Siblings: Alice, Judith, Josias (died in Spain with the 6th Foot), Phineas (drowned, aged fourteen), Mathias (crippled, aged seventeen), Jane, Oliver (died of fever in Copenhagen, with the 28th Foot), Edith (died in infancy)
A small cottage on the River Severn was the centre of Cross Johnson's world. He was the sixth of nine children, born to a clothier and his wife. His unfortunate name was earned by virtue of his apparent lack of patience, even from the moment of his birth. 'What a cross child!' was his father's declaration and the label stuck, shortly becoming a name in its own right. Whatever he might have been otherwise christened, 'Cross' was how the child would ever after be known.
His working life began at the age of six, when he was put to work assisting his mother and sisters carding and spinning wool, which his father and brothers had shorn and washed. The family had a small herd of sheep to provide the wool they needed. Afterward, Robart and Josias wove the spun yarn into cloth, that they would take in bulk to Tewkesbury for sale. When there was no raw wool to handle, there was always work tending the small garden or the mixed herd of animals, consisting of a dozen sheep, one goat, two pigs, four chickens, and one mule. The latter task routinely fell to Cross.
Living so close to a moving body of water had its dangers. His brother Phineas fell from the side of the fulling mill while helping repair the mill wheel. Their uncle and a cousin attempted to rescue the lad but only their uncle made it back out of the river, and this only because of the quick response from Robart, who was afloat in a small dory. The two boys were recovered some miles downriver by a fisherman and were brought back for burial. Later, an accident inside the mill saw Mathias lose a leg and nearly a hand. Cross himself faced a crippling injury when his foot became entangled in a trailing rope end, but the swift application of a knife to the hemp saved him.
That accident occurred when he was fourteen, and served to prompt his brother Oliver to strike out from home in search of a less dangerous occupation. In time, word reached home that Oliver had become apprenticed to a baker in Gloucester and was doing well, but after that news of him was scarce. Shortly before Cross turned fifteen, the family learned that Oliver had gone for a soldier, having joined the Twenty-eighth Foot. After that, nothing was heard of him directly. His brother's choice prompted Cross to follow a similar path, though his luck meant he encountered a recruiting party comprised of Marines rather than soldiers. Seeing little difference, the lad took the offered shilling without a second thought.
Life as a MarineEdit
He had been 'picked up' by a recruiting party from the Portsmouth Division and was hurried off to join a motley collection of six other recruits before the long journey south to Hampshire. It went without saying that Johnson had never walked so far in his young life, nor been so far from home. It took a week to reach Portsmouth, by which time the seven recruits were all regretting their decision to enlist, though Johnson most of all. One man had attempted to escape but his effort was foiled by the ever-vigilant sergeant, and the poor fool spent the rest of the journey with his wrists bound before him with rope.
Arrival in Portsmouth brought little reprieve. The seven recruits were taken straight to the divisional surgeon for the required examination and all but one passed. The single failure was deemed too short for service and was summarily turned out onto the street with no more than a tuppence to see him home again. Those who passed were put into a squad of ten other recruits. Johnson, owing to his age, was rated as a drummer, though he duly received the same training in foot drill as the others. His education as a musician was short. He learned the variety of drum signals and the handful of necessary musical pieces required, then was sent off to perfect each of them. It was not exactly the sort of life he'd expected and was unwisely forward in stating as much.
Which resulted in his receiving his first taste of discipline as the Corps of Marines viewed it, in the form of a beating with the boys' cane in front of the whole body of recruits. It was an experience he never forgot but he learned the inherent lesson well. He was not on the receiving end of a similar indignity again. Once his training was deemed complete, he became part of the watch-standing side of the garrison. Johnson was in Number Eleven Company and soon learned that, being a drummer, the task of administering floggings to any defaulters fell to him and his comrades. This was not a task he relished at first, until he had the singular fortune to wield the cat-o'-nine-tails during the punishment of a Marine who'd made a habit of bullying the drummers.
Before long, Johnson was ordered to join a draft of men going to sea aboard HMS Barfleur. The orders meant a journey by foot to Chatham, for that division did not have enough men to adequately fill out the complement of Marines Barfleur required. Within weeks, the ship was well away at sea and on her way to battle. Johnson's first experience of combat at sea came in the form of the Glorious First of June. It was an ordeal like none other. He narrowly escaped being killed by a timely dive down the aft companion way, though his drum and two older Marines were not so fortunate. That battle was soon given an encore, of sorts, by the Battle of Groix, during which Johnson was pleased to recall that he was less quick to seek cover.
