Open main menu

Rear-Admiral Sir John Narborough (or Narbrough, c. 1640–1688) was an English naval commander. He served with distinction in the Anglo-Dutch Wars and against the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Sir John Narborough
Bornc. 1640
Died1688 (aged ~48)
Buried (51°14′1″N 1°16′1″E / 51.23361°N 1.26694°E / 51.23361; 1.26694Coordinates: 51°14′1″N 1°16′1″E / 51.23361°N 1.26694°E / 51.23361; 1.26694)
Service/branchRoyal Navy
RankRear Admiral
Battles/warsBattle of Sole Bay
Actions against the Barbary pirates
Other workCommissioner of the Navy
Narborough was knighted after the Battle of Sole Bay in 1672.

Early lifeEdit

Narborough was descended from an old Norfolk family. He married and had two surviving sons by Elizabeth Hill, whose father was John Hill, a Commissioner of the Navy.[1] After her husband's death, Lady Narborough married Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.[2]


Narborough received his commission in 1664, and in 1666 was promoted lieutenant for gallantry in an action against the Dutch fleet off the Downs in June of that year. After the peace, he was chosen to conduct a voyage of exploration in the South Seas. He set sail from Deptford on 26 September 1669, and entered the Straits of Magellan in October of the following year. In 1670 he visited Port Desire in Argentina and claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, but returned home in June 1671 without accomplishing his original purpose. A narrative of the expedition was published at London in 1694 under the title An Account of several late Voyages and Discoveries to the South and North.

During the Third Anglo-Dutch War Narborough was second captain of the Lord High Admiral's ship, HMS Prince. He conducted himself with conspicuous valour at the Battle of Sole Bay in May 1672, after the death in action of his superior, Sir John Cox, which won him special approbation. Shortly after he was promoted to rear-admiral and knighted. In 1675 he was sent to suppress the Barbary piracies, and by the bold expedient of despatching gun-boats into the harbour of Tripoli at midnight and burning the ships, he induced the Dey to agree to a treaty. There is an account of the raid in the diary of the naval chaplain Henry Teonge.[3] The Lieutenant who planned and executed the burning of the ships in the harbour was Cloudesley Shovell, who later married Narborough's widow.[4]

Shortly after his return, Narborough undertook a similar expedition against the Algerines. In 1680 he was appointed Commissioner of the Navy, an office he held until his death in 1688. During those years he was a patron to a treasure hunter from New England, invested in an expedition by William Phips to find wrecked Spanish treasure ships in the Caribbean, and worked to enlist the support of Charles II and others in the venture. Phips's first expedition, made in 1682 and funded by New England investors, was only marginally successful. His second expedition in 1683–1685, was less successful, but he gained valuable leads, and Narborough was able to help him raise funds for a third expedition. Departing in September 1686, Phips located a valuable wreck in February 1687, and returned to England with treasure valued at over £200,000, which gained him approbation and a knighthood. After this success, Narborough decided to lead a follow-up expedition in the following year. Returning to the wreck, the English found that it had been discovered by others. They only recovered about £10,000 of treasure before Narborough fell ill and died at sea in May 1688.

Knowlton Court, Kent

Narborough had bought the Knowlton Court estate near Dover from the executors of Sir Thomas Peyton, and so was buried in St Clement's Church.[5] His eldest son John was created a baronet in November 1688 (see Narborough Baronets), in honour of his father. Sir John died with his brother James and their stepfather Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell aboard HMS Association during the Scilly naval disaster of 1707.[2] Narborough's widow is buried in St Paulinius's Church, Crayford, where there is a memorial to her and her second husband.[6] Narborough's two sons were buried in Old Town Church on St Mary's, Isles of Scilly.[1]

Knowlton Court passed to his daughter Elizabeth, who had married Sir Thomas D'Aeth in 1701.[7]

Both Sir John and his sons have memorials in Knowlton church.


Knowlton church has monuments to Sir John[5] and to the memory of his sons. The latter depicts the grounding of the Association.[6] The island of Fernandina, the westernmost in the Galapagos archipelago, was originally named Narbrough Island in his honour, by the 17th century buccaneer William Ambrosia Cowley.


  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Narborough, Sir John". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 237–238.

  1. ^ a b "Biography: Cloudesley Shovell" (PDF). Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b James Herbert Cooke, The Shipwreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovell on the Scilly Islands in 1707, From Original and Contemporary Documents Hitherto Unpublished, Read at a Meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, London, 1 February 1883
  3. ^ The Diary of Henry Teonge Chaplain on Board HM's Ships Assistance, Bristol and Royal Oak 1675-1679. Edited by Sir E. Denison Ross and Eileen Power. London: Routledge, 1927, reprinted 2005.
  4. ^ Lives of the Most Celebrated British Admirals. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. 1818. p. 110.
  5. ^ a b See Charnock, Biog. Nav. i.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rept.
  6. ^ a b – The legacy of Sir Cloudsley Shovel
  7. ^ Burke, John; Burke, John Bernard (1838). A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies of England. p. 381.

External linksEdit