Captain John Quilliam (1771-1829)
Distinguished Naval Officer
Naval commander and MHK. Fought at the battle of Trafalgar as First Lieutenant of Nelson's flagship Victory.
John Quilliam was born in the south of the Island and began his naval career as an Able Seaman, probably on HMS Lion. He was promoted to Lieutenant by Admiral Lord Duncan after the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.
At the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, he found himself in sole charge of a frigate after all his superior officers were killed. It was on this occasion that Nelson is said to have come on board after the battle and asked Quilliam how he was getting on; he was much amused by Quilliam’s laconic Manx reply—“Middlin’”—and subsequently sought Quilliam’s services on board his own flagship.
Quilliam is best known for his actions as First Lieutenant on board HMS Victory, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. During the battle the mizzen-topmast of the Victory was shot away and her steering wheel was knocked to pieces. Quilliam devised a jury rig to allow the ship to be steered, and being unsure whether it would work actually took the tiller himself.
Back in the Isle of Man, John Quilliam was selected as a Member of the House of Keys in 1807, but he returned to sea again in 1808. He was appointed a Captain the following year. He finally retired to the Island in 1815 and became an MHK again in 1817. Quilliam took a particular interest in the condition of the herring fishery.
'He was highly esteemed and much respected by all'