|The Naval Brigade in Egypt and the Soudan
|Naval Brigade at El Teb & Tamaai
PO1 JOHN LAKE
(Boatswain’s Mate & Gun Captain)
John Lake was born 20 Aug 1852 in Kingskerswell, Devon. He was the second son of Richard(born 1824 or 1825) & Ann (nee Brook,
born 1823). He entered the Royal Navy as a 16 ½ year old aboard HMS Implacable on 21 Jan 1869, & was rated as a Boy 2nd class. He
gave his previous trade as a labourer. He was 5’4”, with light brown hair, hazel eyes, with a fair complexion. He had no marks or scars &
was literate, being able to sign his name. His father Richard certified that John was not Indentured as an Apprentice, or had never been
an Inmate in a Reformatory. John`s father Richard signed his mark with an X on 21 Jan ’69. John was assigned Continuous Service
HMS Implacable at the time was an old line of battle sailing ship captured in 1805 & since 1860 was the Boys Training ship at Devonport.
John Lake would have taken his initial Boys training on board Implacable, being advanced to Boy 1st class on 10 Feb `70 & completing
his training on 1 Jun. In the day he would have been trained in all aspects of seamanship & especially in sail handling. Altho the Victorian
Navy had moved to Ironclads in 1860, the majority of the ships, including the new Ironclads, still carried a full press of canvas & many of
the ships still depended upon sail as their main mode of travel.
On 2 Jun `70, John completed his Boy`s training & was drafted to his first ship - HMS Penelope(Central Battery Ironclad Corvette of
1868, at the time she was Coast Guard Drill Ship at Harwich). John would likely have received some Gunnery training whilst serving on
Penelope. He left her on 26 Oct, & joined HMS Rattlesnake(Corvette of `61) the following day.
On 29 Mar `81 he was promoted to PO1st class & drafted to HMS Briton
(wood screw Corvette of `69), & on this ship he was to spent three
eventful years in the Mediterranean fleet. He was appointed Boatswain`s
Mate on joining Briton. A Boatswain`s Mate was responsible to the Ship`s
Boatswain for anything to do with all aspects of seamanship, small boats &
On 11 Oct `81 he received his 2nd GCB, & on 11 Nov `83 his third & final
GCB. In addition to his Boatswains Mate duties he was appointed Captain
of the Gun on 1 Feb `84. To be appointed as a Gun Captain (GC) a rating
had to be a PO1, be in possession of a first class gunnery qualification & be
competent enough to take charge of a gun`s crew.
HMS Briton`s armament consisted of two 7 inch deck guns & 8, 6.3 inch
64 pounder deck guns, both types being rifled muzzle loading guns. John
Lake would have been in charge of one or more of Briton`s deck guns, & it
would have been his responsibility to train, maintain, & exercise the crew of
that gun. For being appointed a GC he also received additional pay.
In March `84 Briton joined the Egypt & Soudan theatre of operations &
was to provide ratings for the 1884 operations ashore from the port city of
Suakin. As soon as Briton entered the Suakin Red Sea area her crew
qualified for the 1884-85 Egypt campaign medal. Members of her crew took
part in the subsequent battles of El Teb (29 Feb) & Tamaai (13 Mar). John
Lake was among the Gardners gun crews to participate in the Battle of
Tamaai. Of a crew of 200 on board Briton, 64 officers & ratings
participated in the Battle of Tamaai & subsequently rec’d the clasp to their
Egypt medals for that action. They also rec’d the Khedive of Egypt 1884-
86 bronze star, sometimes referred to as the “star of Egypt”.
|ABOVE: 2nd Brigade Square at Tamaai|
the Royal Naval Brigade Gatling Gun in the foreground.
BELOW:The Sudanese with the Gatling Gun captured after the 2nd Brigade
square broke. Painting by Douglas Giles.
|The 2nd Brigade came into contact with the |
Mahdists and fire was opened as the brigade
square continued to advance. The brigade
then found itself on the edge of a wide deep
gully. The sides of the square were being
subjected to repeated and increasingly
threatening rushes by the Mahdists.
The fire discipline of the troops began to
deteriorate. Smoke from the rifle fire with the
dust from the dry plain, stirred up by the
numbers of men rushing about, made
visibility difficult. The front face of the brigade
square moved down into the ravine, but the
men forming the sides of the square failed to
conform fully to the movement so that the
continuity of the square was broken and it
began to disintegrate.
