John Markham

1761-1827. He was born on 13 June 1761 in the precincts of Westminster School, the second son of William Markham, the headmaster of Westminster School and later the Archbishop of York from 1776-1807, and of his wife, Sarah Goddard, the daughter of a Rotterdam merchant. Amongst his dozen or more siblings was Colonel David Markham, who died at the age of twenty-eight in 1795 during the Saint-Domingue campaign, whilst one of his seven sisters, Frederica, married the 3rd Earl of Mansfield.

After attending Westminster School from 1768, Markham entered the navy in March 1775 aboard the Romney 50, Captain Hon. George Keith Elphinstone, going out to Newfoundland as the flagship to Rear-Admiral Robert Duff in June and returning home in November. In March 1776 he joined Elphinstone on the Perseus 20, which went out to North America in July, and he had his first experience of command when at the end of September he was appointed prize-master of the captured schooner Betsy, in which he arrived at Sandy Hook on 12 October in the company of the Perseus.

After sailing with the Perseus to the West Indies in February 1777, the position of prize-master was once more thrust upon him when he was entrusted to take a captured privateer sloop into Antigua. Following the death of Captain Thomas Wilkinson of the Pearl 32, Elphinstone transferred briefly to that frigate in March, taking Markham with him, but after surveying the mouth of the Delaware the appointment was reversed in May by Vice-Admiral Lord Howe and Markham followed Elphinstone back to the Perseus.

Admiral Markham

On 24 May 1777 the Perseus captured a large merchantman off the Carolinas to which Markham was again appointed prize-master. Sent aboard with four seaman and a boy, he had to rely on the assistance of four French American prisoners to keep the sloop afloat, but the vessel was soon overwhelmed by a gale which left her waterlogged, whereupon his men got drunk, leaving the prisoners to attack Markham. He managed to repel the assault, and even to drive the enemy below, and then had the good fortune to be rescued by a passing ship. Some months later he was able to obtain a passage to England where his preservation was celebrated by his family who had been persuaded by Captain Elphinstone that the absence of news meant that there could be no hope left for him.

After a short period in Yorkshire with his family, he joined the Phoenix 44, Captain Sir Hyde Parker, in March 1779, which vessel was refitting at Plymouth, and before she could put to sea he moved in July to the Roebuck 44, Captain Sir Andrew Snape Hamond. Returning to North America in September having been appointed an acting-lieutenant, he was with the fleet during the campaign that resulted in the capture of Charleston on 11 May 1780. The commander-in-chief of the North American station, Vice-Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot, appeared to favour Markham, and on14 May commissioned him lieutenant at Hamond’s behest. When the latter officer returned home with dispatches shortly afterwards his nephew, Captain Andrew Snape Douglas, took command of the Roebuck and Markham became her first lieutenant, remaining on the North American station.

On 14 April 1781 he took command as prize-master of the America frigate Confederacy 36, which the Roebuck had captured in company with the Orpheus 32, Captain John Colpoys, and which he took into New York. For a brief period he was employed aboard the Royal Oak 74, Captain John Plummer Ardesoif, which vessel visited Halifax, and on 22 August he became the first lieutenant of the London 98, Captain David Graves, the flagship of the temporary commander-in-chief, Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves. He was accordingly present at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September, following which he sailed for Jamaica with Graves in November to arrive in December.

On 13 January 1782 Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker, the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, appointed him the acting-captain of the Hinchingbrooke 28, in which he cruised off the eastern coast of the island, and on 13 March he was promoted to the command of the fireship Volcano. Following the Battle of the Saintes in April, Admiral Sir George Rodney arrived at Jamaica with elements of his victorious fleet, and on 9 May Markham joined the flagship Formidable 98 before being appointed by Rodney to the sloop Zebra 16.

Having been ordered to deliver dispatches to Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake off Saint-Domingue and then to cruise off Cape Tiburon, Markham’s command fell in with a French brig on 22 May which took to her sweeps as he chased her inshore. Upon the Zebra firing a warning shot the brig hoisted British colours, whereupon the suspicious Markham fired another shot. The French brig, which it could be seen was carrying a large number of soldiers, then bore up for the Zebra, and despite Markham firing half-a-dozen further shots appeared to attempt a boarding manoeuvre. This was thwarted by Markham, and a volley from his marines wounded six of the enemy. Suddenly the brig hauled down her colours and revealed herself to be a cartel bound for Port Royal to effect a prisoner exchange. Her commander, a French lieutenant, was initially contrite towards Markham, and accepted that the misunderstanding had been his fault, but after the two vessels arrived at Port Royal he complained bitterly of an ‘assault’. To his surprise, Markham was court-martialled under the presidency of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood at Port Royal on 28-29 May, the case was partly proved, and he was sentenced to be dismissed the service. The verdict did not sit well with Rodney who had the court’s decision overturned and provisionally re-instated him. Nevertheless, permission was still required from the King and the Admiralty for Markham to recommence his career and after returning to England via Halifax he remained on half-pay until this was received on 13 November.

