James Vashon

1742-1827. He was born at Eye, Herefordshire, on 9 August 1742, the youngest son of the Reverend James Volant Vashon, the vicar of that parish, and of his wife, Mary Ann Ambler. He was the uncle of Rear-Admiral Volant Vashon Ballard and appears to have been the step-father of Captain James Giles Vashon.

In August 1755 Vashon joined the Revenge 64, which was commanded by a local Shropshire landowner, Captain Frederick Cornwall, and he served at the indecisive and controversial Battle of Minorca on 20 May 1756 which resulted in Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byng’s execution. He later transferred to the Lancaster 66, Captain Hon. George Edgcumbe, serving at the reduction of Louisbourg in July 1758, and afterwards moving to the Leeward Islands station where he was present at the reduction of Guadeloupe. There he joined the Cambridge 80, Captain Thomas Burnet, flying the broad pennant of Commodore John Moore, and after moving to the Jamaican station he was seconded to the frigate Boreas 28, Captain Samuel Uvedale, which enjoyed great success against enemy shipping. Disappointment came in the summer of 1761 after returning to the Cambridge, for Captain William Goostrey’s request to promote Vashon was rejected by the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, Rear-Admiral Charles Holmes, on the basis that he appeared to be a ‘mere boy’ who was not yet ready for advancement.


Admiral James Vashon

After returning to Europe, Vashon saw service in the Mediterranean aboard the Quebec 32, Captain John Leveson-Gower, before that frigate was paid off in June 1763. Although he passed his lieutenant’s examination on 7 September, he was obliged to wait a further eleven years before being commissioned. He spent several years of the peace serving at Newfoundland aboard the Guernsey 50, Commodore Hugh Palliser, who commanded that station from 1764-6, and thereafter in the Leeward Islands with Vice-Admiral Thomas Pye’s flagship Chatham 50, Captain Charles Buckner. His eventual lieutenant’s commission, dated 1 June 1774, came in his thirty-second year, and was by the order of Vice-Admiral George Brydges Rodney, the commander-in-chief of the Jamaican station, where Vashon had been appointed in an acting-capacity to the frigate Maidstone 28, Captain Alan Gardner.

The Maidstone returned to England in April 1777, but shortly afterwards was sent out to North America where Vashon commanded her boats in destroying a ship which had gone ashore under enemy field artillery in March 1778. In July he was despatched by Captain Gardner to warn Vice-Admiral Lord Howe at New York of the arrival of the French Toulon fleet off the Virginia Capes. After returning to the Maidstone, Vashon was present at the capture of the French ship Lyon 40 on 3 November, and upon being appointed her prize master he endured a difficult passage to Antigua in command of just twenty-four men against two hundred French, being forced to keep the prisoners at the pumps to ensure that the damaged ship did not founder in appalling weather.

Vashon returned to England where he was promoted commander by the Admiralty with seniority from 5 August 1779 and appointed to the newly commissioned sloop Alert 14, which completed her coppering and fitting out at Deptford at the beginning of December. A brief cruise in the North Sea followed before she sailed on 11 February 1780 for the Leeward Islands with despatches for Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker. During the outward voyage Vashon’s command was chased by a privateer which turned tail when he displayed an intention to fight her. On 9 July he discovered the French and Spanish fleet numbering twenty-six sail of the line with eighty transports in company some thirty miles to the south of Saba, steering for Saint-Domingue. After arriving at St. Lucia on 19 July, he was dispatched to Jamaica by the new commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, Admiral Sir George Rodney, to warn the commander-in-chief of that station, Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker, of a possible allied attack. On 4 November the latter officer despatched the Alert back to England with despatches, these orders being much against Vashon’s wishes in view of the favouritism and expectation of promotion that he had been shown by Rodney. Initially he put into Crookhaven on the south-west coast of Ireland at end of December before arriving in England in early January 1781.

