This naval tale spans three centuries and features a 17th-18th century naval commander, Admiral Sir James Wishart, MP for Portsmouth, who gave his name to a distinguished World War II destroyer, the H.M.S. Wishart.
James Wishart was born in 1659, the second son of Rev. William Wishart and Christian Burne. These were turbulent times. William Wishart was a Protestant member of the Dissenting Presbytery and had been imprisoned for 13 months, first in Edinburgh and later in Stirling Castle. He was eventually freed following a petition by the Presbytery of Linlithgow, but his property was sequestered because he refused to disown the “Grand Remonstrance”. Although his stipend was suspended, the Estates of Parliament granted it to his wife Christian. On 6th August 1675, William Wishart was intercommuned by the Privy Council for preaching without public sanction; and on 5th February 1685 he was sentenced to be banished to His Majesty’s plantations for refusing “The Test”. Fortunately his sentence was never carried out, though he was bound over to report whenever summoned. Following the Act of Tolerance of 1687, they settled in Leith, Edinburgh where Rev. Wishart preached to a Presbyterian congregation until his death in February 1692. Turbulent times indeed, for the young James Wishart and his two brothers. With his elder brother George having been commissioned into the Dragoon Guards, James entered the Royal Navy which was unusual for a Scot at that time. Perhaps he and George needed to escape their troubled parental home.
James Wishart’s first command was the Pearl, appointed on 4th July, 1689. He commanded the 50 gun ship Oxford at the battle of Barfleur in May 1692 which put an end to the French invasion fleet assembled to restore James II to the British throne. He was Captain of the Fleet to Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Battle of Vigo Bay in October 1702, where the combined British and Dutch fleet defeated a Spanish and French fleet capturing much Spanish treasure. Appointed Admiral of the White Squadron in 1703, he served at the capture of Gibralter in 1704 and in that year was knighted by Queen Anne ‘to his heirs whomsoever’. In December 1710, he was appointed a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and, in 1713-14, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet. Wishart’s portrait by Michael Dahl (above left) was later published as an engraving by Johan Faber in 1812 incorporating the Wishart Arms , and is held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.
While still in the Navy, he became the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, 1711-15. After Queen Anne’s death in August 1714 the Whig party seized power and invited George, Elector of Hanover, to become King George I. Sir James Wishart, being a Tory, was replaced and offered no further appointments.
He married Cordelia Raper of Bedale, Yorkshire and their house still stands to this day at 53 High Street, opposite Portsmouth Cathedral (left). Records show that the house is largely unchanged since the 18th century, having escaped the bombing of Portsmouth in World War II. They had no children, and when Sir James died in May 1723, he left his £20,000 fortune, the equivalent of about £2m today, to his nephew Rev. William Wishart, who became in 1737 the Principal of Edinburgh University.
Two centuries later, the Royal Navy again honoured Admiral Wishart by naming a Thorneycroft Modified W Class destroyer after him. Launched in 1919, H.M.S. Wishart (above) was in the Atlantic Fleet from May 1920 to July 1923 when she transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet. In 1930-31 she was in reserve at the Nore, followed by a refit at Chatham. She then joined the 8th Destroyer Flotilla in China. In December 1934 she became Lord Louis Mountbatten’s second command and transferred to the 1st Flotilla, Mediterranean Fleet. His inspired leadership won her crew the “Cock of the Fleet” award at the 1935 naval regatta. Mountbatten is said to have raised his crew’s spirits by telling them that their ship had been named after the Almighty Father, to whom we pray daily “Our Father, Wishart in In August 1936, H. M. S. Wishart became the Emergency Destroyer at the Nore, and on 27th April 1937 she was Guardship at Greenwich for the opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI. In June 1938 she rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet, and her first of many actions in World War II was on 27th December 1939 when she attacked the German ship Glucksberg, which ran herself ashore in south-west Spain.
On 23rd September 1940 she was involved in the 3-day attack on Dakar (Operation Menace); and on 27th November 1940 she was part of Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville’s Force H that engaged a superior Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento, Sardinia causing them to withdraw. On 27th June 1941 she sank the Italian submarine Glauco in the Atlantic, and on 2nd May 1942 she sank the German submarine U74 in the western Mediterranean. She was involved in Operation Torch on 8th November 1942, the landings at Oran and Algiers, and Operation Husky on 10th July 1943, the landings in southern Sicily. Her Battle Honours awarded were: Atlantic 1939-44, Spartivento 1940, Mediterranean 1942, Malta Convoys 1942, North Africa 1942-3, and Sicily 1943. In May 1944 she was paid off into Reserve, and broken up in 1945.
Dr David Wishart, 1998
The watercolour of H. M. S. Wishart reproduced (above right) is by the marine artist Winston Megoran. It was presented to the ship by the President of the Navy League, Lord Lloyd of Dollobran, and is now in a private collection.
In 1987, H.M.S. Wishart was honoured by the issue of a postage stamp featuring her heraldic badge (above). This is one of a set of four Royal Navy ship crest stamps, issued in Gibraltar on 15th April 1987 to commemorate four important ships that served in the Mediterranean during World War II. The others were the cruiser H.M.S. Charybdis, the destroyer H.M.S. Antelope, and the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Eagle. Of the four ships honoured by Gibraltar, Wishart is the only one to be named after a sailor – our distinguished naval ancestor, Admiral Sir James Wishart, MP of Edinburgh and Portsmouth.
We acknowledge with thanks Cdr. J. Neil Wishart and T. George Wishart, who researched much of this story; the National Maritime Museum for permission to reproduce their portrait of Admiral Sir James Wishart; Cdr. J. N. Wishart for the watercolour of H. M. S. Wishart; Portsmouth City Museum, for photographs and research on Wishart House, Portsmouth; and Karen Wishart for the Gibraltar stamp.