Skip to main content

Samuel Johnson - Our Man at Trafalgar!

When Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated the French and Spanish Fleets at Trafalgar on 21st October 1805, there was a Blandford man aboard his flagship, HMS Victory.

Able seaman, Samuel Johnson had been born in the town in 1770. By 1805, he was an experienced seaman having served in the British Navy for at least five years. Such were his capabilities, he was able to take over from the Victory’s helmsman and ensure the vessel remained on course. He had joined the Victory in April 1804.

Why and how he joined the Navy is not known. He could have been forced to join by a marauding ‘press gang’, he could have volunteered or chosen the sea as an alternative to a spell in prison. The latter was a frequent method of sailor recruitment at the time. Initially, Samuel during his first year at sea would have been described as a ‘landsman’, then an ‘ordinary seaman’ before promotion to ‘able seaman’

Samuel Johnson survived the Battle of Trafalgar on HMS Victory, a vessel that suffered 57 deaths, including Admiral Nelson, and 102 injured. Victory had a complement of about 850. Although no British warships were lost, the British Navy suffered 458 deaths and 1,208 injured at Trafalgar. The French and Spanish position was far worse with 4,395 killed and 2,541 wounded. In addition, some 7,000 personnel were captured.

On Christmas Eve in 1805, Samuel Johnson was discharged from Victory and joined HMS Ocean. This was a brand new vessel which had just been launched in Woolwich Dockyard. This would have been a prestigious posting for Samuel as it became the Flagship of Admiral Collingwood in the Mediterranean.  He remained aboard the Ocean until July 1809. He then spent a short time with HMS Salvador del Mundo, a captured Spanish vessel, where he was late returning from leave. ‘Ran’ was entered on his service record. Two months later, he was back in the Navy on HMS Armide. In September 1810, its crew were involved in an assault on a French gun battery. On the Armide, he was promoted to Quartermaster's Mate.

Blandford born Samuel had survived the Battle of Trafalgar and other skirmishes at a time when far more lives were lost due to diseases and accidents than in battle. On 9th January 1812, Samuel Johnson was discharged from the British Navy. No trace has been found yet of his return to Blandford and he may have settled in one of the naval ports.

While Samuel Johnson was the only Blandford man aboard HMS Victory, there were seven Blandford born men aboard other vessels in the Battle of Trafalgar.

(Illustration: Samuel Johnson's HMS Victory)

(Acknowledgements: National Archives - Kew)


Popular posts from this blog

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the

Shapwick Sea Monster

On a Tuesday in October 1706, a travelling Poole fishmonger was wheeling his cart on the outskirts of the village of Shapwick. Unknown to him, a large crab fell from his barrow. This was to cause panic and alarm among the Shapwick villagers. Living inland, and perhaps in the 18 th century not having travelled beyond Blandford, the Shapwick villagers had never before seen a crab. Trudging home and exhausted by his day’s labour, a Shapwick farm worker discovered this crawling creature by stepping on it. So strange was its appearance, he believed it was the devil himself. Running on to the village, he told everyone excitingly of his horrid find. Fearing it was the work of the devil, the villagers armed themselves with pitchforks, sticks and stones. Knowing not what to do, they decided to consult the shepherd Rowe considered by many to be the local wise man. Sadly, the aging oracle was now past his prime and for the last six years had been confined to his bed. The old man was as infirm as

Blandford Races

It might not have been Ascot, Epsom or Aintree but Blandford Races was once quite an important event in the county’s social calendar. Blandford Races date back to 1603 and were held on the downs which today would be part of Blandford Camp. Meetings continued until the middle of the 19 th  century with few breaks in between. The longest interruption was when Oliver Cromwell was Head of State and Government. As Lord Protector he was not amused by such events. Apart from horse racing, there were other entertainments. These included wrestling matches, cock fighting and dancing. Much feasting took place which was highly lucrative for the town. In 1780, cudgel playing was advertised and resulted in a Shaftebury man losing his left eye. This was then replaced by a sword and dagger contest between the gentlemen of Dorset and Somerset. One of the race patrons was Lord Palmerston who was later to be Prime Minister. In 1824, he had had a winner, Luzborough in the Dorsetshire Gold Cup. Normally he