Royal Naval Biography/Peyton, John Strutt
JOHN STRUTT PEYTON, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1811.]
Third son of the late William Peyton, Esq. many years in the Navy Office, Somerset Place, by Phillis, daughter of Captain Lobb, who died in command of the Kingfisher sloop, on the American station, and sister to the late Commissioner William Granville Lobb. His paternal grandfather. Admiral Joseph Peyton (son of Commodore Edward Peyton) married a daughter of Commodore Strutt, and had issue four sons, viz. – William, above-mentioned, whose eldest son perished in the York 64, of which ship he was the third Lieutenant; Joseph, died a superannuated Rear-Admiral; John commanded the Defence 74, at the battle of the Nile, and afterwards obtained a flag; and Thomas, died in command of the Monarch 74. His maternal grandmother was many years matron of the royal hospital at Greenwich.
The subject of this memoir was born at Kentish Town, near London, Jan. 14, 1786; and he entered the navy, under the auspices of the illustrious Nelson, Oct. 4, 1797. The first ship in which he embarked was the Hector 74, for a passage to join the Emerald frigate, Captain Thomas Moutray Waller, under whom he served for a period of three years. We subsequently find him in the San Josef 120, and St. George 98, the latter bearing the flag of his noble patron in the expedition sent to act against the Northern Confederacy. After his return from the Baltic he successively joined the Revolutionnaire, Phoebe, and Endymion frigates.
In 1804, Mr. Peyton was again received on board Nelson’s flagship, the Victory of 100 guns, in which he served as master’s-mate, till his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, about Sept. 1805. On that occasion, he was appointed to the Canopus 80; but his lordship very soon removed him to the Ambuscade frigate, commanded by Captain William d’Urban, and most actively employed in checking the progress of the French arms on the shores of the Adriatic.
In the course of that service Captain D’Urban fitted out a small vessel as a tender, armed her with the launch’s carronade, and placed her under the command of Lieutenant Peyton, who soon captured several of the enemy’s coasters. On one occasion, a French privateer of 6 long guns and 30 men, came out from Ancona, for the purpose of rescuing a prize he had just taken, but after an hour’s manoeuvring, and firing on both sides, she sheered off and returned into port, without having injured any of the tender’s crew, then consisting of only 8 men.
The Ambuscade subsequently co-operated with some Calabrese troops under the present Colonel Lord Greenock, in an attempt to reduce the Tremiti islands, on the coast of Apulia; but the force employed not being sufficient to accomplish that object, was obliged to retire. Previous to the abandonment of the attempt, however. Lieutenant Peyton, who commanded a party of sailors on shore, swam across from the spot where his battery stood, to the enemy’s principal position, and with a few men succeeded in bringing off a small vessel that had for some time been lying moored close under their batteries and guard-house: this spirited service was performed under a smart but harmless fire from the French night-guard, who were not many yards distant from the vessel when she was taken possession of.
In July, 1807, Lieutenant Peyton was wounded in the right arm by a musket-ball, whilst destroying an enemy’s vessel which had run ashore near Ortona: being obliged to submit to amputation above the elbow, he shortly afterwards invalided and returned to England. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Dec. 1, 1807, on which occasion he was appointed to the Ephira brig.
In that vessel, Captain Peyton accompanied the expedition to Walcheren, and was subsequently employed in the river Elbe, at Lisbon, and at Cadiz, during the siege of l’Isle de Leon. His next appointment was, about Feb. 1811, to the Weazle of 18 guns, stationed in the Archipelago, where he captured the French privateer le Roi de Rome, a fine vessel, only forty-five days off the stocks, mounting 10 guns, with a complement of 46 men, and commanded by a person styling himself a Chevalier de l’Ordre Royal des Deux Siciles.
Previous to this capture, the Weazle had conveyed the Archduke Francis from Smyrna to Sardinia. H.R.H. was much pleased with the voyage, and particularly with the attentions of Captain Peyton, to whom he presented a gold snuffbox, having his initials on it, set with brilliants, as a token of his esteem. On their arrival at Cagliari, Captain Peyton was invited to dine with the King and Queen of Sardinia; and in return, he gave a ball on his own monarch’s birth-day to their majesties and the Austrian prince, on board the Weazle. The singularity of the place and scene delighted the royal personages: it was the first English man-of-war on board of which the Queen had ever been, and she was in high spirits on the occasion. Her majesty danced with Captain Peyton, to whom, and to his officers, in return for this unexpected entertainment, a fête champetre was given, followed by a masked ball at the theatre; while the crew of the Weazle were regaled with the best productions of the island in abundance.
Captain Peyton was posted into the Minstrel of 20 guns, Sept. 26, 1811; from which period he appears to have been employed on the coasts of Valencia and Catalonia until nearly the end of the war.
On the 10th Aug. 1812, Captain Peyton observed three French privateers lying under the protection of the strong fortress of Benidorme, between Alicant and Cape St. Martin. Finding that their place of rendezvous was discovered, two of them hauled ashore, landed six of their guns, and erected a battery on the beach, which was manned by their joint crews, amounting to 80 men, chiefly Genoese: under these circumstances, he could do no more than prevent their escape.
On the night of Aug. 12, a cutter was sent to row guard near the shore, under the command of Mr. Michael Dwyer, a gentleman who had been made a lieutenant nearly five months before, but was still ignorant of his promotion. This young officer considered, that if he could take the privateers’ battery, he might be able to capture and bring out the vessel, which still continued afloat. With this view he had questioned some Spaniards who came from the town, and they all agreed in stating that the enemy had retreated, leaving only 30 men in the battery and 20 in the castle. Greatly as the force in the battery, even according to this information, exceeded his own, he relied upon the courage and steadiness of his boat’s-crew, only 7 in number, determined upon the attempt, and accordingly landed, at 9-30 P.M. about 3 miles to the westward of the town.
