The Stokenham Occasional Papers - Book 3


by Peter Cowell

The unusual surname of Prettejohn originated from Stokenham. As far as is known it first appeared in written form in 1524, in the subsidy roll, when three men, John Preterjohn alyn and Alex Preterjohn paid their taxes of a penny, a penny and twopence respectively.

The reference ‘alyn’ shows that John came from abroad, as did many other people in the Coleridge Hundred. The spelling of the name as ‘Petijohn’ in the survey of Stokenham in 1547 strongly suggests that the name was originally French and was anglicised in the course of the sixteenth century. As far as is known there is no mention of the name before 1524, and nobody of that name has yet traced the genealogy of the name back to any source other than Stokenham. (Prettejohn has been regarded as a nickname or possibly a corruption of the French Petit-jean.)

The earliest home of the family in the sixteenth century was at Dunstone in Stokenham parish; the only member of the family named in the 1547 survey, John Petijohn, held one ferling of land there. The surnames of two of the other people holding land at Dunstone in 1547 (Helman and Cosyn) appear in the 1524 subsidy roll near to two of the three Preterjohns in that roll which suggests that they too were at Dunstone in 1524. Later, in 1570 there was a Robert Pretyjohn ‘de Donson’ buried at Stokenham. Then in 1582 when many leases for lives were being granted throughout the manor the ferling of land at Dunstone which John had held in 1547 was granted to William Pretijohn.

It can hardly be doubted that William must have been descended in some way from one or more of the three men named in 1524; the exact descent is not possible to determine without more evidence. But the descent of the Prettejohns, at least in some lines, from that William through each generation is clear. William, who died in 1611, had four sons, Nathaniel, Nicholas, Andrew and John, and it is very likely that all persons who have the name are descended from one or other of them. The manorial court rolls of Stokenham show that innumerable minor brewing offences were committed by many of the inhabitants and William was no exception. In the late sixteenth century also he appears on the homage or jury of the manor court. The first member of the family who appears to have made a will was his son Nathaniel who died at about the age of 80 in 1655 leaving two sons, Nicholas and William, some grandchildren and other relations.

The senior branch of the family descended from Nathaniel, the eldest son being called Nicholas in the four succeeding generations, the first of whom was the last to be described, when he was buried at Stokenham in 1684, as being of Dunstone. He had married into the March family of Chivelstone and from them it seems that some acres of land at South Allington came into the family.

After the Nicholas of the fourth generation died without issue the land at South Allington went to his brother Walter (whose memorial is in Chivelstone church) and it was through Walter’s daughter’s daughter, who married Nicholas Pitts, that the land there went to the Pitts family who retained it until the 1960’s.

The Nicholas of the third generation (the great grand-son of Nathaniel) and his bother Nathaniel each married a Lamble from East Portlemouth. Nathaniel’s son Nathaniel, born in 1730, and his descendants farmed at Ford in Chivelstone parish and Molescombe in Stokenham parish until well into this century. The descendants who must be best remembered in the area were Nathaniel Browse Prettejohn (joint trustee in the will of Walter Lamble Prettejohn) and his wife Anne, who was also his first cousin (her mother having been, before her marriage to John Dimond Oldreive of Landcombe, Strete, a Prettejohn); they had twenty children between 1873 and 1899 all born at Molescombe, and for some months in the latter year altogether fourteen of them were living. But despite such a large family of children they only had one grandson (Mr. N.B.P. Prettejohn of Chillington) and five grand-daughters and all their descendants of later generations came through the grand-daughters and so disguise their Stokenham ancestry under other names.

The Nathaniel born in 1730 had other descendants, most of them called Nicholas, Nathaniel or Edward, who farmed first at Yanston in Loddiswell and in the last century at Aunemouth in Thurlstone. There are still many Prettejohn descendants of theirs, some still farming in Devon (though in different parishes). For four centuries now there has never been a time when a Nathaniel or a Nicholas Prettejohn has not been living, the name Nicholas being found in one or other branch of the family in each of the twelve generations of the descendants of William of Dunstone (except the eleventh).

There must be very few people who before 1964 went to Hallsands without seeing or hearing of Miss Elizabeth Prettejohn who lived in the only house in old Hallsands left standing after the storm of 1917. There were so many Prettejohns at Hallsands and Beesands in the last century that it used to be said that everybody living there had one or other of the three names, of which that was one (the other two were Steer and Crispin). The first recorded mention of the connection with the sea appears in the court rolls for 1623 when Andrew (one of the four sons of William who died in 1611) his daughter Catherine and William (his brother Nathaniel’s son) were granted for their lives a room or workshop at Hallsands 20 feet by 16 feet.

In the museum at Dartmouth there is a model of the four masted barque ‘Fingal” made by William Prettejohn, one of the last survivors of the Dartmouth-Newfoundland voyages, who died at Hallsands in 1952 aged 86. The cruel toll which the sea took of the lives on men is exemplified by a story of misfortune told in some Chancery proceedings in 1768 on  behalf of a Mary Prettejohn in which she claimed some land at Dyers Hill near Kellaton which her uncle had taken possession of during her infancy. Her genealogy is (very conveniently) given, back to her great grandfather William (in 1713 ‘the elder’); her father William was a fisherman who was ‘drowned out of a fishing boat at or near a place called Lannacombe’. In more recent times two other Prettejohns, Philip aged 34 and George aged 25, were drowned in Start Bay in 1937 and their memorial is in Stokenham church.

There remain (at any rate to the author) two mysteries about people of this name. In 1803 there died in Barbados a John Prettejohn of considerable wealth who had married into the aristocracy. His descendants returned to the Exmouth Area. He was born in 1731 but it is not known where or who his parents were. The other mystery concerns the corporal Prettejohn who won the VC at the battle of Inkermann in 1856: what relation was he?


