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.