John Edmund Commerell

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Admiral of the Fleet SIR John Edmund Commerell, V.C., G.C.B., Royal Navy (13 January, 1829 – 21 May, 1901) was an officer in the Royal Navy during the nineteenth century. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Empire's pre-eminent decoration for bravery in the face of the enemy, for service in the Crimean War. He was specially promoted to Captain for his bravery at the Taku Forts in 1859. Promoted to Flag Rank in 1874, he was flew his flag afloat in a number of appointments, and was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet in 1892 at the request of Queen Victoria. He served in the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for two terms.

Life & Career

This article may temporarily contain text from an edition of the Dictionary of National Biography which is in the Public Domain.

John Edmund Commerell was born in London on 13 January, 1829, the second son of John William Commerell of Strood Park, Horsham, by his wife Sophia, daughter of William Bosanquet. Entering the navy in February, 1842, he was at once sent out to China and initiated in the realities of war. Later on he was in the Firebrand with Captain (afterwards Sir) James Hope, and took part in the several operations in the Parana, including the engagement with the batteries at Obligado on 20 November, 1845, when the chain was cut by the boats of the Firebrand. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 3 December, 1848.

As lieutenant of the Vulture he was in the Baltic in 1854, and took part in the operations in the Gulf of Bothnia, the next year in the Black Sea and Sea of Azoff, and on 29 September, 1855 was promoted to the rank of Commander.[1] He was appointed commander of the Weser, gun vessel, employed in the Sea of Azoff. A few days later, on 11 October, he landed with a small party, made a hazardous march inland, and set fire to a large store of forage and corn, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross on 24 February, 1857. The citation read:

"When commanding the ' Weser,' in the Sea of Azoff, crossed the Isthmus of Arabat, and destroyed large quantities of

forage on the Crimean shore of the Sivash."
This enterprise was performed by Commander Commerell, at night, accompanied by William Rickard, Quartermaster, and George Milestone, A.B. Having hauled their small boat across the Spit of Arabat, they traversed the Sivash to the Crimean shore of the Putrid Sea. The magazine of corn, of which they were in search, lay about two miles and a-half off, and to reach it they had to ford two rivers, the Kara-su and the Salghir. The forage and corn, amounting to 400 tons, were stacked on the banks of the latter river, in the vicinity of a guard-house, and close to from twenty to thirty mounted Cossacks, who were encamped in the neighbouring village. Commander Commerell and his two companions contrived to ignite the stacks, the rapid blazing of which alarmed the guard, who pursued them to the shore with a heavy fire of musketry, and very nearly succeeded in taking

them prisoners.
(Despatch from Admiral Lord Lyons, 6th November, 1855, No. 899.)[2]

On 3 April, 1858, he was awarded the fifth class of the Turkish Imperial Order of the Medjidie.[3]

In 1859 he was in China in the Fury, and commanded a division of the seamen landed for the unsuccessful attack on the Taku forts. Although repulsed, the determined courage in the face of insurmountable difficulties was everywhere recognised, and Commerell was promoted to the rank of Captain, on 18 July, 1859.[4] In 1866 his services while in command of the Terrible, employed for laying the Atlantic cable, were rewarded with a civil C.B. In 1869 he commanded the new turret ship Monarch (the first of her kind), which in December carried across the Atlantic the remains of George Peabody. In 1870 he received the military C.B., and in February, 1871, with a broad pennant in the Rattlesnake, was appointed commander-in-chief on the west coast of Africa.

In August, 1873, while reconnoitring up the river Prah, he was dangerously wounded by a musket shot in the lungs, which compelled him to invalid. He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) on 13 March, 1874.[5] He was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 12 November, 1876, vice Cochrane.[6]

Flag Rank

In the 1877 he was sent out to the Mediterranean as second in command, at the special request of Sir Geoffrey Hornby, with whom his relations were throughout most cordial and who highly commended his ability and loyalty while he served with him. He was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 19 January, 1881, vice Wake.[7] In November 1882, he went out as commander-in-chief on the North America and West Indies Station, where he remained for nearly three years, returning in the autumn of 1885. At the general election of that year, and again in the following, he was returned as Conservative member for Southampton, and zealously for the next two years endeavoured to awaken the country to the necessity of strengthening the Navy. He was thus largely instrumental in bringing about the Naval Defence Act of 1889, though he was not then in parliament, having resigned his seat in July, 1888 on being appointed Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth.

He had been promoted to Admiral in April, 1886. On the occasion of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, he was appointed an Additional Member of the First Class, or Knight Grand Cross, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) on 21 June, 1887.[8] At Portsmouth it fell to his lot in 1889 to command at the naval review, and to receive the German emperor, Kasier Willhelm II, who afterwards wrote him an autograph letter on presenting him with a sword. At court he had always been a persona grata; and on the death of Sir Provo Wallis, on 13 February, 1892, was by special desire of Queen Victoria promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. In accordance with the provisions of the Order in Council of 22 February, 1870 he was placed on the Retired List on 13 January, 1899,[9] and died in London on 21 May 1901. He married in 1853 Mathilda Maria, daughter of Joseph Bushby.

See Also


  • "Death of Sir J. E. Commerell" (Obituaries). The Times. Wednesday, 22 May, 1901. Issue 36461, col A, p. 5.

Service Records



  1. Clowes. VII. p. 575.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 21971. p. 651. 24 February, 1857.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 22122. p. 1736. 3 April, 1858.
  4. Clowes. VII. p. 575.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 24082. p. 1921. 31 March, 1874.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 24384. p. 6098. 17 November, 1876.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 24927. p. 340. 25 January, 1881.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 25712. p. 3362. 21 June, 1887.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 27043. p. 298. 17 January, 1899.
  10. Clowes. The Royal Navy. Vol. VII. p. 85.