Second China War Medal 1856-1860, 1 Clasp: Taku Forts 1860, period engraved naming, awarded to Master J.W. Ashton, Royal Navy, who was present as a Master's Assistant aboard the paddle frigate H.M.S Terrible in the Black Sea during the Crimean War, and was then saw extensive out in China during the Second Opium War, being variously employed as a 2nd Master aboard gunboats during 1859 to 1860 including Bustard and Staunch on the Canton River, he was however aboard the 3 gun gunboat H.M.S Leven in Hulu-Shan Bay on 9th July 1860 when he became involved and the victim in an incident which would result and go down in naval history as the last time that a man was to be hanged at the yardarm of one of H.M. Ships, when Private John Dalliger attempted to muster both his commander, Lieutenant Hudson, and his second-in-command, 2nd Master Ashton, by shooting and wounding both of them in a fit of homicidal mania. Dalliger was hanged by the neck from the yardarm of Leven on 14th July 1860 in front of the boats of the fleet in Ta-lien-wan harbour.
¬Second China War Medal 1856-1860, 1 Clasp: Taku Forts 1860, period engraved naming; (J.W. ASHTON. R.N.)
Condition: some contact wear, hence only Very Fine.
James Walter Ashton was born on 21st December 1837 and first joined the Royal Navy as a Masters Assistant with the paddle frigate H.M.S Terrible on 14th July 1853, and then saw service in the Mediterranean. Terrible then joined Admiral James Dundas's fleet in the Black Sea, where she served during the Crimean War. On 7th October 1854 she landed some of her 68-pounder guns at Balaklava to be used in the siege of Sebastopol. At the naval bombardment of Sevastopol on 17th October Terrible was the northernmost ship of the Allied line and successfully bombarded Fort Constantine, the northern fortress protecting Sevastopol harbour. Ashton may well been otherwise employed off of the ship during this period as he did not qualify for the Sebastopol clasp.
Ashton transferred to the 121 gun ship of the line H.M.S Royal Albert on 3rd August 1856, and saw service in the Mediterranean, before being posted 8 gun sloop H.M.S Desperate from 4th November 1856, seeing service in home waters. Posted to the 16 gun frigate H.M.S Magicienne on 18th February 1857, he then travelled out with her to the Far East and China via the Pacific, and from September 1858 was stationed at Hong Kong at the time of the Second Opium War.
Having transferred to the 51 gun frigate H.M.S Chesapeake on 13th May 1859, he was stationed variously at Shanghai and Hong Kong, before being appointed Acting 2nd Master of the 4 gun gunboat H.M.S Bustard on 25th May 1859, and then 2nd Master of the same vessel on 12th July 1859, being then present in operations along the Canton River during the Second Opium War. Having transferred as 2nd Master to the 4 gun gunboat H.M.S Staunch on 16th September 1859, he found himself stationed at Hong Kong.
Ashton then transferred as 2nd Master to the 3 gun gunboat H.M.S Leven on 5th February 1860. It was for an incident during the Second Opium War whilst on board the Leven, a small vessel of only 300 tons, and lying alongside Actaeon in Hulu-Shan Bay on 9th July 1860, that Ashton is however remembered.
'A Private of the Royal Marines named John Dalliger had joined the Leven in the previous February (approximately the same tine at Ashton). Though the man was a bad character with rather an unsavoury record, Lieutenant Hudson, anxious to give him a change of re-habilitating himself, made him his personal servant. For some months everything went well, until on the 8th of July Lieutenant Hudson missed some wine and brandy from his cabin, and informed Dalliger that he was satisfied he had stolen it. While telling the man that he would be punished for theft, Hudson does not appear to have spoken harshly, or to have threatened him with corporal punishment with the cat-o'-nine tails, which was still a recognised naval punishment. Indeed, he appears to have considered the offence as more or less trumpery.
