Henry Craven St. John was born on 5th January 1837 and his birth was registered in the Ross and Cromarty district of Scotland. He was the son of Charles William George St. John and Anne Gibson. His obituary in The Times said he was also a great grandson of the second Viscount Bolingbroke.
He entered the Royal Navy in 1852 and as a midshipman of the Cumberland he was present at the capture of Bomarsund in 1854 when he received the Baltic Medal. In 1855 as a midshipman in the Nankin he was severely wounded on the coast of Tartary. In January 1857 he was noted for ‘cool and conspicuous gallantry in defending an attack on a private river steamer by 50 junks. ‘ On 12th August 1857 he was on the sailing ship Nankin and was Gazetted as an acting mate who was to become an acting Lieutenant.
He married Catherine Dora Rodney, daughter of John Stratford Rodney and Eleanor Hume, on 8th May 1860. At that time Catherine had been living at Stokefield House in Castle Street in Thornbury. The couple made this their home and all their children were born in Thornbury. The photograph on the left is the house as it was when the St John family lived there and before it was acquired by the Council to be eventually demolished.
In 1866 Freeman’s Journal reported that “Lieutenant Henry Craven St John in command of her Majesty’s gunboat Opossum has this day been promoted to the rank of Commander in Her Majesty’s fleet in consideration of the skill and judgement displayed by him in affecting the destruction of a large piratical force of 54 Chinese junks without loss in the attack and capture.”
He received a bounty of £1,000 for his part in this action. In 1873 Henry Craven St John was promoted to captain of HMS Sylvia “for arduous surveying work in Japanese waters.”
Following his marriage to Catherine in 1860 Henry Craven St John acquired an interest in Stokefield House, although it was actually owned by the trustees of the estate of Eleanor Rodney. Over a period of time he went on to acquire further properties in the surrounding area specifically; Clematis Cottage (1869) The Priory (before 1876) 13 Castle Street (1879) and Porch House (1879).
On 20 January 1869 Thomas Gwynn sold to commander Henry Craven St John:- “Freehold dwelling, outbuildings, yard, orchard and close of land in the late occupation of William Powell and now in the occupation of Charles Morgan (Whose lease expires on the 25th March 1871) for £1,101 and five shillings.” This is the property which is now Clematis Cottage. By indentures of 17th December 1879 and 12th June 1880 John Crowther Gwynn of Clifton also sold to Henry Craven St John for £1650 “All that messuage or dwellinghouse called The Porch situate in the High Street with the stable, yard, orchard and close of land thereto adjoining” to Henry Craven St John of Stokefield House (a captain in the Royal Navy). This property is now known as Porch House. This sale also included the land known as Latteridge.
Henry had interests other than his career in the navy. We know for example that he had a great interest in natural history. The website of the Natural History Society of Northumbria has a copy of a letter dated 19th March 1876 from Henry Craven St John to John Hancock on this subject. Please click here to read this letter. In 1880 Henry published a book entitled “Notes and Sketches from the Wild Coasts of Nipon With Chapters on Cruising after Pirates in Chinese Waters.” He also published “Charles St. John’s note books 1846-1856” with his father and Cosmo Innes.
In 1873 Henry became a captain in the Royal Navy.
The 1881 census shows him at Stokefield House aged 42 with his wife Catherine and six of their children and six servants.
In January 1887 there was an interesting advertisement in the Morning Post. We do not know who was responsible for it but it could well have been Henry Craven St John. It was addressed “to Authors (Ladies or Gentlemen of position) – an experienced Author Thoroughly revises MSS for publication – Reverend the Author, Porch House Thornbury.” It seems that having published some books of his own he had become interested in doing more work of that kind.
In 1886 whilst Captain of HMS Goshawk he was the Senior Officer at Gibraltar. As Admiral Henry Craven St. John he held the office of Naval Aide-de-Camp to HM Queen Victoria between 1887 and 1889. In 1889 Rear-Admiral St John was promoted to “flag rank.”