Towards the end of January 1781, the Alert sailed for Guernsey, on 11 March she arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs, and during May she was at Spithead. She afterwards served under Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in the North Sea, although she was on detached duty in August when the fleet engaged the Dutch at the Battle of the Doggersbank. In December, her arrival in home waters from duty off Flushing saw her attacked by a mob of fishermen, and following a fierce scrap the Alert had to put to sea to avoid any bloodshed.

In January 1782 Vashon took the Alert back out to the Leeward Islands with Admiral Rodney’s reinforcements, and here his command was located as a lookout off Martinique. During March he was sent under a flag of truce to confer with Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse-Tilli on that island, and he was received with kind hospitality by the French commander-in-chief. In the course of the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April Vashon’s officers took possession of the Glorieux 74 and assisted in the rescue of men from the César 74 after she had blown up.

On 14 April 1782, two days after the Battle of the Saintes, Vashon was posted captain of the Prince William 64 by Admiral Rodney, his commission being backdated to 12 April, and he became the flag-captain to Rodney on 10 May aboard the Formidable 90 when the fleet reached Jamaica, transferring thereafter to the Sibyl 28 when the commander-in-chief was replaced by Admiral Hugh Pigot. In March 1783, whilst serving with a detached squadron in search of an American ship of great worth, he was brought to action by the larger American frigate Alliance 36, although the latter unaccountably broke off the action. The Sibyl was eventually paid off in July after returning to England.

On 18 April 1786, after three years on the beach, Vashon was appointed the flag-captain aboard the Expedition 44 to Commodore Alan Gardner, the commander-in-chief designate at Jamaica, sailing thither in May and transferring with Gardner to the Europa 50 on 8 September. He returned home in the following year. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he recommissioned the Ardent 64 in June, sailing for the West Indies with Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish’s squadron at the end of October, returning in the following February, and retaining her through the Russian Armament of 1791 until she was paid off in September.

In January 1793 he was appointed to the St Albans 64, which went out of Portsmouth to Spithead at the beginning of April, and later conveyed the trade to the Mediterranean where she was present at the occupation of Toulon from August. On 29 October she was back in the Downs with the Gibraltar convoy, and leaving Portsmouth for Cork on 15 March 1794, she escorted the trade to Jamaica. Sadly, whilst waiting to return from the West Indies, she lost seventy men to yellow fever. At the end of October she was appointed to convoy the trade home, on which voyage she narrowly managed to evade capture by a French fleet. Once back in British waters, she was summoned to Chatham in March 1795 for a refit.

In June 1795 Vashon was appointed to the Pompeé 74, which had just been commissioned at Portsmouth after being gifted to the Navy by French Royalists at Toulon two years earlier. Serving in the Channel Fleet, she sailed out on a cruise with Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis at the end of October, but indications that all was not well with a crew that had been cobbled together from other ships surfaced when a court-martial held on 28 December sentenced a mutineer to a flogging around the fleet. She later went out to serve in the Channel with Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey’s squadron in February 1796, during April she was with Vice-Admiral John Colpoys’ squadron, in June she was at Spithead prior to sailing in early July, by August she was with Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis’ squadron, and at the beginning of December she entered harbour for a refit.

The Pompée was present when the Channel Fleet mutiny broke out at Spithead on 16 April 1797 and on 8 May three lieutenants and a marine officer were kicked off the ship. She was with the fleet when it put to sea on the 17th but a further insurrection in which her first lieutenant, Francis Beauman, was almost lynched resulted in the Pompée anchoring at Spithead on 15 June with twenty-three men in irons, including Vashon’s coxswain. Fortunately, the vast majority of the crew were loyal and even requested that they be sent against the Nore mutineers. On 28 June, four leading mutineers were brought about the Pompée to be hung, two of whom were despatched whilst the other two were released on the King’s pardon after the halter had been placed around their necks.

In July 1797 the Pompée was appointed convoy to an out-going East Indiaman, but after departing Portsmouth on the 18th, she had to put back immediately due to heavy weather before going out again in early August. Reports then indicated that she had been recalled, with suggestions that as part of a peace negotiation she would be restored to the French Navy. On 14 October she arrived at Plymouth from the fleet off Brest, and in early November she put to sea to serve with the fleet off Ushant under Vice-Admiral Lord Keith.

