A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Nicolas, John Toup

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NICOLAS, C.B., K.H., K.F.M. (Captain, 1815. f-p., 29; h-p., 21.)

John Toup Nicolas, born 22 Feb. 1788, is eldest son of the late Retired Commander John Harris Nicolas, R.N.,[1] of East Looe, co. Cornwall, by Margaret, youngest daughter and co-heir of John Blake, Esq., and grand-daughter of the Rev. John Keigwin, Vicar of Landrake. He is brother of Paul Harris Nicolas, Esq., First-Lieutenant R.M., who served on board the Belleisle 74 at the battle of Trafalgar; of Lieut. Wm. Keigwin Nicolas, R.N.; and of Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, G.C.M.G., K.H., Lieutenant R.N. One of his uncles, Paul Harris Nicolas, an Alderman of East Looe, was father of the late Capt. Nicholas Harris Nicolas of the Royal Artillery; and another, the late Major Nicholas Harris Nicolas (who died in Nov. 1816), after having held a commission in the Royal Marines, and been severely wounded at the battle of Bunker’s Hill, removed into the line, became a Captain in the 44th and 89th regts., and, subsequently to the peace of 1783, Major of the Royal Cornwall Fencible Dragoons.

This officer entered the Navy, in 1797, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Attack gun-vessel, in which, and in the Forester and Nimble, commanded by Lieuts. Hinton, Allen, arid Lloyd, he served on the Dartmouth station, until received as Midshipman, in Sept. 1799, into the Edgar 74, under the orders of his patron, Capt. Edw. Buller, whom, in the spring of 1801, he accompanied into the Achille 74, attached, as had been the Edgar, to the force in the Channel. In April, 1803, having passed some months in the Naiad frigate, Capt. Jas. Wallis, he again joined Capt. Buller on board the Malta 80. In that ship, of which he was created a Lieutenant 1 May, 1804, he fought in Sir Robt. Calder’s action with the combined fleets oif Cape Finisterre 22 July, 1805. In June and Oct. 1807 he became Flag-Lieutenant, in the Queen 98 and Canopus 80, to Rear-Admiral Geo. Martin, on the Mediterranean station; where, 12 Oct. 1809, he was ordered to act as Commander of the Redwing 18. In the following Dec, finding that he had been officially promoted to the command of the Pilot brig of 18 guns, by a commission bearing date 26 of the preceding Aug., he returned to England, and in April, 1810, joined that vessel at Portsmouth. Returning soon with convoy to the Mediterranean, he commenced a series of operations against the enemy along the Italian shores, unsurpassed for activity and success, the principal of which we shall now proceed to record. His first act was the destruction, when in company with the Ortenzia schooner, of five out of a convoy of 51 sail, protected, near the town of St. Luoido, on the coast of Calabria, by a battery, 16 armed vessels, and a body of musketeers, whose fire killed 3 of the British. This event took place 24 June, 1810; and on 8 of the ensuing month we find him earning the high admiration of Rear-Admiral Martin by the manner in which he took, near the same place, and destroyed two gun-boats, three armed scampavias, and 17 sail of transport-vessels, laden with stores and ammunition for Murat’s army at Scylla. Seventeen days afterwards, being in company with the Thames 32 and Weasel 18, the zeal and gallantry of Capt. Nicolas were again displayed at the capture and destruction, under the batteries of Amantea, of a convoy of 31 vessels, also laden for the army of Murat, together with seven large gun-boats and five scampavias; a service which procured him the acknowledgments as well of the Admiralty as of his Commander-in-Chief.[2] Independently of many gallant exploits performed by her boats at Monasteracci, Riacci, Strongoli, Castellar,[3] Policastro,[4] and other places, in which she herself more or less participated, the Pilot, in company with the Thames 32, Capt. Chas. Napier, came into action, 4 April, 1812, with a Neapolitan flotilla, consisting of a brig, three schooners, and 14 gun-vessels, whom an unfortunate calm enabled to escape under the strong batteries of Salerno. On 14 of the ensuing month the two ships attacked the port of Sapri, and, after having battered for two hours its defences (a strong battery and tower mounting 2 32-pounders), compelled it to surrender at discretion. The support afforded by Capt. Nicolas on the occasion was great; he flanked the battery in a most judicious manner, and afterwards commanded the launching of 28 vessels laden with oil.[5] In June, 1812, uniting with the Euryalus 36 and Cephalus 18, the Pilot suffered severely in her sails and rigging while engaged in a five hours’ attempt to destroy a large convoy at Dino, protected by three batteries, several gun-boats, and a large body of troops. Between April, 1810, and July, 1812, she effected, we may add, the unassisted capture, with a loss of but 8 of her people killed and 24 wounded, of not less than 130 of the enemy’s vessels. In the course of the month last mentioned she was ordered to the Adriatic; and while next cruizing between Sicily and the African coast, she succeeded in taking, among other prizes, the French armed-brig Harp, with a valuable cargo on board, at the close of a long and anxious chase, 4 June, 1813. At the commencement of the peace of 1814 her Commander was sent by Lord Exmouth to Murat, then King of Naples, to inquire into a supposed insult offered by a Neapolitan frigate to H.M. sloop Pylades; which, however, in a personal interview with Joachim, was proved to him to have originated in mistake. Towards the close of 1814, having returned with convoy to England, Capt. Nicolas applied to the Admiralty for leave to have the Pilot altered agreeably to a plan he had formed, by which a shot-hole between wind and water, in any part of the ship, could be immediately stopped, an object hitherto impracticable from the arrangements of the bread and store rooms. His request was at once granted, and the suggestions he had made ordered to be carried out in regard to all the 18-gun brigs then under repair at Portsmouth. On the escape of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba, Capt. Nicolas was again sent to the Mediterranean, where he was intrusted with the important duty of opening a communication with Marseilles and the coast adjacent, for the purpose of assuring those who adhered to the royal cause of the assistance of Great Britain. On 17 June, 1815, being off Cape Corse, he achieved an exploit of much gallantry in effecting the defeat of the French corvette Légère of 28 guns; which vessel made off at the end of a close and obstinate combat of nearly two hours, attended with a loss to herself of 22 men killed and 79 wounded, and to the British, with damage to their sails and rigging, of 1 man killed and 15 wounded. To mark the sense they entertained of his conduct on the occasion, the Admiralty promoted Capt. Nicolas to Post-rank by a commission dated 26 Aug. 1815. On 4 of the preceding June he had formed one of the six Commanders nominated to the C.B. on the extension of the order of the Bath. In the following Oct. he was presented, in compliment to his distinguished services, with the Small Cross of the Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit by the King of the Two Sicilies; who, on 26 April, 1816, as an additional mark of favour, conferred on him the Cross of a Knight Commander of the same Order. After accompanying Lord Exmouth on his visits to Algiers and Tunis, Capt. Nicolas returned to England, and, in July, 1816, was paid off. During the time he had been employed in the Mediterranean he had frequently attracted the notice of the Admiralty by the valuable additions he had made to hydrographic knowledge. Obtaining command, 5 Jan. 1820, of the Egeria 28, Capt. Nicolas was forthwith despatched to Newfoundland, where it was his lot for some months to discharge the anomalous duties of a naval surrogate. A better proof of the satisfactory manner in which he acquitted himself cannot be adduced than the fact that out of more than a thousand cases in which he adjudicated at St. John and Harbour Grace only three appeals were made, and in each of these his decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court. A gratifying testimony, too, of the general esteem in which he was held, was afforded him by the spontaneous manner in which the chief inhabitants of the latter place came forward, on the publication of a libel against him, and subscribed the sum of 400l. towards the conviction of the offender. In May, 1822, he returned to England; and in Nov. of that year, in consequence of a dispute which had arisen between the keelmen and the shipmasters and owners at Newcastle, he was deputed with a small squadron to the river Tyne to aid the civil power in subduing the alarming insubordination displayed. By a union of firmness, decision, and forbearance, he succeeded in six weeks, without the occurrence of a single casualty, in fully restoring order; and in such a manner as to elicit the marked approbation of the Mayor, Magistrates and merchants belonging to the town of Newcastle, of the Commander-in-Chief at the Nore, Sir Benj. Hallowell, and of the present Sir Robt. Peel, then Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Egeria being put out of commission in the early part of 1823, Capt. Nicolas, notwithstanding many applications for employment, remained on half-pay for a period of 14 years. His appointments have since been – 16 Aug. 1837, to the Hercules 74, on the Lisbon station, whence his health obliged him to return in Jan. 1839 – 10 April, in the latter year, to the Belleisle 72, employed on the Mediterranean and Home stations – 30 Sept. 1841 (on leaving the Belleisle, which, not being found effective as an active man-of-war, had been paid off and, at his suggestion, fitted for the conveyance of troops), to the Vindictive 50 – and, 1 Sept. 1847, to the Superintendentship of the Victualling Yard at Plymouth, where he is now serving. During the three years he commanded the Vindictive, Capt. Nicolas was chiefly employed on the East India station. On touching, on his passage home, at Tahiti, circumstances arose which called for his interference, and afforded him occasion for the display of much zeal, ability, and firmness, in resisting the aggressions of the French on that island.

