The Sinking of the 'John' May1855

The John.The 'John' was a 468 ton sailing ship that traded primarily between the South West of England and the United States and Canada during the mid 1800s. During that time, millions of emigrants left England to start new lives and the 'John' was one of many ships that regularly transported these passengers, returning with timber.

The 'John' was owned by a group of local businessmen and members of the Rawle family.

On Thursday 3rd May, 1855, the 'John' left Plymouth bound for Quebec, captained by Edward Rawle. She carried 268 passengers and 19 crew. Later that night, she foundered on the Manacle Rocks, St Keverne, Cornwall. 194 passengers drowned, while the crew all survived.

The story of the 'John' has been reproduced here chiefly through the comprehensive newspaper reports of the time. They tell of the events of the 3rd and 4th May, 1855, and include a transcript of the subsequent trial of Captain Rawle who was charged with manslaughter and two local persons charged with 'robbing the dead'.

Also described are the changes to maritime law made as a result of this disaster. The names of all of the crew and passengers are included. Where possible, further information has been obtained by locating them in the 1851 census. It is hoped that this information will be of particular interest to genealogists who have been unable to explain the disappearance of, in some cases, an entire family.

My personal interest arose when I discovered that my great, great, great grandfather, William James ELLERY, was a member of the crew.

Mark Sandford