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Pasco, John (1774–1853), naval officer, was born on 20 December 1774, the eldest son of John Pasco, a caulker of Plymouth Dockyard. In June 1784 he entered the frigate Druid, and in 1786 was servant of the midshipmen's berth in the frigate Pegasus, commanded by Prince William Henry. He was afterwards in the Penelope on the Halifax station, and from 1790 to 1795 in many different ships in the channel. In 1795 he went out to the West Indies with Sir John Laforey, who promoted him on 15 June to be lieutenant of the Beaulieu under his son Captain Francis Laforey, formerly a midshipman of the Pegasus. From 1796 to 1799 he was in the Raisonnable in the channel and at the Cape of Good Hope, and from December 1799 to October 1802 in the Immortalité with Captain Henry Hotham on the coast of France.

In February 1802 Pasco's father, by then a foreman of caulkers, was dismissed from Plymouth Dockyard, presumably for involvement in the petitions for increased pay organized during the near-famine of the previous year, which Lord St Vincent's Admiralty board regarded as subversive. Pasco imperilled his career by protesting to the Admiralty, and was lucky to be appointed in April 1803 to the Victory, which went out to the Mediterranean as Lord Nelson's flagship. He remained in the Victory during her whole commission, in the blockade of Toulon, in the chase of the French fleet to the West Indies, and in the battle of Trafalgar. During the latter part of the time he acted as signal officer, including at Trafalgar. According to Pasco himself, the signal which Nelson ordered him to make as the battle was about to begin was ‘England confides that every man will do his duty’, but he pointed out to the admiral that, as ‘confides’ was not in the signal book, time would be saved by substituting ‘expects’, which was. To this Nelson assented (Dispatches and Letters, 7.150). Early in the battle Pasco was severely wounded in the right arm, and was carried below.

For his wound, Pasco received a grant from the patriotic fund, and was later awarded a pension of £250 a year; but his promotion to the rank of commander was not dated until 24 December 1805, and he was not posted until 3 April 1811. This was on account of the death of Nelson, who followed the unusual practice of making his junior lieutenant act as first lieutenant and his senior take charge of signals, as a result of which Pasco missed the customary promotion of first lieutenants after the victory. For nearly three years after his promotion to commander's rank, Pasco remained unemployed. In November 1809 he was appointed to the store ship Hindostan, which he took out to New South Wales. With him he took his wife, Rebecca, the daughter of J. L. Penfold of Plymouth Dockyard, whom he had married on 1 September 1805. A son was born at sea the following year—one of six sons (two of whom died in infancy) and three daughters. Afterwards Pasco commanded the Tartarus on the North American station, and from 1811 to 1815 was captain of the frigate Rota on the Lisbon station. After the peace (1815–18) he had command of the Lee, a small frigate employed in the channel for the suppression of smuggling. Like most officers of his generation, Pasco had little employment during the peace, but in 1846 he commanded the Victory at Portsmouth, and was promoted to flag rank on retirement, on 22 September 1847. He married again in 1843. His second wife was Eliza, the widow of Captain John Weaver RN. He died at Stonehouse, Devon, on 16 November 1853.

Pasco's naval career was creditable but unremarkable. He is chiefly remembered now as the man who made Nelson's famous signal, but in his own day he was pointed out as an example of the sort of rise from humble circumstances, once commonplace in the navy, which was becoming increasingly rare.

J. K. Laughton, rev. N. A. M. Rodger

Sources  

O'Byrne, Naval biog. dict. · Letters and papers of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thos. Byam Martin, GCB, ed. R. V. Hamilton, 1, Navy RS, 24 (1903), 28–9 · Naval Chronicle, 24 (1810), 437 · R. Morriss, ‘Industrial relations at Plymouth dockyard, 1770–1820’, The new maritime history of Devon, ed. M. Duffy and others, 1 (1992), 216–23 · TNA: PRO, ADM 1/2345, Cap. P. 300; ADM 106/3006; ADM 106/2979 [father's career] · service book, TNA: PRO, ADM 11/1, 284 · The dispatches and letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, ed. N. H. Nicolas, 7 vols. (1844–6)

Likenesses  

oils, NMM