26 June 2002

Exactly 145 years after Queen Victoria pinned the Victoria Cross on the breast of Able Seaman Joseph Trewavas in Hyde Park, a memorial plaque was unveiled in St Pol de Leon Church, Paul Village, Cornwall to his memory.

The ceremony was organised by Donald Kidd of the Mousehole Branch of the Royal British Legion and was attended by numerous local dignitaries, including Lady Mary Holborow, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, who laid a floral tribute on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. ( Following his death in July 1905 Joseph Trewavas was buried in an unmarked grave in the village cemetery ).

The memorial was unveiled by Vice-Admiral Sir James Jungius KBE, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and President, Cornwall Royal British Legion, and Mr. Steve Burgess great-great-grandson of Joseph Trewavas. Also in attendance was Marie Trewavas Ayles, great-granddaughter, and other branches of the Trewavas family. The curator of the Penlee Museum and Art Gallery, Penzance, gave guests the opportunity to view the Victoria Cross medal group awarded to Joseph Trewavas which was purchased by the museum in 1996.

Joseph Trewavas was born on 14th December 1835 in Mousehole, Cornwall and at the age of 18 joined the Royal Navy at Devonport, being posted to HMS Agamemnon on the 15th October 1853. A year later found him 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. He rejoined his ship in February 1855 and on the 24th May 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. ( The commander of the Beagle was Captain William Hewett who was awarded the Victoria Cross late in 1854 ).

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.

In Trewavas's 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."

( Trewavas wondered why the Russians hadn't fired upon them as they approached the pontoon bridge at Genitchi, but later it was explained by a Russian officer they had no idea the sailors were going to destroy the bridge, believing they were coming in to destroy shipping and therefore held their fire with the intention of taking them prisoner ).

Gunner Hayles and Midshipman Tracy were specially mentioned by Lieutenant Hewett, and Joseph Trewavas was recommended and received the Victoria Cross and Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his action in cutting the bridge's hawsers.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ]. Genitchi Strait, Sea of Azov, 3 July 1855, Able Seaman Joseph Trewavas, Royal Navy.

Particularly mentioned as having cut the hawsers of the floating bridge in the Straits of Genitchi, under a heavy fire of musketry, on which occasion he was wounded This service was performed by the crews of the Captainís gig, and of one of the paddle-box boats of the 'Beagle' under a heavy fire of musketry at about a distance of eighty yards; the beach being completely lined with troops, and the adjacent houses filled with Riflemen. Joseph Trewavas is especially mentioned in the despatches as having been the person who cut the hawser.
Joseph Trewavas was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on the 26th June 1857.

Trewavas served for another seven years in the Royal Navy seeing service in various parts of the world, electing for discharge on the 10th December 1862. Returning to Mousehole he married Margaret Harry in 1866 who gave birth to three children - Joseph, Elizabeth and Sara. Following tradition, he bought a fishing lugger, naming it Agamemnon after his first Royal Navy ship. He was a member of Cornwall County Council for many years and was a valued member of the County Fisheries Committee.

Late in life, in early 1905, Trewavas suffered a stroke causing paralysis and serverely incapacitating him. Being a very active man he fell into a depression and on the morning of 20th July 1905 he drew a kitchen knife across his throat severing his windpipe, and although attended by two doctors he succumbed to his injuries. The County Coroner's jury returned a verdict of "suicide whilst of unsound mind" and therefore because he had taken his own life, was not allowed a Christian burial. Following his funeral, attended by the residents of Paul Village, Mousehole, and people of the surrounding district, he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Paul Village Cemetery. The exact location of his burial plot is unknown.

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Able Seaman Joseph Trewavas,
Royal Navy

  • Victoria Cross
  • Conspicuous Galllantry Medal ( CGM )
  • Crimea Medal ( 1854-56 )
    • 3 clasps:
    • "Inkermann" - "Azoff" - "Sebastopol"
  • Knight, Legion of Honour ( France )
  • Turkish Crimea Medal ( 1855-56 )


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Iain Stewart, 27 June 2002