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Royal Naval Biography/Johnson, John Samuel Willes


Eldest son of the Rev. Charles Johnson, Prebendary of Wells, rector of South Stoke, near Bath, and vicar of South Brent and Berrow, co. Somerset, by Miss Willes, daughter of the late Archdeacon of Wells, and grand-daughter of the late Bishop of Bath and Wells[1].

This officer was born at South Stoke, July 3d, 1793; and entered the royal navy in the beginning of Feb. 1807, as midshipman on board the Vestal 28, Captain Edwards Lloyd Graham, under whom he served, for nearly two years, off Boulogne, in the North Sea, at the Azores, and on the Newfoundland station.

On the 15th Nov. 1809, the Vestal recaptured two English merchantmen – one a ship, named the Fortitude, laden with cotton and hides, from Brazil bound to Liverpool; the other a brig, laden with fish and oil, from Newfoundland to Jersey. On the 19th of the same month, being in lat. 45° 40' N., long. 10° 36' W., she fell in with two large frigates, two corvettes, and one brig, steering N.W., wind about east. After keeping company with them about two hours, during which time several signals were exchanged between them, from which, and their endeavouring to avoid him, no doubt remained of their being an enemy’s squadron, Captain Graham despatched Mr. Johnson, then in charge of the Fortitude, to Lisbon and Cadiz with the intelligence, keeping to the eastward himself, in hopes of meeting with an English force in pursuit of them. A few hours subsequent to their parting company, the Vestal captured the French privateer brig Intrepide, and Mr. Johnson, by practising a bold ruse de guerre, saved the Fortitude from being again taken by le Dauphin ketch, which vessel approached so near that her guns and men were distinctly seen from the deck without a glass, but soon hauled to the wind and made off, on seeing her late, but unrecognized, prize, although without a gun on board, brace up, make sail, and stand towards her. When the Dauphin first hove in sight, the Fortitude was under easy sail, in order to allow the recaptured brig, then in sight astern, to come up and keep company. Had the former been taken, the latter would, in all probability, have shared the same fate.

After delivering his despatches to the flag-officer in the Tagus, Mr. Johnson proceeded to England, and on his arrival joined, for a short time, the Port Mahon sloop. Commander Villiers F. Hatton. On the 1st Aug, 1810, we find him sailing for the coast of Norway, in the Pallas 32, to which ship Captain Graham had been appointed on paying off the Vestal. Whilst on that station, he commanded a boat at the capture of four Danish privateers and several sail of merchantmen. One of the former he conducted to Leith Roads, where he arrived the same night that the Pallas, then under the command of an acting captain, was wrecked near Dunbar, as stated in p. 69 of Suppl. Part II.

Mr. Johnson next followed Captain Graham into the Southampton 32, fitting out at Portsmouth for the West India station; and from that ship removed with him into the Alcmene 38, destined to the Adriatic, where he bore a part in several boat actions. On one of those occasions, a Franco-Venetian trabacolo, of four guns and thirty men, was captured near the island of Lessina, after a most sanguinary conflict, in which most of the enemy’s crew were killed and all the remainder wounded; whilst on the part of the British four men were slain and twenty-two officers and men wounded, one of the former and three of the latter, in the boat commanded by Mr. Johnson, then master’s-mate, whose conduct was officially mentioned in terms of high commendation[2].

On the 8th Dec. 1813, Captain Graham having left the Alcmene, Mr. Johnson joined the Pylades sloop, Commander James Wemyss, under whom he continued to serve until the surrender of Genoa, April 18th, 1814, when he was ordered to act as lieutenant of the Caledonia 120, flag-ship of Sir Edward Pellew, commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station, which appointment was confirmed by the Admiralty on the 18th May following. During the operations against that fortress, he was landed with a party of seamen commanded by Lieutenant John Bewick, whose head was shot off while standing close to him, just after possession had been taken of the enemy’s deserted batteries on the sea line, and their guns turned upon the city[3].

In 1815 and the following year. Lieutenant Johnson served on board Lord Exmouth’s flag-ships, the Boyne 98, and Queen Charlotte 108. In the former he accompanied his noble patron to Naples, Marseilles, and the Barbary States; in the latter he was present, and commanded the forecastle, at the memorable battle of Algiers[4]. On the 13th Sept. 1817, he was appointed flag-lieutenant to his lordship, then commander-in-chief at Plymouth, where he continued until promoted to his present rank, on the 6th Feb. 1821.

Commander Johnson married. May 14th, 1821, Eliza, only daughter of the late John De Windt, Esq. of the island of St. Croix, and of No. 74, Gloucester Place, London. In 1827, he published “A Journal of a Tour through parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland, in the years 1823–4,” One of his sisters is married to Captain George Gosling, R.N.

  1. Commander Johnson’s paternal grandfather was a London banker. His aunt is the lady of Admiral Sir Davidge Gould, G.C.B.
  2. See Suppl. Part III. p. 395.
  3. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 430.
  4. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 224, et seq.