The 1887 poor rate book appears to indicate that Stokefield was rented out to a Colonel Stack. We believe that this was Col Charles Edward Stack of the Queen’s Own Bombay cavalry who died at Richmond Yorkshire at the age of 88 in 1924. Colonel Stack served in India during the suppression of the Indian Mutiny and the battle of Agra. He was mentioned in dispatches in January 1859 and promoted to Colonel in 1882. He was placed on the unemployed supernumerary list in 1890. By the 1911 Census he and his wife Isabella were living in Yorkshire.
On December 12th 1891 an article in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle reported on the career of Henry Craven St John.
“The admiralty have selected Rear-Admiral Henry Craven St John to succeed Rear-Admiral James E Erskine, Senior Officer on the Coast of Ireland, whose three years’ term of command expires on the 31st of the present month. Rear-Admiral St John is likely to prove a highly popular officer with the Irish people. He is genial in manner, conciliatory in carrying out his duties and in every way fulfils the peculiar requirements of a flag-officer at Queenstown. As to his service qualifications, he has a distinguished record, having been specially promoted to lieutenant commander and captain, and having been awarded a sum of £1,000 for the skill and judgement displayed by him in the destruction of a large fleet of piratical junks in Chinese waters. There are many people who consider the post of Admiral at Queenstown unnecessary, but a simple examination of the facts and circumstances will prove that to abolish this command would not only be unwise from an economical point of view but would accentuate the long-standing grievance of the Irish people that the Government do not make sufficient use of their ports for the purpose of the naval service.”
In the census of 1891 Henry’s wife Dora Craven St John was staying in Farnborough Hampshire with her married daughter Mabel Morland who had recently had a baby daughter Marjoria.
We believe that the photograph below on the left may have been taken in 1898.
Admiral St John retired from active service in 1901 on a pension of £870. Anyone interested in reading more details of his naval career might be interested in seeing his records available for a small fee from the ‘Documents Online’ website of the National Archives.
He died at Stokefield on 21st May 1909 aged 72. His estate was valued at £16,756 with net personalty £16,114. A well known citizen of Thornbury Frederick Henry Burchell recorded his impressions of Admiral and Mrs St John.
“Excellent people who took a keen interest in all parochial affairs. Also Admiral St. John who lived at Stokefield, a typical Admiral of the Fleet, stern and unbending — not what we should call very sociable— but he was one who required a great deal of homage paid to him and I suppose this was only natural and in accordance with the rules of naval discipline.”
The 1911 census shows that the widowed Catherine Dora St John was aged 74. The Census indicates that she had had nine children, three of whom had died. Her daughter Rosamund Aline Hickman aged 38 was living in the house. Rosamund had been married for nine years but had no children. Catherine’s younger daughter, Eleanor Dora Stockley and her husband Major Arthur Uniacke Stockley were also in the household and also had had no children. They had a visitor staying with them and six servants who lived in the house.
Catherine Dora St John died at Stokefield on 18th May 1914. She was aged 77 and buried in Thornbury Cemetery on 21st May 1914. Their home and much of their property was put up for sale on Tuesday 7th July 1914. The plan on the right hand side shows Admiral St John’s lands marked in green. Stokefield House is shown and another property in Castle Street (sometimes referred to as Stokefield Cottage) which was also auctioned at the same time is shown in red. The sale must have been unsuccessful at this time as it was not until 27th August 1915 that Henry and Catherine’s sons, Henry Percy St John of Eccleston Square London, and Montague Roderick St John of Southampton Row in London and their solicitor, Philip George Collins of Bedford Row in London sold Stokefield House to Dame Madeline Jenkinson, the widow of George Banks Jenkinson.
Of the St John children;
Mabel Elinor Rowena St. John was baptised 21 August 1867. She married General Sir Thomas Lethbridge Morland in 1890 and died 27 January 1901. The newspaper report of her death said that she had been in ill health for some time and had passed away in Battersea, presumably her home. Her body was brought from London on the 3pm train and met by the mourners Colonel Morland, Admiral St John, Mr Vane Morland Captain Sewell, Captain Rich, Captain Stockley, Dr L Williams and the male servants of Stokefield. It was carried on a hand hearse to Thornbury Church.
