On the North wall of the nave.
St Patrick's Cathedral
East Pier, Dun Laoghaire
St Columb's, Londonderry
Photo copyright David Conway
CAPTAIN JOHN McNEILL BOYD
OF HER MAJESTY'S SHIP AJAX
AND COMMANDING THE DUBLIN DISTRICT
OF THE IRISH COAST GUARD
WHO PERISHED WITH FIVE OF HIS CREW
WHEN NOBLY ENDEAVOURING TO SAVE THE LIVES OF
IN A STORM AT KINGSTOWN, IRELAND
FEBRUARY 9TH 1861
HAS BEEN ERECTED IN HIGH APPRECIATION OF HIS SERVICES
AND ADMIRATION FOR HIS CHARACTER
BY HIS BROTHER OFFICERS OF HER MAJESTY'S NAVY
John McNeill Boyd joined the navy in September 1825, was promoted to Lieutenant in 1841, Commander in 1850 and finally Captain in 1856. During his career he served as Lieutenant on the St Vincent under Henry John Codrington, later transferring to the Winchester, Eurydice and Thetis before joing Superb as Second in Command under Edward Purcell. He was appointed Captain on the Conway in 1857, transferring to the Ajax in 1858.
On 12th February 1861 The Times published the following account from it's Dublin correspondent:- "Intelligence reached town this afternoon that Captain Boyd, of Her Majesty's ship Ajax, and 14 men of his crew, were unfortunately drowned about 12 o'clock to-day outside Kingstown Harbour. A telegram received states that - 'Captain Boyd with his men were standing on the Eastern Pier, endeavouring to save the crew of a vessel (the Neptune) which had gone ashore at the back of the pier, when a wave swept them all into the sea. Mr. John Mulvany, architect, was with them, but was saved.' Further details of the disaster are available at www.pdavis.nl/Boyd.php.
The bodies of Captain Boyd's crew were washed ashore days later, whilst the body of Boyd himself was not discovered for weeks. The crew of the 'Ajax' were buried in the graveyard at Carrickbrennan which is near Dun Laoghaire (formerly Kingstown). A memorial to Captain Boyd was also erected there (see photo left). The grave dug in the graveyard for Captain Boyd was not used because of the delay in recovering his body. Instead his remains were interred in the grounds of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin and a memorial was erected within (see photo). This statue is regarded as one of the finest of the numerous splendid memorials of the distinguished dead contained in St. Patrick's. By many it is regarded as the master work of the sculptor Farrell. The figure stands between the first two pillars of the south arcade of the nave of the cathedral.
Another memorial to Boyd and the crew of the Ajax was erected at the place of the disaster on the East Pier, Dun Laoghaire - see photo. In 1951 a reader complained in the 'Sunday Independent' that the memorial inscription was becoming difficult to read and since then the memorial has been repaired a number of times. This is due partly to its location making it vulnerable to weathering by the waves.
There is a further memorial in Christ Church, Cheltenham which reads, "In memory of Capt. John McNeill Boyd, of HMS Ajax, who with five of his brave sailors perished at Kingstown, Ireland, in a gallant attempt to rescue from destruction the crews of two vessels, driven on the rocks by the hurricane of the 9th of Feb 1861. To record this heroic act of self sacrifice as well as the rare union of qualities which endeared the warm friend, the manly Christian, the intrepid sailor and considerate commander to all who knew him, this monument is erected by 30 members of the congregation of this church in which his brother ministered for 18 years."
Yet another memorial exists in St Columb's Cathedral, Londonderry, Boyd's place of birth. It consists of a relief showing Captain Boyd pointing seawards instructing a sailor to throw a life-line.
Captain Boyd was posthumously awarded the Sea Gallantry Medal in silver, the RNLI silver medal and the Tayleur Fund medal in gold. The RNLI citation read how on 9 February 1861 Captain Boyd, Lieutenant Dyer and Mr Farrin, all serving in the screw steamer HMS Ajax, assisted to save the crew of the brig Neptune wrecked during a heavy gale on the East Pier of Kingstown, Co Dublin. Captain Boyd, with other members of his crew, was swept to his death off the pier. The silver medal, accompanied by a letter of condolence, was presented to his widow. The presentation of the Sea Gallantry Medal to Boyd’s widow, the medal being named "To CORDELIA, Widow of JOHN McNEIL BOYD, Captain R.N. Wreck of the Neptune off Kingstown, February 9, 1861" was described in the Illustrated London News.
See also: a history of HMS Ajax
[Thanks to Letitia Pollard and Jennie Stringer for much of this information]