A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Purvis, John Brett

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PURVIS. (Rear-Admiral of the White, 1846. f-p., 25; h-p., 27.)

John Brett Purvis, born 12 Aug. 1787, is eldest son of the late John Child Purvis, Esq., of Vicar’s Hill House, Hants, Admiral of the Blue,[1] by his first wife, Catherine Sowers; and great-grandson of Geo. Purvis, Esq., of Darsham, co. Suffolk, M.P. for Aldeburgh, Comptroller of the Navy in 1735, himself the son of Capt. Geo. Purvis, R.N., and the father of Rear-Admiral Chas. Wager Purvis, who died 15 Jan. 1772. He is first-cousin of the present Commander G. T. M. Purvis, R.N.; and nephew of Capt. Rich. Purvis, R.N., who died in May, 1802, leaving three sons – Lieut. Rich. Oaldham Purvis, R.N., who died in 1805; Lieut. John Leman Purvis, E.I.C.S., who died in the course of the same year; and Capt. Barrington Purvis, R.N., who died in 1822. His father was thrice married – the second time to a sister of the late Vice-Admiral Henry Garrett, the third to the only daughter of Admiral Sir Arch. Dickson, Bart.

This officer (whose name had been borne from Dec. 1795 until Oct. 1796 on the books of the Victory 100, flag-ship of Sir John Jervis in the Mediterranean) embarked, 5 Jan. 1799, as Midshipman, on board the Alecto fire-ship, Capt. Henry Garrett. He shortly afterwards sailed for the Mediterranean in the Queen Charlotte 100, bearing the flag of the present Sir Jas. Hawkins Whitshed. After witnessing the capture, 19 June, 1799, of Rear-Admiral Perrée’s squadron of three frigates and two brigs, he joined the London 98, and Royal George 100, both commanded by his father, Capt. J. C. Purvis; under whom he accompanied, in the London, the expedition of 1800 to Ferrol, and served, in each ship, at the blockade of Brest. In April, 1802, he was again placed under the orders of Capt. Garrett on board the Endymion 40. Being in a few weeks transferred to the Cambrian 40, he went out with the flag of Sir Andw. Mitchell to North America, where, in Dec. of the same year, he followed that officer into the Leander 50, and in July, 1803, joined the Driver sloop, Capts. Wm. Lyall, John Naime, Wm. Compton, and Wm. Simpson. While in the latter vessel, of which he was confirmed a Lieutenant 1 May, 1805, he saw much active service both in North America and the West Indies, and was on one occasion employed in her boats at the capture of a Spanish privateer of 14 guns and 60 men. After a servitude of three months in the Terrible 74, Capt. Lord Henry Paulet, he became, 14 Jan. 1807, Flag-Lieutenant, in the Atlas 74, to his father off Cadiz, where he remained until transferred, 19 Feb. 1808, to the Ocean 98, flag-ship of Lord Collingwood; who nominated him, 2 May ensuing, Acting-Commander of the Delight sloop – an appointment which the Admiralty confirmed 9 Aug. 1808. When stationed, subsequently, on the coast of Calabria, Capt. Purvis assisted at the reduction of the islands of Ischia and Procida. He came into frequent action also with the enemy’s batteries, and succeeded in greatly annoying the trade passing alongshore. On one occasion, having silenced the fire of a battery in the Gulf of Euphemia, he landed, spiked 4 24-ponnders, burnt their carriages, blew up a round tower, and brought off 15 prisoners. In Jan. 1810, in consequence of his promotion to Post-rank, which had taken place 16 Sept. 1809, he resigned command of the Delight, and rejoined his father as a volunteer on board the Atlas. In April, 1810, he was sent home with despatches; and in the following Oct. he was appointed to the Ganymede 26. In that ship he was at first again employed at the defence of Cadiz. He next took part, under Rear-Admiral Hallowell, in all the operations on the east coast of Spain, including the siege of Tarragona and the destruction of the fort of St. Philippe in the Col de Balaguer. During an attack made on some privateers in the Grao of Murviedro, the Ganymede unfortunately took the ground; whereupon part of the French army under Marshal Suchet came down, erected a mortar-battery within shell-range, and with field-pieces and portable furnaces kept up an incessant fire upon her until, after having fought for 17 hours with such of her guns as could be brought to bear, she was hove off with a loss of 5 men killed and 14 wounded. On the opening of Corfu to the English, Capt. Purvis (who had made prize, 18 Aug. 1813, of the French privateer Vanteur of 7 guns and 47 men) was deputed by Rear-Admiral Sir John Gore to receive charge from the French authorities of the men-of-war, together with the arsenal and stores, to be held by England in the name of the Allied Sovereigns. As soon as he had carried out his instructions and had transferred his trust to Capt. Chas. Thurlow Smith of the Undaunted 38, he took his departure for the North American station, where he cruized with much Success until the peace. During the war of a Hundred Days Capt. Purvis commanded the Amphion 32, on Home service. On being next, 3 Oct. 1815, appointed to the Magicienne 42, he conveyed Sir Rich. King, the Commander-in-Chief, to the East Indies. We subsequently, from 1817 until 1819, find him stationed as senior officer off the Mauritius, and actively engaged during that period in the suppression of the slave trade. For the zeal and promptitude displayed by Capt. Purvis in rescuing the crew of the Hon.E.I.Co.’s ship Cabalva, wrecked, in July, 1818, upon the Cargados Garragos Reef, he received the thanks of the Court of Directors, accompanied by the sum of 200 guineas for the purchase of a piece of plate. He had been on a former occasion presented by the officers of the Madras establishment with a piece of plate valued at 100 guineas for his exertions in saving the crew and passengers of the Free Trader Albion, wrecked on Foul Point, near Trincomalee. On finally leaving India, Capt. Purvis had the gratification of receiving from the Commander-in-Chief, as he likewise did from the Admiralty on his arrival in England a very flattering letter of thanks for the zeal and judgment he had evinced on detached service while on that station. The Magicienne being paid off in July, 1819, he did not again go afloat until appointed, 20 Oct. 1841, to the Alfred 50; in which ship he hoisted the broad pendant of a Commodore of the Second Class, and sailed in the spring of 1842 for the purpose of assuming command of the squadron on the south-east coast of America. From Feb. 1843 until June, 1844, he was employed in the Rio de la Plata, where the furious nature of the hostilities maintained between Buenos Ayres and Monte Video occasioned the utmost interruption to commerce and endangered the lives and property of the residents along both banks of the stream. Under such circumstances the senior British officer, as may be imagined, was surrounded with difficulties of no ordinary character, and placed in a position which called forth the exercise of the greatest firmness and discretion. A history of the valuable services performed by Commodore Purvis at this epoch we should have felt a pleasure in recording had our limits not forbidden it. The manner, however, in which he acquitted himself of the perplexing duties that devolved upon him is sufficiently evinced in the fact that it called forth the gratitude, as well of all foreigners as of the English; from the latter he received, on the occasion of his departure for Rio de Janeiro, an address expressive of “the high sense they entertained of the way in which he had maintained the fair fame of the British character and upheld the honour of his country;” and from the Government of the Oriental Republic he received the copy of a resolution registered in the archives of the state, testifying “the sentiments of respect, gratitude, and attachment, which the noble, generous, and magnanimous manner in which he had conducted himself during his lengthened sojourn in the country, at the most difficult and hazardous period of its existence, had excited in the minds of the supreme authorities of the state.” On the return of the Alfred to England in Aug. 1845, the Commodore hauled down his broad pendant; and on 9 Nov. 1846 he was advanced to Flag-rank. He is now on half-pay.

