Home » People » John Oliver

John Oliver (1774-1876)

Captain John Oliver was a veteran of the Battles of the Nile and Copenhagen.   He served aboard HMS Victory with Horatio Nelson at the battle of Trafalger, and lived to the grand old age of 102.

His Great Great Great Grandson, John Tollitt contacted me and offered the following information.   He also provided the photograph, below, of John Oliver's gravestone.   Like so many stones, it was lost during the transformation to a public garden during the 1970s.

Despite the hazards and rigor of sea faring life a century ago, longevity was quite a characteristic of the British Mariner.  This is reflected in the career of John Oliver, Master Mariner who was born in Tavistock in 1774.

At 10 years of age he ran away from home, made his way to North Shields, and from then on made his first sea voyage.    He served a full apprentice and presumably became a smart seaman for in1794, he was deemed suitable prey for the press gang, and suddenly found himself aboard HMS “Bellerophon”, despite the fact that he was carrying false identity papers on which his name and age were disguised to prevent such capture.

Oliver served as some years on the “Belly-Ruffen” as he termed it and fought at the Battle of the Nile, where the ship suffered more than any other ship, but the young seaman came through the adventure unscathed.  By his own admission, he had several hairsbreadth escapes during the action in which six of the ships ports “were knocked into one”, as he put it.

Afterwards, Oliver was drafted aboard HMS “Glatton” on board which he fought at Copenhagen, and in 1801 he left this vessel to go to Portsmouth where he was drafted on board HMS “Resolution”.

Upon being paid off this vessel, he resumed his occupation in the merchant Navy, but was press ganged again in 1805, and put aboard HMS “Antelope”, commanded by Captain Sydney Smith.   From this ship, Oliver went on to HMS “Victory”, in the name of John Jennings, and served with Capt Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

After the war, he obtained leave of absence and having broken his leave was marked as a deserter, thus forfeiting a pension of £18 per year. Finding his way to Liverpool, John Oliver resumed his proper name and voyage for years from this port without interruption in the merchant Navy.  His final employer was John Gladstone, the Liverpool ship owner and father of the great statesman.  Oliver became the first officer of Gladstone’s ship “Kingsmail”, the first vessel to sail from the Mersey, for the East after the East India trade had been thrown open. Subsequently, he entered the service of Harry and Gibson and commanded the ship “Penelope”.

Later he became master of several ships owned by Cannon, Miller & Co. he was in command of the ship “Douglas” when he retired from the sea at the age of 85.

His maritime career, however, was not chosen with any competency and the old man eked out a living by grants from the mercantile charities, i.e. £3 8d a year from the Grenwich “sixpenny” fund: £3 a year from the Liverpool “Nelson” fund; and £12 a year from the mercantile marine association, in addition to the small allowance from Mr. Robert Gladstone.

Nevertheless, retaining his full faculties John Oliver lived with his son in Northumberland Street, Toxteth, until he turned 100 years of age, and was found relating that he had enjoyed good health throughout his long career during which he had married twice, in 1807 and in 1839.    

He died on March 27th, 1876 aged 102 years.

Frank Oliver has kindly supplied the following newspaper cutting:

Funeral of a Naval Veteran

The remains of John Oliver, Master Mariner, a veteran of the Nile, Copenhagen and Traflger, were interred at St James cemetery on Sunday last, at 9am. The deceased departed this life on 27th ult.,at the patriarchal age of 102. The attendance of an extremely large number of the general community on a raw, cold morning proved that the interest in deeds of those old warriors has not died out.

He was followed to his grave by two generations of his family, and with much fitness, was carried to his grave by a party of seamen from HMS Eagle, who with the gunners and petty officers, also attended voluntarily.

The pall was a Royal Naval Union Jack.

It is extremely gratifying to his relatives and friends of the deceased that his last wishes as to his funeral were entirely carried out.

May England, when her hour of need next comes, find herself in possession of many such sons as the late John Oliver.

Source: © Mike Faulkner