John Harvey (Royal Navy officer)

John Harvey

John Harvey
by Gilbert Stuart

Born 9 July 1740
Eastry, Kent
Died 30 June 1794
Portsmouth, Hampshire
Allegiance  Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1754 to 1794
Rank Royal Navy Captain
Battles/wars Seven Year’s War
American War of Independence
Great Siege of Gibraltar
Battle of Cape Spartel
French Revolutionary Wars
Glorious First of June

Captain John Harvey (9 July 1740 – 30 June 1794) was an officer of the British Royal Navy whose death in the aftermath of the battle of the Glorious First of June where he had commanded the HMS Brunswick terminated a long and highly successful career and made him a celebrity in Britain, a memorial to his memory being raised in Westminster Abbey.

Early career

Born in 1740 at Eastry, Kent, John Harvey was the son of Richard and Elizabeth Harvey née Nichols, local gentry. Entering the Navy in 1754, Harvey began a long family naval tradition, taken up by his brother Henry Harvey a few years later. His first ship was HMS Falmouth, a fifty gun fourth-rate in which he stayed for five years into the Seven Year’s War. In 1759, promoted to lieutenant with the patronage of Admiral Francis Holburne and distant relation Sir Percy Brett, Harvey joined the sloop HMS Hornet and frigate HMS Arethusa, taking shore pay in 1762 at the war’s conclusion. The same year he married Judith Wise of Sandwich, Kent and the couple had a large family, their sons including several future admirals.

American War of Independence

Between 1766 and 1768, Harvey commanded the sloop HMS Alarm off Scotland but following promotion in 1768 he was again forced to take half-pay on shore for the next eight years, until the American War of Independence caused a dramatic increase of the size of the Navy. Briefly commanding the sloop HMS Speedwell, Harvey was soon promoted once more, making post-captain and being given the prime command of HMS Panther, the 60-gun flagship of Admiral Robert Duff at Gibraltar. From 1778 until 1780, Harvey distinguished himself at the Great Siege of Gibraltar, even commanding there during 1780 in the absence of his senior officer.

In 1780, Panther returned to England and was then attached for a year to Sir Samuel Hood’s fleet in the West Indies. Returning to England early in 1782, Harvey was transferred to the new 64-gun ship HMS Sampson and in her returned to the Mediterranean, again distinguishing himself at the relief of Gibraltar and the subsequent Battle of Cape Spartel. At the war’s conclusion the following year, Harvey retained his active career due to his excellent records and served in several shore appointments, including regulating captain at Deal and commander of the guardship HMS Arrogant at Sheerness.

French Revolutionary Wars

With the French Revolution of 1790 making war inevitable, the Navy again expanded and Harvey was subject to special request from Admiral Lord Howe who desired him to command the new and powerful 74-gun ship of the line HMS Brunswick in the Channel Fleet. The Channel Fleet was not forced to wait long before joining action, Britain going to war in 1793 and a year later becoming embroiled in the battle of the Glorious First of June, an engagement intended to cut off France’s grain supply from the young United States. Howe had been chasing the French fleet protecting the convoy for some days, and several short and sharp actions had been fought without conclusion. On 1 June 1794 however, Howe finally gained the wind on the French and overhauled them in a long line of battle.

Glorious First of June

Howe was not planning a regular naval battle of orderly lines and formal engagement but was instead relying on the inexperience of the French revolutionary crews to provide his captains with an opportunity for a large scale victory. Howe ordered his captains to turn towards the French fleet and for each ship in the British line to cut the French line, raking ships either side as they did so before engaging them in close combat and relying on superior British training and firepower to subdue the enemy. These tactics were only partially successful, primarily because the British captains had never been issued such an order before and many refused to enact it as too risky, most simply engaging the French from a distance or making a show of crossing the line before turning in for close engagement too early. Several captains however were aware of the spirit of the order and made efforts to break through the French line. Among these captains was John Harvey.

Brunswick’s opponent was the 74-gun Vengeur du Peuple, a good ship with a disorganised but plentiful crew. Harvey held his nerve and cut the line, but was then undone when Brunswick’s anchor became entangled in the French ships rigging. A vicious close range cannon and musket duel ensued, the two ships hidden by smoke as the battle continued elsewhere. Brunswick’s master requested permission to cut the anchor free, but Harvey replied “No, as we’ve got her, we’ll keep her.” During the engagement which followed, both ships suffered terrible casualties, Brunswick taking 44 dead and 114 wounded. Harvey was himself hit three times, losing his right hand to a musket ball, being hit on the back by a large wooden splinter and finally having his elbow shattered by a French roundshot.

Seeing his brother’s predicament, Henry Harvey, who commanded the HMS Ramillies sailed to his aid and raked the Vengeur du Peuple twice, killing dozens of her crew and finally driving the ships apart. Both resembled wrecks, the Vengeur clearly sinking from the huge holes blasted in her sides. She finally surrendered to HMS Culloden and HMS Alfred who came up at the close of the battle, but her submission was too late and over 300 of her crew drowned when she suddenly heeled over and sank, the rest being picked up by British boats.

