story icon Tales of a Trafalgar Hero from Jamaica

Contributed by: Ruth Crook

The Trafalgar Hero

John Simmonds, who was of mixed race, was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1783. At the age of 20 he was caught by the press gangers for the British Navy, and transferred to a ship called the Salvador del Mundo, a receiving ship. He then volunteered to serve in the British Navy, and was assigned to a ship called the Conqueror as a Landsman.

In 1805 he fought at the battle of Trafalgar. Conqueror took the surrender of the French fleet, and the French Admiral came on board. John was subsequently able to claim bounty money. He continued to serve on the Conqueror as an Ordinary Seaman until 1812, when he was transferred to the Barnham. He later served on Variable as Able Seaman, Yeoman of the Sheets and Quarter Master until 1816, when he was invalided from service and became a Greenwich Pensioner. He returned to sea in 1826 on a ship called Forte, where he served for two years.

John married Ann Fouch, who was born in the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, London, and was said to be of French Huguenot descent. They worked as hawkers and settled in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, where their first child Ann was born in 1831. Ann was followed by John in 1836, Mary in 1839 and William in 1844. John received his Trafalgar medal in 1846 and was justly proud. He had his portrait painted on Mansfield market place, wearing his treasured medal. John died in 1858 of old age and is buried in Mansfield.

John junior grew up in Mansfield, and worked on a farm as a labourer and gamekeeper on the outskirts of the town. He married Ann Wass in 1859 and had seven children; John in 1862, Joseph in 1867, Priscilla in 1869, Sarah Ann in 1873, Bertha in 1875, Flora in 1878 and Nelly in 1879. Around the time that Nelly was born, the family suffered terrible loss, losing four of its members within two years. Bertha died in November 1879 and her father John junior was killed in December whilst at work. Joseph died of tetanus after sticking a fork through his foot, and their eldest son John died in the same quarry that had claimed his father's life. John junior had gone to help in a quarry near to the farm where he worked. He took teams of horses with him, as the machinery that pulled the stone up from the quarry had broken down. He fell under the wheels of one of the carts and was crushed. The four remaining girls were brought up by their mother and grandmother, who opened a shop in the town selling, pots, pans and metal wares.

Priscilla grew up to marry Robert Yallup and have two sons and a daughter. One of these sons, Joseph Yallup, was my grandfather.

As I was growing up, we used to visit my great-great aunt Nelly (Simmonds, born 1879), who lived into her 90's, and my grandfather's cousins. I was shown the painting of John Simmonds proudly wearing his Trafalgar medal and his certificate for collecting bounty money. It seemed incredibly exciting and very exotic to a small child, and I decided that when I grew up I would try and find out more about him.

I started by looking up the names that I had been told about in the local library in the 1841, 51, 61, 71 and 81 census. I then checked their dates of birth in the local parish records. I still to this day have not been able to find John senior's marriage, which took place before general registration. The relevant copies of the death certificates were obtained from the local registrar. I found the gruesome report of John junior's death in the local newspaper for 1879. The burial records were kept in the local crematorium, so I was able to locate their graves.

When I had quite a lot of information about the family and had copied lots of photographs, I decided to visit the Public Record Office in Kew. I looked in ADM 29/100 in the Seaman's records and ADM 36/16246/7 in the Musters to find his Naval service records. I was also able to search ADM 2/1145, among the records for Greenwich Pensioners.

I have written several times to the Jamaican Record Office in Spanish Town with no success. I still have more records to search in Kew. My greatest ambition is to be able to trace John Simmonds senior's parentage back in Jamaica, how I will do that is still not yet certain.

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