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Royal Naval Biography/Clavell, John

[Post-Captain of 1808.]

We first find this officer serving under Vice-Admiral Collingvvood, who, when about to remove from the Dreadnought 98, to the Royal Sovereign of 100 guns, just before the glorious battle of Trafalgar, made the following honorable mention of him in a letter to Lord Nelson:

“I have had a little distress about two Lieutenants being senior to my first, Clavell, who is indeed my right arm, and the spirit that puts every thing in motion; but I hope your lordship will appoint them to this ship, their names are Palmer and Hewson; and then I will take my signal Lieutenant, whose name is Brice Gilliland.”

It is scarcely necessary to add, that the Vice-Admiral’s request was immediately granted: Mr. Clavell consequently became first Lieutenant of the Royal Sovereign, and was made a Commander by his veteran friend immediately after the memorable conflict of Oct. 21, 1805; on which day he appears to have been wounded, and Mr. Gilliland numbered with the slain.

In Aug. 1807, Captain Clavell commanded the Weasel brig, and captured three French transports; having on board a colonel and 251 soldiers, going as a reinforcement to the garrison of Corfu. He also drove on shore three other vessels of the same description, and intercepted a trabacolo carrying despatches to that island. His post commission bears date Feb. 4, 1808.

From this period we lose sight of Captain Clavell until June 19, 1811, when he was appointed to the Orlando 36; which frigate he dismantled and laid up at Trincomalee about the close of 1818. From thence he returned to England in the Malabar, a new 74, Sept. 1819.

Captain Clavell’s last appointment was to command the ordinary at Portsmouth; where he has been recently superseded in consequence of the accidental destruction of H.M.S. Diamond[1].

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.



Is a branch of one of the oldest and most respectable families in England. His ancestor came over with William the Conqueror; and the Clavells have enjoyed property in Dorsetshire ever since that era.

This officer was a midshipman of Lord Hood’s flag-ship, at the occupation of Toulon, in Aug. 1793; and he served in the land-batteries, during the siege of that place by the French republican forces. After the retreat from thence he was lent to l’Eclair sloop; in the jolly-boat of which vessel, with only six men under his command, he captured two of the enemy’s transports, each carrying twelve men, and both deeply laden with gunpowder for the garrison of Bastia, then closely blockaded. During the subsequent operations in Corsica, he conducted a large vessel; with a cargo of shot and shells, from St. Fiorenzo to Calvi; and was occasionally employed in the batteries on shore. He also assisted at the capture of l‘Alcide, French 74, July 13, 1795, on which occasion the Victory bore the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert Mann, and sustained a loss of 20 men killed and wounded, besides much damage in her masts, yards, and rigging.

In December following, the Victory displayed the flag of the late Earl St. Vincent (then Sir John Jervis), by whom Mr. Clavell was appointed lieutenant of the Excellent 74, Captain (afterwards Lord) Collingwood, on the very day that he completed his probationary term, which appears to have been about five months after the glorious victory of February 14th, 1707[2].

During the ensuing summer, Lieutenant Clavell was frequently engaged with the Spanish gun-boats near Cadiz and Gibraltar; and his conduct on all occasions was so highly meritorious, that he won the lasting friendship of the worthy CoUingwood, who had known nothing of him previous to his joining the Excellent. This indeed may be inferred from the following extract of a letter written by that distinguished officer to Lord Nelson, when about to shift his flag into the Royal Sovereign, just before the battle of Trafalgar:

“I have bad a little distress about two Lieutenants being senior to my first, Clavell, who is indeed my right arm, and the spirit that puts every thing in motion; but I hope your Lordship will appoint them to this ship[3], their names are Palmer and Hewson; and then I will take my signal Lieutenant, whose name is Brice Gilliland.”

This request being complied with, Mr. Clavell became first lieutenant of the Royal Sovereign, and was promoted by Vice-Admiral Collingwood to the command of the Weazle brig, immediately after the memorable battle of October 21, 1805; on which day he received a severe wound in the head, the effects of which he has never got the better of.

The Weazle was first employed in watching the motions of the enemy at Carthagena, and afterwards sent to ascertain if any of their ships of war or privateers were at Santa Cruz, or in the neighbourhood of Teneriffe: she also visited Madeira for the same purpose, and was subsequently stationed between Cape Spartel and Larache. We next find her cruising on the coast of Catalonia, where she captured the Spanish privateer Secondo Cornelo, of 8 guns, pierced for 20 ; and assisted at the capture of about fifteen coasting vessels.