The Mahdists launched an attack on the right
face of the square, comprising 2nd York and
Lancaster, which halted to give fire, while the
front face of the square continued to
advance. The York and Lancaster fell back
on the RMLI and the two battalions became
intertwined and disordered. The Black
Watch, now thrown into confusion, fell back
into the square and the brigade was forced
to retreat, pressed hard by the attacking
tribesmen. 3 Royal Navy guns had to be
abandoned and casualties were mounting.
The tribesmen took some of the Gatling and
Colonel Buller’s 1st Brigade now came up on
the right of the 2nd Brigade to the lip of the
ravine. Not until now engaged and in good
order, Buller’s battalions opened a heavy fire
on the Mahdist tribesmen. The 2nd Brigade
was reformed by General Graham and his
staff, fresh supplies of ammunition being
brought forward. The brigade, with the Black
Watch taking the lead, moved back to
engage the Mahdists at the edge of the
ravine, retaking the abandoned guns. A party
of tribesmen launched an attack from
concealed positions in a neighbouring gully,
but were shot down by the British troops, now
well in hand. The two brigades opened a
heavy fire on the Mahdists who were
withdrawing across the ravine and up the far
With the 1st Brigade providing supporting fire
the 2nd Brigade stormed across the ravine.
The brigades reformed on the far bank of the
ravine and moved into the valley to occupy
Osman Digna’s camp. The Mahdists
continued to resist the advance but were
finally dispersed by artillery fire. The battle
was over, leaving Osman Digna’s camp in
British hands to be burnt by Colonel Buller’s
Rattlesnake was the flagship of Commodore W.M. Dowell serving on the Cape of
Good Hope and West Coast of Africa station. These smaller ships of Dowell`s
squadron were primarily employed in the suppression of the African slave trade, ie:
stopping & searching the many slave dhows that plied along the coastline. Whilst on
Rattlesnake John was promoted to Ordinary Seaman on 16 Jan `71.
He had turned 18 yrs of age on 20 Aug `70 & his adult service had commenced on
His next draft was to HMS Supply (Storeship of `54) from 3 Jun. He only remained on
her until 17 Jun, when he subsequently joined HMS Torch(small Gunvessel of `59)
on 18 Jun. Torch had arrived on station earlier in the year. Whilst on Torch John was
rated TM(Trained Man) on 11 May `72. This gave him a raise in daily pay & signified he
was now a fully trained sailor. On 1 Jan `73 he was promoted to AB(Able Seaman)
giving him another raise in pay.
|ABOVE: HMS Rattlesnake – John Lake’s first seagoing ship
1870-1871. Rattlesnake was a Corvette of 1861 at the time
John Lake was on board her she was serving on antislavery
patrols off the West Coast of Africa.
After serving brief periods on HMS Pallas, Iron Duke & Royal Adelaide, where he received his 1st Good Conduct Badge(GCB) on 2 July
`75, he gets drafted to HMS Cambridge (Gunnery school ship at Devonport) on 11 July `75 to undergo gunnery training & to qualify
as a Seaman Gunner(SG). John successfully qualifies as a SG2nd class on 29 Feb `76, & receives promotion to Leading Seaman (LS)
on 1 Apl `77. His next sea draft is to HMS Achilles( Ironclad Battleship of `63) on 17 May `77. On the same day he is promoted to
Petty Officer 2nd class(PO2) & rated 2nd Captain of the Forecastle. In her day HMS Achilles was similar to HMS Warrior but carried a
huge sail area on 4 masts, the only 4 masted Ironclad in the Victorian navy. John would have been involved in managing the sails,
booms, yards, & cordage of the forecastle mast. Being a PO2 would have given him a position of responsibility when his forecastle
watch was on duty. Achilles was to be part of the Mediterranean fleet during the time John served on her.
John was to serve on Achilles for three years & during that time was to experience both highs & lows of his career. Everything went
well for him until 10 July `78 when he was disrated to AB, & deprived of one GCB(Good Conduct badge) for some unspecified
infraction. Also, on 11 Oct he was placed in the Second class for Conduct. This would have placed him in a regular punishment routine
for a specific period of time. It would also entail a loss of privileges such as grog & tobacco issue, loss of shore leave, & additional
duties for the period he was in the Second class. His daily pay would also have been reduced. This was the second time John was
placed in the 2nd class; he had been placed there early in his career whilst serving as an Ordinary Seaman on HMS Torch, from 6 Jan
to 6 July ’72.
However, in time, John was able to redeem himself. He was returned to the First class for Conduct on 11 Apl `79, had his GCB
restored on 11 Oct, & was promoted to LS on 1 May `79. He was then was advanced to PO2 on 1 Jan `80 & appointed Captain of the
It must have said something for John`s competence to be appointed as Captain of the Main Top. As Captain of the topsails he would
have been in charge of his watch & responsible for the main sheets & yards on the uppermost levels of the main mast. Only the best
seamen were appointed to the tops of a sailing ship. It was a dangerous occupation working ropes & sails in bad weather & many
sailors suffered fatal falls from the highest booms & yards on the ship.
