Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillimore, John (1781-1840)

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PHILLIMORE, Sir JOHN (1781–1840), captain in the navy, third son of Joseph Phillimore, vicar of Orton-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire, and brother of Joseph Phillimore [q. v.], was born on 18 Jan. 1781. He entered the navy in the spring of 1795, on board the Nymphe frigate, with Captain George Murray (1759–1819) [q. v.], and was present in the action off Lorient on 23 June 1795. In 1796 he followed Murray to the Colossus, and was in her in the battle of Cape St. Vincent, and when she was wrecked among the Scilly Islands in December 1798. He was again with Murray in the Edgar in the Baltic, but having been sent to the London, Sir Hyde Parker's flagship, to pass his examination, was in her when the battle of Copenhagen was fought. He was then acting as signal-midshipman, and made the celebrated signal to Nelson to discontinue the action. The first lieutenant of the Edgar having been killed in the battle, Phillimore was promoted to the vacancy; he was afterwards in the London, the Spartiate, and the Gannet sloop, and was made commander on 10 May 1804. In October 1805 he was appointed to the Cormorant armed ship in the North Sea, and in September 1806 was moved to the Belette, a fine 18-gun brig, on the Downs station and off Boulogne under Commodore Owen. In the spring of 1807 he convoyed three storeships to the Baltic for the relief of Colberg, then besieged by the French under Augereau. The Belette afterwards joined the fleet under Admiral Gambier at Copenhagen, and, as a mark of the admiral's approval of Phillimore's services, was sent to England with the despatches. Accordingly Phillimore was advanced to post rank on 13 Oct. 1807, but remained in command of the Belette, which returned to the Baltic, and in February 1808 brought Lord Hutchinson to England from Gothenburg. For some months in 1809 Phillimore commanded the Marlborough in the Scheldt, and in June 1810 was appointed to the Diadem, a 64-gun ship, employed as a trooper with a reduced armament. The navy board therefore gave orders for her to be on the establishment of a 32-gun frigate, with a ludicrously insufficient supply of stores. Phillimore's protests were in vain, until, after pointing out that the paint was barely half of what was required, he begged to be informed which side they would like to have painted, the starboard or larboard. It was in the course of this correspondence that Phillimore, noticing that the commissioners signed themselves—as used to be the custom for a superior office—his ‘affectionate friends,’ signed himself in his reply as their ‘affectionate friend,’ for which he was promptly reprimanded. Phillimore acknowledged the letter, and signed himself ‘no longer your affectionate friend.’ For the next three years the Diadem was engaged in carrying troops or prisoners to or from the peninsula, and in May 1813 Phillimore was appointed to the Eurotas, a 46-gun frigate carrying light 24-pounders on the main deck. During the year she was attached to the fleet off Brest; in January 1814 she was sent off Lorient to watch three frigates reported as ready for sea. On a dark night, with a strong easterly wind, they ran out and away to the westward. Phillimore had anticipated their sailing, and the next morning had them still in sight. After chasing them for three days he lost them in a fog, and, being short of provisions and water, returned to England with the news of their escape. By the beginning of February the Eurotas was again at sea, and on the 25th fell in with the French frigate Clorinde of nominally equal force. The Clorinde had more men, and it was a question whether her heavy 18-pounders were not more efficient than the Eurotas's light 24-pounders. The action which followed was one of the most equal and stubborn during the war. By nightfall the Eurotas was completely dismasted; the Clorinde had part of her foremast standing and drifted away. She was not, however, lost sight of. Phillimore had been most dangerously wounded and was below, but by the exertions of the first lieutenant, when morning came the Eurotas was jury-rigged and going five knots and a half towards the enemy, which was still in the same state as on the previous evening. It was a remarkable bit of seamanship, and must have led to a brilliant success; but, unfortunately for Phillimore, the English frigate Dryad and the Achates sloop came in sight, and on their closing the Clorinde she struck to an evident superiority of force. On 4 June 1815 Phillimore was nominated a C.B., but his wounds rendered him for some years incapable of active service. In April 1820 he accepted the command of the William and Mary yacht, at the disposal of the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Talbot, by whom he was knighted. In March 1823 he was appointed to the Thetis frigate, on a roving commission to Mexico and the West Indies, coast of Africa, South America, and the Mediterranean.

On one of Phillimore's short visits to England during this time his attention was called to the account given in James's ‘Naval History’—then newly published—of the action between the Eurotas and Clorinde, which he conceived reflected injuriously on the discipline of the Eurotas. The statement was, in effect, that the 24-pounders did not do as much execution as had been done in other actions by 18-pounders, and that the ship had been long enough in commission for her men ‘to have been taught a few practical rules of gunnery.’ Phillimore got forty-eight hours' leave, went up to London, and, armed with a stout cane, called on James and administered a sound thrashing, in compensation for which he afterwards paid 100l. [see James, William (d. 1827)]. A better known incident, still often told, occurred on the homeward voyage of the Thetis from Cape Coast Castle, where she had taken an effective part against the Ashantees. In August 1824 she put into St. Michael's for supplies for the sick, when the English residents requested Phillimore to have the English burial-ground consecrated. Phillimore at once consented, and sending for the chaplain gave him an order to consecrate it the next day at noon. The chaplain demurred, and explained that only a bishop could consecrate. Thereupon Phillimore gave him an acting order as bishop of St. Michael's, and the ground was consecrated. In the following year the Thetis went up the Mediterranean, carrying the English ambassador to Naples, and on the homeward voyage put into Gibraltar, just in time to establish a claim to the jurisdiction of the port, in its widest sense. Seventeen English merchant ships, blown from their anchors in a violent gale, had been driven on shore at the head of the bay, on Spanish territory, and were claimed by the Spanish commandant at Algeziras as coming under his authority. This claim Phillimore refused to allow, and leading in the Thetis's boats, manned and armed, drove off the Spanish troops who had fired on the salving party. For this service in salving the cargoes Phillimore received a letter of thanks from the merchants of Gibraltar, and afterwards from Lloyd's; but its principal importance is as a precedent, which has been recorded for the guidance of the senior officer at Gibraltar. It was during this commission of the Thetis that Phillimore, with the consent of the admiralty, tentatively reduced the ration of rum from half a pint to one gill, paying the men savings-price for the other gill. The good effects of this reduction, which was, in the first instance, perfectly voluntary on the part of the men, were so evident that it was permanently adopted by the admiralty in July 1824. To Phillimore were also due other changes for the comfort and improvement of the seamen, among which may be counted the payment of a monthly advance, actually adopted on board the Thetis. Captain Drew, who served with him in every ship he commanded, has recorded that ‘his mind was constantly employed in endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of his fellow-creatures, but particularly British seamen;’ that he was ‘a kind protector to those over whom he was placed in authority … but less agreeable to those under whom he served.’ The Thetis was paid off in November 1826, and Phillimore had no further service.

He settled in a cottage on the Thames near Maidenhead. The wound which he had received in the action with the Clorinde had never ceased to cause him uneasiness, and of the effects of it he eventually died on 21 March 1840. He was buried in Bray churchyard.

In 1830 he married Catherine Harriet, daughter of Rear-admiral Raigersfeld. She survived him a few months, and was buried beside him. He left issue, besides four daughters, two sons, of whom the younger, Henry Bouchier, died an admiral and C.B. in 1893. [Memoir by Captain Andrew Drew, R.N., in the United Service Magazine, June 1850; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. v. (Suppl. pt. i.) 242; Gent. Mag. 1840, i. 652; information from Admiral Sir Augustus Phillimore, Sir John's nephew.]

J. K. L.