John Mitchell AM

b. 1864 Fowey, Cornwall.  d. 1942 Truro, Cornwall.

DATE OF AM ACTION: 09/05/1877 Huanillos, Chile.

John was the son of Richard F and Margaret Mitchell, and he had six siblings. By the age of 17, John had gone to sea. On 25th November 1883, he married Catherine Long and they had four children by 1891. Little else is known about his life other than his AM action, and the fact he was presented with his medal in Truro on 4th June 1878.



On 9th May, 1877, the ” Conference” and ” Avonmore”. and twenty-five or thirty other vessels, were lying at anchor off the village of Huanillos, a short distance from the shore, loading with guano. The village itself stands on a platform or ledge of the mountains, about thirty feet above the sea-level, and the mountains-rise precipitously to a height of 5,000 feet. According to the statement of Captain George Williams, the late Master of the ” Conference,” at about 8.30 P.M., the weather being dark and gloomy, with a calm sea, a severe shock of an earthquake was. felt. The ship trembled so much that the masts and yards seemed to be coming down, and the stern moorings parted. The noise of the earthquake, as it shook the mountains, was very great. Large boulders were rolled down the side of the mountains, and, striking against each other, emitted sparks of fire while the cries to the guano-diggers on the mountains, who were in danger of their lives, increased the terror of the scene. The earthquake was followed by three distinct tidal waves,which rolled in from seawards’at intervals of about ten minutes, rising about fifty feet, as seen by the murks on the shore, causing many vessels to break their moorings and drag their anchors, and submerging the village of Huanillos, The first tidal wave drove two vessels across the bows of the “Conference” and carried away her bowsprit and jibboom. The second tidal-wave carried away her starboard bower-chains ; and at the same time, the American vessel “Geneva” was driven against the fore-rigging of the “Conference,” damaging her severely. She then commenced to drift towards the rocks. The ” Geneva” was then carried back, and again driven against the Conference,” cutting the latter down amidships, four or five planks below the covering-board. Then a vessel which afterwards proved to be the ” Avonmore’ was seen for a moment as she was driven at a furious rate across the bows of the ” Conlerence.” Almost immediately her anchor-light disappeared, and the cries of drowning people were heard. It was at this time when, as it is stated, ” everything was calculated to destroy the strongest nerves,” when ships, out of the power of human control, were raging about in all directions, the sea confused and turbulent, and the “Conference ” herself badly damaged, that the Master called for volunteers from his crew to man the jolly-boat. After some hesitation, JOHN MITCHELL, WILLIAM STEWART, and CHARLES WILSON volunteered their services. They rowed away into the darkness, which was then described as so great that objects were invisible at a distance equal to the ships’ length, and after some time succeeded in finding and rescuing the Master of the ” Avonmore ” and his child, the Second and Third Officers, and an A.B. Fortunately there was no further tidal-wave, and when the boat returned to the “Conference ” the disturbance of the sea had considerably abated, but the rest of the crew were about to abandon the “Conference” in their other boat, as she was then close on the rocks, with her stern and bows knocked in. Both boats then rowed out to sea. Four vessels, including the “Avonmore” and the “Conference,” were totally wrecked that night at Huanillos, five were uninjured from being moored outside of the others, and all the rest were more or less damaged. Numerous lives were lost. The Board of Trade have further determined to recognize the great bravery and presence of mind shown by Cautain Williams, of the ” Conference,” by a suitable present.