At 8.30 am on the 9th of July, however, when the commanding officer was sitting on the sofa in his cabin after breakfast, Dalliger, having armed himself with a pistol, stole unseen into the cabin and shot Lieutenant Hudson in the back of the neck, wounding him most dangerously. Leaving the officer on the floor, he then went on deck and told Mr Ashton, the second master (the second-in-command), that the commanding officer wished to see him. Following him to the ladder, Dalliger shot him also, wounding him slightly. What the intending murderer ever hoped to gain, or how he expected to escape the penalty of his crime, one cannot say. Known as a bad character, he may have also been a homicidal maniac. It is possible, moreover, that he may have been under the influence of drink. Arrested, he was soon below in irons. As the Leven carried no medical officer a board was sent to the Actaeon for help.
That same forenoon, as we know from her log, the Leven sailed for Ta-lien-wan to join the fleet. The circumstances being reported to the Commander-in-Chief, a court-martial was held on the morning of the 12th of July, and Dalliger was sentenced to death. That he deserved the fate goes without saying. His attempted murder of two officers was not the result of a sudden blaze of passion: but, from the fact that the pistol was used, was clearly premeditated. All the same, his principal victim did not die.
So Dalliger was condemned to be hanged from the fore yard arm of H.M.S Leven, the ship in which he had served and committed his crime. And hanged he accordingly was, within twenty-three hours of hearing his fate. Before he died he made a confession, which the chaplain read at his request to the ship's company assembled on deck to witness the execution. It is quoted in fill in the Commander-in-Chief's letter to the Admiralty: ‰ÛÏI wish to tell you all before I die that I confess my crime, and am heartily sorry for it, and regard death as only too little punishment. I beg pardon of all whom I have injured or wished to injure, especially of those two I so nearly destroyed in my anger. I forgive all if there be any who have injured me. I hope that God will for the sake of His Son's most precious death have mercy on me. If you would take a word of advice from such a man as I am, I would say, take warning by me, save your soul. When a man leaves God and accustoms himself to sin, he does not know what he may end up in.‰Û
Executions afloat had practically ceased with the wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century; but we can almost picture the final scene at Ta-lien-wan. A calm, hot July afternoon in North China, with the boats from the other ships clustered round the little Leven, and onboard the gunboat herself the bowmen of each boat tailing onto the whip which was presently to launch a fellow-being into eternity. Officers and men would be wearing full dress. Forward, with the chaplain in his surplice, the provost-marshal and the ship's police, would stand the pinioned figure of the criminal, with the noose in the rope travelling up through a block to the yard-arm already round his neck, and a cap tied over his head to prevent him from seeing the final preparations. The chaplain would have recited the service for the burial of the dead. Three bells are struck, a gun is fired, followed by the boatswain's pipe. The line of men on the Leven's deck run away with the whip, and the limp figure of the malefactor leaves the deck, rises to the starboard fore yard-arm, thence to drop a short distance with a jerk - to swing with dislocated neck, and to remain swinging for the next half an hour as a horrible example to all and sundry. So justice was done. Let us hope that his unfamiliarity with the work did not cause the amateur hangman to bungle, and that Dalliger's death was swift and painless.'
The log of Leven recorded that Dalliger was executed at 1.30 pm and his body lowered at 2 pm, being enclosed in two hammocks. The next day at 4.30 am, the Leven weighed and proceeded out of Ta-lien-wan, and at 6.40 am committed the remains to the deep, at Cape Rock bearing S.E. 1 1/2 miles. Expended hammocks, two in number, round shot, ten in number.
The hanging of John Dalliger was the last time that a man was to be hung at the yardarm of one of H.M. Ships.
Ashton recovered from his wound, as did Lieutenant Hudson, and he then appears to have taken part in the operations leading to the final assault on and capture of the Taku Forts on 21st August 1860. Ashton then took passage home from China aboard Princess Charlotte on 8th February 1862, and was posted to Victory on 28th April 1862. Having transferred to Fisgard, the guardship at Woolwich on 21st August 1862, he was then appointed 2nd Master of packet H.M.S Dasher on 1st January 1863, and seeing service on the Home Station. Posted to the flagship at Sheerness, H.M.S Formidable on 10th October 1863, he was then promoted to Master with the Devonport Guardship H.M.S Asia on 24th November 1863, before being appointed Master of the 6v gun sloop H.M.S Bulldog on 15th March 1864, and saw service aboard her on the North America and West Indies Station. Having transferred to the Coast Guard on 18th January 1866, he was placed on the Retired List with a pension of å£146 per annum on 27th April 1870.