John Campbell

1719 -1790. He was born at Kirkbean, near Dumfries in Kirkcudbrightshire, the son of the Reverend John Campbell and his wife Mary Michelson.

Having been apprenticed to a master of a coaster, Campbell entered the navy by volunteering to replace a mate pressed into service out of the same vessel. In 1740 he was promoted midshipman, and he served as a masters’ mate under Commodore George Anson aboard the Centurion 60 during that officer’s famous voyage around the world from 1740-44. He thus had a share in the riches obtained through the capture of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Cavadonga, which carried cargo to the value of $1,313,843 in addition to 35,682 ounces of silver and other merchandise. Campbell was personally rewarded by being promoted master of the vessel following its capture.

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Admiral John Campbell

After returning home he passed his lieutenant’s examination on 8 January 1744, and his promotion to this rank and an eventual elevation to that of commander was facilitated by the patronage of Anson. From May 1747 he commanded the Falcon 10, capturing the privateers Foudre on 17 June and Parfaite on 5 July, and on 23 November 1747 he was posted captain of the frigate Bellona 36, commanding her until the end of the following year and taking the privateer Grande-Biche on 9 March 1748.

After the end of the War of the Austrian Succession he was selected on Anson’s recommendation to take two sloops to the South Sea, but no sooner had the ships been fitted out at the beginning of 1749 than the expedition was cancelled following complaints from Spain that it was the first step in a campaign to threaten their Pacific hegemony. Similar concerns prevented him being despatched in the following year to explore a possible north-west passage. In the meantime he had replaced Captain John Montagu aboard the Portsmouth-based guardship Kent 64 in the summer of 1749, and he exchanged with that officer into the Mermaid 20 in the following spring, although he left this vessel shortly afterwards.

Campbell thereafter continued in almost constant service, commanding the Prince 90 from 1755 into the following year and the commencement of the Seven Years War, the Royal George 100 from May to December 1756, and the Essex 70 in 1757 under the orders of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke. In 1758-9 he served as flag captain to Anson aboard the Royal George when that officer assumed temporary command of the fleet off Brest, and after returning to the Essex he was appointed once more to the Royal George in June 1759 as flag captain to Hawke. In this capacity he fought at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November, and he was given the honour of carrying despatches home aboard the frigate Vengeance 28, Captain Gamaliel Nightingale. As a reward he received 500 guineas for a sword from the King to whom he had personally conveyed the news in the company of his patron, Anson, who was by now the first lord of the Admiralty.

In the spring of 1760 Campbell commanded the Dorsetshire 70 under the orders of Commodore Hon. John Byron during the clearance of the Louisbourg fortifications, and he was present at the destruction of the Machault 32 in the Saguenay River, and in the capture of the Pallas 14, Bienfaisant 22 and Marquis de Malauze 16 in Chaleur Bay on 8 July. Thereafter he served in home waters and the Mediterranean until the ending of hostilities in 1763.

During the peace he commanded the yacht Mary for many years, giving passage to the King of Denmark from Calais to Dover in 1768, and thereafter he had the yacht Royal Charlotte from 1770, retaining her until his elevation to flag rank on 23 January 1778.

In the spring of 1778 Campbell was appointed captain of the fleet to Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel aboard the Victory 100, Captain Jonathan Faulknor, a post that saw him participate in the Battle of Ushant on 27 July. As a consequence of his loyalty to Keppel at the subsequent court martial he was beached until the fall of the government in 1782, during which year he also lost a legal case against Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser in respect of his right, as captain of the fleet, to receive a flag officer’s share of the prize money which had been made by the fleet in 1778. Meanwhile he had been promoted vice-admiral on 19 March 1779.

In April 1782 Campbell was appointed the commander in chief and governor of Newfoundland by Keppel, the new first lord of the Admiralty, and in sailing from England each year during the early summer and returning home in the autumn he retained this post for the next three years. His flag initially flew aboard the Portland 50, Captain John Breton, which set sail with twenty-seven vessels of the Newfoundland and Quebec convoy on 17 June 1782, and which eight days later fell in with the Brest-bound Franco / Spanish fleet of Luis de Cordova and the Comte de Guichen. In the ensuing chase eighteen of the merchant vessels were captured, but the men of war all made good their escape. He subsequently flew his flag aboard the Salisbury 50, Captain James Bradby, and occasionally the Winchelsea 32, Captain Thomas Farnham.

Campbell died at his house in Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London, on 16 December 1790. He had been married but his wife’s name is unknown.

Campbell had a rich Scottish accent and was simple in manners, a characteristic that did not dissipate despite the many years that he lived amongst the elite. He had a dry, sarcastic mode of manner and expression that was open to caricature, as illustrated when upon taking the despatches announcing the victory at Quiberon Bay to the Court in the company of his former commander, Anson, he was told that the King would probably wish to bestow a knighthood on him. Campbell replied ‘troth my lord, I ken nae use that will be to me’ When Anson replied that Mrs Campbell might be pleased he announced ‘a weel, His Majesty may knight her if he pleases.’

A scientific man and a fellow of the Royal Society from 1764, he was a leading player in the invention of the sextant and an excellent astronomer who was able to work closely with the astronomer royal, James Bradley, at Greenwich. He was also regarded as an excellent seaman and was courageous. Although a lifelong friend of Admiral Keppel he was never easy with that officer mixing his duty and politics. His secretary, Aaron Graham, set up a playhouse at St. John’s, Newfoundland.