John Campbell

Commander-in-Chief of Newfoundland (1720-1790)

Although somewhat overshadowed by his more famous seafaring rival, John Campbell, born in 1720 in Kirkbean, became a British naval officer, navigational expert and colonial governor.

Campbell joined the Royal Navy at an early age and sailed around the world in 1740 on The Centurion.

He later became known as a navigational expert and was, from 1782 till his death, Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Newfoundland. HMS Centurion was a 60-gun fourth-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built at Portsmouth Dockyard and launched on January 6th, 1732.

John Campbell’s father was minister of Kirkbean and John was, at an early age, apprenticed to the master of a coasting vessel. That vessel's mate was pressed into the navy and John is said to have entered the navy by offering himself in exchange for him.

He served for three years on The Blenheim, Torbay and Russell before being appointed in 1740 as a midshipman to The Centurion where he was promoted to master's mate after The Centurion's ensuing circumnavigation of the world. He was soon promoted to master after the 1743 engagement against the Manila galleon, Nuestra Señora de Covadonga.

In 1745, Campbell passed the examination for lieutenant and soon gained a first command. In 1747, he was promoted to post of captain of the new frigate, Bellona and, in 1749, he was given command of the expedition to the Pacific.

His next commands after The Bellona were the Mermaid, The Prince (90 guns) and - in 1757 - The Essex (64 guns). During his command of The Essex, in 1756, Campbell gave a sea trial to Tobias Mayer's new lunar tables and reflecting circle, trials which would profoundly influence marine navigation for the next 250 years.

Campbell returned to The Royal George as flag captain in November 1759, this time under Hawke (when Hawke moved his flag to that ship), serving as such during the decisive battle of Quiberon Bay on November 20th, 1759.

Next, Campbell was to captain The Dorsetshire (70 guns), on the home station and in the Mediterranean from 1760 to the peace in 1763. He was admitted as a fellow of The Royal Society on May 24th, 1764 (and was one of its Visitors to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, from March 1765), before being one of those the Board of Longitude asked to 'number-crunch' the results of the 1764 second sea-trial to Barbados of John Harrison's longitude watch.

From about 1764, he commanded the royal yacht Mary, later moving to HMY Royal Charlotte, a command he retained until promotion to rear-admiral of The Blue on January 23rd, 1778.

Then, in March 1778, he was chosen to be "captain of the fleet" and effectively, chief of staff in HMS Victory, which commissioned in May 1778.

In 1782, Campbell was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Newfoundland.

He held this post from 1782 to his death at his house at Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London, on December 16th, 1790.