Harold Johns, better known as Jack Johns, captured by the Seadler, Count Von Luckner

My name is Peter McKay and I am the grandson of Harold Johns, better known as Jack Johns, a Welshman who ran away to sea at 14.

The ship he was on was captured by the Seadler and after the crew was taken off was sunk. Count Von Luckner and my grandfather kept in touch and when Von Luckner visited Melbourne just prior WW2 they met up and their 'photo appeared on the front page of the Sun.

My mother has the newspaper article, I have a letter from the Count as well as a couple of 'photos. One in particular is of the Count in what I call "full regalia" with a note to my grandfather written on it which includes "Never Say Die my old friend J. Johns" Your friend, Count Felix etc.

Another is a postcard picture of a ship on which he had written what I have always believed to be on of his famous sayings - "Men fight, not ships" - to which he added "That's the old Raider" The letter or note is a copy I think and  tells my grand father that he will be lecturing in Melbourne and wants to see him. It is signed off- Yours in old friendship, Your old captor, Felix Count Luckner

Growing up von Luckner was a reverred name in my mother's family and whilst my grandfather had what could only be called a very colourful life he never forgot that particular period of time and the effect it had on him. As is usual with many families nothing is written down but mum can certainly still recall the stories her father told her about what happened.

If any of the above is of interest please feel free to contact me.

Peter McKay


Thank you for your note, I am suprised how much interest there still is about the Count, even at this distance in time from WW1.

He was a colourful character and a prolific giver away of his endorsed photographs, I do not mean to demean him by writing that, I have a great admiration for the man as both an intrepid sailor and a gentleman.

I would love to have you share your Mother's newspaper article, your letter, and your photographs, they would all go up on AHOY, so that a wider audience would also enjoy them.

I do not believe we have any such items from anyone in Australia.

What ship was your Grandfather in when Felix sank his ship?

Hoping to hear again from you soon, and my thanks for getting in touch Peter.

Best wishes, 
Mackenzie Gregory.

Received your E-mail and had a chat with mum.

The ship my grandfather was on when von Luckner sank it was the Pinmore - 4 masted Barque RN. Von Luckner was very sad about it all as he had in fact as a young sailor/adventurer made what he told my grandfather was the longest voyage he ever made on the Pinmore.

He had sailed from San Francisco around the Horn to Liverpool in her. He did what he hadn't done before (so it was said) - he boarded the captured ship and looked over her - where he had slept etc. before going back aboard the Seeadler and ordering her sinking - they used set charges.

My grandfather and the rest of the crew - old Pop would have been a boy amongst them, were kept on board but treated extremely well. He was on board and witnessed the capture of a couple of other ships taking the crews on each time. Von Luckner then captured a ship (mum is sure it was French) dropped the main mast and set all the prisoners off in it knowing that by the time they got to the nearest port he would be well away. He gave them plenty of provisions and money telling them that they had earned it working on the Seeadler and that they would need it when they got ashore in what to them would be a foreign country.

All very interesting, if you think other people would be interested in the photo's etc. I shall organise getting them to you. They are set in a picture frame on my lounge room wall. I shall see what can be done.

Peter McKay


Here are the paras about capturing Pinmore, and the French four masted Cambronne, taken from my work on AHOY about von Luckner and the cruise of Seeadler.

Look forward to the photos etc as convenient thank you.


Now on the 9th. of February, an 1,811 ton sailing ship Buenos Ayres from Napoli, again loaded with Chilian saltpetre was met and despatched.

Ten days later Seeadler sighted a four masted barque which immediately crammed on more sail, and started to draw away from the German, but now aided by the diesel auxiliary engine which was in working order again, the Raider commenced to gain on her target. When ordered to state her name, this ship responded with Pinmore, she was a 2,431 ton ship, her cargo, grain, her Captain, James Mullen.

This British ship built on the Clyde in 1882 and registered in Greenock, Scotland, and now owned by Tridonic Limited, had, by coincidence been home for von Luckner, back in 1902 during his merchant ship days.

The German Captain now took Pinmore into Rio de Janeiro for supplies, and according to his memoirs, he bandaged up his hand, so that he could avoid having to sign any customs documents as Captain Mullen.

The German Captain was now faced with the same problem that his counterparts encountered in WW2. What to do with the increasing number of prisoners now on board? Almost 203 of them needing to be fed daily, and safely housed on board.

Another 10 days brought a solution in the shape of the French four masted barque Cambronne, of 1,863 tons. But the prisoners and their disposal still posed their own set of problems, it was not practicable to release a sufficient number of German sailors to sail Cambronne to a position where von Luckner wanted her to proceed. If he merely put his prisoners aboard, and then released this ship, she would most likely sail to the nearest port to alert the world at large about Seeadler, her position, and her recent exploits. This dilemma was solved by removing the top gallant masts from the Frenchman, and destroying any spars and sails. These actions ensured it would allow sufficient time for Seeadler to clear the area and make good her escape.

Captain Mullen ex Pinmore was placed in command of the Frenchman.

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