Captain John Stockham, 1765 - 1814

Oval miniature in watercolour in an oval gilt metal surround, set in a black-lacquered rectangular wooden backing, with a brass suspension ring and hanger, top centre, in the form of a rose, thistle and clover (the symbols of England, Scotland and Ireland). The sitter is shown head and shoulders, half turned to his left but looking out to the viewer. He wears 1795-1812 captain's uniform (with both epaulettes indicating over three years' seniority) and his captain's gold medal for the Battle of Trafalgar. His eyes are blue and his hair is cut short and powdered. The light blue sky background is obscured by gunsmoke to the right, above which protrude mastheads of a ship in action. On the back there is are two inscriptions, one identifying the ship which reads 'Captain of HM Warship "The Thunderer" 1805 Battle of Trafalgar' and the other 'Captain Stockham June 20th 1809', which is presumed to be the date of the image. A Museum staff hand has added 'Presented 1938 by Miss M. Lacey' : she was Stockham's great-niece and gave it to the Museum on 18 May of that year with other items related to him (some listed below). Stockham was born in Exeter, where he was baptized in July 1765. When he joined the Navy is unknown, but it was probably during the War of American Independence. He appears to have lacked patronage and was only commissioned lieutenant on the 29 April 1797, probably while still just 31 - comparatively late for gaining the rank. In late 1800 he was appointed junior (8th) lieutenant of the 112-gun 'San Josef', which Nelson had captured at Cape St Vincent in 1797, and which was put into commission as his flagship in the Channel, under Thomas Hardy as flag-captain. On 10 February 1801, Hardy and the entire officer complement transferred with Nelson to the 90-gun 'St George' for Hyde Parker's Baltic expedition, but this was one of the ships that were too large to take part in the Battle of Copenhagen in April. Nelson shifted temporarily for that to the 74-gun 'Elephant' and Stockham, like Parker, presumably only witnessed it at a distance. When Nelson became Baltic commander-in-chief following Parker's recall, 'St George' remained his flagship until Vice-Admiral Charles Morice Pole took her over in June, on Nelson's return to England. Stockham presumably remained in the ship in the Baltic and from late August in the blockade of Cadiz, until it paid off in December. He was probably not employed again until after the Peace of Amiens, but by 1805 had advanced to first lieutenant of the 'Thunderer', 74 guns, Captain William Lechmere. This was one of the ships under Sir Robert Calder that, in July, intercepted the French fleet off Cape Finisterre, as they returned from the West Indies pursued by Nelson. Calder fought an only partially successful action against them, which aroused considerable public criticism and prompted him to seek a court-martial, for which he called Lechmere home as a defence witness. At this point of general crisis, Stockham had the good fortune to be left as acting captain, and therefore commanded 'Thunderer' at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, fighting in Collingwood's division. Although his inexperience showed in some respects, he sufficiently distinguished himself. As a result his post-captaincy was confirmed on 25 December and he was awarded both the captain's gold medal for the action and one of the captains' 100-guinea Trafalgar swords of the Lloyd's Patriotic Fund: both are also in the NMM collection (see MED0157 and WPN1044) which also includes his uniform epaulettes as seen here (UNI0098) and some papers (BGY/S/5). On relinquishing 'Thunderer', however, he was unable to obtain another command and retired to Exeter, where he died still aged only 48, on 6 February 1814. He was buried with others of his family at St Sidwell's church but his grave was destroyed in Second World War bombing. If this image is by a professional hand, it is likely to be a provincial one, possibly in Exeter, though it may also be by an amateur and perhaps a member of his family. The collection also includes another miniature said to be of Stockham (MNT0130), though hard to reconcile with the present example on appearances, and also a silhouette (MNT0091) which was also in the Lacey gift.

Object Details

ID: MNT0090
Collection: Fine art
Type: Miniature
Display location: Not on display
Creator: unidentified
Vessels: Thunderer 1783 (HMS)
Date made: 20\06\1809; Probably June 1809 probably 20 June 1809
People: Stockham, John
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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