Harvey had refused to quit the deck whilst the action continued but on its conclusion was carried below as the British fleet headed for home, Brunswick reaching Spithead a few days later. Although seven French ships had been sunk or captured, the grain convoy had slipped by and reached France comparatively untouched, leaving the outcome of the campaign unclear. Harvey died of his wounds in Portsmouth on the 30 June and was buried in Eastry, a memorial raised to him and Captain John Hutt (who had died of his wounds on the same day), in Westminster Abbey. Two of Harvey’s sons, Sir John Harvey and Sir Edward Harvey would later become admirals in their own right.

John Harvey (Royal Navy admiral)

John Harvey

Born 1772
Eastry, Kent
Died 17 September 1837
Upper Deal, Kent
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service 1780s to 1819
Rank Royal Navy Admiral
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
Battle of Groix
Capture of Trinidad
Napoleonic Wars
Battle of Cape Finisterre
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Admiral Sir John Harvey, KCB (1772 – 17 September 1837) was an officer of the British Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars who held numerous commands and served in several actions during his long and distinguished career. Harvey was the eldest son of Captain John Harvey who was a distinguished officer of the eighteenth century who was killed in action at the battle of the Glorious First of June.

Early career

Born in 1772 at Eastry, Kent to Captain Harvey and Judith Harvey neé Wise, Harvey was raised with his brothers at home and in the 1780s joined his uncle Captain Henry Harvey’s ship HMS Rose off the North American station to train as a midshipman. His service continued until 1790 when at 18 he was promoted to lieutenant. Actively employed at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, Harvey was aided by family influence and gained command of the sloop HMS Actif on 5 September 1794 in the West Indies. Within three months, supported by the influence gained from his father’s death at the Glorious First of June in the same year, Harvey was made post-captain, receiving promotion on the 16 December. His brother Edward Harvey also received promotion to midshipman at the same time.

Thanks to family influence Harvey gained a prime commission in January 1795, serving aboard his uncle’s flagship the second-rate HMS Prince of Wales as captain. In her, Harvey was extensively engaged during the following year, seeing action at the victory of the Battle of Groix where three enemy ships were taken and supporting the invasion of Quiberon Bay by Sir John Brolase Warren in 1796. In early 1797 Harvey followed his uncle to Trinidad, and supported the invasion of the island, helping capture it and the Spanish force there. Harvey was chosen to be sent home with the dispatches telling of the victory. Not long after arriving in England, Harvey married his first cousin in Sandwich, Kent.

Napoleonic Wars

During the next few years Harvey commanded several ships, including the frigates HMS Southampton and HMS Amphitrite in the West Indies and as part of the Cadiz blockade. Benefiting from the Navy reforms surrounding the Peace of Amiens, Harvey took command of the HMS Agamemnon in which he participated in Sir Robert Calder’s action at the Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1805, part of the prelude to the Battle of Trafalgar which Harvey narrowly missed. At Finisterre Harvey’s ship suffered only three wounded and he left the ships to take over HMS Canada. Thus it was Sir Edward Berry who led the Agamemnon at Trafalgar a few months later.

During the next eight years, Harvey fulfilled the blockade duties of any captain of a ship of the line, not achieving any major victories but steadily doing his duty with quiet success. From Canada, Harvey moved first to HMS Leviathan and then the HMS Royal Sovereign, a first-rate on which he was promoted to rear-admiral in December 1813. Flag rank limited Harvey’s employment prospects and it was not until the war was over that he was actively employed again, becoming commander-in-chief of the West Indies between 1816 and 1819.

In 1819, Harvey retired and settled in Deal, Kent with his wife and daughter to lead a quiet life of the gentry. Promotions and honours steadily increased over the years, Harvey adding to the Companion of the Order of the Bath he had received in 1815 with elevation to Knight Commander in 1833 and promotion to vice-admiral in 1825 and full admiral just weeks before his death in January 1837. Harvey died on 17 February 1837 at his home in Deal.


In the nave of Westminster Abbey is a joint memorial to Captain John Harvey and Captain John Hutt who were both mortally wounded in the naval victory off the coast of France in 1794. Hutt lost a leg and died of his wounds when he had arrived back at Spithead in England on 30 June but we don’t know where he was buried. The memorial here was erected in 1804 and is by the sculptor John Bacon junior. It was originally floor-standing but was reduced in size only a few years after it was erected. The memorial is now on one of the window sills in the north nave aisle and consists of an urn on which are portrait busts of the two captains, with figures of Fame and Britannia with a large lion. The relief of the battle which was part of this monument is now on Capt. Harvey’s memorial in the church at Eastry in Kent where he is buried.

The inscription reads:

Sacred to J.Harvey and J.Hutt, Captains of The Brunswick and The Queen, who fell gloriously in the memorable victory obtained off Brest on the first of June MDCCXCIV. This monument was erected at the Public expense as an honourable testimony of their meritorious services


Bookplate of 
Sir Thomas Harvey

Probably: Vice Admiral Thomas Harvey RN, 1775-1841