John Ayscough

1777- 1863. The son of Commander James Ayscough, he was reportedly born on board the sloop Swan 14 on 12 December 1777 during an action ashore at Southold on Long Island, New York, which saw his father, the commander of the vessel, lose a leg. His brother, Commander James Ayscough, was first lieutenant aboard the Monarch 74 at the Battle of Copenhagen and later lost his life through illness in the West Indies on 8 April 1808 whilst in command of the sloop Hawke. He was a cousin of Admiral Sir George Cockburn.

Ayscough entered the navy in 1787 aboard the Portsmouth-based guard-ship Goliath 74, Captain Archibald Dickson, and he remained aboard following this officer’s replacement by Captain Sir Andrew Snape Douglas that year. Departing this vessel two year later, further employment came as a midshipman and master’s mate aboard the Juno 32, Captain Sam Hood, the Hebe 38, Captain Alexander Hood, Hector 74, Captain George Montagu, and Alcide 74, Captain John Woodley, the pennant ship of Commodore Robert Linzee in the Mediterranean Fleet in the early months of the French Revolutionary War.

On 6 November 1793 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Monarch 74, which became the flagship at Newfoundland of her erstwhile captain, Rear-Admiral Sir James Wallace, and by the end of four years he had risen through seniority to become the first lieutenant of the Romney 50 on that station. In April 1797 he was appointed to the Queen Charlotte 100, Captain Walter Locke, the nominal flagship of Admiral Lord Howe in the Channel, and on 12 May, following the mutiny at Spithead, he was promoted commander.

On 6 July 1799 Ayscough was appointed to the troop ship Blanche 32, but carrying 18 guns, going out of Portsmouth Harbour on 1 August, and sailing several days later with victuallers for the Downs. She subsequently served in the invasion of Holland where he commanded one of the first boats ashore. On 28 September the Blanche was wrecked in the Texel, although the only lives lost were those in boats which overset whilst coming to the frigate’s rescue. The court martial which followed on 1 November aboard the Expedition 44 at Sheerness exonerated Ayscough and his officers, but not the pilot.

Ayscough was promptly given another command in December 1799, this being the Inconstant 36, armed en-flûte. Recommissioning her that month, she dropped down the Thames to the Downs in April to be employed in the North Sea and in home convoy duty. After entering Cowes Road from Spithead at the end of May, she embarked the Gordon Highlanders and participated in the combined expeditions to Quiberon Bay under Commodore Sir Edward Pellew in June 1800,

The Inconstant was later employed at the landings in Egypt on 8 March 1801, and for his part in the campaign, during which he contacted the plague, Ayscough was awarded the Turkish gold medal. He recovered his health sufficiently in time to serve in the occupation of Madeira in July, but his ship was back in Egyptian waters soon after, from where she sailed on 8 October to arrive at Malta two weeks later, Gibraltar on 7 November, and England in early December. She was at Portsmouth with orders to take on four months supplies in March 1802, but with the French Revolutionary War drawing to a close she was paid off in May.

In June 1803, following the commencement of the Napoleonic War, he was appointed to the store-ship Camel, this vessel being the ex-Mediator 44. She arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs at the end of August from where she departed with a convoy for the West Indies on 27 September to reach Barbados, prior to departing for Antigua and Jamaica.

Continuing on the Jamaican station, Ayscough survived a bout of yellow fever, and at various times he served as the acting flag captain to Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth and Vice-Admiral James Richard Dacres. He also temporarily commanded the sloops Shark 16 from 1 February 1804, Renard 18 from 17 May, which vessel reached Mondego Bay with a Honduras convoy on 3 November, the Shark again from 27 November, the Goelan 16 from 1 March 1805, and the Malabar 56 from 9 February 1806.

HMS Success

After recovering from the fever, and whilst remaining on the Jamaican station, Ayscough was finally rewarded for his long years of humdrum service with a posting to the crack frigate Success 32 on 18 April 1806. His boats cut out the felucca privateer Vengeur 1 from Hidden Port, Cuba on 20 November, in a difficult attack which saw the fifty-strong enemy lash their vessel to trees and open fire from their positions on a hill above the beach. Unfortunately, this action saw his first lieutenant, William Duke, lose his life, whilst seven men were wounded and one reported missing.

The Success returned to England in the early spring of 1807 with a convoy which dispersed in a heavy gale on 18 March to the east of Newfoundland, and she went into Portsmouth Harbour for repairs on 13 April, three days after her arrival. At the end of May, Ascough faced a court martial at his own request for causing a musket to be discharged into a merchant vessel attached to the Jamaica convoy which wounded a man, but he was acquitted.

The Success left Portsmouth Harbour after her refit on 12 June 1807, and there followed a period of duty off Le Hâvre in the autumn followed by participation in Commodore Sir Samuel Hood’s occupation of Madeira in December. She returned to Plymouth with Hood’s dispatches on 18 January 1808, and in the spring was instructed to undertake the protection of the fisheries off Greenland under the orders of Captain Alexander Wilmot Schomberg of the Loire 38. In the course of this duty the ships reached a position of 77 degrees north, way above the Arctic Circle, before returning to Portsmouth at the beginning of August.

At end of August 1808, after briefly putting into Falmouth because of adverse winds, the Success went out to the Mediterranean with a convoy, giving passage to the Turkish ambassador. Arriving at Gibraltar in late September, she then proceeded to Malta, which she reached on 17 October. She remained in the Mediterranean over the winter and on 27 March 1809 arrived at Portsmouth, having left Malta four weeks earlier. A short time afterwards she took another convoy out to the Mediterranean, and in June Ayscough led men ashore at the capture of the islands of Procida and Ischia, whilst on 30 July his boats captured two small French privateers off Cerigo, the modern-day Ionian Sea island of Kythira.

On 3 May 1810 the Success was a becalmed spectator at the glorious action between the Spartan 38, Captain Jahleel Brenton, and a Franco-Neapolitan squadron in the Bay of Naples, but she did assist the Spartan and Espoir 16, Commander Robert Mitford, on an attack on the batteries at Terracina, which resulted in the cutting out of four merchantmen. Continuing on the Italian coast, Ayscough led a small squadron of two frigates and several sloops in defending Sicily against an attempted invasion by forty thousand troops and two hundred gunboats under the command of Marshal Joachim Murat, and his small squadron caught and destroyed thirty-two transports in those waters. During the summer of 1811 he was obliged to bring the Success home after she had been damaged in a storm off Crete and he arrived in the Downs with the Mediterranean convoy on 19 July to bring to an end his active service.

In the years of peace that followed, Ayscough followed the normal routine of the naval aristocracy, frequently visiting Bath and other spa towns in the winter, attending levees, and undertaking trips abroad. From 1822 until 1825 he was the superintendent of the ordinary at Plymouth, where on 29 May 1824 he hosted the Duke of Clarence aboard the San Josef 114. Further employment came in 1829 when, after being presented to the King at a levee at the end of April, he sailed from Portsmouth on 12 June with his family aboard the Galatea 46, Captain Charles Napier, for Jamaica to undertake the role of resident commissioner, and where he arrived at Port Royal on 24 August.

In January 1831 Ayscough transferred to the commissioner’s role at Bermuda, but this led to a most unsavoury episode when in the early summer, Captain Sir Thomas Ussher suddenly appeared on the island as his unannounced replacement. To add insult to injury, after seeking a passage home aboard the Winchester 60, Captain Lord William Paget, Ayscough was excluded from the cabin initially allotted to him. In June he brought Paget to a court martial for un-office like conduct but had to apologise to the court as he could not prove the charge. In turn, the court expressed regret that he had brought the charge in the first place, but any hint of disgrace was alleviated when days later he attended a levee. In the years thereafter there was much press comment on his removal without apparent reason from the commissionership of Bermuda dockyard, with demands that he be granted a fair trial to uncover the reasons why. The general consensus was that he had been superseded to make way for an officer, Sir Thomas Ussher, who desired the Bermuda posting for the benefit of his health.

Continuing to enjoy visits to Spa towns, the Continent, and levees, but surprisingly not receiving any honours in respect of his long service, Ayscough was promoted rear-admiral on 23 November 1841, vice-admiral on 24 December 1849, and admiral on 3 October 1855.

Admiral Ayscough died on 1 December 1863; at which time he was considered to be the oldest officer in the service.

He married Anna Maria Parr, the daughter of Commodore Thomas Parr, on 18 December 1813 and had issue two daughters and a son, Hawkins Godolphin Ayscough, who entered the navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant.

His early patron, following the death of his father, was Admiral Sir James Wallace, and he also enjoyed the support of the Hood family. When serving aboard the Juno whilst she was attendant on the King at Weymouth, Ayscough was treated with great favour by His Majesty out of a respect for his late father, and on one occasion a pudding he had made was eaten by the hungry monarch. Coming home with a convoy in 1807, the merchant captains remarked that he was the most attentive and considerate commodore they had ever encountered.