Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Almost every census from 1861 to 1911 contains at least one member of the Swanton family who was serving in the Royal Navy and it began with John's father Robert Swanton who was born in Cork, Ireland in 1843. Robert was first recorded in the UK aboard HMS Melpomene in 1861, half way through a tour of duty that took the ship from the Mediterranean via Devonport to North America.
In 1866 Robert married Catherine, probably in Ireland, who gave birth to Mary Ann the same year, followed by John James in 1870 whilst the family were at Stoke Damerel, Devonport. Robert seems to have left the navy in the 1870s as he was recorded in 1881 working as a Coastguard whilst living at Thiddlethorp, Lincolnshire, about half way between Cleethorpes and Skegness. By then the family had expanded by the addition of a further four children, Robert (b. 1873), Michael (b. 1876), Richard (b. 1878) and Constance (b. 1880).
After a period as a coastguard Robert seems to have returned to the navy as a Chief Boatswain sometime in the late 1880s and by 1891 the family had moved to Guisborough, Yorkshire where three more children are declared in the census - Herbert (b. 1881), Arnold (b. 1884) and Oscar (b. 1888). John James had left the household by this time and was almost certainly already in the navy.
The 1901 census recorded the family's first presence in Portsmouth with them living at 85 Lancaster Road, off Somers Road. It also shows the shift in generational connection to the navy with Robert described as a Naval Pensioner and John James as a Petty Officer. With them in the household were Catherine and five of the children. Ten years later, with the family at 44 North Street, both Robert and John James were classed as Navy Pensioners, but only one of them would return to the sea.
Immediately following the outbreak of war in 1914 John James was mobilised and in October 1914 posted to serve on HM Trawler Tern which was sent to patrol the North Sea. The Tern was wrecked in Loch Erribol, E of Cape Wrath on 23rd February 1915 with the loss of six ratings. The exact cause was not ascertained.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists Chief Petty Officer John James Swanton (137955), Pensioner, Royal Navy, HM Trawler Tern, died on 23/02/1915. Commemorated on Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 7).
John Swanton is also remembered on the WW1 Memorial at St. John's RC Cathedral and on the Cenotaph. He is listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X, p225.
There are some discrepancies between the entry in the National Roll and the CWGC record. The National Roll gives John James's rank as Chief Torpedo Coxwain and though it mentions HMS Terne says that he lost his life on HMS Pentland Firth. This is incorrect as the Tern foundered on 23rd February 1915, the same day John Swanton lost his life.
Tim Backhouse
April 2014