Commander John Townsend (316)

Date of Birth: Apr 1764
Date of Death: 5 Mar 1849
Generation: 5th
Residence: Clonakilty
Father: Philip Townsend [304]
Mother: Delap, Mary
  1. Townsend, Eleanor [510]
  2. Somerville, Agnes
    • Anna Maria [327]
    • Helen [328]
    • Bryan [329]
    • Philip [330]
    • Charles [331]
    • Reverend Richard Boyle [332]
    • John Sealy [333]
    • Reverend Horatio Thomas [334]
See Also: Table III ; Scrapbook ; Lineage ; Ancestors' Tree ; Descendents' Tree

Notes for Commander John Townsend RN JP

Married 1st 9 February 1788. Eleanor Townsend [510] was the daughter of Dr Richard Townsend [501] and mother of all John's children. She died of typhus in 1818 (1). Married 2nd 1819. Agnes Somerville (2) was the daughter of Thomas Somerville (3) of Drishane,(4) Castletownshend, Co Cork and his wife Mary Townsend [506]. See Burke's Irish Landed Families 1912 - Somerville. See also ‘A Guide to Irish Houses’ by M. Bence-Jones, London, 1988 – “CASTLETOWNSHEND cor Drishane. Somerville 1790+. Built by Thomas Somerville.”

John entered the Royal Navy circa 1778 and saw much active service during the war against France. Initially he served in Admiral Rodney's fleet, which pursued the French to the West Indies. He was a member of the boarding party that captured the French Flagship, ‘Ville de Paris’, at the Battle of the Saintes 12th April 1782. Two years later he was appointed Captain of the revenue cutter 'Bush' when he was twenty. Shortly after this whilst his ship was anchored at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) John was entertaining friends to dinner on board when a signal, warning of a French privateer, went up from the Bailie lighthouse at Howth. Just as the guests were about to be put ashore a second signal went up and John immediately put to sea. The 'Bush' overhauled the privateer, boarded her and after a tough fight received the French captain's sword in surrender. The guests who had witnessed this action and the prize were taken to Kingstown and John was handsomely rewarded in prize-money. Page 189 of Francis Tuckey's "Tuckey's Cork Remembrancer", records that on 7 January 1785 "Eight American vessels which sailed in company for the purpose of smuggling, appeared off the harbour of Castle Townsend, but being pursued by the Bushe cutter, an engagement took place within pistol shot, when the latter was overpowered by numbers; the smugglers then landed all their cargoes". Was this John?

It would appear that John was still commanding the ‘Bush’ in 1798 for in ‘An Officer of the Long Parliament’ there is reference to his "gallant little vessel". When news of the arrival of the French Fleet in Bantry Bay was received in Cork (5) John volunteered to brave the storm that was raging at the time and take the news to Bristol. The ‘Bush’ finally met her end sometime after this when she ran onto rocks in Galway Bay at nine o’clock at night during a snow storm. She partially sank and the crew took refuge in the rigging but in the chaos and darkness a cabin boy was left on deck. John rescued him and wrapped him in his coat only to find that, come daylight, the boy had died of cold during the night.

According to 'An Officer of the Long Parliament', John’s next command was the “Minerva of seventy men”. There was no such ship of that name in the Royal Navy (6) at that time and the book is clearly wrong. It goes on to record that John was renowned throughout the service for his dash and bravery but poor eyesight forced him to retire from the navy whilst still quite young. Page 2 of the Account of Officers Superannuated in Customs of Ireland catalogued in the ‘Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland’ records “John Townsend Commander of a Cruiser” with a former salary of £163-13s-9d and a pension of £64-4s suffering from “bad health and totally incapable to do duty”. By 1817 he was completely blind.

After leaving the service John settled in Clonakilty and was appointed Recorder and Seneschal of the town in 1801 and this is confirmed by an entry on page 320 of the Cork Historical and Archaeology Society Journal 1896. "As will have been observed, there is a gap in the reports of the Council Meetings of Clonakilty, between the years 1730 and 1801.....till revived in 1802, a few months after the Council had begun to meet once more under Commander Townsend [316] as recorder". John continued in this appointment until at least 1837. His kinsman, Rev Horatio Townsend[5D00], was Sovereign of Clonakilty at the time. Colonel Richard Townsend [100] was elected Sovereign in 1686 and between then and 1802 ten other members of the family were involved with the borough as freemen, burgesses or sovereign. (7)

Amongst the registered papers of the Office of Chief Secretary of Ireland, 1818 to 1852 in the National Archives of Ireland, is a printed letter (scroll down to 'Match 3') from Noble Johnson, Under-Sheriff of Cork, to John informing him that a fine of £5 has been imposed on him for failure to attend as a juror at the county assizes in August 1822. A subsequent annotation on the reverse of the letter, contains John’s affidavit, sworn before Samuel Bennett, magistrate, Clonakilty, denying receipt of any original summons to attend as a juror, and stating that at the time of the assizes, he had gone to London to seek medical attention, having been 'deprived of sight', 12 September 1823. (John presumably forwarded the letter to Dublin Castle to seek government redress).