The moment his gallant little band began to advance, they were challenged by a French sentinel: Mr. Dwyer answered in Spanish, that they were peasants, and they continued their march till they reached the battery, which was instantly attacked, and, after a smart struggle, carried, although the whole of the privateers’ men were there to defend it.
A few minutes only elapsed before the British boat’s crew found themselves surrounded by 200 French soldiers, against whom they defended themselves till one of the heroes was killed, another severely wounded, and Mr. Dwyer himself shot through the shoulder: even then, how little intention they had of surrendering may be collected from the following anecdote:– “The man who had been wounded, who had lost his right eye, on recovering from his stupefaction, deliberately took a handkerchief from his neck, and binding it over the wound, said, ‘though I have lost one eye, I have still another left, and I’ll fight till I lose that too, I hope, Mr. Dwyer, you will never surrender.’” But their ammunition was now exhausted, and the enemy, emboldened by the cessation of their fire, rushed down upon them with their bayonets. Mr. Dwyer was too weak, from the loss of blood, to sustain a fight hand-to-hand; he and his men were borne down by such overwhelming numbers, and the enemy were soon in unresisted possession of the battery. In this assault, Mr. Dwyer received no less than seventeen bayonet wounds, and all his men, except one, were likewise most severely wounded. The admiration of the enemy at their invincible courage was without measure; the treatment they experienced from them was rather like that of grateful men to benefactors who have suffered for their sakes, than that of enemies to ^ hose who have fallen into their power: when they were conveyed to the head-quarters of the French General, Mons. Goudin, the same benevolence and solicitude, in acknowledgment of their bravery, were shewn to them by that officer and his suite. It was forgotten, in this instance, that men taken in war are prisoners: permission was given them to return to their ship, and the general sent an invitation to Captain Peyton to visit him on shore, that he might in person restore them, and congratulate him on having such brave men under his command: the invitation was given with candour, and accepted with confidence: Captain Peyton dined with General Goudin, and remained on shore several hours.
A gallant service subsequently performed by the Minstrel’s boats is thus described by Captain Peyton in an official letter to Sir Edward Pellew, dated Sept. 30, 1812:–
“In obedience to your orders to cruise between Denia and Valencia, for the purpose of intercepting supplies going to the enemy, I beg leave to inform yon, that on the evening of the 29th I received information of the enemy having laden six vessels with shells at Valencia for Peniscola; the weather being favorable, I conceived it practicable to bring them out, or destroy them. I despatched the boats under the direction of Lieutenant George Thomas, assisted by Messrs. Linns, Oliver, and Smith, midshipmen, for that purpose, keeping the ship close in shore for their protection. They succeeded in bringing out four of them; a fifth was in their possession, when unfortunately the wind shifted suddenly round to the S.E. in a heavy squall, when she grounded, and I am sorry to add, was retaken, with 3 of our men on board. The bravery evinced by the officers and men employed was very conspicuous. The vessels were moored head and stern to the shore, between two batteries of two 24-pounders and two mortars, with a strong garrison in the Grao; their sails unbent and rudders unshipped. Our loss, with the exception of the prisoners, is only one man wounded, I hope not dangerously.”
We next find Captain Peyton commanding the Thames frigate, and assisting at the reduction of Col de Balaguer, mention of which has been made at p. 227, of Vol. II. Part I. After the raising of the siege of Tarragona, he received a letter from Rear-Admiral Hallowell, of which the following is a copy:–
H.M.S. Malta, off Balaguer, 19th June, 1813.
“Sir,– The order with which the captains, officers, and men of all descriptions, of the sciuadron under my command, engaged in these cooperations with the army upon the coast of Catalonia, and the indefatigable zeul and cheerfulness with which they performed the laborious duties that fell to their province, have been so conspicuous as to entitle them to the highc3t praise on my part.
“That greater advantages to the public cause did not result is to be lamented, but ought not, and will not, I trust, discourage in the smallest degree future exertions. It is yet early in the campaign, and further operations are projected, wherein the same unwearied perseverance, the same alacrity, and cordial co-operation with the army, will have happier effects, I hope, and be crowned with complete success.
“I therefore request you will express to the officers and ship’s company of H.M. ship under your command my grateful sense of their recent exertions, and my confidence in the continuation of them wherever the opportunity shall be given.
“Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, Bart, the commander-in-chief, having moreover consigned to me the pleasing task of communicating his public thanks for the promptness and fidelity with which my orders have been uniformly executed by all ranks in the squadron, I have great satisfaction in signifying his sincere acknowledgments of the meritorious conduct of yourself, your officers, and ship’s company, on this present service, of which he has received abundant testimony, and I have to request that you will make this known to them accordingly. I have the honor to be, &c.
“To Captain Peyton, H.M.S. Thames.”
Captain Peyton subsequently conveyed Lieutenant-General Sir John Murray to Alicant, and then proceeded with despatches to England. The Thames was put out of commission at Sheerness, in Sept. 1813, since which he has not been employed. He married, Oct. 1814, the daughter of the late Lieutenant Woodyear, R.N. of the island of St. Christopher’s, by whom he has two sons and three daughters. Mrs. Peyton’s brother was killed when serving as brigade-major of the Royal Artillery, at the battle of Vittoria.
- See Vol. II. Part II. note † at p. 654.
- Mrs. Lobb’s eldest son unfortunately perished at sea. A sketch of the service of Admiral Joseph Peyton is given at p. 266 of Nav. Chron. vol. 12. He died at his seat, Wakehurst Park, Sussex, Sept. 22, 1804.
- The strand or beach of Valencia, from which that city is distant 2½ miles.