Royal Naval Biography/Sutton, John

Admiral of the Blue; Knight Commander of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath.

This officer obtained the rank of Post-Captain, Nov. 28, 1782; and at the commencement of the French revolutionary war, was appointed to the Romulus, of 36 guns, in which ship he proceeded to the Mediterranean, where he removed into the Egmont, 74.

In the action between the British and French fleets, off Gourjon Bay, March 14, 1795, an account of which will be found under the head of Vice-Admiral Sir Davidge Gould, the Egmont sustained a loss of 7 men killed and 21 wounded, occasioned principally by the bursting of a gun on her main-deck. She was also present in the skirmish off the Hieres islands, July 13th, in the same year[1].

In the spring of 1796, the Egmont formed part of a squadron sent to Tunis, under Vice-Admiral Waldegrave, on a particular mission[2]; and on the night previous to their quitting that place, Captain Sutton headed the boats of the different ships in an attack made upon several French vessels lying in the bay, the result of which was the capture of the Nemesis, a 28-gun ship; the Sardine, a corvette of 22 guns; and two other armed vessels. One of the latter was destroyed, the rest brought off in triumph.

Towards the close of the same year, we find Captain Sutton serving with Commodore Nelson at the evacuation of Corsica, a measure rendered necessary by the recent alliance formed between France and Spain. By the exertions of those officers, public stores to the amount of 200,000l. sterling was embarked, and transported to Porto Ferrajo, the whole of which must have been lost but for their admirable firmness and address [3].

On the 14th Feb. 1797, when Sir John Jervis, with fifteen sail of the line, defeated a Spanish fleet of nearly double that number[4], the Egmont was one of the ships composing the British squadron; and Captain Sutton, in common with the other commanders, received a gold medal for his conduct on that occasion. In the month of October following he returned to England, and after serving some time with the Channel fleet, removed into the Superb, of 74 guns, the command of which ship he retained until Feb. 1801, when he was appointed to be Captain of the Channel fleet, under the Hon. William Cornwallis, in which station he continued to serve" during the remainder of the war.

On the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, our officer obtained the command of the Mars, of 74 guns; and at the general promotion that took place April 23, 1804, he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and appointed to superintend the harbour duty at Plymouth, where he remained until Oct. 1809; on the 25th of which month he was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral, and some time after nominated Commander-in-Chief on the Halifax station. He was created a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and became a full Admiral Aug. 12, 1819.


SIR JOHN SUTTON, (p. 253.) We have reason to believe that this officer served during part of the American war as a Lieutenant in the Superb, of 70 guns, the flag ship of the gallant Sir Edward Hughes, in the East Indies. If so, he was wounded in an attack made by the boats of the squadron upon several of Hyder Ally’s vessels lying at anchor near Mangalore. The boats rowed in with great firmness, under cover of two of the East India Company’s snows, amidst a heavy fire from the enemy’s ships, which they resolutely boarded and carried, setting fire to three which they were not able to bring off, took one, and forced another on shore, with several merchant vessels, which were destroyed. An armed snow was closely pursued; but by throwing her guns overboard, she escaped over the bar into the harbour. This service was not performed without some loss on the side of the British; Lieutenant Gosnam, of the Burford, and 10 men, were killed, and two officers and 51 men wounded.

The enemy’s armed vessels taken and destroyed consisted of two ships and three ketches, mounting in the whole 86 guns.

After the above affair, which took place Dec. 8, 1780, Lieutenant Sutton appears to have been promoted to the command of the Nymph sloop, in which he returned to England. His promotion to the rank of Post-Captain bears date Nov. 28, 1782. He married, March 30, 1797, Frances, daughter of Beaumont, second Lord Hotham, and sister of Rear-Admiral Hon. Sir H. Hotham.

  1. On the morning of the 7th July, 1795, Vice-Admiral Hotham, who had previously despatched Captain Nelson with a small squadron on a particular service, received intelligence that that officer was returning to St. Fiorenzo Bay, pursued by the fleet that had so recently been discomfited, and which it was supposed had retired into Toulon.

    Notwithstanding his ships were in the midst of watering and refitting, the British commander was enabled, by the zeal and extraordinary exertions of the officers and men under his command, to get the whole fleet under weigh with the land wind that night; but it was not until the morning of the 13th that he discovered the enemy, then off the Hieres islands, in the vicinity of Toulon. A partial action commenced about noon, and in an hour after 1’Alcide, of 74 guns, one of the ships in the French rear, struck her colours; but the rest of their fleet studiously avoiding a general battle, and aided by a change of wind, had got so far into Frejus bay, whilst the greater part of the British were becalmed in the offing, that it became impossible for any thing further to be effected.

    Before the Alcide could be taken possession of, a box of combustibles in her fore-top took fire, and the unhappy crew experienced how far more perilous their inventions were to themselves than to their enemies. So rapid was the conflagration, that the French in their official account say, the hull, the masts, and sails, all seemed to take fire at the same moment; and though the English boats were put out to the assistance of the poor wretches on board, not more than 300 could be saved; 400 lives are supposed to have been lost by this dreadful accident.

    The loss sustained by the British in this affair was 10 killed, and 24 wounded. The decided inferiority of the French, who, besides having but seventeen ships to oppose to twenty-one, had but one 3-decker, whereas their opponents had six, is a sufficient excuse for their declining to engage.

  2. See p. 61.
  3. In our memoir of Admiral Wolseley, we have already hinted at the manner in which Corsica became subject to the British crown. It was on the 14th June, 1794, that the general assembly held at Corte, declared unanimously, the separation of that island from France, and with the strongest demonstrations of satisfaction and joy, agreed to an union with England. On the 19th, the formal surrender was made to Sir Gilbert Elliot, who, as his Britannic Majesty’s Viceroy, took an oath “to maintain the liberties of Corsica, according to the constitution and the laws:” the members of the assembly, on their part, taking the oath of allegiance and fidelity to their new sovereign. The great body of the Corsicans were perfectly satisfied, as they had good reason to be, with the British government, sensible of its advantages, and attached to it; but when they found that the English intended to evacuate the island, they naturally and necessarily sent to make their peace with the French. The partisans of France found none to oppose them. A committee of thirty took upon themselves the government of Bastia, and sequestered all the British property; armed Corsicans mounted guard at every place, and a plan was laid for seizing the Viceroy. Commodore Nelson, who was appointed to superintend the evacuation, frustrated these projects. On the 14th Oct. 1796, he sent word to the committee, that if the slightest opposition was made to the embarkment and removal of British property, he would batter the town down. A privateer moored across the mole-head pointed her guns at the officer who carried this message, and muskets were levelled against him from the shore. Hereupon Captain Sutton pulling out his watch, gave them a quarter of an hour to deliberate upon their answer. In five minutes after the expiration of that time, the ships, he said, would open their fire. Upon this the very sentinels scampered off, and every vessel came out of the mole. During the five following days the work of embarkation was carried on; the property of individuals was saved, and public stores, as stated above, to the amount of 200,000l.
  4. See p. 21, et seq.