John Cawston enrolled at St David’s College in 1844 at the age of twenty, where he had an exceptional academic career. He was winner of the Euclid prize, elected Harford Scholar and in 1846, selected as the college Senior Scholar. In 1847 he was ordained by the Bishop of Llandaff to the curacy of St Paul, Newport, Monmouth. The following year he moved to St Michael and All Angels, Great Torrington, Devon, where he worked until 1853, following which he was appointed as a chaplain in the Royal Navy.
For the next twenty-nine years Cawston had an exemplary career during which he was awarded three medals. He first served on HMS Bellerophon in the Mediterranean and Black Sea during the Russian War. He was present at the bombardment and siege of Sebastopol (1854-55), home to the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet which was threatening the Mediterranean. He was awarded both the Crimean and Turkish medals with the clasp of Sebastopol for his involvement.
Cawston’s next service was aboard HMS Centaur (1855-58) in the Baltic and Mediterranean, for which he received the Baltic medal. This was followed by a period in the West Indies aboard HMS Mersey, who with her sister ship the Orlando, were the longest wooden ships built for the Royal Navy. Cawston was later involved with special service in Mexico during the country’s civil troubles. After service aboard HMS Sutley in the Pacific (1862-1867), he was attached to the Royal Marine Artillery and then to Portsmouth Dock, where he served until 1876.
Later appointments included chaplain of the Royal Naval College, formally Greenwich Hospital, which between 1873 and 1998 was a training establishment for naval officers. In 1876 Cawston was made Chaplain of the Fleet, a position he retained until his retirement in 1882. The role of Chaplain of the Fleet, being the Head of the Navy Chaplains, was established in 1859, with Cawston becoming its fourth appointee.
In 1877, in recognition of his service to the Church in the Navy, the degree of DD (Doctor of Divinity) was conferred by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Tait. Cawston’s long and distinguished service to the Church was also recognised in 1888, when he was made Honorary Chaplain to the Queen.
He retired in 1882 to Blackheath Park where he died on 3 March 1900. His funeral service was held at St Margaret’s Lee, the church he attended for many years and where he often assisted with the service. It was officiated by Revd. John L. Robinson, chaplain of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, with the current Chaplain of the Fleet also present. Cawston left a widow and a daughter and son, also John, who became Comptroller of the Royal Mint (1917-1921).
St David’s College Magazine, June 1900, pp.140-141