William Johnstone VC

b. 06/08/1823 Hanover, Germany. d. 20/08/1857 at sea off the West Indies..

William Johnstone (1823-1857) was born on 6th August 1823 in Hanover, Germany, though his background is a little uncertain. He is possibly to have been of Swedish heritage and may have had the surname Johannsen whose name was then anglicised to Johnstone when he enlisted in the Royal Navy. Curiously, there was no William Johnstone who enlisted in the Navy but a John Johnstone, so this is believed to be the same man.

William Johnstone VC

Johnstone was a Stoker serving aboard HMS Arrogant at the beginning of the Crimean War. On 9th August 1854, it was discovered that an aide-de-camp of the Emperor of Russia had landed on the island of Waldo with mail and despatches for the Russian General. Commander John Bythesea obtained permission from Captain Yelverton for himself and Stoker William Johnstone, who was a Swedish speaker, to proceed to the shore, in order to intercept them. Being disguised and armed, they concealed themselves until the 12th August, when the mail bags were landed, and on waiting for the military escort to depart, they attacked the 5 men in charge of the mail, and took three of them prisoner.

They then brought the three men and their mail bags back in their own boat back to the Arrogant. The despatches were carried to General Baraguay d’Hilliers who was extremely impressed by Bythesea and Johnstone’s actions. They had managed to capture the three men only armed with one flint pistol and some rope. When the way back to the Arrogant, Johnstone steered whilst Bythesea controlled the prisoners with the pistol.

Sadly, Johnstone, having been the third man to be awarded the VC and the 23rd to be gazetted (London Gazette, 24th February 1857), had a tragic end to his life. On 20th August 1857, he was serving aboard HMS Brunswick in the Caribbean when he attacked another man with a knife, and when challenged by other men, he cut his own throat and died of the self-inflicted wounds. He was buried at sea in the St Vincent Passage, West Indies.





Richard Johnson – Image of William Johnstone VC