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John Fea: Lock Keeper

Obituary: Falkirk Herald 14th February 1862

This obituary of John Fea appeared in the Falkirk Herald, two days after his death which occurred on 12th February 1862. A very slightly abbreviated version appeared later in the Times of London, which was attributed to the Falkirk Herald.

Unfortunately, there are a number of inaccuracies in the obituary which cast some doubt over the rest, to the extent that it cannot otherwise be verified.

DEATH OF A TRAFALGAR HERO - John Fea, one of our few remaining Peninsular heroes, has at length submitted to the all potent law of mortality. He died on Sabbath evening at the venerable age of 95. For a few days previous to his death, he was sensible of his approaching dissolution. On Sunday morning, he conversed freely of his latter end, and seemed conscious that the termination of his earthly career was at hand. The brave old heroe’s reminisences are peculiarly interesting. He was born in Orkney, and was great-grandson of John Fea of Clestran, who was an extensive landed proprietor. His great-grand-uncle, also of the Orkneys, captured the notable pirate Gow, an account of whom may be seen in Peterkin’s Notes. The property belonging to his great grandfather was lost in his father’s minority, he was brought up in his childhood home by the Trails of Orkney. When but a boy of 8 years, he fled from the roof of his guardians, and embarked on board a merchantman. Having served an apprenticeship in the merchantman, he was pressed as an able-bodied seaman to the naval service during the Peninsular War. He served under the great naval captain, Nelson, at the Battle of Trafalgar, on board the Indefatigable, commanded by Captain Graham Moore, brother of Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. Fea had the good fortune to come out of that fiery ordeal unscathed. He was also at the taking of three Spanish “galleons,” laden with gold and silver. One of the three having been blown up during the engagement, the remaining two were taken as prizes to England. Having been pressed against this will, and not liking the service, Fea embraced the first opportunity to desert. The consequence of this step was that he lost all participation in the prize money - which was considerable - was debarred from applying for a pension, and precluded from enjoying so much as the honour of wearing a medal, which he would otherwise have done. While he was in the merchant service, he had the misfortune to be wrecked off the coast of Guinea. During all his voyages (and some of his cruises extended over a period of five years), he never had the ill-luck to receive a single mishap, save that once, during a storm, while aloft, he was struck on the foot by a yard-arm which left a mark through life. Quitting the seafaring life, he entered the employment of the Forth and Clyde Canal Co., in whose service he continued for 48 years - during which time, he proved himself a faithful servant. Old age and infirmity at length rendering him incapable for duty, he was obliged to give up the lock he had charge of to his son, who succeeded him. While a lock-keeper, we may mention that he had the distinguished honour of steering the Charlotte Dundas - the pioneer of steam navigation - from Grangemouth to Glasgow - when she was transformed into a “dredger” - an honour to which be afterwards referred with the live’iest of emotion. Old John was twice married. By his first wife he had five children, and eight by his second. He was of good moral character, and a regular church goer as long as he was able.

Falkirk Herald, 14th February 1862

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