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

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Bravest Village Controversy

A Dorset village was once recognised as the bravest in England. That village was Shillingstone in North Dorset. After the outbreak of World War I, the newspaper the Weekly Dispatch inaugurated a competition for the village that sent, in the first six months of the war, the highest percentage of its population into the British Services. According to local newspaper, the Western Gazette Shillingstone sent 90 men out of a total population of 565. (Western Gazette Friday 26 th September 1919) Across the country,  365 other villages sent in their returns. However, the competition would not prove to be short of controversy. The award was made to Knowlton in Kent which with 39 inhabitants and six houses had sent 11 men. However, the Rector of Shillingstone, Dr Cooke protested that Knowlton was too small to be a village and in fact was a hamlet. The matter was referred to the Attorney General, Sir Frederick Smith who held that the original decision should stand as no minimum population ha

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