John Luce, mariner

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This article is from the Guernsey and Jersey Magazine of 1837

John Luce 1758-1827

Early years

John Luce was born in St Helier on 3 November 1758 to John Luce, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and Elizabeth Matthews. John Luce senior had a distinguished career having been been involved in the land forces at the 1759 Plains of Abraham at Quebec and the attack on Belle Isle in 1761.

He used his contacts to obtain a place for his son at Greenwich School, which was of great repute in this period. He left there to enter the mercantile service again with contacts of his father, Captain Collas and Clement Durell, trading in the West Indies and the Bay of Honduras. With British settlements in the area it was a new and lucrative place for enterprise.

He was received well in Belize with his family having connections with the settlers, especially Major Joshua Gabourel, of the local artillery, whose wife settled and lived in Jersey for some years after she became a widow.

Royal Navy

Luce, on his return to Jersey after a long absence, was advised by his godfather, John Thomas Durell (1733-1800), the Solicitor-General, to continue his career at sea and join the Navy, and within a few weeks he was serving in the small squadron then protecting the Channel Islands.

He afterwards found his way to the West Indies, his favourite station, and served in the fleet opposing the Comte de Grasse. He also served in the naval conquest of Martinique, on 22 March 1793, and St Lucia. He was further employed in several arduous situations in the transportation of Caribs from St Vincent to the island of Ruatan.

Returning to Europe, Mr Luce joined the Crescent a frigate of 36 guns, the crew of which were mostly fellow islanders from Guernsey and Jersey, who were delighted to serve under that able commander Captain Saumarez.

After passing through the subordinate departments of the service, and having distinguished himself in the capacity of master’s mate on various occasions that demanded considerable skill and intrepidity, when at Spithead, in the beginning of 1793, he got permission from his chief to visit London, and was favoured by Captain Saumarez with a strong recommendatory letter to Paul Le Mesurier, then MP for the borough of Southwark, and afterwards chief magistrate for that city.

Proficiently educated, Mr Luce soon passed the necessary examinations for the post of Lieutenant, being one of only seven out of the 15 to pass.


He rejoined his ship in good time to share in the glory of the action fought with the Réunion, which was recaptured off Barfleur, in which conflict his distinguished conduct was particularly noted by his chief, and was rewarded with the rank to which he had for so long aspired to.

Sir James Saumarez retained Lieutenant Luce for many cogent reasons. Familiar with the French language, he was a great acquisition to the service on the expedition to aid the Royalists at Quiberon Bay, and was frequently employed on the shore, not without imminent danger of falling into the hands of the Revolutionists, who never failed to slaughter their captives without trial or mercy.

On 7 June 1791 the Cresent, Druid 32 guns, and Eurydice 20 guns, fell in with the French fleet off Jersey. The vast superiority of the enemy prevented their coming to close action, but they occasionally engaged the French ships until they got off, into Guernsey roads, which was witnessed by a large crowd of islanders, and so bold and masterly a manoeuvre was displayed that the then Governor issued a general complimentary order of the day, conveying the public approbation of the distinguished and consummate professional skill displayed on the occasion by British seamanship, most flattering indeed to the feelings of the crews attached to the small squadron.

Lieutenant Luce continued serving with Sir James Saumarez on board the Orion as first Lieutenant. The vessel was to take a prominent and distinguished role in the the Battle of L’Orient, being one of the first into action on 23 June 1795, for which Lord Bridport expressed his acknowledgements to the officers and seamen, for their intrepidity, courage, and skill during the battle.

The Orion continued cruising in different parts of the Channel. While attached to the fleet off Brest she made several captures of the enemy’s privateers, which were sent into the nearest English ports. In the early part of February 1797 an order was received from the Lords of the Admiralty, directing the ship to reinforce the squadron of Sir John Jervis, which they joined only a few days before the Battle of St Vincent against Admiral Jose Cordova took place on the 14th.

Spanish ship captured

Early on the morning of that memorable day, it was known on board that the enemy’s force counted 27 sail of the line, exclusive of frigates and other armed vessels. At noon the fleets were closely and warmly at work, and the action became more general two hours afterwards. It was 3.30 when the Spanish ship Salvador del Mundo, of 112 guns, got desperately engaged with Orion of 74 guns, but was soon compelled to strike her colours, followed by hoisting of the English Jack.

This was a happy omen for the English fleet, particularly for those on board the Orion. The ship’s cutter was then immediately lowered, and with the rapidity of lightning, First Lieutenant Luce, whose privilege it was, jumped into the boat and quickly took possession of the prize, with the formalities observed on such occasions.

The following morning the fleet anchored in Lagos Bay, and Lieutenant Luce proceeded for England in charge of the Salvador del Mundo, which he safely conducted to Spithead.

On 7 March of the same year, Lieutenant Luce was honoured with a commission of commander, as reward for his distinguished merit in the battle off Cape St Vincent, a reward which was justly deserved, after the hard earned victory for which, in common with the rest of the officers of the squadron, he received the thanks of Parliament.

During his career Captain Luce took part in many hard fought actions and skirmishes, in which he sustained variously injuries. Fortunately, however, for his family and friends, the most inconvenient was that which occasioned his deafness, arising from the concussion of a cannon shot in his last engagement, which blew off his speaking trumpet while giving orders on board the “Orion”.

In 1800 he married a Miss Scarvel, at Gosport. He had formed an attachment with her in Antigua, during his sojourn in the West Indies. They lived for some time at Greenwich, while building a cottage of his own choice at Walworth, where he always felt a humble pride in entertaining his former shipmates and companions, including his old captain, Admiral Saumarez.

After a painful illness lasting three years he died on 7 May 1827. He was buried in Trinity Church in Newington, Butts, Surrey on the 14th of the same month; followed by Colonel Waldegrave Fane, of the Royal Marines; Lieutenant Charles B. Stockdale RN; Messrs Guillet, Walker, and other intimate friends.

Leaving no issue Captain Luce appointed his nephew, and heir at law, Mr Pickstock, a merchant of Honduras, the sole executor of his will, bequeathing to him the greatest portion of his property.


Mr Pickstock was Thomas, son of Thomas Pickstock, a privateer who died of fever in Surinam in 1800, and his mother was Elizabeth Luce. In the same Guernsey and Jersey magazine of 1837 an article states he was a magistrate and judge of the supreme courts of Honduras (also mentioned in Honduras Gazette), and resided in London in the 1830s.

1841 census London has Thomas Pickstock 50 merchant and presumeably his wife Mary 45, both Jersey born, and children Augustus and George born Honduras, and Thomas born England. (Leonora De La Taste, age 20 born Jersey, in household). Leonora’s father Edward is in Jersey with a John Pickstock – merchant staying with him.

The Gabourel family were involved in the slave trade. The 1851 census has John Joshua Gabourel, age 54, born Honduras and his wife Harriet Benest 53, born Jersey.

We have mentions of Gabourels owning a plantation at Cape Fear in North Carolina with: Joshua Gabourel with an American will registered in London 1726, died at Cape Fear, bachelor, master of the “Maxwell”. Another mention is of a Joshua Gabourel who came to the Cape Fear region from Jersey before 1734.

The “Honduras Alamanack” of 1829 mentions the following as subscribers: John Gabourel, William Gabourel, Thomas Pickstock, E Neel & Deslandes, Ph De Ste Croix, Francis Messervy of London, John Poingdestre it is known that he and James Poingdestre traded in mahagony and based themselves in London.

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