Rear-Admiral Purvis is a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for co. Southampton. He married, in 1815, his cousin Renira Charlotte, sister of the present Commander G. T. M. Purvis, R.N., by whom he has issue two sons – the elder a Lieutenant in the 78th Highlanders; and the younger, Richard, a Lieutenant R.N. Agents – Messrs. Halford and Co.

  1. Admiral John Child Purvis was born in 1746. Subsequently to the commencement of war with France in 1788, we find him serving on the American station as Lieutenant in the Invincible 74, Commodore Evans, and at home, in the Britannia 100, flag-ship of Vice-Admiral Darby. For the gallant manner in which, in command of the Duc de Chartres, of 16 guns and 125 men, he made prize, 19 Aug. 1782, of L’Aigle French corvette of 22 guns and 136 men, 13 of whom were killed and 12 wounded, without any casualty whatever to the British, he was made Post 1 Sept. following. On the renewal of war with France in 1793 he was appointed, first to tile Amphitrite frigate, and next to the Princess Royal 98, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Goodall. In the latter ship he served at the occupation of Toulon and the capture of San Fiorenza and Bastia, also in Hotham’s actions of 14 March and 13 July, 1795, and at the blockade of a French squadron consisting of seven ships of the line and five frigates in Gourjan Bay. He afterwards, from 1797 until 1802, commanded the London 98 and Royal George 100, and from 1603 until promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral 23 April, 1804, the Dreadnought 98, all on the Channel station. From 1806 until 1810 he was chiefly employed at the blockade and defence of Cadiz, where he distinguished himself much by his zeal and good judgment. At one time he continued at sea without ever being driven through the Gut, or even letting go an anchor for the space of nineteen months; during which period not a square-rigged vessel entered or quitted the harbour, except on one occasion, when several, having passes from England, were allowed to proceed. He became a Vice-Admiral 25 Oct. 1809, and a full Admiral 12 Aug. 1819.