Captain John Conn of the Dreadnought.

Day Signals from the Admiral.
Day Signals from the Admiral.

This is really just a very quick post on the subject of my great, great, great grandfather, Captain John Conn RN, to ensure that I actually do what I’m idly considering, rather than let the idea fade into obscurity. Here goes.

As a child I grew up with stories and artifacts concerning the Napoleonic Wars, in particular concerning the exploits of my ancestor and partial namesake, Captain John Conn. I was familiar with his face, and that of his son Henry, also a captain and partial namesake, as their portraits had looked out across various sitting rooms throughout my life. Life has its ups and downs, and although we were once in possession of a number of other interesting objects from this era, each time the devil has driven we’ve ended up with fewer and fewer. However, spilt milk and all that.

One of the things which has remained is the Day Signal book issued to John Conn and dated ‘1802’. It is the opinion of one valuer that it was drawn up in preparation for the action at Trafalgar. Capt. Conn was indeed present and very active at Trafalgar (being one of Nelson’s ‘Band of Brothers’) however three years pass between preparation and action, which seems a long time to me, though it should be pointed out that I have no naval qualification or experience, and should probably be dismissed as a ‘grass-combing bugger’.

Anyway – to the point – I recently took some quick snaps of the signal book and thought you might like to see them. Over the course of the next few months I hope to digitise the whole thing at a decent resolution, and upload it here. If you’re interested in the progress of the project, you can follow it using the social media links at the top of the menu on the left.

The following is from the Wikipedia page of John Conn –

Captain John Conn (c. 5 August 1764 – 4 May 1810) was a senior captain in the Royal Navy, whose career, which included service at the battles of the Saintes, the Glorious First of June, Copenhagen and Trafalgar, ended in a shipboard accident before he could reap the rewards of his long service. Conn could also claim membership of Nelson’sBand of Brothers“, a clique of dashing naval officers who participated in Nelson’s campaigns during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as a close friendship with the admiral himself, who once said:

A better or more zealous officer than Captain Conn is not in His Majesty’s service.

Born to a Royal Navy warrant officer of Irish extraction, also named John Conn, he was baptised at Stoke Damerel,Devon, on 5 August 1764.[1] Conn first went to sea in 1778, aged thirteen, aboard on his father’s ship Weazel, before securing a place on Arrogant as a midshipman, and in which he saw action at the battle of the Saintes in April 1782. In 1788 he was made a lieutenant, but had to wait five years before being given a good position,[2] using the intervening time to get married to Margaret Nelson, a vicar’s daughter. Serving aboard the flagship Royal Sovereign at the Glorious First of June, he came to the attention of Admiral Lord Howe. He commissioned the 12-gun gun vessel Staunch in June 1797 but left her a year later. He then further distinguished himself in October 1798 in Foudroyant at the battle of Donegal, which resulted in the destruction of a French invasion fleet headed for Ireland. He was promoted tocommander on 11 August 1800 and took command of the bomb vesselDiscovery. At the first battle of Copenhagen his expertise caused terrible damage to the Danish fleet. Next, he participated in Nelson’s bold but disastrous attack on the French invasion force in Boulogne shortly afterwards, commanding the division of gun-boats, and gaining his commanding officer’s attention and respect.

Conn received promotion to post-captain on 29 August 1802 and took command of Culloden. His nine-year-old son Henry joined him on Culloden. Conn then transferred to the French prize Canopus and joined Nelson in the Mediterranean at Nelson’s request. In 1805 Conn was given temporary command of the first rate flagship Victory and his old ship Royal Sovereign whilst their commanders were on leave; his performance further contributed to his reputation as a reliable and steady officer. On 10 October he returned the Royal Sovereign to Admiral Collingwood and took command of the fast new second rateDreadnought.

Eleven days later Conn and his crew where thrown into battle as the Franco-Spanish fleet attempted to break out of Cadiz. Situated halfway down Collingwood’s division, Conn struggled to reach the action, only getting there around the time Nelson was mortally wounded in the northern division. Making up for the delay, Dreadnought tangled with the Spanish ship San Juan Nepomuceno, rescuing the battered Bellerophon, killing the Spanish captain Cosmé Damián Churruca and forcing his ship to surrender. Charging on from this victory, the Dreadnought engaged the Spanish flagship Principe de Asturias, mortally wounding the Spanish admiral Gravina, but being unable to defeat the enemy, which succeeded in escaping back to Cadiz. Conn even managed to rescue his prize, the San Juan Nepomuceno being one of only four captured enemy ships to survive the storm.

Following the battle, in which Dreadnought suffered 33 casualties, Conn continued in service taking over the massive 112 gun San Josef and then the 120 gun Hibernia as flag captain before moving as a commodore to the West Indies in Swiftsure in 1810. Admiral’s rank and the honours which came with it were surely not far away when tragedy struck on 4 May when during the chase of a small French ship near Bermuda, Conn became over-eager, slipped and fell overboard. Swiftsure was halted and a search was conducted, but Conn had drowned before help arrived. His passing was mourned in Britain and especially in the Navy where he was a popular and respected figure. Sir John Borlase Warren, an old commander and friend, expressed regret at the death of so deserving an officer as Captain Conn.


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5 Responses

  1. j h van baal says:

    Wonderful. I look forward to more. So does Patrick O’Brien, wherever he may be.

  2. S. Marsh says:

    Do you have an Image of Captain Conn that you could post please?

  3. S. Marsh says:

    I have a cover of a letter that Nelson sent to Alexander Davison that Nelson has marked ‘By Cpt Conn’. Presumably Conn carried the letter to London for Nelson when he was on leave. I would love to find out more about him.

  4. DD says:

    Hi – that sounds very interesting – I shal dig out a pic and add it to the page.

  5. Sally says:

    Hi there, I am a descendant of John conn as well. This is all very interesting. Do you have a picture of him you are able to post

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