The answer to some of the final questions of the author, Peter Cowell, in the last paragraph are:

The John Prettejohn who died 29 June 1803 in Barbados was born on 29 October 1731 in Exmouth Devon. His father was Nicholas Prettejohn and his mother Charlotte Worsam or Worsham. His paternal grandfather was also Nicholas Prettejohn who had married Elizabeth Lamble. The author referred to his father and grandfather in the text.

The army featured prominantly in this branch of the family. John Prettejohn’s grandson was Richard Buckley Prettejohn who died on 1 July 1890. He had been a career soldier who had, inter alia, fought in India during the Mutiny in the 1850’s. He rose through the ranks to be colonel of his own regiment in 1890, the 13th Hussars. His father was John Prettejohn and his mother Augusta Buckley. He had seven brothers and sisters including John William Frederick Prettejohn who had been a scholar at Rugby school and who as an ensign died prematurely aged 23 years.

Richard Buckley Prettejohn’s aunt, Catherine Worsham Prettejohn, had married a member of the nobility, a Frederick Maitland of Hollywich in Sussex, later General Maitland, on 11 November 1790. She had nine children, but only three survived the General

General Maitland was colonel of the 58th regiment, member of the Board of General Officers, and a commissioner of the Royal Military College.

General Frederick Maitland (3 September 1763 - 27 January 1848) was the youngest son of the Hon. Sir Alexander Maitland Baronet and Penelope, daughter of Martin Madan (MP) and Judith Madan the poet. He was also the grandson of Charles Maitland, 6th Earl of Lauderdale and a first cousin of Frederick Lewis Maitland (Rear Admiral) (1779-1837).So it was Catherine Prettejohn who “married into the aristocracy”.

In 1779, at the age of 16, Maitland joined the 14th regiment, serving as a Marine on HMS Union at the siege of Gibraltar in 1781. Maitland subsequently served in the West Indies on the staff of the quarter master-general, General Cuyler. He was promoted from Ensign to Brevet Major and also served as aide-de-camp to Sir Charles Grey, at the relief of Nieuport on the Dutch coast in 1793. Maitland was engaged in two naval actions during this period; the first in 1793 involving the sloop Fairy (18 guns, commanded by Captain later Admiral John Laforey), in which Maitland commanded the Marines, in an engagement with a French 32-gun frigate, which escaped. The second involved the frigate Arethusa (38 guns, commanded by Captain Woolley), where Maitland commanded the cabin guns of the frigate at the capture of the French corvette, La Gaieté in 1797.

In 1796 Maitland was appointed secretary to General Sir Ralph Abercromby and travelled with him to the West Indies.

As Colonel, Maitland was appointed quarter master general in the West Indies in 1800. He commanded a brigade at the capture of St Bartholemew St Thomas, St Martin and Santa Cruz in 1801. He was also second in command at the taking of Surinam in 1804. In 1805 Maitland was appointed Governor of Grenada at the express command of George III. In 1807 he saw further action during the recapture of St Thomas and Santa Cruz which had been returned after the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Coincidentally Maitland received the surrender of St Thomas from Van Schogen, the same Dutch Governor he had captured it of in 1801.

In 1811 Maitland was appointed second in command of the Army in Sicily under Lord William Bentinck. The following year he led a diversionary army of 6,550 men to the East Coast of Spain where General Louis Gabriel Suchet held Barcelona, Tarragona and Valencia with 28,000 men. His forces landed at Alicante, but Maitland, his health apparently impaired after many years service in the Indies, fell ill and returned to England.

In recognition of his services Maitland was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Dominica.

He married Catherine Worsham (Worsam) Pretteejohn 11 November, 1790. They had nine children, but only three survived him, including Charlotte (b. 1799 d. 1868), who married Captain Thomas Garth, RN of Haines Hill in Berkshire.

Frederick Maitland died at Tunbridge Wells on 27 January 1848.

Finally, Corporal John Prettyjohns (sometimes spelled Prettyjohn or Prettejohn) (June 11 1823 - January 20 1887) was the first Royal Marine to win the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces and the forty-first member of Her Majesty’s forces to be listed for the medal in the first London Gazette of recipients on 27th February 1857.

John was descended through the Prettejohns of South Brent. He was born at Dean Town, Dean Priors in Devon, and began his working life as a labourer in Buckfastleigh. On June 10, 1844, the day before his twenty-first birthday, he enlisted as a Private in the 59th Company of Plymouth Division. The following year, he sailed to the East Indies, where he was flogged for an unknown offence, before returning to Chatham in 1849. The next year, he married Elizabeth Prettyjohns (a distant cousin) at the Plymouth Registry Office; they went on to have two daughters, Elizabeth and Alice. In 1852, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, and sailed to the Mediterranean on "HMS Bellerophon". After ten years service was part of the Royal Marine Battalion deployed in the Crimean war with Russia (1854-56). During the Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854, he was detached with a section of Royal Marines to clear caves of Russian sharpshooters who were targeting British officers. Having achieved this, Russian reinforcements were seen advancing to retake the caves. With ammunition low, Corporal Prettyjohns encouraged his men to throw rocks and engage them at bayonet point, successfully defending the position in spite of being out-numbered. In January 1856, he was promoted to Sergeant; and, in March, sailed for Hong Kong. Sergeant Prettyjohns was still on active service in India when his Victoria Cross was sent out for presentation in June 1857. He was discharged in 1865 after completing twenty-one years service. His retirement was spent in Manchester, where he became a steward at the Whalley Range Bowling Club. In addition to many other British medals, he was awarded the Turkish and Sardinian Crimean medals. All his awards are on display at the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea, near Portsmouth. The Marines hold a procession every Autumn, in honour of his memory. He died in 1887 aged 62.