20 April 2007

John Bythesea.

According to today’s Independent the second Victoria Cross ever awarded was sold at auction yesterday. It fetched a price of over £155,000. The recipient, John Bythsea, had a career which literally ran aground.

During the Crimean War the Royal Navy was also deployed against Russian forces in the Baltic. It was during the bombardment of a fortress at Bomarsund in the Aaland Islands that the first VC was won: Ship’s Mate C D Lucas disobeyed orders to lie down when a shell landed on the deck of HMS Hecla. Instead he threw the shell overboard saving many lives.

The British command had learnt that secret messages were being sent to Bomarsund via a neighbouring island. Lieutenant John Bythesea and stoker William Johnstone, volunteered to intercept the messages. The two men spent three days in hiding before they spotted five Russians carrying postbags. Johnstone and Bythesea ambushed them capturing the mail and three of the Russians. For this action they became the second and third recipients of the VC.

After the war Bythesea was promoted to Commander and saw action in the second outbreak of the Opium Wars with China. He was subsequently promoted to Captain but trouble and humiliation were to stile in 1872 commanding the battleship Lord Clyde. The Lord Clyde was ordered to assist a stricken British steamer that had run aground on the Mediterranean island of Pantellaria. The Lord Clyde also ran aground and had to be rescued by its sister ship the Lord Warden. At a court martial Bythesea and his navigator were severely reprimanded and dismissed from their ship.

He was never employed at sea again but he served as a consultant to the Indian Navy from 1874 to 1880. He was made Companions of the orders of the Bath and the Indian Empire in 1878. He died in 1906. William Johnstone had died in 1857 in the West Indies. Bythesea’s Medal can be seen in the Naval museum in Portsmouth, Johnstone’s is in the County Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles.

Wikipedia has an entry on Bythesea as it does on all VC winners.

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