In reference to the success which had attended the efforts of the American navy, Capt. Nicolas, towards the end of 1814, published a pamphlet entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Causes which have led to ou#late Naval Disasters, by an Officer In the Navy, in a Series of Letters addressed to a Friend.’ He was nominated a K.H. 1 Jan. 1834; and on 9 Nov. 1846 awarded the Good Service Pension. He married, 1 Aug. 1818, Frances Anna, daughter of Nicholas Were, Esq., of Landcox, near Wellington, co. Somerset, by whom he has issue four sons and two daughters. His third son, Beville Granville Wyndham, is in the Royal Navy.


  1. Commander J. H. Nicolas was born in 1758. He entered the Navy in 1772; served in the Orpheus 32 at the blockade of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; attained the rank of Lieutenant in 1779; and between that period and 1786 was employed in the Ocean 90, as senior in the Buffalo 60, and in command, for two years, of the Sprightly cutter. From 1792 until 1798 he regulated the Impress service at Dartmouth in a manner most creditable to himself and satisfactory to the inhabitants. His prudent and spirited conduct on one occasion saved the town from being destroyed by fire. In 1798 he was appointed to command the Sea Fencibles on the coast of Devon; and from 1808 until 1810 he commanded the Résolue guard-ship at Plymouth, He was placed on the list of Retired Commanders 17 March, 1814, snd died 12 July, 1844.
  2. Vide Gaz. 1810, p. 1860.
  3. Vide Gaz. 1811, p. 2193.
  4. Vide Gaz. 1812, p. 1396.
  5. Vide Gaz. 1812, pp. 1396-7.