His time on HMS Achilles was up on 31 Aug & his next draft was to HMS Cambridge (Gunnery ship, Devonport) to re-qualify in
gunnery & to take his 1st class SG course. This he achieved on 2 Mar `81.
Whilst John was undertaking his courses at HMS Cambridge, he presumably met a lady – Mary Jane Atkins – perhaps he had known
her earlier, but that is unknown. However they had a serious relationship & a child was conceived during that time frame. Their
daughter Hetty Atkins-Lake was born circa late 1881, at which time John was again at sea in the Med fleet. They were unmarried at
this time & Mary Jane was living with her father John Atkins.
On 30 Apl `84 John left Briton
prior to her proceeding to the East
Indies station. He returned to UK &
to HMS Excellent to re-qualify in
gunnery. He was still a GC whilst at
Excellent until 3 Jun, when he was
drafted to HMS Cambridge &
requalified on 24 Oct.
During this spell ashore John
would have met his daughter Hetty
for the first time, she being now
almost three yrs old, and a major
change was to take place in John &
Mary`s life – they were married at
St. Saviours Church, Parish of
Tormohan, Torquay, Devon, on
Oct 16, `84.
Mary Jane Atkins was 28 yrs of age
& John was 32.
|ABOVE: HMS Briton – John Lake served on HMS Briton from |
1881-1884 Mediterranean fleet & Operations in Egypt/Soudan
1884. Corvette of 1869.
|UPPER RIGHT:St Saviours Church |
– In this church John & Mary Jane
were married on Oct 16, 1884. This
is how the church would have
looked in their day.
RIGHT:St Saviours Church – how it
looks today. The old gravestones
have all been removed , it is now a
Greek Orthordox church.
|UPPER RIGHT: |
HMS Diamond –
John Lake served
on Diamond 1885-
1889, she was part
of the Australia &
East Indies station.
Corvette of 1874.
photo of Diamond
shows her entering
the Graving (dry)
dock in Sydney,
John’s next ship was the Troopship HMS Tamar. She was on her way
to the Australian & East Indies stations with replacement crews &
stores for the ships on that station. He joined Tamar on 25 Oct &
arrived on station 13 Jan ’85 where he joined his latest ship, HMS
Diamond(Corvette of ’74). He was again appointed GC on 1 Apl.
However, as things turn out John was to have another poor year in
1885, seeing him again reduced in rank to AB on 28 Apl for some
unspecified infraction, but this time not serious enough to be placed in
the 2nd class. He also was not deprived of any of his three GCB’s,
which was unusual. This offence was likely not as serious as his
previous reduction in rank. I am just guessing but I feel this offence
would be something of a disciplinary nature – ie: failing to carry out an
order or orders or in some way offending his superior(s), & one would
think after the first major offence John might have learned how to stay
out of trouble as he by now as he was a senior experienced rating, but
1885 was not all that bad for John, for whilst he was on the Australian
station, his first son, Richard John, was born on 31 May, a second child
born to Mary Jane & John whilst John was away overseas. He likely
would not have heard about the birth of his son until much later, for in
the day mail moved very slowly & he was ½ way across the world. He
would not see his son until he returned to the Uk almost 4 years later.
However, as things turned out, John redeems himself & again proves
his seamanship competence, for on 25 Jan ’86 he is promoted to PO2
& appointed 2nd Captain of the Main Top, & subsequently on 1 Oct
advanced to PO1 & appointed Captain of the Forecastle.
Its pretty obvious that although John had the occasional ‘run in’ with
his superiors he was a thoroughly competent & experienced seaman or
he would not have been re-appointed to positions of considerable
John Lake leaves HMS Diamond on 19 Aug ’87, relinquishing his GC
appointment the following day when he is drafted to HMS Nelson
(Armoured Cruiser of ’76 & Flagship of the Australia station under Rear
Admiral George Tyron).
He was to remain on the Flagship as Captain of the Forecastle until 23 Oct.
Why he only remained on Nelson for only two months is unknown, but perhaps he was brought over to the flagship as an instructor
or to replace the former Captain of the Forecastle for some reason, perhaps due to sickness or injury.
John returns to HMS Diamond on 24 Oct & again re-assumes his appointment as GC, as well as being appointed Boatswain’s Mate
(Bo Mte). He was to return to the Uk on board HMS Diamond, as being an older ship she was returned to Uk for sale & disposal.
