Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shipp, John

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SHIPP, JOHN (1784–1834), soldier and author, younger son of Thomas Shipp, a marine, and his wife Lætitia, was born at Saxmundham in Suffolk in March 1784. His mother died in poor circumstances in 1789, his elder brother was lost at sea, and John became an inmate of the parish poorhouse; he was apprenticed by the overseers to a neighbouring farmer, a savage taskmaster, from whom he was glad to escape by enlistment as a boy in the 22nd (Cheshire) regiment of foot, at Colchester, on 17 Jan. 1797. Through the kindness of his captain he picked up some education, and, after service in the Channel Islands and the Cape, sailed for India, where, having risen to be a sergeant in the grenadier company, he served against the Mahrattas under Lord Lake [see Lake, Gerard, first Viscount]. He was one of the stormers at the capture of Deig on 24 Dec. 1804, and thrice led the forlorn hope of the storming column in the unsuccessful assaults on Bhurtpore (January–February 1805). He was severely wounded, but his daring was rewarded by Lord Lake with an ensigncy in the 65th foot. On 10 March in the same year he was gazetted lieutenant in the 76th foot. Returning home after two and a half years' further service, he found himself constrained to sell out on 19 March 1808 in order to obtain a sum (about 250l.) wherewith to pay his debts. After a short interval he found himself in London without a shilling, and took the resolution of again enlisting in the ranks. He returned to India as a private in the 24th light dragoons, and rose by 1812 to the position of regimental sergeant-major. In May 1815 the Earl of Moira [see Hastings, Francis Rawdon-, first Marquis of Hastings and second Earl of Moira] reappointed him to an ensigncy in the 87th Prince's own Irish (now Royal Irish fusiliers), lately arrived in India from Mauritius. Shipp had thus performed the unique feat of twice winning a commission from the ranks before he was thirty-two.

Shipp distinguished himself greatly by his bravery in the second campaign of the Ghoorka war, notably in a single combat with one of the enemy's sirdars near Muckwanpore. He was on the staff of the left division of the ‘grand army’ under the Marquis of Hastings in the Mahratta and Pindaree war (1817–18), and was promoted lieutenant on 5 July 1821. He seems to have been highly popular in his regiment for his gallantry in the field; but during 1822, while quartered at Calcutta, he was inveigled into a series of turf speculations which proved highly disastrous. Shipp was imprudent enough to reflect in writing upon the behaviour of a superior officer in regard to these transactions, and was discharged from the service by a court-martial held at Fort William on 14–27 July 1823. He was, however, recommended to mercy, ‘in consideration of his past services and wounds, and the high character that he had borne as an officer and a gentleman.’ On selling out, on 3 Nov. 1825, the East India Company granted him a pension of 50l., upon which he settled near Ealing in Middlesex. Shipp now turned his hand to relating some of his experiences in an unpretentious volume, entitled ‘Memoirs of the Extraordinary Military Career of John Shipp’ (London, 1829, 12mo; later editions, 1830, 1840, 1843, and 1890), a successful work and a curiosity in autobiography, in which the writer wisely abstained from any recriminations. Two years later he issued ‘Flogging and its Substitute: a Voice from the Ranks,’ in the form of a letter to Sir Francis Burdett, being a powerful indictment of the detestable barbarities of the ‘cat,’ which, as the author maintained, ‘flogged one devil out and fifty devils in.’ Burdett sent the writer a sum of 50l., and most of his suggestions have long since been adopted by the military authorities. In 1830 Shipp was offered an inspectorship in the Stepney division of metropolitan police by Sir Charles Rowan; he was shortly afterwards appointed superintendent of the night watch at Liverpool, and in 1833 was elected master of the workhouse at Liverpool, where he was highly esteemed. He died at Liverpool, in easy circumstances, on 27 Feb. 1834.

Shipp was twice married, and left a widow with children. A whole-length portrait by Wageman, representing him leading his troop into the fort of Huttrass in 1817, was engraved by Holl, and was reproduced for the ‘Memoirs’ (1890); another portrait was engraved by W. T. Fry after John Buchanan.

Besides the works mentioned, Shipp published: 1. ‘The Military Bijou, or the Contents of a Soldier's Knapsack,’ 1831, 12mo. 2. ‘The Eastern Story Teller: a Collection of Indian Tales,’ 1832, 12mo. 3. ‘The Soldier's Friend,’ 1833, 12mo. He was also the author of two melodramas, ‘The Shepherdess of Aranville, or Father and Daughter,’ and ‘The Maniac of the Pyrennees’ (Brentford, 1826 and 1829).

[Shipp's Memoirs, 1890 (with excellent introduction by H. Manners Chichester); Gent. Mag. 1834, ii. 539–42; Georgian Era, ii. 143; Gorton's Biogr. Dict.; Picton's Memorials of Liverpool; London Monthly Review, cxviii. 283.]

T. S.