John Stockham

John Stockham

Infobox Person
name = John Stockham

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birth_date = birth date|1765|7|24|df=yes
birth_place = Exeter, Devon, England
death_date = death date and age|1814|2|6|1765|7|24|df=yes
death_place = Exeter, Devon, England
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resting_place =St Sidwell's Church, Exeter, Devon, England
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occupation = Royal Navy Captain
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Captain John Stockham (24 July 1765 - 6 February 1814) was an officer in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, whose career is now obscured to the point that very little of his life is known up until 1805, when he was suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to command the ship of the line HMS "Thunderer" at the battle of Trafalgar.

Stockham was born in July 1765 to a middle class Devon family, and was baptised in Exeter on the 24th of that month. The date he joined the navy is not known and neither is the ship he joined, but it is likely that he was at sea before the end of the American War of Independence and may have seen action there, although this can not be proven. A measure of Stockham's failure to grasp the limelight may be seen in his promotion to lieutenant, which came in 1797 [ 29 April 1797 ] when he was 32, a full fourteen years after the normal age for this promotion. This was likely the result of a failure to gain interest or sponsorship from an admiral, politician or other important personage who would then provide references for promotion or stationing aboard ship. Stockham had likewise failed to make any impression during his naval service, an unusual occurrence which may be the result of being left ashore on half pay, although this too can not be proven.

The next time the unfortunate Stockham appears in the historical record is after the peace of Amiens, where he was now first lieutenant on board the "Thunderer", a post which at the very least implies technical competence. "Thunderer" had participated in the battle of Cape Finisterre in the July 1805 under her captain, William Lechmere, and Lechmere had then become embroiled in the controversy surrounding Sir Robert Calder's conduct in the action. When Calder insisted on a court martial, he requested Lechmere, along with John Harvey of HMS "Agamemnon" and Philip Durham of HMS "Defiance" to come back to London and testify in his defence. Durham refused but Harvey and Lechmere did not, leaving their first lieutenants in charge of their ships. This proved to be one of the worst decisions of their lives.

In charge of "Thunderer" during the blockade of Cadiz, Stockham had some time to work up his authority amongst his crew and to train them for the coming battle. When it occurred on the 21 October, "Thunderer" was placed towards the rear of Collingwood's division, and so did not reach the action until well on into the day. Nonetheless, Stockham and his ship performed admirably, engaging with the Spanish flagship "Principe de Asturias" and the French "Neptune", suffering 16 casualties but remaining largely intact physically, enabling her to aid more battered ships during the terrible storm which followed.

Following the action, Stockham was granted the gold medal and sword from the Patriotic Fund, and was promoted to Post Captain on Christmas Day of that year. Stockham, like many other officers who served in the battle was then unable to find a ship for future service, and so retired to Exeter a few years later, where he lived peacefully until his early death in 1814. He was buried in a family plot in St Sidwell's Church, but his grave was destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz. Exactly the same raid which destroyed Stockham's tombstone also destroyed that of Robert Benjamin Young, the captain of one of the small ships which accompanied the fleet at Trafalgar, in a different Exeter churchyard.

Further reading

*"The Trafalgar Captains", Colin White and the 1805 Club, Chatham Publishing, London, 2005, ISBN 1-86176-247-X


External links

* [ John Stockham bio]
* [ Animation of the Battle of Trafalgar]

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