In Sept. or Oct. 1806, Captain Clavell joined the squadron employed in the Gulf of Venice, where he took and destroyed a great number of merchantmen, and, without any support, obtained possession of Cherso, an island near Flume (containing one of the finest harbours in the Adriatic), together with a number of French and Austrian shipping, some timber, and a quantity of army clothing. After the performance of this service, he accompanied the Unité frigate. Captain Patrick Campbell, to the attack of another island, St. Piedro de Niembo, which surrendered on the second day, himself and his first lieutenant (Edmund Milner) being the only persons wounded.

Captain Clavell was at Corfu when the Russian governor received instructions to give that island up to France, agreeably to an article in the treaty of Tilsit, but of which the British Minister, Speridion Foresti, Esq. was kept in profound ignorance until the arrival of part of the enemy’s troops intended for its future garrison. The Weazle was then returning thither with some important despatches from the senior officer off Venice, and but for a fortunate calm, at some distance from the harbour, she would in all probability have been captured. As it was. Captain Clavell had a very narrow escape, the first intimation he received of the real state of affairs being from a Greek, who accosted him when he was in the very act of opening the door of Mr. Foresti’s late residence, then occupied by the French General. The Greek’s first salute was – “For God’s sake where are you going, Captain?” and upon being told, he added, “His Excellency has been obliged to fly; the French General lives in this house now; and most of his officers are dining with him!” Captain Clavell, who had landed after dark, of course determined to make his escape if possible; and he had the good fortune to do so, although it was necessary to pass through three barriers, at one of which an officer was inspecting the night-guard, and as he thought, for the purpose of detaining him. Many Greeks knew that he had landed, but not one of them said a word to betray him, and from his walking quietly past the guard-houses, his servant with a trunk following in a careless manner, no suspicion was excited until the islanders began to laugh at and jeer the French sentinels, some time after he had quitted the shore. The enemy then hailed him repeatedly to return; and he had not been on board the Weazle half an hour before she was attacked by three privateers, which were either driven on the rocks, or sunk, in a very few minutes.

At this time, there were a Russian line-of-battle ship and two frigates within four miles of the Weazle; and next morning, at day-light. Captain Clavell found himself in the midst of a number of small transports, protected by three gun-boats, the whole of which he captured, although his sloop had not then many more than half her complement of officers and men on board, the remainder being absent in prizes recently captured. The number of French soldiers taken on this occasion amounted to about 400, all armed and fully equipped. The sense entertained by Lord Collingwood of this service will be seen by the following official document:

Ocean, 18th Sept. 1807.

“Sir,– I have received with great satisfaction your letter of the 29th ultimo, detailing to me your proceedings since your departure from Captain Campbell, and the squadron off Venice.

“I am very happy that you escaped so fortunately from Corfu, and highly approve of your conduct, in annoying, and taking part of the enemy’s flotilla, which were going to take possession of Corfu from Otranto.

“It was unfortunate that your provisions, &c. would not admit of your remaining longer near Corfu, to intercept the enemy, as I am convinced no one would more effectually do it; but I trust some other opportunity will soon present itself of your again successfully exerting your zeal and ability, which in this instance has been used so much to the good of his Majesty’s service. I am, &c.


Captain Clavell, H.M.S. Weazle.

After completing his provisions, &c, at Malta, Captain Clavell returned to the Adriatic, where he continued to be very actively employed, under Captains Campbell and Moubray, until promoted by Lord Collingwood into the Glatton 54, which ship he was obliged to give up, through ill-health, very soon after his appointment to her. His post commission bears date Feb. 4, 1808.

When sufficiently recovered, Captain Clavell was immediately appointed to the Royal George, of 100 guns, but soon removed to the Laurestinus 24, in consequence of his having requested the Right Hon. Charles Yorke, then First Lord of the Admiralty, to give him a smaller ship. This latter appointment took place in May 1811; and on the 19th of the following month, without any fresh application, he received a commission for the Orlando, a new frigate, mounting 42 guns.

After a six weeks’ cruise off the Western Islands, Captain Clavell was again ordered to the Mediterranean, for which station he sailed in Nov. 1811, having on board 210,000 dollars, and with a fleet consisting of three valuable store-ships, a number of transports, and 200 sail of merchantmen under his protection.