He was now seventeen and deemed old enough to trade his drum for a musket. The elevation in status was long overdue in his opinion and he took to the new responsibilities with a will. When he left Barfleur, he considered himself cock of the walk. With two notable actions to his credit and no doubt more to come, why shouldn't he feel confident? Johnson's time ashore was brief, as he was sent aboard HMS Orion before she sailed to join the Mediterranean fleet. Now a proper fighting Marine, he was all eagerness to meet and engage the enemy. He got his wish and then some. The battles at Cape St Vincent and afterward the Nile more than fulfilled his desire to fight. He was wounded at the Nile, in point of fact, receiving a musket ball through his arm and a splinter or two in his leg.
The wounds saw him put on a ship bound for England, alongside others who were similar unlucky. He spent several months in hospital in Plymouth before being deemed fit for duty. A few weeks ashore doing nothing more interesting than mounting guard soon had him anxious to be away to sea again. Soon enough he got his wish, when HMS Magnificent touched at Plymouth for a last-minute replacement of several Marines, who had been found unfit for active service. Off Johnson went, happy as a clam. Magnificent was bound for the West Indies, where she found herself involved in the unpleasant duty of suppressing the mutiny of the Eighth West India Regiment, which had taken over Fort Shirley. Johnson was amongst the Marines sent ashore to confront the mutineers.
In the days of ensuing fighting, Johnson distinguished himself as being particularly bold. During the bayonet charge that broke the mutineers' resistance, he had been among the first to advance and in fact had seen fit to stop in the midst of the close-quarters fight to reload his musket twice. In the aftermath, he found himself promoted to corporal - though this was also due to the previous corporal having been killed. Not that Johnson cared about such details as that. He had been given his due and that was more than enough for him. A painful education in reading and writing followed, in order to make him properly fit for his new duties. His hand, while never destined to be good, did at least improve with practise.
His time with Magnificent came to an end two years later, when she struck a reef and foundered off Brest. No hands were lost with her, owing to the prompt assistance offered by the other ships in the squadron. Johnson was taken aboard HMS Bellerophon, which ship remained on the blockade only for a few more months before being ordered to escort a large convoy home. To Johnson's slight, pleasant, surprise, the third-rate was taken into Portsmouth Dockyard for a refit, which meant he was able to return to his Division.
Bad luck saw him passed over for sea duty when Bellerophon sailed after her refit. Johnson would claim it was favouritism at work but he had no recourse but to endure nearly two years of shore duties before going to sea again. He found himself once more aboard Bellerophon and once more on blockade duty. It was not much better than being ashore. Two years passed in a monotonous blur, for between blockade and patrol, there was little to do to keep busy. An outbreak of malaria aboard served to consign a number of men, Johnson included, to a ship bound for home and the hospital at Plymouth. He remained here for several weeks until his health recovered. Orders to join a new ship, HMS Terpsichore, were received with interest, for by now Johnson had decided that life ashore was not for him. Even if it meant once again going aboard a ship largely manned by Marines not from his own division.
Terpsichore was destined for Portugal, where she was to support the Army in its operations there. To Johnson, this was not much different from patrolling off Brest, but it did have the additional benefit of runs ashore without the risk of being shot at. Too, there was a chance he might hear news of his brother's regiment, though this was something he kept entirely to himself. The early part of the cruise was mostly uneventful, with only one prize, the French ship Victorieuse, being taken. Matters went differently when Terpsichore joined several other British ships in the attack on the Portuguese city of Oporto. It was a piece of quite good fun for Johnson, even if it later resulted in a private Marine being promoted to fill the second corporal's berth, which had till then been vacant. Being obliged to train up a man to share his duties did not impress Johnson over-much, even if the practicality of it was plain. At least he was no longer the only corporal aboard.
That state of affairs didn't last long. When Terpsichore stopped in Gibraltar to take on stores, Johnson learned that two of his brothers had died on active service with the army. The news was crushing and soon after the frigate returned to sea, Johnson was found drunk while on duty, and in punishment lost his rank, received a dozen lashes, and put on a watered down grog ration. It's yet unknown how this sudden change in his situation will affect him and the rest of the ship's Marine detachment.