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Royal Naval Biography/Nesham, Christopher John Williams

[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer is a son of the late Christopher Nesham, Esq., who served as Aid-de-camp to Colonel Monson, at the capture of Manilla, in 1762, by Mary Williams, sister of the present Admiral Freeman, and a relative of the late Lord North[1].

He was born in 1771; entered the naval service under the patronage of his maternal uncle in 1782; and served as a shipman on board the Juno frigate, Captain James Montagu, in the action between Sir Edward Hughes and M. de Suffrein, off Cuddalore, June 20, 1783[2].

On his return from the East Indies, in 1785, Mr. Nesham joined the Druid of 32 guns, in which ship he continued until qualified for, the rank of Lieutenant, when he was sent to a college in France, where he had the gratification of saving an honest man from the fury of a blood-thirsty mob.

The person alluded to was Mons. Planter, a government agent, in charge of a large corn depot at Vernon-sur-Seine, whom the revolutionists were hurrying through the streets à la lanterne. Thoughtless of his own danger, Mr. Nesham rushed among the sanguinary multitude, and throwing his arms round their prisoner, declared that if they destroyed one innocent man they should the other. The extraordinary generosity of this heroic action was not lost on the surrounding spectators; and those very people, who but for him would have exulted in the destruction of their victim, now carried M. Planter and his deliverer before the municipality, from whom Mr. Nesham received the freedom of the town. A national sword, dedicated to such purposes, was also presented to him, and a civic crown placed on his head, at Paris.

Mr. Nesham returned from France, and joined the Salisbury, a 60-gun ship, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Milbanke, and commanded by the present Viscount Exmouth, in 1790. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant at the latter end of the same year.

In 1791 and 1792, we find him serving on board the Drake sloop of war and Niger frigate, in the British Channel; and subsequently in the Adamant of 50 guns, on the West India, Newfoundland, Lisbon, and North Sea stations. He was first Lieutenant of the latter ship during the mutiny in Admiral Duncan’s fleet, and in the battle off Camperdown, Oct. 11, 1797[3]. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place in Jan. 1798; and on that occasion he was appointed to la Suffisante sloop of war, in which vessel he continued, on Channel service, till posted, April 29, 1802.

In 1804 and the following year, Captain Nesham commanded the Foudroyant of 80 guns, bearing the flag of Sir Thomas Graves, in the grand fleet. His next appointment was to the Ulysses 44; and in the autumn of 1807 we find him convoying a fleet of merchantmen from England to the West Indies, where he was most actively employed in that ship, the Intrepid 64, and Captain 74, for a period of three years, during which he assisted at the capture of Mariegalante, and served on shore at the reduction of Martinique[4]. The following are extracts from Sir Alexander Cochrane’s official account of the latter event, dated Feb. 25, 1809:

“While the batteries were kept constantly firing on the enemy from the western side, Captains Barton and Nesham, of the York and Intrepid, with about 400 seamen and marines, continued to be employed in getting the heavy cannon, mortars, and howitzers up to Mount Sourier, from the eastern side of the fort (Edward), which was a service of the utmost labour and difficulty, owing to the rains and deepness of the roads; but notwithstanding which, a battery of four 24-pounders, and four mortars, was finished by the 22d, and the guns mounted ready for service.

“On the following day some more guns were got up, and ready to be placed in an advanced battery, intended to consist of eight 24-pounders; * * * * The fire kept up by the batteries was irresistible; the enemy was driven from his defences, his cannon dismounted, and the whole of the interior of the work ploughed up by the shot and shells, within five days after the batteries opened. * * * *

“I have already informed their lordships, that I entrusted the whole of the naval arrangements on shore to Commodore Cockburn * * *. He speaks in terms of high approbation of the able support and assistance he received from Captains Barton, Nesham, and Brenton, whom I had selected to act with him. To all these officers, and the Lieutenants and other officers, seamen and marines, immediately under their commands, I feel truly obliged, for performing the arduous duties imposed upon them. The 7-gun battery at Folville was entirely fought by seamen, from which the enemy suffered severely.”

The Captain 74, being found unfit for service, was paid off in 1810; and the subject of this memoir has not since been employed. He married, in 1802, Margaret, youngest daughter of the late Admiral Lord Graves, by whom he has one son and a daughter. Mrs. Nesham died in 1808.

  1. Captain Nesham’s grand-father, John Nesham, of Houghton-le-spring, co. Durham, Esq., was possessed of considerable coal mines and landed property. His youngest son, Christopher, was a Captain in the 63d regiment, but left the army on being presented with a civil appointment by Lord North.
  2. See Vol. I, note at p. 425.
  3. See Vol. I, pp. 160, 160.
  4. See Vol. I, p. 264.