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Royal Naval Biography/Joyce, John


JOHN JOYCE, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]

Son of the late Joseph Joyce, Esq., a respectable merchant at Fordingbridge, co. Hants, by Sarah, daughter of Lieutenant Archibald Daroch (a distant relative of the noble family of Argyle) who lost his life in the ill-fated Ramillies, Feb. 15, 1760[1].

The subject of this memoir was born at Fordingbridge, about 1708; and he appears to have first embarked as a midshipman on board the Monmouth 64, Captain James Alms, which ship formed part of the squadron that sailed from Spithead, under the orders of Commodore Johnstone, Mar. 14, 1781.

Mr. Joyce bore a part in the action at Porto Praya. April 16, 1781; on which occasion the Monmouth had 6 men wounded He was also present at the capture and destruction of five Dutch East Indiamen, in Saldanha bay, on the 21st July following[2].

Six days after the latter event. Captain Alms parted company with Commodore Johnstone, and proceeded to reinforce Sir Edward Hughes, in India; but owing to calms, contrary winds, and currents, he did not arrive at Bombay until Jan. 6, 1782. During this long and tedious voyage, the Monmouth and her consorts were driven to the coast of Arabia Felix; and their crews suffered greatly from flux and scurvy, experiencing at the same time the greatest inconvenience for want of water; added to which, their stock of provisions was so nearly exhausted, that, on anchoring in Bombay harbour, they had only sufficient remaining for four days, at half allowance.

The Monmouth formed part of the squadron under Sir Edward Hughes, when that officer encountered Mons. de Suffrein, off Pondicherry, Feb. 17, 1782; but as the enemy never advanced beyond the centre of the British line, neither she, nor any other ship a-head of the Admiral, had any material share in the action.

On the 12th April following, another engagement took place, off the island of Ceylon, in which the Monmouth lost her main and mizen-masts, had her wheel shot away, seven guns dismounted, 45 men killed, and 102 wounded. Captain Alms also received two splinter wounds in the face; two musket-balls passed through his hat, his hair was on fire, and part of his coat shot away: in this situation he was left on the quarter-deck, with only his first Lieutenant, the Master, and Mr. Joyce, every other person quartered there having been killed or wounded.

The next battle between Sir Edward Hughes and Mons. de Suffrein, took place off Negapatnam, July 6, 1782, on which occasion the Monmouth had 12 men wounded, the greater part of them mortally. She also bore a share in the actions off Trincomalee and Cuddalore, Sept. 3, 1782, and June 20, 1783. Her loss on those occasions amounted to 2 killed and 22 wounded[3].

In Jan. 1784, the Monmouth being ordered home, Mr. Joyce was removed into the Sultan 74, bearing the flag of Sir Edward Hughes, under whom he continued to serve until that officer’s departure for Europe, when he followed Commodore Andrew Mitchell into the Defence 74, and returned to England with him towards the close of 1785.

The sanguinary contest in which Great Britain had been engaged with her revolted colonies and the great maritime powers of Europe, was succeeded by a peace of ten years duration; but Mr. Joyce, more fortunate than hundreds of his brother midshipmen, managed to keep constantly afloat until his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, May 13, 1793, at which period he was appointed to the Fox frigate, on the Newfoundland station, where he had previously been serving as a master’s-mate of the Stately 64.

In Oct. following. Lieutenant Joyce rejoined the Stately; and we soon afterwards find him removing with his patron, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard King, into the Excellent 74, from which ship he was appointed to the Galatea 32, Captain (now Sir Richard G.) Keats, under whom he continued to serve for nearly three years; during which period he assisted at the capture and destruction of the following French men of war:

La Révolutionnaire frigate, of 44 guns and 351 men, taken by Sir Edward Pellew’s squadron, Oct. 21, 1794. Le Jean Bart, corvette, of 26 guns and 187 men; and l’Expedition, of 16 guns and 120 men (formerly a British packet), taken by the Artois and Galatea, in April, 1795. L’Etoile, of 30 guns and 160 men, taken by the squadron under Sir John B. Warren, after an action with three large frigates, &c. the brunt of which was borne by the Galatea, Mar. 20, 1796. And l’Andromaque frigate, pierced for 48 guns, mounting 44, with a complement of 300 men, drove on shore by the Galatea, near Arcasson, and there completely destroyed by the Sylph brig, Aug. 23, 1796. The particulars of this latter service will be given in the supplement to our memoir of Sir R. G. Keats, G.C.B.[4]

In Mar. 1797, Lieutenant Joyce left the Galatea in order to join the Prince 98, flag-ship of Sir Roger Curtis, Bart, under whom he had served in the Queen Charlotte and Brunswick, during the Spanish and Russian armaments. From Oct. 1799 until the peace of Amiens, we find him in the Ville de Paris, a first rate, successively bearing the flags of Earl St. Vincent and the Hon. William Cornwallis, on the Mediterranean and Channel stations. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place April 29, 1802; and about the same time, in compliance with the wishes of his late shipmates, he had the gratification of presenting to the then first Lord of the Admiralty a silk flag, with his lordship’s arms beautifully embroidered, and a suitable motto, as already described at p. 30 of our first volume.

In May, 1803, Captain Joyce was appointed to the Discovery bomb, which vessel was frequently sent to throw shells into Boulogne, Calais, and other French ports, during the time that he commanded her. His subsequent appointments were to the Dasher and Favorite, sloops of war; but the latter he was obliged to decline accepting, in consequence of some very urgent domestic concerns requiring his personal attendance at home. These being arranged in the course of a few months, he immediately applied for employment, and was accordingly appointed, in April 1805, to the Camel 44, fitted for the conveyance of stores.