The Orlando formed part of the Adriatic squadron, under the orders of Captain (now Sir Charles) Rowley and Rear-Admiral (afterwards Sir Thomas F.) Freemantle, until Aug. 1812, at which period Captain Clavell was selected by Sir Edward Pellew to command a detachment of sloops, &c. employed in the Archipelago, where he continued during the remainder of the war in Europe. The instructions he received with this appointment were, to conciliate as far as possible the good understanding subsisting between England and the Sublime Porte, without conpromising the British interests; to afford every protection in his power to our commercial relations in that quarter; and to use his utmost exertions for the destruction of the enemy’s cruisers, whose conduct had been such as to occasion his predecessor to have frequent altercations with the Turkish Agas, upon the violations of neutrality they permitted within the precincts of their respective governments. The great importance of preserving the most uninterrupted friendship with the Ottoman empire, at that critical period, required that every possible care should be taken to prevent any umbrage being given on our part, and consequently the utmost forbearance and precaution were necessary in conducting the services generally entrusted to his charge. The satisfactory manner in which he acquitted himself, at a time when the French were employing every artifice and threat to injure the British interests at Constantinople, was officially acknowledged by H.M. Ambassador, who in a letter dated Nov. 28, 1812, says:–

“While I rejoice at the success of the measures you have adopted for the diminution of the number of the enemy’s cruisers in this part of the Mediterranean, I think it my duty to give you notice of any new danger that threatens us in that line, and send enclosed the copy of a letter I have just received from Consul Charnaud, of Salonica, notifying the approach of a French armament under the command of Captain Dabovitch into that bay.”

On the 31st May, 1813, Mr. Liston again wrote to Captain Clavell, as follows:

“Dear Sir,– Your two letters of the 14th, and those of the 15th of this month, have safely reached my hands, and I beg you will accept of my sincere thanks for your attention to my requests, whether of a public or a private nature. I cannot at the same time withhold the expression of my perfect approbation of the care you take to distribute your force so as to give the best protection to our commerce that the number of your ships can afford. As it is to be hoped that the communication overland to Hamburgh will soon be open, I may be able indirectly to add to the force you can apply to the protection of trade, by abstaining in future from so often requesting its employment in the conveyance of despatches. You will oblige me by letting me know a day or two before you are likely to honor us with a visit. We propose to go to the country in eight or ten days, and to stay two or three weeks, and I should be glad to take measures to have some one in the house in town to receive you on your arrival. I have the honor to be, with perfect truth and regard, dear Sir, your most faithful humble servant,

(Signed)Rob. Liston.”

About the same time, Captain Clavell received an official letter from his commander-in-chief, of which we here give an extract:

“I have to thank you for the information you have sent me. I feel perfectly assured that you will continue to afford the most vigilant attention to the British interests in the Archipelago, and I learn with much satisfaction the general tranquillity of affairs in that quarter.

(Signed)“Ed. Pellew.”

Immediately after the peace with France, in 1814, Captain Clavell was sent from the Mediterranean, with a detachment under his command, to Bermuda, where he joined Rear-Admiral (now Sir George) Cockburn, who took the Orlando to the Chesapeake, and there left him in command of five frigates and four sloops, which squadron continued under his charge until the final termination of hostilities between Great Britain and America, in Feb. 1815. On the 7th of that month. Sir George Cockburn wrote to him from Cumberland Island, as follows:

“I much approve of every thing you have done, and of the active zeal shewn by yourself and those under your orders subsequent to my quitting the Chesapeake.”

Captain Clavell did not leave the above bay until the middle of April, when he sailed for Bermuda, bringing away with him all the ordnance and stores of every description from Tangier Island, and also every negro who had deserted from the Americans and claimed British protection prior to the ratification of the treaty of Ghent. A copy of the letter of thanks addressed to each captain and commander of the squadron under the immediate orders of Sir George Cockburn, previous to that officer’s departure from Bermuda for England, has been given at p. 52.

The Orlando was paid off, and re-commissioned by Captain Clavell, for the East India station, Aug. 17, 1815. In Oct. following, she sailed for Canton with a quantity of specie on board, and the Hon. Company’s ship Thomas Grenville under her protection. About the end of the year 1818, being found in want of an extensive repair, she was ordered to be laid up at Trincomalee, and her officers and crew were turned over to the Malabar, a new 74, in which ship Captain Clavell returned home in Sept. 1819, after an absence of nearly four years. Previous to his quitting India, he received a letter of thanks from Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King, for his services on that station. The Orlando appears to have been the first ship that proceeded thither on the peace establishment.

Captain Clavell’s last appointment was, in April 1825, to command the Ordinary at Portsmouth, where the Diamond frigate was accidentally destroyed by fire during his absence from that port on public leave. Although actually in London at the time of that disaster, he was superseded immediately after it happened, as were also the whole of the commissioned officers under his command.

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.

  1. See Hampshire Telegraph of Mar. 19, 1827.
  2. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 21 et seq.
  3. The Dreadnought 98.