Further rehabilitation came on 3 January 1783 when he was posted captain of the Carysfort 28 at Deptford, although this appears to have been for purposes of rank only, as he left this vessel on 14 January and briefly went on half-pay. On 19 June he commissioned the Sphynx 20 at Chatham, going out to the Mediterranean and reaching Gibraltar in November from where he made occasional visits to the Barbary Coast, various Spanish ports, Naples, Lisbon and Leghorn. The Sphynx returned to Plymouth on 20 September 1786 after what had been a most agreeable posting, and she was paid off at Woolwich on 16 October.

Reverting to half pay, Markham travelled to France in 1788 and Scandinavia, Russia. Poland and Berlin with his friend Lord Wycombe from July 1789 until January 1790. In June 1792 he sailed from the Downs for Quebec to arrive on 13 August where he and his travelling companion were soon invited to play cricket on the Heights of Abraham. From there they proceeded to Montreal, Niagara, Lake Ontario and Albany, nearby where Markham had been granted land which unfortunately proved to be financially unviable. Upon learning that his brother David had been repatriated from India with severe wounds, he then rushed south to New York and embarked for England so that by Christmas he was back at the family home in Yorkshire.

On 26 June 1793, following the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War, he commissioned the frigate Blonde 32 at Deptford, in which he managed to secure the services of his friend Anthony Ponsonby as first lieutenant. Departing the Nore with a convoy on 22 August, she was off the Humber nine days later and then escorted a number of vessels to Helvoetsluys before returning to the Nore in September.

On 9 October 1793 the Blonde arrived at Spithead to embark General Robert Prescott and his suite for Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis’s expedition to the Leeward Islands, and two weeks later sailed for Falmouth. During this passage she found herself surrounded by four French frigates in a fog, and only by using improvised sweeps, jettisoning her provisions and some anchors, and by wetting her sails, was she able to escape after a chase of over eight hours. She arrived at Falmouth on 26 October, and having joined the West Indies-bound expedition as it passed The Lizard she was present at the reduction of Martinique in the campaign which commenced in January 1794. In April she carried Lord Henry Paulet of the Vengeance 74 home with despatches to England, and she put into Falmouth on the 20th of that month following a fifteen-day voyage.

After refitting at Plymouth, the Blonde joined the command of Rear-Admiral George Montagu in the Channel, with whom on 10 June she had to retreat from the French fleet which was returning home after its defeat at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. Entering Cawsand Bay two days later, the Blonde was then detached to see service under the orders of Captain Sir James Saumarez off Cherbourg and in the Channel Islands, but she had to return to Plymouth to enter dock on 25 July with her pumps in constant action after she had struck a rock off Guernsey.

Following his application to command a ship of the line, Markham was appointed to the Hannibal 74 at Plymouth in August 1794, manning it with many fellow Yorkshiremen, and joining the Channel Fleet. Placed under the orders of Rear-Admiral John Colpoys, he effected the capture of the prolific French frigate Gentille 36 in the Channel on 11 April 1795 after a nineteen-hour chase, and a week later entered Plymouth Sound.

In May 1795, much to Markham’s outrage, the Hannibal was ordered to the West Indies to join the Saint-Domingue campaign, and on arrival at Cape Nicholas Mole on 27 June he heard the desperate news that his favourite brother, Colonel David Markham, had been killed by cannon-shot on 26 March. More grief followed when yellow fever broke out aboard his command, and after sailing for Port Royal in September he was fully employed in the care and hospitalisation of the sick. Upon his being invalided home in November, some detractors accused him of fleeing the threat of yellow fever with such haste that he did not say goodbye to his crew. Two hundred of his shipmates were to die within six months, including all six lieutenants and sixteen of his eighteen midshipmen, whilst his successor, Captain Thomas Lewis, died in July 1796 at Jamaica.

On 29 March 1797, after more than a year on the beach during which time he had got married, Markham commissioned the impressive new Centaur 74, which had recently been launched at Woolwich after four years’ construction. His first duty was to sit on a number of court martials following the mutiny on the Nore station which had erupted on 12 May, and after a short time with his family, during which the Centaur was being manned whilst she lay off Greenhithe in the Thames, he went aboard at the Nore in September prior to going around to Spithead via the Downs at the end of October. Taking his new command to southern Ireland in November, he remained on the Irish coast until he was despatched with Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis’ squadron in May 1798 to reinforce the Mediterranean fleet under Admiral Lord St. Vincent.

Markham was a friend and loyal acolyte of Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent.

Shortly after joining the fleet at Cadiz on 25 May 1798 Markham suffered St. Vincent’s admonishment for failing to clothe his men properly, resulting on a fever aboard in June. Although he represented that his men were happy with their clothing, his officers were punished by being ordered to store the fleet’s supply of bread in their wardroom. Nevertheless, he was soon on far more favourable terms with the old admiral thorough his novel idea of moving the sickbay to a position under the forecastle, a benefit which St. Vincent extended to the rest of the fleet.

