Royal Navy obituary in the Times newspaper
Royal Navy obituary in the Times newspaper

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for Charles Johnstone appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
5 December 1927

Vice-Admiral Charles Johnstone.
Over 40 years' service.

We regret to announce that Vice-Admiral Charles Johnstone, retired, died on Friday at Mouswald Place, Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, at the age of 84. He had over 40 years' service in the Navy.
The late officer belonged to a family claiming descent from the ancient Johnstones of Lochwood and Johnstone and his uncle, Mr. Edward Johnstone, of Dunsley Manor, Staffordshire, and Fulford Hall, Warwickshire, claimed the dormant marquessate of Annandale in 1876-81. Charles Johnstone was the third son of Dr. James Johnstone, M.D., F.R.C.P., and was born on October 8, 1843. His eldest brother was the late Major-General Sir James Johnstone, a distinguished officer of the Bengal Army, who served in several Indian wars and held many political appointments, including that of Resident at Manipur, a post which he occupied some years before the disturbances in that district in 1891. At that period Sir James Johnstone, who had retired from the Indian Service, frequently wrote to The Times on the situation.
Charles Johnstone entered the Naval Academy at Gosport and became a Commander in 1877. In that rank he commanded H.M.S. Dryad, a wooden sloop of 1,600 tons, built in 1866 and armed with nine 64-pounder guns so antiquated as to be scarcely fit for service. Nevertheless the Dryad was stationed at Tamatave as senior officer's ship in 1883 at a time when France was making an armed demonstration against Madagascar. The story of what happened there and of Commander Johnstone's share in it is told as follows in Lord Fitzmaurice's Life of Lord Granville:―
"Admiral Pierre, the French Commander in those seas, was probably suffering from the incipient stages of the disease of which he died before his return to France. At the moment when the French expedition at Tamatave landed, the British Consul, Mr. Pakenham . . . was dying. Nevertheless, Admiral Pierre sent him a peremptory order accompanied with what resembled threats of personal violence ― to haul down his flag within four-and-twenty hours. On his refusing to do so, the Consul's secretary was arrested in his presence, and the flag hauled down. Next day the Consul died, and it was more than surmised that his death, though certain to have occurred, had been hastened by these violent scenes.
"Admiral Pierre next directed his attention to her Majesty's ship Dryad, and to the mail steamer Taymouth Castle. He forbade the former to have access to the shore and boarded the latter; placed a sentry on board; prohibited passengers landing; seized the control of the outgoing and incoming mails; and ended by even demanding the Consular dispatches. It was fortunate that Commander Johnstone, who, by the death of Mr. Pakenham, became acting Consul, was an officer not only of great courage, but of tact and resource. He succeeded in getting the dispatches on board the Taymouth Castle, and himself on board the Dryad escorted her past the French guns till she was well out to sea and safe from capture."
Other provocations of a very serious character ensued, but with these Commander Johnstone was not so directly concerned. He handled a very critical situation with great firmness and discretion, and as soon as the affair became known in this country his services were acknowledged by his promotion to the rank of captain. The friendly relations between this country and France were seriously strained for a time, and it was, perhaps, only the death of Admiral Pierre shortly afterwards in circumstances which pointed to insanity that enabled the French Government to yield at all points to the British demands for reparation.
Captain Johnstone received the gold medal of the Royal United Service Institution for an essay in 1883, and in 1888 he served on a Committee appointed by the Admiralty to inquire into the education of executive naval officers ― a subject on which he addressed several letters to The Times. After his retirement he was appointed a Nautical Assessor to the House of Lords. He was a good French scholar, and held the certificate of a naval interpreter in that language and, we believe, also in Italian.
After commanding the Volage in the old Cruiser Squadron, he was appointed to the command of the battleship CamperdownExternal link in the Mediterranean. It was while he commanded this ship and was temporarily acting as flag captain that the Camperdown came into collision with the VictoriaExternal link off the coast of Tripoli with the result that the Victoria was sunk and Admiral Sir George Tryon was drowned, together with a large portion of his ship's company, including many officers. The Court-martial which inquired into the causes of this terrible disaster attributed it to a mistaken signal made by Sir George Tryon himself. But Captain Johnstone was not held to be wholly blameless by the Admiralty. Their Lordships stated in a minute which reviewed the findings of the Court-martial that they felt bound "to express their regret that he did not manifest the promptitude and decision which the occasion demanded for the security of the ship under his command, and to diminish the risk of collision." Rightly or wrongly, this disaster proved the end of Captain Johnstone's active career. He was never again employed afloat after he had paid off the Camperdown, though he subsequently held the post of Captain of the Naval Barracks at Devonport. He retired as a captain in 1898 and was shortly afterwards promoted to the rank of rear-admiral retired becoming vice-admiral on the retired list in 1903.
Vice-Admiral Johnstone married, in 1878, Janet, daughter of Mr. G. Schonswar, J.P, D.L., and had one son and five daughters. One of his daughters is the wife of Colonel William Loring, C.M.G., D.S.O., R.A.

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