Until the mid-eighteenth century there was little incentive for tenants to plant trees on the land they leased, for the trees were legally the property of the landlord. However, by 1765, the tenant’s position had changed in that he was entitled to all the trees he had planted, or their value, on the expiry of his lease. To prove ownership tenants had to register the trees they planted and this was eventually published in a register for the particular county in which they lived. Details of the ‘Register of Trees, Co Cork, 1780 - 1860’ are contained in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 1976 Vol. 81, Nos 233-234, pages 39-60 and seven members of the family are shown as part of the scheme. Between them they planted 63,500 trees of which "John Townsend" planted 200 trees in Maulnaskehy in 1810 and 1,900 trees in Skirtagh in 1815. Previously Skirtagh belonged to John's uncle John Townsend [303] and this entry could refer to John Townsend [318] or possibly John Townsend [214]. Other members of the family who subscribed to the scheme include Richard Boyle Townsend [219], Rev Richard Boyle Townsend [332], Samuel Townsend [412], Samuel Philip Townsend [6A03], Samuel Philip Townsend [6B00] and William Townsend [6B02].

Pages 21 to 23 of the Appendix to the First Report (conducted in 1833) of the Commissioners on Municipal Corporations in Ireland, published in 1835, cover the Borough of Clonakilty . Paragraph 12 reports that the annual salary of the Recorder is £20 and that the Deputy Recorder maintains the books and records as the Recorder has been blind since 1817. The paragraph also reports that the Deputy Recorder was appointed by the Recorder but no name is given; thus it could have been any one of John's three sons but, as the Deputy was also Clerk to the Petty Sessions, the most likely candidate is John Sealy Townsend [333] who was a barrister.

Pigot's Directory 1824 for Clonakilty shows him as "Townsend Jno Esq, Recorder, Square" and Slater's Directory 1846 shows him as "Townsend John. Shannon Square". John was also a Justice of the Peace as recorded on page 286 of Aldwell's General Directory 1844-45 - "Townsend John JP Shannon sq"

Page 31 of Correspondence Relative to the Late Elections in Ireland – “Answers given in reference to a Detachment of the 94th Regiment during the City and County Elections” John wrote: “Sir, We, the undersigned, certify that the conduct of the troops stationed here in aid of the civil power to escort voters and otherwise ensure the freedom of the election, was perfectly orderly and gave general satisfaction; that we have not heard of any instance in which soldiers interfered with the freedom of election; that we believe they were not otherwise employed than in preserving the peace under the civil authorities. Signed John Leslie, Sovereign; John Townsend, Recorder. 26 January 1835.”

The Cork County Election of 16 July 1841 returned Daniel O’Connell and Edmund Roche as MPs. This result was challenged by Nicholas Leader and Robert Longfield who claimed there were serious irregularities during the election. The Select Committee set up to investigate this published their report 27 May 1842 and found in favour of O’Connell and Roche. The Poll Books, recording how electors had voted, were included with this report and show that John Townsend [316] (entry 48 on page 182), Richard Boyle Townsend [332] (entry 62 on page 183]), Thomas Townsend [319] (entry 38 on page 182), Edward Henry Townsend [411] (entry 40 on page 182), Chambre Corker Townsend [5D01] (entry 70 on page 183), Philip Townsend [613] (entry 75 on page 200) and Robert St Lawrence (husband of Elizabeth Townshend [235] {entry 110 on page 183}) all voted for Nicholas Leader and Robert Longfield. The report shows that the value of the house in Shannon Square, where John was living, was £20.

The Tithe Applotment Books in the National Archives of Ireland were compiled between 1823 and 1837 in order to determine the amount which occupiers of agricultural holdings over one acre should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland. The 1824 record for the Townland of Brownstown in the Parish of Ardfield shows ‘Commander Townsend’ against the name of the Townland (presumably he was the Commissioner) and rent of £87-4s-9d due to ‘Rev H Townsend’. An 1834 entry for the Parish of Ross shows John owning 21 acres of land in the townland of Rainasereeny South.