The Centaur was sent to assist Commodore John Duckworth at the capture of Minorca on 15 November 1798, and having afterwards been dispatched on a cruise along the Catalonian coast with the Cormorant 20, Captain Lord Mark Kerr, she took the privateer Virgen del Rosario 14 on 2 February 1799, and on 16 March assisted in driving ashore and wrecking the Spanish frigate Guadeloupe 40 near Cape Oropesa. By April the Centaur was back at Port Mahon from where she embarked on another cruise between 15 April and 11 May.

Following the breakout of the Brest Fleet on 25 April 1799, the Centaur was collected at Port Mahon by the Mediterranean Fleet which under Vice-Admiral Lord Keith’s command pursued the French around that sea and back to its base. During this campaign his advanced squadron captured three French frigates and two brigs under the command of Rear-Admiral Perreé on 19 June. The Centaur eventually anchored in Torbay on 16 August and then almost immediately put to sea again to join the Channel Fleet under the orders of Admiral Lord Bridport. In mid-October she was docked at Plymouth where Markham was able to enjoy the company of his wife who had taken temporary lodgings in the town, and with the Channel Fleet making regular visits to Torbay from its blockade of Brest the Markhams later took a residence known as Livermead Cottage in Torquay.

In April 1800 Admiral Lord St Vincent took command of the Channel Fleet, an appointment which caused much unease amongst its long-standing captains, although Markham was of course used to his uncompromising ways. For six weeks the Centaur served under the orders of Admiral Sir Alan Gardner off the Black Rocks before the fleet was dispersed in a gale on 17 May, with the Centaur scudding for Brixham to arrive two days later. By 1 June the fleet was back on station, but Markham’s command was involved in a collision with the Marlborough 74, Captain Thomas Sotheby, off the Black Rocks on 11 June which saw her lose her bowsprit and return to Plymouth to remain in dock for the whole of July. She returned to the Black Rocks to serve under Rear-Admiral Sir John Warren in August, and the fleet entered Torbay on 19 October. Thereafter the Centaur was employed cruising off Ushant with brief returns to Torbay in November and December.

On 17 January 1801 Markham resigned the command of the Centaur to Captain Bendall Littlehales in order to serve as a junior board member under St. Vincent, who had been appointed the first lord of the Admiralty on the resignation of William Pitt’s government. In order to facilitate this role he was elected the M.P. for Portsmouth in November on the death of Vice-Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour. From August 1802 he was active with St. Vincent in the determined yet contentious campaign to rid the navy of corruption, and as the only naval board member in the House of Commons he had to handle some difficult parliamentary sessions with little experience. He was also taken to task by a select committee which investigated St. Vincent’s controversial impressment of a young officer, David Bartholomew, on 17 December 1803.

Markham was promoted rear-admiral on 23 April 1804, and he left the Admiralty on 15 May after the fall of the government. Continuing as the M.P. for Portsmouth, he returned to the Admiralty in January 1806 as the first sea lord under Lord Howick in the Grenville administration before finally retiring on the fall of the government in March 1807, by which time his health was failing. He was promoted vice-admiral on 25 October 1809, and following the death of his wife in 1810 he became a widower at the age of 49 with a young family.

In 1818 he resigned his Portsmouth seat in favour of the Admiralty candidate, Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, he was further advanced to the rank of admiral on 12 August 1819, and then in 1820 he was persuaded to fight the election for Portsmouth once more at the behest of the influential Carter family, a contest that he won. Even so, he was not to be a frequent attendee of parliament, and he never spoke. After vacating his seat in 1826 he left for Naples in September in the company of his eldest son and daughter in the hope of improving his poor health. Sadly, a recovery did not transpire, and he died at Naples on 13 February 1827, being buried in the city.

On 21 November 1796 in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, and in a service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. John Moore, Markham married the daughter of a Welsh courtier, Hon. Maria Rice. Having given issue a daughter and three sons, she died in childbirth at the home of her brother, Lord Dynevor, in Dover Street on 22 December 1810 at the age of 37 to be buried in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey. Markham’s youngest son, Frederick, found fame as a major-general in India and was renowned as a magnificent sportsman. His residence in the 1790’s was in Portugal Street and in 1802 he purchased the Ades Estate in Chailey near Lewes, Sussex.

Known to his family as Jack, and to his crew as ‘Black Jack’, Markham was described by Lord St. Vincent as having ‘firmness and integrity to the backbone, happily combined with ability, diligence and zeal’. Devoutly religious, he was somewhat melancholy, of a reserved nature, and a poor communicator. His figure was not of the best, and his grim countenance and very dark complexion did little to endear him to his contemporaries.

After enjoying the patronage of Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot in his naval career, his political acquaintance with Lord Lansdowne earned him a position at the Admiralty under Lord St. Vincent. He was obliged to speak regularly in Parliament during his period of office at the Admiralty, doing so with a somewhat abrasive, brash, and agitated style, and he was a man who made many enemies during his career in office. He remained loyal to St. Vincent after that officer left the Admiralty, and was a frequent visitor to his old superior during their retirement. A member of Brooks from 1813, he was a patron of Captain William Durban and a lifelong friend of Vice-Admiral Lord Mark Kerr.