|Thomas John – Royal Marines
Thomas John was born on the 5th December 1853 at Pontypool, Monmouthshire. He started work as a collier but had decided
to join the Royal Marines at the first opportunity. After travelling to Taunton, Devon he enlisted on his eighteenth birthday
in 1871. His description was given as height 5 foot 6 ¾ inches tall, with a fair complexion, sandy hair and blue eyes. He was
also described as being a Baptist and being able to swim.
He was taken to the recruiting depot for the Royal Marines at Walmer Castle, Deal, Kent which had been established in 1861.
Here he stayed until the 22nd June 1872 when he was transferred to the Plymouth division, based at Stonehouse barracks.
Finally, on the 18th July 1873 he joined his first
ship as a Royal Marine Light Infantryman. The
vessel was H.M.S. Simoom.
“Simoom” was built by Napiers at their Govan
Shipyard on the Clyde and was launched on the
24th May 1849. She had a iron hull and steam
screw propulsion of 350 horsepower, with a
displacement of 2,920 tons. Originally intended
to be the largest of the new style Frigates, her
size was better suited to becoming a troop ship,
and the conversion was completed in 1852.
It was stated at the time that she had a cooking
galley able to cook food for a thousand men and
that she could distil 90 gallons of salt water to
fresh every hour. Between 1854 and 1856, she
transported troops to the Crimea and between
1860 and 1861 troops bound for China.
Then he embarked on the H.M.S. Aurora
on the 26th March 1875. This ship was
a wooden hulled Frigate which had been
launched at Pembroke dockyard on the
22nd June 1861. It carried 51 guns and
displaced 3,498 tons. The ship was based
at Greenock and was acting as a coastguard.
His time aboard could not have been very
happy for him as he lost his one good
conduct badge and consequently a
reduction in pay, on the 8th July 1875. He
would not regain it until 1876.
On the 29th June 1875, notice was given
that a medal for the Ashanti campaign
would be awarded to the Naval and
Marine forces who had served on the
Gold coast from the 9th June 1873. The
crew of “Simoom” were shown to be
entitled to the medal and on the 8th
August Thomas John duly received it.
He was probably the shortest serving
marine who had qualified for the medal
during the war, being operational for just
He remained onboard until “Aurora” was
decommissioned on the 19th July 1877
when he was then paid off.
|Above: H.M.S. Iron Duke (on the left)|
He returned to Plymouth and remained ashore until the 21st March 1878 when he joined H.M.S. Iron Duke.
“Iron Duke” was an Audacious class central battery Ironclad, which had been launched at the Pembroke ship yard on the 1st
March 1870. She carried 14 guns, had a crew of 450 and displaced 6,034 tons. The ships first tour in 1871 was China, where
she became the fleet’s flagship. Returning home in 1875, she joined the first reserve squadron. On the 1st September 1875,
during the squadron’s summer cruise, she accidently rammed her sister ship “Vanguard” in thick fog. “Iron Duke” sustained
minor damage but the “Vanguard’s” engine room was flooded and she sank within an hour.
H.M.S. Iron Duke was re-commissioned at Devonport on the 5th July 1878 and prepared to begin a five year voyage to the
|Above: H.M.S Superb|
Below: A Leander class cruiser
On the 25th July, the ship sailed from Plymouth and travelled through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal, visiting Singapore
and Manila, and then arriving at Hong Kong on the 4th January 1879. It then visited various ports in China and Japan,
before calling in at Vladivostok. By the end of the year it had returned to Japan.
In 1880 the ship again called at many Japanese ports as well as two visits to Hong Kong. During 1882 it visited numerous
Chinese, Japanese and Russian ports. Finally, on the 7th December 1882 the ship sailed for home, returning by Singapore,
Aden and the Suez Canal. On the 7th February it left Malta and called in to Gibraltar before arriving back home to
Plymouth. It had covered 55,566 miles during its epic five year trip.
On the 15th March Thomas John disembarked
from “Iron Duke” and returned to the barracks
of Plymouth division. He stayed here until the
8th November when he spent 10 days with
“Ganges” was a boys training ship which was
anchored in Falmouth harbour. It had the
distinction of being the last sailing ship to be a
sea going flag ship.
Thomas John’s next ship was H.M.S. Superb, a
central battery Ironclad which had been
launched at the Thames Ironworks in 1875. It
had a crew of 620 men, 16 guns and a
displacement of 9,170 tons.
She had originally been intended to be built for
the Turkish navy, but the scare of a possible
war with Russia, meant that the ship was
compulsorily purchased by the British
government. “Superb” had to be extensively
altered from the original design which meant
that there was a five year delay between her
launch and completion.
The ship was commissioned at Chatham on the
4th October 1880 for service in the
Mediterranean, where she remained on station
for seven years. In 1882 she took part in the
bombardment of Alexandria, firing 310 shells
into the city and receiving 10 hits in return,
but suffering no casualties.
Thomas John joined the ship on the 5th
December 1883 and spent four years on board,
calling in at Malta and visiting Greek waters.
Eventually, on the 20th May 1887 he was paid
off and returned to Plymouth.
His next ship was H.M.S. Amphion which he
embarked on the 5th July 1887. “Amphion”
was a second class cruiser of the Leander
class and had been laid down at Pembroke dock
in 1881. It was one of the last of the Royal
Navy’s ships to have a full sail rig. She was
launched on the 13th October 1883 and
commissioned on 5th July 1887, the day that
Thomas John joined her, for annual manoeuvres.
Once these were completed she was paid off
on the 31st August 1887.
She was commissioned again on the 4th July
1888 for annual manoeuvres and then paid
off on the 31st August. “Amphion” was then
commissioned again at Devonport on the 11th
December 1888, to be fitted out for service
on the Pacific station.
Thomas John then spent four months back on ”
Indus” before joining his final ship on the 1st
January 1890 at Portsmouth. This was H.M.S.
Speedwell, a sharp shooter class torpedo
gunboat, which had been built at Devonport
dockyard and launched on the 15th March 1889.
It had a length of 242 feet and displaced 735
tons. It carried 100 tons of coal which gave it a
range of 2,500 nautical miles and had a top
speed of 19 knots.
Thomas John remained with “Speedwell” until
the 9th May 1893 when he was due to complete
his 21 years service. He returned to Plymouth
division and on the 16th May 1893 he was
released to return to a civilian life.
|Thomas John was bound for the West coast of Africa to take part in the war being waged against the Ashanti. “Simoom sailed on
the 18th July 1873 with a detachment of 200 marines to increase the establishment who had arrived earlier. On the 9th August
“Simoom” arrived at Cape coast. It was decided that she should remain at this station to act as a hospital ship and also to distil
water for the arriving troops. It was further decided that her detachment of marines should not be landed, as fever was
prevalent ashore and the men needed time to acclimatise.
Within three days of arrival, Thomas John was described as suffering from debility and admitted to hospital aboard ship. It
could not have been caused through fever as the men had not even left the ship. The only possibility was that he had suffered an
accident on board “Simoom”. During the time he was invalided, he gained his first good conduct badge. He remained on the vessel
until the 7th January 1874 when he was transferred to another ship returning to England. When he arrived back home on the
28th February, he was admitted to hospital. Although remaining in hospital he was attached to H.M.S. Indus, which was a shore
station and guard ship, and also the flag ship of Admiral James Robert Drummond at Devonport.
He remained official described as in hospital until the 22nd January 1875.
|Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth|