John Hills

1746-94.He was born in Sandwich, Kent, a younger son of a shipbuilder, Andrew Hills, and of his wife, Mary Taylor. His elder brother, William, reached the rank of lieutenant in the Navy and died in 1777. He was the cousin of Captain William Cumming and Admiral James Cumming, and of Commander Saffery Hills and Commander James Hills. His family had a long tradition of building small vessels for the Navy.

Hills was commissioned lieutenant on 26 May 1768 but he had to wait another thirteen years for his next step, being promoted commander of the Zephyr 14 on 1 October 1781, and serving on the Irish station. In July 1782 his command went out to Africa in the company of the Argo 44, Captain John Butchart, with building materials to repair the ports on the coast, and by the end of August she was back in the Downs. At the end of October it was reported that the Zephyr had engaged and sunk the French privateer Stag 16 off Lundy Island, and had rescued twenty-six of her crew who were delivered to Bristol.

In January 1783 Hills was appointed to the new Wasp 14, being employed in anti-smuggling duties off the Kent coast, a task that proved deathly for his purser’s steward whose body was found in Dover harbour in November 1784 with the presumption that he had been murdered by smugglers. In July 1785 Hills sent a lieutenant aboard a French lugger off Dungeness to demand why she had not displayed the usual honour to the British flag, to which the French captain surprisingly replied that he had instructions not to do so, and would clear for action and defend his vessel if any coercion to comply was undertaken. Rather than force an action Hills wisely sent his lieutenant to London to apprise the authorities of the incident.

In December 1785 Hills was brought to a civil court having earlier shot away the top-mast and then taken possession of the 16-gun lugger Longsplice, whose crew had been seen throwing goods over the side as the Wasp approached, and which it was claimed was a foreign-owned vessel. Happily the court found in his favour. He retained the Wasp through to March 1787, and he was posted captain of the Hussar 28 for purposes of rank only at the end of the Dutch Armament on 1 December…

Hills recommissioned the Hermione 32 in December 1792, sailing for Cork in March 1793, and then entering Bristol a month later to collect the West Indies trade. After joining the Jamaican station he served in the Saint Domingue campaign of 19-21 September, and at the capture of Port au Prince on 4 June 1794, where his frigate lost five men killed and six wounded.

Captain Hills died of yellow fever, as did many of his crew, at Port Royal, Jamaica on 4 September 1794, being succeeded in command of the Hermione by Captain Philip Wilkinson.

He was married with at least one son.