b. 14/12/1835 Mousehole, Cornwall. d. 20/07/1905 Mousehole., Cornwall
Joseph Trewavas (1835-1869) was born on 14th December 1835 at Mousehole, Cornwall, the oldest child of Joseph Trewavas and his new wife Ann Roose, who had married on 23rd August 1835. Joseph was the oldest of seven children, six boys and one girl. At the age of 18, young Joseph joined the Royal Navy at Devonport, being posted onto the HMS Agamemnon on the 15th October 1853. Less than a year later, he found himself involved in the Crimean War landing with the Naval Brigade and serving in the trenches at Sebastopol and taking part in the Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854.
He rejoined his ship in February 1855, and on the 24th May he was loaned to the gunboat HMS Beagle for operations in the Sea of Azov. The operation had orders to burn, sink and destroy everything of value to the enemy. Incidentally the commander of the Beagle was Captain William Hewett, who would also be awarded a VC for his actions the previous year.
A large floating pontoon bridge had been built by the Russians across the Genitchi Strait, Sea of Azov, to connect the town of Genitchi to the Spit of Arabat. The bridge was the Russian's main supply route to reinforce their troops at Sebastopol and therefore became a strategic objective for the British Forces. The destruction of the bridge would force the Russians to travel an extra 120 miles to deliver their supplies. Two attacks to cut the floating bridge's hawsers had proved unsuccessful, alerting the Russian garrison.
A further attempt was made on the 3rd July 1855 using Beagle's four-oared gig commanded by Gunner John Hayles and a small paddle-box steamer with one gun, under Midshipman Martin Tracy. The paddle-box steamer moored where the Russian soldiers could be seen marching about on shore, and fired the first round in the breech which drew the gun's securing bolts making it useless. That left six men in a four-oared boat, one of them being Joseph Trewavas, one rifle, ten rounds of ammunition and a cutless apiece to face two hundred enemy who were on shore behind heaps of coal.
What happened next can be told in Trewavas own words “As we paddled out of sight of our ship, on a little mound we could see the Russians motioning the soldiers on shore to keep down and our man in the bow with a loaded rifle wanted to have a 'go' at them but the gunner gave him orders not to do so. I was pulling the bow oar and when we were near the floating bridge, I leapt onto it, cut the hawsers and jumped back in the boat again and shoved off. During this time the Russians, who were only eighty yards off, had not fired a shot, and our man in the bow fired his rifle at them swearing he hit his man. The Russians then let fly. For some time we could not get away as the water was so shallow, and the shot came at us like hailstones, wounding three men and riddling the boat with shot. Reaching safety and the protection of our ship, our boat was sinking and full of water.”
Gunner Hayles and Midshipman Tracy were specially mentioned by Hewett for their actions, and Trewavas was recommended for and received the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 24th February 1857) and Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Trewavas was present at the first investiture at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 and received his medal from Queen Victoria.
Trewavas served for another seven years in the Royal Navy seeing service in various parts of the world, electing for discharge on 10th December 1862. Returning to Mousehole, he married Margaret Harry in 1866 and they had three children – Joseph, Elizabeth and Sara. Following tradition, he bought a fishing lugger, naming it Agamemnon after his first Navy ship. He was a member of Cornwall County Council and was a valued member of the County Fisheries Committee.
Late in life, in early 1905, he suffered a stroke causing paralysis and severely incapacitating him. He fell into depression and on the morning of 20th July 1905 he drew a kitchen knife across his windpipe, and although attended by two doctors, he died of his wounds. The County Coroner recorded a verdict of “suicide whilst of unsound mind” and therefore because of taking his own life, he was not allowed a Christian burial. Following his funeral, he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Paul Village Cemetery. The exact location of his grave is unknown. A memorial plaque was placed in St Pol de Leon Church, Paul in June 2002. Trewavas’ medals are held by Penlee House Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall, and can be viewed by appointment.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PENLEE HOUSE GALLERY, PENZANCE, CORNWALL.
BURIAL PLACE: OLD SCHOOL CEMETERY, PAUL, CORNWALL. (UNMARKED GRAVE).
Joseph Trewavas' VC medal group is held by the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. It is available to view by appointment.
Mousehole Royal British Legion
Mousehole, Cornwall Plaque
Kevin Brazier (May 2016)