13 January 2008

Vice Admiral Sir Nathan Hewett

Further investigation into some 'Fighting Admirals' of the Victorian era has revealed this man:

Vice-Admiral Sir William Nathan Wrighte Hewett VC KCB KCSI
b.1834, entered RN 1848, d. 1888

Aged 20 and but 8 years after entering the Royal Navy, William Hewett was awarded the Victoria Cross for services during the Crimea War.

In 1854, he was serving as Acting Mate on HMS Beagle but was commanding a Naval Brigade detachment manning a Lancaster Battery at Sebastopol. being threatened by the enemy. Through a misunderstanding he was ordered to spike his gun and retreat. The lieutenant, however, took on himself the responsibility of disregarding the order, shouting 'Retire? Retire and be damned! Fire!' He then pulled down the parapet of the battery and with the assistance of some soldiers, slewed his gun round and poured on the advancing enemy a most destructive and effectual fire until the Russians retreated. For this exploit and for further great bravery during the battle of Inkerman, that he received the Victoria Cross.

A slightly different account of his actions:

Among all the acts exhibiting gallantry, coolness, and judgment, one performed by Mr N.W. Hewett, then acting mate of HMS Beagle, stands conspicuous.

On the 26th of October 1854, the day after the battle of Balaclava, he was in charge of the right Lancaster battery before Sebastopol, with a party of bluejackets under him, when the Russians made a desperate sortie from the walls against Sir De Lacy Evans’ division. The advance of the Russians placed the gun in great jeopardy; and their assault was so vigorous that their skirmishers had got within 300 yards of the battery, and were pouring in a sharp fire from their Minié rifles. By some misapprehension the word was passed to spike the gun and retreat; but Mr Hewett, taking upon himself to disregard what he heard, answered, “That order did not come from Captain Lushington, and till he directs us to desert the gun, we’ll not move.” This proceeding was hazardous, for at the time the gun was in an ineffectual position, in consequence of the enemy advancing on its flank. With the assistance, however, of the seamen with him, and of some soldiers who came to his aid, he got round the gun into position; then, blowing away the parapet of the battery, he opened on the advancing column of the Russians so effective a fire, that they were completely staggered, and their progress was stopped. Seconded by his companions, whom his spirit animated, again and again he discharged his death-dealing gun, till the enemy gave way and retreated.

A story is current that he actually did receive an order to abandon the gun, and that afterwards, while he was reflecting what might be the consequences of having disobeyed it, his commanding officer inquired,
“Mr Hewett, were you not ordered to spike that gun and retreat?”
“I was, sir.”
“And you chose to disregard the order, and fight the gun?”
“I did, sir; but I am sorry if—”
“Well, then, you are promoted.”
Sir Stephen Lushington brought Mr Hewett’s conduct before the commander-in-chief, and he received from the Admiralty, as a reward, his lieutenancy, which he so well merited. At the battle of Inkermann his bravery was again conspicuous, and he was soon afterwards appointed to the command of the Beagle gunboat in the Sea of Azov.

He was promoted to Commander on 13th Sep 1858, Captain on 14th Nov 1862 and Rear-Admiral on 14th Nov 1862, spending much of his career at sea commanding a number of RN vessels, including some of the first ironclad warships. He also commanded the Naval Brigade in actions in West Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, gaining in the process a reputation as the Navy's finest exponent of Combined Operations.

Sir William Hewett rose to the rank of Vice Admiral in 1884 before retiring from the Navy in 1888 and died the same year.

Vice-Admiral Hewett was awarded the following medals:
Victoria Cross
Knight Commander of the Bath
Crimean War Medal
Turkish Crimean Medal
Crimean Medal 'Al Valore'
India General Service Medal
Ashanti Medal 1873–74
Egypt Medal 1882
Khedive Star 1882
Order of Mejidieh 4th
Class Legion of Honour 5th Class


  1. Definitely the Right Sort of Chap!

  2. Its all about the gongs..:)

  3. Gongs, a good claret and the local lovelies!