In his book 'Statistical Survey of the County of Cork' (8) Horatio Townsend [5D00] comments on page 326 - "The great advantages, arising from chartered magistrates and local jurisdiction, are here very apparent. Sessions of the peace which some years ago had almost fallen into disuse are now regularly held every quarter, in consequence of which peace and subordination are strictly maintained. This very necessary reformation of its police is, in a great measure, due to the spirited and active exertions of its present recorder, John Townsend, Esq."

John was a Freeman of the City of Cork. Between 1710 and 1841, when the power of admitting Freemen only by birth or right ceased, a total of thirty three members of the Townsend family were admitted as Freemen. Page 318 of Francis G Tuckey's "Tuckey's Cork Remembrancer" records that 'John Townsend' was High Sheriff of County Cork in 1817; there is no supporting evidence to show that this refers to John - it could equally apply to someone from another family.

‘A List of Justices of the Peace in Ireland’ published in Dublin in 1844 records on page 42 that John was a Justice of the Peace for Clonakilty where Petty Sessions were held every Wednesday.

John's death was recorded in the diary of Agnes Townsend [334] - 'March 5th 1849 The Recorder died.' The death of John's second wife, Agnes, was reported in The Cork Examiner on 18 December 1865.

The notes about John in 'An Officer of the Long Parliament' were written by his grand-daughter Judith Townsend [372], who married Professor Edward Townsend [6B20], and it seems that she got some of her facts muddled.

(1) An entry in the Church of Ireland Parish Records Ross Cathedral 1690–1823 records on page 66 under the heading ‘Burials’ "1818 July 21st Mrs Townsend Clonakilty."

(2) An entry in the Church of Ireland Parish Records Ross Cathedral 1690–1823 records on page 65 under the heading ‘Marriages’ "1819 September 11th John Townsend Recorder of Clonakilty and Agnes Somerville of Castletownsend by licence." Agnes died without issue in December 1865. Her brother, Philip Somerville of The Prairie, Schull, married first Maria Townsend [5D07] and second Henrietta Anna Margaretta Townsend [242].

(3) The entry for Somerville in the University of Galway Landed Estates Database records "Burke's ''Irish Family Records'' indicates that the first of this family to settle in Cork was Rev. William Somerville, who allegedly fled persecution in Scotland in the 1690s. Col. Thomas Somerville of Drishane, Skibbereen, owned over 450 acres in county Cork in the 1870s while other members of the family owned similar amounts. Thomas Somerville was among the principal lessors in the parish of Castlehaven at the time of Griffith's Valuation while Elizabeth Somerville held townlands in the parish of Skull at the same time."

(4) The entry for Drishane in the University of Galway Landed Estates Database records "Thomas Somerville held this property in fee at the time of Griffith's Valuation when it was valued at £35. Lewis also recorded it as the seat of Thomas Somerville in 1837. In 1906 it was owned by Aylmer Somerville and valued at £35. It is still extant."

(5) News of the French arrival in Bantry Bay was carried to Cork by Mrs White of Glengariff, sister of Henrietta, wife of Henry Boyle Townsend [219].

(6) There have been eight ships named ‘HMS Minerva’ in the Royal Navy and the only one that fits the time frame is the 32-gun fifth rate launched in 1805 - she would have needed a crew of many more that 70.

(7) Details are given in ‘Notes on the Council Book of Clonakilty’ in the 'Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society' at pages 79-84, 129-135, 172-177, 22-224, 270-273 and 320-322.

(8) Sponsored by the Royal Dublin Society and published in 1810 it covers historical sketches, agricultural and trade statistics, notices on education, fisheries, antiquities, manufactures, etc. A large appendix and section of addenda includes a variety of interesting documents, on matters social, scientific, political, religious and other matters. The book criticised the Roman Catholic clergy, particularly its role in education and this generated considerable controversy. A copy of the book can be found in the Trinity College, Dublin, library and the Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast.

'An Officer of the Long Parliament' Ch IX p. 220-23 and 'Pooles of Mayfield' p. 231 refer.

For other Somerville connections see also Elizabeth Henrietta Townsend [225], Henrietta Augusta Townsend [234], Jonas Morris Townsend [237], Henrietta Anna Townsend [242], Horatio Thomas Townsend [334], Letitia Mary Townsend [351], Mary Townsend [506], Maria Townsend [5D07]. See the entry for Mary Townsend [506] for a precis of the Somerville family and their connections with the Townsends.