, although his real name was Edward. I took to him at first sight and we became closely allied. Being in the guard-ship and in dock it was easy to get on shore, and as the authorities were not so strict in keeping the Officers on board as when on active service, Billy and I had many a frolic at the theatres and other places.


As was so typical of the Navy, when they both moved on from the Howe and their careers and lives diverged, it is quite likely they never met again as RRA doesn't refer to him later in the book.

Here is a baby-biog of 'Billy' White, taken from my footnote in the book:

White, Edward 'Billy', 1835-1882, born Sussex, 2nd son of Lt-Col Raymond White, 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and Emma, née Williams. Entered RN 1847; Mate 11 Feb 1854; Lieutenant 22 Sept 1855; Commander 11 Apr 1866; Captain 06 Feb 1872. Served in Impérieuse in the 1854 Baltic Fleet (medal) during the Crimean War. Captain of the troopship Himalaya during the 1870s. In 1879-80 employed as a nautical assessor. Died 04 Aug 1882, Port Royal, Jamaica.