John’s next draft was a return to HMS Cambridge, gunnery ship, on 7 Mar 1889.
John remains as Bo Mte on Cambridge until 31 Oct, & goes to his final draft HMS Neptune(Ironclad Battleship of ’74). Neptune was
then serving as a Ship of the First Reserve in the Coast Guard at Holyhead.
It is interesting that the following announcement appeared from the Admiralty during John’s period of service aboard Neptune:
13 May 1900: The announcement that the Admiralty have determines to spend £26,000 on the old battleships Neptune and
Inflexible to adapt them for "home service" has caused much comment in naval circles. What will be the use of them when they
are supposed to be ready for sea? Both rank nominally as second class battleships, and both are armed with muzzle-loading guns.
Certainly those of the Inflexible are the 81 ton guns about which so much fuss has been made ever since their introduction into
the service. It is not without its significance, however, that no other vessel in the Navy is armed with them. Four 6-pounder and
two 3-pounder guns represent the quick-firing armament of the Inflexible; that of the Neptune consists of six 6-pounders and
eight 3-pounders. The nominal speed of the Inflexible 12.8 knots, and the Neptune is supposed to be able to exceed by about
three-quarters of a knot. The armour of the Inflexible is certainly thick, but it covers the redoubt alone - that is about one-third of
the length of the ship. The Neptune's armour is not so thick ; but there is a water line belt, extending the whole length of the ship.
She has, however, only a single screw ; and it is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which it would be justifiable in these
days to send either ship into action. In every dockyard work on new construction is delay by the scarcity of mechanics, and several
of the ships that were laid down on the eve of the present financial year are to be advanced by slow stages, not because there is a
death of material, but because there is a shortage of hands. To divert men from new ships that they may waste their time on such
vessels as the Inflexible and Neptune is not suggestive of profound wisdom, for while we shall inevitably want the new battleships
and cruisers, we shall never want the decayed fossils that ought to have been placed on the sale list years ago.
How this announcement affected John Lake is unknown, but would not have made a lot of difference to him as his time was up on
20 Aug, & he went to pension on 28 Aug ’90.
After John went to pension he found employment as a farm labourer in the Kingskerswell area.
JOHN LAKE’S FAMILY:
As mentioned above, John married Mary
Jane Atkins on 16 Oct 1884. They had
already had a child Hetty born in 1881 prior
to their marriage.
Their first son & second child was Richard
John born 31 May 1885.
Both of these children were born when
John was at sea.
Their third child & second son, Henry
Ernest was born 10 Jan 1890. John was
serving on board HMS Neptune in Holyhead
at the time of Henry’s birth.
Their second daughter & last child, Dorothy
Mary was born in 1893 after John was
pensioned from the RN.
In 1891 census John & Mary were living
with her father John Atkins at 13 Waterloo
Rd, Parish of Tormoham, Torquay.
In 1901 census John & Mary are living at
140 Barton, St Mary Church, Torquay.
In 1911 census John & Mary are living at 15
Mount Pleasant, Hartop Rd, St Mary
Church, Torquay. Three of their children
are still living with them – Hetty, age 30,
occupation dressmaker; Henry Ernest, age
21, employed as a farm labourer; and
Dorothy Mary, age 18, employed as a
milliner. They also have two boarders,
William Stokes & Harold Tombs, employed
as a groom (domestic) & shop lad
The family was to move to 92 Mount
Pleasant around July 1911.
John Lake was to live until 3 Dec 1927,
when he passed away at Fluder Cottages,
Kingskerswell, age 75. Causes of death
were: cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral
softening, & arteriosclerosis. No post
mortem was carried out.
Mary Jane survived John by several years,
passing away in June 1938, age 82.
Both may be buried in St Mary’s church,
Pound Lane, Kingskerswell. There are
several Lakes buried in the parish church,
but at this writing John & Mary’s burial plot
has not been located.
|St Marys church – The church in Kingskerswell that the lake family attended & where some |
of the family is buried.
|I would like to express my thanks & gratitude to John Lake’s great great granddaughter – Jenny Garner. Jenny made contact |
with me via this site when she realized that these were the medals of her g’g’ grandfather. We thus began a very fruitful
correspondence, in which Jenny was to make available to me many things that I would not normally have known about the
Lake family history. Jenny has spent many hours researching her family (she is descended from John Lake thru her mother)
& has been extremely helpful in sharing that information with me. As this is an ongoing process hopefully we will be able to
learn in future exactly where John & Mary are in fact buried & may even someday locate a photo of John Lake. For my part, I
was able to assist Jenny in the interpretation of John Lake`s naval service for the 20 years he spent in the RN.