Violet Cecile Annie St. John was baptised 21st October 1868. She married Lieutenant Colonel Charles Edwin Frederick Rich in 1899 and died 6 June 1957.
Eleanor Dora St. John was baptised 23rd August 1874. She married Brigadier General Arthur Uniacke Stockley and died 12 August 1954. Eleanor Stockley later lived at Thornbury Cottage
Rosamond Aline St. John was baptised 31st March 1878 and married Henry Percy Valentine Hickman on January 2nd 1902 in Thornbury. After their marriage they lived at Stokefield until Henry went away to sea. He returned to Stokefield when on leave until February 1914. The couple were divorced later that year. Rosamund died 3rd October 1946.
Montagu Rodney St. John was born 3 March 1861 and baptised 8th May 1861. He married Theodora Mary Land James in 1898. He died 20 March 1944.
Lieutenant Percy Stuart St. John was born 29 April 1863 and he married Alice Cecilia Anna Williamson in 1896. He died 11th March 1900 without issue at the Royal Hospital, Gibraltar.
Harry Lionel Rodney St. John was born 11 June 1867. He was baptised the same year in Thornbury on 21st August. The 1871 census shows that he was living in Stokefield House with his mother Catherine and that he was born in Thornbury. The 1881 census shows that he went to school at Portsmouth, where he was entered as Lionel St John.
He spent much of his life in Ceylon. The records of the Freemasons show that he was a freemason in Ceylon since 1899 and that he was a planter at Neboda.
Three children surnamed St John were born in Ceylon during the period that Harry Lionel Rodney St John was in Ceylon. One of these was named Harry Lionel St John and in view of the similarity of the names it seems possible that these could have been his children, although records describe him as unmarried. We have a possible mother for the children as Harry Lionel St John, who was presumably the eldest of the children enlisted in World War I and gave the name of Marie D.A. Martin as the person to whom a pension should be paid in the case of his death. Harry Lionel was in fact killed in 1916. The list of ‘Soldiers who died in the Great War’ gives Harry’s residence as Thornbury, although he enlisted in Middlesex.
A second child was called Rodney Lionel St John and he was born in Ceylon in Ceylon in 1894 to parents whom we have only identified as “L and M St John.” This boy was killed in France in 1916 aged 22 and his address was shown as 388, Allan Avenue, Dehinela, Ceylon on the Commonwealth War Graves sites. The list of ‘Soldiers who died in the Great War’ gives his residence as Thornbury.
The third of theses possible sons was Richard Lionel St John (known as Dicky) who was born in February 1897 and he also enlisted in World War I. The army records gave his address as the Boys’ Industrial Home in Wellawatta. This was an orphanage and home for destitute boys which helped them to gain apprenticeships. The British Army Pension records give his temporary address as Ceylon Association 6 Lawrence Pountney Hill Common St, London E C . When he was discharged from the army, his occupation was given as ‘assistant planter.’ His next of kin was given as his mother Marion St John.
There was a fourth boy John Lionel St John. He was born in 1899 and also enlisted in World War I and served in the 12th and 16th Brigades of Rifles. His service record gives his address as Kulburn Ceylon but his father and older brother were both said to named Henry St John and the address given for them was Guisboro in Yorkshire.
Harry Lionel Rodney St John died aged 74 on 1 July 1941 in Cape Town South Africa. He was described as a nurse and unmarried.
Vice-Admiral Francis Gerald St. John was born 22 December 1869. He first married Winifred Jessie Trollope in 1898 and then Emily Frances Louise Turner in 1902. According to the Peerage.com Francis ‘ fought in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. He fought in the Boer War. He fought in the First World War where he was mentioned in despatches twice. He was invested as a Member, Royal Victorian Order (M.V.O.) in 1914. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath (C.B.) in 1917. He held the office of Aide-de-Camp HM King George V between 1920 and 1921′. He died 15 February 1947.
Muriel Geraldine St. John was born August 1880 and died in September 1880.