The history of a Home and School


The Owners


Apart from the brief five year ownership of Henry Thompson the owners of St. John's have all come from just three families. These are the Amhersts, the Simeons and the Gassiots.



The Amhersts


William Amherst who built St. John's House had a distinguished military career, at one time fighting the French in Canada. He must not be confused with his brother Jeffrey, Baron Amherst who was in command of Wolfe's campaign against Quebec and who himself took Montreal and held many high offices both military and civil, finally being promoted in 1796 by King George III to the rank of field-marshal.


Jeffrey Amherst


Jeffrey began the career which was to bring him such recognition as having a town in Massachusetts, U.S.A. named after him as well as numerous honours and promotions, at the age of 14 as an ensign, but it was not until 7th June 1753 that William became an ensign in the 3rd Foot Guards.


He was promoted lieutenant and captain on 21st September 1757 and in 1759 held the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. (A brevet rank is a nominal one only and carries only the pay of the officer's real rank. The custom of giving brevet ranks was particularly prevalent in the United States Army of the last century; the famous George Custer being a brevet general, his real rank being that of colonel). His next promotion was a paid one to captain and lieutenant-colonel on 12 June 1765, having served in the Newfoundland Campaign of 1762. The French had seized St. John's, Newfoundland in 1762 and used it as a base from which to attack British vessels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. When news of this reached Sir Jeffrey Amherst at New York, he sent his brother William with a detachment of troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to recapture the Island. The navy provided a fleet under Lord Colvill.


Signal Hill - the first capture of Amherst's campaign.


In 1766 he was promoted to the rank of full colonel and on 18th October 1775 he was appointed colonel and commanding officer of the 32nd Foot. His final two promotions were gained while he was with this regiment, the first to major-general on the 29th August 1777 and the second to lieutenant-general on 19th February 1779. During this distinguished career William Amherst also held the appointment of lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth, which is possibly one reason for his decision to build St. John's House.



He was also governor of St. John's, Newfoundland, a post which it is assumed he was helped in gaining by his brother Jeffrey, who in 1760 was made governor-general of British North America.

It was in this post that Jeffrey discovered that the Indians, whom he despised as ememies, were not to be trifled with. During an uprising lead by a clever Indian named Pontiac, he met with so little success that he seriously considered the use of bloodhounds to track the Indians down and the spreading of smallpox in order to weaken them.

Towards the end of his career William Amherst was adjutant-general at H.M. Forces Headquarters and was also aide-de-camp to the king. He died on 13th May 1781. His son William Pitt Amherst, the second owner of St. John's House, was born at Bath on 14th January 1773, and as his uncle Baron Jeffrey Amherst had no children of his own he succeeded to his uncle's title on his death in Kent on 3rd August 1797.  From 1809 to 1811 he was a British envoy at the court of Naples, gaining a reputation as a diplomat. In 1815 he was sent to China to negotiate on commercial matters but achieved nothing as he refused to perform the Kowtow ceremony - in which he was expected to touch his forehead to the ground as a sign of worship or submission to the emperor. On his return home he received only credit for standing firm on this matter.

It was on his return journey to England in 1817 that he stopped at St. Helena to visit Napoleon.

Following the resignation of Lord Hastings, William Pitt Amherst was appointed governor-general of India in 1823. Within one month of his arrival he was faced with aggression from Burma which gave way in 1824 to the first Burmese War.

Despite the mistake of dispatching Indian troops by sea causing the Barrackpore Mutiny, the war was won in 1826 after the British capture of enemy coast areas. As a reward for his services during this war he received an earldom in 1826, becoming the first Earl Amherst, P.C. and was a Lord of his Majesty's Bedchamber. He was also, albeit briefly, made governor-general of Canada by Peel on 1st April 1835.


His motto was 'Constantia et Virtute' which means 'With Constancy and Valour'.


He died on 13th March 1857.



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