After making two or three trips to Gibraltar, Captain Joyce accompanied Rear-Admiral George Murray to the Cape of Good Hope, St. Helena, and Monte Video[5]. The following is an extract of that officer’s official despatches, announcing the failure of the attempt to regain possession of Buenos Ayres, in July, 1807:

“I have seen Captains Rowley and Joyce, who wore landed with the seamen, and am happy to find two only are missing. The persevering conduct of Captains Rowley and Joyce, and the seamen under their command, merits the highest encomiums. They had to drag the cannon for miles through the swamps, and the men were always harnessed to them.”

The Camel being broken up on her return from South America, Captain Joyce was then appointed to the Redpole brig, which vessel he continued to command until Aug. 1809, when he received a post-commission dated back to the 11th April preceding, as a reward for his intrepid and judicious conduct in Aix Roads, which is thus described by Captain E. P. Brenton:

“After the daring Woolridge, in the Mediator, had broken the boom. Captain Joyce, in the Zephyr fire-ship, ran in, and when distant from one of the French ships of the line about two cables’ length, fired his trains, placed his people in the boat, himself and Mr. James Sedgwick Lean (master’s mate), only remaining on board, till the vessel was in flames fore and aft, when they jumped into the sea, and swam to the gig, which they reached with great difficulty. By this time the Zephyr was so close to the French ship, that she was kept off only by fire-booms, while the enemy cut their cables, and by that means avoided the danger. The batteries and all the ships at the same time kept up a constant and furious fire of shot, shells, grape, and musketry, but without doing any injury to Captain Joyce or his boat. The flood-tide, which ran strong, and the wind and sea being all against them, the boat was exposed to this fire; and what considerably increased their danger, was the explosion of another fire-vessel, just without them, which distinctly showed their position to the enemy[6].”

Captain Joyce and his gallant companions reached Lord Cochrane’s frigate in a nearly exhausted state, from having had to pull hard against tide, wind, and sea, for upwards of four hours. It is unnecessary to say that their conduct was universally admired.

In May, 1810,the subject of this memoir was appointed acting Captain of the Amazon frigate, and sent to co-operate with the Spanish patriots in harassing their invaders, destroying the French batteries, &c., and laying bare of defence the sea-coast in the enemy’s possession[7].

Captain Joyce was thus employed for a period of nine months; and subsequently appointed, pro tempore, to the Manilla 36, in which frigate he conveyed Sir John Sherbrooke to his government at Halifax.

The winter of 1811, and the spring of the succeeding year, will be ever remarkable in the page of history, for the calamities it entailed on the British navy: in our annals we have not a year of equal misfortunes, since the death of Sir Cloudesley Shovel. Among the numerous men of war doomed to destruction at the above-mentioned era, was the Manilla, which ship had been some time cruising off the Texel. At about 6-30 P.M., on the 28th Jan. 1812, when by the soundings the pilots considered her nearer to Smith’s Knowl than the Dutch coast, it then blowing a gale of wind from the S.W., and the weather very thick, she struck on that part of the Haak sands where the Hero 74, with all her crew, perished not three weeks before. On striking, the sails were hove aback, the water started, and every effort made to get her off, but in vain; unfortunately she had taken the ground at high water, and the falling tide rendered her immoveable. At nine o’clock, the increasing danger of the frigate compelled Captain Joyce to fire several guns, as signals of distress: the generous and humane De Winter despatched his small vessels to her assistance; but the violence of the wind and sea rendered it impossible to approach her. The masts were now cut away, and orders given for the formation of a raft, every hope of saving her being abandoned.

At day-light on the morning of the 29th, none of the English cruisers were in sight; and the display of British colours keeping the small vessels of the enemy at a distance. Captain Joyce called a council of his officers, who unanimously agreed that no prospect of escape remained; a French ensign was then hoisted over the English, when the schuyts advanced towards the wreck, and picked up the raft, on which were 36 men; but this was all that could be done on that day, the whole of which was passed by the remainder of the Manilla’s crew in awful expectation of immediate dissolution.

The gale abating on the evening of the 29th, the Dutch boats made another attempt to reach her; guns were discharged at intervals during the night, to indicate her situation; but it was not until the ensuing morning that they were enabled to come alongside; when, with a perseverance which reflects honor on the name and character of the Dutch, they succeeded in rescuing the whole of the survivors[8] from destruction. Captain Joyce having seen every man off the wreck, then got into a boat, and was carried to the French squadron in the Texel. The next day he and his officers were landed and sent to Verdun, where they continued as prisoners till the conclusion of the war.



  1. The Ramillies, of 90 guns, commanded by Captain Withenge Taylor, was wrecked near the Bolt Head, when running for Plymouth, in a violent gale and thick hazy weather. The whole of her officers and crew, excepting 26 persons, perished.
  2. See Vol. I. p. 269 et seq.
  3. The particulars of the above action are given at p. 422 et seq. of our first volume.
  4. During the same period, Lieutenant Joyce was also frequently employed in boats, cutting out vessel from under the enemy’s batteries.
  5. See Vol. II. Part II. p. 791.
  6. See Nav. Hist. Vol. IV. p. 284.
  7. See Vol. II. Part I. pp. 272–274.
  8. Nine men were killed and twelve others wounded, by the blownig up of a box containing cartridges, into which a spark emitted from a blue-light had fallen.