On 15 January 1798 the Pompée dropped down to St. Helens with Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Thompson’ squadron prior to going out on a cruise, in April she briefly visited Portsmouth, and by June she was with the main body of the fleet off Ushant. A brief visit to Plymouth followed in October with Gardner’s squadron, and she was back at Torbay in December before going out with Gardner once more.


Vashon was the first captain of HMS Dreadnought – here she is in her latter years, still an imposing sight.

In March 1799, apparently worn down by his difficult command of the Pompée, Vashon was appointed to the Neptune 98 in succession to the promoted Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, serving once more in the Channel Fleet. Following the Brest fleet’s breakout on 25 April he joined Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton’s reinforcements to the Mediterranean, and his command was with the combined fleets at Torbay at the end of August. By New Year’s Eve the Neptune was back in Cawsand Bay, and on 17 January 1800 she sailed to join the Channel Fleet in Torbay. She briefly visited Plymouth from her station off Brest in May, September and October and Vashon remained with her until 23 March 1801 when she arrived at Portsmouth and he retired ashore for six weeks for the benefit of his health.

In June 1801, he was appointed to the recently launched Dreadnought 98 at Portsmouth which vessel had been thirteen years on the stocks. Whilst she was fitting for sea there was a rush to man her, and she was able to go out of the harbour on 9August to sail ten days later for Cadiz with Vice-Admiral Charles Morice Pole’s squadron, before later serving with the Mediterranean fleet. In 1802 she was dispatched to Malta from Gibraltar to collect troops, and after delivering these men to Portsmouth on 2 July 1802 she was paid off.

Following the resumption of hostilities in May 1803, Vashon was appointed to the Princess Royal 98 two months later, his command going out of the harbour at the beginning of October and anchoring off Calshot Castle at the mouth of the Solent to guard against any French invasion. On 17 January 1804 she sailed for Plymouth to be paid, prior to joining the Channel Fleet.

Following his elevation to the rank of rear-admiral on 23 April 1804, and on Admiral Lord St. Vincent’s recommendation, Vashon immediately took on the role of commander-in-chief at Leith with his flag initially aboard the Glatton 56, Captain James Colnett. In September he transferred to the Roebuck 44, Captain George M’Kinley, and quite quickly thereafter to the floating battery Texel 64, Captains Christopher Laroche from August to November 1804, Donald Campbell, and from 1807 his wife’s son, James Giles Vashon. He moved with the latter officer to the Ardent 64 in 1808 after that vessel had been delivered to Leith in May by Captain William Standway Parkinson.

On 24 February 1807 Vashon arrived at Portsmouth to attend the court-martial of Commodore Sir Home Riggs Popham, and during that year he turned down Admiral Lord Gardner’s offer to serve as the captain of the Channel fleet. He later sent artificers to repair the Danish fleet following the occupation of Copenhagen on 7 September. He became a vice-admiral on 28 April 1808 and left his position at Leith in November. During his four years as the commander-in-chief on that station he was prominent amongst society events in Edinburgh, and he was given the freedom of the city as a reward for his service.

He did not see any further employment but attended a levee with the King on 30 May 1810, another with the Prince Regent in April 1811, and was created an admiral on 4 June 1814. He attended another levee in July 1821 but otherwise appears to have lived a quiet retirement in Ludlow.

Admiral Vashon died at his Ludlow residence in 54 Broad Street on 20 October 1827, being buried in St. Laurence’s Church in that town.

He married Jane Bethell on 29 August 1779 in Ludlow, Shropshire, and had one son, James Volant Vashon, who took holy orders. After his first wife’s death in 1786 he married Sarah, the previously unmarried sister of Admiral Peter Rainier of Sandwich, on 10 June 1791. Sarah Rainier had a son, James Giles, and for want of any other explanation it is possible that Vashon adopted him.

Vashon was known by the nickname ‘Jemmy’. Lord Gardner took a great interest in furthering his career as did Lord Rodney. He was esteemed for his understanding of scientific subjects, but was known as an odd and, on occasion, a very bad-tempered man.